safe

Julianne Moore plays a listless housewife who has it all. Problem is she’s allergic to it all…the sleek furniture, the manicured garden, the jammed freeway, and the dead relationship. Her pursuit for a cure to chemical overload acts as a terrifying symbol for the emotional distress, anxiety, anger, and spiritual vacancy of urban life. Moore plays her soul-deadened housewife with sensitivity and restraint, which makes her journey into the heart of mental toxic darkness all the more eerie. [us, 1995]

boys don’t cry

Pain spills off the screen in this tragic depiction of a boy trapped in a girl’s body. Hilary Swank nabbed an Oscar for her ingenuous high-wire act as boy-girl Teena Brandon, and Chloe Sevigny dazzles as the fierce lover who yearns to escape her no-way-out life. It’s a bleak portrait of trailer park desperation, and yet it avoids the cheap characters typical of White Trash movies. All the players, from the boozing mom right down to the wounded creeps who commit their brutal acts, are acutely drawn. Intense, graphic, sharply shot, and unforgettable. [us, 1999]

suspicious river

Molly Parker gives another eerie performance for Canadian director Lynne Stopkewich (Kissed). This time she’s as a small-town girl who’s fresh complexion belies her shattered inside. In a tale worthy of David Lynch, Molly plays a squeaky clean married gal who works the front desk of the local motel while turning rough tricks in the ragged bedrooms. It’s not long before a sadistic but charismatic creep is guiding her towards her inevitable soul-crushing destruction. Tough to take. [canada, 2000]

dancer in the dark

It’s a love it or hate it film. Love it for the exceptional concept and stunning performance by Bjork. Hate it for the overly melodramatic plot and nausea-inducing hand-held camera. Love it or hate it for Bjork’s soundtrack. It’s powerful, sickening, depressing, and uplifting. Not an easy ride, but definitely worth seeing. [denmark, 2000]

the prompter

A predictable, but sweet film about an opera prompter who marries for romance but not for love. Siv is passionate about her work, even more so than some of the stars she prompts. Her passion makes her a bit naive in other areas, and she marries a cold doctor who is essentially looking for a nanny for his two children. However, things change when she meets the sensitive tuba player. [norway, 1999]

circle of friends

Minnie Driver makes her debut in this quiet coming of age story based on a book by Maeve Binchy. Driver portrays an awkward overweight(!) small-town Irish girl who falls in love with the boy next door (a handsome Chris O’Donnell). Although sometimes overly sentimental, this film is enjoyable for its portrayal of young women struggling with adulthood and a strict Irish Catholic upbringing. [us/uk, 1995]

bossa nova

Like a sweating pitcher of Sangria on a sun-baked day, this romance is refreshing but not too sweet. Starring Amy Irving, and produced by her husband as a love letter to her, the film centers on an English teacher in Brazil whose students and casual acquaintances fall in love (often with her). Any romance worth its salt doesn’t run smoothly and this one is full of missed meetings and mistaken identities. Recommended summer, fun bopping along to a syncopated beat. [us/brazil, 2000]

new waterford girl

Hard not to like Mooney Pottie, a surly 15-year-old geek whose every pore screams “get me out of this stinking seaside town!” That is until a spunky big town, New York gal moves in next door and pulls her out of her stifling funk. Thankfully, nothing in this gritty gem unfolds as expected. The headstrong newcomer cheerfully knocks out errant boyfriends. Pregnant teens flee Aunt Agnes’s Home for Wayward Girls. And Mooney’s unlikely escape plan nearly causes the town a collective nervous breakdown. Full of snarky “go girl” energy, kooky characters, and bleak yet striking scenery. A wicked find. [canada, 1999]

touched

A bitter booze-soaked widow is slowly transformed after she hooks up with a young sensuous wanderer who adores her from the inside out. It’s a gritty and magical look at life on a First Nations reserve and the “beauty and the beast” of mental illness. The film provides Lynn Redgrave with a complex role where she reveals the strength and fragility of an aging woman facing life’s demons head-on. [canada, 1999]

tumbleweeds

A rootless mother-daughter duo flit from man to man and state to state until they wash up in California. Janet McTeer gives a sexy performance as the exuberant Southern mom whose sardonic daughter acts as counterpoint to her own recklessness. The pair shares a deep intimacy rarely found in teen movies where parents are often cast as morons and peers as catty models in waiting. Mom is so wide open, she teaches her daughter how to kiss using an apple, and later the pair gets giddy on the hilarity of menstruation. Neatly averts cliche. [us, 1999]