Heres my sob story: An endangered species, Vermont film critics are unable to benefit from the advance press screenings available to our peers in major urban centers. Thanks to the fiscal timidity of distribution companies, many independent or foreign-language releases do not reach the Burlington area at all unless they first sell lots of tickets in New York and Los Angeles.
In order to print critiques in conjunction with premieres in this region, the major daily newspaper relies on the work of faceless journalists provided by various wire services. Locally generated reviews usually only appear after movies are already playing for the general public here.
My one advantage in this provincial dilemma is that I frequent several film festivals on behalf of a California-based magazine. That allows me to periodically get a jump on the daily. But the goal at those annual events in Lake Placid, Montréal, Toronto and Fort Lauderdale my regular circuit from June through November is not always to catch apparent blockbusters likely to head our way. I tend to gravitate to art-house selections.
So, youll get no ordinary end-of-the-year list of the best from me, just a glance at non-mainstream productions some that have not even reached the United States yet. My last column of 2001 is actually a preview of things to come. I hope.
1. Borstal Boy is an account of young Brendan Behan, a real-life nascent Irish terrorist transformed by the people and the books he encounters in a reform school. American Shawn Hatosy gives a convincing star turn as the idealistic lad, who became an acclaimed alcoholic playwright.
2. Dead Dog concerns a heterosexual Manhattan couple torn apart by the hit-and-run killing of their beloved golden retriever. Animal lovers may understand the male leads relentless obsession with tracking down the careless driver.
3. American Saint is a road movie that accompanies a middle-aged cabbie with a vintage yellow Checker crossing the country to help an aspiring actor approximate Jack Kerouacs legendary journeys. The thespian, planning to audition for a movie role as the beat writer, finds America.
4. Unfair Competition takes place in 1938 on a picturesque street in Rome. Two haberdashers one of them Jewish compete fiercely, until Mussolinis fascists change the neighborhood forever. Frenchman Gérard Dépardieu joins the Italians in this historical drama directed by the great Ettore Scola.
5. Lantana, from Australia, centers on four married couples whose lives intersect in tragedy. Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey and Geoffrey Rush are part of a wonderful ensemble cast in this exploration of how difficult it can be to simply love each other.
6. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a bittersweet saga of a young woman with a sad secret traveling through rural Mexico in the company of two lusty teen-age boys who dont realize it will be their quintessential coming-of-age experience.
7. Buffalo Soldiers is such a dark comic take on the U.S. military that its fall debut was postponed in the wake of September 11. Joaquin Phoenix plays a Milo Minderbinder-type wheeler-dealer in an unflinching, contemporary satire reminiscent of Catch 22.
8. The Tunnel, a true story set in Berlin during the early 1960s, follows some desperate citizens of a divided Germany who risk everything for liberty. Dig, they must. A plot that could easily have been predictable ripples with suspense.
9. No Mans Land unfolds in a Bosnian war zone, where two stranded fighters a Serb and a Muslim face off as the United Nations refuses to intervene. The press, ever eager for a scoop at any price, helps raise the stakes.
10. The Zookeeper, another Balkans cautionary tale, is about an abrasive loner left behind to care for the caged animals when an increasingly bloody conflict prompts everyone else to flee. After reluctantly sheltering a small boy who has seen more than any kid ever should, the zoo custodian, played by Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame, is also persuaded to take in the youngsters mother. Theyre all in danger because the two refugees are from an ethnic group being cleansed by the occupying forces. Its nice to see Neill trade prehistoric beasts for modern critters.