Following is the first movie Christopher Nolan ever directed, a mesmerizing low-budget effort that introduced the world to the genius who will later give us Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight, and many other classics. Shot in "extreme" conditions to quote Nolan himself, for just over £3000, it had to be filmed in the span of a year on Saturdays only and in friends' houses. But almost none of that is visible in the sharp camera work, the magnificent acting (most of it was first or second takes), and the twisted script. It tells the story of an unsuccessful writer (The Young Man) who tries to find inspiration in following random people in the street, and doing it via strict rules. One day he follows a man in a suit (Cobb), who catches him and becomes intrigued by him. It turns out that Cobb has his own fascination with people's intimate lives, of criminal nature, which he lets The Young Man into. Using the same non-linear plot technique as in Memento, this movie is halfway between a thriller and a film noir. The inspiration for it came when Nolan's own apartment in London was robbed, and he was fascinated by the act of strangers going through his personal items. If you take into consideration the conditions of its making, this movie is a masterpiece.
Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) is a 12-year-old kid fueled by rage because of his father’s death. Over the course of the summer in good ole’ Northern England, he befriends a group of local skinheads and instantly feels at home – with the mischief-making still partially at bay then. This was prior to meeting Combo, the most ill-bred of the gang, and being led down a path of greater danger. Dubbed as director Shane Meadows’s best work, it’s easy to pick this one off a list and give it all the praise, depicting England perfectly in a coming-of-age approach you otherwise would’ve paid no mind to.
This is the first film directed by actor Macon Blair (so good in both Blue Ruin and Green Room), and while it is shaggy and tonally all over the place, there is a lot to recommend here. First off, I’m a huge fan of the (underrated) Melanie Lynskey, so I was primed to like this movie from the get-go. After Ruth’s (Lynskey) home is broken into, she seeks revenge against the perpetrators with help from her martial arts obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, sporting an impressive rat-tail). What starts out as an empowering journey for Ruth & Tony quickly teeters into dangerous and increasingly violent territory. This movie is probably not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 90s indie films and don’t mind some violence mixed in with your dark humor, then you will enjoy this small, well-acted film.
The film for which Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win the César Award. The Twilight star turned indie prodigy plays next to another award favorite, Juliette Binoche, as her assistant. When rehearsing for the play that launched her career many years earlier, Binoche's character, Maria, blurs the line between fiction and reality, her old age and her assistant's young demeanor, and the romance story portrayed in the play and her own life. The movie itself is stylized as a play, adding another interesting layer of artistic creativity to the complex plot line. A film for film lovers.
In the mood for an impeccably crafted real-life thriller? This movie is for you. On the way out of a nightclub, Victoria runs into four raucous German men who convince her to hang out with them. She is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t great, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans. While the plot may sound like your standard-issue crime drama, Victoria turns out to be something a little different, due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed – in a single shot. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, it works wonders to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the storyline. Laia Costa gives an astounding lead performance. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her. A crazy, awesome movie.
How does a standout director follow up to a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? With a more profound exploration of style, a further exploration of his originality. Gael Garcia Bernal (who you might know from Y Tu Mama Tambien) plays an imaginative but awkward kind of guy who falls for his cute neighbor, played Charlotte Gainsbourg. Bizarre and whimsical dream sequences follow and a sweet, if hesitant, love story unfolds. An eccentric, funny and very French movie (with most scenes in English).
Set in a town drawn in chalk outlines on the floor of a dark studio room. However unconventional the unrealistic stage-like set, the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman who arrives at this town seeking refuge becomes real enough to absorb you in a disturbing examination of human morals. It's unique and features powerful performances, and will be more appreciated by anyone striving for something new. Directed by Lars von Trier.
Youth is a film about Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) a famous composer vacationing at a resort in the Swiss Alps with his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), an accomplished filmmaker, and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz). While Fred shuns his work (including an opportunity to play for the Queen of England) and muddles himself in disillusionment, Mick works fervently on his final film, intended to be his life’s crowning achievement. Their remaining time is spent intermingling amongst the guests and reminiscing upon their lives, their achievements, their failures and their undying yearnings. From writer/director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), Youth is another charming work offering an array of eccentric characters and quirky scenarios, while also serving as a touching examination of age, wisdom and ultimately personal reckoning.
Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World is a dark comedy that follows the exploits of teenage outcasts Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) as they navigate the many complexities of burgeoning adulthood. Central to the story is the unlikely friendship that Enid strikes up with a lonesome older man (played by Steve Buscemi), a curious relationship that drifts through various humorous and melancholy situations. It’s an original and often poignant look at alienation and identity, with Birch delivering a wonderfully deadpan and often hilarious performance, despite her entirely pessimistic attitude. It’s the type of film that’s just right when you’re in the mood for something just a little bit different.
A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.
A fish out of water coming-of-age story with an abundance of charm. Greg Gaines, a kid with few to zero close people finds himself obliged to befriend a girl recently diagnosed with cancer. She enters his seemingly balanced social life and he tries to adjust to her new predicament, and the story goes from there. There is excellent cinematography and really funny sequences, but to me what is most amazing is that with three perfectly played and perfectly written characters, you are sure to see parts of yourself in either Greg, Earl, or Rachel - if not some parts in each one.
Inside Llewyn Davis tells the interesting and captivating story of a young, struggling singer navigating through the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961. The movie conveys all sorts of emotions, thanks to Coen brothers’ stroke of genius: it is strange, funny, dramatic and satisfying at the same time. Not to mention, the ensemble cast is superb, and the music is absolutely great. It is the kind of movie that will put an unfamiliar yet wondrous feeling into you as you live through Llewyn Davis' eyes and feel his pain.