The Mist (Amazon Instant Video)
Director Frank Darabont had great success with his first two Stephen King adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999). The less-ambitious The Mist (2007), adapted from King's short story, can seem like a letdown by comparison. But it's a highly effective chiller, done George A. Romero-style, wherein social problems take precedence over supernatural problems. A group of New Englanders find themselves trapped in a supermarket when a mysterious mist, hiding a race of man-eating monsters, creeps in.
Inside the store, the natural leaders--local artist and father (Thomas Jane) and a nerdy, but wise clerk (Toby Jones)--emerge, but a loony religious zealot (Marcia Gay Harden) begins making trouble. Darabont makes the mistake of over-explaining things, and even provides an origin story for the creatures, but none of it detracts from the movie's creepy suspense. Today it's a favorite among horror hounds.
Song One (Amazon Instant Video)
After winning an Oscar for a big, bombastic musical, Anne Hathaway made her producing debut and returned to small, low-key filmmaking with Song One (2015). She plays Franny, an anthropologist doing research in Morocco when she learns that her musician brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) has been hit by a car and fallen into a coma. Distraught, she finds his journal and begins following it around, going to her brother's favorite places, and attending a show by his favorite musician, James Forester (Johnny Flynn). She tearfully gives James a CD of her brother's song, he visits the hospital, and a sweet, slow-moving romance is born.
Writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland doesn't create any ridiculous obstacles for the lovers to overcome--there's no wedding to break-up and no prom to crash--and instead focuses on the fumblings of two broken hearts, wondering if they should come together. The music is lovely, New York looks sad and lonely, and Mary Steenburgen adds wonderful layers as Franny's mom, a loopy, scholarly mom who remembers Paris in the 1970s.
Merci pour le chocolat (Fandor)
The late Claude Chabrol was one of the key members of the French New Wave, starting as a film critic in the 1950s, studying the great directors, and then--along with Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and others--changing the way films looked and felt in the 1960s. Over the years, Chabrol proved quite prolific and, perhaps in admiration of Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang, remained forever attached to suspense and crime films. He made more than 50 films of consistently high quality, and it's perhaps for this reason that he's routinely underrated; it's hard to pick a single film that could be his masterpiece.
Merci pour le chocolat (2000) may or may not qualify, but it's a good place to start. The great Isabelle Huppert stars as Marie-Claire, a chocolate magnate and the second wife of an accomplished but hangdog pianist, André Polonski (Jacques Dutronc). A young piano student, Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis), learns that she and Polonski's son, the brooding, untalented Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly), were nearly mixed up at the hospital. She visits Polonski and he is immediately taken with her and agrees to give her piano lessons. Meanwhile, Marie-Claire indulges in her habit of serving rich, creamy hot chocolate with sleeping powder slipped in. Adapting an American novel by Charlotte Armstrong, Chabrol doesn't exactly create an airtight plot here, but he creates such a thick atmosphere of uncertainty that you'll feel you've been spooked.
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