The curtain is quickly closing on 2016 and we’ve seen a number of big blockbusters in cinemas, though sadly they haven’t given us much of a reason to get excited (though Dr Strange proves to be a welcome counter-point). While the likes of Ghostbusters, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Batman v Superman have arguably weakened their franchises (and lessened the impact of franchise films over the year), there have been a number of indie films that have dazzled audiences with their original storylines and captivating cinematography. So let’s take a look at some of the years best indie flicks that you probably haven’t seen – but definitely should:
9. The Fundamentals Of Caring
For those of you that still only look at Paul Rudd as a ‘comedy-only’ actor, The Fundamentals of Caring is a film that could convince you otherwise. Sure, there are plenty of laughs, but Paul Rudd’s performance exhibits an impressive combination of depth and nuance, and allows him to flex his dramatic muscle as Ben, a man who finds a job caring for a disabled boy named Trevor. At first glance, The Fundamentals of Caring seems like the typical road-trip movie, but the plot offers willing audiences with an emotional and rewarding experience.
The relationship between Trevor and Ben feels very real and is a by-product of a naturalistic approach and some smart choices from both actors. You’re right there with Ben and Trevor, sharing in every moment of happiness and despair. This is a film that acts as a signpost of Rudd’s range while still managing to be engaging, entertaining, and deeply affecting. Fun fact, Selena Gomez has been trying her hand at acting recently (mostly unconvincingly – actually scratch that she’s consistently awful), and her performance in this film won’t do much to dispel any reservations you have about her acting-ability, though it might surprise you all the same.
8. Swiss Army Man
We’re fans of this odd indie effort here at The Speakeasy (you can read our review here), and that’s for good reason.
If you like movies like Cast Away and Weekend at Bernie’s, then you are in luck. Swiss Army Man is a disarmingly odd combination of the two that is certainly one of the most unique films in years. Paul Dano plays a stranded man on the verge of ending his life when the washed up corpse of Daniel Radcliffe washes up on shore.
With no other options to hold onto his dwindling sanity, Dano befriends the corpse and the two set out on many crazy adventures. The movie can be initially off-putting due to some immature humour, but if you see it through to the end you’ll be treated to an intriguing conclusion that is sure to be talked about for years to come. Swiss Army Man offers adventurous viewers an experience as rewarding as it is impossible to categorise.
7. Into The Forest
Over the years there have been more than a few films which have focused on the post-apocalyptic. I’ve seen more than my fair share of these films, though I often find that I enjoy quiet, character-focused films which focus more on people trying to survive in their new circumstances (such as David Michôd’s excellent, The Rover), over those interested in hardware and spectacle.
Into the Forest is a film that fits nicely into the internally-driven post-apocalyptic category, and while it may not quite hit the heights of The Rover, this story of a pair of mismatched sisters forced to face the unthinkable is a strong, smart and affecting end-of-the-world drama that is bolstered by strong performances from co-stars Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood.
This unapologetically feminist take on the post-apocalyptic narrative had the misfortune of coming out in the middle of the summer, opposite blockbuster season and so quickly came and went from theatres. But find a way to see Into the Forest, for it is the kind of film that will not only stick with you, it will even make you think.
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater is one of the more talented directors of our generation and has provided us with classic like Boyhood and Before Sunrise as well as hilarious Dazed and Confused. His latest outing Everybody Wants Some!! follows an ’80s college baseball team and has more in common with the director’s comedies (School of Rock and Dazed) than it does his dramatic turns. It’s a perfectly pitched blast of nostalgia and beautifully observed exploration of young adulthood which will transport you to that time in life when the future stretched before you and anything seemed possible.
I like Richard Linklater’s approach to filmmaking. It never feels like he’s trying to tell you a story. Rather, he just wants to you spend time with a few characters to see what you make of them. Fortunately, characters are full-drawn and delightfully Dazed and Confused-esque: they’re dynamic, entertaining, and sorts of people you love to hate. The film is careful not to judge or praise these characters, and instead provides you with the opportunity to simply enjoy this delightfully fun, 80s college romp.. Everybody Wants Some!! feels like a movie that was made to be a classic, as it can surely stand the test of time.
5. The Lobster
The Lobster is a black-hearted comedy that presents a dystopian world where being single is a criminal act. A romantic breakup thrusts newly-single David (Colin Farrell, in a wonderful performance) into the outer darkness of society and tasks him with finding a new partner within 45 days, otherwise he’ll be turned into an animal. The message, while bizarrely rendered, is crystal clear: Couples deserve official protection, and the privilege of being left alone by the unnamed State. The Lobster plays rigorously by its own rules without once telegraphing “Just kidding!” While extremely funny, it is a bitter and ruthless film.
The film is anchored by stunning performances from Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Léa Seydoux, with Farrell giving one of his funniest and (strangely enough, considering the humuorlessness of the character) charming performances since In Bruges.
In a world devoted to happy endings, where platitudes like “the right person is out there waiting for you” are unquestionably quoted as absolute truth, The Lobster, is a dead-pan and biting riposte and a welcome breath of freezing cold, poisoned air.
4. Green Room
If you mix the struggling artist tone of Inside Llewyn Davis with the claustrophobic feel of 10 Cloverfield Lane, you’ll land somewhere in the ballpark of Jeremy Saulnier’s punk rock thriller Green Room. Nathan Luscombe puts it best when he said that, “I haven’t seen a movie that so effectively creates an air of sleazy tension,” and in that, Green Room certainly delivers.
The premise is simple. A cash-strapped punk rock band lands a gig performing for somewhat unsavoury Neo-Nazis, and find themselves trapped when they stumble on a murder committed by Patrick Stewart’s (deliciously scene-stealing) Darcy. Covering up a crime usually relies on there being no witnesses, which obviously puts the band in a bit of a predicament.
Green Room is not for the faint hearted film-goer and will have you on the edge of your seat as you witness the band struggling to survive. It’s a brutal, tense, and often bizarre film that takes refuses to apologise. Anchored by great performances by the late-Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, and Imogen Poots, this is a film which earns its cult status.
3. Sing Street
Sing Street is a beautiful synthesised ode to 80s Dublin and brotherhood from writer/director/Dubliner John Carney (the man behind Once and Begin Again), and while it is admittedly catnip for anyone who grew up with bands like Duran Duran and The Cure, there is enough emotional authenticity invested to make this timeless film work on its own, non-nostalgic terms. The film follows Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a young teen who finds refuge and community (as well as attempting to win the heart of a beautiful girl) in 1985 Dublin by forming a band (never mind that he can’t play any instruments).
Carney’s Sing Street has a vivaciousness to it and typifies everything that I love about the movies that I loved when I was young. It has the troubled teen antics from classic John Hughes films, as well as a musical focus that parallels the likes of August Rush. Unlike most of the other movies on this list, Sing Street is a family film that you could watch over and over again. Carney has managed to show all of the melancholy and loneliness of youth, but has counterbalanced it with so much joy and enthusiasm that you’ll be left reeling.
2. Captain Fantastic
Captain Fantastic, starring Viggo Mortensen, tells the story of an idealistic father forced to re-examine his ideas on freedom and family when he and his six children leave their isolated home in the American wilderness to face the outside world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent. Cinema often takes a hard line on those who reject society for a simpler existence. Most often, they’re portrayed as weirdos, possibly murderers, who eke out a living deep in the woods surrounded by firearms, and probably inbreeding. It’s rare to see a film sympathetic to the sort of hippie idealist who tries to forge a new Eden, despite everything — and this thoughtful indie film examines how such a man might cope when his great project is threatened.
The film has been compared to Little Miss Sunshine, probably because of its focus on family dynamics and the questioning of what it means to be a father and just what values are important in a family. However, unlike that movie, it looks at the cost of idealism and questions how far a person must go to live an authentic life.
Gorgeously shot and peppered with genuine emotion, the film is anchored and, like the family itself, dominated by Mortensen’s Ben, who’s both the hero and the villain. Caring but dictatorial, idealistic but often blind, he’s a fascinating figure and, in bringing him to life, Mortensen gives his best performance yet – a performance that could earn him a nod come awards season. Not only is Captain Fantastic wonderful – it is heartfelt, comedic, gorgeous and just the right amount of sad. Get out and see it any way you can.
1. The Little Prince
Animation has been the strong point of the year with films like Zootopia and Finding Dory proving to winners with critics and audiences alike. While The Little Prince didn’t have the good fortunate of debuting on the silver screen and raking in millions, it still opened big on Netflix. The Little Prince, a family-friendly treat which is based off Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s popular children’s book, provides a deft exploration of love, loss and friendship while also staying faithful to the spirit of its classic source material.
The film follows the story of a young girl who befriends her neighbour – an elderly aviator. He enthralls the young girl with his tale of the Little Prince, a young boy who claims to be from a far-away planet.
Mark Osborne’s direction is gorgeous, as are his creative choices. The world of the little girl – the real world, as it were – is presented using digital animation, but the world of the Little Prince is brought to life using stop-motion animation. The results are quite affecting – the two worlds are properly distinct, the visuals gorgeous, intimate, and engaging.
The Little Prince is a touching film. It’s deeply personal and profoundly moving, and provides a sensitive and affecting portrait of humanity. The film sits comfortably among Pixar and Dreamworks best, and is one of the true stand-outs of the year.
So there you have it, that’s my list of the best indie flicks of the year (so far) that you probably haven’t seen yet – but certainly should.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to know.