Hey all! One Film Fan back for the second part of this commentary on the beauty of Independent Films.
So, continuing from the last post, I ended up seeing 11 films, theatrically, within this genre between late June and the end of December 2013. These included the following (ALL of which have their surprising merits in my opinion): “Byzantium” another new twist on the vampire genre with a great cast and a tale that encompasses more than just the subject of vampires, but also about choices made, relationships being tested, and the bond between a mother and daughter. “The Spectacular Now“, about the perils and experiences of growing up and finding first love between two teenagers from opposite sides of life, played with amazing maturity by rising stars Shailene Woodley (“The Decendants“) and Miles Teller (2011’s “Footloose“). “Enough Said“, a smart, adult comedy/drama starring “Seinfeld” alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, GREAT James Gandolfini in one of his final roles as two divorcees who find each other and enter into a relationship with some unexpected hurtles to get over. “The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister & Pete“, one tale that you cannot help but get invested in despite the harsh reality of the life and situation the two young boys it focuses on find themselves in, as the film turns into an incredible story of perseverance, hope, and friendship. And the two young stars, Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, just blow you away with acting chops that feel like they are twice their actual ages. Then we had “All Is Lost“, literally starring three main things…veteran (and timeless) actor Robert Redford, a broken sailboat, and the Indian Ocean…..and almost NO dialogue….at ALL! Yet Redford delivers a performance for the ages as far as I am concerned, taking us through every emotion a human being can go through in story of survival. To see him be able to completely pull you into his character’s plight without saying hardly anything….true brilliance. Onward to “About Time“, a surprisingly deep romantic comedy/drama, starring genre staple Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook“, “The Time Traveler’s Wife“, “Morning Glory“), veteran character actor Bill Nighy (“Love Actually“, “Valkyrie” among MANY others), and Domhnall Gleeson, the son of excellent and diverse character actor Brendan Gleeson, centering on a young man who, in turning 21, finds out he can travel back in time, and discovering that sometimes, things we change can be a benefit to us….or the opposite. Again, there was much more depth to the film than I expected, which was a very pleasant reveal. Next, “How I Live Now“, starring my current, hands-down favorite new actress, Irish-born Saoirse Ronan (more on her in a future post), playing a rebellious American teenager forced to move abroad to her cousin’s home in rural England, there discovering first love, but then getting to learn a lot of new lessons about living when a circumstance separates the family and yet another struggle for survival ensues. A sometimes gritty, yet potent story. Then we have “Nebraska“, truly one of the BEST adult comedy/dramas I have seen…period. SO smartly written, directed, and filmed, about an aging, alcoholic father (the incomparable vet Bruce Dern, in one of his best ever roles in a long and distinguished career) who believes he’s won a million dollars and needs to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize, despite the protests of his son (“The Cleveland Show’s Will Forte) who finally agrees to take him there, and his long-suffering wife (June Squibb, “Meet Joe Black“, “About Schmidt“). Throw in a bunch of gold-digging relatives who think they are going to share in his fortune, and it ends up being equal parts comedy but also a relational drama. I recommend this film to everyone. Up next would be “The Book Thief“, telling the story of a young girl, Leisel (played admirably by newcomer Sophie Nelisse) in World War 2 Germany who is taken to be with adoptive parents (veteran actors Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush) and uses books she has taken to give to others, learning along the way about the horrors of the Nazis and the value of the bonds of friendship and the value of other people even when they are from different places and creeds in life. The film itself for me, while well done, left me feeling like there was something missing to it, as I didn’t feel as emotionally drawn to it like the others on this list. I have never read the book the film is based on, but have heard it is EXCELLENT. We move to “Out of the Furnace“, a really gritty story set in the backwoods of New Jersey that deals with a man (“The Fighter” and “American Psycho” star Christian Bale, who also recently played some character called Batman I think it was? Ha!) whose younger brother (smartly played by Casey Affleck of “Ocean’s 11, 12, 13” and “Gone Baby Gone” AND he has this real-life brother named Ben as well…who funny enough is ALSO playing some character named Batman? But I digress…) disappears and ultimately chooses to take matters into his own hands when the local law enforcement doesn’t do enough to resolve the case. With a strong supporting cast including “Avatar’s” Zoe Saldana, “Mud’s” Sam Shepard, “Shadow of the Vampire’s” Willem Dafoe, and “The Butler’s” Forest Whitaker, it is a WELL-acted journey, but NOT for the light-hearted film goer by any means. If you don’t reel in shock when we are introduced right from the literal start of the film to the movie’s main antagonist, Harlan DeGroat (brilliantly portrayed by Woody Harrelson) there’s something wrong and you really should seek help. And finally, we end with “American Hustle” by superb American filmmaker/director David O. Russell (“The Fighter“, “Silver Linings Playbook“, “Three Kings“), that delivers one of the best period pieces I have seen in a long time. Based in 1978, it loosely follows the scandal known as Abscam involving a con man, his partner, and an unorthodox FBI agent as they traverse the waters of politicians and the Mob in Atlantic City while trying to do the score of a lifetime….or just get OUT of it and leave the illegitimate life behind as things begin to go out of control. The cast speaks for itself and is LOADED ( can we say Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K. and MORE). The dialogue is sharp, crisp and wildly entertaining, the period costuming is INSANE (words like comb over and gravity-defying come to mind) and it captured my attention the whole time! Throw in a GREAT cameo and some good twists….one of the BEST independent films I have seen.
So, there we are, an overview of 11 Indie/Small Budget gems. Next installment, I will get into some basics of WHY I have loved these movies as a whole and why I am going to KEEP watching for similar films to show up *I HOPE) at my local theaters. Until then, this is all presented for YOUR consideration and comments! Take care!