Funding a film is difficult at the best of times, especially in the UK, where decades of confusion about the role of the film industry has left it in a bit of mess, to put it mildly. Which makes it a reason for celebration when new talent does emerge, especially with a film like Kidulthood.
Written by Noel Clarke, perhaps most well known at that point for his Doctor Who role, it chronicles two days in the lives of poor west London teenagers. It doesn’t seek to talk down to or lecture its audience, and although obviously a heightened version of reality, gives an insight into what life is like for these kids. Intense, funny and occasionally shocking, it’s a great little firework of a film.
Told using an ambitious structure of flashbacks and flashforwards, Beginners follows Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as he deals with two events that rock his world; first, the fact his father has come out as gay, and then his subsequent cancer diagnosis and death. It wasn’t a surprise to me to learn that this was based on director Mike Mills’ person experience of his father coming out at the age of 75.
The thing this film has in bucket loads is heart, never straying into the saccharine despite being a romantic-comedy-drama.
Take Shelter (2011)
Sadly neglected in many end of year best-of lists, this small budget apocalyptic drama tackles the big issues going on inside the head of an everyday American man who may or may not be seeing visions of the end of the world. The special effects work used to bring Curtis’s nightmares to life is top notch, further embarrassing the bad CGI all too prevalent in blockbusters made for a hundred times more.
Lost In Translation (2003)
However, there’s no denying the critical and cultural impact the movie had on release, and many of my friends still rave about it. There’s no denying either that it’s gorgeous to look at, and Bill Murray is as ever on top form as a washed up former star earning a big pay cheque through making adverts in Japan, but who comes alive again through meeting Scarlett Johansson.
The film has a dreamlike quality which lends itself perfectly to the atmosphere of isolation and the sense that life is slipping away. I don’t think there’s a better looking film on this list, nor one which has received quite so many awards – and for those who question Sofia Coppola’s directing ability, this will always be a genuine riposte.
Even on a list of low-budget films, there are a few whose budget made me do a double-take, and this is one of them. One man show Rian Johnson directs, writes and edits this film noir set in a high school, and it is a simply outstanding debut. Student Brendan Frye (a magnificent and career changing role for Joseph Gordon-Levitt) investigates the death of his ex-girlfriend Emily, resulting in a dizzying tale involving drugs, gangsters, guns and double-crosses.
In keeping with its noir roots, this hard-boiled tale moves at a rat-a-tat pace and engages with its own internal film lingo, meaning you may get lost if you don’t pay attention. However, the intricate and rewarding plot is well worth the effort, and Johnson with his first film doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a low-budget aesthetic, with the film looking as gorgeous as it is clever.