With superhero films and remakes dominating mainstream cinemas this year it seems to be increasingly difficult to find something original to watch at the cinema. Although independent cinemas offer some respite from this current trend, they are often dwarfed in size by larger chains such as Cineworld and Odeon. As such, they are unable to fully realise their ambition to celebrate films which would otherwise not see the light of day if it was not for their support. However, there was still plenty to celebrate this year despite such problems and I have compiled a list of films which you should consider watching.
Following his surprisingly effective Evil Dead remake, Fede Alvarez’ most recent film, don’t breathe, echoes the claustrophobic confines of the original Evil Dead series to deliver a gripping film. Three small-time criminals plan to rob the home of a blind gulf war veteran (played by the terrifying Stephen Lamb) who has recently won a $300,000 settlement from the family of a girl who murdered his daughter in a car accident. Full of twists, this movie keeps the viewer guessing until the very end by creating a clever moral dilemma concerning which characters the audience should root for. It also includes a now infamous scene involving a turkey baster. Not for the squeamish.
I’m not usually one for the “versus” cinematic genre (think Aliens vs Predator) due to them obviously being the construct of unscrupulous studio execs milking the cash-cow of a franchise. However, Jeremy Saulnier makes it work by putting Neo-Nazis against Punks in this action packed thriller. Cash-strapped and looking for a big break, the Ain’t rights reluctantly decide to play a gig at a skinhead bar. Ill-advisedly, the band cover “Nazi punks, F*** off” by the Dead Kennedy’s at the beginning of their gig, drawing the ire of their hosts. After the show, the band members then head to the green room only to find the members of another band from that night with the body of a young woman; something which then sets off an exciting chain of events which leads to the ain’t rights fighting for their lives. Filled with excellent performances (namely Anton Yelchin’s in one of his final roles before his untimely death this year), Green Room is anarchic fun.
I, Daniel Blake
Despite operating on small budgets throughout his career, Ken Loach has produced a selection of films which have attracted a tremendous amount of critical praise. His most recent effort (I, Daniel Blake) was awarded the Palm d’Or this year. In my opinion, this was a deserved victory as the film provides an excellent commentary on the current social and economic upheavals which many Brits have faced under the Tories. The film follows Daniel Blake (a joiner who has recently had to take time out from his work) through a bureaucratic maze in search of relief through state benefit. As well as creating a gritty kitchen-sink milieu, Loach also injects some fine comedic movements into the film. This most memorable manifests itself in a scene involving Daniel Blake’s graffiti-protest against a job centre and the catharsis it provides to everybody else fed up with malevolent austerity.
In his first film since 2009’s A Single Man, Tom Ford’s latest offering is a David Lynch-esque adaptation of Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. Gallery owner Susan Morrow (played by Amy Adams) receives a manuscript out-of-the-blue for a book by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). The novel itself documents a man seeking revenge on a group of rednecks for the brutal murder of his wife and daughter. Although this may appear strange, the book itself seems to make references to Susan and Edward’s erstwhile relationship; a subtext which makes Susan visibly uncomfortable whilst reading it. Beautifully shot, the film itself is an excellent meditation concerning unrequited love and the consequences it can have. It also boasts possibly one of the most outrageous opening scenes in recent cinematic history by displaying Susan’s most recent art installation concerning “trash culture”.
Train to Busan
So far this list has lacked representation from world cinema. This may be a poor reflection of myself for being a little too insular but I like to think that this is largely down to mainstream cinemas not taking a chance on foreign films. Nonetheless, Train To Busan makes an excellent addition to the Zombie genre by not only offering excitement but creating something original in a genre which is becoming increasingly saturated. The film itself follows Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) taking his daughter (Kim Su-An) to see his ex-wife in Busan as a gift for her birthday. Their train journey, however, takes a sinister turn as an ill women clambers on board and begins attacking other passengers. The film then moves at a relentless pace, much like the train they are travelling on, with the virus spreading at an uncontrollable rate. It also includes some social commentary, echoing the political zombie movies of George Romero by depicting the first class passengers as selfish and unwilling to help those in other parts of the train; a subtext which seems quite prescient in light of South Korea’s president being impeached for corruption.