more films to love please friends!
January 3, 2009 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest smart, dryly amusing dramas with great dialogue and characters, a la The Squid and the Whale...

I love movies but I'm so picky. I find myself spending an hour at the video shop looking for stuff I'd like. I always want more clever, great-scripted, understated dramas to watch. Here's some ideas of what I like:

-I loved both The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding.

-I LOVE all of Whit Stillman's films of the 90s (Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco) and wish he would make more.

-I love the great Woody Allen classics from the 70s in particular Manhattan.

-I love Robert Altman's Nashville, 3 Women, Gosford Park, Shortcuts, though I find he can be hit or miss. Suggestions of other greats from him are most welcome.

-I also generally love most of what I consider to be in the genre of "Grim 70's", eg The Graduate, 5 Easy Pieces, Midnight Cowboy, Badlands etc.

I HATE melodramas, corny romances, unrealistic dialogue (unless it's stylised), anything over the top, obvious or too formulaic.

I also HATE violence.

I've done Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch, loved them and left them.

I'll be so excited to get movie suggestions if you have any! THANKS.
posted by beccyjoe to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
If you liked The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding, you might want to check out some of Noah Baumbach's earlier movies, especially Kicking and Screaming.
posted by amarynth at 2:46 PM on January 3, 2009

Your [more inside] hits all the sources that came to mind for me immediately (Stillman, Hartley, Jarmusch). I dunno if it falls generally outside the scope of what you're looking for -- or if it is not to your taste -- but Aaron Sorkin is widely considered to have written some decent character-and-dialogue-driven drama. If you are unfamiliar with it, I suppose A Few Good Men might be the place to start and The West Wing bears his mark heavily for the first four seasons.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:59 PM on January 3, 2009

Try The Ice Storm.
posted by ROTFL at 3:10 PM on January 3, 2009

I'm surprised Wes Anderson isn't on your list, Rushmore in particular. You also might consider About Schmidt. In keeping with the Nicholson theme, look into As Good as it Gets.
posted by valkyryn at 3:14 PM on January 3, 2009

I also came to recommend Kicking and Screaming.

You might also like:
The Royal Tenenbaums
The House of Yes
Igby Goes Down
Wonder Boys
posted by rmless at 3:15 PM on January 3, 2009

Choose Me: Alan Rudolph's edgy love story

The Front Page: Billy Wilder classic

My Dinner with Andre: Louis Malle's famous tête-à-tête

Network: By Paddy Chayevsky, one of Hollywood's finest dialogue crafters.
posted by terranova at 3:16 PM on January 3, 2009

Response by poster: thanks folks. i have seen and loved Rushmore and The Ice Storm. both great. i liked the other wes anderson films but the more recent ones i find so stylised as to be a bit cute for me.

The West Wing i def wanna check out, it has been recommended to me.

others are great suggestions, thanks.
posted by beccyjoe at 3:31 PM on January 3, 2009

You Can Count On Me

Topsy Turvy
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:31 PM on January 3, 2009

I don't know if you like tv shows, but a new HBO show called In Treatment is heavy on the dialogue, heavy on the awesome; really good acting and smart conversations.
posted by shamble at 3:31 PM on January 3, 2009

I'm back to recommend The Savages and The Station Agent. You also might like Pieces of April. It was written and directed by Peter Hedges, who wrote the novel What's Eating Gilbert Grape, which was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio.
posted by amarynth at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2009

You might like Rocket Science, and I'm linking specifically to that review of it because the guys at pajiba do a generally good job, and you might just browse around their archives (or their top ten lists) looking at things they enjoyed.

note: I actually haven't read their site much lately, but used to read all of their reviews every week, back when I had more time to waste on the internet. If they're not as good as they used to be, I'm sorry!
posted by dizziest at 4:11 PM on January 3, 2009

If you enjoyed Margot at the Wedding, you will also like Rachel Getting Married.
posted by k1ng at 4:24 PM on January 3, 2009

  • Tadpole
  • Seconding Pieces of April
  • Maybe Sideways? (I didn't really care for it, but it seems to contain elements of what you're looking for)
  • CQ (I thought this had really well done, understated and captivating drama)

  • posted by ODiV at 5:15 PM on January 3, 2009

    Response by poster: @k1ng- I saw and loved Rachel Getting Married.

    @ODiV- I also hated Sideways. I didn't think it was smart at all! i actually found it offensive. will check out yr other suggestions.

    @dizziest- Rocket Science looks interesting, i LOVED freaks and geeks and any comparison to that is favourable.

    @shamble- I started watching In Treatment and loved the concept of it, but something about it made me squirm and after a while i couldnt bear to watch anymore. i think the therapist annoyed me too much. good suggestion though.

    @amarynth- I've seen The Savages and The Station Agent. The Visitor, made by the same dude as The Station Agent, was hands down my favourite film of 08.
    posted by beccyjoe at 5:40 PM on January 3, 2009

    Junebug is a sweet little movie with Amy Adams

    Synecdoche, New York is a great movie with Philips Seymour Hoffman
    posted by pixxie at 5:47 PM on January 3, 2009

    I loved The Squid & the Whale, but was terribly disappointed by Baumbach's Kicking & Screaming, which I found stilted and wooden and irritating. Another (very!) similar film that does that post-graduate malaise a bit more successfully IMO is The Pallbearer starring David Schwimmer. I wouldn't exactly call it awesome, but if you're going to watch one, you might as well watch both and compare. Really, though, The Graduate did it best.

    As for actual recommendations, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is pretty freaking excellent.

    Anything pre-1980 by Hal Ashby would probably suit you, as would early-seventies Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show in particular, but Paper Moon too), and Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

    Altman's 3 Women has a lot in common with Bergman's Persona, so you should maybe see that, and I'd also recommend his Cries & Whispers. Bergman being Bergman, those might be a bit heavier than what you're after, but I'd still urge you to give them a try. If you're going to go Scandinavian though, I'd definitely recommend Nils Malmros over Bergman, if you can actually find any of his films anywhere. He'd probably be much more to your liking. Start with Tree of Knowledge.

    You have to like Lynne Ramsay. She can do no wrong. See Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, and all her shorts.

    Dog Day Afternoon? Hud? Maybe Gus Van Sant's Elephant (although, yeah: violence)?

    Anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman dealing with addiction is usually pretty great: See Love Liza and Owning Mahowny.

    Finally, as a bonus, two that tried their damnedest to be exactly the kind of thing you're after but totally missed the mark for me: The Weather Man and Smart People. You might like them, but they're near the top of my Worst of All Time list.
    posted by Sys Rq at 5:50 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

    Everything is Illuminated
    Wtistcutters: A Love Story

    /sorry don't know how to do the cool link to IMDB thing
    posted by Epsilon-minus semi moron at 6:07 PM on January 3, 2009

    Response by poster: @Sys Rq- wow thanks for all that, you seem well-informed. Owning Mahowny is IMO one of the most underrated dramas of all time, i think its great.
    posted by beccyjoe at 6:16 PM on January 3, 2009

    There's something of a movement in new Argentine cinema that might interest you. In general, these are low-budget films that share something of Jarmusch's sense of narrative time and space, and are populated by interesting, flawed, real characters, generally living grim lives. A number of these films resonated for me in ways very similar to the Squid and the Whale (which I also loved).

    Buena Vida Delivery is one of my favorites. Dark humor.

    El abrazo partido is, IMO, smart enough to avoid some pretty perilous pitfalls into melodrama in dealing with rather Baumbach-y parent-child relationship issues among Argentine Jewish shop-owners. Fantastic dialogue, although of course you lose somethng in translation.

    Pizza, birra, faso and Un oso rojo are also good, although they do contain violence, particularly the latter.

    All are in Spanish, of course, but I've seen all but Un oso rojo available subtitled in the US.
    posted by dr. boludo at 6:28 PM on January 3, 2009

    You might try the 1970's BBC miniseries The Glittering Prizes.
    posted by gudrun at 7:19 PM on January 3, 2009

    All the Real Girls

    Lars and the Real Girl (surprisingly weird and really good)


    Laurel Canyon

    Napolean Dynamite

    Into the Wilderness (just saw, so amazing)

    Almost Famous (ok a bit cheesy, but a classic)


    You, me and everyone we know (I think you'd really dig this)

    The Good Girl (the only decent thing Jennifer Anniston has ever done and really good)

    Goodwill Hunting?

    Beautiful Girls
    posted by Rocket26 at 9:08 PM on January 3, 2009

    You'd do well to look for movies grafted from plays, a la Angels in America and especially Closer. In that vein, I second Virginia Woolf and would like to also posit Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Streetcar Named Desire for your consideration. Any screenplay derived from Tennessee Williams is not to be trifled with.

    I was just watching Gattaca on Hulu and realized that it's the only remotely sci-fi/dystopian movie I've ever liked because it has such arresting dialogue. This was Jude Law's breakout performance and he's so dry you can hear the dialogue scraping in the breeze.

    And in my opinion, Me and You and Everyone You Know is full of cringingly sentimental dialogue. That movie is about as dry as a pissed on cotton wad.
    posted by zoomorphic at 9:54 PM on January 3, 2009

    Before Sunset

    Before Sunrise

    just some movies I could think of off the top of my head that might fit..
    posted by mhh5 at 2:41 AM on January 4, 2009

    Claud Sautet's Un Coeur en Hiver. John Duigan's The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting.
    posted by aperture_priority at 5:16 AM on January 4, 2009

    Thought of a few more, it's a good brain teaser:

    Harold and Maude

    Grand Canyon

    The Anniversary Party

    Prairie Home Companion movie (Robert Altman)


    Blue in the Face

    Raising Arizona

    (The?) North Country

    Tao of Steve

    Chasing Amy
    posted by Rocket26 at 6:35 AM on January 4, 2009

    I HATE ... unrealistic dialogue (unless it's stylised)...

    Makes me think of David Mamet (as writer+director). My favorite is House of Games (1987), though I also liked Homicide (1991). Oh yeah, State and Main was good too.
    posted by booth at 7:48 AM on January 4, 2009

    Seconding You Can Count On Me, one of the best on this list.
    posted by lockedroomguy at 7:58 AM on January 4, 2009

    If we are thinking of Mamet, why not "The Winslow Boy"?
    posted by of strange foe at 8:22 AM on January 4, 2009

    Booth: I second the Mamet love, but there is a caveat with one of your picks; I don't know where the OP is, but Homicide is not available on DVD in region 1.
    posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:26 AM on January 4, 2009

    Response by poster: thanks so much everyone. im in canada. i always forget about david mamet. thanks everyone for so many great suggestions.
    posted by beccyjoe at 10:00 AM on January 4, 2009

    Ric Bisquit: Didn't realize that, about Homicide. FWIW, it brings to mind another apparently unavailable possibility: Men Don't Leave. A little corny maybe, a little formulaic maybe, but well done, heartbreaking and funny. My wife and I still use lines from it in our everyday conversations. (Stars Jessica Lange, Joan Cusack, Kathy Bates.)
    posted by booth at 10:41 AM on January 4, 2009

    The Holy Girl is an extraordinary film.
    posted by umbú at 1:00 PM on January 4, 2009

    Birds of America

    2 Days in Paris

    Conversations with Other Women

    Family Viewing (many don't like this - but the dialog is stylized in an interesting way that you might like - it's also an interesting take on family dysfunction - I guess if you're in the mood for this, it can be really rewarding)
    posted by dog food sugar at 5:33 AM on January 5, 2009

    Response by poster: i love interesting takes on family dysfunction as a genre!
    posted by beccyjoe at 4:48 PM on January 5, 2009

    You know - I WISH it was an official genre! I would so be checking that section of my netflix all the time!
    posted by dog food sugar at 5:45 PM on January 6, 2009

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