Analysis

GoIndieNow Presents TOP INDIE FILMS OF 2020, PART 1: HONORABLE MENTION PERFORMANCES

GoIndieNow Presents is an occasional column featuring the third Plotaholics, Joe Compton. In these columns, Joe will discuss that state of indie film and offer suggestions for worthwhile media to consume in that market. This iteration of GoIndieNow Presents is a three-part exploration of 2020’s indie film landscape.

Hello, Plotaholics faithful. Joe Compton (the third Plotaholic) here.

Let’s be honest: 2020 sucked. Just given the state of our world and how it all came to a halt in the spring, we are lucky to have found a handful of films to even talk about, let alone gush about. Who knows what all of it means as far as 2021 goes, especially when it comes to Independent Film, which is something I cover over at Go Indie Now

Joe Compton interviews Renuka Jeyapalan and Supinder Wraich at Slam Dance.

Luckily, a few festivals not only got in before the world shut down but most of them were able to transition to an online, virtual platform to present a program. As a result, most of those virtual festivals were even able to expand their selections and offer more than they might have because they weren’t beholden to theater scheduling and what have you.

One of the things Film Festivals help define, in the Indie World especially, is what will be trending more. For example, 2019 was the year of the Episodic, serial, and web series. 2018 was the relationship films, usually featuring love triangles. This year it was all about the documentary. My year-end list usually features 1 or 2 documentaries, but never has it been where nearly half my list was documentaries, which is the case this year. 

But before I get into the Top 10 indie films of the year, today I will be discussing the best singular performances, which have been off the charts this year. Quality of acting was at an all-time high and while a few of the films overall were just outside of my Top Ten or not as strong as the performances, I would like to acknowledge a few singular performances that I have deemed Honorable Mention Performances.

HONORABLE MENTION PERFORMANCES

BRIAN LANDIS FOLKINS & AMY RUTLEDGE (Rent-A-Pal)

This movie tended to be a little too stagnant for my liking. It wasn’t a bad movie by any means though, and that’s mainly due to the strong performances from a couple actors–one who I think is going to find her footing in showcase after showcase and elevate movie after movie, something we get incredible glimpses of in Rent-A-Pal from Amy Rutledge. I can’t wait to see a movie where she is the showcased star. She just might knock it out of the park. As it is, with this film, she steals a lot of the scenes here for me.

This movie also leans on someone I actually know and admire personally–someone I had designs and conversations with about working together at one time in my film career–in Mr. Brian Folkins. Brian is that rare character actor who can carry and be a lead with a character traditionally not thought of as a lead character. He really understands how to pull a character together and command an audience’s attention.

Brian is forced to act and react with a screen in many cases in this film and be bold and big like a lead. But then when he is confronted by actual humans, he shows the ability to shrink into that character element and be as invisible as he obviously can’t be. It is just a phenomenal skill set that, in lesser hands, would have come off campy and overwrought. Brian balances the crazy with the subtle and the fear with the false bravado. His confidence may be better than anyone in any movie I got to see this year.   

AZURA SKYE (The Swerve)

Being in nearly every scene and carrying a movie, even for a veteran actor like Azura, is a daunting task to say the least, especially given the arc that her character, Holly, goes through in this movie. Again, The Swerve is another very good movie that really is elevated by Azura’s performance. Azura really knows how to hook an audience in with a look and rock that audience by watching the emotion build like a volcano erupting. There may not be a better actor on this list who did that better this year.

She commands these wide shots with nothing but a subtle movement of her fingers or a twitch here or there, and I commend the cinematographer and director for recognizing that and then also knowing when to close in on her too as she stills and keeps it all buried inside or locked away for strong moments in this narrative. There were a lot of these unravelling type of characters that seem all too real given the time we live in right now. That may be too much for a lot of people, but the difference here is how we get the smallest of glimpses of the Holly that might have been happy or at least good enough to fake it all the years leading up to this unravelling. Azura’s Holly had to be almost mid-unravel in this one–or at least at the very start of the unravel–and still only give us glimpses as the onion peels away. To start right there and then elevate the performance throughout? I am blown away by her skills.  

SHAN MACDONALD (Murmur)

In what I think may be the best breakout, debut performance of maybe the last 5 years, Shan MacDonald gives a performance that not many veterans would be able to handle or pull off. Murmur was that movie that went in and out of my Top 10 all year, and while I wish my year-end list went to 11 so I could include it, it is still a movie (and a performance) I think needed to be mentioned. Shan MacDonald’s performance will not soon be forgotten. Shan does so much with her character, Donna, that elevates this movie to almost the point where we feel we are watching a documentary.

She plays such a “every person,” and while you can say maybe that’s because this is her first feature film performance and the movie really lends itself beautifully to that concept, it is still very difficult to reel someone in with the subtle nuance of everyday humdrumness. Trust me when I say this is something the big screen would expose very easily. Shan, though, doesn’t let that happen. She stays within herself and never strays from the character, even though the arc tends to actually help her come loose and give her room to be a little more brazen or happy-go-lucky. Granted, there is not a ton of that available. This is the rare movie that kind of starts the character off at the lowest of lows, and we watch Donna try and dig loose of all that. It’s a tough sell for even an indie movie, and in a lesser actor’s hands, this would have been a tough movie to get through, but Shan keeps you there and doesn’t let you go. You root for Donna, you feel with and for her, and see what true strength is through her. That is acting 101 to the core and Shan is someone I hope keeps with and gets an opportunity to showcase on another level at some point because she is someone to watch and learn from for sure.   

I’ll be back later this week with my end-of-year list of 2020’s best indie films! Until then, check out GoIndieNow on YouTube and Twitch, and be sure to subscribe if you want to stay up-to-date on all things indie!

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