by Coop Cooper
10. “Absentia” – Without any recognizable actors, “Absentia” is the most solidly effective direct-to-DVD horror film I’ve seen all year. It tells the story of a recovering junkie, Callie, who goes to live with her sister who is filing to have her husband declared “dead in absentia” after a lengthy disappearance. As her sister tries to cope with this development, Callie suspects the strange pedestrian tunnel within view of the house has something to do with the string of disappearances in the area.
9. “God Bless America” – This extremely dark comedy by former comedian Bobcat Goldthwait follows a sad sack (Joel Murray) who decides to assassinate a particularly nasty reality TV star before offing himself. This draws the attention of an unbalanced teen girl who convinces him to put his suicide plans on hold so the pair can go on a killing spree to rid the country of rude citizens, annoying celebrities and people who talk in movie theaters. A great satire with a shockingly serious ending.
8. “Beyond the Black Rainbow” – Made to look and feel like a sci-fi film from the late-70’s/early-80’s, “Rainbow” is about an evil scientist working at a creepy, new-age research facility who obsessively delights in putting a female subject with psychic powers through cruel experiments. When she escapes, he goes on a murderous rampage to find her so he can once again possess her. More style over substance, “Rainbow” is one of the most visually stunning independent films I’ve ever seen.
7. “Holy Motors” – This odd French film follows around a bizarre lead character in a limo as he is shuttled to various “acting” jobs around the city where he plays an astoundingly diverse cast of characters all in one day. The audience won’t understand exactly what is happening until halfway through, but what starts out as a joyfully surreal film becomes a darkly comedic, yet cynical commentary on acting as an art and profession.
6. “Moonrise Kingdom” – A sweet and clever comedy by indie superstar Wes Anderson about a pair of pre-teen lovers in the 1960’s who run away to live in the woods on and the wacky townspeople who ineptly try to track them down. This all-star cast and fun story make “Kingdom” the best Wes Anderson film since “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
5. “Detention” – A hip and self-aware teen mashup comedy that teams an outcast high school girl with her biggest boy crush in order to stop a classroom science experiment from causing the end of the world. One of the most entertaining and innovative teen satires since “Heathers” in 1988, “Detention” is destined to be a cult classic. It revels in 1990’s pop culture and uses numerous movies from that decade as inspiration.
4. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – This beautifully shot documentary tells the story of Jiro Ono, the most legendary sushi chef in all of Japan. A perfectionist to a fault, the quiet Jiro has spent every waking moment of his life perfecting his sushi preparation skills to a point where he has become world-famous, despite the fact that his tiny restaurant resides in a inconspicuous strip mall. A wonderful study of humanity and passion for one’s work.
3. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – Shot in Louisiana with non-actors in an impoverished setting, “Beasts” follows an imaginative African American child named Hushpuppy who survives Hurricane Katrina along with her stern, terminally ill father. Despite to her limited perspective, Hushpuppy goes on an odyssey to restore balance to her universe and learn to survive in a harsh environment that she perceives as a fantasy-like playground. “Beasts” has won so many film festival awards, I would be disappointed if it was ignored during Oscar season.
2. “Killer Joe” – This mean-spirited dark comedy based on a stage play stars Matthew McConaughey as Joe, a murderous cop hired by a bumbling criminal Chris (Emile Hirsch) to murder Chris’ mother for insurance money. Without the upfront money to actually hire a hit man, Joe holds Chris’ gorgeous, yet slow sister as collateral. As Joe becomes increasingly obsessed with Chris’ sister, events spiral out of control, leading to a shocking conclusion. As disturbing and perverse as the final scene turns out, I still think this film has the best dialogue of the year.
1. “Cabin in the Woods” – Technically, not an indie film, “Cabin” was made in 2010 by MGM and nearly abandoned because of the studio’s financial problems. This past spring the studio gave it a quiet ‘no confidence’ release and luckily it captured the indie-film spirit in look, tone and innovation. Defying expectations, “Cabin” developed a cult following for taking one of the most familiar horror movie tropes and deconstructing it in such a way that it is doubtful any future attempt at the same concept could ever top it. In many circles, it will be remembered as one of the most important horror movies ever made.
“Excision” – If I had seen this film before initially writing this article, “Excision” would be in the top 3. This coming-of-age horror film about a girl with fantasies of performing gory, unnecessary surgery is one of the most disturbing and compelling films of the year.
“Struck by Lightning” – This film about a beleaguered high school overachiever who blackmails his apathetic classmates into writing for his literary magazine also belongs on the list within the top 5. The Chris Colfer-written, Brian Dannelly-directed is a bittersweet reminder of the positive mark we leave on others, no matter how small our contribution.