While the summer season was largely dominated by a trio of comic book movies, the fact is studios were able to find some purchase through some clever counter-programming. A handful of smaller budgeted indie films came out of nowhere and took home some big dollars, such as Moonrise Kingdom, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.
As we turn the corner into fall and the quality gets bar raised with the release of some early year festival darlings, the chance to stand out from the pack is diminished. It doesn’t help that this year in particular there are a wealth of top notch under-the-radar movies from some great directors. So now is a good time to round up some of the indie films that will playing in the art house theater near you.
10. Keep the Lights On
Release Date: September 7th
Director: Ira Sachs
Potentially the first gay-themed romance to break into the mainstream since Brokeback Mountain, Keep the Lights On is Sachs’ semi-autobiographical tale of two men who embark on a torrid relationship after a one night stand, only to have things turn south due to one’s personal demons. Danish actor Thure Lindhardt is receiving some serious acclaim for his heartbreaking performance, and the film has managed to touch audiences around the world and far beyond the gay community.
Release Date: December 19th
Director: Michael Haneke
The vaunted German auteur Michael Haneke follows up his Palm d’Or winner The White Ribbon with a film that bears more than a passing resemblance to Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Actually, Haneke very nearly didn’t complete Amour due to the two films being so similar, but thankfully for us he changed his mind. The film took home the director’s second Palm d’Or at Cannes this year, and tells the story of an aging married couple torn apart when one suffers a debilitating stroke.
8. Wuthering Heights
Release Date: October 5th
Director: Andrea Arnold
After introducing us to the fiery Katie Jarvis in her acclaimed thriller, Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold is set to bring us a new fresh face taking on a cherished role in Wuthering Heights. James Howson will be the first African-American to play the role of Heathcliff in the adaptation of Emily Bronte’s beloved classic, joining the relatively unknown Kaya Scodelario as Catherine Earnshaw. Whether the pairing sizzles on screen the way Arnold hopes remains to be seen, but it’s a major reason why Wuthering Heights stands out above a crowded group of literary translations.
7. Liberal Arts
Release Date: September 14th
Director: Josh Radnor
How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor seems to trying to position himself as a young Ben Stiller in some respects, moonlighting from his hit TV series to craft heartfelt relationship comedies that are like acting showcases for great ensembles. Following up on last year’s surprising happythankyoumoreplease, Radnor is back with Liberal Arts, in which he plays a disillusioned 35-year old college grad who hooks up with a 19-year old student while visiting an old professor. From everything we’ve been able to see so far, Radnor and co-star Elizabeth Olsen have some nice chemistry together, and the supporting cast is strong with Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins, and Allison Janney on board.
6. Jack and Diane
Release Date: ITunes on September 28th, theaters November 2nd
Director: Bradley Rust Gray
While many are just now falling in love with the uber-talented Zoe Kazan thanks to this summer’s Ruby Sparks, her career best performance came in Bradley Rust Gray’s intimate drama, The Exploding Girl. After struggling with the casting for his follow-up, Jack and Diane, Gray is turning to another indie darling to help build into a star. The always-interesting Juno Temple stars alongside Riley Keough as two teenaged girls who fall in love, only for one to reveal she’s actually a werewolf. The film features some cool animated sequences, along with an interesting mix of festival favorite actors in Jena Malone, Cara Seymour, and Lou Taylor Pucci. The previously released trailer didn’t tell us much, and it remains to be seen just how much the horror aspects play into the story.
Release Date: October 12th
Director: James Ponsoldt
A Sundance favorite, James Ponsoldt’s Smashed may be the film that finally busts Mary Elizabeth Winstead into leading lady status. It’s certainly a role unlike anything she’s done before, and has her shedding her usual perky charms to play an alcoholic who decides to finally give up the bottle for good. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul is her equally addicted husband, who isn’t quite as ready as she is. The film looks a devastating portrayal of two self-destructive people in a relationship forged in unhealthy circumstances.
4. This Must Be the Place
Release Date: November 2nd
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
To say that Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be the Place received a lukewarm response at Cannes last year is to make a serious understatement, as the film was largely rebuked, leading to a long time sitting on the shelf waiting for a theatrical release. It certainly looks like the type of film that would cause many to either love it or hate it outright, with Sean Penn going way against type as an aging rock star(dressed mostly in drag, no less) who tracks down the ex-Nazi who tortured his deceased father. Trailers have presented a much bouncier tone than the grim premise would indicate, and it makes one wonder if the attempt to blend humor and sadness is where the film goes off the rails. Still, with Penn stretching his creative talents yet again, and a supporting cast that includes Frances McDormand, Kerry Condon, Judd Hirsch, and Harry Dean Stanton, this is a movie that will be hard to ignore.
3. Holy Motors
Release Date: October 17th
Director: Leo Carax
It’s not often you got a Palm d’Or contender that most who saw it would admit to not knowing what the story was even about, but that is the case with Leo Carax’s bizarre Holy Motors. Trailers have only added to the confusion of Carax’s puzzle box, with the boiled down version of the plot focusing on a man(Denis Levant) who can traverse parallel lives, becoming a beggar, a monster, and a vicious killer all in the span of a day. Depending on who you talk to there’s more or less to the story than that, but I’m intrigued by the weird Amy Winehouse impersonation Eva Mendes seems to be putting on, and it’s obvious that Carax has tackled the film with a great deal of passion and energy.
2. Hello I Must Be Going
Release Date: September 7th
Director: Todd Louiso
Melanie Lynskey has deserved her shot at a major leading role for a long time, and Hello I Must Be Going marks her first since she was a child opposite Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures. In a nice twist from the norm, Lynskey plays a divorced 35-year old woman who enters in a relationship with a 19-year old man. Yeah, it sounds eerily similar to Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts, but it’s interesting to see a film that isn’t afraid to show it from the female perspective. Lynskey looks to be in top form, really taking advantage of this rare opportunity to tackle a role with real complexity and depth, while also getting to show her comedic gifts from a slightly darker angle.
1. Rust and Bone
Release Date: November 16th
Director: Jacques Audiard
Emerging from the festival circuit with the greatest expectation of late season success, Rust and Bone features an incredible Oscar pedigree, starting with French director Jacques Audiard, who recently gave us the Oscar-nominated crime film, A Prophet. A breakout performance is being hailed for Matthias Schoenaerts, star of last year’s Best Foreign Language contender, Bullhead, who by all accounts acquits himself well opposite Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. The story does sound ripe for some heavy melodrama, with Cotillard as a killer whale trainer who loses her legs in a freak accident, not long after starting a cautious relationship with a struggling nightclub bouncer and single father.
Honorable Mentions: John Hawkes is a paralyzed man trying to lose his virginity in The Sessions(October 26th, my early review here); David France spotlights those who led the early fight against AIDS in How to Survive a Plague(September 21st); Peter Jackson leaves the hobbits behind for the West Memphis Three doc, West of Memphis(December 25th); Keira Knightley and Jude Law take on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel in Anna Karenina(November 9th)