Now and again we’ll see a big-budget extravaganza release on Netflix: films like Da 5 Bloods, The Old Guard and, more recently, Project Power . Aside from that, quarantine has lowered the movie playing field. COVID-19 dismantled any notion of a traditional 2020 release schedule—every blockbuster we planned on seeing this year has been pushed; awaiting the safe and responsible reopening of theaters worldwide. From Marvel’s Black Widow and Warner Bros.’ Tenet to Universal’s No Time to Die , entertainment is both shaken and stirred. Quality movies are still finding their way to audiences via VOD. The best cinematic outings are independent (not that indies aren’t always superior…*cough* creative freedom *cough*). Indies are all we really have right now, films crafted by intrepid spirits trying to stir those accustomed to superheroes, soft-core sex, and CGI. Raw, unfiltered, and undisputed in its proclivity for chaos, 2020 dawned the age of the indie. If theaters can’t reclaim their former economic glory upon reopening, streaming will be everyone’s main source of entertainment. It already is. Why would distributors go back? It’s not hard to imagine a future where smaller films sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Spider-Man and Dominic Toretto. No limited release or over-priced popcorn. The following indies, unrestrained by their cash-cow behemoth brethren, are some of the best 2020 has to offer ( especially for those craving anything new).
Cover Photo: Netflix
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Age of the Indie Quarantine
Based on the novel of the same name, Kelly Reichardt’s film follows two travelers who rely on a landowner’s prized dairy cow to strike it rich in the 1820s (whilst on the run from vengeful bounty hunters). First Cow explores brotherhood and what it means to be an American. It competed for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival before being released on VOD in July.
Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole centers on two young women attempting to rebuild their lives following the siege of Leningrad during World War II. The director’s bleak look at guilt, grief, and PTSD is amplified by long takes and close-ups that convey the emotions of its characters. Although the film released last year/early 2020, it just recently became available on VOD in June.
'Never Rarely Sometimes Always'
Eliza Hittman’s drama follows Autumn, who, after finding out she is pregnant, lacks the compassion and support necessary to deal with the unintentional situation. Therefore, she travels to New York City with her cousin Skylar. It's a contemplative journey on the nature of systemic oppression, compassion, and friendship. Never Rarely Sometimes Always won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival (among other things).
'The Vast of Night'
Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night takes place in a small town in New Mexico during the 1950s, following two children searching for the source of a mysterious frequency. The film takes obvious (given the geography) UFO turns, but excels due to the central relationship and focus on Cold-War era nostalgia. The film premiered last year at Slamdance Film Festival before releasing on VOD this May.
Writer/director Alan Yang’s Tigertail follows the life of Pin-Jui, his adolescence in Taiwan, and eventual immigrant to America, and all of the forced, utilitarian decisions regarding marriage and employment that come along with it. The film has been praised for its performances as well as offering viewers a valuable look at the immigration experience.
Based on the novel of the same name, this biographical drama follows a young couple who moves in with Stanley Hyman and Shirley Jackson. To elicit inspiration and overcome writer’s block, Shirley and her husband physiologically torment the aforementioned couple. Shirley won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Auteur Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival back in January.
Dave Franco’s directorial debut sees two couples rent an oceanside getaway for what they intend to be a celebratory weekend. However, when a camera is found in the shower, they begin suspecting their host of spying on them. That suspicion (compiled with a multitude of bad decisions) results in a less-than-satisfactory experience. The Rental made waves its opening weekend thanks to drive-in theaters and VOD.
Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’s mystery thriller centers on the inhabitants of Bacurau, a fictional town in the Brazilian sertão and its weird happenings following the death of its matriarch. The film has been praised for its daring narrative and deep-dive into Brazilian society.
Kitty’s Green #MeToo era film about an aspiring film producer, Jane (played by Julia Garner, at the top of her game), who lands a job as the assistant of a powerful media mogul (*cough* Harvey Weinstein) explores sexual harassment (both subtle and not so much) in the workplace. Haunting and sobering, The Assistant rises above all other films/television shows that try to capture reality as its most cruel. It premiered at Telluride Film Festival last August before releasing Jan. 31.
Andre Ahn’s indie features Brian Dennehy’s final (and perhaps finest) performance as a Korean War vet, Del. Dennehy’s character befriends the socially-awkward young son of his deceased neighbor's sister. Driveways contemplates loss, fear, and suffering as a collective, human experience. The film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February before releasing on VOD in May.
'Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets'
Bill and Turner Ross’ documentary/fiction hybrid follows the patrons and staff of a Las Vegas bar enjoying its last night before shutting down. Actual patrons play improvised versions of themselves throughout a 24-hour bender. Anyone familiar with the culture depicted will appreciate this film’s honesty and empathetic approach to the borderline self-destructive. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets ' initial release was in January before becoming available on VOD in July.