I just got back from a brief Christmas holiday to the distant land of relatives and limited Internet access, so my column is just a tad late this week. Nevertheless, I'd like to pick up where I left off last week, in my celebration of those smaller films that lost their way in 2007, either misunderstood, or misjudged, or just never found.

I saw Hal Hartley's Fay Grim in May as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. It was a sequel to his 1998 film Henry Fool and it had one of those strange near-simultaneous releases in which it debuted on DVD just a few days after it opened in theaters. This technique didn't work at all for Steven Soderbergh's superb Bubble last year, so I can't imagine why anyone would try it again. I found Henry Fool too long with too much navel gazing to be of interest, but somehow Fay Grim worked for me. I felt it was all a huge, deadpan joke that these pathetic writer-types would now be involved in international intrigue. And who is better for a deadpan joke than Jeff Goldblum, with his glaring eyes and sharp delivery?

When Lionsgate picked up William Friedkin's Bug for distribution, I knew it was in trouble, since that company specializes in sub-par horror films that slip past press screenings and open big for one weekend before disappearing. Fortunately, they actually did screen Bug for the press -- and it made my year-end top ten list -- but critics still mis-interpreted it as a horror film (not hard to do since the posters and ads painted it as such). Certainly it's not a feel-good picture, but it's an interesting and unusual step for Friedkin, and it relies more on paranoia and uncertainty than it does shocks or gore.

One of my top guilty pleasures came in June, Corey Yuen's all-girl action flick DOA: Dead or Alive. Predictably, it didn't screen for the press, but I was able to get my hands on a British DVD and had exclusive opening-day reviews for nearly all my outlets. Starring Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki and other pretty faces (with Eric Roberts as the heavy!) the movie featured a plot ripped off from Enter the Dragon and atrocious dialogue, but it was also the summer's fastest-moving and least pretentious film.

The very talented writer/director Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) returned in July after a long absence with the excellent Talk to Me. Telling the life story of Washington DC radio DJ Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) this was an unusual biopic in that it focused on details and situations rather than broad, sweeping rags-to-riches story arcs. It felt unhurried and genuinely emotional, thanks partly to Chiwetel Ejiofor's amazing performance as Petey's friend/enemy and manager. Oddly enough, it is receiving far less attention than more commonplace biopics like La Vie en Rose.

Here at the end of the year, Ratatouille and Persepolis are getting all the attention in the animated category, with rumblings of The Simpsons Movie and Bee Movie not far behind, but who remembers Paprika, the latest work by Satoshi Kon, perhaps the greatest living anime maker behind Hayao Miyazaki? Sure, Paprika focused on yet another post-apocalyptic theme but the sheer imagination and artistry raised it up a notch.

Maybe it was the year of the underrated and overlooked women heroes. Besides the girls of DOA and the super-heroine of Paprika, we had a very clever and post-modern Nancy Drew. Most reviewers complained that it had little to do with the books, while many others were put off by the awful trailer that made it look like an episode of "Bratz." But actually watching the movie showed a highly intelligent, self-reliant heroine able to maneuver through a universe just as intelligent.

Any discussion of horror in 2007 has to include Mikael Håfström's Stephen King adaptation 1408, which probably has garnered far less attention and discussion than Frank Darabont's The Mist. Sure it includes too much explanation and backstory, but it's a tour-de-force, one-man show for John Cusack, and it gave me the serious willies. (Forget Grace Is Gone; how about nominating Cusack for this?) The 2-disc DVD comes with the even better director's cut (with a much better ending).

Another horror film I enjoyed tremendously came more from the Evil Dead II school of silliness than anything particularly chilling. The Australian Black Sheep was slick and agile with a tremendous sense of space and skillful timing. The characters were simplistic but endearing and the situations were absurd as well as gory. One joke involving mint jelly sent me into fits of giggles. Compared to the stupid, junky, shaky horror remakes that populated the rest of the release calendar, this was refreshingly wonderful.

In the middle of all the summer bluster Ten Canoes also came from Australia, shot entirely in the Aboriginal language and celebrating the idea of sheer storytelling. A modern-day narrator sets up a story from long ago about a man who passes on another story from even longer ago. The film never looks down on the primitive, superstitious characters, nor does it give them any extra nobility. Its focus is on saving the old stories, and on learning from the mistakes of others. With all the information we have today, it's still a meaningful concept.

categories Columns, Cinematical