This week for our Indie Fresh List we have a major Oscar player that reunites the stars and filmmaker of In Bruges, two beautiful and understated dramas from the Cannes Film Festival (one of which is the best-reviewed film of the year), a star-driven true crime thriller that you can watch on Netflix right now, an unfortunately timely abortion drama, and a trio of very different and highly acclaimed documentaries.
Armageddon Time (2022)
Over his first several films (which included critical hits like Two Lovers and The Immigrant), James Gray established himself as one of the great contemporary chroniclers of New York City on film. Gray wildly expanded his reach with his last two films, The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra—which took him to the jungles of South America and then to the outer reaches of the Solar System—but he’s made his long-awaited return to NYC storytelling with Armageddon Time, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film about family and the American Dream. Armageddon Time stars Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway, and Anthony Hopkins, and it’s been earning rave reviews all over the festival circuit, with Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson calling it “a truly poignant, troubling, and ultimately brilliant work of memory and self-implication.”
The best kind of biographical music documentaries are those that help place the breadth of someone’s career in a new and greater context, and that’s exactly what happens here with Louis Armstrong. Filmmaker Sacha Jenkins (who has an extensive history of working with Black musicians, including Rick James and Wu-Tang Clan) uses a treasure trove of material—including Armstrong’s own audio diaries—and an exciting visual style to show viewers that Louis Armstrong was far more than just a growly singer and trumpet player. Armstrong’s voice and music come alive in the film, but so do his personality and politics, and critic Jason Gorber, writing for POV Magazine, praised the film for “allowing Armstrong’s ideas as much as his music to flourish.”
Call Jane (2022)
When it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Call Jane didn’t know how different a world it might land in when it finally hit theaters nine months later. But here we are, and this poignant abortion drama has become more painfully relevant than it likely ever hoped to be. Elizabeth Banks stars as Joy, a woman in 1968 Chicago with a life-threatening pregnancy that forces her to navigate the male-dominated medical establishment of the time in her fight for women’s health. Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, and Chris Messina all co-star, and the film was directed by Phyllis Nagy (screenwriter of 2015’s Carol), who Hollywood Reporter critic Sheri Linden says “eloquently reminds us at every turn that what has been labeled a crime is a medical procedure and underscores how personal all this is for the women.”
Tucked away in a sidebar section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival was a film that earned such rave reviews that A24 quickly picked it up, and Aftersun has been melting hearts ever since. The story is simple: through the home movies they made, a woman looks back at a childhood trip to a Turkish resort she went on with her father in the ‘90s. But from that premise comes a deceptively disarming tale of memory and family that has broken even the most cynical critics. Vulture’s Alison Willmore called it “a work of masterful and almost unbearable melancholy,” while Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times hailed Charlotte Wells’ debut feature as “beautifully sculpted and quietly shattering.”
All That Breathes (2022)
It’s sometimes hard to nurture meaning and individuality in a bustling urban environment, but in one of the most populous cities in the world, two brothers find their calling in an unlikely place. After falling in love with the Black Kite, a common bird in New Delhi that’s become imperiled from air pollution and urban sprawl, the two Muslim brothers dedicate their lives to saving as many as they can. All That Breathes won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and its current 100% Tomatometer score speaks to how moved viewers are by this story of two people pushing against the crushing tide of climate change and ecological collapse. No less than A.O. Scott of the New York Times called the film “a subtle, haunting reflection on the meaning of humanity.”
There’s been a much-needed emphasis in recent years on reframing parts of America’s racist history that have sadly been left out of the classroom. HBO’s Watchmen, for example, brought the Tulsa race massacre to horrific life for modern audiences – and Tom Hanks. By spotlighting the descendants from the Clotilda, the final slave ship to land in America, Descendant follows that trend of investigating the past while also connecting the dots to how these hidden histories still inform the present. Taking us inside the Mobile, Alabama neighborhood of Africatown, Descendant shows how the community has been impacted by the ship’s legacy of hatred, and also how the wreckage of the ship was finally found in 2018, bringing long-sought closure to the residents. This powerful documentary, which Deadline Hollywood critic Valerie Complex calls “an infuriating and enlightening look at how often white supremacy alters the truth in its favor,” is now available to stream on Netflix.
The Good Nurse (2022)
The true crime thriller gets a refreshing change of pace with this slow-burn character drama from Danish writer/director Tobias Lindholm, making his English-language debut. Jessica Chastain stars as a night shift nurse who slowly realizes her new colleague might be secretly killing patients, and Eddie Redmayne is all icy detachment as the man who might be the most prolific serial killer ever. Trust me, this one will have you rushing to the Wikipedia article as soon as the credits start rolling. Lindholm is best known for co-writing many of his countryman Thomas Vinterberg’s films (including 2020’s Oscar-winning Another Round), but he’s also made some wonderful films in his own right, including 2013’s criminally underseen A Hijacking. Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt called The Good Nurse “a methodical and smartly wrought psychological thriller,” and after playing in select theaters last week, this Netflix original film is now available to stream on the service.
The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
The last movie written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, won two acting Oscars (for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell), and that feat could be repeated—or even topped—by The Banshees of Inisherin, which is generating significant Oscar buzz for Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan. Farrell and Gleeson play Pádraic and Colm, two lifelong friends and drinking buddies on a small island in 1920s Ireland who find themselves suddenly at odds when Colm abruptly decides he’s done with the friendship, and asks Pádraic to never talk to him again. But Pádraic steadfastly believes the friendship can be saved, and his efforts to do so yield results both comic and tragic. With its achingly relatable story of a friendship that inexplicably ends, and the resulting emotional trauma from such an event, The Banshees of Inisherin bores into your soul and will nearly break you, but McDonagh infuses the story with the perfect amount of humor to save us from the abyss.
Banshees reunites McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson from 2008’s beloved In Bruges, and all three deliver on that 14-year wait with arguably the best work of their respective careers. Critics have been effusively praising Banshees since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival (where Colin Farrell won Best Actor and the film won Best Screenplay), with Tomris Laffly for the AV Club calling it a “soulful masterpiece” and a “melancholic rumination on mortality,” while Variety’s Guy Lodge writes “Farrell and Gleeson’s lovely, perfectly mismatched performances… both betray their own manner of gaping, aching vulnerability.”
The Banshees of Inisherin began its limited release and will expand wide on November 4.
Featured Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic.