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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

10 Great Sleeper Films You May Have Missed (Vol. V)

1. Monos

Movie poster for the film Monos (2019)

Monos (2019) is a bold and wildly unconventional South American war film that follows a group of teenage guerrillas (self-styled "Monos") who have been posted to a remote Colombian outpost. Nestled above the clouds in the Colombian Andes, the unit of 8 youthful commandos is assigned to guard a kidnapped American doctor (Julianne Nicholson), while otherwise left to their own devices—when not intermittently visited by “The Messenger” (Wilson Salazar), their disciplined commander. When a tragic mistake is committed, however, a cascading series of transgressions finds the group splintered and increasingly adversarial—the full reality of warfare weighing upon each of them. Co-written and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Alejandro Landes, Monos is a transcendent and enthralling cinematic conception. With inspiration from the likes of Golding and Conrad, it's a vibrant depiction of innocence loss, dehumanization and humanity's innate savagery.

Watch the trailer here.

2. The Assassination of Jesse James

Movie poster for the film The Assassination of Jess James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) is a highly stylized revisionist western that follows the burgeoning relationship between between the titular outlaw (Brad Pitt) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a young criminal desperate to align himself with his lifelong hero. Brought under James’ wing to assist in relocating the latter’s home, Ford soon finds himself enmeshed in a complicated power struggle within The James–Younger Gang. With secondary members conspiring to betray James and turn him in to the authorities, Ford quickly becomes a pawn in the outright warfare that erupts between the splintered members of the once mighty band of robbers. Beautifully crafted by Australian director Andrew Dominik (One More Time with Feeling), The Assassination of Jesse James is a sublimely transcendent twist on the classic western, delivering a bold, fresh vision to the genre.

Watch the trailer here.

3. Blue is the Warmest Colour

Movie poster for the film Blue is the Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour (La vie d'Adèle) (2013) is an evocative French romantic drama about a introverted high school student named Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who is drawn into a passionate love affair with Emma (Léa Seydoux), an alluring older art student. Chancing one day to encounter the seductive, blue-haired Emma, Adèle is immediately smitten and quickly falls headlong into a hot-blooded affair with the alluring temptress. The film's narrative charts the course of their often tumultuous relationship over time, through the gradual ebbs and flows of their courtship and eventual cohabitation. This highly charged depiction of young love is thoroughly affecting, delivering an honest depiction of same-sex relations that never pulls its punches nor glosses over the complexities of modern courtship. It’s a lengthy, honest and altogether transfixing presentment of sexual awakening and passionate youthful entanglement.

Watch the trailer here.

4. Mustang

Movie poster for the film Mustang (2015)

Mustang (2015) is a vibrant portraiture of rural life in a small village in northern Turkey. The storyline follows young Lale (Günes Nezihe Sensoy) and her four older sisters who have been orphaned as children and left residing with their grandparents in the coastal town of İnebolu. Walking home from school one day, the girls are persuaded to frolic in the lake with a group of eager boys—an act that scandalizes their conservative grandparents and the community at large. Their defiance and burgeoning insubordination leads their elders to engage each of them in a series of arranged marriages in order to suppress their provocative natures, much to Lale's abject dismay. Written and directed by Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven and based on her own adolescence, it's an impassioned true-to-life drama, delivering a piercing depiction of youthful rebellion against traditionalism and sectarianism in the 21st Century.

Watch the trailer here.

5. Control

Movie poster for the film Control (2007)

Control (2007) is an enthralling biographical depiction of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), lead singer of the seminal post-punk band Joy Division. The storyline follows Curtis' early aspirations toward poetry before a landmark concert experience changes his life forever. In June of 1976 Curtis and three friends attend a Sex Pistols concert in Manchester—for Curtis an immediate inspiration to form a musical act as part of the burgeoning new wave of punk music. Teaming up with promoter and manager Tony Curtis of Factory Records, Joy Division enjoys growing success on the regional circuit, yet Curtis is bedeviled by ongoing struggles with Epilepsy—prescribed drugs making him unstable and threatening his very livelihood. With this absorbing recreation of historical success and severe emotional tumult, director Anton Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe have crafted a beautiful, heartrending work—and viscerally galvanizing cinematic experience.

Watch the trailer here.

6. Sexy Beast

Movie poster for the film Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast (2000) is a ferocious British gangster film starring Ray Winstone as Gal, a former London mob lieutenant retired to the Southern coast of Spain with his wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman). Gal and Deedee’s lives are upturned, however, by the arrival of Don Logan (Ben Kingsley)—a vicious former protégé of Gal’s. Mob boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) has sent Don in search of Gal to recruit him for the score of a lifetime, though Gal holds no interest in the opportunity whatsoever. The meat of the storyline is an extended and increasingly distressing tête-à-tête between Gal and Logan, with Kingsley delivering a monstrously fervid mad-dog performance. Directed by British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), Sexy Beast a brazen and jarring reconstitution of the classic gangster drama. Glazer deftly balances style and flair with character development and brilliant performances, bearing something altogether new and boldly refreshing to the screen.

Watch the trailer here.

7. Dogtown and Z-Boys

Movie poster for the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) is a vivacious documentary feature that charts the path of the Zephyr Competition Team (aka "Z-Boys"), a surf crew from Southern California formed in 1971. In 1974, Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Chris Cahill, Stacy Peralta and Allen Sarlo join up with representation from Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions in competition, while frequenting the infamous Pacific Ocean Park breaks unceremoniously dubbed "Dogtown" for its shabby conditions. Intrigued by the burgeoning sport of skateboarding, the Z-Boys solicit Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom to sponsor a competitive skate team the following year, quickly altering the sport inextricably with their low-riding, hand-dragging style wrought from their years on the surf. Narrated by Sean Penn and directed by Stacy Peralta himself, Dogtown and Z-Boys is a charmingly nostalgic and invigorating recapitulation of a bygone era, captured with remarkable gusto and gratification.

Watch the trailer here.

8. The Squid and the Whale

Movie poster for the film The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale (2005) is a wry and reflective comedy-drama set in 1980’s Brooklyn, starring Jeff Daniels as Bernard Berkman, an imperious failed novelist. When Bernard and his his wife Joan (Laura Linney) agree to divorce due to irreconcilable differences, their impressionable young sons Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) are left disillusioned by this dark turn of fate. The boys are subsequently forced into a joint custody arrangement while each processes their parents’ splintered marriage in varied manner—displaying increasingly erratic behavior as they navigate the emotional burden of divorce and parental discord. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), it's a piercing tale of familial disharmony, given wry comic energy and astute introspection thanks to Baumbach’s highly attentive brand of storytelling. A darkly comic gem, it’s a resounding Aughts-era highlight and one of the finer arthouse films of the 20th Century.

Watch the trailer here.

9. Head-On

Movie poster for the film Head-On (Gegen Die Wand)

Head-On (Gegen Die Wand) (2004) is a kinetic love story set in Hamburg, Germany that follows the star-crossed relationship between two Turkish emigrants: Cahit (Birol Ünel), a cantankerous, 40-something alcoholic and Sibel (Sibel Kekilli), an alluring younger woman beset by clinical depression. Barely surviving a car accident that lands him in the hospital, Cahit first encounters Sibel whose prompt marriage proposition veils her own desperate need for escape from her strictly conservative family. Cahit soon finds himself living in frustrating co-habitation with the attractive young vixen he has taken on as a platonic housemate, sparking acrimony and animosity before ultimately, unexpected romance blooms between the two fractured souls. Written and directed by Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin (The Edge of Heaven), Head-On is an energized and emotionally galvanizing creation—a resounding cross-cultural examination of heartache, reconciliation and human devotion.

Watch the trailer here.

10. Primer

Movie poster for the film Primer

Primer (2004) is a fascinating and highly progressive science-fiction story about two young tech engineers, Aaron (Caruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), who inadvertently create a time travel apparatus. Holed up in Abe’s garage, the pair labors over technological experiments in the hopes of lucrative development opportunities before they unwittingly create a time loop side-effect involving electromagnetic reduction. This genesis of “The Box” becomes the inception of a device that ultimately leads the two close friends down deviating paths of unforeseen and perilous discord. Crafted by burgeoning young filmmaker Shane Carruth (Upstream Color), it's a captivating and profoundly complex formulation, with Carruth eschewing accessibility for a far more cerebral depiction of scientific advancement and human entanglement. Dense, intricate and wildly inventive, it's a wonderfully beguiling tale of divergence and deception.

Watch the trailer here.


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