THE BEST OF THE BOX-OFFICE BUSTS

By: Louis Cepeda

While big budget movies with the potential of selling hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office continue to litter movie theaters around the country on a regular basis, a number of good quality films have suffered the fate of coming and going almost unnoticed. Unlike the rash of Hollywood blockbusters with their high-speed chases, implausible plots and pointless sex and violence, the boxoffice busts listed below offer viewers intelligent stories, good acting, and sometimes breathtaking filmmaking. In an era where park-your-brain-in-neutral escapism is commonplace in movies, these films provide unique takes on the human experience, challenge our imagination, and give us a sense that even unpleasant situations can sometimes lead to cinematic art. Needless to say, they deserved a larger audience. MEAN CREEK Mean Creek is an unsettling story about a teenage prank that goes terribly wrong. A group of kids decide to get even with a school bully by totally embarrassing him. But their plan backfires and the bully unintentionally dies. Faced with a crime they didn’t set out to commit, the youngsters must make the type of moral decision that will most likely shape their lives negatively forever. Good, realistic acting and a view of how even innocence can take a bad turn when you're young, Mean Creek is really a small gem that deserves a wider audience. Stars Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley and a great group of
young actors.

GUNNER PALACE (documentary) Unlike other films about our unfortunate invasion and occupation of Iraq, Gunner Palace seems to have no political views to hash out. Instead you get a brutally honest and often troubling look at what it was to be an everyday soldier in that war. The film not only gives us a stark, unpolished look at our young men and women in a no-win situation, but also highlights the ongoing fears and distrust of the innocent civilians they encountered along the way. While pundits are still arguing the pros and cons of our involvement in Iraq, Gunner Palace presents us with a raw examination of what war is and the burden we put on those whom we ask to do the fighting. TYRANNOSAUR Tyrannosaur is one of the best films I saw in 2012. It is the story of two lonely and desperate people, whose lives are so damaged that you feel right off the bat there is little hope for them. He is a cruel and terrible drunk, she is a Christian determined to be a good and solid person. The two meet at her charity shop and they strike up an uncomfortable relationship. Tyrannosaur isn’t a typical love story, but the two people do come together to try and make sense of their miserable existence. Superb acting and a surprising twist at the end left me admiring the film even more. Stars Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman. THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND The United States of Leland is the type of film that raises more questions than answers. While we know who the killer of a mentally challenged boy is right at the start of the movie, the rest of the story provides us with a disturbing and

complicated look at teenage depression. In fact, the more grown-ups try to figure out why Leland killed a boy he liked, the more we come to understand how difficult it is to get a hold on this disease. Good acting and good writing makes The United States of Leland a compelling piece of cinema. Stars Don Cheadle, Ryan Gosling, Chris Klein, Jena Malone and Lena Olin. THE WOODSMAN This isn't an easy film to watch. It is the story of a pedophile, who returns to his hometown after 12 years in prison. Struggling to start a new life, the pedophile is constantly challenged for his horrific past by harassing cops and resentful co-workers. Even when he finds a woman that is willing to accept him, he seems unable to overcome his despair. The acting (especially Kevin Bacon as the sex offender) is superb, and the film raises other questions about child abuse that are both timely and controversial. Don’t let the subject matter bother you, this is a thought-provoking film that deserves a bigger audience. Stars Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mos Def, and David Alan Grier. RIVERS AND TIDES (Documentary) This unusual documentary deals with the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates beautiful pieces of sculptures from all that nature has to offer. Using rocks, tree branches, grass, ice or anything else he finds in the wilderness, Goldsworthy proves that there is a fragile yet poetic relationship between art and nature. Shot gorgeously by cinematographer Thomas Reidelsheimer, Tides and Rivers is a breathtaking and refreshing look at what most of us take for granted when we are out in the woods, the beach or the mountains.

BALLAST Ballast is one of those films that is hard to categorize. at times very slowly. But the genuineness of the plot and characters can’t be denied. The movie takes place in the This is also a Mississippi Delta and tells the story of three people coming together as a family almost out of desperation. coming of age film in a dangerous environment that most of us think only exist in urban settings. A double prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival, Ballast is a beautifully told story of defeat and redemption. Real low-budget filmmaking at its best. Stars Michael J. Smith Sr., Jim Myron Ross and Tarra Riggs. THE MESSENGER Outside of combat duty, one of the most difficult assignments anyone can have in the military is telling a next of kin that their loved one has died in war. best of their abilities. The Messenger is a film about two soldiers who have that duty and try to perform it to the When a soldier dies in combat, they must immediately go to the family and give them the bad news. The film gives us a deep, intimate look at human beings dealing with some of the most profound and devastating moments of their lives. The acting is superb right across the board, especially Woody Harrelson as the lead bearer of bad news. Samantha Morton and Woody Harrelson. DINNER RUSH I love films that take me into a world that I’m unfamiliar with and make it feel authentic. Dinner Rush does just that. In one crazy evening it takes you behind the scenes of an Italian I was moved more by this film than The Hurt Locker. Stars Ben Foster, Yes, it’s a slice of life story with little action. And yes, it moves

restaurant in New York City to a story of double-crossing, gambling, mafia intimidation and murder. of running a first class restaurant. In the process, you get to know how great food is prepared and the incredible stress This is wonderful smallHighly recommend budget filmmaking with a nice surprise ending. it. Stars Danny Aiello and Edoardo Ballerini. YOUNG AT HEART (Documentary) For those who believe that you’re never too old to learn or enjoy life, Young at Heart should be on your list of must-see films. The story deals with a group of seniors, most of them over 80 years old, who become part of a traveling chorus. But this isn’t your typical senior home chorus. The lovable group must learn and perform a slate of new songs, ranging from James Brown to Coldplay. How they go about preparing and learning these new forms of music is the focus of the film. Funny and enchanting, this is truly a documentary for all ages. THE WAR ZONE Actor Tim Roth's directorial debut, The War Zone, is a fearless, unflattering look at a working class family living is a small home on the raw English coast. With the mother pregnant and unaware of her family falling apart around her, it is the son who must take on the task of challenging and exposing the incestuous relationship between his sister and his father. the-line, especially considering that the brother and sister (Lara Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe) were not professional actors. Highly recommend as a film that will move and upset you at the same time. Stars Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton. This is not an easy film to watch, but the performances are top-of-

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