Gus Van Sant is one of those few filmmakers who doesn’t need big budgets and larger-than-life characters to tell a story. In all his films, Van Sant has always focused on the characters that come out of one’s neighbourhood, told the stories that people can relate to, and delivered something powerful enough to get the message across to the audience. His films are trademarked with dry tones, sombre touch and the representation of the community that is otherwise overlooked. He has refused to pay heed to the Gatsby-ish rich society and attended to the issues of the common people in his films. Perhaps, this is why his films, so often, hit close to home.
In about a dozen-and-a-half movies that he has made, only a couple have been a disappointment. Also, maybe it is the brilliance of his better films that cast a duller shadow on otherwise okay works. Following are his 12 best films that you must see:
12. Last Days (2005)
The third in Van Sant’s ‘Death Trilogy’, this film draws inspiration from the final days of Kurt Cobain. A musician ponders on his life as things seem to slip from his grasp, slowly and steadily. As the days go by, he becomes increasingly unsettled, and can’t focus on anything. With its minimalistic style and raw tone, the film had mixed reactions. But clearly, it is not for everyone.
11. Gerry (2002)
Starring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, this film tells the story of two hikers, both named Gerry. What starts as a fun hike turns into a disaster when they both realise that they are lost. As the days pass by, they try to find their way back, retracing the steps and following animal tracks, but nothing helps. Without food and water, their situation worsens. Partly based on actual events, this film is the first in Van Sant’s ‘Death Trilogy’.
10. Elephant (2003)
The second in Van Sant’s ‘Death Trilogy’, this film is set in a high school where two students take to arms and open fire in their school. Loosely drawing inspiration from the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, this film focuses on three main characters. Alex and Eric are two frustrated kids who are constantly bullied at school. One day, they decide to resolve the situation and order a rifle. John is Alex’s friend who is troubled by his alcoholic father. As they enter the school with the plan of shooting, Alex warns John to stay away.
9. Finding Forrester (2000)
While the kids play basketball on the court, a reclusive writer observes them from his apartment window. As the writer doesn’t mix-up with people, he is a bit of a mystery to everyone, particularly the kids who believe him to be dangerous. One day, Jamal is dared by his friends to go and steal something from the writer’s apartment. Jamal accepts and enters the house, but on his way back encounters the writer. The meeting with the writer changes Jamal’s life.
8. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018)
Studded with actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Jack Black and Jonah Hill, this film is based on the life of the famous cartoonist John Callahan. One night, while out drinking, John get in the car with a drunk friend, and they meet with an accident. Even though life has taken a drastic turn for him, Callahan realises that there is one good thing left in him. He has a knack for drawing. And so, he begins to sketch, creating stories through his cartoons that, steadily, gain popularity.
7. Paranoid Park (2007)
Based on the book of the same name by Blake Nelson, this film tells the story of a teenage skateboarder named Alex. Alex meets a man named Scratch and rides a freight train with him. However, a security guard discovers and chases after them. In an effort to get rid of him, Alex hits the guard with his skateboard. This makes the guard lose balance and he falls on another track where an oncoming freight train cuts him in half. Alex tries to get rid of the skateboard, but it isn’t that easy.
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