7. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
Barren in its landscape, but fertile in its emotions; this film is a wandering wonder. Following a brief and obsessive union, two petty criminals, Bob and Ruth, are arrested. When Bob takes the share of responsibility and is imprisoned, a whirlwind romance comes to halt.
However, there is an ideological schism between the two, in addition to the physical one. For Ruth, life becomes about moving on, raising Bob’s child, and even finding love again. For Bob, there is only the obsessive quest to get back to Ruth, a quest which, from the beginning, he is likely to die for.
There are welcome cameos from capable veteran actors Keith Carradine and Kennadie Smith. Yet, the film exists almost solely within the spectrum of Bob, Ruth, and a brilliant Ben Foster as the local sheriff Patrick Wheeler. As narrative convention would have it, Patrick’s interest in Ruth extends to romance, and a love triangle is forged without Bob’s knowledge. The victory here is in the characteristic editing style.
The film is shot gorgeously, the editing is lyrical, and the narrative allows itself a wandering pace. This structure finds the actors at the peak of their ability, their expressions and emotions as beautiful and moving as the landscape. This is a film that may end in tragedy, but its legacy may lie in the fact that it leaves you feeling strangely upbeat.
6. Spring Breakers (2012)
The last time Harmonie Korine produced a film as universal in its themes as Springbreakers, it was his 1995 debut offering Kids, written when he himself was a teenager. The similarities between Kids and Sprin Breakers don’t end there. Both offer hyper sexualized portrayals of barely legal youths that is shocking to many, and often deterring to critics.
Also, naturally, both films are very strange in form and are essentially made with the intent of being divisive. There is popular culture malaise to be found in almost every scene of Springbreakers. Yet, for many critics, this social commentary did not come in a very accessible package; it was too weird. And that’s before we even address James Franco’s performance.
The casting is spot on. Perhaps, it was with a wry grin that Korine and cohorts cast Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and even the Justin Bieber-dating all American Selena Gomez as four wayward college girls who take the next logical step from the common spring break collegian debauchery: a life of crime.
Everything from Britney Spears to Twitter is touched upon as a hinted cause for the calamities of the protagonists, but one suspects a more general nihilism is at play. One girl is disgusted, but the other three continue. Franco’s demented criminal rapper seems to have the impressionable teens under his foul spell.
It may be hard to swallow on many levels, but a rewatch may bring the themes and subtitle intelligence of this film to the fore. On second viewing, this film may well seem less like a trendy iPhone and more like a Rubik’s cube.
5. A Dangerous Method (2011)
A frank and in a sense a brutally blunt film, this is David Cronenberg’s idea of an anti-period piece. Loosely, it is a true story of the falling out between veteran psychologist Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson) and a young, more free-spirited Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), over the care of troubled young woman Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).
Of course, just because the plot is derived from real life events should not suggest for a moment that Cronenberg won’t take glee in his typical hyperbole. Kinky sex scenes, discussions about Freud’s poor sex life, and even the sporadic appearance of Cronenberg’s trademark body horror are all on full display.
There is also a single-angled, agonizing therapy session in which Knightley’s Sabina reveals sordid details of her childhood fixation on her father that had theatre audiences squirming in droves.
Still, more traditional period piece qualities are to be found as well. The performances are very sensitive, even in scenes that are tricky to carry emotionally. There is a quiet elegance to the cinematography and editing that really bolsters the dignified performances of the cast.
Keira Knightley and her pronounced chin deserve distinct mention. The film represents a turning point in Cronenberg’s canon, shifting from grotesque horror towards a more psychological and metaphorical cinema. Many have criticized this particular sea change, but the quiet dignity of A Dangerous Method, and a bravura turn from Knightley are difficult to deny. You may well feel the need to book a second session with the good doctors.
4. Killing Them Softly (2012)
This is a film that is both great and terrible, a truly double-sided story. Killing Them Softly is a marvelous character piece, with characters who are both self-serving and rife with humanity. Their concerns are esoterically suited to their situation, but their fears are universal.
It is an awesomely stylish film. It has all of the great cinematic gangster paraphernalia- the cars, the clothes, the dialogue. It has a spectacular lead performance from Brad Pitt and an even more spectacular supporting performance from James Gandolfini, one which may be the late actor’s final masterful performance. It even has a slick soundtrack. So, what is the problem?
While the critical reception often veered towards positivity, the fan reception of the film was dire from the moment of its release. It is one of only 8 films to receive an F rating on CinemaScore. Why? Well, probably because of the film’s famous flaw. The film is set in the Fall of 2008, and coincides with Barack Obama’s initial election run. And the film tries very, very hard to relate its story to the broader political framework of the United States as a whole.
The film interrupts its own narrative in an intrusive, irritating fashion in order to liken State corruption to local underworld corruption. It is totally ham-fisted and detracts from the film terribly. Still, if you watch the film without these scenes, a very different message arises. It is because of these redeeming aspects that this film is likely to find its audience in the coming years—just, perhaps, not among the diehard Obama-supporting crowd.
3. Carnage (2011)
Simultaneously brilliant in its characters and on a broader thematic level, clever without being overbearing, and structurally bold in its almost-total reliance on one location for its setting, Carnage is a true wonder on almost every level.
It is a late masterpiece for director Roman Polanski and a cornerstone showreel piece for its four titillating leads: John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, and the irrepressible Christoph Waltz. Yet the film was a Box Office flop and was largely overlooked by the masses.
Yet, its fervor could not be suppressed and, armed with an amazing promotional poster, it has been increasingly well-received via streaming, DVD release, and rental. As such, it follows the commercial pattern of most currently-recognized indie classics.
When two couples meet to discuss an act of schoolyard aggression (perpetrated by one couple’s child on the other), a peaceful negotiation soons turns bitter, and this tense exchange soon turns into a far-reaching examination of the four parents’ psyches, as well as that of society in general. Understandably, since it was adapted from a play, the film primarily takes place in one room.
At first the social divide is simple: we have the upper-class Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) and the average Americans, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C.Reilly). But, as the film explores of a vast number of themes, the dividing line becomes more gender-based. Finally, chaos reigns and it’s everybody for themselves. The heavy consumption of whiskey certainly doesn’t help. This is as refreshing a film as you might hope to see, for a multitude of reasons.
2. The Double (2014)
The Double is as psychological a cinematic curio as one could ever imagine, and one might see why many fans failed to “get” this film. Yet there is so much that the naysayers have clearly missed. First, it captures a spectacular landscape.
With the most vivid dystopia captured on film since the heyday of Terry Gilliam, this is classic expressionism- the outer conditions mirroring the lead character’s inner torment. Simon James (Jessie Eisenberg) is underappreciated at work and is generally emasculated by his domineering mother.
As a mere cog in a dystopian society’s industrial machine, his only glimmer of hope for distinction is the girl of his dreams, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Blonde and beautiful in a world of black and grey, she represents the color his life has been searching for. Only one thing stands in the way: himself.
Well, in a manner of speaking. What stands in the way is the new employee James Simon, his exact double physically but his polar opposite in terms of charisma. He is confident and self-assured and quickly works towards sweeping Hannah away. The deadpan execution of the plot and the sinister implications are troubling to a viewer, but the film lifts its audience’s spirits with certain tender moments.
Simon skipping down a corridor in a sea of color is particularly heart-warming. It certainly feels as though The Double earns these stirring little moments. The final scene baffled some, made others laugh, and left many scratching their heads. Let’s just say that individuality is the subject in question here.
1. Sound of My Voice (2011)
What do you think of when you hear “Dreams” by The Cranberries? A nostalgic time and place? An old romance? For this writer, it is difficult not to think about one of the most underrated indie films of recent memory. Sound of My Voice is a tale of cat-and-mouse that is played far more like mouse-and-mouse at first.
Peter and Lorna are documentary filmmakers, a romantic item, and unshakable cynics. They infiltrate the domain of the mysterious cult leader Maggie as a journalistic exercise, planning to prove her wrong and report on their investigation. Naturally, at least one them quickly falls under the spell of Maggie’s curious influence. Conventional? Perhaps, but read on. There is so much more to this film than a mere summary can express.
Most noteworthy is the characterization of Maggie. Brit Marling is simply brilliant. Like HAL, the super-computer of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Maggie herself provides the bulk of the humanity in contrast to the skeptical leads and a rather broadly drawn array of supporting character cultists.
Maggie is maternal, warm, and so sure of herself; she claims to be from the future. Nonsense, right? Well, from the beginning, her selflessness is troubling, causing both the leads and the viewer to question their initial perceptions.
Over the course of the film, our opinions as to the veracity of her claim are forever shifting. This story provides a gripping framework, while Maggie ensures that the film never loses the power of its heart. As such, maybe the eventual answer to the story’s mystery is not even the important part. This is simply a great tale of conflicting views.
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.