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We all have our own biases as to what kinds of films we want to see. I know I can be picky. But as Roger Ebert once said, “It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.” It’s always a good idea to open your mind a bit, try something you think you won’t like. You never know; you just might wind up blindsided. These are ten such examples that happened with me, listed in alphabetical order.
Back when Merchant & Ivory were at their peak I couldn’t have been less interested. I wanted cutting-edge indie filmmakers from my own generation, and couldn’t care less about a dowdy costume drama that takes place in Edwardian England. When I finally did watch it a few years ago, though, I was drawn into E.M. Forster’s story about class divisions, thanks in large part to those charming Schlegel sisters. It remains a smart, beautifully photographed film.
I read so many negative reviews of this obscure 1982 Antonioni film that my expectations couldn’t have been lower when I saw it. So imagine my surprise when Identification of a Woman turned out to be much more hypnotic and thoughtful than I ever expected. Sure, it looks and sounds extremely dated, too, but it’s breathtaking to look at, and the two contrasting female leads by Daniela Silverio and Christine Boisson make this a joy to watch. I'm even okay with the spaceship.
I first got this from the library on a whim. I loved the cover artwork, and seeing it was a Criterion release I just checked it out without reading the blurb on the back. So needless to say I was a little floored by what I saw, not to mention the harrowing climactic scene. It might be extremely graphic, but the story is told in such a detached way to avoid exploitation. It’s beautiful, tasteful, and brazenly defiant, not to mention the best movie about l’amour fou you will ever see.
“Delphine Seyrig peeling potatoes for three and a half hours, yeah, that sounds like a fun experience.” Some movies require patience, and does Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece ever demand it from the viewer. But once you settle in, you’re sucked into Jeanne Dielman’s daily mundane routines, to the point where when that one potato falls on the floor, you’re shocked, and from that moment you can sense her world is about to unravel in a horrible way.
I tried this movie back in the 1990s, and had to give up on it midway through. I didn’t get it, it seemed far too pretentious; it just felt far too impenetrable for my twentysomething mind to handle. But a funny thing happens when you grow up a bit, you start to see things in art you totally missed 15, 20 years before. When I gave Last Year at Marienbad another shot, it was still a challenge to unravel, but it clicked in a way that it never did the first time I tried to watch it.
Danny Peary’s book Cult Movies was the single most influential book I read as a young movie fan, introducing to many films that would become all-time favourites, but although The Red Shoes was included, I could never bring myself to watch it. I. Don’t. Like. Ballet. End of story. It was only a couple of years ago that I finally gave it a shot, and I was floored by the story and its vibrant Technicolor look. And yes, I was even spellbound by the famous dance sequence, too. You'll never know until you try it.
This is one of the most harrowing, disturbing films ever made, one that never fails to shock, and I didn’t know what the heck I was getting myself into a half hour into watching it. As it went on, though, the more it came across as a savage satire not unlike William S. Burroughs, one of my favourite writers. Pasolini is relentless in his twisted interpretation of de Sade’s literary work, turning this into a brilliant statement on how much power and control can corrupt a human being.
I totally understand the criticism of Lena Dunham, the characters she writes for herself are smug, narcissistic, and very unlikeable. Plus, I’m not a fan of “mumblecore” at all, as those filmmakers pale in comparison to the indie directors of the 1990s. Yet when I watched Tiny Furniture I wound up enjoying it a lot more than I ever expected. For all the preciousness, it’s an endearing little movie. Plus I now officially like any character of Dunham’s that Jemima Kirke plays.
I love Mike Leigh films. I’ve been a huge fan of his for 20 years now, but it still took me years and years to bring myself to watch Topsy-Turvy. It’s the Red Shoes thing all over again: I can’t stand musicals, period, let alone the work of Gilbert and Sullivan. Unbearable. Nails on a chalkboard. But again, once I settled in, got into the witty interplay of all the characters and all the backstage drama, I loved it to bits. Mike Leigh’s a genius, and this is one of his best films. It just took me 12 years to figure that out.
I’ve known about this movie for a very long time, and I love road movies. The idea of a flick about a cross-country road race appeals to me. I loved The Cannonball Run when I was ten, for crying out loud. But one thing prevented me from seeing Two-Lane Blacktop: James Taylor. How can a road movie be good with this bland folk singer as one of the leads? Well, it turns out he was perfect for the role of the silent Driver, plus this film turned out to be a lot more thoughtful than I ever figured it was. Again, this was a revelation. When will I ever learn?