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2016 Fall Movie Preview: 34 Indie Films to See This Season

Our annual Fall Preview kicks off with a close look at 34 heartily recommended indie films to check out this season.

“Operation Avalanche,” September 16

Operation Avalanche

“Operation Avalanche”

Lionsgate

Writer-director Matt Johnson’s follow up to his debut “The Dirties” is a comedic alternate history movie about one of the greatest conspiracy theories in U.S. history — the faked moon landing. The film follows two clumsy filmmakers working for the CIA to uncover a Russian mole working for NASA. Once inside the organization, the pair learn that NASA is way behind on the moon mission and won’t be able to achieve President Kennedy’s goal of beating the Russians to the planet. Their solution is to shoot a fake landing themselves, a plan that’s later adopted by the U.S. government. “Operation Avalanche” sees Johnson once again cast himself as the lead role in his movie, as he did with his debut film. “Operation Avalanche” premiered at Sundance Film Festival before going on to South by Southwest and being acquired by Lionsgate Premiere. -GW

“Miss Stevens,” September 16

"Miss Stevens"

“Miss Stevens”

A trio of righteous performances from Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru helped embolden “The Keeping Room” into one of the most fiercely feminist Westerns since “Westward the Women,” but the real star of that 2014 standout was screenwriter Julia Hart, who surgically pared down a world of genre tropes into and breathlessly tense experience. Now, Hart has returned with a project that is wholly her own, making her directorial debut with this funny character study that makes good on the promise of her breakthrough script. A beautifully realized story of grief, getting by, and finding help in unexpected places, the film follows a high school teacher (the great Lily Rabe) in mourning as she chaperones a group of students to a weekend drama competition. Slender but exquisitely sensitive, this small indie surprise features stand-out turns by Rabe and Timothee Chalamet (“One and Two”). -DE

“Goat,” September 23

"Goat"

“Goat”

Courtesy of The Film Arcade

A college psychodrama about the brutality of fraternity hazing, “Goat” stars up-and-comer Ben Schnetzer as Brad, a freshman pledge at his brother Brett’s (Nick Jonas) fraternity. Lured in by the hedonistic rituals of frat life, Brad soon discovers the shocking abuse that pledges have to endure in the name of brotherhood. The nightmarish experience pushes Brad to his wits end and tests his loyalty to his brother. “Goat” director Andrew Neel (“King Kelly”) co-wrote the film with David Gordon Green and “King Kelly” co-writer Mike Roberts. Co-starring James Franco as one of the fraternity’s overbearing former leaders, “Goat” premiered at the Sundance and quickly became a festival favorite, playing at the Berlin International Film Festival and New York City’s BAMcinemaFest. Paramount Home Media acquired worldwide rights to the movie, which was produced by Christine Vachon’s Killer Films. -GW

“The Lovers and the Despot,” September 23

"The Lovers and the Despot"

“The Lovers and the Despot”

Choi-Eun-hee was a beautiful movie actress, her lover Shin Sang-ok a suave director. Together they were the most glamorous celebrity couple in South Korea… that is until they were kidnapped by North Korean dictator and movie-nut Kim Jong-il, who forced them to take part in what could only be described as one of the most unusual filmmaking projects ever. Some of the details of this story have been known for awhile, but what is such a wonderful surprise about this documentary is the treasure trove of archival material (including audio recordings of Jong-il describing the plot of his movie idea) and the detail with which the torturous ordeal could be retold. The film is wonderfully pieced together into an engaging story that is part film noir, part black comedy, part romance wrapped around the harrowing story of imprisonment. -CO

“Sand Storm,” September 28

"Sand Storm"

“Sand Storm”

The tale of the conflicting pulls of modernity and tradition on a young woman living in a Bedouin village in Israel. The conflict comes into full bloom when Layla’s secret romance with a boy from the university is discovered by her mother, who, ironically, is in the middle of hosting a wedding ceremony for her husband (Layla’s father) and his second wife. Trying to save the family from shame, she puts constraints on Layla, who is determined to not be bound by tradition. Israeli filmmaker Elite Zexer spent ten years interacting with the women of the village to create a film that is being celebrated for its authenticity and complexity. In reviewing the film at Sundance, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote, “Zexer seamlessly shifts perspectives between each character’s understanding of the logic dictating their world, and even as Layla remains the central protagonist, the movie doesn’t quite take sides so much as it passively observes the different perspectives in play.” -CO

“My Blind Brother,” September 23

"My Blind Brother"

“My Blind Brother”

Sophie Goodhart’s endearing comedy spins off an unlikely premise — what if your really popular, really beloved, really blind brother was actually a huge jerk? — into a charming romance and a series of increasingly hilarious and cringe-y experiences. Adam Scott is at his asshole-ish best as Robbie, the blind brother in question, whose antics and entitlement finally break his big brother Bill (Nick Kroll) when they fall for the same girl (Jenny Slate). The three exhibit a natural, fizzy comedic chemistry, one that keeps things afloat even when Goodhart doubles down on plot points of a far more serious nature. It’s one of the season’s true hidden gems. – KE

“American Honey,” September 30

"American Honey"

“American Honey”

A24

Andrea Arnold’s road-trip movie about impoverished youth was one of the most acclaimed titles at the Cannes Film Festival, where it took home the Jury Prize. The movie stars first-time actress Sasha Lane as Star, a runaway teen who makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to join a crew of crew of young misfits selling magazine subscriptions by day and partying hard by night. Shortly after embarking on the trip, Star becomes romantically involved with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), one of the leaders of the crew, and as the journey takes a series of increasingly dangerous turns, she doubles down on her moneymaking venture rather than quitting to find safer work. An electrifying look at law-breaking youngsters, “American Honey” feels at times like a documentary about wild and crazy teens with nothing to lose. Arnold’s first film shot in the U.S., the movie was acquired by A24 prior to its premiere at Cannes. -GW

Check out October’s best indie offerings on the next page. 

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