Indie releases tend to thrive during the months when the multiplexes get dumber — in other words, every month until October, when big studios start putting their muscle behind intelligent Oscar contenders and act like that’s the kind of stuff they’re turning out all year. Point is, our indie preview is a little thinner than usual this month, since quieter movies are basically gunning for the same audiences as your Zero Dark Thirtys and Life of Pis and so on, but there are a few small releases worth tracking down. We’ll run them down for you after the jump.
In Our Nature RELEASE: December 7 DIRECTOR: Brian Savelson CAST: John Slattery, Zach Gilford, Jena Malone, Gabrielle Union
“Sometimes people get stuck in patterns,” notes Vicky (Union) early on in Brian Savelson’s In Our Nature, which finds a distant father and son, and their girlfriends, unexpectedly sharing the family lake house over an uncomfortable weekend. The pairings, conflicts, and resolutions are a touch schematic, but it’s a genuine story with a lot of truth, the relationships are consistently believable, and the expected surplus of cringing and quiet resentment get an extra lift from the presence of Slattery, who does loaded, passive-aggressive subtext better than anybody in the business.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding RELEASE: December 7; on demand now DIRECTOR: Donald Rice CAST: Felicity Jones, Luke Treadway, Elizabeth McGovern, Mackenzie Crook, Zoe Tapper
Suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal? This should do the trick: here’s a period British comedy/drama, set among the world of droll aristocrats, which even throws in Elizabeth McGovern for good measure. The exquisite Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) stars as a would-be bride with a serious case of cold feet; Treadway is the old fling who’s the primary cause for her jitters. The picture falters a bit in the second half, when serious matters of romance threaten to dour up the mirthful proceedings, but it never topples; it’s a whip-smart, frisky, witty bit of fun.
Deadfall RELEASE: December 7; on demand now DIRECTOR: Stefan Ruzowitzky CAST: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Treat Williams, Kate Mara
This snowy ticking-clock thriller is a bit too busy and discombobulated to accomplish everything it’s attempting, but as an actors’ showcase, it can’t be beat: Bana is a surprisingly adept hillybilly psycho, Hunnam is a credibly world-weary ex-con, Wilde proves herself much more than just an achingly pretty face, and Spacek and Kristofferson are both incapable of a false note (can’t they both just be in everything?). Not a great movie, but moody and well-executed, and filled with memorable performances.
Amour RELEASE: December 19 DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke CAST: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
For years, your film editor has felt like the sole voice of dissent on the work of Michael Haneke, who has (of late, anyway) seemed less interested in being a filmmaker than a provocateur, serving up miserable platters of misanthropy and cheap shots to audiences who consumed them as though receiving Hail Marys and acts of contrition from a particularly brutal priest. I wasn’t a fan, is the point, which is why it was such a relief to find Amour so powerful and moving — a masterpiece, in fact. For once, he treats his characters as people rather than vessels for his own cruelty and nihilism; it’s a sad, beautiful, gut-wrenching piece of work.
On the Road RELEASE: December 21 DIRECTOR: Walter Salles CAST: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss, Terrence Howard, Steve Buscemi
Kristen Stewart makes her first appearance in this adaptation of the Beat classic buck naked, which is something of a statement of purpose; if it does nothing else, it proves that she can act, given the right role, and she brings this one an earthy, unstudied sensuality. The film itself has its issues — the director doesn’t seem sure what to do with Kerouac’s problematic female characters (beyond casting them well), and you wish they’d gone all or nothing with the inconsistent narration — but it’s picturesque, vibrant, and properly jittery, snugly situated in its late-’40s lit-bohemian NYC milieu, its garrulous menfolk drinking and smoking and screwing and romanticizing lived led harder than theirs.
West of Memphis RELEASE: December 25 DIRECTOR: Amy Berg CAST: Documentary
With the seven-plus hours of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost trilogy already out in the world, it would seem that the story of the West Memphis Three had been just about documented to death. And it must be said that those who’ve seen those films will find quite a bit of material here that they’re already familiar with. But director Amy Berg (who helmed the harrowing Deliver Us from Evil) enjoyed better access to the parties involved, and tells the story of the DNA testing and eleventh-hour bombshells (which ultimately set the trio free) from less of a distance than the Paradise Lost makers. Their trilogy remains the definitive account, but those approaching the story anew will find this well-crafted single film a less daunting way in to that shocking story.
King Kelly RELEASE: Out now DIRECTOR: Andrew Neel CAST: Louisa Krause, Libby Woodbridge, Roderick Hill, Will Brill
Andrew Neel’s sharp, thorny “found footage”-style comedy ruthlessly sends up the narcissism and shallowness of a generation bent on documenting themselves, even when they’re only being vapid and awful. There is a plot, of sorts, but Neel mostly careens on drug-and-booze-fueled momentum — and the charisma of leading lady Krause (Martha Marcy May Marlene), who absolutely nails her characterization of a young woman who knows exactly how sexy she is, and couldn’t be more obnoxious about it. Inventive yet believable, with some well-placed dark turns in its third act.
Those are our recommendations — what are you looking forward to this month?