Film critic David Stratton shines spotlight on hidden movie gems in new book

Hunting down rare movies can be a tough gig for the average film fan – but not if you’re David Stratton.

When the lauded film critic was looking for a copy of a little-known Bob Hoskins film while researching his latest book, 101 Marvellous  Movies You May Have Missed, he was able to get in touch with the director who helped him find a copy.

“I’ve know Ben [Lewin] for a long time, he lives in LA now,” said Mr Stratton of the search for his 1991 film, The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish.

Of course, not everyone is as well-connected as the former host of The Movie Show and At The Movies – which is one of the reasons he has written his latest book. Not only does it shine a spotlight on overlooked movie gems but also includes details of where they can be found, whether its streaming services or DVD retailers and rental sites.

The long-time Leura resident said it is “very frustrating” when good movies don’t find the audience they deserve. This can be for a range a reasons – from the movie performing poorly overseas or unexpectedly finding itself at the centre of controversy. 

“It sometimes happens just because the distributor decides not to release it,” he said, citing the example of the Nate Parker-directed The Birth of a Nation which received rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 before being engulfed in controversy over Parker’s 2001 acquittal of a rape charge.

“Instantly the film disappeared,” said Mr Stratton. “It was never released here… It’s always an argument about whether you should condemn the art for the conduct of the artist. I don’t believe that. I think we have to separate them. If you start doing that then [Charlie] Chaplin would be condemned probably, because of some of the things he did.”

Other movies might not get the promotional push or wide release they deserve because they bombed at the US box office. Mr Stratton said the 2015 political thriller Truth, set in America but filmed in Australia and starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, fell into this category.

“I think they underestimated the power of Cate Blanchett and all the other Australian actors in it. People would have gone to see it [in Australia] if they had got the chance,” he said.

Mr Stratton set some arbitrary parameters for his new book – he only reviewed movies made since 1980 and stuck to almost exclusively English-language titles.

He rewatched all the movies bar one (the 1990 Australian film Father, which even he couldn’t locate) and also relied on his detailed notes from when they were first released.

His research is meticulous, right down to recording the movie’s running time himself rather than relying on online film database IMDb (which he said is not always accurate).

“I always time the films to the end of the credits. I used to write for Variety and you had to do that. I’ve never lost the habit.”

Mr Stratton said 2018 has “been a year where a lot of very good films have gone under the radar”, listing the low-budget thriller Searching as one example.

“I think it’s getting more and more difficult for those small films [to find an audience], unless it’s a cinema like Mount Vic Flicks where they have a loyal audience who will go along and see things,” he said.

The Oscar-touted period film The Favourite is one of the best upcoming releases, he said. “It’s very beautifully acted by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. It’s a delight – but with a dark edge.”

He is also a fan of the Alfonso Cuarón-directed Netflix feature film, Roma, which won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival this year and is another title tipped for Oscar glory.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before a Netflix film wins a major Oscar,” he said. “The Cannes Film Festival this year was very high and mighty and said they wouldn’t show any Netflix films in competition. [But] Venice showed about four in competition and Roma won the main prize.”