The Best of Our Best: IndieFlix 2011January 11th, 2012 | Posted by in Uncategorized
rt is a shared experience: it’s the expression of an idea, transferred from one person to another through an external medium. An artist—a painter, a writer, a filmmaker—creates something new, or adds meaning to something not so new, in order to share that meaning with an audience. Without the audience, the thought is incomplete. The meaning remains unshared.
IndieFlix, the company I work for and the host of this blog, is on a mission. Our goal is to create an online space where filmmakers can connect to their audience. To that end, our acquisitions team devotes a huge amount of time and passion to search the planet—quite literally—in order to find the best possible films for our library. Every year a vast number of films are gathered, or drop through the mail slot, or show up in a basket on the stoop. “Please love this movie and give it a good home,” says the note pinned to the bubble-padded envelope. And so we do. But like most guardians, if they’re honest, sometimes it’s hard not to have a favorite or two among the brood.
So here are a round dozen of this year’s favorites, in alphabetical order. This list was arrived at in consultation with the acquisitions team and through an informal survey in the halls of Castle IndieFlix. We’ve even included a title from our IndieFlix Classics collection, which was launched in 2011.
And as a bonus gift for reading this far, copy the promo code: bestof2011 and use it to sign up for six months free streaming membership. For a limited time this is an unlimited-use offer—feel free to share it with a friend. No credit card needed
Note: some of these films were already reviewed this year, so portions of this blog are excerpted from previously published entries.
100 Mornings | Conor Horgan, 2009 | 85 min, Ireland, in English
Writer-director Conor Horgan has achieved, with 100 Mornings, the astonishing feat of crafting an almost completely original take on a tried (and tired) genre. There are no piles of rotting corpses in 100 Mornings, no smoking rubble, and no zombies—whether slow or fast. Instead, Horgan’s film is set in the lush green Irish countryside, where two couples are sharing a rustic cottage. Only as the story progresses do we discover that, as the result of a disaster whose nature we never learn—fallout? virus? Rapture?—these four represent a good chunk of the remaining local population. Everyone else, with the exception of some guys with guns who want their stuff and a neighbor who’s reassessing his ideas about neighborliness, is gone. The film remains committed to the originality of its initial setup throughout, as Horgan keeps the drama focused on the characters. A refreshing approach, and an admirable avoidance of the clichés that usually come standard on post-apocalypse movies.
Assume Nothing | Kirsty MacDonald, 2009 | 82 min, New Zealand, in English
Life is not black and white. It’s not even really gray: it’s infinitely colorful. The idea of a strictly binary, black and white world is a human invention. Like the idea of species: nature knows no species. The bright line of division between two closely related species is a label of convenience, a tool of science, and does not reflect the subtle gradients through which life expresses itself. Think of language: at what point, on what date, did Middle English become Modern English? Was it a Wednesday? Say at around lunch time? It’s odd, then, that most cultures accept the notion of inflexibly binary genders as a given. You get two checkboxes: male, or female. Reality is much more interesting, as it usually is. This is the reality that Kirsty MacDonald’s beautiful documentary Assume Nothing explores. With photographer Rebecca Swan’s book Assume Nothing as a catalyst, MacDonald set out to tell the stories of five artists whose art, and lives, challenge cultural preconceptions of gender. Combining techniques of drama, documentary, and animation, MacDonald has created a remarkable film that offers us an eye-opening view into the world we live in. A world most of us assumed we knew.
Detour | Edgar Ulmer, 1945 | 67 min, USA, in English
Ann Savage scares me. Her snarling, scratching virago (Vera) is like a punishment summoned by God or the devil to teach Tom Neal (Al), our protagonist and narrator, a lesson about moral relativism. You make one lousy mistake—hide one lousy body from the cops and drive off in his car—and there she is, like an avenging apparition formed from a roadside dustdevil: Retribution in heels. Detour reads like a portrait of depression, and Vera is all those inner voices of doubt, fear, and self-loathing brought to life, sitting next to you in a stolen car on the most hellish road trip anyone has ever taken.
Detour looks like it was made for about a buck fifty: in a few scenes shadows and fog are unapologetically used as substitutes for actual locations, and some shots are flipped to reverse their direction, putting the driver on the wrong side of the car. But director Edgar Ulmer’s weird genius was somehow to draw an above-and-beyond performance out of his sets and locations just as he did his actors. From the inexplicably eerie The Black Cat, to Detour, to The Strange Woman, Ulmer’s films are masterclasses in atmosphere and economy.
“Incarnate” | JorDan Fuller, 2011 | 19 min, USA, in English
“Incarnate” is a nasty little thriller shot in the rain-drenched forests of Sitka, Alaska. Will and Luke are a couple of buddies spending a weekend fishing and hunting. Tramping through the forest in search of things to shoot at, they discover an old bunker. Oh, this is gonna be THAT kind of movie, you’re thinking. And as well-worn as this material is—good thing they brought that giant ax instead of a camping hatchet!—writer-director JorDan (that’s right, that D is capitalized, bro) Fuller presents it with freshness and vigor. Effective location, pacing, lighting, and camerawork raise this horror short a couple of ax-chopped notches above the standard. Keep an eye on JorDan; I see big screen success in his future.
“Meltdown” | David Green, 2009 | 6 min, USA, in English
“Meltdown” is a thrilling disaster movie along the lines of The Day After Tomorrow. A wall of ice is creeping slowly nearer, freezing solid everything in its path. A group of characters, thrown together by circumstance, or fate, or the circumstances of fate, must find a way halt its progress, or they all risk falling victim to its glacial destruction. When disaster strikes and the likely leader of this ragtag bunch of characters is taken violently out of the picture, an unlikely hero discovers within himself unforeseen reserves of courage and determination. “Meltdown” is a rousing adventure tale of danger, sacrifice, and the power of the spirit to overcome impossible odds. Filmed entirely on location inside a rundown fridge. All of the parts performed by non-professional leftovers. I smell Oscar! Or maybe just cheese.
“Out of Nowhere” | Will Lamborn, 2010 | 18 min, USA, in English
“Out of Nowhere” is a deeply weird film. It’s kind of an “out of the frying pan, into the WTF?” story: to call it dream logic would be to vastly overstate the amount of logic involved, which is exactly none. It has all the bits and pieces of a great film noir: hitchhiker, desert, isolated dwelling, vaguely threatening older man and his hot young wife whose every curve spells trouble. Writer-director Will Lamborn has taken these ingredients, jumbled them around, and reassembled them into a bewildering chimera. Very bewildering: it’s like if you took the ingredients of a lemon bundt cake and reassembled them into a giraffe smoking a pipe. Characters cycle and repeat, distances between points increase and decrease, and the desert night refuses to let you escape.
“The Pig Farmer” | Nick Cross, 2010 | 5 min, USA, in English
“The Pig Farmer” is a cartoon about a pig. Who’s a farmer. But that pretty much exhausts its cute quotient; this one is definitely not for kids—think Ren & Stimpy (filmmaker Nick Cross used to work on the show) meets Saw II-VI. Because see, the fact that he’s a farmer doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, beyond affording us the opportunity to see our hero shoveling shhh…manure. Most of the action takes place after Farmer Pig is force-fed a dose of acid by a fox wearing a peace symbol. Reality melts away, and then things really get going. It’s a hilariously disturbing piece of work, but it’s really, really not for kids. Really: it includes an Auschwitz joke and 9/11 reference. And of course is not to be missed.
Sinking Sands | Leila Djansi, 2011 | 86 min, Ghana, in English
Sinking Sands is a Ghanaian domestic drama with unexpected power and scope. The fairytale wedding of Jimah and Pabi that opens the movie with a sense of joy and hope quickly gives way to the horrors of domestic violence. This relatively straightforward story of a woman’s burgeoning sense of self and empowerment growing out of the experience of an abusive relationship is old hat in Hollywood; has been since the mid-seventies. But set in present-day Ghana, the story of Pabi and Jimeh takes on the metaphorical heft of the story of modern Africa itself. When watching the harrowing ordeal that Pabi undergoes at the hands—and fists—of her husband, it’s difficult not to think about the stories of violence we hear coming out of Africa. Especially of violence towards women: the inevitable rape scene (which, fair warning, is not even the most horrifying scene in the film) carries the entire weight of the epidemic of rape, even now being used as a weapon of war in African countries like Rwanda, Congo, Darfur. Sinking Sands is not a pleasant experience. But it’s an important one, a powerful one, one that renders the abstract horrors of present-day Africa as a startlingly affecting reality.
“The 3rd Letter” | Grzegorz Jonkajtys, 2010 | 15 min, USA, in English
“The 3rd Letter” is a bleak dystopian tale whose mise-en-scène nicely evokes Brazil’s absurdist bureaucracy, Bladerunner’s filthy downpour, and David Cronenberg’s body horror. Jeffrey, whose brutalist towerblock apartment building is cleverly compared to a wall of tiny, densely packed mailboxes, lives in a soul-deadening future of gray-brown skies, overdue rent, and failing electronic body parts. His attempts to carve his way out of his predicament involve a bloody X-acto knife in a dirty bathroom and some improvised pacemaker batteries. Some days just suck more than others, you know?
This Way of Life | Thomas Burstyn, 2009 | 84 min, New Zealand, in English
Thomas Burstyn’s documentary This Way of Life takes us on a journey. We begin in the blue predawn in a setting familiar to anyone who’s seen Peter Jackson’s LOTRilogy: a New Zealand mountain meadow shrouded in mist. Llewellyn, at 11 the oldest of the 5 (soon to be 6) children of the Karena family, is listening excitedly to a series of rifle shots from just over the next ridge: his dad, Peter, is hunting for food. After the sun is up, we join the family in the intimate confines of the window-lit kitchen and observe, unobtrusively, the unfolding of the family’s daily routine. (In these early scenes, the absence of Colleen, the mom, is palpable; she was initially reluctant to participate. But once she’s drawn in she becomes the heart of the movie.) Just as we settle in for a pleasant visit with an old fashioned family—the setting is deceptively reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie—the drama of life intervenes. Before we reach the end of this journey we will experience wrenching family feuds, the tears of a father’s love for his children, arson, unexpected death, horse rustling, and more astonishing moments I won’t spoil for you. This Way of Life quickly transcends the documentary format to become one of the most compelling dramas I saw this year.
The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work | Richard Yeagley, 2011 | 85 min, USA, in English
In 1974, Studs Terkel wrote Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. (Studs liked subtitles. He also liked my “President Nixon: Now More Than Ever” button; we often rode the same bus during Reagan’s re-election campaign.) Working was even turned into a Broadway musical. But now, almost 30 years after its publication, blue collar workers are still largely marginalized by our culture: these days more parents would probably rather hear you’re gay than that you’re a plumber. Tradesmen, a celebration of the blue collar worker, tackles those prejudices head on. In 85 minutes of interviews with plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, and other people who build things out of nothing and fix things that are broken, we gain a fresh appreciation of the people whose idea of happiness is to use their hands and their brains to make the physical, tangible world around them a better place for all of us to live. A heartwarming and enlightening film. Have you hugged your roofer today?
William Never Married | Christian Palmer, 2010 | 86 min, USA, in English
William Never Married establishes its setting right off: a visibly annoyed young woman, obviously waiting for someone who is very, very late, stands smoking furiously in a parking lot backdropped with Seattle’s space needle. When the dude she’s waiting for finally appears, drunk with that kind of personal-space-invading sloppiness, his attempts to cheer her up just make things worse. The aggressive closeups, which will be pretty much a constant for the rest of the movie, give us a palpable sense of the discomfort she must be experiencing. What follows is a film that feels like it’s in conflict with itself: at the same time it checks off pretty much every possible trope of indie filmmaking—it’s essentially the very talky downward journey of a bottomed-out hipster—filmmaker and lead actor Christian Palmer nonetheless manages to keep things from bogging down in cliché by throwing in some surprising elements (unexpected editing choices, a street-drunk mom, a romantic rival who defends his home with a paintball gun, and spit-take laughs at the unlikeliest moments) and by keeping his treatment of the material light and unpredictable. As we follow William down his spiral, the situations he gets himself into are so absurd that it’s hard to know whether to chuckle or gag. Ultimately, and this is where William Never Married feels an awful lot like real life, we do a good deal of both.