This past weekend, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 released to unbelievable acclaim. The blockbuster follows the landmark classic sci-fi original. Villeneuve’s last film, Arrival, is a stunning, beautiful science fiction tale, one that received eight Oscar nominations. If one were to think about Villeneuve’s other films, Sicario, a gritty, dark story about drugs on the U.S.-Mexican border, and Prisoners, a harrowing, haunting film about kidnapping, would likely come to mind.
Enemy wouldn’t for most, which is a shame, as it’s one of Villeneuve’s more enthralling and singular pictures, a Kafka-esque, macabre movie about a man who finds his doppelgänger. It’s one that more people should seek out.
Too often are absolutely brilliant, but rather small independent films criminally washed over. These films are always some of the best of the year, but factors outside of the movie’s control — marketing, star-power and so on — hold it back.
So, it is our job, as film critics, to point out these independent films, to give them their fair share of the spotlight and to hopefully bring some more eyes to them. Here are three wonderful gems to consider:
Desierto was co-written and directed by Jonás Cuarón, who co-wrote Gravity with his father, Alfonso Cuarón. The film has some hefty credentials to it, and it doesn’t disappoint, offering thrills that unnerve throughout the film’s taut, purposeful 88-minute runtime. Desierto follows a group of Mexican migrant workers including Moises (Gael García Bernal) and Adela (Alondra Hidalgo) as they attempt to cross the border, and it becomes a horror film of sorts when sharpshooting vigilante Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his tracking dog start hunting them down one by one. The film is compulsory viewing for us in 2017, as the reality of the Trump administration’s xenophobia gets projected onto the characters, adding considerable weight to the conflict of the film.
More simply, Desierto also functions as a damn good horror movie — Sam is a Xenomorph while Moises and Adela are Ripley. For a film with a $3 million budget, there are genuinely good set pieces — an initial chase scene involving Sam’s bloodthirsty hound, and the final, desperate confrontation between Sam and Moises. One begins to see how the younger Cuarón might have influenced the thrills of Gravity. By all means, seek out Desierto for its rush of adrenaline, but more importantly, for a chance to walk away with some higher degree of empathy for those being hunted by the Sams currently in office.
— Harrison Tunggal
Premiering only a few short months before his critically-acclaimed Natalie Portman vehicle, Jackie, director Pablo Larraín’s mesmerizing love-letter to his native Chilé, Neruda, defines the director’s mastery over the intricacy of the cinematic character study. Although the film wasn’t written by Larraín himself, Neruda is the kind of film wherein a director’s presence, his vision so to speak, can be seen and felt within every shot, line of dialogue and narrative beat throughout the course of the film. Those who have seen Jackie will know that Larraín is no stranger to and can adeptly capture the emotional weight behind a biographical drama, but crafting a cinematic enigma, part biopic, part fantasy, focused about the one and only Pablo Neruda cements the Chilean filmmaker within the annals of directorial history. Neruda is an undoubtedly personal film and it’s that personality that imbues a larger-than-life figure such as Pablo Neruda with an unbridled intimacy which cannot only be seen, but felt as well. While Jackie may have garnered Pablo Larraín the recognition he deserves on the world stage, Neruda will remain a testament to his honed technical skills as a filmmaker, willingness to take risks as a storyteller and unabashed pride as a Chilean.
— Sanjay Nimmagudda
Sometimes the word “cinematic” can be used to describe a massive, sprawling, experiential film such as Mad Max: Fury Road. And sometimes, “cinematic” can be used to describe a film set in one place, about one man. Locke’s 85 minutes play out (almost) entirely in a car, a space we inhabit with Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy alone (as Ivan Locke), and we’re taken on a Shakespearean journey about the mistakes of a man and his attempts to stop the world he knows from crumbling. That epic sense is driven into the viewers’ bones — Locke is surprisingly visual, making use of double exposure to imbue the dark-but-vibrant colors of the highway on top of Locke’s mental state. And Steven Knight’s screenplay is one built with history and scope beyond simply the car; we remain in it, but we feel the past of Locke and the magnitude of his impact. But what truly cements Locke as one of the truly special films of the decade is Tom Hardy’s performance. The British actor is entirely transformed, despite being at his most stripped down. Sporting a Welsh accent, Hardy delivers each line with a tangible, bodily desperation, an anger that can be seen building up to his shoulders and a raw vulnerability as that body shatters inside. On top of that, Hardy offers his most dynamic and engaging use of his eyes. Often, Locke is staring in the rearview mirror, imagining his father in the back seat, and we receive the visceral impact of his piercing gaze. If for Hardy’s performance alone, seek out Locke. You’ll get a tragic and beautiful tale on the ride.
— Kyle Kizu
Featured image via A24.