Independent films sometimes don’t get a traditional theatrical release, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t among the best films of the year. Whether an independent film is only released via video on demand (VOD) or in theaters, there are some powerful and memorable stories being told by bold, enterprising filmmakers. Since there are still two months left in the year, it’s possible that this list could change, but these are by far the best indie films of 2013 so far.
“Dallas Buyer’s Club”
The star power of Matthew McConaughey, who is in the middle of a career renaissance of sorts, means that “Dallas Buyer’s Club”(trailer here) is probably the most widely released film of this group. The film is based on a true story and centers on McConaughey’s character, a Texas factory worker who is diagnosed with HIV only to find that the pharmaceutical companies are hiding a series of drug therapies that might work better than what he is currently taking. He finds ways to surreptitiously get the experimaental drugs to the people who need them, unwillingly becoming a hero in the gay community despite the fact that he is a raging homophobe. It’s a career best for the actor, whose body of work has transitioned from romantic comedy leading man to capable, award-worthy high-drama headliner.
“Blackfish” is the only documentary on this list, and it may be familiar to some because it got a very high-profile airing on CNN. The film delves into the background and daily life of the numerous killer whales that reside at Sea World and other marine parks around the globe. Most notably, it focuses on a set of fatalities at the hands of one whale in particular and how Sea World has systematically deflected blame for the deaths onto the deceased. It also attempts to prove just how intelligent the whales are, which the filmmakers argue is a huge reason why they shouldn’t be in captivity. No matter which side of this heated debate viewers fall on, “Blackfish” will give them something to ponder with its series of interviews and well-researched facts.
“Short Term 12”
Grace (Brie Larson) is a damaged young woman who is working in a short-term home for wards of the state. Many come from abusive backgrounds just like Grace, so she can relate to them, though she can’t always help them due to the limited resources she has to work with. She is secretly pregnant and doesn’t know how to tell her loving boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) because she isn’t sure she is ready to become a mom, especially considering her family history. She has a lot of choices to make as she tries to provide the closest thing to a home that the kids under her care at work will ever have.
Like “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” “Fruitvale Station” is based on a true story, this time that of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), an African-American man who was gunned down on New Year’s Day by a law enforcement officer. The movie tracks his actions throughout the entire day leading up to his needless death, offering a glimpse of everything from the mundane to the spectacular, sometimes in the same setting. He is a young man with a daughter who is trying to keep a legitimate job as the pressures to return to a life of crime come crashing down. Sadly, he didn’t get to triumph over his demons, making this arguably the saddest and most tear-jerking film on the list.
In a world where film trilogies usually mean an epic fantasy or sci-fi trio of films with huge budgets, “Before Midnight” quietly closed out a trilogy of films about love. In the first film, “Before Sunrise,” Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) fall in love but can’t be together. They promise to meet one year later to see if they still feel the same, but it never happens. In the second film, “Before Sunset,” they meet again in Paris years later and find that the feelings they had haven’t really gone away. The film ends ambiguously, with audiences left wondering if Jesse will leave his very unhappy marriage to finally be with his soulmate. “Before Midnight” has the couple married with twins, trying to overcome the daily doldrums that have stalled the romance in their marriage. It is an unflinching look at love once the courting and honeymoon stages are over and is the perfect bookend to this fantastic Richard Linklater-directed trilogy.