Independent cinema shines in summer
One might be under the impression that after the dismal reports of this summer’s low blockbuster turnout and disappointing box office performance that there has been a shift in audience preferences. The last four months’ films have been a combination of critical bombs and uninspired sequels and remakes. Instead, this summer has been home to indie darlings and the occasional blockbuster phenomenon. This shift has proven that audiences are fatigued by CGI-riddled action movies and watching the “nth” installment to nearly decade-long franchises.
One of these blockbuster phenomenons is “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the third reboot of a character within two decades, and the sixth Spider-Man film in that time. Undesirable and unnecessary as that may have seemed earlier in the year, it turned out to be the best iteration of the character and arguably the best movie of the six installments.
This film’s success cannot only be credited to its stellar casting of Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and the remaining high school class; it also managed to have a solid script, which kept the film grounded and tonally consistent (despite the film’s six different writers). The film’s producers made a smart decision in choosing to create a comedy that happened to be a superhero flick rather than a replica of the previous “Spider-Man” installments’ joke-scattered plots.
The only other major blockbuster I care to mention is July’s other phenomenon and the latest film by director Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk.” I am not ashamed to admit my partiality to his films, and, regardless of my “fanboy” status, “Dunkirk” deserves an A-. Its masterful sound design pulled me in and kept me in the crossfire between the Allies and the Germans. The practical effects — which included cardboard cutouts of soldiers — added the authenticity a computer generated war film could never accomplish. While it may be true that amid this perfect technical production individual characters did not emotionally resonate with the audience, Nolan’s intent was to highlight the victory of survival during a bleak time in history, something he did successfully. While I wouldn’t put this film down in my list of favorite movies of all time, its technical mastery merited it at least an A- and the place as the best film of 2017 so far.
As for indie films, three come to mind as stand-out successes. One of these successes, and the first indie film released this summer, is “The Big Sick.” This remarkable story full of heart and complex family relationships is one of the funniest comedies I have seen in a while. Centered around the screenwriters’ experience meeting one another and the complicated health issues which followed, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon open up about a time in their lives that gave hope to love and virtue to loyalty. Contrary to what appears to be heavy subject matter, the film succeeds through its funny characters and lighthearted comedy. This film merits an A-, held back only by Nanjiani’s amateur grasp of dramatic acting.
The second indie released this summer that deserves mention is “Ingrid Goes West” which follows a shy 20-something who lives vicariously through the Instagram accounts of people she has never met. After finding a particularly fascinating user, she decides to start a new life in California for the sole purpose of befriending this Instagram star. Aubrey Plaza plays Ingrid as a sociopathic obsessive who will stop at nothing to impress and seek validation from her new friend, played by Elizabeth Olsen. The film’s criticism of disjointed and impersonal friendship is ever-present, yet loneliness and acceptance are the underlying themes and driving forces of the characters. Plaza’s Oscar-caliber performance and the engaging screenplay are to be lauded in this highly recommended A-.
The last indie film deserving of mention is “Wind River,” a highly anticipated film from writer-director Taylor Sheridan. Known for his immaculate scripts from “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” Sheridan completes his unofficial “Frontier Justice” trilogy with this triumph set in the Wind River Native American Reservation in Wyoming. Set around the investigation of a raped and murdered young woman found in the middle of a blizzard, the film trudges through themes of identity, personal strength and grief, earning a place as one of the tensest thrillers of the decade. Jeremy Renner gives the best performance of his career thus far as a game hunter not so subtly hired for the purpose of tracking down another predator. His character struggles with personal issues conjured up by the murder of his best friend’s daughter, prompting sympathy in wanting to impose our own forms of justice on those who have wronged us.
Elizabeth Olsen proved that 2017 is one of the best years of her career to date as she impressively dishes out two notable performances in the best indies of the year. This A- is definitely worth a viewing while it still plays at the Embassy Cinema. Don’t miss out on one of the most cathartic, satisfying and poignant stories of the year. It seems that audiences are pulling towards independent cinema, leaving the homogenous blockbusters in the dust, a shift that should be embraced.