Tired of mainstream films and want to explore the endless treasure chest that is independent film? If so, this list is for you.
Another “quirky” movie featuring twenty-somethings struggling with post-grad crises in the big city? Nuh-uh. “Frances Ha,” directed by Noah Baumbach, is like no other. The film centers around Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig), who tries to make it as a modern dancer in New York. Frances struggles with her relationship with her best friend Sophie, her romantic interests, her identity as a dancer and the ever nagging issue of how to pay rent. According to Sophie, “the only people who can afford to be artists in New York are rich.” The beauty of the movie resides in Frances’ undying enthusiasm despite her struggles. The film may come off as a little weak plot-wise, but it makes up for it with stunningly realistic and humorous dialogue, a wicked soundtrack (Bowie, anyone?) and a dazzling performance by Gerwig. “Frances Ha” is not to be missed.
It’s safe to say that this film has a cult following, and for good reason. Vanquishing the boundaries between sci-fi, surrealism, romance, drama and comedy, Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko” is certainly an ambitious film. If an adolescent Jake Gyllenhaal playing the namesake protagonist isn’t motivation enough, there is also a six-foot-tall rabbit, Jena Malone as Darko’s love interest and a series of tongue-in-cheek witty banter that features the perfect amount of high school profanity. “Is this real life or is it all happening in Donnie’s head?” is the pervading question of the movie, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. The mystery of the striking visuals and bizarre events only adds to the beauty of the film.
This is a weird movie. In a fundamentalist Mormon community in Utah, 15-year-old Rachel McKnight (Julia Garner) listens to a cassette tape and falls in love with a song, a voice and an idea. (“Electrick Children” is directed by Rebecca Thomas, who gets cred for being raised as a Mormon herself.) When it comes out that Rachel’s pregnant, her father arranges for her to be married the next day. Rachel believes that she’s been impregnated by the music on the cassette tape through some form of immaculate conception and she leaves home to find the father. On an idealistic (perhaps too idealistic?) journey through Las Vegas, Rachel makes unlikely friends and falls in love. Brilliantly acted and with a touch of magical realism, “Electrick Children” is the sort of movie that reminds you there’s some good in the world.
Don’t do drugs, kids! “Trainspotting,” directed by Danny Boyle, is a gritty, disturbing and emotional film that will often make you feel sick to your stomach. Voted the best Scottish film of all time in a public poll, the film follows a group of heroin addicts with characteristic nicknames in an economically depressed area of Edinburgh in the 1980s. The protagonist, Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor), attempts to go cold turkey and give up his addiction for good, but with a group of friends who don’t follow suit, this isn’t easy. Although “Requiem for a Dream” is consistently bleaker, if you liked Aronofsky’s film, you will probably appreciate “Trainspotting” too, and not just for the similar subject matter. “Trainspotting” is a fire-breathing gem of a film.
“Short Term 12”
The entirety of “Short Term 12” feels like perfection. Set at a group home for at-risk adolescents, director Destin Cretton manages to do the impossible: never sappy and never akin to an after-school special, “Short Term 12” will make you feel a whole spectrum of emotion, ending on a beautifully uplifting (but not too uplifting) note. The delicate balance of humor, grit, warmth and heartache feels almost perched on a thread: A little more or less of any could shatter what makes the film so special. The protagonist, Grace, played by the impeccable Brie Larson, is a supervising staff member in her twenties who has to relive her own childhood struggles through the teens at the facility. I cannot stress the importance of this film. It is truly a work of art.