One of the nice perks of being a movie critic is that even if a film doesn't open in your area, you still might get to see it via the DVD screener. With DMAC and the Altamonte 8 out of commission and Enzian limited by its single screen, Orlando's independent/art cinema market has suffered one crushing blow after another. Here's a look at a few of the interesting films from 2006 we could have gotten.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints What better way to guarantee nobody screws up the film adaptation of your text than to direct the movie yourself? That's exactly what Dito Montiel, author of the memoir A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, did. Remarkably, Montiel's movie feels like the work of a seasoned veteran, not somebody picking up a camera for the first time and dissecting his childhood with it.

This Scorsesian drama has none of the spiritual connotations associated with its clunky title, focusing on just one part of the memoir: the tortured relationship between young Dito (Shia LaBeouf), his father (Chazz Palminteri) and his reckless friends on the racially divided mean streets of early-'80s Astoria, New York. Emotionally devastating and bracingly authentic, the fractured narrative gains resonance by intercutting between modern-day Dito (Robert Downey Jr.) — returning home after a 15-year absence and after he's written the book — and his youthful self's unsuccessful attempts to escape an oppressive city that's destroying him and everyone around him. Read the book for everything that happens in between, such as Montiel's punk rock career and immersion in the Manhattan counterculture. Montiel understands their irrelevance in the movie version: The film stands on its own as a marvelously told slice of life.

Old Joy The sound of silence is deafening in Old Joy, a curious, low-budget American independent about nothing and everything. Two old friends, one in a tense marriage and about to become a father (Daniel London) and the other an earthy, pot-smoking pseudo-philosopher (indie rocker Will Oldham), embark on a weekend camping excursion in middle-of-nowhere Hot Springs. Not much happens and not much is said, but we leave the film feeling nothing will ever be the same. Old Joy is a 76-minute-long question mark, a blank slate for the viewer to fill in with the clues director Kelly Reichardt gives him: a tense moment between husband and wife, Air America featured prominently on a car radio, a shooting session, an awkward campfire revelation, many tactile shots of nature. Average moviegoers will be bored out of their skulls, but inquisitive viewers will be enthralled by the film's European-style ambiguity and subtle commentaries about changing values and the contrast between domestic comfort and untamed dread.

Al Franken: God Spoke Fans of Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus' seminal political documentary The War Room may be disappointed with the slight and strictly surface-bound chronicle of Franken's ascent from SNL funnyman to liberal media magnate to potential Minnesota senatorial candidate. For fans of Franken, it's a breezy look at one of punditry's most fearless and entertaining personalities, not to mention one of the year's funniest films. But with full coverage granted per the filmmakers' traditional vérité aesthetic, I was looking for something deeper and more rounded. I already knew how cool Franken was, and the choir-preaching God Spoke is little more than a fluff piece for his devotees.

The Bridesmaid The Bridesmaid is another elegant and icily erotic thriller from French master Claude Chabrol, who mines familiar territory but with plenty of inspired flourishes. In a youthful spin on Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction, a young man, Philippe (Benoît Magimel), falls under the spell of his sister's bridesmaid, a fetching sexpot named Senta (Laura Smet) who's quick to remove her clothes for him at the first possible chance. Unable to resist her uninhibited sexuality, Philippe doesn't realize he's attaching himself to a psychopath. Chabrol rewards perceptive viewers by subtly foreshadowing key plot points, and while there are no new insights to be had in The Bridesmaid, it's a relevant story superbly told.

Edmond In David Mamet's latest film adaptation, William H. Macy plays the title character, who in the span of one night inexplicably leaves his wife, becomes a hybrid of Michael Douglas in Falling Down and Griffin Dunne in After Hours, prowls drug- and sex-filled urban streets and ultimately confronts all of his bourgeois prejudices head-on. In less talented directorial hands — perhaps Mamet's own — the playwright's combative Edmond could have been a disaster. It's going to be a clumsy transition from stage to screen any way you shoot it, but in the hands of B-movie maestro Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), Mamet's cynical vision comes alive with disturbing clarity and vivid horror. Gordon's cinematic personality seems perpetually at odds with Mamet's writing, which here is at its most archly pedantic and stagebound, but when the odd couple's ideas do fuse, like in the intense scene between Edmond and Julia Stiles' Glenna, the result is unforgettable.


More by John Thomason


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