No one is resistant to a good Blockbuster. A film with just the right amount of comedy and action to leave one mindlessly munching popcorn. Big screen hits such as Marvel's Ant-Man and Jurassic World delivered just that as they peered down from the top of the box office. In a world mesmerized by superheroes and genetically altered creatures it is easy to overlook the power of independent cinema and forget that not all movies involve mystical powers, fantastic gizmos, or DNA mutations. Fortunately, as a reminder, this summer has cultivated some playful, poignant, and original work that can easily hold its own even among a smoldering Chris Pratt. Here are the films that will leave you talking:
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
For a title that leaves little to the imagination, this film still manages to keep audiences enthralled with its copious amount of heart. Although films such as A Walk to Remember and The Fault in our Stars have made additional productions of "teenage cancer dramas" feel rather redundant, Earl (based on the 2012 novel of the same name) creates characters with such ingenuity that you forget you've seen the story before. With a dynamic cast of both comedy veterans and fresh-faced newcomers (not to mention a killer score comprised of the exquisitely simple music of Brian Eno), Earl undoubtedly gives life to the subject of death.
Dope is a cleverly original and downright hilarious film with the honor of promoting a timely message in addition to entertainment. Celebrating a vibrant hip-hop culture and defying racial stereotypes, this boisterous summer flick tells the tale of Malcolm, a music-loving bookworm who accidentally lands himself in a run-in with the Los Angeles drug scene. Boasting dance-worthy original jams created by hip-hop mogul Pharrell Williams (the songs containing comically un-rap-like lyrics such as "first day of school, good grade are cool") and lively spirit from the film's young performers, Dope encourages viewers to be unapologetically true to their inner selves despite what appearances may suggest.
The End of the Tour
Jason Segal is the man of the hour in this brilliantly subdued look inside the mind of award-winning novelist David Foster Wallace. The film follows the literary mastermind and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (played by the consistently pompous but somehow charming, Jesse Eisenberg) as they reach the final leg of the book tour for Wallace's widely acclaimed novel "Infinite Jest." As the relationship between the men grows and shifts, Segal gives the performance of a lifetime--never lapsing into caricature and creating a very honest and moving depiction of Wallace. It is easy for films to explore depression through a clichéd or glamorized lens, but The End of the Tour does so in a way that delicately and eloquently expresses a nearly indescribable feeling that most people have difficulty understanding.
As an overtly adult film with a childlike finesse, The Overnight produces constant laughter with an uneasiness that is unlike any typical comedy. Whether the giggles are stimulated from witty one-liners or just the sheer uncomfortable energy of watching the outrageous sexual escapades of two struggling couples unfold in a theater full of strangers is anyone's guess. While the characters are bizarre and hyperbolic, the film touches upon the very real themes of isolation and dwindling spontaneity within a monotonous world of suburban adulthood. The film exists on a rare and thin line between being exhilarating and traumatizing: love it or hate it, The Overnight will leave an impression.
Shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, writer/director Sean Baker bore the project purely from a deep love for storytelling--a notion that can often times feel eradicated in the realm of big-money Hollywood. Showcasing the adventures of two transgendered prostitutes (the infectiously charismatic first-time actors Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor), Tangerine oozes with a grittiness and humor that feels entirely human. As an independent film by all accounts, Tangerine's extremely limited theatrical release was buried by those all-too-lovable yellow minions. Fortunately, the project will be offered through Video on Demand and DVD/Blu Ray just in time for the holiday season. Treat yourself to a gift by regarding this lovechild of hard work and creativity.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Tales of teen male sexuality have been abundant in Hollywood for decades spanning everywhere from the 80's cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Judd Apatow's 2007 hit, Superbad. However, when films attempt to portray the inner happenings of pubescent females, protagonists have a tendency to appear as either saintly (a shy girl longing for nothing more than her first kiss) or problematically sexual (a "wild child" whose flirtatious inclinations are proven harmful after being faced with powerless sexual encounters). The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an honest and refreshing stray from this dichotomy--showcasing the control young women have over their sexuality in all its messy, emotional, and beautiful non-perfection.
The phrase "movies can change lives" may appear gooey with exaggerated sentiment to some, but in the case of six brothers harbored away from the outside world, film truly held the power of escape. The Wolfpack is an endearing documentation of life within the Angulo household: a family confined to the walls of their Manhattan apartment due to the strict ideas and beliefs of their patriarch. While their physical restrictions heavily impacted their upbringing, the Angulo children allowed their creativity to flourish by performing elaborately detailed reenactments of their favorite cinematic scenes. Director Crystal Moselle allows viewers to journey with the siblings as they experience the world for the first time--evoking a sweet nostalgia for activities we often cease to cherish...like the simple pleasure of a cool, dark movie theater.
No one should ever have to feel the guilty burden of choosing between blockbusters and independent films. Instead, let's raise a toast to all the amazing work produced this year! What were your favorite summer films?