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The 17 Indie Films You Must See This September: ’99 Homes,’ ‘Goodnight Mommy’ and More

The 17 Indie Films You Must See This September: '99 Homes,' 'Goodnight Mommy' and More

“Before We Go” (September 4)

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Director: Chris Evans
Cast: Chris Evans, Alice Eve, Mark Kassen, Emma Fitzpatrick
Criticwire Average: C
Why is it a “Must See”? Chris Evans has spent the past several years immersed in the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe, thanks to his career-making role as Captain America, but he’s scaling way back and revealing a more sensitive side for his directorial debut, “Before We Go.” The film premiered last year at TIFF and stars Evans and Alice Eve as Pete and Abby, two strangers who run into one another at Grand Central Station after the latter gets stranded. When Pete offers to help Abby find her way in the city, the two wind up adventuring around New York and finding romance over the course of one fateful night. Evans and Eve’s natural charm in front of the camera has served him well in the past, which leads to effortless chemistry is what is a New York-spin on “Before Sunrise.”

“Welcome to Leith” (September 9)

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Director: Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Welcome to Leith, a tiny ghost town of under thirty people in North Dakota, and meet Craig Cobb, a new resident attempting to overthrow the local government with his ruthlessly racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic ideals. In a terrifying account of hatred, manipulation and control, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s documentary delivers an up-close look at recurring showdowns between infuriated locals and the disturbing figure of Cobb, along with the various likeminded forces who sprang up to support him. Filled with gripping showdowns and sinister agendas, the movie builds its unsettling power by depicting the struggle from both perspectives. While the delineation between good and evil holds strong, “Welcome to Leith” is also creepily even-handed. 

“Goodnight Mommy” (September 11)

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Director: Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
Cast: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? This visually arresting horror film from directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala has been shocking audiences on the festival circuit for nearly a year, and it’s bound to be one of the more unusual offerings of the fall season thanks to all of its disturbingly unique elements. Brothers Elias and Lucas Schwarz star as inseparable twins who welcome their mother home after her facial reconstructive surgery. Disturbingly outfitted like a ghost — she wears flowing gowns and her face is completely bandaged — the mother begins showing signs of odd behavior and emotional distance, leading the boys to suspect something has changed about her. What happens next demands no spoilers, though be warned that the experience is not for the faint of heart. Filled with an unsettling atmosphere that overflows with art house beauty, “Goodnight Mommy” is a strange trip to experimental hell and back. Don’t watch it alone.

“Wolf Totem” (September 11)

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Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Cast: Shaofeng Feng, Shawn Dou, Ankhnyam Ragchaa, Yin Zhu-Sheng
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a “Must See”? Acclaimed French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud returns to the big screen with his first film in four years, based on the Chinese semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Lu Jiamin. The drama stars Feng Shaofeng as Chen Zhen, a student who is sent to the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia in order to teach shepherds. After befriending the shepherds and learning about the bond they share with their wolves, Chen Zhen must choose which side he truly belongs to when the group is threatened by a government apparatchik. Annaud has always been a filmmaker with a bold eye for visuals, but he outdoes himself on this ambitious epic thanks to the dazzling location shots from cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou. With emotional character work and an eye-opening setting, “Wolf Totem” is a journey well worth taking.

“Listening” (September 11)

Director: Khalil Sullins
Cast: Thomas Stroppel, Amber Marie Bollinger, Artie Ahr, Christine Haeberman, Steve Hanks
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a “Must See”? Marking the debut feature of Khalil Sullins, the futuristic cyber-thriller “Listening” centers around a team of genius grad students who invent a mind-reading technology. Strapped for cash, they use their discovery to reap some serious financial benefits, thought it’s not long before their decisions begin to destroy their lives and threaten the future of free will itself. After winning a handful of awards at some of the country’s biggest regional festivals — including Best Director at the Phoenix Film Festival and Best Actress for Bollinger at the Irvine International Film Festival — the sci-fi movie will hit select theaters with the technological breakthroughs and sleek cinematography of a movie two times its budget. In an age where science-fiction continues to get bigger, let “Listening” be proof that you don’t need a huge budget to nail the genre with assured storytelling and a vibrant aesthetic. 

“Meet the Patels” (September 11)

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Director: Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel
Cast: Ravi Patel, Vasant Patel, Champa Patel
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? The romantic-comedy and the documentary genre collide in “Meet the Patels,” an infectious family comedy about the powerful bond between parents and their children. The narrative of the film centers on Ravi, an actor-comedian who, as he nears his thirties, begrudgingly allows his parents to play matchmaker. Their plans for him bring him all the way to India, where nonstop pressure and advice from his well-meaning parents take him into the awkward and hopeful prospect of a semi-arranged marriage. “Meet the Patels” explores the cultural barriers that Ravi experiences as a first-generation Indian American, along with how family affects love and love affects family. Peppered with spirited animation, the film is charming, funny and utterly insightful about the culture it represents.

“Breathe” (September 11)

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Director: Mélanie Laurent
Cast: Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Carré, Roxane Duran, Claire Keim
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Actress-turned-director Melanie Laurent’s second feature is “Mean Girls” for the arthouse crowd. Based on Anne-Sophie Brasme’s novel of the same name, Laurent’s film focuses on a pair of mismatched French schoolgirls who become fast friends in the kind of consuming and obsessive way that should look familiar to plenty of viewers. As her relationship with the wild Sarah (Lou de Laage) starts to erode, Charlie (Josephine Japy) begins to crumble in spectacularly unsettling ways. Laurent nails the nature of female friendships, the passion and excitement, the way that young girls find their identity rooted in who they pal around with, the deep sadness when things go awry, but she amps it up with psychological touches that push the film into some very unexpected — though not unearned — territory. It’s chilling, but it also feels relatable, which makes for one wicked combo.

“Sleeping With Other People” (September 11)

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Director: Leslye Headland
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? “Bachelorette” filmmaker Leslye Headland has made no bones about her Sundance premiere’s similarities to “When Harry Met Sally,” though she’s gamely spun her own rom-com about two (damaged) people who are meant to be together into something very funny and surprisingly fresh. Jason Sudeikis and Allison Brie star in the feature as a pair of former college classmates who (somewhat unexpectedly) lost their virginities to each other when they were still fresh-faced teens. They reunite years later, only to find that their sex lives have’t improved much since their first dalliance, and that both are actually trapped by their carnal instincts. As the pair attempt to stay platonic in the face of raging chemistry, the possibility of love changes them in hilarious, genuinely heartwarming fashion. Prepare yourself for Headland’s take on the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene, it just may be the sexiest scene on film this year.

“Pawn Sacrifice” (September 16)

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Director: Edward Zwick

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Lily Rabe, Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber, Sophie Nélisse, Michael Stuhlbarg,
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Returning to the director’s chair for the first time since 2010, Academy Award-winning producer Edward Zwick once again turns to historical drama, a genre he has previously triumphed in thanks to “Glory,” “The Last Samurai” and “Blood Diamond.” While those pictures were war films, the director is taking on a different kind of battle in “Pawn Sacrifice”: Chess. Toby Maguire stars as American chess player Bobby Fischer, who finds himself caught up in Cold War politics after he challenges the greatest Soviet chess player to a match. With a dynamite supporting cast that includes Liev Schreiber, Lily Rabe, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg, as well as pristine cinematography from the rising Bradford Young (“Selma”), “Pawn Sacrifice” takes what may seem like a boring spectator sport and turns it into a thrilling battle between superpowers. 

“Prophet’s Prey (September 18)

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Director: Amy Berg
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? Amy Berg turned her attention to Warren Jeffs and the FLDS church with this startling Sundance premiere, a strong follow-up to 2012’s “West of Memphis.” Berg goes inside the insular world of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, paying particular attention to the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah to give viewers an unprecedented glimpse at the Church, its teachings, its methodology and its (spoiler alert?) incarcerated leader. Berg and author Jon Krakauer wrangled together an impressive group of talking heads to round out their story and to lend credence to some shocking claims, and their access is unparalleled. Aided by a haunting score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the film is a skin-crawling chronicle of one of America’s biggest criminals and the community that allowed him to flourish. 

“Sicario” (Limited September 18)

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Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Jon Bernthal, Victor Garber,
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a “Must See”? Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve has developed a penchant for assembling intense movies heavy with bleak atmosphere and unnerving suspense. The one-two punch of 2013’s “Prisoners” and “Enemy” showed the versatility with which Villeneuve could apply his skill, seamlessly shifting from an ensemble investigative drama to a high concept psychological thriller. “Sicario” finds Villeneuve back in “Prisoners” territory with another dour tale of cops and criminals grappling with shadowy circumstances. The film stars Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) who crosses the border to aid in the escalating war against drugs with the help of an elite government task force official (Josh Brolin) and a mysterious consultant from Mexico (Benecio del Toro). With a menacing tone that holds tight from start to finish, the movie finds Villeneuve evoking shades of Michael Mann, crafting a movie defined by viscerally-charged sequences shot with striking verve by the great Rodger Deakins.

“Songs from the North” (September 18)

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Director: Soon-mi Yoo
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? North Korea’s history of oppression and censorship has been an object of fascination for filmmakers with a wide variety of sensibilities, but Soon-mi Yoo’s delicately assembled diary film gets intimate with the country’s problems. The South Korean director crafs a meditation on North Korean society with a mixture of archival materials and footage shot in the country over the course of four years and three visits. Handling editing and camera duties, Yoo recontextualizes the cold nature of North Korea’s government-mandated image by getting intimate with its ramifications. The final result transcends borders and becomes a rescue mission for the country’s soul. 

“The Reflektor Tapes” (September 18)

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Director: Kahlil Joseph
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a “Must See”? Grammy Award winners Arcade Fire released a daring experiment with their fourth studio album, “Reflektor.” Abandoning much of their traditional musical stylings in favor of new sounds and genres (particularly Haitian rara music), the band reinvigorated their creative spirit while pushing the limits of their sonic boundaries, which is why Kahlil Joseph’s behind-the-scenes documentary should prove to be an exhilarating watch. Joseph followed the band as they found the origins of the album in Jamaica, composed the music and lyrics in various recording studios and opened up their massive arena tour in Los Angeles, and he’s put all of the footage together in a collage of concert footage, digital video and analog film. Here’s hoping “The Reflektor Tapes” is to music documentaries what “Reflektor” was to Arcade Fire’s career: Wild, unorthodox and experimental.

“99 Homes” (September 25)

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Director: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, Michael Shannon
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? After dismantling the American Dream with 2012’s Zac Efron-starring “At Any Price,” Ramin Bahrani returns to familiar territory with “99 Homes,” which uses similar material to far better effect. Andrew Garfield stars as a put-upon single dad struggling to make ends meet for both his young son and his own mother (played by Laura Dern), a hard-knock life that only gets worse when the family loses their house. Desperate for a job, Garfield’s Dennis takes a job from the very man who snatched his home away from him, unscrupulous real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). As Dennis plunges deeper into Rick’s world, partaking in unexpected windfalls, he also begins to lose his moral compass and, still worse, his own family. Bahrani keeps his tension tight, and his actors respond with two of their finest performances yet.

“The Keeping Room” (September 25)

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Director: Daniel Barber
Cast: Sam Worthington, Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Muna Otaru, Kyle Soller
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a “Must See”? Set in the rural South of 1865, “The Keeping Room” unfolds in the final moments of the Civil War, as northern troops progress towards victory. But those events take place well beyond the awareness of the three women at its center: Augusta (Brit Marling), her teenage sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and their slave Mad (Muna Otaru). As all the men in their lives vanished long ago on the battlefield, the women exist in a static world, waiting for a salvation that they’ve started to realize will never come. Tensely directed by Daniel Barber (“Harry Brown”), “The Keeping Room” takes place almost entirely in the confines of a barren South Carolina farm, but it’s dense with physical activity and grander implications about gender, race and American progress. The action has the paranoid intensity of a grisly Peckinpah western, but develops it through a progressive historical lens that foregrounds its originality.

“Mississippi Grind” (September 25)

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Director: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Alfre Woodard, Robin Weigert
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? In “Mississippi Grind,” Emmy nominee Ben Mendelsohn stars as a gambling addict who doesn’t know when to cash his chips in and call it a day, and Ryan Reynolds is a flighty traveler who likes to gamble for fun and doesn’t care about winning or losing. United by the appreciation of a rainbow, they develop a great friendship and head on a gambling road trip to win money to pay off the former’s loan shark. Crafting a road trip that explores the back roads of America and ventures into the dark rooms where high stakes gambling takes place, directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (“Half Nelson”) succeed in getting triumphant performances out of their two leads. Mendelsohn is a delight, imbuing his character with depth as he advances his character’s morally questionable behavior. And Reynolds, more charismatic than ever, delivers a career highlight. Whenever the dynamite chemistry between these two is front and center, “Mississippi Grind” soars

“Roger Waters: The Wall” (September 29)

Director: Roger Waters and Sean Evans

Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Filmed across three cities and two continents, “Roger Waters The Wall” isn’t your typical concert documentary. Co-directed by the Pink Floyd frontman and Sean Evans — the creative director of The Wall Tour — the movie oscillates between visually magnificent stage performances and footage of Waters at the grave sites for his grandfather and his father, both of whom were killed in action during the World Wars. More grounded in serious ideas than the psychedelic 1982 animated effort, “Roger Waters The Wall” manages to simultaneously bring the music to life in glorious audio-visual terms and ground its ideas in the real world. Even Pink Floyd’s biggest fans have never experienced “The Wall” like this. Thirty-five years after the landmark double album hits stores, it’s overdue for another appreciation, and “Roger Waters The Wall” does the trick.

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