13 Tzameti is a unique suspense movie from Georgia and the debut of director Géla Babluani. This film explores the life of a migrant worker from Georgia working in France, who literally gambles his life in a high stakes game of chance organized by powerful criminals. 13 Tzameti won the World Cinema Jury Prize at Sundance in 2008, and of course, a not nearly as good American remake. Do yourself a favor and check out the original!
When asked about this film, Quentin Tarantino goes so far as to say, “If there’s any movie that’s been made since I’ve been making movies that I wish I had made, it’s that one.” Kinji Fukasaku’s cult classic follows an alternative reality set in Japan, where a random high school class is forced onto a remote island to fight to the death. While it does follow the quintessential ‘only one shall leave’ scenario (complete with over-the-top, almost comedic murder scenes), the raw emotion and character depth cuts far deeper than traditional action thrillers. The film will leave you out of breath but still satisfied with how the narrative plays out.
A sincere portrayal of the gritty British working class life through the coming-of-age story of a girl who loves rap music and dancing to it. It features a stunning and powerful performance from newcomer Katie Jarvis who had no acting experience whatsoever, and who was cast in the street after she was spotted fighting. She plays Mia, a 15 year old teenager whose world changes drastically when her mother's new boyfriend (played by Michael Fassbender) turns his eyes to her. Don't watch this movie if you are looking for a no-brainer, definitely do watch it if you are interested in films that realistically portray others' lives and let you into them.
A documentary highlighting the challenged lives of three boys living in a small town in the heartland of America. The film follows the boys and their families, honestly portraying them and their dreams--dreams constrained by the realities of a mother in prison, or a father who can't keep a job, or no father at all. If you liked Boyhood then you'll love this film. If you grew up in a small town, then you'll see parts of yourself here. And, at the end of it all, you'll remember the struggles portrayed and realize that poverty is not solely an inner-city problem.
A heartwarming and (ironically) heartbreaking indie film based around the lives of Mary, an 8-year old girl from Australia, and her pen pal Max, a 44-year old man from America. The film follows these two as they deal with life's complications, from the perspective of a child and an autistic man. One of the most riveting and diverse films I've seen, with many joyous moments and cold plot twists. Would recommend 8 condensed milks out of 10.
A Franco-Gaelic animated film nominated for an Academy Award, the Secret of Kells certainly isn't your average Disney fare. Set in 8th century Ireland, it is beautifully animated, taking cues from ancient illuminated manuscripts and Gaelic folk art. Featuring a plot heavily inspired by Irish mythology, it tells the story of the Viking invasion of Ireland and the creation of the Book of Kells, an Irish national treasure. The world of the film pulses with the lush greenery of the island, populated by fairies, giants, magic and mystery.
The Wave is a movie about manipulation, National Socialism and the authoritarian development at a German school. The well-liked teacher Rainer Wenger presents a social experiment to his students which quickly expands to a much larger scale. His experiment, named “Die Welle” (the wave), is part of a project week at the school about different forms of governments. During his pedagogical approach to the topic Wenger goes through an alarming process, which is fascinating to observe as a viewer. The screenplay is based on a Californian experiment “The Third Wave” from 1967 and its novel from 1981 which became a classic piece of literature in German-speaking countries such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
In this raw, psychedelic drama, an American drug dealer living in Tokyo with his sister is killed at a night club. His spirit continues to float above the city and past, present, and future are woven together to complete the tale of his life. Taking a page from the Tibetan book of the dead, the film aims to explore one answer to life's most epic question: What happens when we die? Definitely not for the faint of heart, there is drug use, gore, and challenging themes throughout the movie. Its unique cinematography also captures Tokyo quite well.
An instant classic, Beast of No Nation is a unique and uniquely-paced war drama which ranges in patterns from explosive visual storytelling to calm character studies. A child joins a rebel group consisting almost entirely of children and led by a charismatic leader credited as Commandant. As you get to witness the conflict through the child’s eyes, his own development and his commander’s, the film unfolds as an exploration of the never ending state of war in Africa. It takes you to varying conclusions, most of which you will have trouble admitting you’ve reached. As Commandant, Idris Elba is transfixing, and the whole cast of almost entirely non-actors, as well as the deeply authentic staging by True Detective and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga, are enthralling.
The Salt of the Earth is a 2014 biographical documentary about famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Directed and narrated by Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, the film tells Salgado’s life story from his childhood in northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and ultimately the shift to photography that would lead him to over 120 countries as a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man’s lifelong dedication to capturing humanity and nature in remarkable states of peril, compromise and elegance. From the Brazilian gold mine of Serra Pelada to the Yali Tribe of Papua New Guinea to the war-ravaged people of Rwanda (to name just a few), the film follows Salgado’s career through his photography, accompanied by his personal accounts of his many encounters and impressions. It’s Salgado’s grace, empathy and kindness that shine the brightest—remarkable for a man who has seen (and photographed) the worst of humanity over the course of his lifetime. It’s an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war and death, but it ultimately serves as an exemplary presentation of Salgado’s work and his intimate reflections upon a career dedicated to truth, awareness and beauty.
Before you press play on this movie, I highly recommend you take deep, deep breaths. The suspense in it grows in such an incremental way that you will be out of breath before you know what happened. And it doesn’t use anything other than amazing acting and an amazing story to achieve all of this. One man, in the equivalent of a 911 police center in Denmark, and a room. That’s it. He receives a call that turns his night around and puts him in front of very important questions on his ethics and how far he can go to help the people that call him. This movie feels like it was made on a $100 million budget, but the reality was very far from that. It doesn’t even believe in budgets. Grab someone next to you and go watch it so that you can discuss it after.
Short Term 12 is exactly like being injured in a part of your body where you didn't think it was possible to get injured before. It will hurt but it will make you care. Natural and understated by budget and by purpose, it is powered by perfect performances that will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride you will never forget. It is at times sweet, at times depressing and at times hilarious. The thing is, without even taking into consideration its small budget or the importance of the issues it talks about - we would still consider Short Term 12 as one of the best movies of the past 20 years.