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The 10 Indie Films You Must See This February

The 10 Indie Films You Must See This February

#1. “Maps to the Stars” (Feb 27)

(Film Page)
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams
Distributor: Focus World
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a “Must See”? Cronenberg’s followup to 2012’s “Cosmopolis” (and the first project by the Canadian director shot in the United States) does a far better job of skewing capitalism’s discontents by exploring their manifestations in the American movie business. Every missive hits its target hard with a comedy-horror combo aimed squarely at the kind of commercial stupidity that Cronenberg has avoided throughout his 45-year career. Now we know why. 

#2. “Wild Tales” (Feb 20)

(Film Page)
Director: Damian Szifron
Cast: Ricardo Darin, Oscar Martinez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Erica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Dario Grandinetti
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? “Wild Tales” finds everyone seeking an outlet for their rage and in many cases relishing in the fantasy of achieving it. While adhering to an internal logic that makes each punchline land with a satisfying burst of glee, the movie nevertheless stems from genuine fury aimed at a broken world. It’s the rare storytelling endeavor that manages to be laughably absurd and profoundly tragic at the same time.

#3. “’71” (Feb 27)

(Film Page)
Director: Yann Demange
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Sam Reid, Jack Lowden, Charlie Murphy, David Wilmot, Sean Harris, Paul Anderson
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? A gritty, relentless wartime drama that blends its action set pieces with palpable despair and historical observation, “’71” maintains a polished intensity that fares well for first-time feature director Yann Demange. Centered on a gripping performance by Jack O’Connell, as a British soldier marooned in a sharply divided Belfast over the course of a single, violent night during the height of the Northern Ireland conflict, “’71” constantly thrills without sensationalizing its surprises. 

#4. “The Voices” (Feb 6)

(Film Page)
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Gemma Arterton
Distributor: Lionsgate
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Equal parts outrageous and profound, “The Voices” is yet another adventurous starring vehicle for Ryan Reynolds. Marjane Satrapi’s (“Chicken with Plums”) latest, which earned solid reviews out its Sundance premiere last year, tracks a mentally-ill optimist struggling to balance his increasingly-bizarre hallucinations against his difficult-to-distinguish reality. Reynolds gives a standout performance, and is ably supported by Oscar nominees Jacki Weaver and Anna Kendrick.

#5. “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (Feb 13)

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Director: Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz
Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy, Sasson Gabay, Eli Gornstein
Distributor: Music Box Films
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Israel’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar, packs an emotional wallop. Co-directors Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz tell the story of an Israeli woman (Ronit Elkabetz) struggling to divorce her husband, facing pressure from all corners of the justice system. By keeping the conceit simple, the filmmakers are able to achieve startling drama. “Gett” earned rave reviews after premiering at Cannes, and was nominated by the Golden Globes for Best Foreign-Language Film.

#6. “Ballet 422” (Feb 6)

(Film Page)
Director: Jody Lee Lipes
Cast: Justin Peck, Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? The documentary “Ballet 422” offers an outsiders glimpse into the exclusive world of dance. The story follows 25-year-old NYCB dancer Justin Peck, who begins to emerge as a promising young choreographer. When he is commissioned to create a new ballet for the Company’s 2013 Winter Season, the film follows him as he collaborates with musicians, lighting designers, costume designers and his fellow dancers to create “Paz de la Jolla,” NYCB’s 422nd new ballet. In “Ballet 422,” director Jody Lee Lipes creates an intimate and gripping look at the world of professional ballet and the creative process that goes into the company’s 422nd original piece. 

#7. “What We Do in the Shadows” (Feb 13)

(Film Page)
Directors: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Jackie Van Beek, Cori Gonzales-Macuer, Stu Rutherford
Distributor: Unison/Paladin
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? “Flight of the Concords” principles Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi return with their new vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” This mockumentary that follows a group of vampires who share what their day-to-day life in contemporary times is like. What makes the film stand out is that there’s no real framework that it has to adhere to. If it wants to introduce some bizarre element from one of the characters’ past, then present a sequence where the three main vampires are bickering about who is doing the dishes next, it can. On the whole, it makes for an incredibly enjoyable viewing experience, one in which the inherent shtickiness of the movie’s concept never begins to wear out or feel too thin. Far beyond your standard horror spoof, “What We Do in the Shadows” is a refreshing, laugh-out-loud funny picture that is perfectly happy with its somewhat niche appeal. 

#8. “My Life” (Feb 27)

Director: Liv Corfixen
Cast: Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan GoslingDistributor: Radius-TWC
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Directed by his wife Liv Corfixen, this documentary follows director Nicolas Winding Refn during the production of Refn’s polarizing, Bangkok-set thriller “Only God Forgives.” Because Refn had to move his family to Bangkok, the documentary is an intimate portrait of frustration and familial unrest. With Refn nervous about his next move and obsessed with his quest for perfection, Corfixen’s insightful hourlong portrait takes an immensely personal view of its subject. The film’s delicate, focused approach explores both Refn’s neurotic state of uncertainty and its impact on his marriage. 

#9. “Wild Canaries” (Feb 25)

(Film Page)
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Cast: Sophia Takal, Lawrence Michael Levine, Alia Shawkat, Annie Parisse, Jason Ritter, Kevin Corrigan
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Struggles of young New Yorkers have provided fodder for countless portraits of urban angst that vainly strive to reach for the tropes of Woody Allen. “Wild Canaries” has all the markings of this formula, but makes some admirable attempts to shake it up by stuffing the usual routine into a detective story. Levine and Takal play an engaged couple living in Brooklyn who wind up a part of a murder mystery after suspecting foul play in the death of their elderly roommate. The supporting cast of Shawkat, Parisse, and Corrigan are authentic and charming, easily inhabiting lived-in roles that contrast with the manic Levine and Takal. The genre play is an interesting and original take on what has become a cliché genre of Brooklyn relationship dramedy.

#10. “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” (Feb 13)

(Film Page)
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Michael K. Williams, Felicia Pearson, Zaraah Abrahams, Elvis Nolasco, Steven Hauck, Stephen Tyrone Williams, Lauren Macklin
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Ciriticwire Average: C-
Why is it a “Must See”? An “inspired by” retelling of the 1973 blaxploitation film “Ganja & Hess,” Lee’s version of this film includes his Brooklyn movie universe, changes the setting to the elegance of Martha’s Vineyard, and obviously has its own idiosyncratic flairs (much like his “Oldboy” remake), but structurally it’s more or less the same film. Tyrone Williams stars as Dr. Hess Greene, a wealthy and erudite but eccentric African-American anthropologist studying artifacts from an ancient African tribe. Coming into contact with an ancient Ashanti dagger makes him immortal with an insatiable addiction to blood. This unquenchable desire haunts his every move, but love does eventually present a challenge. While nothing about the film is remotely subtle, Lee attempts to further explore ideas of absolution, belief, redemption and spiritual longing. 

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