This is the time of year when I go into movie-watching high gear. At any other time of year, I can watch whatever strikes my fancy, be it studio blockbuster or weird indie film. But between December and March, I’ve got to get as many of the major award nominees watched as possible before the telecasts of the awards ceremonies, so I can feel cultured while I critique everyone’s outfits and speeches. It’s tradition.
If you’re similarly cinema-obsessed (for these, or other reasons), hoopla can help. It has tons of movies from pretty much every genre, from an “Oscar Winners & Nominees” category to Hindi language films to Ken Burns documentaries. I found it difficult to compile my “best of” list. What should my criteria be? Personal taste? Critical acclaim? Widest appeal?
Well, suffice it to say, there is much more to hoopla movies to explore, but here’s a few to get you started (I never did decide on particular criteria—perhaps instead of “best of,” this list should be “random picks from movies I like”).
From director Terry Gilliam (the weird one from Monty Python) and written by Gilliam and Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), Brazil is a critically acclaimed black comedy, dystopian science fiction, and cult classic. Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a grey-suited government clerk who finds his life turned upside-down when he gets involved in a case of mistaken identity. Categorized as an enemy of the state, Sam is propelled into a surreal romance with the woman of his dreams, who may also be a terrorist. (Don’t worry, I started with the weirdest one. The rest of the list get more normal. Sort of.)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Hollywood version directed by David Fincher was good and all, but to my mind, completely unnecessary, because this, the original Swedish film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is completely perfect. Noomi Rapace is EXACTLY how I pictured Lisbeth, and the film is brutal and bleak and cannot be improved upon (even with a score from Trent Reznor, whom I love with all my heart). Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced that it was murder and that the killer is a member of his own family. He employs disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed and troubled but resourceful computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Did you love Thor: Ragnarok? Regardless of your answer, you should check out this movie from Thor director Taika Waititi, which is absolutely nothing like Thor: Ragnarok. Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together. Sam Neill is wonderful in it. Also check out What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi’s mockumentary about a group of vampires sharing a flat, co-directed, written, and starring Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Concords).
I Am Not Your Negro
This documentary, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award. Filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, Remember This House. It is a journey into black history that connects the Civil Rights movement to #BlackLivesMatter. It questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond and examines the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Return to Oz
Okay, I may have lied when I said that Brazil was the weirdest movie on this list. Return to Oz might give it a run for its money. I had the Disney picture book of this movie when I was a child, and I was terrified of it. The film opens on Dorothy being taken to an asylum by Aunt Em to undergo electroshock therapy. She escapes, of course, and ends up in Oz again. Instead of singing and dancing down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy finds that her old friends have been turned to stone, and that urban blight has struck the Emerald City. The villain, Princess Mombi, keeps a vast assortment of beautiful heads, taken from the young women she has murdered, which she can swap out for her own head. Starring a young Fairuza Balk, this cult classic is considered more faithful to the Oz novels than the 1939 musical. (And hoopla also has a large selection of children’s and family movies that won’t give everyone nightmares.)
This movie makes my “top ten all-time favorites” list, for sure. You just can’t beat the pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. And in 1930s period clothing? I’m dead. Winner of 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, The Sting stars Newman and Redford as two con men in 1930s Chicago. After a friend is killed by the mob, they try to get even by attempting to pull off the ultimate "sting." No one is to be trusted as the twists unfold, leading up to one of the greatest double-crosses in movie history.
If you like true crime documentaries, this one is a “can’t miss.” The name "Kitty Genovese" became synonymous with urban apathy after "The New York Times" printed an article stating that she was stabbed to death during an attack that lasted more than half an hour, while 38 witnesses did nothing. Fifty years later, her brother uncovers a lie that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era.