Certified Fresh Indie Gems You Might Have Missed In Theaters, Now Streaming

Do not sleep on flicks like Disobedience, Lean On Pete, and The Insult, which could sneak into awards conversations.

by | July 31, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by Scott Patrick Green /© A24)

Fall is when indie cinema and awards chatter kicks into high gear, with the Toronto International Film Festival signaling our first look at the year’s likeliest awards contenders and theaters suddenly showing a slew of movies that don’t feature explosions. The highly competitive awards calendar usually squeezes movies that come before the fall out of contention, but there are some films among this group that you should keep an eye on – and that are available on streaming right now. (It’s hot out anyway, and you were looking for an excuse to stay in, right?) Check out these Certified Fresh indie gems you shouldn’t let fly under your radar. 

The Insult (2017) 86%

What happens when a minor offense spirals out of control. That is the question that Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult asks and the brilliantly answers. A simple splash of dirty water morphs into a sensational courtroom drama that threatens to divide a country. The fact the two male leads sit on opposite sides of the political and religious divide in Lebanon further heightens the tension: Tony is a right-wing Christian and Salameh’s a Palestinian. Katie Walsh of Tribune News Service called The Insult, “A powerful and impeccably crafted tale arguing for the crucial importance of addressing history and facing down trauma.”

The Death of Stalin (2017) 95%

Armando Iannucci, the creator and writer of The Thick of It and Veep, is a master of political satire. Earlier this year, Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin made its way into theaters with a stellar cast including Steve Buscemi, Jason Issacs, and Andrea Riseborough, and a story that chronicled the death of Joesph Stalin and the power struggle that followed in its wake. Adam Graham from Detroit News called it a “deep farce, but it is rooted in enough political reality that it hardly feels sensationalized.” 

Unsane (2018) 80%

Steven Soderbergh returned from his self-imposed retirement completely recommitted to independent filmmaking. After The Knick was canceled he quickly returned to theaters with his redneck Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky, and followed it up with avant-garde thriller UnsaneClaire Foy stars as Sawyer, a young woman who is involuntarily committed to a mental institution and who spends the movie’s runtime questioning what’s real and what’s a product of her delusion. The movie was shot entirely on an iPhone and the hype around the technical achievement may have overshadowed the quality of the film (trust us: it’s really good). Julian Wood of FILMINK reminded us to not let the marketing distract from the power of Soderbergh’s work, writing that the “iPhone opus is a worthy addition to the longstanding but problematic mental health thriller subgenre.” 

Chappaquiddick (2017) 80%

John Curran’s Chappaquiddick was an unfortunate victim of miscalculation and lousy timing. Originally slated to premiere last fall with an awards season push, Entertainment Studios swapped the date for Chappaquiddick for Hostiles, starring Christian Bale. Neither would go on to make much money, or much of an awards-season splash. Which is a shame because both are worthy of attention. In this fictional retelling of Edward Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick scandal, Jason Clarke perfectly embodies the younger iteration of the man who would become the Lion of the Senate. Stephanie Zacharek of TIME Magazine wrote, “Clarke makes us feel plenty of things we’d rather not. His eyes are shadowed with profound decency one minute and hollowed out in the desperate calculation the next.” 

Lean on Pete (2017) 90%

Here we’re going to make an impassioned plea for everyone to see this story about a boy and his horse. At 17, Charlie Plummer read the script for Lean on Pete and sent a letter to the director, Andrew Haigh, expressing his passion for the project; after a few minutes watching him on screen as Charley you’d have trouble imagining anyone else in the role. Charley struggles through hardship but finds belonging and friendship while caring for an aging racehorse named Lean On Pete; the movie follows his journey to find a home for the both of them. Expect to be moved. Danny Leigh of The Financial Times likened Lean On Pete to “Dickens, under a starry and menacing American sky.”

Disobedience (2017) 84%

A trio of Certified Fresh films centered on the Hasidic branch of Judaism premiered in 2017: Menashe, One of Us, and DisobedienceIn his follow up to the Academy Award-winning A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio directs Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as two Jewish women who reconnect and fall back in love. An initial childhood affair between the two results in Ronit’s (Weisz) banishment and Esti’s (McAdams) marriage to Dovid, their childhood friend and rabbinical protege. Upon the death of Ronit’s father, she returns to London and her feelings for Esti are rekindled, placing Esti in the difficult position of choosing between her faith and her one true love. David Ehrlich of Indiewire praised both Weisz and McAdams, calling the film a “fraught and emotionally nuanced love story about the tension between the life we’re born into and the one we want for ourselves.”

Gemini (2017) 71%

Hollywood noir gets a post-millennial update in Gemini. A young starlet’s (Zoe Kravitz) personal assistant (Lola Kirke) is tasked with solving a crime while she staves off an equally clever police detective (John Cho). Aaron Katz has been delivering consistently entertaining arthouse cinema for years now, but has yet to get much attention for his work outside of the festival circuit. The LA backdrop he creates here is tinted and reimagined, and the suspenseful story plays out as if behind a stylish Instagram filter. Not every aspect of the film lands quite so well as the look, but Kirke delivers a standout performance. Jesse Hassenger from the AV Club said: “As visually appealing as much of Gemini is, it wouldn’t work nearly so well without Lola Kirke playing Jill.” 

Revenge (2017) 93%

Revenge is the type of film that happens when you point the female gaze squarely at the revenge genre, and aim to make something as bloody as possible, and mad as hell. Jen (Matilda Lutz) is enjoying a romantic getaway with her boyfriend when a series of events (that we don’t want to spoil) leaves her for dead. Jen miraculously survives and embarks on a no-holds-barred assault to reap furiously unrelenting wrath upon her attackers. In her debut film, Coralie Fargeat marries Mad Max landscapes with Tarantino-style action for sensational and disturbing results. Kristy Puchko of Riot Material called Fargeat’s debut “a jaw-dropping thriller that’s both nail-bitingly brutal and fiercely feminist.”

The Rider (2017) 97%

Chloé Zhao is incomparable when comes to sculpting raw talent. For the follow up to her impressive debut, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, she again enlisted amateur or first-time actors. Under her direction, these novice performers portray their characters so authentically that you might mistake this fictionalized true story for a documentary. Writer and director Zhao met Brady Jandreau during Songs My Brothers Taught Me and wanted to cast him. After an accident left him with life-changing head injuries, she decided to base the script for her next film on his story; Jandreau adds depth and emotion to this poignant western. Chandler Levak of The Globe commended Jandreau: “[He] disappears into a role largely based on his own experiences, oozing empathy from his pores.”

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