Every year there are films that fly under the radar and don’t get seen in the theaters. Perhaps the film only had a limited release, maybe it wasn’t marketed very well, or perhaps audiences just decided other things looked more fun. 2009 was no exception, but there’s always a second chance. DVDs, Blu-rays, and of course Netflix make it so much easier for audience to catch the ones that got away. Following is a list of five movies that deserve consideration which you probably missed, or may not have even been aware of.
Welcome to the future, where the dominant life form is no longer human beings but vampires. The rapidly spreading vampire virus converted the majority of the human population in only a few years, many even changing voluntarily. Humans are all but extinct, however that causes a problem for the blood suckers who remain: food is dwindling. Without regular feedings of human blood the vampires devolve into hideous beasts who will eat other vampires out of sheer desperation. Edward Dalton (played by Ethan Hawke) is a scientist frantically trying to find a blood substitute before time runs out and the population become true monsters. However an encounter with a small group of human survivors, lead by Willem Dafoe, takes him down a path he didn’t think was possible.
For every screaming “Twilight” fanatic there’s at least one old school horror movie lover who’s fed up with romantic vampires. Knowing that it’s a shame that more of them didn’t come out to see this film when it released in January. “Daybreakers” has a few stumbling points towards the end but it returns vampires to the bloody glory that is missing from todays movies and tv shows about them. It’s a wonderfully inventive premise from the Spierig Brothers and it is able to present vampires as both monster and victim all at the same time. Anybody who misses when vampires were scary needs to check this one out if they haven’t already.
“The Ghost Writer”
Adam Lang (played by Pierce Brosnan) used to be one of the most popular British Prime Ministers ever elected. However his time in office was plagued by being in too close with the US during the War on Terror and as a result he’s now reviled for his suspected part in the torturing of prisoners. Now out of office he’s trying to piece together his memoirs, however his ghost writer meets with an unfortunate end. The current draft of the memoirs is all but unusable so a new writer (played by Ewan McGregor) is brought in to try to breath life into the manuscript. However in the course of his research and interviews with Lang the new writer begins to unravel a string of events that he was never meant to know about.
In many ways this film was robbed of it’s chance to be viewed objectively due to the ongoing legal drama of it’s director, Roman Polanski. Polanski has of course been making films for years despite his still active arrest warrant in the US. The difference here was he was actually taken into custody in Switzerland some months before the films release, putting the emphasis on his 1977 sexual assault charges rather than on the film. Though Polanski would eventually be released rather than extradited to the US it still put the movie in the shadow of his own personal life. It’s a shame really because this political thriller manages to be very intriguing and far more believable than most films that deal with potential government cover ups and the like. Brosnan gives a fantastic performance as the Tony Blair inspired Lang, able to completely sell the character. McGregor also does fine work as the titular character, keeping the viewer invested in the film throughout.
Ree Dolly (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is only 17 years old, but between her unstable mother and her criminal father she has been forced to grow up young and look out for her younger siblings as more than just a sister. Things take a sour turn for this Ozark dwelling family when Ree is told that they may be about to lose their house. Her father put up their house as collateral for a bail bond and then missed his court appearance. With about a week before they lose everytihng Ree must do what the local police and the bail bondsman can’t: find her father. This means she has to sift through her criminal laced extended family in an attempt to find out the truth of where her father is.
This film was a limited release festival darling, though it didn’t ever receive a wide release so most audiences didn’t get to see it in the theaters. Now out on DVD this film is a country set noir style film which explores an area and a way of life rarely seen on the screen. More than anything though what makes the film worth seeing is the performance of young star Jennifer Lawrence. She brings such raw determination to the role and makes Ree nearly unshakeable yet still keeps her indentifiable and believable. She harnesses the sheer toughness of this young woman, and if she hadn’t succeeded the whole film would have failed. Thankfully though she does tremendous work and carries the film on her young shoulders admirably and in a way deserving of the accolades it’s received.
117AD was a tough year for the Roman Empire. The Romans expended in all directions but there was one part of the world that gave them more trouble than they ever bargained for. Up in Scotland the Picts fought with a brutality which was able to keep even the might of Rome at bay. General Virilius (played by Dominic West) marches the mighty Ninth Legion north for one last attempt at quelling the dangerous natives. It isn’t long before the legion is decimated and cut down to a tiny group of survivors. With little hope of survival in the wild and the Picts tracking them the remaining centurions band together in an attempt to recover their general and reach the safety of Roman fortifications to the South.
Writer/director Neil Marshall (best known for “The Descent”) has made a name for himself for intense movies with tight casts, and this is no different. This fictional take on the legendary lost Ninth Legion of Rome is never lacking for intensity from beginning to end. The viewer will quickly learn that no character is safe and this is not the story of Romans who go in and kick butt, but rather of beaten and battered soldiers on the run for their lives. In that way it’s a far more realistic depiction of combat (from any period of history) than most audiences get to see on screen. It’s also interesting that the Picts aren’t really shown in a completely villainous light, which is fitting since the Romans are actually invading their lands. As is standard in Marshall’s films the characters are distinct and enjoyable to watch and the cast is a great line up of talented if lesser known actors. A little action gem that never got the release it deserved can be seen now on DVD.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”
Scott Pilgrim (played by Michael Cera) is a classic slacker. A member of a glorified garage band Scott’s greatest achievement seems to be the fact that he’s dating a high schooler. Then he meets Ramona Flowers (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and everything changes. Scott is smitten with her and seems like maybe she has some interest in him too, but there’s a slight problem. Ramona has seven evil exes who still pine for her and will stop at nothing to obliterate Scott. Forced to fight for his life and his love Scott has to battle his way through each evil ex until he can finally take out the worst of them all, Gideon Graves (played by Jason Schwartsman.)
There’s little doubt that this film will develope quite a following over time, but it really deserved to be seen in the theaters more than it was. This was a movie made for the video game generation, with tons of visual and audio cues to various video games. The film itself is structured almost like an old arcade style brawling game, with each evil ex serving as a boss battle. Director Edgar Wright managed to perfectly capture the tone and feeling of the hipster characters while managing to keep their smarminess from overwhelming the film itself. The film really creates its own visual language that is unlike anything else that’s been done and yet make total sense. From beginning to end this high energy romp is a tremendous mash up of romance, deadpan comedy and seriously outlandish fights. It’s a one of a kind film that anybody who regularly reads comic books or grew up playing the original Nintendo (or Super Nintendo) really needs to see.