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The 12 Indie Films You Must See This January

The 12 Indie Films You Must See This January

A Most Violent Year” (Jan 2)

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Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, David Oyelowo, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain
Distributor: A24
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Writer-director J.C. Chandor has only made three features, but there’s no mistaking his vision. This trio of confident dramas explore the plights of men pitted against invisible foes: In the recession-era “Margin Call,” the threat was the economy; in the wordless survival-at-sea opus “All is Lost,” Robert Redford faced off with nature; now, with his assured study of crime and business ethics “A Most Violent Year,” Oscar Isaac plays a conflicted antihero at odds with his own moral code. While it lacks the same ambition of his other movies, its elegant setting and thematic consistency confirm Chandor’s place as one of the most promising American directors to emerge this decade.

Leviathan” (Jan 2)

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Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast:Elena Lyadova, Alexey Serebryakov, Vladimir Vdovichenkov
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev has shown a penchant for studying desperate characters trapped in worlds much larger than anything under their control. From the two boys at the mercy of their demanding father in “The Return,” to the elderly working class woman in “Elena” driven to crime for the sake of her son’s finances, Zvyagintsev has assailed Russian society from the inside out. But none of his preceding features reaches the heights of dark, probing inquiry on display in his beautifully layered epic “Leviathan,” a tragedy of biblical proportions in which fear and disillusionment are more central than the plot itself, and only the heartless people in power can find gratification.


Still Alice” (Jan 16)

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Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Moore
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Julianne Moore has been having a great fall season. In September, her latest film “Still Alice” premiered in Toronto with close to no hype and emerged as one of the biggest hits of the festival thanks to deafening awards buzz for her devastating performance as a renowned linguistics professor struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s. Sony Pictures Classics swooped in to acquire the film out of the festival, all but ensuring that Moore will go on to net an Oscar nomination — and in all likelihood finally take home the award following four previous nominations and no wins. She’s already netted multiple awards for “Still Alice” including Best Actress at the Gotham and Hollywood Film Awards, and most recently Moore was nominated for two Golden Globes for her work in “Still Alice” and David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire “Maps to the Stars.”

Cake” (Jan 23)

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Director: Daniel Barnz
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Felicity Huffman
Distributor: Cinelou Releasing
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a “Must See”? Jennifer Aniston is so well known as Rachel Green from “Friends” and her subsequent comedic output, that it’s easy to forget she has serious dramatic chops. She was a revelation in 2002’s indie drama “The Good Girl,” opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, and also impressed in Nicole Holofcener’s ensemble dark comedy “Friends With Money.” But it’s her most recent turn in Daniel Barnz’s “Cake” that’s garnered the actress the best reviews of her career and her first Golden Globe nomination for a feature film. 

“Mommy” (Jan 23)

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Director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Patrick HuardAnne DorvalSuzanne Clément,Antoine-Olivier PilonAlexandre Goyette
Distributor: Roadside
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Xavier Dolan tied for the 2014 Cannes Jury Prize with Jean-Luc Godard for “Mommy,” his critically lauded follow-up to “Laurence Anyways.” The film looks at the tumultuous relationship between a single mother and her angsty son, a dynamic that is soon interrupted by a mysterious neighbor. “Mommy” stars Dolan regular Anne Dorval as well as Suzanne Clément and Antoine-Olivier Pilon.

“The Duke of Burgundy” (Jan 23)

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Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna
Distributor: IFC Films
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? “Berberian Sound Studio” director Peter Strickland is back with another singular effort, “The Duke of Burgundy.” The kinky two-hander tells the story of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who makes her living as a lepidopterist, specializing in the study of butterflies and moths, and her lover Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), who wants nothing more than to be commanded and punished in their bedroom.

“Timbuktu” (Jan 28)

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Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri, Fatou Diawara, Hicham Yacoubi, Kettly Noel, Layla Walet Mohamed
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Criticwire Average: A-

Why is a “Must See”? First publicly screened at Cannes in 2014, “Timbuktu,” directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, received a standing ovation for its gripping story on the occupation of Timbuktu by militant Islamic rebels who harshly oppress the everyday lives of its citizens. The film stars Ibrahim Ahmed aka Pino as Kidane, a cattle herder that lives in the dunes with his family–his wife, Satima (Toulou Kiki), his daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed) and 12-year-old son Issan (Mehdi Ag Mohamed).

“L’il Quinquin” (Jan 2)

Director: Bruno Dumont
Cast: Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernard Pruvost 
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Directed by Bruno Dumont, “L’il Quinquin” is an absurdist, metaphysical murder mystery that opens with the discovery of human body parts stuffed inside a cow. The bumbling and mumbling Captain Van der Weyden (played by Bernard Pruvost) is assigned to investigate the crime, but he has to contend with a young prankster, the mischievous Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), as he proceeds to investigate the case.

Red Army” (Jan 23)

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Director: Gabe Polsky
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Gabe Polsky has been crafting an eclectic body of work over the last decade. A former Yale hockey player, the young filmmaker has produced films for Werner Herzog and the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary “His Way,” which examined the life of American film producer Jerry Weintraub. He also directed last year’s indie favorite “The Motel Life,” starring Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning and Stephen Dorff. “Red Army” uses the legendary Russian national hockey team as a lens through which Polsky examines the deeper undercurrents of Cold War Politics. The film focuses on Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, the iconic defenseman who acted as the face of the team from the late-’70s through the ’80s, when he became disillusioned with the way the Soviet government used his beloved sport as a political weapon. Slava eventually defected to America, where he experienced no shortage of difficulties assimilating, and has since returned to post-war Russia, where he acted as Minister of Sport and now holds a position in the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia.

Black Sea” (Jan 23)

(Film Page)
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Cast: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, David Threlfall
Distributor: Focus Features
Why is it a “Must See”? Focus Features’ forthcoming thriller “Black Sea” tells the story of a submarine worker (Jude Law) who is hired to find a Nazi sub that contains $182 million in gold. Crew members agree to split the money, but soon some realize they will make more if there are fewer crew members, and they start picking one another off. Chaos ensues as things become a struggle for survival. The film was directed by Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”). Besides Law, the cast includes Scoot McNairy of “Argo” and Ben Mendelsohn of “The Dark Night Rises.”

“Coming Home” (Jan 30)

(Film Page
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Gong Li, Chen Daoming
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Why is it a “Must See”? “Coming Home” stars Chen Daoming and Gong Li. The film concerns an intellectual in the period of China’s Cultural Revolution as he’s forced into marriage, flees to America and is sent to a labor camp upon return. The teaser doesn’t reveal much, but it does show the kind of gorgeous images and sweeping feeling one comes to expect from the director of “Raise the Red Lantern” and “Hero.” On top of that, it’s Zhang’s first film with Gong since 2006’s “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

“Girlhood” (Jan 30)

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Director: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Tatiana Rojo, Rabah Nait Oufella, Diabate Idrissa, Karidja Touré, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Marietou Toure
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Why is a “Must See”? “Tomboy” director Céline Sciamma is back with another strong coming-of-age drama. “Girlhood” follows Marieme, a high schooler who feels oppressed by her family environment and dead-end future prospects, whose life gets a much-desired lift when she meets a group of free-spirited girls. She changes her name, her dress code, and quits school to be accepted by her new friends, hoping that becoming a part of their clique will provide her with the escape she’s long wanted. The film made its world premiere as a 2014 Directors’ Fortnight selection.

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