Top Indie Films of 2013

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Obviously there have been a lot of good independent films this year. I read an article that stated 2013 was the “Year of the Indie.” It is a strong declaration to make. Several mainstream big budget films this year did not fare well (RIPD, Turbo, The Lone Ranger, Broken City, and so forth). Below is a list of the films that had a positive reaction among many and seemed good word-of-mouth talk.

Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s third installment in the “Before” trilogy follows a married couple who are in the challenging stages of their relationship. They met each other on a train in Before Sunrise (1995), nine years later they were reunited at a bookstore in Before Sunset (2004) and now, nine years later, are married, living in Greece with twin girls.

The film never fails to capture what a real life relationship is like. The script does a fine job of displaying the different perspectives in a relationship (leads Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke share writing credit with Linklater for the film). Like the two previous installments, the film employees the use of (extremely) long takes to make the exchanges feel authentic and natural. The beginning of the film involved a 14-minute continuous take of Delpy and Hawke’s characters exchanging conversation in a car ride.

Audiences seemed to fall in love with Linklater, Delpy and Hawke’s characters all over again. Before Midnight went on the become the highest grossing film of the “Before” trilogy, raking in over $20 million worldwide against a modest $3 million budget.

The Way Way Back

Giving off a strong 80’s vibe (the movie was originally supposed to be set in 1983) The Way Way Back is a film about a 14-year-old socially awkward boy named Duncan (Liam James) who travels along with his mom (Toni Collette) and mean stepdad (Steve Carell) to a vacation at a beach house for the summer. At the start of the summer Duncan gets a job at a water park run by a talkative and fun-loving guy named Owen (Sam Rockwell).

The solid performances by Rockwell, Carell, and James keep the movie from being passed off as just another coming-of-age film with a socially awkward lead that a hipster would love. The script lets the variety of characters in the film shine without seeming too cluttered. Everything is tied up by the film’s end. The “summer that changed everything” is officially over. Duncan has made a new friend, Owen, and has a better sense of confidence in him.

The Way Way Back received acclaim from critics and went on to make $23 million from a production budget of just $5 million.

The Spectacular Now

It’s very hard to make a film chronicling the coming-of-age process for teenagers without having it suck. So many films have done. So many films have done it badly. The Spectacular Now is not one of those films. The Spectacular Now follows Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley), two high school seniors trying to figure out their lives. Aimee has hers figured out and Sutter does not.

What makes the film great is it’s realistic and simplistic nature. The characters are played by actors that actually look like teenagers. There is no iPhone toting, excessive texting, or glamourized things going on. It is just Sutter and Aimee, navigating life, trying to figure out where to go.

Sutter and Aimee aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. They cuss. They were regular clothes. The viewer feels connected with them.  Teller and Woodley’s performances let the viewer feel like they know them. At the film’s end, one could feel good with the film.  The film depicts the age of 18, becoming an adult, effectively. Coming of age is no easy process.

The Spectacular Now received widespread acclaim. Teller and Woodley received the Special Jury Award for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival. Woodley has received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead. The film grossed around 6.8 million from a 2.5 million budget.

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