2012 Top 10 Indie Summer Flicks

(Re-posted from LimitéMagazine.com)

June 19, 2012

Back for its third year is Limité’s “Top 10 Indie Summer Flicks,” which rank orders the top 10 independent films to keep an eye on this season. As far as seasons go, the summer acts as a bit of a super hero for the film industry. It’s when Hollywood studios bring out their big guns and turn over huge box office receipts. We’ve already seen The Avengers and Men in Black 3, and are looking forward to The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises. But unlike the other summer movie guides you’ll see online and in print, our mission is to remind you that the industry’s smaller films are also primed to make a splash—if not financially, then at least critically. If you need a break from the Bourne Legacys and Total Recalls of the big screen, check out some of these gems.

1. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

by Daniel Quitério

Reminiscent of the storm that ravaged New Orleans seven years ago,Beasts of the Southern Wild takes an introspective glance at a fantastical world in which nature dramatically changes course for those it encounters—but most especially for Hushpuppy. She is a six-year-old girl who is raised by her father Wink in “the Bathtub,” an area of the southern Delta. Wink’s tough style of parenting is only to prepare Hushpuppy for a time when he will no longer be around to protect her. So when a mysterious illness falls upon Wink, Hushpuppy must contend with a world thrown off balance.

Based on the one-act play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar (who co-wrote the screenplay), Beasts is brought to the screen by director/co-writer Benh Zeitlin, who found considerable success with his Katrina-inspired short film “Glory at Sea” (2008). This is Zeitlin’s feature directorial debut. Also making their film debuts are the film’s two stars, Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy) and Dwight Henry (Wink). Wallis features prominently in the trailer with a performance so raw and real that it brings to mind memories of the sensational film debuts of young Australian natives Brandon Walters (Australia, 2008) and Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider, 2002). Despite the “junior” cast and crew, the film had impressive showings at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and honors for cinematographer Ben Richardson (another feature debut), as well at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Caméra d’Or award.

Director: Benh Zeitlin

Screenwriters: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

Cast: Levy Easterly, Dwight Henry, Quvenzhané Wallis

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Genre: Drama

Site: welcometothebathtub.com

Release Date: June 27

2. KILLER JOE

by Stephanie Dawson

When drug dealers threaten to kill Chris (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild, 2007) for his debt, he decides to hire Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a cop moonlighting as a contract killer, to murder his evil mother and claim her $50,000 life insurance policy. Chris cannot pay Joe upfront, so Joe decides to take Chris’s younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple, The Three Musketeers, 2011) as collateral. What results is a twisted, dark comedy-thriller hybrid, based on Tracy Letts’s eponymous Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which Letts, himself, adapted for the screen.

A master of the thriller genre, director William Friedkin won an Academy Award for directing The French Connection (1972) and received a nomination for The Exorcist (1974). His last film was Bug(2006), another film adaptation of a Tracy Letts play. Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, 2011) played Chris Off-Broadway in 1998. Shannon went on to play the lead in the film version of Bug. Another of Letts’s plays, August: Osage County (winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play) will get the big screen treatment in 2013 with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Killer Joe was given an NC-17 rating for graphic sexuality and violence, and after a failed appeal, the film will be released uncut.

Director: William Friedkin

Screenwriter: Tracy Letts

Cast: Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple

Distributor: LD Distribution

Genres: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Site: killerjoethemovie.com

Release Date: July 27 (limited)

 

3. TO ROME WITH LOVE

by Janice Y. Perez

To Rome with Love is a vignette of four major plotlines revolving around American tourists and Italian locals, with the focus centered on the story of Jesse Eisenberg’s character, Jack, who meets newly brokenhearted Monica (Ellen Page) through his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), and ends up falling in love with Monica instead. Alec Baldwin stars as vacationing architect JohnJack’s accidental wingman who reminisces his own lost love in Italy many years before as he witnesses Jack’s dilemma with the two women.

The film is Woody Allen’s first foray back onto the screen as an actor since 2006′s Scoop. Here he plays Jerry, a retired opera director who discovers that the mortician father of his daughter’s Italian fiancé can belt out jaw-dropping arias while in the shower. The film first premiered in its namesake Rome in April where it was met with mixed reviews among Italian critics, many considering it to feature Rome with old-fashioned stereotypes. But Allen counters: “I give you my own interpretation of Rome in the film, and I don’t pretend to have any insights about the culture or the politics. We set out to make a film set in Rome that’s entertaining to watch, and that’s what we did.”

Director: Woody Allen

Screenwriter: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, Ellen Page, Alison Pill

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Genre: Comedy

Site: toromewithlove.com

Release Date: June 22 (limited)

4. RED LIGHTS

by Curtis John

The external societal struggles of belief versus science are explored in Red Lights, the new psychological thriller from Rodrigo Cortés, director of 2010′s critically acclaimed movie Buried. The film stars Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Margaret Matheson and Cillian Murphy (Inception, 2010) as her assistant Tom Buckley, paranormal scientists who together debunk metaphysical phenomena such as telepathy, faith healing, and ghost whispering by detecting what Matheson has dubbed “red lights,” the subtle tricks behind every staged supernatural occurrence.

Matheson becomes unglued when her former adversary, world-famous psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), comes out of his 30-year retirement. She warns Buckley not to engage him, but aided by his star student (Elizabeth Olsen) Buckley is determined to prove that Silver is a hack. With all the scientists guarding their own deeply concealed secrets, Buckley’s quest sets in motion a dark story of growing tension, full of unexpected twists and turns for all involved.

The early word is that De Niro commits to the role of Silver in a way he hasn’t done in some time. That, along with new Hollywood “it girl” Olsen appearing, makes this film one of the must-sees for the summer.

Director: Rodrigo Cortés

Screenwriter: Rodrigo Cortés

Cast: Robert De Niro, Toby Jones, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson, Sigourney Weaver

Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Genre: Thriller

Site: red-lights-movie.com

Release Date: July 13 (limited)

 

5. SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD

by John Lee

What would you do if you knew the world was going to end in 21 days? That is the question asked in this film by screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist, 2008), who makes her feature directorial debut. Steve Carell plays soft-spoken Dodge, a married insurance salesman who goes off in search of his high school sweetheart after his wife leaves him upon hearing of the impending doom. Helping Dodge is neighbor and polar opposite Penny (Keira Knightley) who is trying to spend her last days with family in England.

Scafaria got the idea for the film after seeing so many Hollywood action blockbusters about the end of the world and disasters that never really explored the depths of relationships put in that situation. While Carell was a natural fit for Dodge, Knightley was a less obvious choice as Penny. She said, “I’ve never done a comedy or have been viewed as funny, which is one reason I was attracted to the role.” Knightley was also intrigued by the fact that this “end of world story” was oddly optimistic in her eyes. “It’s really about what’s important in life, and therefore it becomes about life itself as opposed to death, which is quite interesting.” A slew of supporting characters that Dodge and Penny encounter on their road trip are played by Connie Britton, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, and Melanie Lynskey.

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Screenwriter: Lorene Scafaria

Cast: Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Steve Carell, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, Keira Knightley, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, Patton Oswalt

Distributor: Focus Features

Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Site: focusfeatures.com/seeking_a_friend_for_the_end_of_the_world

Release Date: June 22

 

6. 360

by Morgan Goldin

Dynamic Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles returns to the screen with 360, a multi-layered narrative film spanning various global locations dealing with love and relationships in the 21st century. The material fits well in line with Meirelles’s thematic concerns, as he has shown a flair for social and geo-politic interests inCity of God (2002), The Constant Gardener (2005), and Blindness(2008). The international cast includes Rachel Weisz, Ben Foster, Jude Law, and Anthony Hopkins, as well as foreign film favorites Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run, 1998) and Jamel Debbouze (Amélie, 2001).

The film is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s sexual morality play La Ronde. With a punchy visual style, ambitious narrative structure, and acclaimed cast of all-stars, 360 has been a hit on the film festival circuit and will be released in theaters this August. Those experiencing super-hero fatigue and looking for a break from remakes and sequels would do well to check this moody, meditative work.

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Screenwriter: Peter Morgan

Cast: Ben Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Genres: Drama, Romance

Site: magpictures.com/360

Release Date: August 3 (limited)

 

7. MAGIC MIKE

by Morgan Goldin

The Steven Soderbergh retirement express continues with Magic Mike, his second film this year to star Channing Tatum (afterHaywire). The film is based on Tatum’s real-life experiences as a male stripper prior to breaking into acting. It co-stars Alex Pettyfer as a young protégé to Tatum, and Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, a former stripper who owns the club Xquisite, where they all work. With all the male eye candy on display, the film almost promises to be a gender-reversed Showgirls.

Eagerly anticipated by Tatum’s fans upon word of this film’s production, early buzz has been mostly positive. The preview footage from the trailer reveals the tone to be a light romp, more in line with Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies, rather than a chilly, somber look at sex workers, à la The Girlfriend Experience (2009). Tatum is having a productive year, having already appeared in HaywireThe Vow, and21 Jump Street. McConaughey also seems to be going through a career renaissance recently, eschewing male leads in frivolous rom-coms, and instead focusing on darker material while displaying more impressive acting chops in The Lincoln LawyerBernie, and Killer Joe(number 2 on this list). Whether this film can reach the glorious excess and sublime camp of Showgirls will be revealed on June 29.

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Screenwriter: Reid Carolin

Cast: Matt Bomer, Matthew McConaughey, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joe Manganiello, Olivia Munn, Alex Pettyfer, Channing Tatum

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Site: magicmikemovie.warnerbros.com

Release Date: June 29

 

8. RUBY SPARKS

by Saidah Russell

Ruby Sparks stars Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, 2007) as Calvin, a formerly successful but currently struggling young writer who, to overcome his writer’s block, imagines his ideal woman. The twist of the movie comes when Calvin wakes up one morning to find that the character he created, Ruby Sparks, has come to life just as he’d written her and is in love with him. The eponymous female lead is played by Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated, 2009), who also wrote the screenplay. The film marks the second collaboration between Dano and filmmakers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who directed him in the 2006 indie hit Little Miss Sunshine.

Comparisons have already been drawn between Ruby Sparks and Marc Forster’s 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction (with some Weird Science thrown in for good measure), but the combination of Dayton’s and Faris’s direction andKazan’s screenplay is sure to result in something special. The film is scheduled for a limited release on July 25, and considering the number of blockbusters to be released this summer, it might be nice to take a break from all of the explosions with a quirky, indie rom-com.

Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Screenwriter: Zoe Kazan

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Paul Dano, Elliott Gould, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Genre: Comedy

Site: makerubyreal.com

Release Date: July 25 (limited)

9. TAKE THIS WALTZ 

by John Lee

Actress Sarah Polley’s follow-up to her well-received directorial debut Away from Her (2006) stars Michelle Williams as Margot, a freelance writer whose marriage to Lou (Seth Rogen) is tested after she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby, Shattered Glass, 2003) while traveling on assignment. Shot around her hometown of Toronto, Polley once again takes an interest in love triangles. Whereas the love in Away from Her is of the long-lived and tempered variety, the one featured here is much younger and ponderous.

Williams was drawn to the script for its unique take on the struggles of couples in long-term relationships. She also related personally with her character. Williams said, “A woman in her late 20s transitioning from being a girl to being a woman, I was going through the exact same thing at the time.”

For Sarah Silverman—in her first dramatic role—the most challenging part for her was not being serious, but being naked. In one of the film’s most talked-about scenes, Silverman and Williams are shot naked in a gym shower room. The shock isn’t in its explicitness, but rather for being completely mundane. Silverman said, “It’s such a common, everyday thing for women that’s never reflected in movies. There’s so much nudity in movies, but it’s always sexual.” The film screened around the festival circuit for nine months after premiering at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival before being picked up by Magnolia Pictures.

Director: Sarah Polley

Screenwriter: Sarah Polley

Cast: Luke Kirby, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Michelle Williams

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Site: takethiswaltz.com

Release Date: June 29 (limited)

10. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

by Curtis John

It’s the American dream: talented boy makes great music, boy gets discovered by record producers, boy becomes a rock icon … two decades later.

An electric story about how music can affect our lives, Searching for Sugar Man examines what happens when two white South Africans go on a journey to discover whatever became of their hero, the mysterious 1970s rock ‘n roller Rodriguez. Though most in the US have never heard of the Detroit native, Rodriguez recorded a critically acclaimed album set to launch him into a lucrative career as the next Bob Dylan. Yet, for various reasons, he faded into obscurity until bootleg copies of his records made their way into late 1970s South Africa and quickly became an antiestablishment inspiration for white youth who were previously clueless to that possibility.

Director Malik Bendjelloul, previously known for directing short documentaries about Madonna, Björk, and Elton John, deftly reveals wild mysteries about Rodriguez. Since premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Sugar has gone on its own wild journey, as it was the first film of the festival to be picked up for distribution. Whatever really happened to Rodriguez? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie.

Director: Malik Bendjelloul

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Genre: Documentary

Site: sonyclassics.com/searchingforsugarman

Release Date: July 27 (limited)

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