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The 7 Indie Films You Must See This December

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire December 5, 2013 at 10:26AM

Here's 7 indie films we think you should see this December.
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The final weeks of 2013 are upon, and while that also means the weather outside is a bit frightening (at least for a good half of America), what better reason to hit the warmth of the movie theater? While the studios are bringing out their big guns for December -- from "American Hustle" to "Her" to "Saving Mr. Banks" to "The Wolf of Wall Street" -- there's plenty en route from indie and specialty distributors that's just as deserving of your time.

As an extension of our fall indie preview, Indiewire is offering the last of four monthly fall "must-see" lists to make cinematic decision-making amidst this alleged month or months as easy as possible. From the latest from the Coen brothers to another sure fire bet for Meryl Streep to nab an Oscar nominations, here's 7 films you should definitely try and see this December:

1. Inside Llewyn Davis (December 6)
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham
Distributor: CBS Films
Criticwire Grade: A-

Why is it a "Must See"? Light on plot, heavy on melody and feeling, "Inside Llewyn Davis" takes some inspiration from the career of folk singer Dave Van Ronk, but avoids the trappings of a biopic or making broad pronouncements about the era. Instead, the nomadic Llewyn's fleeting misadventures -- somberly embodied by Oscar Isaac in the title role -- which find him drifting from one couch to the next while struggling to justify his career, lead to a delicate, restrained portrait that results in a different kind of movie than anything else the siblings have produced. Even so, it works as a a sort of musical companion piece to "O Brother Where Art Thou," trading bluegrass for melancholic folk melodies (once again shepherded to fruition by T. Bone Burnett) to explore a very specific breed of American discontentment. But in spite of all the bad vibes, "Llewyn Davis" is often quite funny and remarkably poignant as it careens from one tune to the next, aided by considerable supporting turns from Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake…and Ulysses the cat, who deserves an awards campaign of his own.

Check out the trailer below:


2. The Past (December 20)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Criticwire Grade: A-

Why is it a "Must See"? "The Past," Asghar Farhadi's first movie produced outside Iran, is a wrenching, relentlessly intelligent drama in which characters shield their feelings with unspoken motives and actions. Like last year's Oscar-winning "A Separation," Farhadi's new movie confirms his unique ability to explore how constant chatter and anguished outbursts obscure the capacity for honest communication. Ahman (Ali Mosaffa) arrives in Paris from his native Iran four years after separating from wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) in order to finalize their divorce. He finds the family at an uneven crossroads: While Marie plans to marry Samir (Tahar Rahim), Lucie (Pauline Burlet) -- her teen daughter from an earlier marriage -- maintains distance from her mother, frustrated by the older woman's string of fleeting romances. Meanwhile, she must contend with the presence of preadolescent Fouad (Elyes Aguis), Samir's son, who lives with the family in the suburbs while Samir works in the city. Arriving at the center of this turmoil, Ahmad uncovers its most troublesome aspect through casual discussion: Samir's wife lies comatose in a hospital after a botched suicide attempt. Farhadi's screenplay slowly reveals its puzzle pieces with a patient rhythm developed through long takes, no soundtrack and frequent conversation. Not once does any character show signs of unadulterated affection until the memorable closing shot -- the sole glance of an intimate bond in the entire movie. Despite all that talk, only in the quietest moments does the truth come out.

Check out the trailer below:


3. The Last of the Unjust (December 13)
Director: Claude Lanzmann
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Criticwire Grade: A-

Why is it a "Must See"? Claude Lanzmann's sprawling 1985 documentary "Shoah" deserves its slot as the definitive non-fiction Holocaust movie, but even its eight-hour running time can't fully encompass the director's years of research. Lanzmann spent a decade gathering interviews exploring virtually every angle of that tumultuous period, wisely relying on first-hand testimonies and the haunting quality of contemporary locations where the genocide took place to give his chronicle weight. With "The Last of the Unjust," he proves the approach maintains its gripping power. Now in his late eighties, Lanzmann continues to unload the footage he gathered during his initial production. In 2011, a half-hour interview with concentration camp whistleblower Jan Karski aired on French television as "The Karski Report," but that was little more than a slim profile compared to Lanzmann's current achievement. "The Last of the Unjust," a 218-minute look at the Czech ghetto Theresienstadt and one of the Jewish men tasked with running it, magnifies a previously underexplored tale of persecution with incredible dexterity. By unearthing a series of interviews conducted in 1975 with the elderly Benjamin Murmelstein, the only survivor of the so-called "Elder of the Jews" in charge of the ghetto, Lanzmann resurrects the aesthetics of "Shoah" while extending its narrative into a new chapter.

Check out the trailer below:

4. August Osage County (December 25)
Director: John Wells
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch,  Abigail Breslin, Sam Shepard
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Criticwire Grade: B+

Why is it a "Must See"? Nothing coming out this December screams Oscar quite like "August: Osage County." Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts (who wrote the screenplay as well), the film stars none other than Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts as an extremely dysfunctional mother and daughter (alongside Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulrney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson and Abigail Breslin). The film has already been making the rounds on the festival circuit, which has made clear it is indeed the epic acting showcase -- or perhaps "acting riot" is a better label -- you'd think it is. 

Watch the trailer below:


5. The Crash Reel (December 13)
Director: Lucy Walker
Distributor: Phase 4
Criticwire Grade: A-

Why is it a "Must See"?  Fresh off of making the Oscar shortlist for best documentary, Lucy Walker's "The Crash Reel" hits theaters this December. The film looks at the life of snowboarder Kevin Pearce before and after he barely survives a crash just before the Vancouver Winter Olympics. He had previously been ranked among the top in the world, with an rivalry with Shaun White (documented in the film through 15 years of footage) that pushed him to the limits that almost killed him. Now he's recovering from his injury and just wants to get on a snowboard again, even though many fear it would kill him. It makes for harrowing stuff.

Check out the trailer below:

6. The Invisible Woman (December 25)

Director: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Criticwire Grade: B-

Why is it a "Must See"?  Greeted with warms reviews at both the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, Ralph Fiennes' sophomore film following "Coriolanus," "The Invisible Woman," sees the thesp once again putting himself center stage, this time as legendary author Charles Dickens. The gamble paid off last time with his stellar debut, and in "The Invisible Woman" he has another winner on his hands. The gorgeous looking film tells the little known story behind Dickens' secret 13-year affair with his mistress, Nelly Ternan (played by "Like Crazy" breakout Felicity Jones in performance that would garner more awards buzz in a less crowded season). Also worth noting: Fiennes reunites on screen with his "English Patient" co-star Kristin Scott Thomas, who stars in the film as Nelly's mother.

Check out the trailer below:


7. Paradise: Hope (December 6)

Director: Ulrich Seidl
Cast: Cast: Melanie Lenz, Verena Lehbauer, Joseph Lorenz, Viviane Bartsch, Michael Thomas, Johanna Schmid
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Criticwire Grade: B+

Why is it a "Must See"?  Concluding a trilogy of sad, lonely women that started with "Paradise: Love" and continued with "Paradise: Faith," Ulrich Seidl's "Paradise: Hope"  focuses on the daughter of the woman from "Paradise: Love," portly teen Melanie (Melanie Lenz), as she enders the rigorous curriculum of a diet camp and falls in love with her much older doctor (Joseph Lorenz). In contrast to the bleakness of the earlier films, this final entry is resolutely sweet, hinting at a certain depravity but never actually going there, resulting in one of the more enjoyable coming of age stories released this year. After the dour experiences of Seidl's earlier films, the entertainment value of "Paradise: Hope" is truly cathartic.

Check out the trailer below:

This article is related to: List, The Crash Reel, August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Past , The Last of the Unjust, The Invisible Woman





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