2015 was looking like a horrible year for movies. The first six months saw some tremendous disappointments like Michael Mann’s clichéd Blackhat, the Wachowski’s stupid Jupiter Ascending, and Joss Whedon’s mind-numbing Avengers: Age of Ultron. I also managed to sit through Fifty Shades of Grey. No comment.
Despite my initial cynicism, though, this year seems to be turning around. It’s produced the blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road, and also these five hidden gems (ranked in order of preference) which have managed to fly under the radar.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl
If Me and Earl and The Dying Girl were a person, I would wrap my arms around them and squeeze as hard as I could. Based on a single viewing, this is one of the most affecting and lovely films I’ve ever seen. It’s funny, sad, moving, and profound. That it also subverts almost every expectation, while reinventing tropes you’ve seen a million times, makes it that much more unpredictable and moving. The story focuses on Greg, an awkward high school senior. He interacts in the safety of his empty social cocoon and befriends a girl with leukemia. This is the film The Fault In Our Stars wished it could be.
This is probably one of the most accessible yet inventive films to fall between the cracks in some time. Adapting Robert A. Heinlein’s short story, All You Zombies, brotherly duo Michael and Peter Spierig have crafted an intimate character drama with one of the most unique time travel premises of recent years. Ethan Hawke stars as a bartender who begins to talk to an effeminate-looking man. The customer bargains a bottle of booze that he can tell him the most insane story the bartender has ever heard. No spoilers, but the two have a more personal past than you will ever see coming.
This film, about a middle-rung coder chosen by an eccentric billionaire to investigate the consciousness of what could be the first self-aware android, fascinates with philosophical debates of free-will and determinism as well as materialism and dualism. It’s a thought-provoking film that should thrill both high- and low-brow audiences alike with its witty dialogue, suffocating tension, and profound themes. Ex Machina is real, hard sci-fi, and not of the Abrams variety.
Can a film celebrate the clichés and conventions of a genre while completely reinventing them? Well that’s exactly what Slow West does in the short span of 82 minutes. This compelling and funny film, whose subversion has been compared to the work of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, sets itself up as a run of the mill western about a 16-year-old boy who has moved to the frontier to save a damsel in distress, while accompanied by a Clint Eastwood-like outlaw. Unlike most Westerns, Slow West isn’t about old American myths, but rather the films that have embraced them.
While We’re Young
“You’re just an old man with a hat,” Adam Driver proclaims to Ben Stiller’s hipster wannabe in Noah Baumbach’s funny but poignant film. The director of The Squid And The Whale and Frances Ha demonstrates once again that he is a master of writing comedic dialogue that feels natural and raw, yet subtle and gut-busting. While We’re Young is the best Judd Apatow comedy Apatow never made.