Under the Radar Picks

By Sharon Weinberg

For those looking for something off the mainstream track, this list is for you.

  • Children of Invention


    Elaine Cheng, a single mom with two kids, is struggling to make ends meet. She mistakenly gets involved in a pyramid scheme which lands her in jail for the night. Nobody knows that her children are home alone. Thus, Raymond and Tina, smart and intuitive, come up with their own plan to get by. This is a serious subject, showing what Chinese families face in order to maintain a stable life in America; however, there are heartwarming scenes and the child actors are wonderfully adorable.

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  • This Beautiful Fantastic

    2017 by Simon Aboud

    A contemporary fairy tale story about a young woman (Jessica Brown Findlay from Downton Abbey) who works as a librarian and dreams of being a children's book author. She is shy and reclusive, even afraid to tackle her overgrown garden. Though, when she steps out of her comfort zone, she finds surprising connections and gets closer to achieving her ambitions. Yes, this is a feel good movie with some awesome gardening tips.

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  • Lad : A Yorkshire Story


    In this story, 13-year-old Tom must come to terms with his father’s sudden death. While his older brother escapes to the military and his mother grapples with financial hardship, Tom finds himself working with a national park ranger, who helps Tom see new possibilities. The filmmaker grew up in Yorkshire and the gorgeous location is a character in itself. Interestingly, a real person inspired the story. This all blends into a poignant viewing experience.

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  • People, Places, Things

    2015 by James Strouse

    Graphic novelist and college instructor Will Henry is blindsided when his wife asks for a divorce. A year later, he is stuck in a tiny apartment, does not see his kids enough, and he has writer's block. That is until one of his students bluntly instructs him to get on with life. A good lesson goes a long way and so does this flick. The refreshing characters ring true.

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  • Unexpected

    2015 by Kris Williams

    A teacher in an inner-city Chicago high school unintentionally becomes pregnant. Then she learns that one of her best students is also unexpectedly pregnant. The bond between the two women grows deeper as each adjusts to the changes ahead. By the way, the filmmakers shot the movie in West Humboldt Park and East Garfield Park, Chicago, which makes this film a local gem.

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  • Handsome Devil

    2016 by John Butler

    This Irish drama centers on two students at a rugby crazed boarding school. Classmates routinely bully one student, an outsider by his own design, for not falling in line with the sports agenda. Another student, a late transfer with anger issues, is a brilliant player and immediately popular. The two boys become roommates and it seems they will spend the year at odds. Sports aside, this is thoughtful story with LGBT themes. Moreover, the reliable Andrew Scott turns up to play the coolest English teacher ever.

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  • Lars and the Real Girl

    2008 by Craig Gillespie

    We all know Ryan Gosling from La La Land, but before all that Oscar nomination stuff he starred in this quirky comedy about a young man having relationship troubles. Lars purchases an inflatable doll companion and introduces her as his girlfriend. His friends and family go along with the delusion until he works out his issues. In the meantime, one of the local girls has a crush on Lars. A comical threesome ensues. This is my go-to movie for laughs and smiles.

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  • Take Me Home

    2012 by Sam Jaeger

    Thom, an unlicensed New York cabbie, is having a run of disappoints (no job prospects and he is kicked out of his apartment). Then he gets the fare of his life when Claire, who is having a tough day, hires him to drive her to California. Filmed in thirteen states, the scenery is impressive. This is an enjoyable independent road trip comedy. The two stars are husband and wife in real life. No wonder they have such good on screen chemistry!

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  • Sweet Bean

    2016 by Naomi Kawase

    Sentaro runs a bakery that specializes in doriyaki pastries. He puts a help wanted sign in the window and, to his surprise, 76-year-old Tokue applies for the position. In this case, you can trust the title. The movie really is sweet; yet not over the top sentimental. I love that the story looks at friendship between the elderly, middle aged, and young. Another plus: the viewer learns a lot about the Japanese pastry doriyaki, which is a red-bean pancake.

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  • Boy

    2013 by Taika Waititi

    Set in 1984 New Zealand, 11-year-old Boy is a devoted Michael Jackson fan who dreams that his long absent father will return home to be a super dad and take him to a Michael Jackson concert. When he turns up to find a buried bag of money, Boy is thrilled that they can finally be a family—or maybe not. Taika Waititi also made the hilarious horror mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and the equally funny Hunt for the Wilderpeople. His style and sense of humor always hit the mark.

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  • A Street Cat Named Bob


    Based on the nonfiction book of the same name, this tells the story of James Bowen, who lived on the streets of London, busking for change. After a drug related life-threatening incident, his support worker manages to get him one last chance with an apartment and rehab program. That is when James befriended an extraordinary cat. Maybe you think that this sounds like a Hallmark special. I can see that. This is one of my favorites because it shows how a pet can have a huge, positive impact on someone's life and vice versa.

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  • Darbâreye Eli [About Elly]

    2015 by Aṣghar Farhādī

    In this social drama/psychological mystery, a group of old friends reunites for a holiday weekend by the Caspian Sea. It starts out as a good time, but when someone in the group disappears, little lies turn into larger deceptions. The director won Oscars for A Separation (2012) and The Salesman (2017). This earlier film is marvelous and shows his instinctive talent as a filmmaker. The story is deceptively deep and multilayered, yet clear and precise in its execution. Every scene counts.

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