Join us every other week as Rotten Tomatoes reports on what indie features are hitting theaters and streaming. From promising releases by new voices to experimental efforts from storied filmmakers—or perhaps the next indie darling to go the distance for end-of-year accolades—we will break it all down for you here twice a month.
This week for our Indie Fresh List we have three top award winners from the Cannes Film Festival from three living legends of international cinema; one of the most buzzed-about films from the Venice Film Festival that sees the long-awaited return of writer/director Todd Field; two darlings from the Sundance Film Festival that couldn’t be more different from each other—one a violent horror thriller and one a tearjerker documentary; and for our Spotlight Pick, a recent New York Film Festival premiere that may just be our new Best Actress frontrunner.
Decision to Leave (2022)
No one knows their way around a twisty, ever-evolving mystery quite like Korean auteur Park Chan-wook, who has become one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in the world with masterworks like Oldboy and The Handmaiden. Park is in top form again with Decision to Leave, which won him the Best Director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. What seemingly starts as a standard police procedural slowly and grippingly evolves into a twisty thriller of romantic longing that culminates in one of the most haunting endings of the year. Critic Rafael Motamayor of Slashfilm praised Decision to Leave as “a fascinating and exquisitely directed film about desire, regret, and love,” while the Toronto Star’s Peter Howell says “every frame is like a painting.” Decision to Leave begins its theatrical rollout this week courtesy of MUBI, and it will expand over the next several weeks.
Stars at Noon (2022)
In just her second English-language film (following 2019’s High Life), beloved French auteur Claire Denis enlists stars Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn for this romance set in present-day Nicaragua. Qualley plays an American journalist while Alwyn plays a mysterious English businessman, and their romance soon entangles them in the politics of their surroundings. Although critics agree that Stars at Noon is slower and more sedate than Denis’ best films, praise has still been lavished on Qualley’s performance and Denis’ command of the artform, with Variety’s Guy Lodge commenting that, “wherever the filmmaker goes from here, one rather hopes she takes Qualley with her.” Stars at Noon won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it begins its limited theatrical release this week courtesy of A24.
From the moment it premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month, TÁR has been one of the most talked about films of the year. Cate Blanchett gives a towering performance—arguably the best of her highly celebrated career—as the eponymous Lydia Tár, one of the world’s foremost orchestral composers and conductors. The story opens with Tár at the height of her powers, but that status quo quickly changes in painfully contemporary ways. Writer/director Todd Field is finally back after a 16-year absence (following 2006’s Best Picture nominee Little Children), but TÁR immediately places him back at the forefront of arthouse cinema. Adam Nayman of The Ringer praised Field for telling “a story about modern culture, and what happens when a cult of personality starts to crack.” TÁR began its limited release on October 7 in select theaters.
Triangle of Sadness (2022)
Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund won the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (making that two Palme d’Or wins for Östlund, who also won for 2017’s The Square) for this brilliantly subversive and darkly comic takedown of the super-rich. Woody Harrelson stars as the unhinged captain of a luxury cruise yacht, while Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean (who tragically passed away in August) play a celebrity model couple on board for a trip that turns deliciously catastrophic. Writing for the AV Club, critic Tomris Laffly said “Östlund’s latest brainy satire is a continually self-renewing yet uncompromisingly coherent opus,” while Kristy Puchko of Mashable called special attention to the film’s “breathless final shot.” Neon’s third Palme d’Or winner in a row (following 2019’s Parasite and 2021’s Titane), Triangle of Sadness plays limited theaters starting October 7, and it will expand in the coming weeks.
One of the most buzzed-about Midnight movies from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the harrowing Piggy is grounded by an uncomfortable story dynamic. An overweight Spanish teen is relentlessly bullied and verbally abused by three popular girls, but when she witnesses them get kidnapped by a serial killer, she agonizes over whether to aid her tormentors or be complicit in their murders. Piggy will keep you guessing, and it delights in toying with our darker emotions, our trauma, and our shame. Critics have loved Laura Galán’s lead performance and director Carlota Pereda’s unconventional story, with Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Times praising how Pereda “carefully sets up our expectations only to subvert them,” and the Austin Chronicle’s Jasmine Lane calling the film “as fascinatingly human as it is morally squirm-inducing.” Piggy opened at Alamo Drafthouse theaters on October 7, and it will expand this weekend.
If you need a good cry—or perhaps a full-body, soul-cleansing sob—this is the movie for you. Eli Timoner was a loving husband and father, and a successful businessman who founded an airline in the 1970s. But as the end comes near, Eli makes the decision to medically terminate his life, and he begins the process of saying goodbye. Filmed and directed by Eli’s daughter, Ondi Timoner (who also made the seminal music documentary Dig!), Last Flight Home beautifully and gently captures the final two weeks of Eli’s life, as his family grieves his imminent passing, reconciles his choice to say goodbye on his own terms, and celebrates the beauty of his life. Writing for Roger Ebert, critic Carlos Aguilar called the film “unbelievably personal, profoundly bittersweet, and occasionally disquieting.” Released by MTV Documentary Films, Last Flight Home began its limited theatrical run on October 7.
Following 2019’s beautiful and difficult Clemency (which won the Grand Jury Prize at that year’s Sundance Film Festival), writer/director Chinonye Chukwu is back with another harrowing yet inspiring story of one woman’s resolve in the face of tragedy. Danielle Deadwyler stars as Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, the young Black boy who was infamously murdered by White Supremacists in 1d950s Mississippi. Till shifts the focus of this historical inflection point from the murder itself to the strength and resolve a mother showed in channeling her grief and powering a growing a movement. Critics have been effusive in praising Deadwyler’s monumental performance, with Deadline Hollywood critic Valerie Complex saying Deadwyler “takes all that pressure, pain, and misery and transforms that into a powerful performance that anchors the entire film,” and Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson saying that, even if you’re dubious of the film’s existence and its portrayal of Black suffering, Deadwyler’s “stirring performance may be reason enough to see the film.” Till hits select theaters this week courtesy of United Artists Releasing, and it will expand wide on October 28.
Thumbnail image Courtesy of Focus Features.