Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. (IMDb)
Lovely tunes and pleasant soft cinematography are just bonus additions to what is a superbly nuanced (and acted) character study: Llewyn is talented but pretentious, caring but bitter, witty but mean. He’s hard-luck but hard to like; half the time life hits him hard, half the time he seems to bring it on himself. Fleshed out by a perfect secondary cast of various characters, the film nonchalantly but intentionally presents a neutral take on the settling down vs. pursuing your dreams dichotomy.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

Drive (2011)

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A mysterious Hollywood stuntman and mechanic moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself in trouble when he helps out his neighbor. (IMDb)
Smoothly moves without leaving a character behind or strings untied from a subtly spun protagonist set-up (the quiet Driver is ever intriguing) with budding romance to a bloody crime/revenge drama spiked with shocking violence. Add to that an equally cohesive aesthetic of a moody city setting slickly portrayed (see the crossfade transitions, scrumptious slow motion shots under a gorgeous synth soundtrack) and unique scene edits (see the final confrontation) and the film packs quite the punch.
9/10 (Amazing)

Ex Machina (2015)

A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female A.I. (IMDb)

The gorgeous and isolated setting here is mesmerizing, and the contrast between the largely windowless indoors and lush outdoors offers a cool visual aid to the human vs. machine theme that runs throughout. Isaac and the other leads are excellent, and the eerie soundtrack works well with a tight story that gets darker with each scene to create a fantastic sense of growing uneasiness that does falter a bit in a slightly muddled climax. All told, however, this is a great, haunting sci-fi thriller.

8.4/10