MUST WATCH independent films
January 26, 2020
Recently, independent films are on the rise as movies like “Moonlight” and “Call Me by Your Name” have won Academy Awards. Independent films are smaller, lower-budget movies. Generally, these films are distributed by independent production companies that are either branches of larger studio productions, like Sony Pictures Classics, or are individual companies, like A24. Independent films receive budgets at an average of $750,000 while big studio films receive $100 to $150 million. Big studio movies often have more recognized actors and directors which attract more attention from marketers and audiences.
Films that have been distributed by these companies do not typically make it to big theaters, such as AMC, early on in their release. They must get enough attention at film festivals and then receive commercial support at smaller theaters in order to move up into larger theaters. However, because of the restriction on independent films financially and commercially, they are not often exposed to the general public and in turn do not get the recognition they deserve.
There many great independent movies to watch in every genre, but here are a few of our favorites!
Coming of Age:
Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” is described as a comedy-drama film but is most prominently one of the best modern coming of age films that have been released. With a small budget of $2 million, “Eighth Grade” has managed to take the world by storm by raking in $14.3 million in box office. Burnham takes a creative angle on a film that follows Kayla on her rough journey through eighth grade.
Elsie Fisher, who portrays Kayla, exudes the aura of the perfect middle schooler. Kayla feels confused and lost but still attempts to be herself. She is unique but hides it constantly through the pressure of her peers. In “Eighth Grade,” Kayla creates a “time capsule” for herself that she plans to open after she graduates high school. She creates home videos and gives advice on many young adult topics like being yourself. It is ironic because Kayla has not fully grasped all of these concepts, but she still continues to preach them. This, to me, screams the true actions and attitudes of a confused middle schooler.
Not only are Kayla’s actions highly prominent in all middle schoolers, Fisher’s performance is a breath of fresh air. In many coming of age films, we see stories of teens making it through another year of high school cliches. Sometimes, these high schoolers are played by 30 year old actors and actresses. I believe that one of the reasons “Eighth Grade” is so enjoyable is because Fisher is an eighth grader herself and knows how to depict all of the different moods of an eighth grader.
Another reason why this film deserves recognition and support is the relatability and sentiment that comes from it. Burnham manages to use different filming techniques throughout this film that make it more relaxed and nostalgic. The way they use the actual raw footage of Kayla talking to her own camera is low maintenance and taken from a Camcorder, but presents a nostalgia that takes the audience back to earlier times in our lives. Burnham has directed and written this film to make it as a flashback which I love.
A24’s distribution of this film is not shocking as they are an independent production company who has been shining the past three years with many popular releases like “Lady Bird” and “Moonlight.” However, I do believe “Eighth Grade” is something very different from A24 and every other production company because of the way the story is told. “Eighth Grade” incorporates topics like social media, communication, behaviors, relationships, etc. that all young adults go through, but in a much more uncensored way (hence the R rating of this film). I believe that A24 gave Burnham and his crew the freedom to do so and is why this film would not be the same if distributed by a studio production company.
“Midsommar,” released in July of 2019, is an independent horror movie directed by Ari Aster and produced by A24. The film focuses on a couple and their friends who travel to Sweden to stay at what they think is a commune that one of their friends grew up in but ends up a dangerous cult. The trip comes after the main character, Dani, suffers the traumatic murder-suicide of her parents and sister.
“Midsommar” had a budget of only $8 million, yet it created a vividly compelling environment and story. The cinematography highlighted the opposing tranquility and isolation that vast nature evokes. The special effects displayed grotesque, gory images to disconcert and disturb viewers.
The effectiveness of the movie on its small budget in terms of its visuals is something to be admired. However, what makes “Midsommar” such a captivating film, like many other independents, is its connection to its characters.
While the gore relates to our traditional classification of a horror movie, the real horror of “Midsommar” lies in its ability to capture and illustrate mental illness. Aster characterizes Dani’s mental health issues before the murder-suicide even takes place as a severe issue, especially for her relationship. He shows her anxiety medication and her boyfriend’s friends urging him to break things off due to her clingy behavior before the tragedy occurs. Through her interactions with her boyfriend, Christian, and his friends throughout the film, Aster displays her decline mentally as Chirstian and his friends mistreat and misunderstand her and her trauma.
Unable to find the comfort she seeks in Christian, she slowly falls into the cult and its murderous and odd customs.
The center of “Midsommar” is not the cult nor any of the horror within it but rather the complications surrounding relationships and mental health. We can see the exhaustion, confusion and guilt within Christian on how to deal with Dani in the aftermath of her trauma. We can see the depression, anxiety and loneliness Dani is dealing with in the aftermath. Both need different things that they cannot find in the other, yet their circumstances make neither feel ready to cut things off.
“Midsommar” creates a truly unsettling world of a deranged and bizarre cult that holds all the scares one could want from a horror movie while also making deeper connections to the characters and their relationships with each other. With only an $8 million budget as compared to the average $100 million, Ari Aster simultaneously makes a world all its own and a wholly universal human story.
“Jojo Rabbit” released only last month on October 18. It was directed by Taika Waititi and distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film is a satirical dark comedy that focuses on a young boy in Nazi Germany that gets sucked into the fanatcism of the facist regime. He comes to discover that his mother, who is against the Nazis, is hiding a young Jewish girl in their home. From his first meeting with this girl, the movie follows Jojo’s personal journey that leads him away from his blind devotion to Hitler.
The movie deals with all the darkness that went on in Germany at the time, highlighting the genocidal antisemitism, the effect of war on children and the tight control Germany kept over its citizens.
But the movie also aims to make the audience laugh and makes its characters so endearing that you care deeply about how they all end up. With a child as the lead and other lovable characters like Jojo’s friend, Yorki, and an outcast soldier, Captain Klenzendorf, the movie holds a lot of its humor in childishness. For example, Jojo tries to write a book about Jewish people and believes everything the Jewish girl tells him, including that they lived in caves and slept like bats. Jojo also has an imaginary friend that embodies his vision of Hitler who eats unicorns and keeps his bed warm for him.
Although it being set around the point of view of a child makes it more comedic, it also makes the loss and violence of war more deeply felt. It becomes even scarier and even more disturbing when you see kids blindly subscribe to such a horrific regime. Waititi displays a belief in “Jojo Rabbit” that children are what can inspire people out of their ignorance and hate and that children are those who are capable of being changed and of changing others.
Waititi perfectly blends the dark aspects and social commentary of the film with its comedy. At the end of the film, there is hope. “Jojo Rabbit” may not be a big picture, but the emotion within the movie–its ability to make you cry tears of joy and sadness all within two hours–deserves appreciation. So if you’re going to the movies anytime soon, make sure it’s to see “Jojo Rabbit.”
“Wildlife,” a film released in 2018 and distributed by IFC Films has made it onto my list of my favorite films ever. Not only are Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan’s performances stunning in this film, actor Paul Dano also directs the film beautifully. Dano uses old school elements of a drama to translate the emotion from Richard Ford’s book to the big screen.
In “Wildlife,” Joe Brinson, portrayed by Ed Oxenbould, grows up in the 1960s only to watch his parents Jeanne (Mulligan) and Jerry Brinson’s (Gyllenhaal) marriage fall apart. When Jerry is fired from his job, his pride takes a hit and although his family is suffering from poverty, he decides to tend to wildfires and earn a few cents an hour. Jeanne’s frustrations with her husband becomes immense, but catalysts as time goes on. As she confides in her son, Joe gets side tracked from his responsibilities and is frightened by what his family will do.
One of my favorite parts of “Wildlife” is Mulligan’s intense performance. It has been a year since I have watched this movie and I feel like she was snubbed of an Academy Award nomination for her role. The chaos and sentiment that oozed from Mulligan’s performance as Jeanne made her transformation very real for me. I could not see Mulligan within Jeanne as she had completely transformed herself which many actors fail to do.
There are many times when Jeanne is out of control as she pursues an affair with one of her students while Jerry is gone. Although Joe “is shocked at the sight of his mother’s flirtatious and drunken state, Jeanne does not explain her feelings towards Jerry and her affair, but says it will help them financially. The way Jeanne breaks down and begs Joe to “think of a better plan” for them is heart wrenching. The scene is the embodiment of the family at their weakest point and made me believe that Mulligan’s performance carried the film.
The theme of the story is also one of the more captivating elements. Although upcoming films like “Little Women” are being praised for their recognition of gender roles and female empowerment. “Wildlife” is different in the sense that the female figure is not seen as perfect or a saint. A large criticism of the film and book is that Jeanne causes the majority of marital problems due to her actions, but Mulligan openly counters this point by saying that “We’re all too used to only seeing women behaving really well [in movies]” and how that image is “an unrealistic expectation of a woman and seeing real humanity on-screen can be really jarring from a female perspective.” I love this film because of its depth and, especially the character of Jeanne.
Not only is Mulligan’s performance phenomenal, young Oxenbould does a fantastic job delineating the confusion and stress that Joe has due to his parents, school and his job. By the end of the film, however, Jenne, Jerry, and Joe are stable with their living conditions regardless if Joe’s parents are separated: Jeanne is a teacher and resides in her own apartment, Jerry is a successful salesman and Joe lives happily with his father as an honors student and photographer at his job. In the very last scene, Joe, Jeanne and Jerry take a family photo together while both parents have a hard time pulling it together during the photo, but stick it out to make their son happy. The film ends on a relatively high note, but represents the struggles of Joe’s family and how they will never be perfect.
Luca Guadagnino and Sony Pictures Classics’ film “Call Me By Your name” was also an adaption of a book that took the world by storm. The film describes a romantic relationship between two young men Elio and Oliver in 1983 in Northern rural Italy. Timothee Chalamet who plays Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver is one of the best on screen duos I have ever seen.
My favorite part about the film is how Chalamet and Hammer, although heterosexual in real life, depict the relationship between their characters as young, innocent and romantic. It shows a first love story in a beautiful way rather than focusing on the “tragedies” that come with homosexuality like many “gay romance films” tend to do. I loved how “Call Me By Your Name,” in a way, “normalizes” the homosexual relationship between the two by showing the trust and feelings the two characters build for eachother.
During the beginning of the film, Elio and Oliver are both seen as being attracted the girls in Italy. Elio even has a girlfriend named Marzia. However, as the two spend time with one another, by young Elio reveals his feelings to Oliver and Oliver reciprocates. Once they kiss, Elio is reluctant to continue expressing his emotions and grows distant from his “friend.” Chalamet perfectly represents the coming of age story of a young boy. As Chalamet’s character comes to terms and begins to accept his sexuality, the relationship between Oliver and Elio blossoms and is beautiful and heartwarming.