Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)
This is, in many ways, the precursor to such twee "big city guy learns to relax while in small town" comedies as Doc Hollywood and such twee "aren't quaint British villages so quaint?" comedies as Waking Ned Devine, and yet it's so unassuming and disarming in its use and subversion of the cliches of those genres that it ends up winning you over. I would never expect such a film to be a good selection for the Film Nerd Discussion Group, but it worked out well. Forsyth builds compelling, believable characters out of recognizable types, but he's also got plenty of goofy humor. A nice little film that shows you can make something good out of a well-worn premise if you pay close attention to character and craft an organic story with a bit of subtlety.
Oldboy (Chanwook Park, 2003)
I've never been particularly plugged-in to much of the underground film coming from Asia, since so much of it is either martial-arts movies or anime, neither of which holds much appeal for me (I have seen Battle Royale on an import DVD, which is as close as I get). So I come to Oldboy after the hype has kind of died out, and to me what exemplifies it is the quote on the front of the DVD box from some critic (I forget who) who says that the movie "comes with the Quentin Tarantino seal of approval," or something like that. Not that it's good, just that Tarantino likes it. Granted, there are actual glowing reviews from real critics on the back, but the whole "badass style over substance" kick that characterizes a lot of the stuff Tarantino and/or his fans consider cool really typifies this movie, I think. Not that I didn't like it - the style is phenomenal, and there are some unbelievable shots, most notably a one-take fight sequence that's shot like a side-scrolling video game - but it did feel a little "so what?" at the end. It's way too long and has too many twists, and the ultimate secret of why the main character was locked up and tormented for 15 years is a bit of a disappointment. But it looks great along the way, and plays with some interesting themes even if it's a little more interested in shock moments than in provoking real thought.
They Came Back (Robin Campillo, 2004)
Really creepy and well-made French zombie movie, but not "zombie movie" in any of the typical ways you might think of it. Instead of rising from the grave all rotting and ready to eat people's brains, the dead in this movie simply come back, like the title implies (although the English title is, I think, intentionally sort of lurid; the French title, Les Revenants, literally means something more like "The Returnees"). They look completely normal and non-decrepit, although they are not all mentally there. Mainly they just want to go back to their jobs and families. I found this a completely fresh and unique take on the idea of the walking dead, and it's structured more as a serious drama than a horror movie, even if it's often really creepy and disturbing. I love how Campillo hits on certain things you'd think would be obvious about zombies, like the fact that most people who die are elderly, so most undead would also be old people, but never see in any actual zombie movies. This is really a film about grief, and about how people who've just come to terms with losing their loved ones have to come to terms with them coming back again, although not quite the same. The ending is a little disappointing, since it builds to a sort of horror movie-esque climax but then doesn't really follow through, but otherwise this was a really good and very different movie.
The Women (George Cukor, 1939)
Despite my occasional reservations about its sometimes sexist attitudes, I liked this movie a lot, and I think it probably deserves credit for being very progressive for 1939, even if it seems a little anti-feminist in 2006. Yes, the message turns out to be that you'll only be happy if you stay with your husband even if he cheats on you, but for most of the movie the women are clearly the ones in charge of everything, and even at the end when Mary goes back to her husband and gleefully dismisses her pride, it's under circumstances that she's engineered, so I suppose it's okay. And everything else is wonderful - the hilarious, crackling dialogue; the rich (in both senses of the word) characters; the remarkably frank approach to divorce (although I do love how they all have to travel to Reno to get no-fuss divorces). It's amazing how long it took me to notice that there are no men in the entire film, and the ways that Cukor and the screenwriters structure scenes to omit the men are sometimes remarkable. The scene with Mary's maid and cook recounting her entire argument with her husband (rather than showing him on-screen) is amazing, and reveals as much about the minor maid and cook characters as it does about Mary, and she's not in the scene at all. Really just a wonderfully entertaining film.