Spettacolo (2017)

If there can be autobiographies, why not autodrama? Every year a rural Italian town writes and performs a play; what began as a means of recording history evolved into social commentary. It was never satire merely for laughs but what happens when meanings and motivations change? The irony is in the meta.

The purpose tradition serves is as varied as opinions about it. While it can preserve culture and thus unify a community, the very same can seem burdensome. There’s no easy answer to whether you should stick it out to protect history from being lost to modernity or embrace the future, which threatens/ promises to assimilate everything you’ve always known.

Since documentary filmmaking is mostly decisions about what to include, editing will spin a situation in a certain direction. Not that the tourists who visit the annual production don’t interpret things from their own perspective but surely for people to tell you about themselves in their own words goes beyond mere ritual…

John Tucker Must Die (2006)

It irks me to have recommended a complex film to someone who watched it while distracted. I know sometimes you want to veg. Well, then here you go:

If you want something in the background, this one fits the bill. I first saw it at a girl’s night (board games and booze) with a group of chatty gals. No hard won victory, no poignant message; just goofy fun at the expense of a cheating high school boyfriend caught by his multiple side chicks, who team up to plot revenge. This movie is the perfect guilty pleasure because it’s pure fun.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

At the urging of a summer camper with Downs Syndrome who wanted to be a movie star, a pair of writers/ directors made a movie just for him! It’s rare for any dramatic movie to have just the right timing of genuine humor without being trite but to procure such big names, who bring the characters to life is a remarkable thing. Best of all, it illustrates the big joyous heart of a man searching for a place to belong while retaining the dignity of so many whom he represents. Only a small, independent film such as this could stay true to its message without wandering down rabbit trails of gratuitous content that would only distract from its engaging premise and compromise the believability of its likable characters. The consistency of its quality is evidence of talent, especially considering its budget constraints; this inspiration story lacks nothing.

Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken (1991)

The perfect film for anyone who appreciates the dedication of an athlete and/or horse lore is set during The Great Depression. Headstrong orphan, Sonora struggles to find a place to belong; she even runs away from her aunt, who plans to turn her over to the state. Captivated by the pageantry of Atlantic City, she ends up joining the circus, where she aspires to be the rider of a diving horse. She agrees to start as a stable hand, falls in love with the horse trainer’s son then goes blind in a devastating accident. But, as the title implies… you get the picture.

Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

It takes a delicate hand to capture modern relationships in all their complexities. That’s not to say there’s no place for humor; the skillful balance of drama–both poignant and entertaining– and humor–both silly and dark– keep this movie from being schmaltzy or condescending. Rather than resorting to flippant stereotypes, the characters are people we know (and perhaps are) and their realistic situation turns familiar tropes on their head. As they reveal what we’re afraid to admit, a little bit of honesty goes a long way and we’re all the better for it.

Blood Work (2002)

This “whodunnit” may be not the most notable to mystery fans but none other than Clint Eastwood directs an impressive ensemble while staring as an FBI profiler who’s recovering from a heart transplant and finds out the identity of his donor may lead to an elusive serial killer. In classic Eastwood style, an ordinary cop drama forgoes excessive violence/ gore and calmly stays focused on the cat-and-mouse game afoot.

Living in Oblivion (1995)

I love movies about movies, anyway. But this one is far from farce; it’s realistic almost to the point of being painful as it manages to capture both the spirit and technical process of independent filmmaking. Should I mention the allstar top-notch cast? The meta cherry atop an already delicious sundae.

What the Deaf Man Heard (1997)

That it was originally made by a greeting card company shouldn’t dissuade you from giving this a chance. Before Hallmark (or anyone else, for that matter) had an entire channel, they made dramas that aired on network TV. In this clever story, a boy finds himself alone on a bus, which arrives at a small town depot. Unaware of how frightened he is, everyone assumes the boy is deaf and mute (except, perhaps, the local rum runner). He plays the part out of convenience and grows up privy to all the town’s secrets. Instances of prejudice against his supposed handicap notwithstanding, he enjoys being the keeper of information… until circumstances require eyewitness testimony to catch a con artist who’s been scamming the town.