Every once and again, when you grow tired of clanging armor and chivalrous grins, you have to roll up your sleeves and reach for something in the darker realms. Sure, it’s great to shovel M&M’s to superhero movies, but you need some weirdness, too. Here, I’ve cherry picked ten indie films that range from bizarre to distinctly amazing. So, put away your Dwayne Johnson movies, punt your Broken Lizard blu-rays into a storage unit, and get ready for some super sweet carnage.
The Unspeakable Act
Tallie Medel. Tallie Medel is an outwardly dispassionate bundle of tinder. Her speech is honeyed by an impartial tone, and her posture is so decidedly wounded. She has such great presence that you forget about the script (which, really, isn’t all that meaty). There’s something to be said for that. Even still, the dialogue is crisp, the pacing interesting, and the vulnerability visceral.
Glib in its heat seeking indictment of stodgy art impresarios and metropolitan intellects, “Hellaware” is a cannibalistic love letter. Indulgent, crude, noxious, and self-aware, this is a film that lampoons everything faux, including itself. You have to love that the star of this film, Keith Poulson, is basically a poor man’s Aaron Taylor Johnson. This is our first of three Kate Lyn Sheil movies for some reason? PS – I feel like they mixed the sound of this movie in the food court of a mall, but I’m still all in.
A totally inert, static film that relies on the inherent likability of Kate Lyn Sheil to move its narrative forward. Sheil is like Greta Gerwig combined with Mamie Gummer and it’s unfair to everyone else. It’s almost like using a GameShark code: it might work, but it’s basically cheating because you don’t have to try. It may sound like I’m harping on this flick, but its combination of languid pacing and repressed venom makes for a strange mosaic of guilt and jealousy. Hypnotic weirdness is a pretty cool batting stance.
A short film that packs more heat than a Yu Darvish fastball. This is a brilliantly vitriolic take on modern entertainment that spares no one in its incendiary wake. The casting is perfect, the dialogue sharp, and the ending glorious. Expertly applied lipstick chased by a limp, cold slice of pizza. Tiaras and sneakers are one in the same. What a brilliant 20 minute short that outclasses most full-length features. Sarah Gertrude Shapiro is my second favorite Shapiro ever.
The Color Wheel
Carlen Altman is a total revelation. The monochromatic aesthetic fits perfectly with the barbed humor – Lena Dunham would love the hell out of this movie. We have everything you need for sublime indie magic: a caustic road trip, acerbic minor characters, and two totally affable leads. The chemistry between Altman and Alex Ross Perry is real. Find it. Watch it. Send me thank you notes on ornate stationary.
The least feel good movie ever (well, that could actually go to several other pictures, namely “Irreversible” and “Enter the Void”). Jason Banker’s brutally fascinating film has a tragic backstory: Sara Anne Jones, the enigmatic star of the film, died after its completion. The film’s spectral, muscle contracting sadness is omnipotent. Everyone is aching, in a fetal position of total stasis. Sublime hell. The music wafts and wades, floats like petals of ash. A sort of eulogy. A sort of vanishing act. And the space within the film has so much texture that you can feel the grime and loose rocks. Gus Van Sant, Larry Clark, Harmony Korine, Gia Coppola, and Jacob Aaron Estes have made films in a similar vein, but the dystopia shown here is too tangible. Think “Picnic at Hanging Rock” but with more puke.
Zach Clark, I love you. Trieste Kelly Dunn, a score by Glass Candy, and shades of Harmony Korine – it’s impossible for me to say anything bad after that, so forget it. This volatile explosion of colors calls out Gregg Araki, but its odd stylistic narrative is its own neon beast. A particular drug blemished scene is one of the most hypnotic in recent memory. This movie should be shown in the background of every party, Pitchfork Music Festival, and Coachella tent. It’s a wildly contemporary take on friendship and social malaise, tho.
Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather” is compact, curious, and lacquered in suspense despite its miniature budget and working class heroes. Nobody has any special skills, necessarily, but our characters mine for clues by using literary references and unbreakable ambition. It’s funny, weird, and comforting all at the same time. And Trieste Kelly Dunn is the perfect foil to Cris Lankenau’s ecstatic detective. You’re welcome for your introduction to mumblecore mystery.
While not technically too indie – during award season A24 pushed screeners to members of the press – “Obvious Child” was still a small and lovingly written film. My generation is an amalgam of brattiness, co-dependence, vanity, and intellectual pretentiousness. We suck in the best way, and I guess the romanticism is in the balled up tinfoil of our self-awareness. Here, Jenny Slate is a broken phalanx. Her performance is so good that you have to admonish yourself for thinking otherwise. And, hey, “Obvious Child” is funny. More of this, please.
Gimme the Loot
“Gimme the Loot” is both carbonated and catty, simple and yet totally original. After tasting the car exhaust of action films, year after year, it’s nice to have a palate cleanser of this magnitude. Give Tashiana Washington all of the awards. Academy, Independent, National League MVP, whatever. Film is bonkers good.