Movies have a magical ability to capture our imaginations and transport us to fantastical worlds full of excitement. However, perhaps more importantly, they are also able to uncover the wonder hidden within our everyday lives. This is a type of a cinematic magic that doesn't require a huge budget or an elaborate set up — just a few cameras, passion and a fair amount of brilliance.
So, let's celebrate this brilliance by taking a look at six minimalistic masterpieces.
6. 'Rear Window' (1954)
Kicking things off, here's a story of a guy with a broken leg sitting in his apartment, looking at the everyday lives of his neighbors through his rear window to relieve boredom.
They don't call Alfred Hitchcock "the Master of Suspense" for nothing. He was able to turn even the simplest premise (like the one above) into a truly intricate thriller. Here, all it takes is for the lead character Jeff to get suspicions that one of his neighbors might have committed a murder and we're off on this suspenseful roller-coaster. In fact, when it ends, it's hard to believe that you've just spent an hour and 50 minutes in a single room.
Now, there are two crucial elements to notice here. First, the way how Hitckcock manages to find seemingly endless number of different camera angles within a small room, thus creating a sense of movement when there actually is none. Second, by letting us see what the characters see out of that window, we're essentially put into the room with them and find ourselves asking the same questions: Did that guy really kill his wife or am I letting my imagination run wild? What does it say about humans, if most of us would be disappointed if it turned out that the neighbor didn't do it? Would I start to investigate or just let it go? In other words, it's not just a great film experience, but a great experience, period.
5. 'Before Sunset' (2004)
Nine years after two strangers spend a day talking while walking through Vienna, they bump into each other again in Paris and proceed to do the same thing.
Co-written by director Richard Linklater and lead actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, this one is perhaps the best example of why passion and sincerity are your greatest allies when making a minimalistic film. While it might be just two people talking, the amount of care and emotion that has been put into it makes everything else feel excessive. The film is just a clever and witty conversation, void of any cliches, as Delphy and Hawke give some of the most mesmerizingly sincere performances one can watch.
In that light, the technical challenge here is presenting this conversation in an as immersive and seamless way as possible. This is something that is brilliantly achieved by Linklater, who makes the whole experience feel like one continuous take as Jesse and Céline guide us on a little tour of Paris.
4. 'Locke' (2013)
Next up, we join a construction foreman, Ivan Locke, as he drives through the night, trying to juggle his private and work-related problems on the phone.
Life can be so easy sometimes for a filmmaker: put Tom Hardy in a BMW SUV, give him a phone and simply let the magic happen. Okay, to be fair, it's a bit more complicated than that, as you also need a brilliant script and many clever camera angles in this confined space. However, this is Hardy's tour de force, as he manages to make Locke's lonely drive not only emotionally impactful but also thrilling.
Also, it's worth pointing out that letting these phone conversations take place in a moving car is a brilliantly simple way to give the plot a sense of movement. Now, add to that clever quirks like Locke speaking to his rear view mirror like it's his deadbeat father and you're in for a great ride (both literally and figuratively).
3. 'Multi-Facial' (1995)
Before he became Dominic Toretto, Riddick, Xander Cage and a talking tree, Vin Diesel was a struggling actor who, after having failed to make it in Hollywood, decided to make his own luck. Inspired by a book on low-budget filmmaking, he wrote the script for Multi-Facial in one night, shot it over the course of three days for three thousand dollars and even wrote and performed the score.
The result? A wonderfully sincere and simple semi-autobiographical flick about an actor's struggle through multiple auditions that draws on Diesel's own frustrations about trying to find work as an actor of mixed ethnicity. It was good enough to be accepted for the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and eventually noticed by non other than Steven Spielberg, who ended up casting Diesel in Saving Private Ryan. So, the bottom line here is that at a time when no one was willing to give him a chance, Diesel went and created it himself. A truly inspiring story for any struggling actor or filmmaker out there looking to get noticed.
2. 'Carnage' (2011)
Since any of the films on this list would make for excellent stage plays, it's only appropriate to include one that actually is based on one. Indeed, much like a fine play, the beauty here is simply seeing four excellent actors (Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly) play off each other. Here the characters' petty argument over their boys getting into a little fight gradually moves closer to the film's title. The "acting like adult" facade comes off and everyone's insecurities are laid bare in a highly entertaining fashion.
There's not much to add here other than the camera work is wonderfully energetic, and it's a perfect example on how going to theater can inspire a filmmaker to create a minimalistic gem.
1. 'My Dinner With Andre' (1981)
How do you turn two guys having a dinner conversation into a true cinematic masterpiece? Well, you simply make it the best conversation possible. And not just the content but also the way it's built up.
Starting with the build up, we first learn that Wally (played by Wallace Shawn) is only meeting Andre (played by Andre Gregory) — a successful theatre director who has been acting increasingly strange during the last 5 years — because their mutual acquaintance is worried about his mental health. As Andre starts talking about his journey of self-discovery, Wally initially adopts a more passive and observational stance in the conversation. Now, the brilliance here is that this perfectly reflects how most viewers will likely feel, as it's hard not to be a little skeptical of Andre's potentially preachy talk of enlightenment.
However, it doesn't take long to understand that you're in for something special, as this conversation moves into increasingly fascinating and unexpected territories. Once again, it's all perfectly reflected through Wally's character, as he gradually becomes more engaged with the conversation, thus turning Andre's monologue into a compelling debate full of fascinating existential themes.
Now, since it's also written by the two lead actors, it can be easy to overlook the role director Louis Malle plays in all of this. However, there are a few important details to notice here that end up making a huge difference. You see, elements like the cozy restaurant atmosphere and the way different camera angles are used on the two characters (or the waiter who serves them) all play crucial role in creating an experience that is unlikely to leave anyone cold.
To Sum Up
All in all, these six movies can be viewed as little allegories on life itself: it's surprisingly easy to forget just how little it takes to make it special, as long as you approach it with passion. Indeed, in an era dominated by truly magnificent cinematic universes like Marvel or Star Wars, it's nice to go back to basics every now and then. Watch one of these little gems and maybe even get inspired to grab a camera and capture some that simplistic wonder on your own.
So, what are some of your favourite minimalistic masterpieces? Share them in the comments below!