It feels like winter’s just stopped rubbing its hairy, frigid balls all over our faces up here in New York, but already summer’s peeking its head around the corner. The summer movie season, that is, which kicks off this weekend with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I love a good (emphasis on good) Hollywood spectacle, and by all accounts The Winter Soldier is a good movie, but… I’m a film snob, dammit. We’re allowed to wax rhapsodic about indie films. To that end, here are ten indie movies you can partake in on Netflix while you’re sipping tea and wearing a monocle while your hoi polloi friends (fine, and me too) are out gorging themselves on popcorn and superhero movies.
“I’ve heard Bronson is good,” says Hypothetical Pajiba Reader to themselves as they read Kierkegaard while exercising on a treadmill (you guys are awesome), “and I like Tom Hardy, because everyone likes Tom Hardy, because it is physically impossible not to like Tom Hardy—have you seen him snuggling that puppy? But I just never got around to watching this particular movie.” Get around to it. I only did fairly recently, and I regret every moment I went without seeing Hardy’s scary, magnetic performance as the infamously violent British prisoner Charles Bronson. Now go look at more puppy pictures.
On the opposite end of the charisma spectrum from Hardy’s Bronson we have Alex Karpovsky’s Paul, a socially awkward scientist obsessed with a female coworker. But this is no cutesy “misfit likes popular girl, popular girl ignores misfit, popular girl comes to appreciate misfit for his unique outlook on life and pure spirit” romantic comedy BS. Rubberneck is creepy as hell, a sort of supernatural-less horror thriller told from the POV of an antagonist who really needs to let go of the idea of the “friendzone.”
Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is a World War II-era period drama with an NC-17 rating, controversial sex scenes, and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai wearing a suit, which is objectively speaking one of the sexist sights cinema has to offer. The only way it could be more of a stereotypical erotic arthouse foreign film is if it were French. But Lust, Caution is emphatically not that film. Its sex factor is far surpassed by its emotional brutality—it’s an amazing film, but not one that’s easy to get through, and not one that’s easy to forget once you’ve seen it. So no, not the sort of thing prepubescent boys pull up on Netflix because they’re worried their parents might catch them going to PornHub. That discrepancy between what it looks like and what it actually is may account for why Lust, Caution isn’t paid as much attention as, say, Lee’s Brokeback Mountain or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is absolutely as good as, if not better than, both of those.
Man, this list has had a hell of a lot of depressing or otherwise srs bsns films on it so far, huh? To prove that I am not immune to happy feelings, I offer up Boy, a coming-of-age New Zealand film by Taika Waititi, who wrote and directed several episodes of Flight of the Conchords in addition to the Jemaine Clement-starring rom-com Eagle vs Shark. Like all the best coming-of-age films, Boy has its angst, here in the form of an irresponsible manchild/absentee father played by Waititi. But there’s a Michael Jackson dance scene at the end. And a goat takes part in it. How depressing can it really be?!
Watching this documentary about the fight to include evolution in Texas textbooks will make you want to channel Captain America, bastion of justice and patriotism, and whack some people on the head for how they’re screwing up our (if you so happen to be American) educational system. Spurring a move to full supervillain is also possible. Seriously, this documentary is infuriating.
Much more feel-good than The Revisionaries is this 2011 documentary about a spiritual guru named Sri Kumaré. Except Kumaré is actually Vikram Gandhi, a filmmaker who cranks the “Indian holy man” stereotypes up to 11 and moves to Arizona to spread a made-up spiritual philosophy as part of a social experiment. Except then he actually starts getting followers. Awkwaaaaaard.
Mud’s eponymous fugitive drifter/wannabe philosopher isn’t the best film performance of the McConaissance—that comes in Killer Joe, I will fight you on this—but Mud isn’t exactly Fool’s Gold, either. Director Jeff Nichols, previously of Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, is among the best there is at accurately portraying the American South, neither glorifying it Fried Green Tomatoes-style or villainizing it à la Deliverance. I would like to see a Jeff Nichols-directed rom-com, though. It would be set in an impoverished Mississippi town, would have an undercurrent of questioning one’s place in the universe, and would star Reese Witherspoon and Michael Shannon.
In Bruges and director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up Seven Psychopaths is the reason I will maintain until I die that Colin Farrell is a good actor even though he makes crap like Winter’s Tale. In Bruges, about a hitman who has to hide out in a boring Belgian town after a job gone wrong, is hilarious. Farrell’s great in it. And, once you’ve watched it, you’ll be able to better appreciate the deleted scene where Matt Smith (not in the finished movie) plays a young version of Ralph Fiennes’ character. I repeat: The Doctor playing Young Voldemort in a movie with Mad-Eye Moody and Fleur Delacour.
Did you watch Primer? Are you aware that writer/director Shane Carruth doesn’t give even a tenth of a damn about whether people watching his movies understand what the hell’s going on? Do you nonetheless acknowledge that Primer was a brilliantly constructed film that managed to suck its audience in with its arresting, vaguely spooky atmosphere, which can’t be an easy thing to do when such a major thing as the plot is more or less completely inaccessible? Good. You are now ready to watch Upstream Color.
But what if you don’t want something think-y or talk-y or… well, “indie”? What if you’re in the mood for an action extravaganza? I saw The Raid 2 on opening weekend. I feel you. For those in the mood to watch a non-superhero protagonist dole out some ass-kickings, I recommend the 2011 French film Sleepless Night, about a cop whose son gets abducted by drug dealers. The poster is a dude choking another dude while that first dude gets smacked in the face. It’s fun.
Rebecca is the associate editor of The Mary Sue, where she talks about Hollywood blockbusters all day. She needs a break.