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The 11 Indie Films You Must See This October

The 11 Indie Films You Must See This October

1. “Birdman Oct 17 (Film Page)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Merritt Wever, Benjamin Kanes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? During one lively scene in Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s unclassifiably nutty showbiz satire “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” someone labels a dangerous form of theatrical performance “super-realism,” which is the best word to explain the attraction of this utterly unpredictable movie. Starring Michael Keaton as an aging actor attempting to reclaim his flagging celebrity (sound familiar?), Iñarritu’s screenplay and restless formalism at once convey aspects of real life and depart from them in dramatic fashion.


2. “Whiplash Oct 10 (Film Page)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Legend has it that Charlie Parker only became Bird because Jo Jones furiously threw a cymbal at his head when he choked on stage. At least that’s the story Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the barbarous band conductor in Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” uses to justify the emotional and physical abuse he subjects his students to during rehearsal. A feature-length reprise of Chazelle’s award-winning short of the same name, the film also stars Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) as Andrew, a budding young drummer at the country’s top music school who thinks he’s the next Buddy Rich. This high-energy tale of blood, toil, tears and sweat explores the notion of failure as integral to the creative process. 


3. “Dear White People Oct 17 (Film Page)
Director: Justin Simien
Cast: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell
Distributor: Lionsgate and Roadside
Criticwire Grade: B+
Why is it a “Must See”A bonafide satire of the Obama age, writer-director Justin Simien’s persistently funny “Dear White People” perceptively skewers virtually every facet of racial confusion in modern American society. While black comedians like Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock have provided searing insight into the absurdities of lingering racial tensions, Simien consolidates much about the paradoxes explored in those acts and many others into a wildly enjoyable and scathing farce. By exploring the heated debates between white and black students at an upscale college, Simmien both mocks and provokes the nature of our seemingly progressive times by illuminating misguided assumptions and fears embedded in forward-thinking discourse. But Simien’s relentless screenplay is never too self-serious or didactic, instead pairing culturally-savvy brains with a goofy grin. 


4. “Force Majeure”
Oct 24 (Film Page)
Director: Ruben Östlund
Cast:  Lisa Loven Kongsli, Johannes Kuhnke, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Criticwire Grade: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? “Force Majeure” questions social codes and moral ambiguities — through the context of a Swedish family on vacation at a ski resort in the French Alps. And critics and film festival audiences sure were into it, with “Majeure” being a force at both Cannes (where it won the jury prize in Un Certain Regard) and Toronto.


5. “The Overnighters
Oct 10 (Film Page)
Director: Jesse Moss
Cast: Jay Reinke
Distributor: Drafthouse Films 
Criticwire Grade: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? At first galvanizing in its depiction of survival amid dire circumstances, “The Overnighters” transforms into a devastating portrait of communal unrest. Jesse Moss’ verite documentary about the impact of the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota on the local job market, and the controversial priest supporting the lives of the newcomers it attracts, contains one of the most remarkable examples of layered non-fiction storytelling to come along in some time. Though well-made throughout, “The Overnighters” builds from a warm, traditional portrait of the American dream in action to arrive at a shocking finale that redefines its focus. Far from simply giving its subject a hearty pat on the back, “The Overnighters” digs beneath the surface of the idealism he strives to embody and arrives at disturbing truths.

6. “Laggies Oct 24 (Film Page)
Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Kaitlyn Dever
Distributor: A24
Criticwire Grade: B+  
Why is it a “Must See”? The new film, from the mind behind “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister,” revolves around Megan (Knightley), a 28-year-old confused about her life path, who panics when her high school boyfriend (Webber) proposes. Given an opportunity to escape — at least temporarily — she hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika (Moretz) and Annika’s world-weary single dad (Rockwell). A hit at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, “Laggies” boasts Knightley’s loosest and most endearing performance to date and hints at an exciting new direction for Shelton.


7. “Listen Up Philip”
 Oct 17 (Film Page)
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter, Josephine de La Baume 
Distributor: Tribeca Film
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See?” Employing voice-over narration and an episodic structure that recalls the chapters of a book, writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s third directorial effort marries the best of showing and telling. The idiosyncratic comedy stars Jason Schwartzman as a well-styled, self-absorbed author trying to suppress his boredom and growing anger as he waits for the publication of his sure-to-be-successful second novel. Feeling overwhelmed by the noisy city and distraught in his shaky relationship with girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss), the eponymous writer shacks up at the summer cottage of his literary idol (Jonathan Pryce) where he can focus on his favorite subject – himself. Resembling the style and tone of Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen circa “Husbands and Wives,” the script’s deadpan wit makes the film’s appeal more cerebral than emotional. Like its central character, “Listen Up Philip” exudes a kind of highbrow affectation that charms more than it alienates.


8. “St. Vincent”
Oct 10 (Film Page)
Director: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd, Terrence Howard, Jaeden Lieberher
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See?” The story of a washed up drunk who forges an unexpected relationship with his 12-year-old neighbor, “St. Vincent” is a must see for one reason: Bill Murray. Even before he appears onscreen in writer-director Theodore Melfi’s feature film debut, Murray’s performance is a dare. Donning a thick Brooklyn accent as he delivers a cheesy joke while under the influence, Murray’s smarmy, alcoholic war veteran derives some of his vulgar appeal from the actor playing him. But even while “St. Vincent” marks the actor’s first comedic role in a number of years, it’s also a clear-cut stab at showing off his acting chops with a different sort of sad loner than other late-period Murray turns. It’s fascinating to watch Murray act circles around his existing appeal and play into it at the same time. Melfi’s likable but utterly formulaic movie never rises to a similar level of ambition, which in this case actually works in its favor. It gives Murray room to play.

9. “Kill the Messenger” Oct 10 (Film Page)
Director: Michael Cuesta
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Andy Garcia, Paz Vega, Michael K. Williams
Distributor: Focus Features
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a “Must See?” Given the attentive eye for political drama that Michael Cuesta showed on “Homeland” Season 1, the director is a natural fit for this true story based on both Nick Shou’s novel of the same name and Gary Webb’s 1998 nonfiction book, “Dark Alliance.” Starring Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Webb, “Kill The Messenger” follows the journalist as he investigates a link between America’s crack epidemic and CIA-supported Nicaraguan contras. A vintage drama harkening back to a bygone era, “Kill The Messenger” is a thriller that’s ultimately a romantic lament to an era of journalism that no longer exists, all through the eyes of a noble reporter that was hung out to dry for exposing a truth too hot for the establishment and media to handle.


10. “The Heart Machine”
 Oct 24 (Film Page)
Director: Zachary Wigon
Cast: John Gallagher Jr., Kate Lyn Sheil, David Call, Louisa Krause, Roderick Hill, Halley Wegryn-Gross, Libby Woodbridge
Distributor: Film Buff
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See?” In the world of “Catfish” and the prevalence of online dating, Zachary Wigon’s full-length directorial debut is a bold commentary on how we construct our social relationships in the digital age. John Gallagher Jr. of HBO’s “The Newsroom” stars as Cody, a lonely New Yorker who meets the woman of his dreams on the Internet. The only problem: Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) lives in Berlin. Although the Atlantic Ocean stands between them, the two begin a long-distance relationship that slowly builds into a romantic thriller as Cody begins to believe that Virginia might be a bit closer than he initially thought, or was told. A hit after its SXSW premiere last year, “The Heart Machine” is more a mystery with heart than a whodunit of locale, but in its exploration of sexual possibilities at the click of a button, it successfully examines the byproduct of the distance, estrangement and alienation such digital applications for connection can produce.


11. “Camp X-Ray” Oct 28 (Film Page)
Director: Peter Sattler
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Lane Garrison, Joseph Julian Soria, John Caroll Lynch, Julia Duffy 
Distributor: IFC Films
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a “Must See?” In writer-director Peter Sattler’s drama “Camp X-Ray,” star Kristen Stewart continues to show her evolving range as Pvt. Amy Cole, a new guard at Guantanamo Bay who develops a lasting relationship with an outspoken detainee, played with stirring humanity by “A Separation” star Payman Maadi. While the film only received mixed notices at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, critics all fell hard for Stewart’s touch-as-nails turn, with some pundits going so far as to compare her performance to that of Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning role in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Despite some half-baked ideas, “Camp X-Ray” succeeds as a powerful assertion about the prospects of being trapped by misguided intentions. 

READ MORE: The 11 Indie Films You Must See This September

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