Festival? Indie Theater? Straight-to-DVD? ALL OF THE ABOVE?!
In addition to all of the big budget, big theater releases I saw in 2012, a large portion of my time was spent covering festivals in both Chicago and Austin. On a personal level, SXSW had a huge effect on me, both in terms of film coverage and in other, non-film-related fields. CIFF, as well, was full of high quality foreign films that I probably would never have had a chance to watch. Because of how festival films are distributed (or rather aren't distributed), I figured I would compile a list of my top limited release films.
The reason I'm using the term "limited release" is because my top five have, luckily, found distribution through various means, whether through TV broadcasts, limited theatrical release, or VOD/home release. Much like my top five wide release films list, these films are listed in alphabetical order because I love all of my babies equally. I encourage each and every one of you to check these films if you haven't already.
Benji was one of the last films I watched at this year's Chicago International Film Festival. I tend to be indifferent about documentaries, but Benji hit close to home. The documentary is about a local Chicago high school basketball player, Ben Wilson, destined for greatness, with some even calling him more talented than Michael Jordan. In the early 80s, that's a hell of a compliment. However, his and the city's dreams were shattered when he was murdered just blocks away from his high school a few days before the beginning of his last season of high school basketball. When Benji died, the whole city cried, and those wounds are just beginning to close with the meteoric rise of Simeon products Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker.
You can read our review of Benji here.
Funny story: I almost missed the press screening for Holy Motors because of public transportation not running on time (thanks CTA!). Luckily, this particular screening was part of a jury screening for CIFF, so the clouds, moons, suns, and rainbows lined up for me. It's a good thing, too, because Holy Motors was magnificent through and through. The film is openly "French," confusing, inspiring, pretentious, and all kinds of oxymoronic adjectives you can think of. Narratively, it's about a man who "lives" through various lives throughout the day by donning different types of costumes, thereby becoming these characters. The film can be read as an analogue for performance, theatrical art and how our lives can sometimes feel like a play/movie/TV show. Or maybe it can be read as a pretentious look at modern actors who can't separate reality from fantasy. However you look at it, Holy Motors was beautiful and is guaranteed to stick in your mind for days.
You can read our review of Holy Motors here.
It's Such a Beautiful Day
It's Such a Beautiful Day is the third and final film in Don Hertzfeldt's "Bill trilogy," which consists of Everything Wil Be OK and I Am So Proud of You, but it's also the official title for the entire collection of films played together. The three animated shorts focus on Bill as he gradually begins to suffer from a debilitating mental disorder with his delusions and cracking psyche are represented by various frames spread within the main frame. The complete film is both emotionally devastating as it is darkly humorous, but the art is just as memorable as Bill's inability to remember. Completely hand-drawn and animated on 35mm, Hertzfeldt's style is so distinctive as it is experimental and outright beautiful. Who needs computer animators when we still have artists like Hertzfeldt still exploring and manipulating what can truly be done with 35mm?
You can read my interview with It's Such a Beautiful Day artist Don Hertzfeldt here.
Safety Not Guaranteed
I went into Safety Not Guaranteed expecting some hard sci-fi film with comedic elements. Instead, what I got was a surprisingly heartfelt dramedy about self-delusions. Parks and Recreations' Aubrey Plaza stars in a breakout performance for her first starring theatrical role, but is also supported by strong performances by Mark Duplass and Jake M. Johnson. Sure, it falls into some modern-day comedy traps, like quirkiness for quirky, Napoleon Dynamite's sake, but there are some truly hilarious scenes in the film.
You can read our review of Safety Not Guaranteed here.
The World is Funny
Is the world really funny, or is it just full of bittersweet, emotionally-damaging moments where we just can't help BUT to laugh? The World is Funny explores this theme through a large cast and larger plot that interweaves everybody together. The film received 15 Ophir nominations last year, and it truly deserved every single one of them. One moment, you'll laugh at someone's misfortune, only to feel terrible about laughing. The World is Funny had me running the gamut of emotions throughout its runtime, and that's exactly how I like my films.
You can read our review of The World is Funny here.