My Five Favorite Indie Films of 2014

The Skeleton Twins

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When The Skeleton Twins was first announced, I knew it was the type of film I just had to see. I’ve already written about how I feel this new era of comedians are knocking it out of the park in their indie film roles. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are probably the best thing to come out SNL’s last generation of comedians, so I didn’t see how this film could disappoint. Thankfully I was right.

The Skeleton Twins manages to be light-hearted yet emotion heavy at he same time. Both Wiig and Hader manage to bring levity to roles that also demand them to be deeply troubled. What results is a truly entertaining film that also manages to tackle serious themes like depression and sexual abuse.

The film is about two twins (go figure) whose crippling depression has them feeling trapped. Both attempt to seek happiness in what they believe are ideal relationships with others. The film is heavy on irony as the two estranged twins must connect again to heal, but are the most critical of each others’ plights.

 

Frank

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Frank is not only a fantastic film, but also has one of the best performances of all time from an actor in full headgear.

Frank is a film about a mysterious bandleader who refuses to be seen unless he is wearing a giant plastic head. Despite the lack of facial expressions, Michael Fassbender still manages to produce one of the best performances of the year in my opinion.

At face value, Frank seems to be one of those indie films that are heavy on the quirk. But unlike films from Wes Anderson or Tim Burton, Frank’s quirkiness doesn’t come off as affected. In fact, only the title character and his band really ever come off as eccentric. The rest of the world around along with the people they encounter couldn’t be any more average.

Underneath the mask, Frank is a film that explores the origins of creativity; asking the audience if true talent is learned or inherent within a select few lucky individuals.

 

Snowpiercer

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Snowpiercer is one of those films that seemed misleading based on the poster. It was easy to assume that this film was going to be a big budget action film. Chris Evans just came off the success of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the poster, an image of Evans looking all heroic-like in a top coat and holding an axe, looked like it was your common action fare. Even the title of the film, Snowpiercer, hints to images of a warrior crashing through an iceberg armed only with a spear.

The truth is, Snowpiercer was probably one of the most original sci-fi concepts since The Matrix. In it, Evans plays a passenger on an eternally running locomotive which happens to be the last safe haven for humanity in a world torn apart by climate change. The passengers have been placed into an oppressive caste system where the stowaways are forced into barely livable conditions, constantly under surveillance, while the rest of the passengers are given the four star treatment. Evans is a member of this lowest caste and leads a rebellion to infiltrate the front of the train.

Snowpiecer plays like the combination of a George Orwell novel and a twisted version of Thomas the Tank Engine. The cinematography is very similar films like 12 Monkeys and The City of Lost Children. But unlike those other films set in apocalyptic settings, Snowpiercer combines a tongue in cheek aspects to its dark atmosphere. For instance, Tilda Swindon fantastically plays a cold-hearted official with such over the top oppressive idealism its hard to take the film too seriously.

 

Obvious Child

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It was tough for me to decide whether this or my next choice would take the number one spot.

Obvious Child takes a modern and honest look at abortion, one that differs from how film has dealt with the subject in the past. Obvious Child discusses the difficulties faced with choosing to have an abortion (eg. how to break it to your parents, whether to discuss it with a one night stand, etc.) rather than assume every woman becomes riddled with guilt or must face huge social backlash.

I’ve already gushed on Jenny Slate in the past and I suppose there’s no reason to stop now. Although Obvious Child is a rom-com at heart, she brings a complexity that you rarely see from a main character within the genre. I’ve always felt that the conflicts in most rom-coms oftentimes feel fabricated, but Slate’s character tackles her problems in an honest way that I feel many can relate to.

 

The Babadook

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The Babadook takes top prize as my favorite indie film of 2014. The plot isn’t that different from your common family tormented by a supernatural force, but how it uses it to address issues of depression and resentment is truly unique.

The Babadook is a film out of Australia, I suppose you could put his in the foreign film category, but the filmmakers went out of their way to make the suburbs that the film takes place in look like Anywhereville. No Koalas or Kangaroos. Even some of the characters in the film lack Aussie accents.

The cinematography and special effects are purposely lo-fi but well done, giving the film a look that can only be described as an incredibly dark version of Maurice Sendak children’s book. The film is also similar to one of my favorite films of this year, Oculus, in that it doesn’t rely on gore or jump out of your seat effects, but true suspense to produce scares much like The Shining did years ago.

If you’re a fan of horror, you should love The Babadook for its fresh and smart take on the classic haunted house film.

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Tusk

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This almost got an honorable mention because truthfully I found it to be a hard watch. I’ve never been a huge fan of horror films like Human Centipede that are heavy on the mutilation factor, but I feel I had to include Tusk because I believe Kevin Smith did something truly remarkable in marketing the film. It’s my personal belief that filmmaking doesn’t end with the final cut. In my opinion, the marketing of a film is just as important as shooting or editing. If a filmmaker truly has something he wishes to share with the world, then he’s not going to get very far if he doesn’t have an audience.

Smith got the idea from an ad he found and discussed on one of his podcasts. From there he took to social media and marketed the shit out of Tusk, first starting by asking his audience if Tusk was something they even had an interest in seeing by voting on Twitter. Rather than spending money on more traditional methods of marketing, he trusted his audience to spread the word over social media. Furthermore, the ad he originally got the idea from turned out to be a hoax. As a result, Smith gave the hoaxer an Associate Producer credit for giving him the idea.

In the end, Tusk is a film that was given life from an audience clamoring to see a horror film from the director that brought you Chasing Amy and Clerks. At an estimated $3 million budget, the film wasn’t exactly a success, credit has to be given to Smith for taking to social media and marketing the film from start to finish. Whether you like the film or not, Smith’s trust in his audience allowed him to make the film he wanted without any outside influence. I don’t know if you can get any more independent than that.

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