If we were to reflect on the year that has gone by, we would tend to remember the grandiose, larger-than-life, big budget movies. We remember the Marvel heroes, the Star Wars characters, the Pixar animation, the dinosaurs of Jurassic World. But that is just one aspect of what cinema has to offer. No doubt, movies of such magnitude make the most noise, hog the limelight, and more often than not, totally entertain. But take nothing away from the underdogs, the ones with lower budgets, those who deliver quality cinema within their minimalistic means. There are movies in 2015 that have not been big on the box-office, but enjoyed the love and admiration of those who discovered them. These movies at times hold the seeds of the next star in the making, the next big director at work, and so hold a great value in the bigger scheme of things. I bring forth five such movies from 2015 that you might have heard of in the passing but did not pay much attention too; well, now you should. Watch them!
The best sci-fi movies need not always have a battle on-going in space. Ex Machina is the kind of movie that shows how a sci-fi movie can be built with intrigue, suspense and a chilling finale, in a pretty modest budget. The movie tackles many questions on Artificial Intelligence, quite a raging topic, pretty much always. A young programmer, played by Domnhall Gleeson, is invited by his genius boss, played by Oscar Issac, at his isolated mansion-like home, to evaluate his new creation – an android with artificial intelligence, played by Alicia Vikander. These three actors are pretty much all who you see on screen. As the story thickens and the suspense builds on whose motive is what, the isolation of the location adds to the chill that we used to feel in a M. Night Shyamalan movie when he was at his prime. Debutant director Alex Garland has received lot of praise for his work on Ex Machina, and deservedly so; he has now signed up for another sci-fi thriller starring Natalie Portman. The cast of Ex Machina is equally impressive, each carrying a different set of emotions and personality traits than the other, which makes them unique and distinct. Vikander, a rising star now, has been awarded a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the movie. Ex Machina was made on a production budget of only $15 million, and good word-of-mouth helped it to earn $37 million at the global box-office. It holds a fantastic 92% score on Rottentomatoes & a 7.7 score on Imdb.
The more well-known horror movies are nowadays part of growing franchises, with good creepy original ones hard to find. But when something different does come up, it brings back memories of how Paranormal Activity shook the audience so many years ago. It Follows did not break the cash registers at the cinema halls, but it did gather a good tally of $20 million against its production budget of only $2 million. The movie had its premiere at Cannes in 2014, though it released in the USA in March 2015. The story revolves around young Jamie, played by Maika Monroe, who is followed by strange creature after a sexual encounter with a guy. The horrors in the movie do not emerge from creepy, gooey, disgusting apparitions, nor ghosts emerging from the dark all of a sudden; instead, it is the beauty of the screenplay which builds the tension and fear by giving away little of what is to come next, the drama that goes in your head by not knowing how Jamie can survive. The movie has been written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, who has little body of work prior to It Follows, but hopefully that will change. Keep an eye out for Maika Monroe who has a long list of movies lined up, including The 5th Wave and Independence Day: Resurgence to name the big ones. It Follows holds a 96% score on Rottentomatoes.
The End of the Tour
James Ponsoldt is one of the interesting directors right now in America you need to keep your eyes open for. The End of the Tour is his fourth film, another spectacular piece of work which has received universal acclaim like his previous three movies. Ponsoldt though continues to work with lower budgets, and even when the critics love his movies, they are usually lost to the wider audience. A big studio release is what I hope for the next Ponsoldt movie. Nonetheless, The End of the Tour is another cinematic beauty by the director, which replays the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segal respectively. The movie is a journey, a road trip, an adventure, done with a plethora of emotions, without any one of them overpowering the other. Eisenberg and Segal are at their best, displaying the acts they can bring to the big screen under the eye of a talented director. The movie enjoys a 91% score on Rottentomatoes. The movie had a limited release only in the USA earning $3 million at the box-office. But pick up the ‘top ten movies of the year’ list of any big publication, and you will find this name there.
Sherlock Holmes has been around for quite a while, more than a century infact. And yet when a new actor steps into those famous shoes, he brings something different to it. Sir Ian McKellen got his chance to play the ‘world’s greatest sleuth’ in Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes where he enacts an aged and retired Sherlock Holmes, dealing with early dementia, who tries to remember his final case that involved a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. The movie’s beauty comes from its attempt to show Holmes as a human rather than the mystical creature he has become. Ian McKellen is breathtakingly brilliant in this role, charming and yet annoying, the way we know Sherlock Holmes, but this time worn down by time, which makes us sympathetic towards him. Bill Condon delivers a much more measured piece of movie-making, burying the rather forgettable The Fifth Estate of 2013. Mr. Holmes earned about $28 million at the global box-office. It enjoys a 87% score on Rottentomatoes.
Sicario isn’t a below-the-radar movie like the above four. It earned about $80 million at the box-office, a good mix of 60:40 between North America and overseas, which ain’t bad for a $30 million movie. Nonetheless, I think it was far superior to what the earnings reveal. Sicario was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who got a lot of plaudits for 2013’s Prisoners. In this movie, he brings the same heights of drama, tension and suspense. Sicario looks like a straight-forward commercial movie initially, the story of an FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who is enlisted by a government task force to stop drug lords operating from Mexico, but as the movie moves forward, its complexity starts to make the ride more enjoyable. The FBI agent is an idealistic one, and when her team members do not necessarily follow the rule-book, it creates a discord that creates a richer flavour within the movie. Emily Blunt is simply amazing in yet another ‘tough girl’ role she plays in Sicario, and joining her are veterans like Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro who make each scene so memorable. Sicario is one of the best movies of the year that delivers both in terms of entertainment and star appeal, and still carries the grittiness and roughness of an indie flick. It holds a 93% score on Rottentomatoes & a 7.9 rating on Imdb. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, you should!