GoIndieNow Presents is an occasional column featuring the third Plotaholics, Joe Compton. In these columns, Joe will discuss the 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 2021’s indie film landscape.
Hey everybody! It’s the third Plotaholic here, Joe Compton, and it’s that time of year again when I get to discuss my favorite indie films of 2021. Today, we will be taking a look at the first part of my top ten list from last year.
10. OVERRUN (Action/Crime)
Written & Directed by Josh Tessier, Original Story by Craig R Key, Starring Omid Zader, Bruce Dern, Johnny Messner, William Katt, Nicholas Turturro, Robert Miano, and Chelsey Goldsmith
SYNOPSIS: Former military extraction specialist, Marcus Lombardi, has only one chance of saving his informant sister and their family: track down a mysterious briefcase.
WHY THIS FILM MAKES MY LIST: This is just a well done, fun, indie action film. This is a great popcorn movie with a lot of fun performances, but if you are into stunts, this movie will have you in awe. There are a couple of really amazing stunt moments, but in the end this movie has a lot of a character, a cool twisting plot, and a protagonist that I think can spawn a franchise in the vein of John McClane. Omid Zader has all the charisma to do that and the characters around him are so well-defined that you would be excited to see them in another movie too.
9. QUO VADIS AIDA (Drama)
Written & Directed by Jasmila Zbanic, based on the book “Under the UN Flag” by Hason Nuhanovic, Starring Jasna Djuricic, John Heldenbergh, Boris Isakovic, and Raymond Thiry
SYNOPSIS: Aida is a translator for the UN in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Serbian army takes over the town, her family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the UN camp.
WHY THIS FILM MAKES MY LIST: This is one of those films where I think the message outshines the movie itself. That being said, this also has some of the best performances of the year in it–especially the performance of Jasna Djuricic, who plays Aida, the main character, and Boris Isakovic, who plays General Ratko Mladic, the main villain.
We see the story from Aida’s perspective and her arc is one that is forced by circumstance, and in a lesser actor’s hand, it could have come across as disingenuous, as so many films like this have in the past. Sometimes when a film lingers in a certain space or certain POV, the audience can feel like they are sitting in rush hour traffic. Here, I really appreciate the smart choices of director Zbanic in using silence to create tension.
There are incredibly powerful moments, and without the director and the two strong actors, it could have been difficult for audiences to buy in, even if the story is as true to life as it can be.
8. THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS (Documentary)
Written & Directed by Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw, starring Piero Botto, Sergio Cauda, and Maria Cicciu
SYNOPSIS: Deep in the forests of Piedmont, Italy, a handful of men, seventy or eighty years old, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle–which, to date, has resisted all of modern science’s efforts at cultivation.
WHY THIS FILM MAKES MY LIST: Talk about fun! There are so many zany characters in this film, it almost feels like it is scripted and fictionalized more than it is. While that tends to play as a pretentious annoyance for me most of the time, this film really wins me over because of it. The sublime absurdity of the interactions, the methodology, and the motivations are so genuine and so well-captured. Every single person in this film has a moment or two that will elicit a reaction: a smile, a laugh, or a shake of head.
The film is full of wide shots that allow the amazing backdrops of Italy to shine, which really enhances the film, especially when those wide shots are brought in close for intimate, still moments. The really cool thing is, at the end of this film, audiences will be left with an idea of how amazing life really can be and how much these guys are representing all that is good about living the best or most fun life possible. If you need some cheer, this might be the best remedy you could find out there.
7. THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS (ROMANTIC COMEDY/SCI-FI)
Written by Lev Grossman (based on his short story) & Directed by Ian Samuels, Starring Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen
SYNOPSIS: Two teens who live the same day repeatedly, enabling them to create the titular map.
WHY THIS FILM MAKES MY LIST: There are many Temporal Anomaly films out there (even more recently), with the be-all end-all being Groundhog’s Day, which is smartly referenced several times here. People will just have to get over that it’s cutesy and even somewhat predictable, though I will admit not as much as I expected it to be. The film did a great job of sucking me in and keeping me there for the entire runtime. The performances of Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen are absolutely a big reason for that. Samuels’s direction is also amazing to note here because I think with a movie like this, it’s easy to lean on and utilize typical conventions that accompany other movies in the genre. Here, I think his choice to allow the real moments and emotional beats of the story the room to breathe is a major reason this movie qualifies as a great entry to the genre.
6. LITTLE FISH (DRAMA/ROMANCE/SCI-FI)
Written by Mattson Tomlin, based on the short story by Aja Gabel, Directed by Chad Hartigan Starring Olivia Cooke and Jack O’ Connell
SYNOPSIS: A couple fights to hold their relationship together as a memory loss virus spreads and threatens to erase the history of their love and courtship.
WHY THIS FILM MAKES MY LIST: Olivia Cooke gives one of the performances of the year here. Her role is tricky, and she does an amazing job in how she plays it. Jack O’ Connell is as much up for the task and plays his role incredibly, as well. This movie is so smart, so intricate, and so careful. That care is what I appreciate most about it. Tomlin’s script really does an incredible job of being super careful. I also love Hartigan’s use of the surroundings and what it means to a film that uses memory as a plot device.
The other great thing about a film like this is how the viewer is compelled to pay attention because of how engrossing the relationships and the characters are. The film induces wonder in the audience as they try to piece it all together. This is a film that treats the audience with respect. It uses the context of similar, preexisting stories and films and what viewers know (or think they know) to its advantage. That is a smart play.
I’ll be back later this week with my end-of-year list of 2021’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!