7. Slow West
Truly western in its setup, but truly indie in its convictions, this Western is surprisingly fun, but not at all short of expected brutality. Having saved the boy’s life, rogue wanderer Silas (a note-perfect Michael Fassbender) decides to accompany young dreamer Jay (a starry-eyed Kodi-Smith McKee) to find the self-proclaimed love of his life, Rose, yet neglects to tell the boy that he intends on apprehending Rose and her father at the last in order to collect the bounty on their heads.
The contrast between the cynical Silas and the naive Jay makes for classic buddy film motif, the banter between them is often very funny. Like a good buddy scenario, a mutual respect develops between the initially distant duo. Yet, tragedy lingers at every turn in this narrative, as other bounty hunters of lesser empathy plan to murder all parties involved along the way.
As such, the bloody and tragic finale is both expected and devastating, due to the occasional sweetness of the romantic sensibilities of the film contrasting and confounding its darker aspects. Slow West becomes, thus, one of the most compelling films of 2015.
6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Simultaneously one of the finest examples of movies about movies, and a great tragic comedy in its own right, the term “masterpiece” is not far from appropriate in the case of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Centering around two lifelong best friends, Greg and Earl, hailing from very different sides of the tracks, bound by a mutual affinity for cinema and the outsider lifestyle. who pay homage to their favourite art films- yielding sensational titles such as “The Seven Seals”, “Eyes Wide Butt”, and “The Turd Man”. As you may imaging, it is occasionally hysterically funny to watch the duo lampoon masterpieces of the avant garde on a budget.
Yet, the plot thickens when Rachel enters their lives. Rachel has leukemia, and is mostly confined to the bedroom of her home. Greg and Earl take it upon themselves to befriend her, and share their unique cinematic art for the first time. Eventually, a film is made solely for the benefit of Rachel.
It is hard to describe what happens for here. The movie is very keen to avoid the saccharine. Cliches like romance and unnecessary idealism are carefully avoided in a way few films dare to do. Yet, for this reason what happens feels harrowingly real, and the bonds feel legitimately formed. These could be your friends, this could be your life. Everybody kno0ws a Greg, a Rachel, and even an Earl. They may even be you.
Thus, the joy and tragedy hits home.
As searching a documentary as has ever been conceived of on the topic of a musician, Amy is a film which begins as a music biopic, but slowly evolves into a harrowing account of self-destructive addiction. This may sound on paper as being unfocused, but the reality is far from. For, the documentary centers on the life and career of Amy Winehouse, a tragic figure whose promising career descended into a death by addiction, as vociferously documented by the tabloid press.
The opening scene, a home video from 1998 in which a teenage Amy croons out “happy birthday” with the soulfulness of veteran jazz starlet, is an aptly positive starting point for an at times hard to watch film. From early signs of attitudinal behaviour in interviews and stress over romantic gripes, we soon see Amy as a chronic alcoholic and bulimic, practicing her addictions even in the recording studio. One wonders how so much dark archive material could ever have been gathered so objectively.
In the end, the extent of Amy’s denial and the eternal recurrence of her mistakes make addiction seem like nothing short of an inescapable bottomless pit and, at times, makes fame seem one in the same. The documentary is both a musical homage, an elegy, and a cautionary tale. One thing is for sure, it is certainly not dull.
4. The Duke of Burgundy
A lesbian erotic odyssey featuring a domineering entomologist and her doting pupil. Seriously.
At times laugh out loud funny, at times absurd, always visually spectacular. One might say that The Duke of Burgundy is not for everybody. Yet, for many, the sheer scale of its originality and visual innovation may be the very reason one gets into cinema in the first place. The opening sequence alone is breathtaking, establishing the notion that the audience is plummeting headlong into a demented fairytale, and defining the innocence of the more naive character of Evelyn, in spite of the vivid subject matter. A sequence, too, involving a cornucopia of butterflies boggles the mind. This is truly audacious arthouse material.
Yet, at the core is a romance between two people. After all, visual effects are simply a means of telling a story. The cornerstone of this film is the master slave dynamic between the domineering Cynthia and the submissive Evelyn. Evelyn’s professional awe of Cynthia is a darling notion, and watching her admire her college lectures is endearing. Yet, Cynthia’s coldness is tough to crack. Watching Evelyn seize control gradually is as compelling a narrative as one may have seen in 2015.
3. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
A series of wide shots, shot from the (assumptive) perspective of a pigeon on a branch, casually observing the absurd, charming, and always human events of daily life. It is a simple premise boldly executed,and made brilliant by sensational by the wonderful characters that occupy the potentially mundane universe.
Some sequences are as simple as a Mother and her baby, or two young lovers together. Yet, others are more expansive and cross into the realm of deadpan comedy gold. Two men in particular, selling practical joke masks and vampyre teeth out of a briefcase, and doing so with no passion or salesmanship whatsoever, are a joy to behold. They are at turns hilarious, and incredibly sweet.
Some sequences dealve into the realm of fantasy. one, in which a bar is infiltrated by an army of troops seemingly from another century, is extended and increasingly bizarre. This is the film in which you hang on to the relatability of the characters and go for the ride, however surreal things may become. This film is a truly unique experience in the cinema, and is not to be missed.
A Christmas caper about transgenderism; what more can one ask from indie cinema? Historically anchored by Mia Taylor and Ana Foxxx, we have, at last, two transgender leads in a major film. Another important element to note is that Tangerine is produced by the Duplass Brothers, so this is very much a mumblecore film in it’s form. Much rambling and wandering accompanies the girls’ LA odyssey, which in fact brings out nothing but the best in the film’s dialogue, and the charisma of its leads.
The film is fearlessly unique. It is shot on a digital handicam and looks makeshift and endearingly ramshackle in its one-taker editing style. But it is the scenarios themselves that one may write home about. If a film in which an ethnic cab driver confesses a taste for transgender hookers to their conservative Mother-in-laws, and an argument concerning extraterrestrials between a pimp and hooker at a late night cafe, sounds like your kind of movie, then this is a film for you.
In the end, however, we are left with two historic leads who do their film justice. Comedy aside, the film’s conclusion is testament to their emotional core as leads and the satisfaction of an apt ending for a surprisingly eye-opening experience.
1. It Follows
Few horror films stand out as being exceptional, but then, few horror films are It Follows.
A film which boldly precludes an adult presence on screen for most of its runtime; a film in which most of the scares play out in wide shots rather than close-ups, and bringing to the ideological table a very unique twist on the traditional possession mythology, this is clearly a horror desperate to break the mold from the onset. Still, as observed in a sequence set to TS Elliot, it still manages to be distinctly, very scary.
Maika Monroe excels as Jay, the spiritually centered girl whose life is upturned by the date from hell, beginning with a borderline rape. Her ‘possession’ forces her to seek out sexual partners, to pass on the “curse”, lest she be destroyed by it herself. Along with a gang of friends, a makeshift Scooby Gang, Jay sets out on an expedition to get to the bottom of the harrowing reality forced upon her, in a race against time.
Though It Follows is a horror film, its commitment to the indie ideals of small studios, small stars, big innovation finds it at the top of this list. Indeed, those who have seen it may find that it follows them for quite some time.
Author Bio: Ross Carey is a Film Studies graduate from County Cork In Ireland. He is an award winning short filmmaker and is in the midst of writing his debut feature film. Before joining Taste if Cinema he was ran a popular blog entitled “Kino Shout! Films”. He will discuss the subject of film at any opportunity.