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]

not of this world

A 30-ish nun’s faith is tested when a jogger thrusts an abandoned baby into her arms. Suddenly, her isolated world expands, and she must wrestle with dilemmas faced by real people. The baby’s mere existence tests others as well: a lonely dry cleaner ‘s insular world is shaken when he realizes he might be the father; a young birth mother goes into hiding; and a lineup of hopeful prospective adoptive parents forms around the dream of a family. It’s a quiet movie about ordinary people who’ve withdrawn from the world, and it moves in gentle but profound ways. [italy, 2000]

crossing delancey

Amy Irving stars as Izzy, an intellectual-worshipping bookstore clerk who’s Bubby attempts to play matchmaker for her. Despite her protests that matchmaking is not part of her hip Manhattan lifestyle, Izzy agrees to meet the match, who turns out to be the charming and gentle pickle-salesman from across Delancy street. The crux of this sweet little movie is whether Izzy will finally come to her senses and recognize the difference between pompous posers and true love… [us, 1998]

little voice

Call it a small victory for shy people. Here the mute-like Little Voice or LV lives in a domestic hell cloistered in her bedroom terrorized by her overbearing mother and aching for her dead father. While Ma tries to get her hands into the local slimeball’s shiny pants, LV, who has virtually no speaking voice, belts out tunes by Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Marlene Dietrich, and other classic divas in her room. Jane Horrocks reprises her stage role singing for real, and pretty much owns the movie. [uk, 1998]

margaret’s museum

A wacky but haunting piece of East Coast Canadiana. The cast of eccentric characters includes Margaret, the snotty nosed whore, a sharp-tongued mother, a dust-infested grand-father who needs a regular thumping, and a bagpipe blowing love interest. It may be bizarre, but it’s also a bracingly original and emotionally compelling portrait of a mining town yoked to its death traps like an alcoholic to his bottle. [canada, 1995]

life is sweet

An early film by Mike Leigh, champion of working-class British life, this often hilarious portrait of a slightly off-beat family. Dad’s dream, much to the chagrin of his family, is to own a chip wagon. The teenage twin daughters can’t stand each other. One twin who refers to everyone as “fascist” is also a border-line anorexic. Jane Horrocks [Little Voice, Career Girls] is perfect as the fascism obsessed teen. Believe it or not, this is a wonderfully uplifting film, and true to it’s title, life is sweet. [uk, 1990]

sweetie

Another Jane Campion film, this time her directorial debut, with the story of the dysfunctional relationship between two sisters. Sweetie is the obsessive, demanding, and coddled sister who is the catalyst for all family dynamics, but the story is really about how the other characters deal and interact with her. Quirky and offbeat, this film shows the beginnings of Campion’s immense talent. [nz, 1989]

angel at my table

Jane Campion’s film is based on the true story of New Zealand’s most famous poet Janet Frame. As a child the awkward, shy, yet insightful Janet didn’t fit in which lead her to being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, and committed to a psychiatric hospital where she endured electric shock “therapy.” However, Janet endured, was finally released and began winning poetry awards and international acclaim. Although ultimately uplifting this film is quite heavy in places, and is quite long since it was originally a television series. Make sure you’re prepared to spend the time and emotional effort when you see it. [nz, 1990]

the incredibly true story of two girls in love

A quirky, light-hearted tale of first love — only here it’s between two young girls. In a nice stereotype switch, Randi is a wrong-side-of-the-tracks white girl who lives with her granola-eating aunts while the graceful Evie is a wealthy black girl who lives in a manicured neighbourhood and is enroute to Harvard. The film moves fast, and Go Fish director Maria Maggenti, ably depicts the goofy excessiveness of teen love without getting political. [us, 1995]

secrets and lies

The gritty story of a successful black adoptee who tracks down her birth mother only to discover mom is not only psychologically unstable and barely educated, but also white. Add a couple battling infertility, and an unforgettable family reunion, and you have skeletons tumbling out of the closet. Raw, painful, and hilarious, Mike Leigh’s film is the most powerful exploration of the fallout of closed adoption records to date. [uk, 1996]