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The 7 Indie Films You Must See This December

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire December 6, 2012 at 1:27PM

Admittedly, December isn't exactly a hotbed for independent film exhibition. Studios break out their best and brightest (or at least what they hope is their best and brightest) in what's typically an unusually high quality month for mainstream fare (just as last month -- which saw "Lincoln," "Flight" and "Skyfall" released to great reviews and great box office).  Par example: Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" (technically released by independent distributor Weinstein Company, but its budget and wide release didn't make it feel right to include here), Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables," etc. But there are a few brave and exceptional films that are going to weather the December storm against Hollywood's big guns, and they deserve your attention as much as their bigger budgeted counterparts (though do go see "Zero Dark Thirty," too). So as an extension of our fall movie preview, Indiewire is offering the third of four monthly fall "must-see" lists to help with your cinematic decision-making over the next 31 days.
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Admittedly, December isn't exactly a hotbed for independent film exhibition. Studios break out their best and brightest (or at least what they hope is their best and brightest) in what's typically an unusually high quality month for mainstream fare (just as last month -- which saw "Lincoln," "Flight" and "Skyfall" released to great reviews and great box office).  Par example: Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" (technically released by independent distributor Weinstein Company, but its budget and wide release didn't make it feel right to include here), Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables," etc.

But there are a few brave and exceptional films that are going to weather the December storm against Hollywood's big guns, and they deserve your attention as much as their bigger budgeted counterparts (though do go see "Zero Dark Thirty," too). So as an extension of our fall movie preview, Indiewire is offering the third of four monthly fall "must-see" lists to help with your cinematic decision-making over the next 31 days.

From Michael Haneke and Gus Van Sant to KStew and the West Memphis Three, check out Indiewire's picks for December's 7 best options, and then head over to the full December calendar, as there are many worthy films (including studio offerings) that didn't end up making this list.

1. Amour (December 19)

Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Current Criticwire average: A- (see all grades)

Why Is It a "Must Sees"? Michael Haneke's remarkable, Palme d'Or winning "Amour" comes to American theaters this December. Focusing on an elderly couple (played by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant in two of the year's greatest performances) who are coping with a stroke that paralyses Riva's character's body, this love-story-by-way of-Haneke (which sounds scarier than it is) will hopefully get some deserved recognition from awards season.

Check out the trailer below:

2. On The Road (December 21)

Director: Walter Salles
Cast:  Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard
Distributor: IFC Films
Current Criticwire average: C+ (see all grades)

Why is it a "Must See"? Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's classic novel -- based on his years traveling America in the 1940s -- got a somewhat mixed response when it debuted at Cannes. But its new cut is a significant improvement, and fans of the novel are surely curious to see how Salles and his impressive cast (Stewart and Hedlund are the highlights) adapt yet another seemingly adaptable novel (a major theme in 2012 film).

Watch the trailer below:

3. & 4. Only The Young and Tchoupitoulas (both December 7)

Directors: Elizabeth Mims, Jason Tippet ("Young"); Bill and Turner Ross ("Tchoupitoulas")
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Current Criticwire average: A- for both (for "Young": see all grades here; for "Tchoupitoulas," go here)

Why are they "Must Sees"? Oscilloscope unleashes two of the year's best documentaries on the same day, and you should see them both. The former is an incredibly moving look at a trio of teenagers coming of age in a California suburb, whie the later is a visually stunning take on New Orleans nightlife. Impressive stapshots of modern day Americana both, they deserve to be seen amidst the hobbits and Djangos that hopefully down drown them out.

Watch the trailers below:

5. Promised Land (December 28)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, Hal Holbrook
Distributor: Focus Features
Current Criticwire average: B- (see all grades)

Why is it a "Must See"? A last-minute addition to the fall schedule, Focus Features is releasing Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land" at the tail end of 2012.  The Frank Capra-esque film -- scripted by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski -- takes on the hot topic of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) through a story of a corporate salesman (Damon), who seeks drilling rights in distressed communities, and a local man (Krasinski), who looks to oppose the sale.

Watch the trailer below:

6. West of Memphis (December 28)

Director: Amy  Berg
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Current Criticwire average: A- (see all grades)

Why is it a "Must See"? "The Hobbit" isn't the only Peter Jackson project in theaters this December. Jackson produced "West of Memphis," Amy Berg's engrossing documentary that follows the case of the West Memphis Three, in which three teenagers were wrongly arrested for the murders of three eight-year old children back in 1993. Its the same story told in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's three "Paradise Lost" docs, but stands on its own as an admirable contribution to the documentation of this horrifying story.

Watch the trailer below:

7. Any Day Now (December 14)

Director: Travis Fine
Cast: Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva
Distributor: Music Box Films
Current Criticwire average: A- (see all grades)

Why is it a "Must See"? Based on a true story, "Any Day Now" follows a gay couple in the 1970s (Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt) who take in a teenager with Down syndrome who was abandoned by his mother.  When they're discovered by the authorities, rampant homophobia in the legal system threatens to take the child away from them. Featuring an uncharacteristic and incredibly moving performance by Cumming, "Any Day Now" resonates in large part because its story could unfortunately still happen, well, any day now.

Watch the trailer below:

This article is related to: Lists, Amour, On The Road, Any Day Now, Promised Land, West Of Memphis