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. 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. But as for now, I am here to continue discussing the best in indie film from 2020.
Today, we kick off my Top 10 list with entries 10-6.
10. FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO – DOCUMENTARY (USA)
SYNOPSIS: From 1984 to 2019, filmmaker Lynne Sachs shot film, videotape and digital images with her father, Ira Sachs, a bohemian businessman from Park City. This film is her attempt to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to eight siblings, some of whom she has known all of her life, others she only recently discovered. With a nod to the Cubist renderings of a face, her film offers sometimes contradictory views of one seemingly unknowable man who is always there, public, in the center of the frame, yet somehow ensconced in secrets.
WHAT THIS FILM DOES WELL: Lynne is a legend, and her style and abilities are at the top of the list in terms of Documentarians and their storytelling styles, but this one is so different. It is almost by nature that this has to be presented as it is, but it serves as a triumph and not a crutch or gimmick. There is no avoiding the fact that not every shot was composed and lit or mic’ ed properly. Yet, in true Lynne Sachs form, she weaves such an intricate and intimate narrative that twists and turns with the best of them. You almost expect there might have been some prior planned composition to those “home movie” shots.
It is also striking because the one being most affected in and throughout is her and her family. So, in a weird and interesting way, this film that starts looking into a family patriarch becomes a character-driven, dilemma story that interweaves the documenter with the subject matter and creates a mystery cloaked in a soap opera-type drama. The fun aspects are the ratio and framing of a lot of raw footage that gets shot over time on many different devices and how it enhances the experiences of the narrative–a skill set that editor Rebecca Shapass clearly possesses in spades.
Documentaries are often that idea that what you see is not what you will get in the end, and in a way because of the brave way in which Lynne chooses to put herself out there, comfortable or not, we really see a 4th wall crash that presents such a compelling and shocking result. In talking to her, I know this was a choice that was not easy to make. Yet this film has very few moments of bleakness and never are they overt–another display of the skill set that Lynne possesses as a proven Documentarian. Instead it chooses naturally to highlight and enhance the positive aspects of the reveals, which makes you wish your family or life was half as interesting as this one.
# 9 I’M YOUR WOMAN – CRIME DRAMA (USA)
SYNOPSIS: Jean is a somewhat reluctant 1970’s trophy wife because she is not eager to learn how to be a good housewife even after her criminal husband brings home a baby for them to try and be a “normal” family with. Jean takes to it with a laissez faire that is until she and the baby are forced to go on the run. Her husband ultimately betrays his partners, incurring the wrath of a crime syndicate that sends Jean and her baby on a dangerous journey.
WHAT THIS FILM DOES WELL: As has been highlighted already, performances rule the roost this year, and mark this one down as another. I’m Your Woman features three epic performances from small screen familiar faces in Marsha Stephanie (Blake of This is Us), Arinze Kene (EastEnders, Flack), and Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). All three are playing very different roles for each of them, but they are really playing to the strengths they have shown in glimpses before. I think that’s what sells the first half of this film more than the plot. The film has such a slow burn for the first 40 minutes or so, it’s the last 60 that won me over. It is easily the best 60 minutes I saw this year, and if filmmaker, Julia Hart, could have found a way to make this a 100 minutes, this may have been the best movie I have seen this decade. That’s how strong the last bit of it is, but here’s the rub: It couldn’t all be that way because then the tone changes and you get burned out half way through. No one wants to feel exhausted or like they just worked out while watching a movie. At least, I know I don’t.
The other thing that I really appreciate is the continuity of keeping the era of the 1970’s throughout. The little nods to a bygone era and how it sells the tension and helps build the movie (especially in the case of a pink pseudo “bat phone”) and gives you a sense that this isn’t as easy as it might be in this day and age. Plus, that authenticity delivers on so many cool little cultural moments that are all but forgotten. I appreciate that level of attention to detail.
This movie moves in broken down phases and comes at you like a hill climb. Convincing yourself to take those first steps is the hardest sell. Then, when your legs start to burn having trekked a little ways up, you look back for a mere moment and realize you either stop and go back or never go back. In convincing yourself to keep going, when you get to the top you see, feel, and understand the reward that awaits you for completing the trek.
#8 FRIED BARRY – SCIENCE FICTION COMEDY HORROR (S. AFRICA)
SYNOPSIS: Barry is a drug-addled, abusive bastard who – after yet another bender – is abducted by aliens. Barry takes a backseat as an alien visitor assumes control of his body and takes it for a joyride through Cape Town. What follows is an onslaught of drugs, sex and violence as our alien tourist enters the weird and wonderful world of humankind.
WHAT THIS FILM DOES WELL: It captures what you love best about those campy romps from the 1980’s that are what our culture considers cult classics or midnight screeners. This film is unapologetic for being ridiculous, silly, and overtly lacking in decorum. Yet, that is its charm. In what becomes the ultimate of ironies, that you give it a chance, stay with it, it will actually surprise you with its heart and entertainment. This just might be the perfect movie at the perfect time, given the state of our world and how much something like Fried Barry is needed.
Ryan Kruger is the modern day Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi in the earlier iterations of their careers. Ryan’s directing confidence really shines through, and his ability to let things get just out of hand enough to reel it in thrusts this movie into the realm of great filmmaking similar to an IPA that needs to be appreciated when the after taste has dissolved.
Ryan also has done the world a service and introduced us to the character of character actors in Gary Green, who is priceless and unforgettable in this film. Yes, you will have to jump into a spaceship or just believe you can fly to watch this movie. Yes, you will have to cringe from time to time to get through this movie. Yes, you may burst into spontaneous vocalized disbelief, maybe more than a few times. However, if you stay with it till the end you will be paid off in spades. This movie may end up being the most talked about film on my list when it is all said and done.
#7 TIME – DOCUMENTARY (USA)
SYNOPSIS: Rob and Fox Rich, high school sweethearts who married and started a family in the early ‘90s. But during a time of desperation, the two made a failed attempt to rob a bank, and both were sentenced to prison. The film follows Sibil Fox Richardson (also known as Fox Rich), an entrepreneur, abolitionist, author, and mother of six, as she fights for the release of her husband, Rob, serving a 60-year prison sentence in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Rich served three and a half years for her role in the robbery. The film combines original footage with home videos
WHAT THIS FILM DOES WELL: This film does an excellent job of building a compelling narrative while incorporating home footage, using flashback devices, and giving us real gritty and stark moments that flood every day life that would probably be considered by most not very cinematic or even very interesting. However, Time could not be more interesting or more engaging. Even in the stillest and calmest moments you become glued and riveted to every second. In fact, those are the best moments in this film–the stillness, the introspection–all so rich and so relatable.
Sibil Fox Rich, on her own as a character, is such an incredible narrator and leader through all this. Yes, this is a movie that is so much more than about being a movie or documentary and it needs to be because the subject matter is such a welcome one in these times. However, as someone who loves film, it’s construction, deconstruction, and the creation and production theory is where this really hits home for me. It’s subtle changes from present to flashback; it’s incorporation of home movie footage; it’s absolute stillness at the times it needed to be still. All of that is done with a craftsmanship that is top notch.
While my nitpick would be there might have been more moments that I felt would have lent itself to more home footage opportunities, that takes little or nothing away from how great this movie was made. All that being said, you get sucked in by the film device, you get held in by those same devices, but you stay for the compelling story and subsequent messages that ring so true. You can’t ask more of a documentary than being true to itself and being as honest and earnest as it can be. It takes little time to appreciate all that Time gives you.
#6 BLACK BEAR – THRILLER/DRAMA (USA)
SYNOPSIS: A filmmaker plays a calculated game of desire and jealousy in pursuit of a work of art that blurs the boundaries between autobiography and invention.
WHAT THIS FILM DOES WELL: Okay. I have a bias for movies about movies within movies, so imagine my excitement when I came across a movie about writing movies. How the fuck would anyone be able to make this a narrative, let alone an interesting one, let alone a great film? You put a pen in Aubrey Plaza’s hand and let her guide you. That’s how.
This movie is as close to anything you might see if you ever wondered what it was like to be inside the head of a creative as they twist and turn within their own writing–their own thought process. Yeah, some people are going to get it. Maybe some creatives won’t get it, but man did this movie just speak volumes to me. Aubrey Plaza, Sarah Gordon, and Christopher Abbott are three names you might not know, but you would instantly recognize them and all the work they have done. This film is a hurricane of what they are capable of and how they can just knock you for a loop and take you for a ride that you may not soon forget. In the year of powerhouse performances ( I can’t remember liking so many individual performances in one year of films) these three are bringing it.
However, what separates this film from nearly every other one on this list is its writing. This may be the most gorgeous set of the year. To put this into an awesome adult treehouse of a cabin in the deep woods was brilliant. This is the best script of the year for me–hands down. It is written with such disregard for convention, for absolution, and even for common sense. Welcome to the movie business.
I’ll be back later this week finish up the 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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