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The 11 Indie Films You Must See This December: ‘The Hateful Eight,’ ‘Anomalisa’ and More

The 11 Indie Films You Must See This December: 'The Hateful Eight,' 'Anomalisa' and More

Hitchcock/Truffaut” (December 2)

Director: Kent Jones
Criticwire Average: B+
Why is it a “Must See”? “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” the iconic text for any budding cinephile and filmmaker, has a new chapter in the form of this documentary from Kent Jones. The doc expands on the week-long meeting between the two filmmakers that would inspire the book, which contained new and unprecedented levels of candor about Hitchcock’s filmmaking process and his thoughts on his own films. Kent’s feature includes modern day cinema icons like Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader talking about the book and the men behind it. Almost 50 years after the book’s publication, Hitchcock is still influencing filmmakers, and the doc adds new context for the book and the director’s legacy.

Chi-Raq” (December 4)

Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a “Must See”? With a politically-charged message, energized aesthetics and some suave narration courtesy of Samuel L. Jackson, “Chi-Raq” has everything viewers have come to expect from the one and only Spike Lee. Co-written with Kevin Willmont, the director’s new joint is a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata.” Teyonah Parris gives a breakout performance as the eponymous character, who reacts to the murder of a child by a stray bullet by organizing a group of women against the ongoing violence in Chicago’s Southside. Her efforts create a movement that challenges the ideas of race, sex and violence in America and around the world. Operating once again in the same blood-boiling current events that first gained him international recognition in “Do The Right Thing,” “Chi-Raq” is as emotionally and politically potent as the best Spike Lee joints. 

Macbeth” (December 4)

Director: Justin Kurzel
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Reynor, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a “Must See”? Move over Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Olivier and Baz Luhrmann, for director Justin Kurzel (“The Snowtown Murders”) has redefined how filmmakers adapt Shakespeare on the big screen. Finally landing in theaters after its acclaimed premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Kurzel’s “Macbeth” stars heavyweights Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the royal couple corrupted by their obsession for power, though the biggest standout is unquestionably cinematographer Adam Arkapaw. After earning raves for his work on television shows like “Top of the Lake” and “True Detective,” the DP paints a visceral canvas for “Macbeth,” using mist and fire to create the atmosphere of a horror film. The result is a film that develops the ominous atmosphere of “The Wicker Man” more than anything in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, even though Kurzel gets effective mileage out of pairing Shakespeare’s text with compelling visuals. 

Youth” (December 4)

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda
Criticwire Average: B-
Why is it a “Must See”? Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s (“The Great Beauty”) movies are always filled with elaborate techniques to a sometimes overbearing effect, though never without purpose. Nothing has changed in that respect in “Youth,” his latest and most broadly appealing comedy-drama, which offers a spectacular excess of whimsical storytelling loaded with outlandish visual gags strewn throughout nearly every scene. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel star as a pair of strained artists approaching 80 and moaning about their dwindling prospects while on vacation at a hotel, and they enrich each scene with a higher calling. Ironically, for a movie about men who miss the joy of creative triumph, “Youth” gives both veteran actors their best material in years. 

Boy and the World” (December 11)

Director: Alê Abreu
Cast: Vinicius Garcia, Emicida, Naná Vasconcelos, Alê Abreu
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Over the past several years, distributor GKIDS has racked up an immersive collection of internationally acclaimed animated films, from Studio Ghibli’s “From Up on Poppy Hill” to Best Animated Oscar nominees “Chico and Rita,” “The Secret of Kells” and “Ernest & Celestine.” The company’s latest, “Boy and the World,” hails from Brazilian director Alê Abreu and has won over 40 festival awards, making it an Oscar dark horse worth keeping an eye on. The animated adventure centers on a young boy named Cuca, whose cozy rural life is shattered when his father leaves for the city. As Cuca mounts an expedition to travel to the city to reunite his family, Abreu experiments with the form as the animation and sonic landscapes get brighter, bigger and more experimental as Cuca’s worldview expands in new and profound ways. Watch out Pixar, for “Boy and the World” is the singular animated experience of the year.

Don Verdean” (December 11)

Director: Jared Hess
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Will Forte, Leslie Bibb
Criticwire Average: B
Why is it a “Must See”? It’s been six years since Jared Hess’ last film “Gentlemen Broncos,” but the offbeat director of “Nacho Libre” and “Napoleon Dynamite” is back with the predictably absurd and surprisingly star-studded “Don Verdean.” The comedy follows the titular character (Rockwell), a biblical archaeologist in search of holy artifacts in a sacred land. When Verdean comes up short, he is forced to cover up his shortcomings with a plot that eventually leads to a comic conspiracy of epic proportions. Come for the tasteful hijinks and stay for a brilliant cast that knows a thing or two about ace comedic timing.

Son of Saul” (December 18)

Director:László Nemes
Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Marcin Czarnik, Jerzy Walczak
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Universally acclaimed at its Cannes premiere earlier this year, László Nemes’ first feature is a tense Auschwitz-set drama that’s unlike any Holocaust film you’ve ever seen before. Géza Röhrig plays Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz who works as a Sonderkommando member burning the dead. After coming across the body of a boy he takes for his son, he goes about a risky plan to memorialize his child in the midst of a prisoner rebellion. Nemes’ ability to inject the material of a concentration camp survival story with bracing cinematic energy is unforgettable, and he’s aided in that feat by cinematographer Matyas Erdely’s crisp 35mm cinematography, which contains the action in the boxed-in 4:3 Academy ratio, leading to the perception of being trapped in a hellacious underworld while never once straining credibility. In their hands, “Son of Saul” develops a powerful edge you won’t soon forget.

“Joy” (December 25)

Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a “Must See”? In keeping with David O. Russell’s interest in left-of-center characters, “Joy” is the untold story of the inventor of the Miracle Mop. Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy Mangano, a single mother of three who hustles to achieve the American Dream. Though she starts out with the intention of providing for her children, Joy eventually succeeds in building an empire. She encounters betrayal and ill will along the way; in the end, she has only her sheer will and fierce imagination to thank for her rollicking accomplishments. It’s a classic rags-to-riches story, and, of course, it also stars Bradley Cooper.

“The Hateful Eight” (December 25)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir
Criticwire Average: N/A
Why is it a “Must See”? It’s a cause for celebration any time Quentin Tarantino takes to the director’s chair, and “The Hateful Eight” is no exception this Christmas. In many ways, the director’s eighth feature looks to be a greatest hits collection. Not only is he returning to the Western genre after the Oscar-winning success of “Django Unchained,” but he’s back in business with some of his greatest collaborators, including cinematographer Bob Richardson and cast members Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Bruce Dern. Throw stars like Kurt Russell and a roughed-up Jennifer Jason Leigh into the mix, and we have ourselves a new Tarantino classic in the making. Best of all, the director and Richardson shot the movie on 70mm film and will screen it as a roadshow in select 70mm theaters. In the days of digital overload, it really doesn’t get more classic Hollywood than that. 

The Revenant” (December 25)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Paul Anderson
Criticwire Average: N/A

Why is it a “Must See”? We’ve all heard the reports by now that the conditions on “The Revenant” set were “a living hell.” From long shoot days in the brutal cold to disagreements that led to defections to a budget that doubled to accommodate so many schedule changes, Alejandro  González Iñárritu’s unrelenting methods tested the sanity of his crew. But, in true Iñárritu fashion, the director has made the strife worthwhile. Longtime collaborator and Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki delivers breathtaking frames in the wilderness suffused with natural light. The Western revenge story, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a 19th century frontiersman, is a grueling and thrilling experience told with the precision and beauty that only Iñárritu and Lubezki are capable of. 

“Anomalisa” (December 30)

(Film Page)
Director: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Cast: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Criticwire Average: A-
Why is it a “Must See”? Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “Anomalisa” has ridden a wave of critical acclaim through numerous fall film festivals, and Paramount Pictures is jumping into the Oscar race with an awards-qualifying run this December. As is the case with many of Kaufman’s introspective films, “Anomalisa” is equal parts hilarious and profound, this time using stop-motion animation to explore the deep regrets and sexual escapades of a middle-aged motivational speaker named Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis. Adding to Stone’s mental anguish is the fact that he hears every voice in his life as if it’s the same person (Tom Noonan), though that suddenly changes when he meets a woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) during an overnight stop at a hotel in Cincinnati. A simple story full of existential conundrums, “Anomalisa” finds Kaufman and Johnson conjuring up something truly special.

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