Our staff picks their top independent films. Our esteemed movie critic, Mark Fields, gets to pick two: his all-time favorite and one from last year.
All Time – Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction remains a masterpiece of bravura storytelling with an utterly contemporary sensibility from the feverish cinephile mind of Quentin Tarantino. Unlike the director’s more recent films that eventually surrender the narrative to his penchant for bloodletting, Pulp Fiction is nonetheless violent yet services a taut story populated with intriguing characters well-played by John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman, among others. The real heart of the film, however, is Tarantino’s hyper-eloquent, pop culture-drenched screenplay. Royale with Cheese, anyone?
2015 – Ex Machina
Ex Machina, directed by first-timer Alex Garland from his own screenplay, was a stand-out even in a year of several stunning indie features (Anomalisa, 45 Years, Carol and Room, to name a few). A finely-tuned study in palpable tension, Ex Machina tells a slightly futuristic story about a lowly computer coder hired by a reclusive genius to test the humanity of his newest female android, the comely and clever Ava. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander, the chamber sci-fi piece is both brooding and provocative.
—Mark Fields, Movie Critic
Many view Edward Snowden as a traitor for going public with what he discovered about government surveillance as a National Security Agency contractor. You owe it to yourself to watch this Academy Award-winning documentary by director Laura Poitras before rendering a verdict. What would you do if you were privy to such information? Watching Snowden’s internal struggle to reconcile this dilemma is gripping; contemplating the impact of his revelations is downright frightening. A suggestion: Rent Enemy of the State, the 1998 espionage thriller starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman, then rent Citizen Four.
—Jerry duPhily, Publisher
People Places Things
Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords leads the small but solid cast in this relatable 2015 rom-com. Clement plays a divorced art instructor navigating the waters of single parenthood and modern dating. The script steers clear of the clichés of the romantic comedy genre, and it benefits from great supporting performances from Jessica Williams, of The Daily Show, and Michael Chernus, of Orange Is The New Black.
—Ryan Alexander, Contributing Designer
This is a martial arts/comedy short, written, directed by and starring David Sandberg, of the Swedish film company Laser Unicorns. It was funded on Kickstarter and raised just over $500,000. An homage to 1980s martial arts and cop films, Kung Fury is the title character—a tough martial arts cop in Miami who goes back in time to kill the worst criminal of all time, Adolf Hitler, known as “Kung Führer.” There is plenty of outlandish action and violence involving arcade machine robots, dinosaurs, and Viking gods packed in this 31-minute film. The completely outlandish visual effects, with a 1980s visual look, are what make this film great.
—Tyler Mitchell, Graphic Designer
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Winner of the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, this quirky, funny film is the story of Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), an awkward high school senior whose mom (Connie Britton) forces him to spend time with Rachel, a girl (Olivia Cooke) in his class whom he hasn’t spoken to since kindergarten and who has just been diagnosed with cancer. The result, believe it or not, is mostly humorous, but also poignant and memorable. You can’t ask for much more.
—Bob Yearick, Contributing Editor
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
At one time, this was not only my favorite indie film, but my favorite film overall. Although the typical Guy Ritchie film is appealing because of the action, and they often seem to have the same plot, Lock, Stock has a unique plot with plenty of twists, dry humor and coincidental meetings. It can be described as a “crime caper comedy-drama.”
—Matt Loeb, Creative Director/Production Manager
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This unconventional story takes place in an unidentified Louisiana Delta community, focusing on a resilient 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, Annie) and her ailing father, Wink. Balanced between the struggles of an eroding way of life and mythical undercurrents—Hushpuppy’s imaginary monsters—this 2012 film is a raw and triumphant portrait of intrepid persistence. Director Benh Zeitlin utilized only a small crew with mainly dozens of local residents from Montegut, La., to keep its authentic feel. Combine plot with the score, cinematography and talent, and this poetic movie is worth watching again and again.
—Krista Connor, Associate Editor
This modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin was filmed in 17 days for less than $100,000. “Guy” (Glen Hansard), a street musician who works in his father’s vacuum repair shop, meets “Girl” (Marketa Irglova), a Czech immigrant and singer/songwriter/pianist who happens to need her vacuum repaired. After realizing their commonalities, they head to a local music store to play together, and it’s immediately clear that they’re a natural fit. They decide to record with some of Guy’s band friends. In the process, they discover each other’s painful past and navigate through their own unrequited love.
The beautiful, intimate music makes the movie, and the song “Falling Slowly” won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song. And Hansard and Irglova actually did fall in love while filming. They dated and did multiple world tours as the musical duo The Swell Season, but eventually broke up in 2010.
—Marie Graham, Director of Digital Media & Distribution
For All Mankind
If one of the primary goals of film is to transport one to another place, then in that sense, For All Mankind is about as memorable as any film gets, indie or not. The Academy-Award-nominated documentary essentially takes its viewers to the moon and back: a complete space voyage pieced together like a motion-picture scrapbook.
Using footage from the Apollo space missions of the ‘60s and ‘70s, 80 hours of astronaut interviews, and countless mission-control audio conversations, filmmakers created an exhilarating experience that takes viewers along for a ride in the same space capsule as the often-awestruck astronauts. Some of the visuals are breathtaking. With the film’s lovely soundtrack, Brian Eno adds frontier elements to his more familiar atmospheric touches. In addition to reaffirming patriotic ideals, the film illustrates our untapped human potential in this humble corner of the universe.
—Jim Miller, Director of Publications