In the age of the big, budget blockbuster it has become quite easy to let some of the smaller films to slip by completely unnoticed. There is a plethora of talent out there going unappreciated and not being picked up as studios just seem to throw the big bucks at people who consistently make awful films; looking at you, Mr. Bay and Mr. Emmerich.
Tinsletown seems to be happier producing huge projects of migraine inducing set pieces, insipid dialogue with action scenes devoid of any intelligence. They more often than not result in huge spectacles of cacophonous absurdity and empty rhetoric.
The purpose of this article is to hopefully demonstrate that with low, constraining budgets can come greater creativity, imagination and more pieces of memorable cinema. The criteria for this list are relatively simple: I am looking at my favourite films with a budget of $5 million and under. If you want some context with the subject matter, Pearl Harbour, 2012 and The Wolfman all had budgets ranging from $140 million to $200 million.
10. Grabbers – $4,000,000
This is a tremendously entertaining horror comedy that is certainly worth a gander. Basically it’s like an Irish version of Tremors where the squid like monster’s only weakness is alcohol. Yes you read correctly. But it certainly isn’t an exploitative piece of Irish stereotypes and prejudices. There is a lot more going on here, with interesting characters, some genuine laughs and some excellent CGI. It’s a creature feature with bundles of charm to be sure to be sure.
Nicolas Winding Refn ‘s brutal biopic deals with Great Britain’s ‘most violent prisoner’, a misguided teen named Charles Bronson. Refn directed the absorbing Drive and I hold my breath in anticipation for his next film Only God Forgives. But in Bronson, Tom Hardy brings his A-game in this gritty and lurid movie. Shot on an absurdly tiny budget, but that doesn’t seem to detract from the result. It feels like 92 minutes of rage but with Refn’s bold directing and Hardy’s mesmerising performance it results in a fascinating watch.
8. Beginners – $3,200,000
Beginners is a delightful little film which finally won Christopher Plummer an Oscar after almost 60 years in the business. It’s a lovely retrospective drama as it follows Ewan McGregor’s character as his perceptions of life and love are challenged when, after the death of his mother, his father (Plummer) comes out of the closet and confesses he has always been gay. The screenplay is captivating and emotionally honest conveying the message that it is never too late to start again. Beginners is a funny, human and charming movie that is totally worth a watch.
7. Take shelter – $1,000,000
Michael Shannon may be the best actor out there you’ve never heard of. But he will be taking on this red caped chap known as Superman as General Zod this summer so don’t you worry you’ll be well aware of him quite soon. But this excellent and underrated movie deals with a family man (Shannon), who has a family history of paranoid schizophrenia, and is being plagued with apocalyptic hallucinations. Shannon brings a wonderful measured and understated performance depicting a man on the brink of insanity. Take Shelter is gripping, haunting and contains some mesmerising dream sequences and despite its bleak nature it is something I highly recommend.
6. Once – $180,000
This modern day musical is a smart, funny and a genuinely sweet piece of cinema. The film’s protagonists Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova absolutely soar as the leads whose chemistry just sizzles on screen. Shot in 17 days and done on a shoe string budget, Once is just a delight to watch. It also won an Oscar for its gem of a song Falling Slowly but the whole soundtrack is fantastic. It totally merits multiple views despite its name.
5. Reservoir dogs – $1,500,000
This fine flick was originally planned to be shot for $30,000, I have you know, until Harvey Keital jumped up and decided to co-produce the movie as well. Quentin Tarratino’s debut feature is a thrilling and wonderfully violent film. The film portrays the preceding events and aftermath of a jewellery heist gone horribly wrong. The acting and character dynamics between the ensembles’ cast is just pitch perfect; it boasts a splendid soundtrack and it certainly is gratuitous violence at its best.
4. Lost in translation – $4,000,000
Sofia Coppola’s Oscar winning film is just a great great great movie (I’m kinda running out of adjectives at this stage) but it is really a delightful and poignant affair. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray bring two unforgettable performances as two lonely souls who spark up a beautiful friendship despite being born thirty years apart. We are brought on a lovely journey as their relationship develops with some gorgeously shot scenes and some stunning contrasting cinematography of Japan’s bustling city and scintillating countryside. I loved pretty much everything about this film, from the start right up to the whisper we’re not allowed to hear in the final act. What was said is up to you to decide.
3. Hunger -$3,100,000
This is where I simultaneously fell in love with Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen. Two huge talents in the film industry especially after the harrowing Shame. But this Irish film deals with the republican Bobby Sands leading a hunger strike in a Northern Irish prison. Everyone knows that the Troubles were a time of disorder and bellicose turbulence but much of the violence here is implied or referred to through excellent dialogue. It’s a gritty, vivid and intense film with Steve McQueen bringing a very unique and refreshing style. Before stepping into the realm of film McQueen was a renowned artist and his background and influences really shine through here as one gets a very poetic and visceral take on the deterioration of the human body. Everyone see this now please.
2. Moon -$5,000,000
With cinema being bloated with over ;CGI-ised’ blockbuster sci-fi messes (looking at you Battleship, Battle Los Angeles and Transformers ) I couldn’t urge you more to check out this imaginative and intriguing film directed by David Bowie’s son; Duncan Jones. Bowie Jr.’s directorial debut is an absolute whopper of a flick. The film stars the consistently superb Sam Rockwell as an astronaut who is hired to work on a three year mission on the moon to mine for resources. It is a one man operation where his only companion is the robot Gerty voiced by Kevin Spacey (which is incredibly cool) where the audience gets to witness the final weeks of his contract. This is a refreshingly intelligent and absorbing sci-fi film with a very human story. Despite its minuscule budget this independent film generates some stunning visuals and effects with a stellar performance from Sam Rockwell. Bowie’s in space!
1. Let the right one in – $4,000,000
I had no doubt in my mind that this gorgeous yet sinister vampire movie hailing from Sweden would be on top of my list. But I better get this sorted out immediately. This couldn’t be further away from what we usually mean when we say a ‘vampire movie’. All you Twilight junkies out there, get ready for a completely new experience altogether.
Let the Right One In is a multi-layered film with a range of very interesting dynamics and relationships. Its tackles a range of themes such as alienation, friendship, humanity and innocence which juxtaposes with its macabre atmosphere exquisitely. This dark tale deals with a bullied kid named Oskar who befriends a mysterious girl called Eli.
They strike up a complex but bittersweet bond which develops in a fascinating manner as it is dotted with glimpses of humour and some genuinely heart felt moments. The film itself is shot beautifully with some unforgettable scenes (particularly one of the final scenes in the local swimming pool) and despite its gloomy and grim nature director, Tomas Alfredson approaches every moment with a touch of grace and sensitivity.
I really couldn’t recommend this movie any more than this AND if it didn’t need any more brownie points the idea for the title itself comes from a Morrissey song.