Far North (2007)
In A Nutshell: Brit helmer Asif Kapadia’s frostbitten, yurt-based folk myth sees a shunned Arctic tribeswoman (Michelle Yeoh) competing with her ‘cursed’ daughter for the affections of a lost soldier (Sean Bean).
Why You May Have Missed It: Neither critical nor box office reactions to Kapadia’s last effort (psychological thriller and post-Grudge Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle The Return , misrepresented as a horror pre-release) had not been particularly positive.
Far North wasn’t loudly trumpeted upon release, despite the cast and crew heroics involved in seeing ts gruelling location shoot through to completion.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Lingering landscape shots drive home the savage beauty of that stark glacial tundra, making for some of the most arresting natural cinematography of recent years.
The pivotal moment at which an oddly disquieting little survival romance trips over into nightmarish horror is so utterly WTF-tastic, you’ll probably rewind it just to make sure you haven’t gone mental.
Nine Queens (2000)
In A Nutshell: Boasting more double crosses than the sin bin at a tic-tac-toe championship, Fabián Bielinsky’s writhing Argentinian heist caper is set in the big-money world of rare collectible stamps.
Why You May Have Missed It: To be fair, this one did eventually manage to whip up a reasonable froth for a foreign language flick. Still, its initial theatrical release was extremely narrow on UK shores, and the DVD didn’t surface for a good year or so after that.
Why Missing It Is Mad: It’s plotted with almost architectural precision - nobody can trust their shadow, it turns out - and yet it manages to avoid feeling overly slick.
The two have-a-go hucksters attempting an ill-advised forgery are the very definition of loveable rogues for the most part, lending the film a dishevelled charm and buffing any excess shine off that perpetually curveball-lobbing script.
Mister Lonely (2007)
In A Nutshell: Harmony Korine directs Diego Luna and Samantha Morton as Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe impersonators respectively. From a chance meeting at a care home matinee, the two lost souls decide to head for a fabled look-alikes-only commune in the mountains.
Why You May Have Missed It: It marked a sudden end to Korine’s genuinely worrying post- Gummo wilderness decade, during which he’d become largely reclusive and incoherent, descended into heavy drug use and been hospitalised while filming himself starting public brawls.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Despite the unswervingly wacky premise, it’s an incredibly moving piece of work.
That Luna and Morton were up for tackling such oddball roles at all is somewhat amazing; that they did so with such apparent faith, commitment and ambivalence towards potential failure has resulted in Korine’s best film to date.
In A Nutshell: Disarming magical realism yarn from Korean Kim Ki-duk, centred on the bizarrely mute relationship evolving between a battered housewife and the spooky golf-loving drifter who creeps around her chintzy gaff.
Why You May Missed It: The smattering of quasi-supernatural ideas that surface here and there are demented enough that, despite Kim Ki-duk scooping a bunch of global awards, even the most bemusedly positive reviews made it sound borderline unwatchable at the time.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Not only is it beautiful both in concept and execution, it’s utterly unique.
Sure, there’s an element of star-gazing woolliness about the fortune cookie platitudes it leaves you dangling on, but it remains a strangely gripping slab of cinema that deserves consideration as more than a mere curio.
Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005)
In A Nutshell: Conceptual artist and one-woman emo-tsunami Miranda July wrote, starred in and directed her debut feature, in which a budding romance between a shy single dad and his kooky shoe-shop customer plays out against a curtain-twitching trio of neighbourhood sub-plots.
Why You May Have Missed It: Boho dinner parties always managed to dredge up a friend-of-a-friend who’d seen it, and who made it sound either horribly cloying or irredeemably pretentious. And in all honesty, if you’re of a certain mindset going in, it probably will be.
Why Missing It Is Mad: If, however, you’re in more of a Wes Anderson mood than a Michael Bay one, you really should give July’s quirky little backyard opus a go.
Awkward dad John Hawkes is an antihero you just can’t help rooting for, and three fantastically charismatic youngsters fill in the pivotal kiddie roles. It’s by turns savage, soothing, fretful and funny...and you’ll certainly never look at emoticons in quite the same way again.
In A Nutshell: Jeffrey Blitz’s acclaimed documentary following eight prodigious pre-teen talents entering into the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Why You May Have Missed It: Because it’s a documentary. About spelling.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Nearly all of the spellers Blitz zooms in on are fascinating characters in their own ways, but a few of them - in particular the gurning clown Harry Altman and insanely pressured Neil Kadakia - make for seriously compulsive watching.
What really gives the movie breadth, though, is the way it fuses tense contest footage with insights into the kids’ home lives, making Spellbound an intimate and refreshing study of how childhood academic success is measured and pursued in Western society today.
Man Push Cart (2005)
In A Nutshell: A former Pakistani rock star is reduced to an anonymous existence in NYC, dragging a mobile vending cart around Manhattan in Ramin Bahrani’s understated and affecting character study.
Why You May Have Missed It: Such brutally utilitarian titles rarely translate into box office gold - it sounds more like a stone age instructional video than the moving, deeply reflective portrait it is. Also, it’s a proper indie, and only ever really did the festival circuits.
Why Missing It Is Mad: We don’t find out what derailed the rock star’s career, and his interactions with the public and other local vendors are fleeting and largely superficial.
Yet somehow, Bahrani conveys quite astonishing degrees of both pride and pathos by merely pointing a camera at an actor and allowing the city - the real, breathing, unscripted city - to envelop them both.
In A Nutshell: Michael Haneke’s caustrophobic mind game thriller in which an artsy, well-to-do French couple keep finding video tapes left on their doorstep.
Someone is filming their daily routines, but rather than containing any direct threat, the implication of the creepy tapes - whether imagined or real - is that there are secrets here to be spilled...
Why You May Have Missed It: Actually, it was probably one of the best-attended films on this list the first time around - we’re including it merely for those that didn't notice or were put off by the subtitles, and may by now have forgotten about it. It’s still bloody great, in case you're wondering.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche give resoundingly solid performances as the central middle-class couple, lacing their fraught victim portrayals with just enough snobbish arrogance to make them more easily identifiable with, rather than less.
The core conceit is intriguing enough, and the tension kept high enough, that Haneke’s brazen directorial dawdling feels more a blessing than a curse.
Hansel And Gretel (2007)
In A Nutshell: Forest-based K-horror, loosely sketched around a couple of motifs from the original fairy story but ultimately swerving off into a tale of human cruelty and supernatural revenge.
A disorientated car crash survivor stumbles upon a remote woodland family house where all is clearly not well - but, days after his recovery, his repeated attempts to leave are going nowhere.
Why You May Have Missed It: A Tale Of Two Sisters was the real noughties K-horror juggernaut, sweeping several other excellent spookfests under the carpet in its wake.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Far less jumpy than many of its classmates, the horror in this film is definitely of the creeping variety.
There’s a Tim Burton-esque gothic beauty to the sets and camerawork, and the film earns massive bonus points for a protagonist who actually acts as we conceivably might under similar circumstances.
Sweet Sixteen (2002)
In A Nutshell: Ken Loach’s portrait of life for teenage Port Glasgow chav Liam, whose already less-than-ideal situation careens into much darker waters when he starts moonlighting as an opportunist class-A dealer.
Why You May Have Missed It: Loach had intended it to be seen almost exclusively by teenagers of similar age to the protagonist, and was aghast when the BBFC - citing over 200 occurrences of the word ‘fuck’ in 106 minutes - slapped an 18 certificate on it.
Why Missing It Is Mad: It’s astonishing, agonising, and bleaker than a coach tour of Pluto. Unknown local Martin Compston is a revelation as the plucky but naïve Liam, helping the downbeat ending to become the real choker it is. Hugely underrated - a truly great British movie.
The Sea Inside (2004)
In A Nutshell: Javier Bardem stars as a nature-loving everyman left quadriplegic by a freak swimming mishap, fighting an increasingly high-profile battle for the right to end hid own life with dignity.
Why You May Have Missed It: This Oscar-bagger (Best Foreign Language Film) from Spanish/Chilean genius Alejandro Amenábar possibly earned more column inches and vocal dedicated fans than any other movie mentioned here, but most of them were overseas - native theatrical releases were shamefully narrow.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Bardem is mesmerising as the bed-ridden central character, the interplay between his public and private moments is balanced to perfection, and the stirring score combines with some sweeping cinematography to truly devastating effect.
What? Don't be daft, we've just got something in our eyes...
American Splendor (2003)
In A Nutshell: Paul Giamatti plays underground comic book demi-god Harvey Pekar in a hilariously grubby biopic from documentary maker Shari Springer Berman.
Why You May Have Missed It: Aside from a show-stealing turn as Kenny ‘Pig Vomit’ Rushton in Private Parts , Giamatti would arguably have another year to wait before really becoming a household name with his lead role in sleeper boozing hit Sideways .
Many assumed the ground had been pretty well covered by Crumb , a similarly themed study from a decade earlier.
Why Missing It Is Mad: It’s hilarious. Giamatti is flawlessly cast as the cranky, neurosis-crippled Pekar, and the whole project is shot through with charming visual flourishes that bring his world of nerdy, down-at-heel losers - as drawn to perfection by the aforementioned Robert Crumb - so vividly to life.
Comes across like a less self-consciously kooky-hip Ghost World , and arguably trumps it in the process.
La Sombra Del Caminante (The Wandering Shadows, 2004)
In A Nutshell: Surreal black-and-white odd couple drama from Colombia, following the bizarre relationship of convenience between a victimised local amputee and a gruffly silent fringe figure who appears one day, wearing steampunk-style aviator goggles and with a makeshift sedan chair strapped to his back.
Why You May Have Missed It: It was never released theatrically here. And let’s face it, you would’ve been forgiven for skipping it on the grounds of sounding utterly bonkers if it had been.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Think David Lynch directing the world’s lowest-budget superhero movie, and you might be somewhere close.
As if the mysterious chair-carrying stranger’s broody, near-mute presence isn’t mesmerising enough, a shady back story begins to emerge in the second half which reveals a linked past between the two men that's much, much darker than we’ve been led to expect.
All in all, a deeply fascinating gem for anyone with the patience for monochrome and subtitles.
The Brown Bunny (2004)
In A Nutshell: Colossally navel-gazing, semi-autobiographical arthouse ramble from wildly hit-and-miss polymath Vincent Gallo, wedged inside the mirror-kissing head of haunted motorbike racer Bud Clay.
Why You May Have Missed It: We all heard about Gallo’s Cannes-booed vanity project, but for entirely the wrong reasons - how many of us actually saw it?
Why Missing It Is Mad: The Brown Bunny was immediately portrayed as some kind of physical ‘Now Leaving...’ sign on the furthest borders of what critics felt an auteur had the right to attempt.
Destined for cult status the minute those brutally dismissive reviews started trickling in, it is in fact nothing like as offensive as it was made out to be.
It lacks focus, sure, and it’s jaw-droppingly self-regarding, but to suggest it's devoid of any merit whatsoever really smacks of toys being thrown from the collective critical pram.
Sod it - let’s go the whole hog (ha!) and say that several chunks of it are actually highly intriguing. Failing that, watch it just so you can say you have.
Tie Xi Qu: West Of The Tracks (2003)
In A Nutshell: Epic is a much-overused word, but Wang Bing’s three-part documentary about a decaying post-industrial, post-socialist Shenyang district absolutely earns it.
Why You May Have Missed It: It’s nine hours long.
Why Missing It Is Mad: It’s really a watershed piece of work - or at least it would be, had it been widely released in its semi-digestible three-chunk format.
To make it, Bing simply wandered alone through the rubble-and-rust-strewn streets of the province with a borrowed, handheld DV camera, amassing over 300 hours of footage focusing on the knackered skeletons of old factories and the amazingly resilient, sometimes amazingly dishevelled people who eke out a paltry living among their remains.
It’s intimate, utterly unsentimental and never pushes the film-maker’s own agenda, which makes for a genuinely revelatory viewing experience. If you’ve got a weekend to kill, that is.
101 Reykjavk (2000)
In A Nutshell: Boozy, socially inept Hlynur lives with his mum and spends time on too many ‘specialist’ websites, harbouring a deep-seated antipathy towards life outside his nerd pit and struggling to reconcile an infantile crush on his mum’s new lesbian partner.
Why You May Have Missed It: It’s largely a ‘by Iceland, for Iceland’ affair, the isolated nation looming large in the background and almost acting as a stoic metaphor for Hlynur’s own sense of dislocation.
It’s readily available on DVD, but the tagline (“30° below zero, five hours of daylight, what else can you do but get wrecked?”) tends to make it look like some lightweight stoner flick.
Why Missing It Is Mad: Come to think of it, on one level it probably could be viewed as a lightweight stoner flick - well, waster flick, at any rate - but Hlynur is a character rather than a caricature, and that really gives the film some crucial emotional weight.
Victoria Abril shines, or rather smoulders, as the mother’s love interest, but it’s Hlynur’s flights of fancy (look out for a wonderful daydreamed bloodbath at a stifling family dinner) that really make you warm to him in this chilly outsider essay.
Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
In A Nutshell: A middle-aged East Berlin mum and staunch socialist suffers a heart attack in 1989, waking from her coma eight months later - during which time, the wall has fallen and ushered in a new age of capitalism.
In her severely weakened and bed-ridden state, the political blow may well prove too much, and so her children (now working for a satellite TV company and Burger King respectively) set out to maintain the illusion that nothing has changed.
Why You May Have Missed It: It was nominated for a non-English language BAFTA , but lost out to In This World . Main protagonist Daniel Brühl hadn’t yet made The Edukators , and was relatively unknown outside his native Germany.
Why Missing It Is Mad: The tantalising setup offers a rare combination of comedy gold and awkward moral dilemma.
Director Wolfgang Becker manages not to shy away from either, creating in the process a warm, witty and endearingly mischievous tale that documents certain social aspects of the ‘before and after’ Berlin situation pretty effectively.
In A Nutshell: Texan DIY misfit Jonathan Caouette’s no-budget, camcorder-shot account of growing up a gay man in the shadow of his single mum Renee’s mental illness.
Why You May Have Missed It: It cost Caouette an alleged $218 to make, which - although additional funding was later provided by indie distributor Wellspring Media to pubicise and score the project, didn’t leave a whole lot of budget left for a grand international marketing campaign. The first we UK-types ever really heard of it was a pretty low-key DVD release.
Why Missing It Is Mad: It’s just one of those rare documentaries that gets right under the skin of the issue, lent an almost unrivalled sense of intimacy by Caouette’s proximity to his subjects.
What’s harder to take for granted is that it remains gritty and soulful throughout, but never self-pitying - partly a welcome knock-on effect, one assumes, from the fact that it was shunted together on iMovie long after the fact, Caouette cherry-picking retrospectively from over two decades’ worth of Super-8 footage.
Inspiring in the extreme.