Welcome to the third installment of a weekly movie blog series about the best movies you (probably) haven’t seen. Last week, we featured Green Street Hooligans, and the first post featured Finding Forrester.

(The idea is that each week I’ll throw out a movie that I think is really great, but isn’t a huge mainstream hit, or it’s not fresh and likely hasn’t been seen in quite a while—if at all. If you have seen it, share what you think about it—and feel free to rip me if you think it’s not worth watching! Then, in the comments, you all make one movie suggestion as well. It’s that simple, and it’ll be a lot of fun if you’re a cinephile like me.)

This week, my nomination for the best movie you (probably) haven’t seen is a throwback to the 90s and a loose, modern adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel. Great Expectations is a film in my “Top-5” and stars Gwyneth Paltrow (now well-known for her role as Pepper Pots in the Iron Man films)  and Ethan Hawke, with supporting roles from Robert De Niro and Anne Bancroft. Made in 1998, its story is based around the pursuit of unrequited love. Amazon’s summary:

The key ingredient in this modern-day version of Charles Dickens’s classic is director Alfonso Cuarón, who made the glowing, estimable A Little Princess. If you saw that (and you should), understand that Expectations has those ingredients (great sense of time, place, and timing) but adds modern music and sex appeal; the latter personified by the long-legged Gwyneth Paltrow.

Finnegan Bell (Ethan Hawke as an adult, Jeremy James Kissner at age 10) is the new version of Dickens’s Pip. He’s a child wise beyond his years, befriending an escaped convict (Robert De Niro) in the warm waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Finn is also the plaything for Estella (Paltrow as an adult, Raquel Beaudene at age 10), the niece of the coast’s richest and most eccentric lady, Ms. Dinsmoor (a fun and flamboyant Anne Bancroft). The prudish Estella likes Finn (catch the best first kiss scene in many a moon) but has been brought up to disdain men; she’ll break hearts. As the object of Finn’s desires, Estella unfortunately is a one-dimensional character, yet what a dimension! Clad in Donna Karan dresses and her long, sun-kissed hair, Paltrow is luminous. She and Hawke make a very sexy couple.

Mitch Glazer‘s script does better by Finn. He’s a blue-collar worker with a gift for drawing (artwork by Francesco Clemente). Following his Uncle Joe’s (Chris Cooper) honest ways, Finn grows up as a fisherman, thoughts of Estella and art drifting away in the hard work. When a mysterious benefactor allows him to follow his dream, Finn finds himself in New York, preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime art exhibit–and in the arms of the engaged Estella.

Filled with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki‘s golden-drenched light, the film has an irresistible, wildly romantic look. Dinsmoor’s place is certainly gothic, Estella and Finn’s longing encounters glamorous. Cuarón uses an MTV-friendly soundtrack with a confident touch. Songs by Tori Amos and the band Pulp–along with Patrick Doyle‘s silky score–create passionate scenes. It all ends far too swiftly with a seemingly tacked-on ending (reflecting the book, as it happens) but the film is splendid storytelling. It’s a stylish, sweet valentine. –Doug Thomas

This is one of the most beautiful and iconic kisses in cinema: Young Estella leans in and kisses Young Finn while both drink from a decorative fountain at Paradiso Perduto.

Great Expectations is truly a film more artistic than mainstream in its storytelling and cinematography. It is a romantic movie in the same vein as 500 Days of Summer, as 500 Days stated in its introduction, “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”

The name of Ms. Dinsmoor’s estate, “Paradiso Perduto” (translation: Paradise Lost) is very symbolic of what Finn pursues throughout the film, finding paradise in all but the one thing he desires most: Estella. The movie comes across as a surreal painting of warm and romantic visual storytelling, excellent and satisfying on all accounts.

Some Great Expectations fun facts:

  • Alfonso Cuarón (director) uses a strong green motif throughout the film, even so far as to be in every scene and most all of Finn and Stella’s wardrobe. In my opinion, it often represents desire in this film, and according to IMDB, “he uses red and orange (complimentary and opposite colors) to make some remarks.”
  • Painter Francesco Clemente was responsible for Finn’s paintings in the film.
  • Ms. Dinsmoor’s estate, Paradiso Perduto, is actually called “Ca d’ Zan” and is located in Sarasota, Fl.  John Ringling, of circus fame, once owned the property.

Based on Netflix’s star-rating system (1* = Hated it, 2* = Didn’t like it, 3* = Liked it, 4* = Really Liked it, 5* = Loved it), I give this film 5/5 stars.

I’d love to make this series even better, so if you have any ideas, share them!

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  1. […] week, I featured the first black-and-white film of the series, 12 Angry Men, and the week before, I featured the modern version of Great Expectations, which is one of my favorite movies of […]

  2. […] weekly movie blog series about the best movies you (probably) haven’t seen. Last week, I featured the modern version of Great Expectations, and the week before I featured the futbol film Green Street […]

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