So yesterday I wrote about my favourite blockbuster films of 2015. Today, I’m looking at smaller budget [≤$30 million] fare.
Of the two lists this one is going to be more constrained by what I have and haven’t seen. There are simply more low budgets films out there. To complicate matters further only a small proportion of them are released in Vietnam where I’ve been living for most of the past year. So this really is a personal and idiosyncratic list. Indeed it’s really five films from the past year I’d recommend than anything else.
So with that in mind….
Honourable mentions: Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass, Carol, Shaun the Sheep.
This tale of a young Irish immigrant feeling the competing pulls of her new life in 1950s New York and her family back home. This would be run of the mill period fare but for a great lead performance by Saoirse Ronan, whose ability to convey complex emotional states entirely through her eyes is remarkable.
Another potentially pedestrian film that’s elevated by its acting. It touches on Hawking’s theories and his disability. But the heart of the film is the relationship between Hawking and his first wife, Jane, as played by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
#3 Steve Jobs
The combination of Danny Boyle directing, Aaron Sorking writing and Michael Fassbender as the lead actor produces the impressive results you would expect. But Steve Jobs is as notable for the pitfalls it avoids as the things it achieves. It’s neither a hagiography nor a hatchet job: Fassbender’s Jobs is someone you can empathise with even when you can’t sympathise. It avoids being trapped by its central characters obsession with electronics, finding human drama among the technology. And while the focus is on Jobs his personality isn’t allowed to crowd out a rich cast of supporting characters.
Through a combination of archive footage and interviews, director Asif Kapadia traces Amy Winehouse from being a precocious teen singer to her death of alcohol poisoning.
Kapadia realises that no one can more powerfully narrate Winehouse’s story than the singer herself. Her songs are intimate and autobiographical, which allows Kapadia to structure his film around them. That turns it into something I’ve never seen before: a documentary musical. It’s not an easy film to watch and all the worse because the audience knows the hopeful moments will not last. But a woman as badly treated as Winehouse, deserves an advocate as articulate as Kapadia to speak for her now she no longer can.
[I’ve not included the trailer for this one because it’s too spoilery for my taste but it’s here if you want to see it.]
This is film is essentially the soul of a John Le Carre novel inside the body of a Harrison Ford vehicle from the 1990s. It’s the story of an idealistic young FBI agent (Emily Blunt) being drawn into a hidden and disquieting scheme to bring down a Mexican drug cartel. Not only does it feature career best performances from Blunt and co-stars Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin but it is probably the best looking film of the year and has the most eerie soundtrack since Jaws. This craft is used for a purpose: Sicario is the best indictment of the war on drugs since the Wire as well as a universal story about walking alone through a moral abyss. None of which negates the fact that it’s a ruthlessly effective thriller. This is especially true of an electrifying sequence in which a convoy of Federal agents take a senior cartel figure from Juarez – until recently the ‘murder capital of the world’ – to the US, while desperately trying to spot the ambush they know is coming.