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Not quite Oscar

IT HAPPENS every year: a bunch of wonderful little films that never show up at the Oscars because they are either too strange or controversial or offbeat. While Oscar-worthy movies are wholesome, pleasing and get the formula right, these understated, low-key movies have a dark edge to them, don't easily please and can be unpredictable. Some of them are even flawed - but in an interesting way. But what a good thing these films were ignored by the Oscars: it makes them all the more intriguing. And it's precisely because they aren't Oscar material that they are notable. They are critically praised, attract a small audience and die a quick death at the box office. But over a period of time, by word of mouth, they slowly acquire a reputation on the video circuit (make that the DVD circuit) and get a second life on the video shelf.

There were several noteworthy little gems this year (Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, Charlotte Gray, Born Romantic, Under the Sands, Together, Lantana, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Pandemonium, The Circle, Better Than Sex, Startup.Com and The Fat Girl) but we've zeroed in on five that you might want to check out from your local video/dvd library -if you're lucky enough to find them there.

``Waking Life"

Perhaps a little too experimental for the Oscars. A bunch of slackers, eccentrics, romantics, outsiders and philosophers drift around talking about anything - from quantum physics to movies to love. But wait - that isn't the experimental part - this is: writer -director Richard Linklater shot this whimsical talk-fest romantic comedy, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the usual way and then had artists paint each frame as you would a painting! It's based on something called rotoscoping where you can morph live action and animation. The effect is altogether beautiful (colours smear the frames) - like people meeting and talking in a kind of dreamscape.


A little too surreal for the Oscars? The word on the film is that it is ``a great American madcap comedy classic'' but terribly, terribly ignored even in America. Adapted from a graphic novel by Kaja Blackley called ``Dark Town," this is director Henry Selick's third terrific film that has gone virtually unseen. His first, ``The Nightmare Before Christmas," produced by Tim Burton, was the most original animation film in years and his second, ``James and the Giant Peach," was a wonderful stop animation/live action film and the best adaptation of a Roald Dahl story. ``Monkeybone" stars Brendan Fraser as a cartoonist who dies and wakes up as a character in his own cartoon series! Uneven and over the top but filled with Selick's strange genius. ``Donnie Darko"

May be little too weird for the Oscars. Commercially, 26 year old writer-director Richard Kelly's brilliant debut film has been ignored but critically few movies have been as praised. ``Donnie Darko" is an original look at teenage life.

Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a depressed suburban kid and his story is told to us in a surreal style that is disorienting at first and then grows on you. Mary McDonnel turns in a very likeable performance as Donnie's understanding, worried mother - but she didn't even get a Best Supporting Actress nomination. The debut film of the year.

``The Deep End" A little too understated for the Oscars. This is a quiet, suspenseful thriller and a moving domestic drama about the lengths a mother will go to protect her son. Tilda Swinton plays a lonely 40-ish housewife who finds out her son is wanted for murder. Swinton takes frantic steps to protect him - she hides the dead body. ``The Deep End" is directed by McGehee and Siegel who have made only one film previously, the acclaimed ``Suture," way back in 1993. Swinton is subtle and terrific as the mother and ought to have notched a Best Actress nomination.

``The Last Orders"

A little too good for the Oscars? No, that was ``Mulholland Drive." This one is just too masterful for the big O. Director Fred Schepisi has been making small masterpieces that always never seem to get their due. Like ``The Russia House" and ``Six Degrees of Separation" and now his masterful adaptation of Graham Swift's Booker prize-winning novel. The film observes a lifetime of friendship between five men played by Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone and David Hemmings. Also in the cast is that sensational Brit actress, Helen Mirren. Impeccable ensemble acting.

(In this fortnightly column, the author, a Bangalore-based freelance writer, will look at a range of things on cinema: Hollywood trends, mainstream, offbeat, underrated, overrated, classic and cult movies; profiles of actors, film-makers, film critics plus movie trivia. He can be contacted at:


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