Have you checked out the films iTunes has to offer? If the answer is no, I don't blame you. The navigation process is tedious and misleading, to say the least, and it might lead you to believe it's no better than the archaic ritual of driving down to your nearest corporate video store (if you were an unlucky kid like me, most of the independent video stores that catered to difficult-to-find gems had already closed by the time you got your driver's license). And while you'll never have to wonder why said corporate video store got five times as many copies of Meet Dave than Happy-Go-Lucky with iTunes, there are a number of diamonds in the rough, if you're willing to search for 'em. Hopefully, I've saved you that obnoxious task, which entails using the browse feature and finding films by their sometimes curious genre placement (Catwoman is crosslisted in "Independent," and Batman Forever in "Romance"). I would warn against the search feature as a number of films are missing director information; Eyes Wide Shut and Killer's Kiss are just two examples of "Unknown" in place of the director.
In said browsing, I discovered that not only does iTunes carry films (for rental and/or purchase) less readily available than, say, Mamma Mia! (or the near complete works of Henry Jaglom, which is weirdly one of their featured collections), but they happen to have quite a few movies that haven't even made it to DVD yet. Of course, you'll find a bunch of those "indie films" that should have remained pipe dreams, but for those of you who share my irritation with IFC's exlusive Blockbuster deal, you can rent (or download) several of their titles without having to be berated by membership deals and candy offers. Of the titles locked in that deal that aren't available elsewhere in the US, you can find Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress, Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, Ken Loach's It's a Free World..., Baltasar Kormákur's Jar City, Johnnie To's Mad Detective, Sophie Marceau's Trivial [La disparue de Deauville], Man in the Chair with Christopher Plummer and Diminished Capacity with Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen and Alan Alda; there are some others as well that were only available through their Festival Direct program.
As for the M.I.A. on DVD titles, I made a list of as many films as I could find. Some of the highlights include:
- Emir Kusturica's Arizona Dream with Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis, Lili Taylor and Vincent Gallo
- Ken Russell's The Rainbow, his less successful sequel to Women in Love with Sammi Davis and Glenda Jackson
- John Huston's final film The Dead with his daughter Anjelica
- Terence Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives
- A filmed version of Eric Bogosian's one-man play Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, directed by John McNaughton
- Lina Wertmüller's Blood Feud [Fatto di sangue fra due uomini per causa di una vedova - si sospettano moventi politici] with Sofia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni and Giancarlo Giannini
- Stephen Frears' The Van with Colm Meaney
- Elia Kazan's Wild River with Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick
- Louis Malle's Crackers with Donald Sutherland, Jack Warden, Sean Penn and Wallace Shawn
- Guy Green's adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough with Kirk Douglas and Melina Mercouri
- Claude Lelouch's version of Les Misérables with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Annie Girardot and Jean Marais
- John Schlesinger's Madame Sousatzka with Shirley MacLaine, Twiggy and Peggy Ashcroft
- Lee Grant's made-for-TV drama Nobody's Child with Marlo Thomas
- The director's cut of Bruce Beresford's Paradise Road with Glenn Close, Frances McDormand and Cate Blanchett (which was strangely only available on VHS, not on Fox's disc of it)
- Miguel Arteta's Star Maps
- Robert Benton's Still of the Night with Meryl Streep, Roy Scheider and Jessica Tandy
- Blake Edwards' The Tamarind Seed with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif
- John Roberts' remake of Yves Robert's War of the Buttons
- Henry King's Untamed with Susan Hayward, Tyrone Power, Rita Moreno and Agnes Moorehead
- Richard Attenborough's Young Winston with Anne Bancroft, Robert Shaw, Ian Holm and Anthony Hopkins
- Brad Anderson's debut feature Darien Gap
- Sidney Lumet's Garbo Talks with Anne Bancroft, Ron Silver and Carrie Fisher
- Richard Fleischer's Che with Omar Sharif as Che Guevara and Jack Palance as Fidel Castro!
- Sidney Lumet's The Offence with Sean Connery and Trevor Howard
- Paul Newman's Harry & Son, with Newman, Ellen Barkin, Morgan Freeman, Joanne Woodward, Ossie Davis and Wilford Brimley
- Sidney Lumet's The Deadly Affair with James Mason, Simone Signoret, Harriet Andersson and Maximilian Schell
- John Houston's sole horror film Phobia
- Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors with Robert Englund (which is especially awful)
- Jack Cardiff's The Lion with William Holden, Trevor Howard and Capucine
- Jacques Tourneur's Anne of the Indies
- John Huston's The Barbarian and the Geisha with John Wayne
- Sidney Lumet's Lovin' Molly with Anthony Perkins, Beau Bridges, Blythe Danner and Susan Sarandon
Here are some others that are less familiar to me, but M.I.A. on DVD in the US nonetheless:
- -30- - dir. Jack Webb, with Webb and William Conrad
- The All-American Boy - dir. Charles Eastman, with Jon Voight and Anne Archer
- Buddies - dir. Arthur J. Bressan Jr. [reportedly the first American film to directly address AIDS]
- Class of 1999 2: The Substitute - dir. Spiro Razatos, with Sasha Mitchell (ha!) and Nick Cassavetes
- Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold - dir. Charles Bail, with Tamara Dobson
- Cookie - dir. Susan Seidelman, with Peter Falk and Dianne Wiest
- The Dancer - dir. Frédéric Garson, with Josh Lucas [written by Luc Besson]
- Let's Talk About Sex - dir. Troy Beyer
- March or Die - dir. Dick Richards, with Gene Hackman, Catherine Deneuve, Max von Sydow, Ian Holm and Terence Hill
- Rabit, Run - dir. Jack Smight, with James Caan and Carrie Snodgrass
- The Rains of Ranchipur - dir. Jean Negulesco, with Lana Turner, Richard Burton and Fred MacMurray [a remake of Clarence Brown's Oscar-winning adventure The Rains Came]
- Stick - dir. Burt Reynolds, with Reynolds, Candace Bergen and George Segal
- Stone Killer - dir. Michael Winner, with Charles Bronson
- The Strawberry Statement - dir. Stuart Hagmann, with Bruce Davison and Bud Cort
- Tall Story - dir. Joshua Logan, with Anthony Perkins and Jane Fonda
- The Terminal Man - dir. Mike Hodges, with George Segal
- Wrangler [Minnamurra, aka Outback] - dir. Ian Barry, with Jeff Fahey
And, naturally, there are a few more that brought back some memories of my childhood video store hunting and late night cable viewing. One of the films I remember fondly was Sam Miller's Among Giants, an early Fox Searchlight picture before that name meant something completely different. Roger Ebert's praise of the film directed me to it, and I recall liking it immensely and being blown away by its aerial cinematography. It continued my love for Rachel Griffiths, after Muriel's Wedding, and had a pretty striking scene where she and Pete Postlethwaite walk through the rain naked together (oh, young libidos!). Simon Beaufoy wrote the screenplay, and Andy Serkis also stars. It's been nearly ten years since I've seen Among Giants, so there's a good chance it may not hold up as well.
Another is Bob Gosse's strange, late-in-the-game addition to the road flick, Niagara, Niagara. The film first came on my radar when its lead actress Robin Tunney was awarded the Best Actress prize at the 1997 Venice Film Festival, next to Wesley Snipes who took the Best Actor for Mike Figgis' One Night Stand. Her? ...and him? Really? If my memory hasn't failed me, Tunney, who plays a young kleptomaniac with Tourette's Syndrome (the kind so popular in movies where the person can't help but blurt out obscenities), gives the only decent performance of her career, but that doesn't rescue the otherwise absurd film, from its ridiculous premise (Tunney really wants this black doll head that's only sold in Canada) to its terrible ending.
You can also find Sean S. Cunningham's horny teen boy T&A flick Spring Break on iTunes. I saw the film a long time ago on late night HBO, and while it sucked even as an eleven-year-old, I've never forgetten the fictional Go-Go's-esque band in the film, headed by Playboy playmite Corinne Alphen, whose big hit was a lame single called "I Wanna Do It with You."
And finally, a recommendation I can stand by is Mary Bronstein's Yeast, a "mumblecore" flick in the vain of her husband Ronald's Frownland. While it's almost a guarantee that if Frownload annoyed the shit out of you Yeast will probably do the same, I found it to be a truly astonishing experience, making me question my prior dismissal of Greta Gerwig, who co-stars in the film. Director Bronstein plays the socially deficient lead character Rachel, one of the most insufferable characters I've ever witnessed onscreen. In successfully creating a stomach-churningly tense atmosphere, Yeast is nasty and frustrating in the best ways and also one of the few highlights of that so-called movement.
Aside from the titles above, iTunes offers a few long out-of-print films alongside some fantastic ones that are readily available on Netflix, GreenCine, etc. Some of the OOP titles are Ken Russell's wonderful, underappreciated Salome's Last Dance, Barbet Schroeder's great Barfly with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway and Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother [Todo sobre mi madre] and The Flower of My Secret [La flor de mi secreto], which are now only available in Sony's Viva Pedro set. Of course, there are not-hard-to-find titles like Luchino Visconti's The Damned, Derek Jarman's Edward II, Fellini's Ginger & Fred, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams and plenty of others to choose from.
I can't contest to whether the films I've mentioned are for rental, purchase or both, nor can I comment on the quality or the window of availablity for these titles. Proceed with some caution though, as it looks like they carry edited versions of a couple of films like Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant and Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation, but otherwise, I hope this was of some use to you. I have too much free time.