For most of us, we are very close to finishing, or have finished, this academic year at university. With the end of this high-stress exam period you are likely to want to resume many of the self-indulgent activities that you might have tried to exercise self-control over the last month or two.
This liminal period between your final exam/assignment and the start of your summer plans, be they work, travel, or any other outlet, is a great opportunity to relax and try something new. Having cast off academia for the time being, it can be all too easy just to put on Netflix and re-watch Friends or Peep Show for the thousandth time because you’re familiar with them.
If you’re looking to watch something new over these next few May days, I have compiled 4 vastly different films below, they are largely short – around the 1 hour 30 minute mark, that you may not have seen before.
Shallow Grave (1994)
Shallow Grave marks the cinematic directorial debut of Mile End resident Danny Boyle, perhaps best known for Trainspotting which he made 2 years after this. Shallow Grave features starring roles from, the then little-known, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, and Kerry Fox, and received rave reviews on release; it isn’t underrated but rather underseen.
It follows three flatmates in Edinburgh who let their spare room to a stranger who, after having moved in, abruptly dies in bed, leaving behind a suitcase containing several million pounds. The three friends decide to keep the cash and get rid of the body – paranoia, anxiety, and disaster ensues. As the relatively normal characters become more entrapped in this new darker life they begin to unravel in a way that is both sinister and hilarious. Shallow Grave is a fantastic film, a Coen-esque black comedy-cum-crime-drama set in the heart of Edinburgh.
The Kings of Summer (2013)
When it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013, coming-of-age indie flick The Kings of Summer became the focal point of conversation for many – with newcomer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts having his career booted into the mainstream. The Kings of Summer features a slew of young actors including Nick Robinson, a stellar performance from Alison Brie, and a standout performance from Nick Offerman as the stern father, Frank Toy.
The film follows three teenage boys on the verge of adulthood who cast off their problematic familial relationships and decide instead to build a large Crusoe-esque wooden house in the woods and live together there instead. It becomes problematic when a female friend comes to stay and the authorities hunt for the missing boys. The Kings of Summer’s soundtrack operates as its own character of male teenage angst as a smorgasbord of indie and alternative music featuring MGMT, Youth Lagoon, and The Youth to name a few. The Kings of Summer is part Lord of the Flies, part Stand by Me: nostalgia and teenage idealism wrapped into one heartfelt indie drama.
Harold and Maude (1971)
Harold and Maude is a quintessential cult classic; it didn’t turn a profit until 12 years after its release. This isn’t surprising, the film’s protagonist Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) is a young man with a morbid fascination with death to rival event Hamlet. He continually performs elaborate fakes suicides, attends funerals, and drives a hearse, his life turns around when he meets the life-loving pensioner Maude (Ruth Gordon) and romance blossoms. To an extent, Harold and Maude could be seen as a distorted, exaggerated, and ultimately weird version of The Graduate.
Harold and Maude is existential, dark, funny and touching. Today, its influence can be felt most prominently in the films of Wes Anderson. The coming of age events of morbid Harold by his interaction with an older generation is soundtracked by the fantastic Yusuf Islam (f.k.a. Cat Stevens). Anderson of course borrowed Steven’s ‘The Wind’ for Rushmore, a film that also deals with large age discrepancies in romantic relationships. For all its weirdness, occasionally bordering on creepy, Harold and Maude’s fantastic screenplay is deeply touching and has a penchant for subtle humour.
Wild Tales (2014)
Sometimes life seems to conspire against certain things. The 2015 crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 derailed Wild Tales international release because one sequence of the film bears similarities to the real-life tragedy.
Wild Tales is an Argentinian anthology film that centres around violence and vengeance. Six sequences carry the film from issues of road rage, dealing with criminal firms, hit-and-run victims, and a cuckquean bride. The funniest sequence in the film comes in the form of a man who receives a parking ticket, his frustration with the bureaucratic systems wildly ends in him becoming a heroized terrorist; an inadvertent freedom fighter against the state. Wild Tales, whilst longer than the other films on this list, never feels like it drags – largely due to its episodic structure. The film features small individuals who are pushed too far and snap, raging against systems of abuse, they all eventually become figures of comedy and tragedy. It is wickedly smart and well written; an absurdist black-comedy dealing with everyday individuals who are pushed past their breaking points.