With The LEGO Ninjago Movie (90 minutes of product placement masquerading as a film), American Made (a movie straight out of the Michael Bay playbook of excessive sex, explosions, and jingoism), Home Again (a coming of age film for 40-year-olds), and My Little Pony: The Movie (no sardonic commentary necessary) crowding up the box office, you may be wondering where to look for intellectually compelling movies in 2017.
If the recent horror movie Mother! is a little too disturbing or frustratingly ostentatious for you, here are five other under-the-radar movies that will challenge your brain.
Coherence (2013) – Directed by James Ward Byrkit
Have you ever wondered what you would do if you encountered a version of yourself from an alternate reality? Would you avoid interaction, attempt to make contact, or, even, try to take their place? Exploring themes as far ranging as human psychology and quantum mechanics, Coherence centers around the chilling effects of a strange meteor passing over a group of friends at a dinner party. It may necessitate a few rewinds and pauses to allow its complicated plot and messages to sink in, but Coherence’s masterfully crafted suspense and Twilight Zone ambiance makes it as entertaining as it is heady.
The Other Side of Hope (2017) – Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Director Aki Kaurismaki crafts a brilliant depiction of the refugee crisis brimming with humanity and hope with his fictionalized tale of a Syrian stowaway forming an unlikely bond with a local cafe owner. Taking a politically divisive issue and using it to set the stage for a comedy about friendship and the simple pleasures of life would seem insensitive in any other director’s hands, but Kaurismaki manages to weave a heartfelt story that inspires deep introspection about immigration issues, both political and personal.
The Congress (2014) – Directed by Ari Folman
In a scientifically evolving society, what will the boundaries between humanity and technology look like? How does Hollywood shape and, in some cases, corrupt our society from behind the scenes (or more accurately screens)? What role does ageism play in our culture and social expectations? The Congress, starring Robin Wright, attempts to answer many of these questions, featuring an aging actress who agrees to preserve her digital likeness so the Film Industry can continue using her younger self to make movies. While this concept may seem a little absurd, Hollywood has already digitally reincarnated several actors, and even gone as far as to artificially revitalize Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. The Congress poses the question; who is really pulling the strings behind the screens you watch and are their motives truly ethical?
Enemy (2013) – Directed by Denis Villeneuve
An exercise in carefully crafted psychological tension from the early works of one of the greatest cinematic minds of our generation, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival), Enemy features a college professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) who discovers his doppelganger while watching a rented movie and becomes increasingly obsessed with his life and affairs. From there, the film descends into head scratching, chaos (albeit controlled), questioning an archetypal perception of identity, and exploring madness from the perspective of a normally rational mind. Enemy invites comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s works of psychological suspense with modernized (and sometimes groundbreaking) visual effects. This is a worthy watch for those that value intelligent film making as much as a provocative plot.
Another movie that muddles the boundary between humanity and artificial intelligence, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as an astronaut sent to the moon (of course) to oversee a lunar mine and, in the process, unearths disturbing information about his past and purpose. Moon demonstrates that tension and suspense can be just as effectively built around access to knowledge as it can threat injury or violence. Plus, the movie features the great Kevin Spacey as an affable robot sidekick, so what’s not to love?
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