As promised, here is the second instalment to ‘Top 10 Films You Probably Haven’t Seen’. If you haven’t already, check out films 1-5 in my list here. These are in no particular order, given one of the biggest beauties of independent / small-scale cinema is that they are unique in a way blockbuster films are not. So, without further ado, here are films 6-10 in my list of films you probably haven’t seen!
Sing Street (2016)
This film is for you if you like:Almost Famous (2000); The Breakfast Club (1985); La La Land (2016); Bohemian Rhapsody (2018); A Star is Born (2018).
If you watched and enjoyed last week’s recommendation, Once (2007), you’ll love Sing Street. Directed by the same Irish director, John Carney, this film is the more polished of the pair, not filmed in friend’s apartments on a shoestring (to my knowledge). A semi-autobiographical story, Sing Street tells the story of a young boy Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), unceremoniously dumped by his parents in a rougher school than he is accustomed to. Conor starts a band to impress a girl, and the story becomes a musical without being a musical. The film boasts a wonderful soundtrack that becomes the central focus of the film, a melée of ‘80s pop classics and original songs. The costumes, hair and makeup are to die for, showcasing Conor’s slow transition through musical phases. The dialogue is natural but with an unmistakable quality to it of someone who has experienced this, and wants the audience to have the same takeaway.
Granted, Sing Street isn’t exactly feminist. The central focus is the male gaze, constantly watching the tortured model Rafina (Lucy Boynton) with family problems and a tendency for problematic relationships. Not to mention, she’s way out of Conor’s league. But there is a certain charm about this, because it’s not done realistically; it feels like an authentic depiction of a schoolboy’s dream of totally unachievable sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s one you will keep coming back to again and again.
Days of the Bagnold Summer (2020)
This film is for you if you like:Ladybird (2017); Friday Night Dinner (2011-2020); The Breakfast Club (1985); Perks of Being a Wallflower (2016).
Director Simon Bird, best known for his role as Will McKenzie in The Inbetweeners (2008-2010) and Adam Goodman in Friday Night Dinner (2011–2020), is no stranger to awkward, spotty, gawky, coming-of-age cinema. Yet Days of the Bagnold Summer (2020), based on Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel, isn’t quite as brutal as you’d expect.
Daniel (Earl Cave) is a metalhead teenager with suitably unwashed hair, fed up of the thought of having to spend the entire summer with his mother, librarian Sue (Monica Dolan), instead of with his flaky absent father in America. The story is one of learning to get along, as mother and son learn how to communicate. Although criticised for its wishy-washiness, for a young audience or parent that can relate, this film runs deeper than first meets the eye. In the same way that Greta Gerwig explored familial relationships in Ladybird (2017), Bird’s direction and Simon Tindall’s cinematography makes Cave’s character stick out like a sore thumb. It’s sweet, soft, and gentle, and what can be mistaken for two-dimensional characterisation is actually just subtlety – ordinary people are just presented as ordinary. What’s more, it perfectly encapsulates the feeling felt by every parent: wishing their teenager was young and cute again because then, at least, they knew how to handle them.
The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)
This film is for you if you like: Call Me by Your Name (2017); Brooklyn (2015); Chef (2014) (but if you like any part of Chef you’re utterly insane); Ratatouille (2007); The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015).
This film is one of the larger-scale ones on the list, but still remains relatively unknown in comparison to similar-scale productions. The Hundred Foot Journey is a charming adaptation of Richard Morais’ 2010 novel by director Lasse Hallström. It follows a Konkani Muslim Kadam family as they set up an Indian restaurant in France, and a feud erupts with Michelin-starred-restaurant-owner / neighbour Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). The film’s plot does not reinvent the wheel, and you can guess the ending pretty much from the start. But that doesn’t matter. It’s not intended to be gritty, or complex, or fancy. The film is a charming tale of the importance of extending the hand of friendship and camaraderie, in a business that is usually so cutthroat. Variety’s Justin Chang dubbed the film, “the most soothing brand of cinematic comfort food”, and that’s exactly what it feels like. The cinematography is beautiful, a variety of intense colour and shots of France. The acting is fabulous – and, unlike so many larger-scale, big budget films, has some actual diversity. And its mise-en-scene does hold deeper meaning: food acts as a metaphorical celebration, of the combining of cultures that to create a blend better than the original. Escapism in cinema is so often condemned as ‘low art’, but in a time like these last few years, I have found that there is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy cinema. The Hundred Foot Journey promises just that.
This film is for you if you like: Birdman (2014); Silver Linings Playbook (2012); Good Will Hunting (1997); Bohemian Rhapsody (2018); Soul (2020); A Star is Born (2018).
Okay, granted, you’ve definitely heard of this one. But it’s such a feat of engineering that I couldn’t leave it off the list. Originally released as a short film to film festivals, it did so well at Sundance Film Festival that it was extended into a feature film. Shot in just nineteen 14-hour days, the film is a testament to what can be achieved in a tight timeframe. The film centres around the relationship between Schaffer Conservatory student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and his ensemble conductor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). The plot is one of toxic masculinity, competition, the pursuit of power, and the issues with pushing those with talent to breaking point. Though it is the least diverse cast to ever exist, and centres solely around the struggles of privileged white men (which is not to be left unremarked), this is not shied away from. The environment is presented as as toxic as it should be. It is a masterclass in acting from Simmons and Teller, which is aided by a masterfully written soundtrack that compliments the onscreen action. The film has a unique and truly captivating take on cinematography. In particular, the colour palette is restricted to mainly golds, yellows and blacks for a signature look of intense, burning pressure. The morals of the film also apply more universally than a prestigious music conservatoire; this film represents the universal struggle of prodigy with talent to burn being pushed to their very limits for the sake of success. If you haven’t already, Whiplash is a must-see.
Local Hero (1983)
This film is for you if you like: Doc Hollywood (1991); Educating Rita (1983); Brassed Off (1986); Pride (2014); Cars (2006); Fisherman’s Friends (2019).
This film won a BAFTA in the ‘80s but has faded into oblivion amongst the younger generations. Local Hero, directed by Bill Forsyth, centres around an American oil company representative ‘Mac’ (Peter Riegert) who is sent to fictional Scottish village ‘Ferness’ to purchase the town and surrounding property. Upon spending time in the community, Mac becomes guilty about disrupting the locals’ way of life. However, unbeknownst to him, the villagers are eager to sell, but feign indifference to drive the price up. All except beach-dweller Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay). The film initially feels like the classic Doc Hollywood plot, where city-slicker moves to small town, gets trapped, gets a girl, finds it in his heart to love the place, and jacks in the big-shot career for a simpler life. Whilst Local Hero has moments of this, the plot is more delicately done, with melancholy moments as well as comedy (no spoilers, but the ending is beautiful, and not your run-of-the-mill plot). It is quirky, gentle, and focuses on the art of storytelling. The soundtrack is lilting and beautiful, and aptly well-renowned (having won a BAFTA, and been played before every home game at Newcastle United F.C. Written and produced by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, it has become one of the most well-recognised soundtracks to date. Its main theme, ‘Going Home: The Theme of the Local Hero’, borrows from traditional music, intermingling folky tones with classic Knopfler guitar and a saxophone line that rivals the soundtrack of St Elmos Fire (1985). This complements a film that is just as beautiful from start to finish, combining to create a nostalgic love letter to the rural areas of Scotland.
Honourable Mentions (Left off the list for being a bit too well-known / non-independent / big-grossing-at-box-office):