Last summer, we kicked off our very first 10 Most Anticipated Anti-Blockbuster Movies of the Summer, and it was a golden list. Several of those movies ended up being some of our favorites for the year — 500 Days of Summer, In the Loop, Brothers Bloom, The Hurt Locker and Away We Go, while a couple of others were minor disappointments (Dead Snow, Cold Souls), one got bumped to the fall and wasn’t very good (The Boat that Rocked) and another (The Hangover) probably shouldn’t have been on the list in the first place (I had no idea a small(is) road trip comedy with — at the time — few major movie stars would become an actual blockbuster).
This year’s 10 Most Anticipated Anti-Blockbuster Movies of the Summer has nothing on 2009’s. There is no 500 Days of Summer or In the Loop among the contenders. There obviously could be surprises, but we’ve seen 60 percent of these movies at festivals, and while they’re of varying levels of greatness, I don’t think any of them come close to The Hurt Locker or Brothers Bloom.
All of which is to say: It’s as sad in the indie world this summer as it is in the blockbuster world. That said, I’m sure all of these movies will be better than 80 percent of the summer blockbusters. Sure, MicMacs may be no Away We Go, but I can guarantee you that it’s going to be better than Sex and the City 2 or Prince of Persia.
In other words, just because independent films aren’t up to the gold standard set in the summer of 2009 doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to support them (where available). The ones we’ve seen are damn fine, and the ones we haven’t show a lot of promise. So, bookmark this page, and at the end of the summer, pat yourself on the back if you’ve seen more of these than you have of the 10 Most Anticipated Summer Blockbusters of 2010.
10. Holy Rollers: I don’t know a lot about this movie, other than what we’ve seen of the trailers and decent notices from a handful of early reviews. One described it as A Serious Man meets Go, and that’s a combination I can support. In it, Jesse Eisenberg stars as Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn who is lured into becoming an Ecstasy dealer by his pal who has ties to an Israel drug cartel. ( — DR)
9. [Rec 2]: This one is a nod to our gore enthusiasts. You don’t often see sequels on a list like this, but the original [Rec] was a brutal, terrifying, horror thriller that was brilliantly received by critics and audiences alike. I have plenty of hope for [Rec 2], if only because the original writers and directors have returned. Also, the teaser trailer for [Rec 2] looks awesomely blood-drenched and terrifying. — DR
8. The Extra Man: In Extra Man, Paul Dano’s Louis Ives moves to New York City to “find himself,” after he’s sacked from a teaching position at a private boarding school when the headmistress discovers him trying on a bra. In the city, he stumbles reluctantly into a living arrangement with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a barely employed, destitute holdover from a different era. He’s something of an aristocratic beggar and as eccentric a character as you’re likely to see this year. He’s posh and snobbish, believes that the downfall of civilization was allowing men and women to attend the same schools, collects Christmas balls, and when he can’t afford to buy socks, he just shoe polishes his ankles. … Despite what you might think of the plot description, Extra Man isn’t your typical hipster whimsiquirkilicious indie flick. There’s no Cat Stevens or Iron and Wine on the soundtrack. It’s an adult comedy, intelligent and literary even at its most silly. Kevin Kline turns in his funniest performance since A Fish Called Wanda and completely owns the screen when he’s on it. — DR
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7. 8: The Mormon Proposition: 8: The Mormon Proposition is a stirring, tragically depressing documentary about the Mormon Church’s massive efforts to support and pass California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative (also called the California Marriage Protection Act), which in 2008 redefined marriage in the state of California as being only between a man and a woman, effectively making marriage between same-sex couples illegal and unrecognized. Depending on which side of the debate you stand on, you will find it either silly and pointless, or obscenely infuriating and find yourself filled with a sense of righteous fury … The sad truth is that Proposition 8 passed, and now there are people left in its wake trying to figure out what to do next. But of equal importance is to understand how and why that happened, to know and understand the gathering of ideas and minds that put a cleverly orchestrated plan into effect that led us to this place. 8: The Mormon Proposition is a heartbreaking film that exposes some very real and frightening truths, but also helps people come to grips with those realities, and teaches them to dust themselves off and get back in the fight. — TK
6. HappyThankYouMorePlease: “How I Met Your Mother’s” Josh Radnor may be poised to be the next Zach Braff, a successful sitcom star who branched out to write, direct, and star in his own indie flick. The so-called plot description shares a lot in common with “HIMYM,” too: “Captures a generational moment - young people on the cusp of truly growing up, tiring of their reflexive cynicism, each in their own ways struggling to connect and define what it means to love and be loved.” It won the Audience Award this year at Sundance (the only Sundance award that actually matters). I may suffer from a case of whimsiquirkilcious, but it is the only movie out this summer that looks like it could potentially follow in the footsteps of 500 Days of Summer.
5. Winter’s Bone: Winter’s Bone is a savage journey quest, one girl’s descent through the bowels of a rust-belt backwoods Hell to find her father or a corpse she can drag home. It’s Alice in Wonderland if she were crawling through a river of shit. When her father, in jail for his third conviction for the manufacture of crystal meth, skips out on his bail after putting the house up for collateral, his eldest daughter and caretaker of the family has to track him down. A stark and bleak drama winding through the rural poor regions of the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone shows the horrid underbelly of the beastial illegal drug cookery and so called hillbilly mafia while paying true homage to the South. These aren’t some redneck hicks with a Git R’ Done sticker on their pickup. These are the motherfuckers with the thousand yard stare who train their kids to blast you between the eyes with a squirrel hunting rifle and feed what’s left of you to the hogs. Debra Granik, fresh from the success of Down to the Bone, which brought Vera Farmiga to our attention, gives an unflinching frankness to this spectacular and haunting hymn built on the shoulders of her outstanding young lead actress. Like a chill winter wind scattering the last clinging leaves of autumn, Winter’s Bone will get under your skin and deep into your bones. — Brian Prisco
4. The Killer Inside Me: Director Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me is many things. It’s a beautifully shot glimpse of how sordid small-town life can be. It’s an unflinching look into the mind of a killer. It’s a brutal and uncomfortable display of violence, particularly against women. It’s an example of absolutely brilliant acting, and it’s an incredible movie, but often one to be endured rather than enjoyed … It’s all gloriously dark, pulpy stuff, mixed with a healthy dose of cops and killers, dames and molls and back-alley deals. Set in the ’50s, Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, A Mighty Heart) successfully recreates that bucolic, small-town-from-another-era feel, creating a dry, dusty landscape that seems as harsh and unforgiving as the film’s subject matter. Full of tight close-ups of its characters and wide shots of the barren-looking landscape, it’s a film that truly captures the atmosphere of its time and place. — TK
3. Micmacs: Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has explained that the meaning of “micmacs” is something akin to “shenanigans.” And this film offered the best kind of shenanigans, in the form of multiple mini-capers. As a young boy, Bazil (Dany Boon) loses his father to a landmine. As an adult, Bazil is struck in the head by a bullet. These lead to a chain of events where Bazil winds up being taken in by a familial group of curious vagabonds who wind up helping him in his plot to sabotage the heads of the two weapons companies responsible for those two acts of violence. If it sounds heavy, it’s not - Micmacs has the visual style of Jeunet’s earlier films without any of the darkness. If it sounds ridiculous, it is, but in an entirely good way. Written by Jeunet with Guillaume Laurant, the film is a cartoonish farce, loaded with over-the-top scams and silly self-referential movie references (including what I have to believe was an intentional shout-out to Eddie Murphy’s exchange student from Cameroon in Trading Places). Bazil and company’s shenanigans are each intricately planned yet relatively simply plots designed to force the two arms dealers to square off against each other, and while it’s fun watching the execution of those plans, the movie is just as enjoyable to watch when it’s just the gang sitting around the table having dinner. — Seth Freilich
2. Cyrus: Jay and Mark Duplass have been bumbling around in the mumblecore bowels of the indie world for nearly a decade now, taking off-beat premises and exploring the relationship dynamics that arise from them; no one, in fact, is better at extracting the honesty out of a spectacularly bizarre situation. Cyrus is more of the same — a genuine, heartfelt comedy that organically explores the relationship between a 22-year-old live-at-home layabout, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), and his mother’s new boyfriend, John (John C. Reilly). The wrinkle here is that Cyrus and his mother, Molly (Marisa Tomei), have a borderline Oedipal relationship. They’re best friends. They share the bathroom together. Molly still coddles Cyrus to sleep. And they wrestle together at the park. They are, indeed, like an old married couple minus the bickering and the occasional sex, though it seems, sometimes, that it’s not for lack of want, on Cyrus’ part … Cyrus is the perfect indie execution of a studio high-concept. (— DR)
1. The Kids Are All Right: The Kids Are All Right debuted at Sundance earlier this year with a big ole dramatic cannonball splash. You know how I know it’s going to be good? Besides the fact that it looks fucking remarkable, and that Mark Ruffalo seems to have finally found his way again? Because the critic blurbs in the trailer don’t come from some two-bit TV station weather man slash movie reviewer. They come from The NYTimes and Entertainment Weekly and, goddamnit, they’ve done a number on me. I would LOVE to be charmed into a state of enlightenment. Plus, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbian parents? More please. Ruffalo plays the sperm donor who the teenage children track down because they want to get to know their biological father. That father, in turn, ingratiates himself into the family, to the displeasure and later, the pleasure of the two moms. It looks like another perfect populist indie flick. — DR