7. Dreamland (2006)
Dreamland is a drama from 2006 that paints a portrait of a desolate yet strangely picturesque trailer park called Dreamland and its sundry residents. The film closely follows a young selfless poet named Audrey whose days and nights revolve around providing support for her alcoholic father and best friend Calista, a bubbly free spirit diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Audrey’s true altruistic nature and ultimate guilt and reluctance to leave behind her helpless father and dying friend to chase her own dreams outside of Dreamland surface when a new, charming resident named Mookie becomes a catalyst for her escapism.
The film provides an unearthly and introspective viewing experience with its hypnotizing visuals and compelling story. First time director Jason Matzner gracefully and strikingly portrays a young woman’s personal crossroads and inner turmoil while battling the adversities of friendship, family, jealousy, loss, love and freedom.
8. Pizza (2005)
A quirky, unorthodox independent flick from writer/director Mark Christopher, Pizza depicts the tale of a charismatically hefty and loquacious 18-year-old girl and her galvanizing escapades over the course of one night with a charming pizza boy, played by Ethan Embry, after he offers to take her along on his rounds.
Pizza douses itself into an atypical relationship between two characters who are seemingly contradictory yet have more in common than what lurks on the surface. Its lightheartedness and cheekily outrageous dialogue fuse to create a fruitful story about love, camaraderie, loneliness, self-acceptance and the unanticipated yet influential relationships that can somehow stumble upon us.
9. Thumbsucker (2006)
Directed by graphic designer Mike Mills and based on the novel by Walter Kirn, Thumbsucker takes a more subtle and tender approach to on-screen adolescence in comparison to those that strive for delivering a more raw, ferociously forthright angst.
Justin, an intelligent yet reluctant 17-year-old, has a disconcerting habit of sucking his thumb to escape the weight of his overwhelming realities and dysfunctional family. After being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, Justin endures both tremendous highs and inevitable lows while inexplicably struggling to uncover the underlying meaning behind his peculiar habit and hopelessly tries to maintain a level of normalcy in his personal life.
Lou Taylor Pucci provides a solid and genuine lead performance, and both Vince Vaughn and Keanu Reeves bring levity to the film’s overall bleak tone. With exceptional acting and realistic character portrayal, alongside a uniquely optimistic story and beguiling soundtrack, featuring songs from Elliott Smith, Thumbsucker packs a punch and is an authentic delight from opening credits to end credits.
10. For Ellen (2012)
Paul Dano stars as Joby in this understated treasure from director So Yong Kim about a despairing, unsuccessful musician combatting divorce and a loss of custody from his six-year-old daughter, Ellen. The film follows Joby on a long and arduous personal journey as he contemplates his sudden desire to be a father for the first time to his now estranged daughter.
For Ellen is an incisive slow burn with its leisurely pacing and drawn-out character interactions, and Dano delivers a quiet, subtle yet powerful performance as such a passive, nearly comatose character. The natural dialogue between Joby and his daughter is bizarrely both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The film succeeds with not having much on its plate and prevails significantly in a subdued, minimalistic manner.
11. Julien Donkey-Boy (1999)
A film’s genuine significance and overall impact is merely subjective, hence why categorizing any film as an authentic, cunning work of artistry and virtuosity is purely obstinate. However, any defiance to label Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy as a primitive cinematic achievement feels like a sheer treachery.
Although an uncountable amount of films have attempted and failed at the granularly unpolished handheld approach at storytelling, Julien Donkey-Boy is singularly one of the most effective in its category on account of audiences not solely being thrown a vast ocean of hazily ambiguous imageries to ponder the implication of but rather are handed a profoundly ailing and dysfunctional family to become incongruously invested in. Julien, portrayed by Ewan Bremner, is a mentally ill schizophrenic living forlornly with an equally anomalous brother and sister, their grandmother and spitefully abusive father, immaculately played by Werner Herzog.
Julien Donkey-Boy delivers a bluntly shambolic insight of mental illnesses by utilizing harsh and decaying family dynamics. Whereas various scenes are either too enigmatic or too cumbersome to view with complete devotion, its bleak aftereffect is not likely to easily elude the viewer’s psyche.
12. 2:37 (2006)
Australian picture 2:37, written and directed by Murali K. Thalluri, provides audiences with a candid and aching look into the lives of six teenagers as they go about their normal day at school. Each character’s distinctive and perturbing story intertwines with the next, creating a dance of devastation, humiliation and anguish, and at precisely 2:37, a tragedy will occur that will change their lives forever.
Often regarded as a subsidiary knock-off of Gus Van Sant’s more acclaimed Elephant, 2:37 is undeniably both unheeded and undervalued; yet it astoundingly stands on its own pedestal as a gripping, contemporary drama about Australian teenage life.
13. Peppermint Candy (1999)
Korean director Lee Chang-don luminously outshone himself with this 1999 harrowing narrative about a crumbling man recollecting his detrimental life accounts leading up to his inevitable suicide. The events are presented in reverse chronological order, as the audience is already aware of his impending, ill-omened fate.
With a myriad amount emotionally disheartening sequences, the film can undoubtedly become difficult to withstand due to the penitent fact that the viewer is merely already immersed in the shambles that is the protagonist’s life. Its concept and execution is innovative and abysmal, something that won’t escape one’s memory.
Peppermint Candy not only paints a solemn and elegiac portrait of a sole man’s gradual descent into self-destruction but also recounts the social obliteration of a pivotal historic point in South Korean society.