The new business model for indie flicks is both a blessing and a curse. Smaller films often debut in streaming or VOD formats on or before their theatrical release dates, they come out after their theatrical runs much sooner, and they’re more widely available. But indie studios also have much less money to spend to market the films, so often they rely upon well-known cast members doing the talk show rounds, good reviews, and solid word of mouth.
Those methods of publicizing a film, however, have a short shelf life and often don’t extend very far, so great gems often come and go without making much of a splash, especially in smaller markets where — if the movie ever does make it to the theater — the press for it has already vanished.
We may do this periodically, but I think it’s worth putting a few movies released this year back on your radar. I’ve chosen only films that are out now or that will be out by December 2nd so that you’ll have a chance to watch them before 2015 rolls around and you’ve moved on to feeling guilty about missing the next batch of indie gems.
Bad Words (Out Now) — Bad Words is the most smugly, Bateman-esque comedy of Bateman’s career. The story centers on salty, sarcastic, foul-mouthed Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), a 40-year-old genius with a photographic memory who has exploited a loophole and entered into a grade-school spelling bee for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. Trilby is obviously not welcomed, either by the school or the other kids’ parents, but rules are rules, and Trilby is not there to make friends, goddamnit. He’s there to dominate and humiliate the eighth graders and work himself up toward the National Spelling Bee, ruining as many childhood dreams as possible along the way. It works to hilarious effect because it doesn’t temper any of the humor. It’s not aiming for a PG-13 rating, and it’s not trying not to offend. It gets out of its own damn way, and exploits every punchline imaginable — from terrorist stereotypes to pedophilia jokes to flappy vaginas — without concern with who it will shock or offend. — Dustin Rowles
Skeleton Twins (Available 12/2) — This entire movie comes down to the relationship between Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. They have such an ease between them, their bond (as both actors and their characters) holds the entire thing together, and it feels less like two two great performances than it does one truly spectacular one. We feel lucky to be witnessing this relationship. In the hands of just about anyone else, the movie could easily be a series of flat clichés— personal growth montages, sudden musical numbers, bonding through drug use. I mean, we DO get those things, but with these two, led by the subtleties of Craig Johnson (along with co-writer Mark Heyman), they are not just fun, they are real. Because sometimes our lives are just a series of clichés, and it’s exhausting and depressing, and we want more. Maggie and Milo both want more. And they, like us, have no idea how what that “more” looks like or to get it. So their story may not have a clear arc. The conflicts may be muddy and the resolutions unresolved. But like the old cliché tells us, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, right? This movie is a journey, made of hilariousness and feelings and perfection. — Vivian Kane
What If (Available 11/25) — It’s inevitable that What If will forever be called the Millennial When Harry Met Sally. You know why? Because that’s exactly what it is. This movie is quite possibly the best romantic comedy of the 2000s, or at least a solid contender for the title, which it earned not by flipping the genre on its head or by inventing new forms, but by doing the old forms really, really well. It is aggressively adorable, but very smart. Sure, it’s predictable (what, are they NOT going to end up together?) and moderately formulaic, and, yes, twee enough to include cartoon bird-women occasionally fluttering across the screen, but still centers around two characters who are undeniably charming and perfect enough for each other that you can’t help but actively root for them. This movie is fun and charming and— yes, I’ll use the dread word itself—adorable. And by embracing all those things and not fighting the genre it so solidly lives within, it manages to be a truly fantastic movie. — Vivian Kane
Enemy (Out Now) — Jake Gyllenhaal’s Enemy is a trippy little mindfuck. It’s a Canadian/Spanish production directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve (who also directed Prisoners) based on the 2002 erotic thriller The Double from Portuguese author José Saramago. It stars an American in Gyllenhaal, a Parisian in Mélanie Laurent, Canadian Sarah Gadon, and Italian actress Isabella Rossellini. It’s a fascinating film, and to give anything away besides the premise would completely spoil it. It’s a literary film, brimming with foreshadowing, symbolism, and metaphor, and anyone hoping for a cinematic twist of an ending will go home disappointed. It reminded me, strangely, of Timecrimes, and it’s satisfying in a way that a magnificent short story might be satisfying, rather than in a way a Hollywood ending might feel fakely satisfying. That is to say, the more you re-examine everything you’ve seen before, the more you appreciate Enemy, and the way it laid the groundwork for the surprise ending. — Dustin Rowles
Obvious Child — Obvious Child is scarily easy to explain in a sentence: abortion rom-com. But, like every stupidly short terrible elevator pitch explanation, that doesn’t even begin to cover the whole of what this complicated, hilarious, strange and wonderful little film is about. Obvious Child is the kind of movie that shouldn’t be so surprising. Yes! There is a way to discuss these difficult things without resorting to awkward nonsense or heavy handed drama, yes there are other people dealing with the things you’re dealing with, and they are making art and you can see it right now. It shouldn’t feel like a groundbreaking revelation when someone makes something good, something true and real. And yet it still does, and there’s something wonderful about art that can still surprise and delight. Obvious Child is worthy of contemplation, for as much as it does not say as for what it reveals about the way we think about ourselves. Also, it’s actually funny, and there’s precious little of real funny in the world these days. — Amanda Mae Meynke