11. Hawks and Sparrows (Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1966)
Pier Paolo Pasolini is one of the most controversial filmmakers of all time, having directed the single most banned movie in the world, Salo: Or the 120 Days of Sodom. His films often touched on very touchy subjects in a brazen manner.
Those subjects included homosexuality, despair, Marxism, ancient history, and the nature of violence. Which is perhaps why his sole comedy, Hawks and Sparrows is often glanced over and viewed as side note when looking at his filmography, despite being one of his very best films.
Hawks and Sparrows is about an old man and his son (played by legendary Italian comedian, Toto, and Pasolini’s real life lover, Ninetto Davoli). While walking down an empty road, they encounter a talking crow. Though alarmed at first, the crow begins to tell them a tale about the adventures of an elderly priest and his young apprentice, when required to preach the Gospel to different groups of people and species of animals.
The film is as allegorical for Marxist themes as other films in Pasolini’s oeuvre, such as Teorema or Pigsty. But in this instance, Pasolini shows a lighter side of himself, as the humor is what is in the forefront and the film is devoid of heavy, solemn ideas. It’s completely absurd, in the tradition of Luis Bunuel and Woody Allen, making for Pasolini’s easiest film to watch.
Hawks and Sparrows is currently available on DVD through Water Bearer Films, Inc.
12. Frailty (Dir. Bill Paxton, 2002)
Bill Paxton is known primarily as an actor, having starred in films such as Aliens, Near Dark, Apollo 13, Twister, and Titanic. In the early 2000s, Bill Paxton was a part of a trend that saw American actors going behind the camera to show their directorial abilities. Other actors in the trend included George Clooney, Nicolas Cage, Edward Norton, and Denzel Washington. Of those debuts, Paxton’s film, Frailty, was easily the best of the bunch and the most overlooked.
Frailty also represents the best horror film of the 21st century so far. The film starts when a man turns up at an FBI agent’s office. He begins to tell the officer of a key event in his childhood when his religious fundamentalist father began to see visions of an angel.
In these visions, the angel tells him to take his two sons on a series of missions to kidnap and kill anonymous “demons” in their woodshed. While one of the boys believes his father’s visions to be true, the other questions the reality of them, thus causing a disconnect in the family that may lead to ultimate doom.
What makes Frailty so interesting is the way that Paxton handles themes of religious fundamentalism and how he utilizes his camera. He builds tension by having moments of silence that are punctuated by intense violence that immediately and abruptly follow. Paxton’s background shines in his direction, as the characters are the forefront of the film and the states of their relationships dictate the ultimate conclusion. In other words, it is top of the line filmmaking and a great directorial debut.
Frailty is currently available on DVD and Blu Ray through Lionsgate Films.
13. Sicilia (Dir. Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, 1999)
The films of the marital directorial team of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet (Straub-Hullet) are amongst the most buried of treasures. Their films are characterized by their rigorous, highly intellectual stimulating style, Marxist overtones, and are always adaptations of texts, and emphasize the relationship between the source material and the film.
One can suppose this makes them a hard sell for the common man and therefore why they are not as well known or as accessible as they deserve to be. Amongst the strongest films in their portfolio is their adaptation of Conversation in Sicily, the controversial anti-fascist novel by Elio Vittorini, known simply as Sicilia.
Sicilia is about an Italian native who immigrated to New York years ago, but has since returned. In this time, he has become accustomed to the stylized capitalist New York lifestyle and has forgot his roots. Throughout the course of the movie, he has conversations with four different people, all on the subject of what it means to be Italian, or more specific Sicilian. The first is with an orange picker, the second with a fellow train passenger, the third with his mother, and the final with a knife sharpener.
The simplicity that Sicilia has is rare in films and that is exactly what makes it so profound. One can also appreciate the delicacy that was put into the framing of the scenes, which is never showy and always has purpose. As for the political ideology, one will either agree with it or will be turned off by it, as it is strongly for the working class over the bourgeois upper class and a condemnation of conservative principles.
Sicilia is a hard film to find in the United States, as it was never given a release here. But can be found on the Internet.
14. A Special Day (Dir. Ettore Scola, 1977)
Upon its release in 1977, A Special Day was a well-known film in the United States, as it received two Oscar major nominations, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor in a Leading Role. But despite this, it has since been seemingly forgotten. Especially shocking given its more then ever relevant themes.
Set on May 8, 1938, the historic day that Adolf Hitler came to Rome for the first time to meet with ally, Benito Mussolini. Everyone is on the streets cheering for the Fascist regimes. That is, except for Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. She is a battered, lonely housewife who has chosen to stay home in their apartment to go about her daily chores while her Fascist husband and children are on the streets.
By chance she meets her neighbor who she immediately strikes up a friendship with. As the day progresses, they confess their feelings about their individual lives and it is revealed that he is a homosexual and is therefore on the run from the police.
The way director Ettore Scola handles the relationship is very intimate and personal. Each of the characters are extremely well developed. As such, it becomes easy to quickly get invested in their stories. The portrayal of homosexuality is very modern and ahead of its’ time. The sexuality of Mastroianni’s character is viewed as natural and his situation is viewed as sympathetic and unjust. The filmmaker’s view of homosexuality doesn’t stop him from portraying the contemporary views of sexuality.
Up until the moment of discovering he’s a homosexual, Loren’s character misconstrues Mastroianni’s kindness for sexual desire and flirts with him. But when the moment of revelation comes, rather than immediately understanding him, wordlessly she tries to run away from him. The moment, to say the least is as heartbreaking as it is honest and why this movie is so special.
A Special Day is available on DVD, but is hard to come by. Luckily Netflix has it on order through their DVD services.
15. Wanda (Dir. Barbara Loden, 1970)
Of all the films on this list, there is no better film or painfully under seen then Barbara Loden’s sole feature film, Wanda. Everything about this film is great, the performances, the direction, the writing, the cinematography, etc. It has been acclaimed by various critics as one of the greatest films ever made, with Sight & Sound Magazine’s critics listing it as one of the Top 250 Greatest Films Ever Made. Despite this praise, it continues to be unknown to the common viewer.
Wanda is about the titular character, a lonely, battered, alcoholic housewife seeking a divorce from her husband. In the meantime, Wanda goes from one nightstand to one nightstand, so as to keep a roof over her head, while feeding into her addiction by drinking heavily.
Eventually, she comes across a mysterious man who she becomes attached to and goes on a cross-country road trip with him; only to find out he is a low life bank robber. But she decides to stay with him and they begin an abusive relationship as he plans his next heist.
Barbara Loden, whose husband was the legendary Elia Kazan, handles the material in such a mature and honest fashion. In contrast to Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, which was a celebration of its violent outlaw characters, Loden instead presents her characters as sad individuals who are by all accounts broken. N
othing about this film is glamorous. This is emphasized by its location, a crumbling coal-mining town in Pennsylvania which gives a looming sense of doom throughout, and the way it was shot, on 16 mm film, so as to give an extremely grainy look that feels intimate and home video like, so as to be even more intimate with her characters, with the use of camera being especially effective.
Loden, who also plays the titular character, was trained as an actress, so it comes as no surprise that the performances are given especial attention and come across as natural, almost improvisational. It’s especially astounding when one learns that only the two co-leads were professional actors, all supporting characters were merely local residents of the town.
In this sense, the film is reminiscent of a Robert Bresson film, especially given how intimate Loden gets with her characters and setting. Wanda is a great film, one of the very best ever made. It’s a must see for all, but unfortunately is hard to come by.
It is available on DVD in very limited demand, but luckily is available through the Netflix DVD services.
Author Bio: Patrick DeVita-Dillon is a third year film student at Pratt Institute. He has been watching films since he was an infant and fancies himself a cinephile. Some of his favorite filmmakers include David Lynch, Ozu Yasujiro, Eric Rohmer, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bela Tarr, and Chantal Akerman.