Though not a genre movie, Steve McQueen's Hunger (2008) is an equally intelligent and mesmerizing independent wonder. Instead of time travel, its subject is real-life Irish Republican Army activist Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender). In 1981, Sands leads a hunger strike against the horrible conditions in Maze prison in Northern Ireland, which are indeed truly horrible. McQueen stages much of the movie without dialogue, excepting a powerful, almost totally dialogue-driven, 20-minute sequence in which Sands relates his plan to Father Moran (Liam Cunningham). Hunger is a powerful, brutal film that totally subverts the usual Hollywood attempts at biography.
The Exploding Girl
Zoe Kazan—the granddaughter of filmmaker Elia Kazan—is not classically beautiful, but she has a heart-shaped presence that makes her endearing and adorable. She stars in the much sweeter low-budget indie The Exploding Girl (2010) as Ivy, a college girl who occasionally suffers from seizures, on summer break in New York City. Her friend Al (Mark Rendall) crashes on her couch after discovering that his parents have rented out his room. These two lazily—yet impatiently—fill the summer days, sometimes directly saying what's on their minds, but often just talking about anything. Writer/director Bradley Rust Gray adopts a distant directing approach, often filming in long shots or around obstacles, as if accidentally eavesdropping on the scene. Eventually Ivy comes to "explode," but it's watching her not explode that makes the film work.
Back in the 1960s, a movie about a flawed female protagonist was a much bigger deal, as with the British hit Darling (1965) that won an Oscar for its star Julie Christie. She plays Diana, a small-time model who leaves her husband for a fling with a journalist (Dirk Bogarde). From there, she jumps to a powerful ad executive (Laurence Harvey), and eventually to a prince. Throughout, she finds that all the luxury in the world doesn't provide happiness. Oscar-winning screenwriter Frederic Raphael and director John Schlesinger create a beautiful black-and-white world that must have seemed glamorous once, but now seems strangely empty; it's a fascinating relic of its time. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and won a third Oscar for Best Costume Design.
Marriage Italian Style
Sophia Loren was another larger-than-life international female star, earning an Oscar nomination for her ferocious performance as Filumena Marturano in Marriage Italian Style (1964). Pitched as a comedy, it's really more of a soapy drama, played out over the course of decades. Loren plays a prostitute who becomes the servant of a gentleman, Domenico Soriano (Marcello Mastroianni). After years of dedication, he decides to marry a younger woman, and Filumena takes drastic steps to get him to marry her instead. Director Vittorio de Sica was one of the founders of Italian Neo-Realism, but in later years, he made big budget entertainments like this, working with Loren many times. One of their best films, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (1963), is also available on Hulu Plus.
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