Paul Giamatti portrays comic book writer Harvey Pekar in “American Splendor.”
By Lucy Spicer
Twenty years ago, two Sundance Film Festival award winners made their way to the big screen in August: one an innovative documentary-biopic hybrid about a comic book writer, the other a gritty and unflinching coming-of-age story. Both American Splendor and Thirteen would continue to make waves at festivals and awards shows.
But they’re not the only films with August theatrical release dates over the years we’re excited to revisit. Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart gives us a funny, warm story about a Chinese American family’s life in San Francisco, while on the opposite coast, Metropolitan invites us to listen in on the conversations of the “urban haute bourgeoisie.” And for a true story that might seem stranger than fiction, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man fits the bill.
So take your pick (or watch all five), and feel free to have some cake — it’s their anniversaries, after all.
Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (1985) — Geraldine Tam (Laureen Chew) takes care of her widowed mother in San Francisco, but Mrs. Tam (Kim Chew) — who was told by a fortuneteller that she’s going to die within the year — wants her daughter to move out and get married. Bachelor bartender Uncle Tam (Victor Wong) tries to help the situation however he can, offering a mix of Chinese wisdom and life lessons learned from behind the bar. Wayne Wang directed this quietly comedic slice of Chinese American life. Check here for viewing options.
Metropolitan (1990) — After attending a débutante ball on a whim, middle-class Princeton student Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) unintentionally finds himself at an after-hours gathering in a large Park Avenue apartment. All the regulars are there, young adults born into wealth and a social stratum that’s not quite carrying the weight it used to — and they all know Tom’s ex-girlfriend. Writer-director Whit Stillman’s Oscar-nominated screenplay delivers wit and irony in droves as Tom gradually becomes integrated into the socialites’ circle. Check here for viewing options.
American Splendor (2003) — Part documentary, part comedy-drama biopic, this unique feature combines film, animation, and real-life photographs to recount the story of Harvey Pekar (fictionally portrayed by Paul Giamatti), creator of the autobiographical American Splendor comic book series that depicted the author’s monotonous everyday life. Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the Oscar-nominated film won the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. Check here for viewing options.
Thirteen (2003) — Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is thirteen and determined to shed her goody-two-shoes image. When she befriends Evie (Nikki Reed), the most popular girl in school, she’s introduced to a world of drugs, crime, and sex. Frustrated with her chaotic home life — her mom (Holly Hunter) always has either hairdressing clients or her boyfriend around — and desperate for validation, Tracy goes all in. Catherine Hardwicke (winner of the Directing Award: Dramatic at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival) co-wrote her directorial debut with 13-year-old Reed based on the girl’s life experiences. Check here for viewing options.
Grizzly Man (2005) — Timothy Treadwell felt a deep connection to bears, so much so that he spent 13 summers living among them at Katmai National Park and Preserve in the wilds of Alaska. Acclaimed writer-director Werner Herzog draws from more than 100 hours of Treadwell’s own footage, as well as interviews with his family and friends and nature experts, to create a portrait of the eccentric man who was eventually killed by the very creature he revered. The documentary was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Check here for viewing options.