My Favorite Modern Low Budget Films
Studios have a hard time not emptying their coffers to make a movie these days. Even a simple romantic comedy can have a bloated budget well into the millions (even About Time, a time travel love story which opened on Friday, November 8th, had a budget of $35 million). While big budgets can yield incredible results, I have a soft spot for films made on a shoe-string budget. Tiny horror films where the scares come from the mood not the special effects, romances where the leads are virtual unknowns and moody indies made up of 90% dialogue and 10% starring off into space. Those are my cinematic bread and butter, if you will.
Here, in no particular order because I can’t make choices, are my favorite modern low-budget films:
Joss Whedon gave Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing a modern spin while retaining all of the Bard’s original dialogue. While Whedon has kept mum on the budget, the entire film was shot in his home over a twelve day period and featured plenty of familiar faces to Whedon fans, including Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Sean Maher, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg and Reed Diamond.
Thanks to the black and white visuals, stunning directorial tricks that included askew camera angles and lots of shooting through glass to enhance the story’s web of miscommunication, and the sizzling chemistry between Acker and Denisof, Much Ado About Nothing was a cinematic treat of the highest order. A throwback to screwball comedies infused with a modern darkness and classical dialogue, the film immediately joined the ranks of my favorites.
Once is the most romantic film ever made and I will proudly stand by that statement. It was made for $160,000 dollars, starred two non-professional actors and was made up primarily of love songs. And it is an emotional, soul-stirring heartbreaker of a film. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglová define longing, their voices aching with every note.
Visually, the film is as parred down and realistic as you can get, as is the tearjerker of an ending.
I became a little (a lot) obsessed with Adam Scott a few years ago which led me to devour very nearly every movie the man has ever made. I was expecting a lot of random movies to be mixed in, but I wasn’t expecting to find Passenger Side which is now on my top 10 favorite movies of all-time list. I cannot get enough of this simple little movie about two brothers riding around Los Angeles and bantering.
It’s a true indie; the entire film is about self-examination, family and self-loathing. But the writing–oh, the writing is pristine. It crackles and Scott is so good it hurts to watch him at times. I can’t find the exact budget, but trust me, it didn’t cost much because the movie rests on the shoulders of the two leads and LA; no special effects required.
We’ve all seen Paranormal Activity, we all know it was made for $15,000 dollars and it was one of the scariest films ever made. Not because of what you see, but because of all the things you don’t see. The terror rises, leaving the viewer utterly helpless as they become voyeurs to a tragedy in the making. That’s how horror should be done…sadly, gore usually trumps good old fashioned tension.
Likewise, Ti West’s The Innkeepers is all about the build up. In fact it starts out as a near comedy, a move that works in the movie’s favor because you actually care about the characters when things start getting scary. It’s such an underrated ghost story and one with an estimated budget of just $170,000.
The first of the Dogme 95 films, a movement designed to force filmmakers to make films and performances as real as possible, was Festen. With a budget clocking in at $1.3 million US dollars, it’s a film about a family gathering where a horrible secret comes to light.
It’s unflinching, and not an easy movie to watch, but the sheer strength of the performances has made me return to again and again.
Little Miss Sunshine the most expensive low-budget film on the list at $8 million, but I simply couldn’t leave it off. It’s such a joyful, little indie. It makes you life, it makes you cry, it makes you appreciate Steve Carell with a beard. It’s a great film, and one of the first indies that I watched, which gives it a special place in my heart.
I have a deep love for Jeff Branson. I know, most of you have no idea who I’m talking about because Branson is primarily a soap actor. However, he’s made a few movies, and one is a lovely tale of a group of adults learning to swim called The Big Bad Swim. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but the determination of the group combined with the ways in which they get strength and courage from their quest to learn how to swim gets to me every time.
Branson plays the swim coach, a man who saw his Olympic dreams crushed by a knee injury. It kills me that the guy isn’t a bigger star; he’s no Brando, but if you check out the film I guarantee you’ll agree he should at the very least be Ryan Reynolds level famous.
There is a smattering of my favorite modern low budget films. What are your favorites? (Any Primer fans in the house– it would have made my list if I understand anything that happened in it.)
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