With Hollywood releasing more than 400 films a year to theaters and
indie companies putting even more flicks out on cable and DVD, it can
be hard to notice all the great films out there. Not every film worth
seeing has a big advertising budget, or even the chance to play a lot
But as a movie addict living in Los Angeles—the
moviegoing capital of the world—I have the chance to see or at least
consider seeing nearly everything imaginable. And I’m here to share
with you a couple of must-see films that might have slipped under the
radar but richly deserve to find an audience, in the first of what will
be an occasional series of columns called “Movies You Missed.”
up is a little-seen, darkly funny gem that caused a sensation at Sundance
yet still proved a little too off-the-wall to score a big release: Big Fan
(out on DVD on Jan. 12). Starring Patton Oswalt—who’s made a name
for himself as one of America’s most brilliantly funny alternative
comics as well as for playing a role on the long-running sitcom The King of Queens and as the lead voice in the smash-hit Disney cartoon Ratatouille—the movie follows the life of a sad-sack loser addicted to sports and sports-talk radio named Paul Aufiero (Oswalt).
is in his late 30s, yet still lives in the room he grew up in, with his
mom pounding on the walls each night for him to keep it down as he
unleashes manic rants about the Giants (and in particular, a star
defensive lineman) into the phone at 1 a.m. The only person who knows
who Paul is is his best friend, played with a mix of amusement and
concern by Kevin Corrigan. One night when the two guys are out driving
aimlessly on their home turf of Staten Island, they see Paul’s heroic
lineman hanging out with some friends, and they decide to follow him to
a strip club in Manhattan.
Once there, their plan is to buy the
player a drink and then hopefully be invited over to hang out with him.
But things go drastically wrong when the player believes Paul is a
stalker and attacks him within an inch of his life. This leaves Paul
with a dilemma: does he prosecute and sue the player for the very real
damage that has been done to him, or will his nearly deranged love for
the Giants cause him to keep his mouth shut and allow the player to
walk free and keep leading the Giants to success rather than facing a
prison cell and leaving the team out to dry?
All this may make Big Fan
sound like a drama or a thriller, but this complex film is far richer,
more nuanced and ultimately more entertaining than any simplistic genre
label would indicate. Oswalt and Corrigan have plenty of funny lines,
yet their strong, understated performances cut to the core of their
innate sadness and loneliness as two guys who have refused to grow up
and are letting life pass them by.
Then, just when you think the
film is simply a nice slice-of-life piece, things take another wild turn
and the last half-hour becomes an incredibly tense and ultimately
uproarious roller coaster ride as Paul appears to lose his bearings and
the film becomes a half-serious, half-comedic parallel to the classic
film Taxi Driver. And yet, even with all these details, I’ve
not even come close to revealing the crazy yet highly entertaining
direction Big Fan moves toward.
With a script written and directed by Robert Siegel, the former head writer of the classic satirical newspaper The Onion as well as the writer of 2008’s highly acclaimed The Wrestler, Big Fan
offers a look at the lives of men you know are out there, cheering on
their team with just a little too much passion each Sunday in dive bars
and tailgate parties across America. It’s laced with frequently profane
dialogue, but it rings true and has an underlying empathy for some of
society’s forgotten men that would serve as a good reminder of the
humanity we sometimes overlook in some of our saddest souls.
Meanwhile, Uncertainty is the latest brilliant movie to star Joseph Gordon-Levitt,
who is on the cusp of major stardom with his recent Golden Globe
nomination for this year’s superb (500) Days of Summer. Gordon-Levitt
has been the star of some of the decade’s most innovative films, from
the high school noir thriller Brick, to the hard-to-watch yet
powerful tale of a male prostitute wrestling with the childhood
molestation that set him on the path to self-destruction in Mysterious
Skin, on through his moving and exciting portrayal of a
mentally impaired janitor forced into a bank robbery in The Lookout, and through the lovelorn Everydude he portrayed to perfection in Summer.
Uncertainty is actually two films in one, akin to the Gwyneth Paltrow cult classic Sliding Doors.
Here, a couple (portrayed by Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins) flip a
coin while talking about an unspecified major decision on the Brooklyn
Bridge on the Fourth of July. Before the coin lands, they each run
full-bore in opposite directions, with Gordon-Levitt hopping into a
green car driven by Collins in the “Green” half of the movie and
Collins hopping into a yellow cab with Gordon-Levitt in the “Yellow”
half of the film.
The film goes on to depict what happens in the
next 24 hours of the couple’s lives, as the “Green” story features
Gordon-Levitt spending the day with Collins’ close-knit family as her
loved ones quietly speculate about what secret the couple is hiding and
plant some doubts about whether he’s really the right man for her. The
“Yellow” story kicks off when Gordon-Levitt finds a cutting-edge cell
phone in the back seat of the cab and proceeds to call a couple of the
numbers listed on its contact list—only to find that two different
people claim to be the owner and both say they’ll either kill or pay up
to $500,000 to get it back.
The mix of a subtle romantic tale in
the “Green” portion and a breakneck, intense thriller in the “Yellow”
story should have been hard, if not impossible, to pull off. But in the
hands of the writer-director team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel,
who also did the 2002 arthouse hit thriller The Deep End,
everything amazingly works. Moments of abject fear interweave with
moments of quiet emotional revelations, creating a unique pair of
stories that leave viewers guessing until the end about what’s going to
happen in both plotlines.
Even more impressive is the fact that all the dialogue in Uncertainty
is improvised, with the actors working from an outline of events that
McGehee and Siegel provided. The result is a constant freshness in the
interactions between the central couple as well as with the world
around them. The end result unfortunately took a tortured path to a
very limited theatrical release through tiny indie IFC Films, so it may
wind up on that cable network in the coming months. But until then,
it’s now available until February via the On Demand cable TV service.