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The 5 Indie Films You Must See This January

January's 7 Must-See Indie Films

January usually brings to mind two things when it comes to specialty film: Catching up on Oscar hopefuls from late 2013, and the Sundance Film Festival, which will bring a slew of new films into the marketplace for the coming year. But this January seems truly exceptional for films that (mostly) fall into neither category: Three remarkable foreign language films that are out of the running for the Oscars, and two great documentaries (notably one of which could very well end up with an Oscar nomination).

From murderous gay cruising at a lake to recreating a Vermeer painting to a Chilean woman trying to get her groove back, check out Indiewire’s picks for January 2014’s best:

1. Stranger By The Lake (January 24)

Director: Alain Guiraudie
Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao
Distributor: Strand
Current Criticwire average: A- (see all grades)

Why Is It a “Must See”? At Cannes last year, a sexually explicit, queer-focused
French film with two extraordinarily beautiful leads won over critics
and audiences alike before heading to US theaters — and we’re not talking about Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or
winning “Blue is the Warmest Color.” While that film has been getting
most of the attention, its male-centric counterpart of sorts (though think more “Blue Is The Coldest Color”) — Alain Guiraudie’s stunning “Stranger By The Lake” — is just as deserving of it and finally hits theaters this January (after adding Sundance to its epic list of festival screenings that also includes Toronto and New York). Featuring a narrative very much like what its title suggests, the film
is set at a cruising spot by a lake, where Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps)
meets Michel (Christophe Paou). Despite being certain Michel is a
murderer (he witnesses the man drown one of his lovers), Franck pursues their intense sexual relationship anyway,
leading him — and us as the viewer — down a psychologically complex and dangerously sexy path. Don’t miss it.

Watch the trailer below:

2. Gloria (January 24)

Director: Sebastián Lelio
Cast: Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Coca Guazzini, Antonia Santa María
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Current Criticwire average: A- (see all grades)

Why Is It a “Must See”?  The first and last time we see the main character, a 58-year-old Chilean divorcee who gives writer-director Sebastián Lelio’s touching midlife crisis drama its name, she’s lost in the shuffle of the dance floor — at once buried by the world and free to roam it. With actress Paulina Garcia’s cryptic expressions saying much more than her words, “Gloria” explores this fragile state of being with extraordinary astuteness. It’s an open-ended question whether Gloria ever finds the happiness she seeks while dodging the current of middle-aged isolation, but her constant search is a valiant and deeply involving one. Lelio reveals her fluctuating mindset through sudden outbursts, solemn asides, brilliant music cues and one utterly memorable dancing skeleton puppet — whose symbolic power only slightly bests the peacock that arrives later on. Visually, “Gloria” is alive with the vivid mindset of its eternally young protagonist. Read Indiewire’s review from the Berlin Film Festival — where Garcia won best actress — here.

Watch the trailer below:

3. Like Father, Like Son (January 17)

Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Cast: Fukuyama Masaharu, Ono Machiko, Maki Yoko, Lily Franky
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Current Criticwire average: A- (see all grades)

Why Is It a “Must See”? Kore-eda Hirokaz’s “Like Father, Like Son” a compassionate and lovely ode to parenthood that should have been Japan’s entry for the Oscars this year.  But instead “Like Father” joins “Stranger By The Lake” and “Gloria” as part of a trio of remarkable foreign language films coming out this January that won’t have the added marketing bonus of the Academy’s stamp of approval. Which hopefully won’t matter, because audiences will not regret taking in “Like Father,” which follows a family that finds out their son was accidentally switched at birth with another baby born on the same day. They meet the family that has their biological, and the tough decision is made to swtch the now six year-olds back to their intended families. What results is a truly beautiful examination of what it means to be a parent.  

Watch the trailer below:


4. Tim’s Vermeer (January 31)

Director: Teller
Cast: Tim Jenison
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Current Criticwire average: A- (see all grades)

Why Is It a “Must See”? After over 30 years together primarily working as illusionists, Penn
& Teller sure seem like they’ve made a documentary with the magic to
place them in this year’s Oscar race. Their very clever take on art and
technology, “Tim’s Vermeer,” debuted to strong notices in Telluride and
Toronto, and is now hitting theaters this January (with clear hopes for an Oscar nomination for best documentary next week). Edited down from a remarkable 2,400
hours of footage, “Vermeer” follows the epic quest of Penn &
Teller’s buddy Tim Jenison, an inventor based in San Antonio whose
creations include the NewTek firm, the videotoaster, an airplane made
entirely from elements that he bought at WalMart, and a lip-synching
duck. Tim’s latest project is attempting to prove a theory that 17th
century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer employed technology in painting
his works. How exactly? By meticulously recreating one of his
works via building an exact replica of the room in Vermeer’s painting
and using optical devices to assist him in painting it. Penn &
Teller (the former producing the film, the latter directing it) document
every moment, and it’s a pretty remarkable journey. It’s also most
definitely the best film ever about, well, in large part watching paint

Watch the trailer below:

5. 12 O’Clock Boys (January 31)

Director: Lotfy Nathan
Distributor: Oscilloscope
Current Criticwire average: B+ (see all grades)

Why Is It a “Must See”? The first time we see the group of mostly young adult dirt bikers cruising down the streets of lower class Baltimore neighborhoods in “12 O’Clock Boys,” the speed and intensity of their risky, unauthorized stunt work has been translated into poetry: Pitching backwards in slo-mo as they point to the sky, the riders take on the elegance of Olympic champions. Yet Lotfy Nathan’s contemplative portrait pits this lyrical dimension against the life-threatening dangers of the act and the root causes for such extreme antics, delivering an astute look at how social conditions can lead to an audacious form of rebellion that, in spite of its elegance, makes matters worse. Rather than merely observing the scene from a distance, Nathan roots this study in the perspective of an innocent adolescent, Pug, whose lust for engaging in the dirt bike stunts he initially witnesses as a bystander evolves over the course of the three years in which the movie follows his development. Hailing from an impoverished single parent household, Pug is the paragon of the outcast mentality that comprises Baltimore’s risky dirt bike scene. Nathan never condescends to Pug or his cohorts, instead smartly allowing their brazen maneuvers to run the show. Read Indiewire’s full review from the SXSW Film Festival here.

Watch the trailer below:

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