Your Holiday Indie Film Preview
Everything you need to know about the indie films set to hit theaters this winter.
2009 is about to end with a bang, though probably not the apocalyptic kind predicted in the long-awaited adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” or Chris Smith’s terrifying doc “Collapse,” though those will both be playing at your local arthouse. Instead, audiences will be able to enjoy a winter of wildly different indie film offerings to reflect the wildly different tastes of moviegoers as we leave one decade and move into another. (There are also many different ways to watch them, as you can tell from our Anywhere But a Movie Theater section.)
From November through January, there will be musicals (“Nine”), comedies (Broken Lizard’s “The Slammin’ Salmon”) and stop-motion animated wonderments (“A Town Called Panic”) to entertain and new films from Michael Haneke, Pedro Almodóvar, Richard Linklater, Terry Gilliam and Werner Herzog to ponder. And if new movies aren’t necessarily doing the trick, you can always cozy up in your local repertory theater during the cold winter. Either way, there will be plenty of cinema to light up this holiday season.
Week Ending November 6
The Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz
Director: Lee Daniels
Fest Cred: Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Deauville, San Sebastián, New York
The Gist: It’s been a long road for Lee Daniels, but after producing such films as “Monster’s Ball” and making his directorial debut on the much-maligned “Shadowboxer,” the multihyphenate is enjoying the best reviews of his career for this searing drama about an overweight teen who attempts to change the course of her life after getting pregnant with a second child by her father. Besides the endorsement of executive producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, the film picked up audience awards at Sundance and Toronto and if Matt Singer is to be believed, co-star Mo’Nique, who plays Precious’ abusive mother, is a “mortal lock for an Oscar nomination.”
Director: Chris Smith
Fest Cred: Toronto
The Gist: Billed as a bit of a breakthrough since it was picked up for a concurrent theatrical and VOD release so soon after its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Chris Smith’s latest doc is far scarier than anything in his making-of-a-horror-film chronicle “American Movie.” Smith sits down with a former police officer named Michael Ruppert, who spends the next 82 minutes detailing the interconnected breakdown of the world’s economy and destruction of the environment, the product of a lifelong pursuit that may have resulted in collateral damage to his own life.
“La Danse: The Paris Ballet Opera”
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Fest Cred: Toronto, London
The Gist: Legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman (“Titicut Follies”) turns his camera towards the Paris Opera Ballet, taking as much pleasure in documenting the artistry of the dancers as the delicate dance the Ballet’s administration must do in fundraising to finance their season. The film gives an insider’s peek at the production of seven ballets including Wayne McGregor’s “Genus,” Angelin Preljocaj’s “Le Songe de Medée,” Mats Ek’s “La Maison de Bernarda,” Pierre Lacotte’s “Paquita,” Rudolph Noureev’s “Casse Noisette,” Pina Bausch’s “Orphée and Eurydice,” and Sasha Waltz’s “Romeo and Juliette.”
The Cast: William Hurt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Mark Strong, Derek Jacobi
Director: Pete Travis
Fest Cred: Sundance
The Gist: Based on Robert Harvey’s “The Fall of Apartheid,” this true-life drama stars Ejiofor as African National Congress leader Thabo Mbeki and Hurt as philosophy professor Willie Esterhuyse, two men whose unexpected bond helped forge a truce during secret talks that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.
The Cast: Nathalie Baye, Eric Caravaca, Isabelle Carré, Josiane Balasko
Writer/Director: Josiane Balasko
Fest Cred: Sundance, Rome, Seattle
The Gist: “French Twist” director Balasko continues her fascination with relationships between men and women with this comedy about a middle-aged woman (Baye) who hires gigolos to satisfy her carnal needs, but develops a different kind of relationship with her new escort Patrick (Caravaca), a part-timer whose wife gets jealous when she discovers how exactly he’s supporting her new hair salon endeavor.
The Cast: Hubbel Palmer, William Baldwin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kathleen Quinlan, Bruce McGill, Vincent Caso, Rae Ritke
Director: Chris Bowman
Fest Cred: Slamdance, U.S. Comedy Arts, AFI Dallas, Starz Denver, Bend
The Gist: After kicking around the festival circuit since 2007 under the title “American Fork,” first-time feature director Bowman takes the reins of this comedy that features writer/star Hubbel Palmer as an overweight Midwesterner who divides his free time between writing poetry and studying acting with an arrogant has-been (Baldwin) when he isn’t working at the local supermarket. The latest from “Napoleon Dynamite” producer Jeremy Coon will open in Portland, Oregon before a December 4th release in Denver.
“The Men Who Stare At Goats”
The Cast: George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang
Director: Grant Heslov
Fest Cred: Venice, Toronto, Fantastic Fest
The Gist: Those who have been waiting to see the return of Jeff Bridges in a “Big Lebowski”-esque free spirit vein won’t be disappointed (though others might be) by this “more true than you’d like to believe” story about a U.S. military unit dedicated to the research of paranormal and psychic powers. McGregor anchors Grant Heslov’s directorial debut as a journalist who accompanies one of the unit’s former members (Clooney) in a drive across Kuwait.
The Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Rachael Taylor, Christopher McDonald, Lea Thompson, Dean Winters, Frankie Faison
Writer/Director: Brant Sersen
Fest Cred: SXSW, Oxford, Woodstock, New Hampshire
The Gist: The title of “Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story” director Sersen’s second feature refers to a small-time con artist (Taylor) who ensnares the affections of a aimless twentysomething (Middleditch) when her carnival comes to town, though he’s the one who is forced to get crafty when her aggressive ex-boyfriend (Winters) and the local policeman (McDonald) get in the way of their burgeoning romance.
“That Evening Sun”
The Cast: Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Mia Wasikowska, Carrie Preston, Barry Corbin, Dixie Carter
Writer/Director: Scott Teems
Fest Cred: SXSW, Nashville, Little Rock, Sarasota, Atlanta
The Gist: Teems’ directorial debut was the hit of SXSW when it premiered in Austin, with many buzzing about the performance of 82-year-old Hal Holbrook as a Tennessee farmer who returns from an unpleasant stay at a nursing home to his farm and finds that his so (Goggins) has leased the land to a ne’er do well (McKinnon) who is trying to get his life together.
The Cast: Timothy Hutton, Alessandro Nivola, Colm Meaney, Donal Gallery
Writer/Directors: Michael Aimette & John G. Hofmann
Fest Cred: CineVegas, Newport Beach
The Gist: Why distributor New Films International ditched this dramedy’s original tagline — “The story of a boy, a country, and a box of porn” — for a much more solemn ad campaign fronted by a desperate looking Hutton and a concerned Fiennes and Nivola is a mystery, but not nearly as much as why it took four years for first-time writer/directors Aimette and Hofmann to find a distributor for their film about a 16-year-old American ex-pat who seeks to finance his escape from Ireland by selling adult mags, though the local hoods (Hutton and Nivola) take notice and want in on the action.
The Cast: Sean Ramsay, Natalie Shiyanova, Milan Kolik,
Director: Sean Ramsay
The Gist: A triple threat as a writer, director and star, Sean Ramsay puts his dukes up to play a “firebrand journalist with a short fuse” who travels to Prague to take down a Russian oligarch (Kolik), accompanied by a prostitute he rescues from sex slave traffickers (Shiyanova).
“You Cannot Start Without Me”
Director: Allan Miller
The Gist: Appropriately enough, Symphony Space in New York will give a theatrical run to this doc that follows a year in the life of conductor Valery Gergiev, the current director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg as he jumps around the globe to London and New York, preparing for concerts from the rehearsal process to performance.