Written by Ankit Ojha
Sometimes, non-mainstream films get their due, and some more!
2014 was a fantastic year for non-mainstream films, and while the initial quarter was bumpy, what followed in the rest of the three quarters was a barrage of amazing films that just kept coming. From acclaimed filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Jonathan Glazer to relatively newer talent like Adam Wingard, we’ve got it all covered! Here’s basically what we’ve decided to count down as ten of our best fringe films that managed to electrify the audience out of nowhere.
Why: A family movie for adults, Jon Favreau gets back with a bang after fantastically written Swingers and a tolerable Made, proving to the audience that even after going mainstream with the Iron Man franchise for a while, his heart still exists in the right place. The movie covers two strands of its concept – a father-son bond that’s as raw as it is human, and a man following his dreams rather than chasing the money and the title – and does well on both counts. Intelligently touching upon the need of social media as a tool for new businesses to scream its existence to its customers, whilst also having characters that matter, Chef is as sharply and smartly written as it is heartfelt. Peppered along with some fantabulous cameos by Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson and (hold your breaths!) Robert Downey Jr., this movie doesn’t treat them as gimmicks, but gives each of them a rather dignified role to play.
What’s Awesome: Jon Favreau acts, writes and directs this film. Gives film enthusiasts a dual-ended boost of inspiration to go follow their dreams.
Surprise, Surprise: Sofia “Gloria” Vergara (television’s popular Modern Family) has an absolutely lovable performance compared to her stereotypically loud film gigs in the horribly directed The Three Stooges, and just steals all your hearts away. No, she really does.
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Why: Wes Anderson is an eclectic filmmaker who has certain tastes and certain kinks of perfectionism he performs. With a terrific lineup of actors, this film is able accomplish tapping through itself an eccentric tone that acts like a fairytale, feels like a mystery novel and moves like a family drama. The less said about this film, the better; you need to experience the film yourself.
What’s Awesome: Ralph Fiennes’ performance and the fantastic filmmaking kinks lend to the authenticity of the film.
Surprise, Surprise: Tilda Swinton is unrecognizable; and if you didn’t know who she was in the film, you’d never know till the credits.
8. The Guest
Why: Action and horror, thrown in a blender, with a garnishing of Dan Stevens, whipped up by the talented sous chefs Adam Winged and Simon Barrett in yet another one of their popular collaborative geniuses post their self-aware horror You’re Next. And if anyone’s to take their ability to smartly inject some awesome self-awareness in their films, they’d know right before getting into the movie that this would be a serious-looking film that’s actually rightly a parody in hiding, waiting to sneak up on you, slowly and stealthily. Before you know it, you’ll be on the edge-of-your-seat, whilst also rightfully chuckling at all the easter-egg jokes sprinkled around only for the more discerning viewer to catch. Wingard and Barrett are a talent to watch out for – well, they’ve always been, but this year kinda proved that we should be investing some energy and time into knowing what they’re going to be up to in the future already.
What’s Awesome: Barrett’s fantastic writing, Wingard’s hella-fun direction and Dan Stevens pulling off one of the best performances in his career this far – they all make for a heady dose of mega-awesomeness that is just unstoppable.
Surprise, Surprise: Maika Monroe. You’ll have to watch the movie to know why. And you’d rather watch this film to also know why you’re supposed to very dearly wait for her next gig in It Follows.
Why: Jake Gyllenhaal’s been coming up in a barrage of terrific movie choices of late. Kicking off with Prisoners, following it up with Enemy – and now upping the ante with Nightcrawler – is no mean feat. It’s surprising almost, to see that the guy’s got an eye for knowing the pulse of what makes a film its own thing. Starting off in a quiet, almost predictable fashion, the movie only gets progressively meaner (and, in the process, breathless) until you’re sitting there on your seat, wondering what would be his next move.
What’s Awesome: Jake Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse performance indicates the role was tailor-made for him. If Enemy wasn’t enough, this performance of his makes you want to support him and hate him in equal measure, something not a lot of people can do.
Surprise, Surprise: Dan Gilroy pitches in a confident debut as a director, whilst finally getting off his his long phase of writing and co-writing with mixed results. His direction is focussed, assured and – almost – nuanced.
6. Begin Again
Why: Because it’s a fantastic film with fantastic music, that’s why.
For those who immensely loved Once, this might not exactly be the film they’d expect from a director like Carney. For the more open minded, however – and unlike Once, which on a personal level felt like a checklist film to me – the movie is breezy, and has characters that are more accessible and relatable than his previous musical effort. Plus, you’ve got Ruffalo and Knightley in some of their most natural performances so far.
What’s Awesome: The camaraderie between Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley take the cake.
Surprise, Surprise: Adam Levine. He’s super-impressive for his first major act.
Why: A hundred-odd minute film set in a car in realtime, with just one character. That could have been quite the bore, and – if I may – a failure of a film, had it not been handled well. The thing is, this mind-blowing Steven Knight directed film arrests you throughout its runtime, drying your throat in anticipation as you’re constantly in search of answers, in search of the vaulted-up though process in the film’s protagonist Ivan Locke’s brain. If you think Tom Hardy was awesome as Bane, think again. Here he is, contributing his all – his emotive versatility, his restraint, his body language – to a role of a man on the verge of progressive destruction, if not anything else (considering Bronson though, this should have been a relatively easier role to pull off, shouldn’t it have?). And as for Knight – the writer-director of the spellbinding Eastern Promises – he seems to have pulled off yet another coup, not just in the world of screenwriting (and writing in general), but also in the world of film direction, allowing his whole team to finish a film that he should definitely be proud of, if not anything else.
What’s Awesome: Tom Hardy in a performance that’s not just fantastic, but rips your heart out as you see the events that unfold and how they affect him.
Surprise, Surprise: In a way, the whole film is a major surprise on the senses of the viewers.
4. The Lunchbox
Why: Acquired by Sony Pictures classics, this was one of the few films that found a limited release commercially in the first quarter of the year, and actually managed to impress the audience more than your perfectly adequate barrage of action flicks that kept dropping on you like bombs. More than the powerhouse performances of Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi) and Nimrat Kaur (television’s Homeland), it’s the warm – albeit sans manipulation – direction that amazes you. The letters, the honesty in the metaphorical voices of these characters and the overall relationship the protagonists share without meeting each others simply manages to melt you away. That the movie ends without conventionally ending and still leaves you with immense hope is sensational.
What’s Awesome: The character arcs of the protagonists are smooth, consistent, and non-manipulative.
Surprise, Surprise: While Irrfan Khan gave away his usual standout performance, it was Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Gangs of Wasseypur) that took away the cake as protagonist and supporting character respectively, with their mind-blowing performative dynamics.
3. Under the Skin
Why: One of the most accomplished science-fiction films of the year, Under the Skin, adapted from Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, heavily downplayed the exposition, with Jonathan Glazer deciding instead to mess with the audience.
With Scarlett Johansson’s powerhouse performance stealing the show, the movie – if indulged into – feels like a visually immersive experience that is an arthouse film as much as it is a mystery drama, science-fiction and a horror movie. With such a melange of genres you’d surely expect Glazer to trip. That, fortunately, doesn’t happen, and the discerning audience gets what they want, and some more.
What’s Awesome: Scarlett Johansson’s performance. If she’s been an electrifying part of some of the most successful commercial films of the year, she’s also dabbled in something as daring as this, which is a pleasure to watch.
Surprise, Surprise: They’re many. And they’re moments. And they cannot be spoiled. They’ll intrigue you, jolt you out of your senses and creep you out.
Why: Yet another filmmaking achievement of sorts, the movie is as natural as natural goes. In fact, so far is it seeped into realism that it’s been shot (like its well known nickname goes) over the course of twelve long years, with the same bunch of actors. It’s an experiment that hasn’t been dared by as much as anyone, with the only one who came close being François Truffaut, who made a series of films featuring the same character over the course of many years.
But let’s just say Linklater’s almost been able to achieve that with his Before… series.
What’s Awesome: That it’s more headily conversational (which might not be suitable for everyone in the audience) and organic, and uses the same form of visual capture for twelve years instead of cheapening out and using a variety of video cameras is just incredible.
Surprise, Surprise: Patricia Arquette’s performance will blow you away. Period.
AND OUR CLEAR WINNER IS:
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Why: For a film to have been this fantastic in terms of almost everything – as an experience, per se – was something not a lot of the audience would have fathomed. Sure, it’s a comedy, but its electrifying brand of humor is smart and subtextual to an unprecedented degree. 2014 was Michael Keaton’s year, what with his return to (some rather limp) conventional A-lister cinema being more frequent than was seen in the previous years. This movie only cemented my claim further, what with his self-aware parody of his career in the film only being a small part of the whole set of events, which also included the dazzling performances of Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, among others. The film is a wholesome experience for lovers of movies.
What’s Awesome: The melange of cinematography and editing to form a fluid one take shot, brought previously this close to consistency only by another master filmmaker – Alfred Hitchcock (in Rope).
Surprise, Surprise: Michael Keaton does some really awesome stuff – and you’ve got to see the movie – experience it – to believe what I’m trying to say without revealing.