The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen—a conversation with filmmaker and Neon Movies Director, Jonathan McNeal.

It’s Oscar season and I recently sat down with Jonathan McNeal, a filmmaker, critic, and managing director of THE NEON in Dayton, Ohio. I wanted to know what great movies were out there that most of us probably have never seen, and he had plenty to share. So if you are tired of superhero movies or are just looking for something with some art and depth, here are some great options.

JM: “When Joe said he wanted to talk about some of my favorite, non-mainstream films, I came up with a short list rather quickly.   I have a lot of favorite films as well as favorite filmmakers, but the list below is what came to mind off the top of my head. (I left out favorites like ORLANDO and THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE and the E.M. Forster trilogy from Merchant Ivory (A ROOM WITH A VIEW, MAURICE and HOWARD’S END). I also left off favorite documentaries like THE GLEANERS AND I and GREY GARDENS. And because he was looking for non-mainstream films, I purposefully left out the classic Hollywood films I love (an endless list). As it turns out, in one way or another, the films I have included are all love stories. It wasn’t intentional…but it’s certainly interesting to note.”

I AM LOVE, directed by Luca Guadagnino (2009)

Emma left Russia to live with her husband in Italy. Now a member of a powerful industrial family, she is the respected mother of three, but feels unfulfilled. One day, Antonio, a talented chef and her son’s friend, makes her senses kindle. Staring Tilda Swinton, it was nominated for best costume design.

JM: “This is my favorite film of the past 10 years. Tilda Swinton can do anything (including speaking Italian with a Russian accent), and this film is full of incredible architecture, design and sensuality.”

UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, directed by Jacques Demy (1964)

This French/German international co-production musical film directed by Jacques Demy, starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo.

JM: “This film is a classic that introduced the world to Catherine Deneuve. It’s sung from beginning to end, and the color palette is incredible. I have watched the last 10 minutes at least 50 times.”

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, directed by Pedro Almodovar (1999)

Young Esteban wants to become a writer and also to discover the identity of his father, carefully concealed by his mother Manuela.

TALK TO HER, by Pedro Almodovar (2002)

This is an offbeat drama that explores the friendship of two men brought together under unusual but strangely similar circumstances while they care for two women who are both in deep comas.

JM: “Pedro Almodovar is my favorite director (ever), and these two films are masterpieces. The casts, the scores, the stories, the art direction, the cinematography…all divine. And I love it when great films introduce me to other artists whom I later learn to love and admire. TALK TO HER was my first exposure to Pina Bausch – and I’m so grateful for that.”

UNDER THE SAND, directed by Francois Ozon (2000)

One of French Director Ozon’s earliest films, When her husband goes missing at the beach, a female professor begins to mentally disintegrate as her denial of his disappearance becomes delusional.

JM: “Francois Ozon is another favorite director. Though his films often wander from genre to genre, he is a prolific and brilliant director. See also 8 WOMEN, SWIMMING POOL and IN THE HOUSE – as well as numerous incredible short films.)

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, directed by Wong Kar-wai (2000)

Two neighbors, a woman and a man, form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.

JM: “This gorgeous film is full of longing and the score is out of this world.”

SUMMERTIME, directed by David Lean (1955)

Most people know Lean for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI…but this bittersweet little charmer with Katherine Hepburn is Jonathan’s favorite film of his.  It was Lean’s favorite too. It’s the story of a lonely American woman who unexpectedly finds romance in Venice, Italy. Katherine Hepburn was nominated for best actress and Lean for best director.

JM: “I love both the Hepburns – Audrey and Katherine. Though some of their Hollywood films are high on my list of favorites, I think this little movie often goes unsung. This gem speaks volumes regarding ‘it’s not too late,’ and Hepburn will break your heart.”

Happy watching everyone!

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