5. Silent Running (1972)
Duncan Jones’ much beloved “Moon” was basically a homage to “Silent Running,” one of Jones’ favorite films. Universal Studios funded several low-budget films in the early 1970s, and this ecologically-minded ‘message film’ stood out among them. This is a wonderful film about what could possibly happen in the future.
The film is set in the future where all plant life on Earth is becoming extinct. Four people are conducting research at large spaceship named Valley Forge, forming part of a fleet of American Airlines space freighters, currently just outside the orbit of Saturn.
Among these people, there is one “strange” (according to others) person: Freeman (the name says it all), the only one who understands how important their work is. He takes care of plants and communicates with animals, loves to eat fresh fruit from trees, while the rest eat “rubbish,” play cards, drive on small cars (the means of transportation in a giant station).
One day, people at the station receive an order to destroy the last of Earth’s botany, kept in a greenhouse aboard a spacecraft. Obviously, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but still it’s a damn impressive film featuring a terrific lead performance from Bruce Dern and some incredibly thought-provoking concepts and ideas.
4. The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
John Sayles is one of the most fiercely independent, politically engaged figures in American filmmaking. Once again, here is a film with no budget, an unknown cast, and a remarkable and distinctively strange idea. The movie is about an alien, the “brother” who looks like an ordinary African-American man, distinguished only by the fact that he is mute. He cannot talk, but he can listen carefully and can read minds.
Roger Ebert says the plot “makes it sound serious, but like all the most serious movies, it’s a comedy.” It sure is. There are a lot of very witty, sometimes funny, as well as very clever and charming moments. At first, the movie seems to be about the immigration experience and how strange our customs and practices might be, but the story is more than that.
It may take time to get into the whole thing, but once you get involved it can turn out to be a thought-provoking and also entertaining story with a likable lead, very fine cinematography, and unusual characters. Joe Morton should also get a mention for his amazing work as the Brother, using only his face and gestures to communicate a variety of emotions.
3. The Quiet Earth (1985)
“Zac Hobson, July 5th. One: there has been a malfunction in Project Flashlight with devastating results. Two: it seems I am the only person left on Earth.” These are the words our main character notes on his tape recorder in the film. For one half of the film, he thinks he’s alone in the world, and, “I’d never before seen a main character who was so casually fluent in science and engineering” is how astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson described him.
You can say it’s similar to “I Am Legend” or “Z for Zachariah” and few other stuff, especially “The World, the Flesh and the Devil,” but this New Zealand film manages to bring its own fresh perspective onto the subject.
With no second wasted, even the moments with absolutely no dialogue are engaging. Everything about this film is great; Bruno Lawrence’s performance is great, the cinematography is haunting. Truly a mesmerizing work of art, with a particularly haunting and unforgettable, unusual ending. The film has a kind of a cult reputation these days.
2. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Most of the films on the list could be described as “weird” and/or “offbeat.” This one is no exception. This science fiction comedy-thriller film concerns a teenage boy and his telepathic dog, who work together as a team in order to survive in the dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Southwestern United States.
The movie was directed by L.Q. Jones, an actor best known for his roles as villains in the films of his friend Sam Peckinpah. Although the film did not become technically outstanding or visually innovative due to its low budget, it has witty dialogue, an eccentric view of the future, and impressive moments between a young Don Johnson, who played Vick, with Tiger, the dog, starring in the role of Blood.
When “A Boy and His Dog” was released in theaters, it practically failed at the box office, but over time it acquired a cult status. Its influence could been seen in several films, including Miller’s “Mad Max” franchise. The best thing about the Jones film is the script that he wrote, almost without departing from the text of the eponymous novel by American science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.
Acute and cynical, mocking and humane, the story leads to an unexpected finale. But for those who are familiar with the works of Ellison and the background to the writing of “A Boy and His Dog,” the finale will be not only logical, but also the only possible one.
1. Dark Star (1974)
Probably the best-known film on the list but still a film that doesn’t get as much attention as John Carpenter’s later classics. Beginning as a University of Southern California student film produced from 1970 to 1972, the film was gradually expanded to feature-film length by 1974, and the budget was around $60,000.
Yet Carpenter proved how he can manage to create magic with low budgets; after all, he made “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Halloween” later on. “Someone’s Watching Me!” may not get much mention these days, but that’s yet another very thrilling work, much ahead of other TV films of its time. Even though it also enjoys a cult reputation among some, it’s still a hidden gem.
“Dark Star” is a space travel spoof, riffing on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and a few other sci-fi gems. It’ll make you laugh and laugh. The most fruitful parts are the conversations with the bomb.
With such a low budget and cheesy-looking effects, the film remains as fresh as ever thanks to Carpenter’s genius. So much creativity is visible here, especially for a first film, and you’ll see the echoes of it through the Carpenter’s career, especially with the heavy use of synth in the soundtrack or camera work.
There’s not much of a plot going on, but it has great characters; each character has their own comical, low-key quirks. It also has some really memorable sequences. This is an endlessly charming film, not to be missed.