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Hollywood’s slate of summer blockbusters often leaves older and more literate movie goers out in the cold. Smaller distributors know this creates an opportunity for films driven by reviews and word of mouth to find their audience. What that means in 2014 is your iTunes and cable VOD channels are loaded with dozens of the best received films coming out of this year’s major festivals. With so much to chose between here are five standouts critics insist are must-streams.
Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) is a mysterious outsider haunted by a dark past and living on the margins of society. He’s the type of character that was once a staple in low budget American cinema. From the Coen Brothers to Quentin Tarantino, to say nothing of the countless old studio directors who cut their teeth on B-movies, there is a long tradition of up-and-coming directors showcasing their filmmaking chops making dark, stylish, intense noirs like Blue Ruin.
“It’s almost as if indies have passed over the noir style recently,” writer-direct-D.P. Jeremy Saulnier tells THR. “With the democratization of filmmaking, which can be a good thing, there was a period the aesthetic of filmmaking degraded across the board with entry level filmmakers.” Tired of what he felt were indies that were striving to “perfectly recreate the mundane”, Saulnier set out to make a more classic film that his audience would feel on a visceral or gut level. The result is one of the more cinematic and tense (and at times violent) noirs to come along in years.
If you are looking for the smaller film that cinephiles will still be dissecting and talking about in 10 years it very well may be Richard Ayoade‘s second feature, The Double. The Kafka-esque tale of modern alienation, adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s novella, tells the story of Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) whose life is invaded by a new co-worker James (also played by Eisenberg), who no one seems to notice looks exactly like him.
This highly stylized dystopia does not have the broadest appeal, but Ayoade’s precision with the camera, design and atmosphere has drawn favorable comparisons to masters like Orson Welles, David Lynch and Terry Gilliam, making him a director whose career many are now closely watching.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz wasn’t the typical hacker/boy genius looking to simply screw the man and institutions of power. He was a radical — but he was an incredibly positive activist who believed strongly he could change things for the better, which makes the circumstances surrounding his death that much more infuriating and tragic. His story touched millions and was the impetus for the drafting of a new law, but with the doc The Internet’s Own Boy director Brian Knappenberger, along with Swartz’s colleagues, friends and family, aim to catapult his story further into the public’s awareness.
The result is “a must-see for anyone who knows enough to care about the way laws govern information transfer in the digital age,” according to THR’s John DeFore, who also calls the doc, “an inspiring account of the life of, and an infuriating chronology of the persecution of, one of the Internet’s most impressive prodigies.”
It Felt Like Love
This indie breakout from first-time feature filmmaker Eliza Hittman is a believable and at times awkward portrayal of how stressful sex can be for early teens desperate to fit in. This unflinching and endearing film is anchored by a remarkably subtle performance from 14-year-old newcomer Gina Piersanti, but the real revelation for most critics has been Hittman’s lyrical use of the camera in bringing to life the world of her young lead.
“I was inspired by all these microbudget films being made with skeleton crews and unprofessional actors,” Hittman tells THR, “but I also wanted to tell a story in a more aggressively visual way.” Working closely with ace cinematographer Sean Porter (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) Hittman creates lush, gray-ish, late-summer-day imagery and captures the vibrant streets and beaches of a working class New York City that rarely get seen in film or TV.
In the late 1990s a young Swedish director named Lukas Moodysson became one of the hottest international directors with naturalistic, touching and funny films like Show Me Love (aka Fucking Amil) and Together. What followed from Moodysson was two intentionally hard-to-watch experimental films, two bleak novels centered around the death of his father, and a Babel–Crash-like English language film (Mammoth) that was coolly received.
The now 45-year-old Moodysson is back from what he described to THR as more than a decade of “bumming people out” with We Are The Best!. “I do feel in some way that it is a return,” explains Moodysson, “because I do think there were some things in the first two films that I didn’t really finish and needed to come back to. Something about surviving and hope and happiness.” Adapted from his wife Coco’s autobiographical graphic novel about her early teen punk years in Stockholm, Best! is being nearly universally welcomed by critics as blast of needed youthful energy, scoring a 97 on the Tomatometer and with gushing reviews that promise it will be a staple on end-of-the-year Top 10 lists.
REVIEW: ‘We Are the Best!’
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