— Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan from Dirty Harry, 1971
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May 14, 2014
Beyond The Blockbusters: The Indie Summer Movies of 2014
— Posted by Kenny Miles
The summer movie season recently began and I find this to be the most dismal looking slate of mainstream features in almost 10 to 15 years. These studios hijack movies this time of year and they drift far away from the original purpose of film (like Sarah Palin confusing Baptism for Water Boarding – clearly not what The Lord intended). With so many stale movies opening, most should cut to the chase and be titled DAWN OF THE CONTRIVED SEQUEL or GUARDIANS OF THE UNNESSARY REMAKE. Few will be memorable let alone have an impactful legacy and it won’t be Angelina Jolie embracing Johnny Depp’s goth pop shtick in MALEFICENT. (I never thought I’d beg for a Pixar sequel until I saw the trailer which resembles a CGI infused version of SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMEN a movie which I gave a marginal positive review.)
With full confidence, Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD will be a first of its kind, the ultimate, coming-of-age cinematic experience. The story about a boy, his sister, and their parents aging on screen in a narrative filmed over 12 years in Texas was the most fascinating watch at SXSW in March for me. Nothing like this has been attempted or accomplished in film and the result is historic. Character development and storytelling replace CGI and comic adaptations for refreshing film centerpieces. Cinephiles, causal moviegoers, and parents will adore and cherish BOYHOOD. Summer movies and all 2014 releases will have a lot to live up to. Opens on July 11th and expands to more locations in the coming weeks (scheduled to open in Denver two days after my birthday)!
I’m not a fan of making bold claims or drawing the line about the success of movie. Let me be clear. In regards to summer indie movies, there will be two categories: Boyhood and everything else. Electrifying the film festival circuit since its rapturous debut at Sundance in January, it has been winning over cinephiles with every festival screening. I fell in love with it and it is easily one of the best movies of 2014. Boyhood deserves every dollar it earns and I hope it is a lot of them. Movie fans need to support this movie and I expect it to be an awards contender with at least the Indie Spirit Awards if not (fingers crossed) The Oscars.
Here are other Indie Movies that I think could/would/should find an audience.
America: Imagine A World Without Her
2014 is an election year and political documentaries will be out in full force. Typically those are reserved for liberal activists but conservative thinker turned filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza brings the documentary America to primarily suburban multiplexes and small town theaters. Described as “a story that imagines that the United States lost the Revolutionary War and therefore never existed,” this sounds like a more serious version of the howling satire The Confederate States of America. The core audience is primarily the Obama bashing, Benghazi obsessed conservatives who will enjoy the intellectual debate for the role of America. Worth noting: Lionsgate quietly acquired the documentary last week so expect this to be a decent size hit. Also, I am impressed that Mr. D’Souza interviews left wing individuals whom he doesn’t agree with thus challenging liberal doc filmmakers the next time they make a political documentary. In an industry that doesn’t reward objective filmmaking, this has me intrigued. Believe it or not, Middle American conservatives are as much as a neglected segmented audience as older adults, minorities, and women in Hollywood. Appropriately opening around July 4th, expect this to be the “not-so-surprise” indie/limited release hit of summer the industry will ignore.
Acquired at the Toronto Film Festival last year (and originally titled Can a Song Save Your Life) by The Weinstein Company, Begin Again is the latest film from writer-director John Carney (Once). The involvement of Carney is exciting because Once was a fantastic and whimsical micro budget indie musical. That filmmaker cherishes and respects music. The trailer looks fantastic and this could be the little indie darling of summer people flock to the theater for. I’m looking forward to this one when it opens and expands in July.
Synopsis: Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Her world takes a turn for the better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges an enchanting portrait of a mutually transformative collaboration, set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City.
Fox Searchlight’s second costume drama with race themes that played at Toronto Film Festival (the first being 12 Years a Slave.) This is an interesting, yet relatively safe choices for older adults seeking a substantive movie during summer. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel did well this time a few years ago as The Avengers broke records. This could be Fox Searchlight’s first Oscar contender at least in the costume category and one could see awards potential in one of the supporting performances.
Synopsis: BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.
A dark noir about a man on the brink fulfilling revenge and living with the consequences was earthshattering cinema. Playing in a limited release, audiences must see this movie. I wanted to include this in the preview so as many people hear about this fantastic, pitch perfect genre film as possible. This is high recommended and cinema at its best! If it isn’t a hit this summer, it is guaranteed to achieve a cult following!
Synopsis: BLUE RUIN is a classic American revenge story that recently won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival where it screened in the Directors’ Fortnight. The film follows a mysterious outsider whose quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family. (c) Radius-TWC
From director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard which was a minor dark comedy indie hit a few summers ago), Calvary is a character study with sinister dramatic tension. A good old fashioned, low key thriller looks like a promising exploration of faith and forgiveness. The reaction over in Europe has been strong and in a year of faith based movies making a comeback with audiences, Calvary could follow in the footstep of The Guard as being a very niche, art-house indie hit.
Synopsis: CALVARY’s Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a good priest who is faced with sinister and troubling circumstances brought about by a mysterious member of his parish. Although he continues to comfort his own fragile daughter (Kelly Reilly) and reach out to help members of his church with their various scurrilous moral – and often comic – problems, he feels sinister and troubling forces closing in, and begins to wonder if he will have the courage to face his own personal Calvary.
Usually a movie like Chef would open wide (it currently has opened in a few location in NY and LA). But in a box office era of excessive 3D, super hero adaptations, and sequels, a “little” movie like this need to slowly expand in other markets. This is going to be a crowd pleaser for the neglected older adults who will appreciate the sweet and sentimental movie. Fans of old school Jon Favreau will find this welcoming. Even cynical moviegoers will fall for this one.
Synopsis: Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son to launch a food truck. Taking to the road, Chef Carl goes back to his roots to reignite his passion for the kitchen — and zest for life and love. (c) Open Road
I’m not sure how this one will play out but it has me intrigued with the science vs. faith premise.
Synopsis: I ORIGINS, the second feature film from writer and director Mike Cahill, tells the story of Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt), a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the eye. He finds his work permeating his life after a brief encounter with an exotic young woman (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who slips away from him. As his research continues years later with his lab partner Karen (Brit Marling), they make a stunning scientific discovery that has far reaching implications and complicates both his scientific and spiritual beliefs. Traveling half way around the world, he risks everything he has ever known to validate his theory. Also starring Steven Yeun and Archie Panjabi, the film is produced byMike Cahill, Hunter Gray and Alex Orlovsky.
Synopsis: Acclaimed director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and executive producers Martin Scorsese (The Departed) and Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) present LIFE ITSELF, a documentary film that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert – a story that is by turns personal, funny, painful, and transcendent. Based on his bestselling memoir of the same name, LIFE ITSELF, explores the legacy of Roger Ebert’s life, from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism at the Chicago Sun-Times to becoming one of the most influential cultural voices in America. (C) Magnolia
What a fantastic little movie both bitter and sweet that I had a chance to see earlier this year. I’m rooting for Obvious Child to do well this summer. Following in the footsteps of last year’s minor niche summer hits Francis Ha and In A World, Obvious Child promises to deliver the snark, wit, and spunk to audiences eager for an alternative. Labeling at an abortion comedy could turn people off, but really simplifies a multi-layered comedy. People go see this movie when it opens in June!
Synopsis: For aspiring comedian Donna Stern, everyday life as a female twenty-something provides ample material for her incredibly relatable brand of humor. On stage, Donna is unapologetic-ally herself, joking about topics as intimate as her sex life and as crude as her day-old underwear. But when Donna gets dumped, loses her job, and finds herself pregnant just in time for Valentine’s Day, she has to navigate the murky waters of independent adulthood for the first time. As she grapples with an uncertain financial future, an unwanted pregnancy, and a surprising new suitor, Donna begins to discover that the most terrifying thing about adulthood isn’t facing it all on her own. It’s allowing herself to accept the support and love of others. And be truly vulnerable. Never failing to find the comedy and humanity in each awkward situation she encounters, Donna finds out along the way what it means to be as brave in life as she is on stage. Anchored by a breakout performance from Jenny Slate, OBVIOUS CHILD is a winning discovery, packed tight with raw, energetic comedy and moments of poignant human honesty. Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre handles the topic of Donna’s unwanted pregnancy with a refreshing matter-of-factness rarely seen onscreen. And with Donna, Slate and Robespierre have crafted a character for the ages – a female audiences will recognize, cheer for, and love. (C) A24
<i>Animal Kingdom was a fantastic, low key Australian gang film that featured a diabolical turn from Jackie Weaver in a truly legendary performance. Futuristic movies with a dytopian society is no stranger to a summer release date. Looking at the trailer, it reminded me of a combination between The Road and Mad Max. A24 Films continues to trend of being the voice for younger actors as Robert Pattinson stretches his acting range.
Synopsis: THE ROVER, David Michod’s highly anticipated follow-up to ANIMAL KINGDOM, is set in a world 10 years following the collapse of society. The rule of the law has disintegrated and life is cheap. The film follows hardened loner Eric (Pearce) as he travels the desolate towns and roads of the outback. When a gang of thieves steals his car they leave behind a wounded Rey (Pattinson) in their wake. Forcing Rey to help track the gang, Eric will go to any lengths to take back the one thing that still matters to him. Michod also wrote the film based on a story he conceived with Joel Edgerton. (c) A24
It is always refreshing when an indie mimics a genre thriller that could play in a wide release. The indie industry needs more risky and inventive movies that could be sold to mainstream audiences. This has potential. As Focus Features navigates their place in the movie world, this is a smart choice to assist them along the way. It looks like a sophisticated choice that could play well among general audiences while maintaining artistic credibility. I’m eagerly anticipating this one.
Synopsis: Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour: the tracking of a computer genius who has already hacked into MIT and exposed security faults. The trio find themselves drawn to an eerily isolated area. Suddenly everything goes dark. When one of the students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites of The Giver and Maleficent), regains consciousness, he is in a waking nightmare… (c) Focus
Wish I Was Here
Controversial because Zach Braff used Kickstarter to raise funds, Wish I Was Here faced the divisive scorn and praise at this year’s Sundance. Since this is his first movie he directed in a decade, he could be kinda rusty or ready to shine his indie quirk again. (Get ready for all the ‘Throw Back Thursday’ love for Garden State this summer from various pop culture websites.) People should be interested to see this one. I’m curious myself and cautiously optomistic.
Synopsis: Director Zach Braff’s follow-up to his indie breakout hit “Garden State” tells the story of a thirtysomething man who finds himself at major crossroads, which forces him to examine his life, his career, and his family. (c) Focus
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Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.
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