BORED of bloated blockbusters and superhero franchises? Many of this year’s best films were thoughtful twists on familiar ideas, as Alex Watson discovers
Written and directed by Alex Garland, author of novel The Beach and screenwriter of cult zombie horror 28 Days Later, Ex Machina is about programmer Caleb, who wins a competition to visit the home of eccentric online search engine CEO Nathan Bateman – the fictional equivalent of an Apple employee getting the chance to spend the weekend with Tim Cook.
Despite a screening at SXSW music festival and a large presence in UK cinemas, this fantastic thriller kept a low profile on its release. Though some film fans may have been put off by Ex Machina’s sci-fi storyline, the atmospheric plot is anything but a dull gadget-fest. A fresh and talented cast, including Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac, brings Garland’s spine-chilling script to life.
Directed by relative newbie David Robert Mitchell, It Follows is a spine-chilling supernatural horror movie that slipped under the radar after its release in March. Main character and college student, Jay, is plagued by an invisible paranormal entity in Detroit which will kill her – unless she sleeps with and passes the curse on to an unwitting victim.
Despite only being Mitchell’s second feature, the ingeniously minimalist horror ticked all the boxes for its smart commentary on sex and its atmospheric vision.
Starring actor of the moment, Michael Fassbender, but perhaps overshadowed by his roles in Macbeth and Steve Jobs, action western Slow West was also overlooked this year. Fassbender plays bounty hunter Silas Selleck, who is hired for protection by Scottish man Jay Cavendish, played by 19-year-old Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee. Together, the men travel through the American West in search of Cavendish’s lost love, Rose Ross. Director John Maclean, formerly of the Beta Band, drew praise for his powerful, melancholy and surreal debut feature.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Based on a novel by Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a quirky yet moving comedy drama directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Thomas Mann stars as main character Greg who, along with his friend Earl, is forced to befriend Rachel, a girl at school who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Somewhere along the line, Thomas finds himself caring more about Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke, than he does about anything else. Often compared to similarly-themed John Green adaptation The Fault in Our Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl focusses more on finding lasting friendship within tragedy as opposed to romance.
Written and directed by the team behind 2013 comedy drama Frances Ha, Mistress America is a brilliant yet unsung follow up. Co-writer, Greta Gerwig, masters the role of scatterbrained yet exciting twenty-something Brooke Cardines. Lola Kirke plays Brooke’s soon-to-be step-sister, Tracy Fishko, a lonely and depressed college first year who finds an unpredictable friend in Brooke.
Its small cast and beautifully crafted script make the movie almost feel like a play, which makes Noah Baumbach’s film an odd but totally unique texture.