Five Independent Films You Need To See Right Now

Five Independent Films You Need To See Right Now

The summer movie season is over, and we’re still two months away from the big holiday movies. This is a great time to catch up on some excellent independent films, and here are five of them that should advance to the top of your must-see list.

Kelly & Cal – Juliette Lewis gives an award-worthy performance as Kelly, a former punk rocker turned domestic wife and mother. She’s experiencing postpartum depression, but starts to feel better after befriending Cal (Jonny Weston), a teenager in a wheelchair. Their friendship grows and is tested in ways that surprise both of them.

While the film deals with issues that sound depressing on the surface, Kelly & Cal is anything but a downer. It’s an uplifting and often funny slice-of-life story about two people trying to redefine themselves amid unexpected obstacles life has thrown in their paths. Other highlights include a terrific supporting performance from Cybill Shepherd as Kelly’s intrusive mother-in-law, and the very poignant use of Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” in one memorable scene.

Where to find it: In theaters (in limited release, but expanding) and on demand (Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, etc.).

The Scribbler – In this gloriously bonkers sci-fi adventure, Katie Cassidy plays Suki, a young woman with multiple personalities. She’s undergoing an experimental treatment known as “the Siamese Burn” that eliminates one of them every time she hooks herself up to a special machine. Someone is killing the other tenants in the apartment building where she, and numerous other people with mental health disorders, live. Is it she, or her most intense alter ego, the backwards-writing personality known as Scribbler?

This movie is insane in all the right ways. Based on a graphic novel, it has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and the visual style is endlessly inventive. The story isn’t as fully developed as it could have been, but it hardly matters when everything else is such goofy fun. Michelle Trachtenberg, Garrett Dillahunt, Sasha Grey, and Eliza Dushku co-star.

Where to find it: In theaters, starting September 19.

The Dog – This documentary focuses on John Wojtowicz, a guy who, in the 1970s, robbed a New York City bank in order to get the money for his lover’s gender reassignment surgery. His story was the basis for the Oscar-winning Dog Day Afternoon, starring Al Pacino. Wojtowicz appears on camera to narrate his own tale, which is even wilder than the movie it inspired.

Even if you know Dog Day Afternoon by heart, The Dog is well worth seeing. Archival footage shows just how much authenticity that film contained. It’s also fascinating to see how Wojtowicz used his notoriety to feed his ego and create the illusion that he was a star. This is a thoroughly absorbing portrait of a bizarre — and possibly delusional — personality.

Where to find it: In theaters (limited release) and on demand (Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, etc.)

Kids For Cash –  A Luzurne County, Pennsylvania judge was accused of sentencing non-violent children to detention facilities in exchange for kickbacks. Not surprisingly, he ruined the lives of some of those kids, who now suffer depression and anxiety. The powerful documentary Kids For Cash explores this shocking case in great detail, but more than that, it really makes you question our juvenile justice system. Why are we putting so many children behind bars instead of getting them help?

Where to find it: On demand now, on DVD November 25.

A Most Wanted Man –The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a German intelligence agent keeping a close eye on a Chechin Muslim who has illegally emigrated to Hamburg. The man is a suspected terrorist who comes to claim the fortune left to him by his father. Hoffman wants to know if he plans to funnel the money to terrorist forces or if he’s got more benign plans. Rachel McAdams co-stars as an immigration lawyer who helps the guy, and Robin Wright is an American CIA agent who’s also interested in what he’s up to.

A Most Wanted Man is a smart story about how terrorism has kicked the intelligence community into overdrive as they continually attempt to prevent potential tragedies. It is also your last chance to see the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman in a lead role. He’s typically brilliant, completely disappearing into character.

Where to find it: In theaters now.

Do any of these indies pique your interest? Let us know which ones you plan to check out in our comments section.

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Mike McGranaghan is the film critic for The Aisle Seat. His film writing can also be found at Film Racket and Daily Grindhouse, and his reviews are heard weekly on the radio stations of Sunbury Broadcasting Corporation. He is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, as well as the author of two books, "Straight-Up Blatant" and "My Year of Chevy."