It’s rare to go and see a film and not know what you’re getting yourself into in this day and age, especially for a cinephile like me. I am one of those annoying people who knows everything about a movie before I see it: who wrote it, directed it, stars in it, etc. I love collecting all of this useless information.
All that to say, going into a film with no expectations and being blown away is a rare experience. Here are four such films.
Sound off in the comment section below for some of your own surprise film experiences!
1. Frequency (2000)
I was hanging out with my dad and sister one summer afternoon, and we decided to go and see a movie. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, my dad wanted to take us to see this random movie called "Frequency" at the town cheap theatre.
My sister and I grumbled as we had never heard of the movie and therefore had no desire to see it. Expecting the worst two hours of my life, I was treated to a clever cop thriller unlike anything I had ever seen.
The story follows detective, John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) who discovers he can communicate with his dead father, Frank (Dennis Quaid) through his old HAM radio. He decides to try and save his life, not anticipating the unintentional consequences of shifts in the timeline from doing so.
Equal parts science fiction, crime thriller, and father/son drama, Frequency is an edge of your seat, thrill ride that is worth checking out if you haven’t. This is an all around fun film, that you can’t help but enjoy.
2. Ed Wood (1994)
I would say I’m a casual fan of Tim Burton’s. I like some of his movies (Edward Scissorhands) and loathe others (Sleepy Hollow). So when my mom, who is not a fan of his at all, told me that she wanted to show me his film "Ed Wood," I was curious.
My mom is a huge cinephile in her own right, but focused on older, classic films. She had watched some of Ed Wood’s films (real life film director who is infamous for making bad movies) and raved about this biopic.
Watching the movie, I fell in love with Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp) and his rag-tag band of filmmakers, trying to make their mark on the film world. I loved that it wasn’t only a biopic, but filmed in the same style as some of Ed Wood’s own films. It was so much more than a gimmick, but a useful device that helped me see life from Ed’s perspective.
One of the most memorable uses of this device comes when his friend and frequent collaborator, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his portrayal), is in a rehab center detoxing from his drug addiction. He’s screaming in his bed, but it’s shot like one of his B-quality, science-fiction, horror films. It’s a beautiful moment, because while Bela is going through something very real and painful, we see it through the romanticized film lens that Ed sees life through.
Everything from the performances to the production design are painstakingly detailed. I think this is Tim Burton’s best and most complete film to date, perfectly utilising his favoured theme of “freaks” looking for acceptance, as well as dark visuals with a light touch.
This is a great movie to watch when you’re in the mood to laugh and cry in the same hour time span.
3. Laura (1944)
If you haven’t caught on yet, I grew up in a house where we watched a lot of old movies. Some of them are great, some of them not so great; same as the films of today.
I’m always game for a good whodunit, but it’s a genre that I feel is almost never done well. When I sat down to watch this particular piece of film noir, I was hooked by the film’s unusual premise; what if a detective falls in love with the victim of the murder he’s investigating?
The twists and turns of this film are organic, believable, and keep you guessing who killed Laura until the very end.
People automatically assume that when a film is in black and white that somehow it is inherently dull. I know I thought that. This is not the case with "Laura;" it’s a well-crafted thriller, ahead of its time, and features a tight script, great performances, and haunting score from David Raskin.
A great mystery movie to sink your teeth into, if you’re in the mood to think.
4. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
I threw this movie on with some of my filmmaking friends, because it seemed like one of those weird, original sort of films that only a filmmaker would love. After watching the film in stunned silence and discussing it for hours after, I left the room with a new addition to my top 20 favourite films.
Told with minimal dialogue, the filmmaker, Lynne Ramsay, relies mostly on sound design and visuals to tell her story. The story centers around Eva (Tilda Swinton) a globe-trotter who becomes a mother when before she was ready, and grows to resent her child for it. Her son matures into a terror, and Eva doesn’t know if she is to blame or if he was born that way.
Tilda Swinton owns this film. She plays an inner anxiety that comes across as heart-wrenching rather than annoying.
This isn’t a casual or light watch, but truly worth your time if you’re in the mood for something to discuss with friends or family afterward.