January 10, 2009
2 films overlookedI was thinking back about my list of year's best movies from 2008, and I realized I left off two of my favorites: The Visitor (IMDb), and The King of Kong (IMDb). (Both technically were released in '07 but I didn't see them until last year,)
The Visitor is about a professor, Richard Jenkins, who while reluctantly making a trip to NYC to make a presentation, discovers that a couple have taken up residence in his not-often visited apartment. Both parties are a little surprised to discover the other, but the professor soon discovers that they were duped by a bogus renter. Seeing that they have no other place to stay he offers his apartment until they can sort things out. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but the professor slowly befriends the couple and starts learning from his new friend the joys of a new form of music (the back story is, the professor had wanted to learn the piano, which his late wife was gifted in playing, but struggled to do so). However, he soon discovers that the couple are from different countries of origin and neither are living in the US legally.
This movie does the best job so far of any film I've ever seen to paint a picture of the tragic realities faced by people who live in America but without the rights of a citizen, at the same time mixing moments of honest beauty and humor. And it has that characteristic I often find in movies I consider really good: the ability to allow the viewer to be reflective and appreciate the awe and wonder of life. The Visitor is directed by Tom McCarthy who previously directed The Station Agent (IMDb) another fantastic independent drama.
The King of Kong is a very amusing and light-hearted documentary about the two greatest players of the classic video game Donkey Kong. If you enjoy documentary films or if you've ever enjoyed a video game--be they the classic coin-ops from the 80s, or even more recently the FPS titles on xbox, you will certainly be entertained by this film. Its hard not to love the characters (even the scoundrels) for their obsessions with the game Donkey Kong, and other classic arcade machines. Its hard not to be amazed by the determination and ability of the real characters involved. I'm glad this documentary exists because it would be quite intimidating to attend one of their gaming tournaments.