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The 9 Indies You Must See This February: ‘The Witch,’ ‘Triple 9’ and More

The 9 Indies You Must See This February: 'The Witch,' 'Triple 9' and More

Rams” (February 3)

Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Cast: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theódór Júlíusson, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Jónsson
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a Must See? Grímur Hákonarson’s second feature, “Rams,”  was last year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard prize winner, and after playing the international festival circuit to much critical acclaim, Cohen Media Group is finally bringing the Icelandic dark comedy to U.S. theaters. Mixing painterly visuals with blunt, deadpan humor, the movie involves two estranged brothers who own neighboring sheep farms but have not spoken to each other for four decades. When an incurable illness strikes one of their flock, authorities determine all the sheep in their region must be killed, prompting the two to set aside their differences in a quest to save their animals. Outside of Wes Anderson movies, deadpan humor and artistic vision have never been mixed so brilliantly.

Southbound” (February 5)

Director: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence
Cast: Kate Beahan, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Susan Burke, Zoe Cooper, Gerald Downey, Karla Droege
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a Must See? Roxanne Benjamin and Brad Miska have been changing the horror game ever since they produced the anthology hit “V/H/S” back in 2012. The idea behind the project was rather simple — put together a collection of found footage horror shorts — but in getting together some of the best indie filmmakers working today, including Adam Wingard, Ti West and Joe Swanberg, the movie became a festival breakout and surefire proof that the indie mentality could reap huge horror rewards. Now, the duo are back and scarier than ever with their latest horror experiment, “Southbound.” The movie presents five separate tales of travelers whose journeys each take an unexpected turn on a desolate stretch of a desert highway. Don’t watch it alone.

Mountains May Depart” (February 12)

Director: Jia Zhangke
Cast: Zhao Tao, Sylvia Chang, Dong Zijian, Zhang Yi
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a Must See? Renowned director Jia Zhangke is no stranger to films with an epic scope. His 2000 feature, “Platform,” spanned the years 1979-1989, while his Cannes-winning “A Touch of Sin” was an ambitious anthology of four stories across modern-day China. With his latest film, “Mountains May Depart,” which played at Cannes, TIFF and NYFF last year, Zhangke has achieved his most breathlessly ambitious scope yet, beginning in Fenyang, China, in 1999 and ending more than 20 years later all the way in Australia. The drama is divided into three acts — 1999, 2014 and 2025 — and tracks the growing maturity and cultural assimilation of a young man named Dollar. The triptych storytelling allows Zhangke to explore how our cultural identity is gained and lost as it reverberates through time and space. The plot may focus on Chinese heritage, but the narrative drive hits a rousing universal nerve.

Touched With Fire” (February 12)

Director: Paul Dalio
Cast: Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Christine Lahti, Griffin Dunne, Bruce Altman
Criticwire Average: A-

Why is it a Must See? Originally titled “Mania Days” when it premiered to favorable reviews at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, Paul Dalio’s drama about the relationship between two manic depressives arrives in theaters this month with a new title, “Touched By Fire,” but the same level of emotional intimacy and power. Katie Holmes, in perhaps the best performance of her career, stars as Carla, a poet whose insomnia and obsessions compound her disorder. Luke Kirby is Marco, an underground rapper who refuses to medicate his bipolar disorder in order to fuel his artistry. When the two land in the same hospital, their bond inspires a drama full of roller coaster emotions and intense feelings. You’ll never see Holmes more alive on screen than she is here.

Where to Invade Next” (February 12)

Director: Michael Moore
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a Must See? In the six years since Michael Moore released “Capitalism: A Love Story,” audiences have been wondering what kind of movie the outspoken filmmaker would make to mark his long-awaited return to the big screen, and the answer to that is “Where to Invade Next,” easily the most crowd-pleasing work of Moore’s entire career. Simply put: Moore is back and better than ever. The documentary follows the director as he tries to figure out how to make America better by “invading” other countries to see how they operate and handle a wide range of social, economic and political issues. Equal parts hilarious and infuriating, “Where to Invade Next” is an impassioned look at the various ways America can learn from the world it once taught, and it couldn’t come at a better time given the current political election.

The Witch” (February 19)

Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a Must See? Over a year after becoming the breakout sensation of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Robert Eggers’ new horror classic is finally unleashed in theaters thanks to A24. The distributor is skipping a limited release to open the acclaimed film nationwide on its first weekend, and it’s a risky move that should hopefully pay off given just how terrifying this period drama becomes over its tight and controlled 90 minutes. Billed as a “New England Folktale,” the movie revolves around a banished family of Puritanical Christians who set up a new home in a remote patch of wilderness. What happens next combines a shattering period piece about the dissolution of a family with a genuinely unsettling horror movie about possession. The result is the most terrifying movie of 2016, hands down.

Embrace of the Serpent” (February 17)

Director: Ciro Guerra
Cast: Jan Bijvoet, Brionne Davis, Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar, Yauenkü Migue
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a Must See? One of the most beloved foreign films of the year, Ciro Guerra’s acclaimed third feature is the first-ever Colombian movie nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The drama also won the prestigious Director’s Fortnight Award at the Cannes Film Festival and is currently nominated for the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film. Exploring postcolonial history and the enigmatic relationship a lone Amazonian shaman has with Western outsiders, “Embrace of the Serpent” is told over two timelines, one set in 1909 and the other in 1940, as the shaman develops close relationships with two scientists who are in search of a healing psychedelic plant. The movie’s story highlights imperative themes of imperialism, and it’s stunning black-and-white cinematography truly can’t be missed on the big screen. 

Triple 9” (February 26)

Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a Must See? After dropping out of “The Revenant” in 2011, “The Proposition” director John Hillcoat started work on the heist movie “Triple 9,” which looks to be a gruesome crime thriller the likes of which Hillcoat should handle with visceral intensity given his past projects. If the movie’s intriguing plot isn’t intriguing enough — the twisty story deals with a crew of dirty cops who are blackmailed by the Russian mob to execute a virtually impossible heist — than the star-studded ensemble cast surely is. Featuring Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul and current Oscar nominee Kate Winslet as a Russian mafia queen, “Triple 9” has more than enough star power to match its gun-slinging violence.

King Georges” (February 26)

Director: Erika Frankel
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a Must See? Erika Frankel’s delectable documentary “King Georges” mixes drama with culinary heat as it focuses on Philadelphia’s legendary Le Bec-Fin, one of the finest French restaurants in the country, and its owner, George Perrier. The film unfolds over a three-year span, featuring plenty of time spent in the kitchen with Perrier, along with highlighting the renowned chef’s eccentric brand of energy as well as his passion and commitment to his craft.

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