9. Drawing Flies (1996)
Upon getting their welfare benefits cut, Donner (Jason Lee) and his roommates decide to take a journey to his uncle’s cabin in the Canadian woods. Before they reach their destination, they group gets lost and stranded when the van breaks down and they are without food or water.
Eventually, Donner confesses that his initial plan is to search for Sasquatch aka Bigfoot. This is met with much dismay and the roommates think he is utterly crazy, as their fruitless quest only bring them bizarre and dangerous activities.
Written and directed by Malcolm Ingram and Matt Gissing, “Drawing Flies” is a deadpan action comedy from Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s View Askew Production Company.
The film was made while Smith and some of regulars like Jason Mewes, Joey Lauren Adams, Renee Humphrey, Carmen Lee/Llywelyn, and a few others were working on “Mallrats”. It drifted into obscurity until 2002, when it was released on DVD then eventually Blu-Ray. However, even in 2016 it remains one of the lesser known works from the View Askew team.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Smith’s first film “Clerks” from 1994.
10. Pi (1998)
Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) lives in a Chinatown apartment in New York City. He is a pill-popping, paranoiac mathematician who believes that everything in nature can be understood through numbers. His connections with other humans are limited to Jenna, a young Chinese-American girl, a neighbor Devi and Sol, his mentor that is an elderly invalid. Max also suffers from headaches, hallucinations and social anxieties.
Through the use of his home computer, dubbed Euclid, he makes stock predictions, but when it crashes, the device provides a numerical code that could be the key for all existing forms of life. His capabilities attract the attention of a Hasidic cabalistic sext and a powerful Wall Street firm, who attempt coerce Max into giving them the number.
The debut of writer and director Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream”), “Pi” is a surrealistic psychological thriller that delves into concepts of religion, mysticism and the universe that is related through mathematics. Shot on grainy, high-contrast black and white reversal film stock, with a $68, 000 budget, it earned $3, 221, 152 at the American box office, despite a limited release in theatres.
Rave reviews from critics who herald it to be a thinking person’s suspenseful action film. It also launched the film scoring career of Clint Mansell (of Pop Will Eat Itself) with a stellar soundtrack from Orbital, Autechre, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack, Psilonaut and others.
11. The City (1998)
The lives of four Hispanic immigrants in New York as depicted through the lens of a Photographer (Antonio Peralta). A Contractor (Joseph Rigano) hires ten Latino men under the pretense of paying them each $50, then changes the terms to fifteen cents for each brick that they pick up, but the working conditions are hazardous.
Francisco (Cipriano Garcia) has just arrived in the city, wanders into Maria’s fifteenth birthday party, but he has no place to stay, so she allows him to stay and then he gets lost when set out for groceries.
Luis (Jose Rabelo) is a homeless street performer with tuberculosis living with his daughter in a car and tries to enroll her into a school, but isn’t able to unless he can prove that they are residents. Ana (Silvia Goiz) is a seamstress in a sweat factory, but hasn’t been paid for several weeks and her daughter has fallen ill, needing $400 for an operation.
In his debut feature, writer and director David Riker, spent five years in the development of “La Ciudad (The City)” working with a non-professional cast with the intention of capturing the authenticity of the impoverished lives of Latinos in NYC. He used gritty black and white film to capture the neo-realism of the struggles of the characters.
It would gain critical acclaim and win many awards at various festivals such as the Human Right Watch International, San Sabastian International, Havana, SXSW, San Antonio and more.
12. Following (1998)
A Young Man (Jeremy Theobald) is struggling to have a career as a writer, begins following strangers in London with the hopes of finding inspiration. A man, Cobb (Alex Haw) takes notice, confronts him and invites the writer along with to commit serial burglaries, even though the material gains from these crimes aren’t as satisfy as the violation of the victim’s properties.
Inspired by these adventures and under the suggestion of Cobb, the Young Man carries out his own break-ins, alters his appearance and assumes an alias of “Daniel Lloyd”. At some point, he develops a relationship with the Blonde (Lucy Russell), a woman whose apartment was rifled through. She is the ex-girlfriend of the Bald Guy (Dick Bradsell), a gangster who murdered a man in her apartment, but is now blackmailing the Blonde.
The debut of writer and director Christopher Nolan (“Memento”), “Following” was neo-noir crime drama shot on black and white 16mm film, using a non-linear structured plot to infuse uncertainty about the characters. Each scene was extensively rehearsed to ensure limited takes in effort to conserve expensive film stock costs.
While some considered the running time brief (seventy minutes), critical response was positive and has been revered to be one most notable no-budget films of the 1990s. On the festival circuit, it won several awards at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
13. The American Astronaut (2001)
In a futuristic past, space travel is flooded with derelicts, thieves and gearheads. Samuel aka Silver Miner (Cory McAbee) is an interplanetary trader who delivers a cat to an asteroid saloon and meets a former dance partner, the Blueberry Pirate (Joshua Taylor), who is now a renowned fruit thief.
Samuel’s payment for the delivery is a Real Live Girl, a homemade cloning device and travels to Jupiter. He runs into the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast (Gregory Russell Cook) who is regarded as royalty on the all-male mining planet. Curtis plans to take the Boy to Venus, which is only populated by women, with the intention to trade him for the remains of Johnny R, a human stud to Southern Belles, and hopes to receive a reward from his grieving family.
The science-fiction-western-musical was written and directed by Cory McAbee, who also co-wrote the film’s soundtrack with his band, Billy Nayer Show. Shot entirely on black and white 35mm film, with unusual paintings for special effects to give it a more unique look rather than using CGI or miniature models.
Picture an odd combination of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” meets “Forbidden Zone” meets “Paint Your Wagon”. At the Florida Film Festival, McAbee won the Special Jury Award for most Original Vision.
14. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Santa Rosa, California, 1949, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a barber and his wife, Doris (Frances McDormand) is an alcoholic bookkeeper. A customer of Ed’s, a businessman named Creighton (Jon Polito) talks about investing into the new practice of dry cleaning. The barber decides to blackmail “Big Dave” Brewster (James Gandolfini), whom is having an affair with Doris.
Worried about a scandal, Dave embezzles the money from his department store, but figures out the scheme and beats Creighton who confesses the responsible person. When a confrontation occurs, Ed stabs and kills Dave. After the funeral, irregularities of the store’s records are discovered, so the police arrest Doris for embezzlement and her boss’ murder.
Another crime noir film written by Coen Brothers, although Joel is credited sole director, Ethan had a hand in it as well. Among the regulars, the cast also features Michael Badalucco, Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins, Katherine Borowitz and a few others. Originally shot in color, it was transferred to black and white.
The storyline involves themes involving UFOs as well as characters who chain-smoke cigarettes. At the 2001 Cannes Festival, Joel Cohen won the Best Director award, who promptly shared it with David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive”.
15. Automatons (2006)
Amongst a distant future, a Girl (Christine Spencer) lives alone in bunker, fighting to survive in ancient war with robot soldiers. Her only connection with the human race are a collection of journals, recorded by the Scientist (Angus Scrimm) who cared for her as an infant.
These entries disclose the end of humankind along with the destruction of the Earth environment and any chance for a future. The Girl is actually a clone, designed a final attempt to restore humanity. The Enemy’s Leader (Brenda Cooney) fills the radio transmissions with taunting and threats, while the Girl sends her troops to attack in contaminated areas.
Initially titled “Death to the Automatons”, the third feature written and directed by James Felix McKenney is a black and white, sci-fi horror film. The story Is a classic tale of a dwindling human race fighting for survival in a machine dominated world. Entertaining and recommended for fans of classic 1950s-60s “Twilight Zone”, 1960s “Doctor Who” and David Lynch weirdness.
16. Control (2007)
In Macclesfield, England, 1975, Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) and Deborah (Samantha Morton) get married, both of which are in their late teens, but the young man doesn’t bode well with being domesticated and writes poetry. A year later, the couple attends the first concert of the Sex Pistols, which inspires Ian to for his own band with Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson), Peter Hook (Joe Anderson) and Stephen Morris (Harry Treadaway).
By 1977, their first show is played under the name Warsaw, then soon after changed to Joy Division. Eventually, they attract the attention of a television host Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) who runs Factory Records and he promptly signs them to label. However, Ian suffers from epilepsy and takes medications that alter his moods. As the group takes off, his marriage begins to suffer and has many doubts about life.
Based on Deborah Curtis’ biography “Touching from a Distance”, the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh and directed by Anton Corbijin, “Control” is the story of Ian Curtis (the singer for Joy Division) in the last five years of his life.
Originally, it was shot in color, then transferred to black and white film to enhance the atmosphere and mood of the band’s era. Cobbijin, whom started out as a photographer in the 1970s, was a long-time fan of the group and directed the re-released 1988 video for “Atmosphere”. “Control” was his feature debut and listed as one of the best films of 2007.
17. Dark and Stormy Night (2009)
1930s, at an isolated country estate, during a dark and stormy night, a family attends the reading of a will belonging to the wealthy Sinas Cavinder. After additional and unexpected attendees arrive, the lawyer proceeds with the last will and testament.
It revealed that there are many usual threats looming over the estate, including an active serial killer known as the Cavinder Strangler and a three-hundred-year-old ghost. It is also discovered that one of the letters that amends the will has been stolen, but the lawyer assures everybody that he knows the contents.
However, the lights go out, but once turned back on, the lawyer has been stabbed to death. The bridge out has collapsed and it is suggested that they wait until daylight for the authorities to arrive. Various attendees attempt to locate the last letter and try to find the killer, but one by one others are turning up dead.
Written and directed by Larry Blamire, “Dark and Stormy Night” is a classic whodunit in a haunted house spoof that pays homage to the Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s. Featuring an ensemble cast including Daniel Roebuck, Jennifer Blaire, Betty Garrett, Jim Beaver, Mark Redfield, Fay Masterson, Susan McConnell, Bob Burns, Christine Romeo and several more. While it received mixed reviews, many consider it humorously entertaining in the vein of “Murder by Death” and “Clue”.