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Arts & Culture

Opinion: 'Forgotten' Films Of The Past Decade

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L to R: "Flight," "Tower," "Museum Hours," "Queen of Katwe."

Ten years ago, inspired by a blog post by writer Jim Emerson, I put together my own list of films that I felt had been somewhat lost in the cultural conversation at the end of the decade. These weren't necessarily films I would place on the "Best of the Decade" list, but they were films that moved me in some way, that I just enjoyed a heck of a lot, or didn’t make big box office, or if they were nominated for awards, came up empty at the ceremony.

Between 2010 and the end of 2019, I watched over 750 films, besting my total from 2000 to 2009, which was 739. Although most of the movies I watch are older titles, I do manage to get out every now and then to see new movies, even with two active kids at home. Still, I miss a lot of new movies, so the list below is highly subjective. With that caveat, here are ten of my favorite “forgotten films” from this past decade that I hope you’ll remember to take a look at sometime in the next ten years. 

I'm placing Amazon links in the capsule reviews in case you want to check them out on Blu-ray or Prime. Many can also be found on other streaming services, and of course, I highly recommend checking out the San Antonio Public Library (or your own local library system).

Winnie the Pooh (2011)

At a slight 63 minutes long, “Winnie the Pooh” barely registers as a feature film, but it was the perfect length for my then 4 and 6 year old children back in 2011. A most literary animated movie that features a plot about rescuing Christopher Robin from the monstrous Backson and finding Eeyore’s missing tail, “Winnie the Pooh” is a delight. It’s bathed in autumnal colors, and like previous Pooh films, features a clever visual gag, this time involving letters on the page getting knocked about by the characters. The catchy songs are by Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who two years later would pen the biggest hit in Disney’s recent history, “Let It Go.” It’s also worth mentioning that as of this writing, “Winnie the Pooh” is the last Disney theatrical movie to feature hand-drawn animation.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

It’s hard to recommend a movie that actually made me physically ill, but that’s a testament to how effectively “Martha Marcy May Marlene” tied my stomach up in knots. Told in flashbacks, Elizabeth Olsen plays a young woman who becomes involved in a cult in the Catskill Mountains. John Hawkes plays a charismatic cult leader who uses flattery to lure young adults in, and then preys on the insecurities of his young victims to keep them under his thumb. This movie is not for the faint of heart, but the performances are brilliant.

Flight (2012)

After three films that pushed motion-capture technology forward, Robert Zemeckis returned to live action filmmaking in 2012 with “Flight,” an absorbing story about an alcoholic pilot who saves the lives of nearly all the passengers on his flight after the plane suffers a catastrophic mechanical failure. The trouble is, he was drunk and high at the time of the crash, and the rest of the film is about whether or not he’ll beat his addiction—and the NTSB charge that he placed lives in danger. Denzel Washington is a smoldering powerhouse as the main character, “Whip” Whitaker, and John Goodman has a terrific bit part as his dealer. I also liked the way "Flight" takes the issue of faith seriously. This is an excellent movie about morality, choice, and the way forward.

The Imposter (2012)

In the summer of 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay was reported missing from his home on the near northeast side of San Antonio. You can imagine the shock his mother Beverly and half-sister Carey felt when they learned that he had been found three years later—in Spain. However, the young man who came back to Texas and lived with the family for nearly five months was not Nicholas, but serial child imposter Frédéric Bourdin. This incredible story is depicted in the documentary “The Imposter.” The movie uses archive footage and reenactments, as well as interviews with key players in the story, including Bourdin himself. Just when you think your jaw won’t drop any more, you’ll pick it up off the floor once again. SIDE NOTE: Charlie Parker, the private eye who helped expose Bourdin's ruse, told his story at Texas Public Radio's "Worth Repeating" event in 2018. Hear the audio in the player below.

Museum Hours (2013)

I’m a sucker for movies about two people coming together to find and depend on one another—not necessarily in a romantic fashion, but in a deep, platonic love. I saw Jem Cohen's “Museum Hours” at Austin’s South By Southwest Film Festival, and this movie about the tender, budding friendship between a lonely museum guard, Johan, and a woman, Anne, visiting Vienna to care for an ailing cousin, touched me. Their discussions about art at the museum lead them to their own explorations of deeper subjects and human emotions—exactly what great art can and should do.

All Is Lost (2013)

This is a nearly wordless survival film starring Robert Redford as an experienced yachtsman on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean that goes wrong. Beset by storms, he improvises solutions to his damaged craft to survive. Redford is pretty much the only person on screen for nearly the entire running time of the movie, and in addition to seeing him perform the stunts, it’s equally as thrilling to watch him think. "All Is Lost" is a great movie that was shockingly nominated for only one Oscar, for Sound Editing.

Tower (2016)

Director Keith Maitland’s film “Tower,” which premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in 2016, revisits the 1966 University of Texas campus mass shooting through a unique hybrid of animated and live action footage, both archival and recreation. The movie features contemporary interviews with the survivors of the shooting, as well as young actors bringing voice to the words of those who bore witness that day. The result is a film that is gripping in its immediacy and currency to today’s world, where names like Columbine, Aurora, and Sutherland Springs have joined the bloody roll call of mass shootings that some say began on Aug. 1, 1966.

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Here’s a movie that I can only guess didn’t connect with a large audience because it’s about three things most American audiences don’t care about seeing onscreen:

  • Pre-teen girls
  • Africa
  • Chess

Queen of Katwe” is based on a true story. It’s about Phiona Mutesi, a young girl in Uganda whose world opens up when she is introduced to the game of chess. Her family and coach are there to instill confidence and determination in her, and as she finds that she is good at the game, Phiona takes herself to places she’s never been before, both literally and figuratively. Produced by ESPN and Disney, this film by director Mira Nair never wallows in pity as it frankly depicts conditions in Uganda, nor does it stoop to sports movie clichés, even while following the basic narrative of a sports film.

Barracuda (2017)

The stranger that rides into town is a movie trope that’s well-worn, but with “Barracuda,” filmmakers Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund use suspense, unease, original music, and a Texas setting to bring a fresh new take on the genre. The movie opens on Sinaloa (newcomer Sophie Reid), hopping off the train in Austin, and onto the doorstep of Merle (Alison Tolman, TV’s “Fargo”). She introduces herself to Merle as her half-sister by way of their dead country musician father. Tension builds as Sinaloa winds her way into Merle’s life. What’s Sinaloa after? The push and pull between Merle and Sinaloa creates narrative tension, and until the very end, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. This film was another South By Southwest festival discovery that I recommend searching out.

Annihilation (2018)

In the near future, a meteor strike on the Gulf Coast creates a mysterious, shimmering light that changes the structure of everything inside its radius. A team of female scientists, led by ex-Army soldier Lena (Natalie Portman), is sent in to investigate why nothing emerges from this giant amorphous bubble, and discovers sights both beautiful and horrific. The “shimmer” is mutating everything it touches. Gators may begin to grow shark-like teeth, strange plants seem to cross-pollinate with one another, people grow leaves from their arms, or a bear may even speak with a human voice. But nothing prepares Lena for what she discovers when she gets to the center of the disturbance. "Annihilation" will mess you up good and perhaps you’ll find yourself questioning the nature and purpose of disease, evolution, mutations, and even self.

Happy watching!

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