10 Under-The-Radar Indies From 2015 You May Have Missed

by Jericho CerronaNovember 27, 2015

Doomsdays

Eddie Mullins' feature debut takes an unnerving scenario-- two aimless drifters (Justin Rice and Leo Fitzpatrick, respectively) wandering around the Catskills breaking into luxury country homes-- and then makes a hilariously deadpan comedy out of it. The film is meticulous without being arch, funny without pandering for cheap laughs, and most surprising of all, wistfully melancholic.

Man From Reno

Moody, patient, and steeped in neo-noir traditions; director Dave Boyle's Man From Reno manages to tell a fascinating whodunnit while maintaining an atmospheric sense of strangeness. Ayako Fujitani is superb as a displaced detective novelist caught up in the disappearance and possible murder of a handsome stranger, and Pepe Serne plays the local town sheriff with genuine naturalism. The city of San Francisco, meanwhile, hasn't felt this mysterious since Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Timbuktu

This extraordinary achievement from African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako is in many ways a protest film which also plays as an intensely powerful drama. Set in the titular Malian city overrun by Islamic fundamentalists who implement absurdly rigid rules on the population-- no football, no music, women must wear gloves selling fish at the market-- the film achieves a rare balanced view of opposing ideologies. There's poetry, brutality, and even humor here; made all the more palpable by Sissako's refusal to spoon-feed the audience easy answers.

Something Must Break

A beautiful, elegiac, uncompromising piece of work, Ester Martin Bergsmark's love story between a male transitioning into a female and a straight man, takes us further into the complicated nature of identity and gender than most films would ever dare. Though the tale of Sebastian/ Ellie (Saga Becker in a remarkable performance) pining for charming Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) is nothing new; the film's daring perspective and Bergsmark's poetic direction makes it vital.

The Kindergarten Teacher

There's something boldly esoteric about this Israeli drama from talented filmmaker Nadav Lapid (Policeman). Centering around the bond between a kindergarten teacher in Tel Aviv (played in a nuanced performance by Sarit Larry) and her 5-year-old pupil (a staggeringly natural Avi Shnaidman), the film is a stark political statement about the nature of art in Israel, as well as a deeply contradictory tale about the line between exploitation and expression. Above all, Lapid's work maintains a tone of uneasy oddness; refusing to offer up an ultimate meaning, and therefore, much more intriguing because of it.

Five Star

Though perhaps a step down after 2013's hauntingly elegiac Welcome To Pine Hill, writer-director Keith Miller's latest nonetheless showcases a rare sensitivity to a milieu long overcrowded with stereotypes. Like Miller's previous work, Five Star takes a blurring of documentary and real-life approach to tell the story of gang leader Primo (James Grant, playing a version of himself) and his mentoring of young teenager John (John Diaz). Less about plot than mood and texture, the familiarity of the narrative is overshadowed by Grant's powerful performance and Miller's mingling of naturalism with scripted developments. A slow-burn drama that quietly sneaks up on you.

The Mend

Buried within abstract editing, ingenious framing, and an off-beat score is a touching story of brotherly love disguised as self-destructive dysfunction in writer-director John Magary's debut feature. Josh Lucas plays a scruffy, near homeless asshole wandering the streets of NYC who crashes a party hosted by his brother (Stephen Plunkett), and the results are absolutely unpredictable. Magary's direction often recalls a younger Paul Thomas Anderson, with a compositional assuredness that gives the film a singular off-kilter energy.

Fort Tilden

Girls meets Frances Ha by way of the uncomfortableness of See You Next Tuesday, filmmakers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers have tapped into a prevalent trend in the current zeitgeist; that of the self-obsessed, delusional millennial. The tale of two NY friends (Bridley Elliot and Clare McNulty, respectively) whose plans to travel to a beach for a meetup with some hipster guys quickly escalates into a series of misadventures which tellingly never allow the character's insecurities off the hook. The results are funny, cringe-inducing, and ultimately, oddly touching.

Prince

Dutch filmmaker Sam de Jong's debut tells the story of a Dutch-Moroccan teenager (affable newcomer Ayoub Elasri) fighting off boredom with his friends, pining for the unattainable blonde beauty, and falling in with a psychotic madman while living in an impoverished suburb of Amsterdam. Though there's a predictable narrative framework at play here, de Jong's stylish direction, a throbbing synth score, atypical locations, and unorthodox performances makes this an exhilarating addition to the coming-of-age genre.

Heaven Knows What

There's nothing safe or cuddly about Benny and Josh Safdie's unrepentantly bleak depiction of drug-addicted teenagers on the streets of NYC. Mixing trained actors with nonprofessionals in a swirling mosaic of squalor, the film simply asks that we observe it's characters rather than attempt to empathize with them. Arielle Holmes, a non-actor with real-life ties to the subject matter, casts a haunting spell as Harley, and she's backed up by some memorable supporting turns from Caleb-Landry Jones as Holmes' manipulative lover (the only "real" actor of note here) and Buddy Duress as her drug dealer. The evocative cinematography and brooding analog synth score, meanwhile, add to the sense of poetic hopelessness.