There are hundreds, if not thousands, of films made and released each year. It’s impossible to see them all, no matter how hard you tried. Some films are lucky enough to become cult classics and build a fanbase which appreciates and spreads high praises for the films. However this is not and cannot always be the case.
So many films slip under the radar and become known to us based on recommendations by friends and family. Some also become known to us based on what we see in articles and film lists, here is one such list.
1. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – (Sidney Lumet, 2007)
Released only four years before his death, Sidney Lumet’s last film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” was tragically overlooked in a year of strong calibre films such as “There Will be Blood”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Zodiac”.
This film is the story of two brothers who, in times of financial difficulty, make a plan to steal from their parents jewelry store, but as is to be expected not everything goes to plan. This thriller focuses on the desperation of these two men and and the lengths people will go through to achieve their goals and desires.
Lumet chooses not to show us the past lives of these characters but instead focuses solely on their lives from the moments leading up to the robbery and the days following after it.
This story, being about two brothers and the robbery of their parents, focuses profoundly on the human relationship between all the characters in the film. We experience some of the most secretive, intimate and harsh moments of these peoples’ lives at this moment in time and highlighted through their strained relationships is the desperation that drives the characters towards their terrible decisions and actions.
“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” features some of the strongest performances to ever come out of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and especially Ethan Hawke. Hoffman and Hawke’s relationship as two brothers gives us some of the most believable on screen chemistry of the 21 Century as Hawke plays the part of a younger sibling who admires and foolishly follows his older brothers fatal plan.
This is unfairly one of the lesser known films of Lumets vast resume, the man behind classics such as “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Network” and “12 Angry Men” and sadly one of the hidden gems of the 2000’s.
2. The Chaser – (Hong-Jin Na, 2008)
“The Chaser” may not be as well known as “Oldboy” or “The Host” but it has every right to be as discussed and as appreciated as other South Korean films which have broken through to European and American audiences.
“The Chaser” is the story of an ex-detective and his escort business, and the intense hunt he sets out on to find the man, who he believes, has been capturing and selling his girls on. Based on a true story, this incredibly compelling and unsettlingly disturbing film shows us a vicious world which seems too cruel to be real. This film recounts the true events of one serial killer and shows us the breadth of his callous crimes and the lack of remorse or humanity he shows to his undeserving victims.
The film never wavers or chooses to go easy on the audience by just describing in some police report what atrocities have taken place, instead it shows us as much as we need to see, giving the audience a sense of dread that stays with us throughout. It works on an incredibly immersive level, creating atmosphere, tension and moments of tenderness, making us garner a strong attachment to these characters as we see things unfold in the story from their points of view.
Underappreciated is a nice way of describing just how little people have seen this South Korean crime caper which outshines and stands far above the majority of most modern crime films.
3. Killing Them Softly – (Andrew Dominik, 2012)
Andrew Dominik, the man who gave us “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”, teams up once again with Brad Pitt in this modern crime thriller.
Pitt plays the part of Jackie, a hitman whose rule of practise is to kill his targets softly. Jackie is hired by the local mob after three men pull a robbery on a high stakes game of poker. This seriously affects the mobs business and all other games of poker in the area cease for fear of another robbery.
“Killing Them Softly” has the classic, sleek look of Goodfellas but with a more modern and unique look to it. Unlike “The Assassination of Jesse James…” this film was not shot by Roger Deakins but Greig Fraser. However you would never be able to tell as Fraser creates stand-out, beautiful imagery which also complements the story and style of the film, drawing the audience further into the already captivating opening and intriguing plot.
This film provides one of the strongest and high calibre cast of the last two decades, along with Brad Pitt as the lead, the supporting cast includes Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsonh, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta. This film is a must watch for anyone who is fond of gangster movies, thrillers or just great films at all.
4. Youth – (Paolo Sorrentino, 2015)
Paolo Sorrentino has made films that have perplexed, overwhelmed and captured audiences for the last few years. His films have such a beautifully enchanting vision and quality that makes them feel more like poetry than anything else. “Youth” is no exception to this and here Sorrentino utilises his abilities and experiences to create what is probably his most surreal and captivating film to date.
“Youth” focuses on a retired orchestra conductor, played by Michael Caine, while he is at a holiday resort with his oldest friend, played by Harvey Keitel, who is writing the script for what he believes will be the last meaningful film he will ever make. The primary focus of this film is these two men and their fleeting youth, they long to be as passionate and remarkable in their craft as they once were in their prime.
Beyond the quirkiness and unexpected, but much welcomed, humor of the film are some very tender and sorrowful moments that these characters experience. Whether this stem from the problems and hardships of their children, their frustrations with one another or the realisation that the things the once lived and loved for are now slipping away from them and have been for some time.
The characters are often a bit delusional and in denial of their current position. We are not sure at certain times if they are hallucinating or imagining their situation. “Youth” provides the audience with a similar delusional, dream like quality, making us wonder if what we are seeing is what is actually happening to these characters or is it that our sympathise are letting us indulge them in their grandiose ideas.
5. Sexy Beast – (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)
“Sexy Beast” is a small, self-contained, British love story, disguised as a crime drama. In this film ex-safe cracker, Gal, has retired to a villa in Spain with his loving wife Deedee. Their new life consists of meeting up with their friends, having drinks and going out for dinner. Of course though it’s not long before something arises which threatens to burst their paradise bubble. That something is Don Logan, a vicious gangster from Gal’s old days who comes with a business proposition. Gal must refuse the hot-tempered Don whilst ensuring that he is not putting himself, his wife or his friends in danger.
Sir Ben Kingsley gives his most enthralling performance since “Gandhi” as Don Logan, perhaps the most brutal and scary the legendary actor has ever been. He steals the whole show and completely shifts the entire tone and atmosphere of the film as the characters start to tremble at the very mention of his name.
The film is laced with a reoccuring nightmarish image Gal has of a half man, half beast, hunting him down as his old life starts to creep up on him. This is keeping in tone with a near death experience he has at the start of the film, an omen that bad things are to come.
At its core “Sexy Beast” is simply about finding happiness and getting to live out the rest of your days as you see fit. For these characters that means moving away from a bleak, seedy life in London and spending the rest of your days relaxing at the pool side with the person you love.