Sunday, May 29, 2011

Netflix and Amazon instant indie films: my top picks

I keep stumbling on great indie films on Netflix and Amazon's video on demand services, and though I've mentioned a few of them here before, I think it's worth recapping the best of the last few years:

Monsters
Netflix: Instant Queue
Amazon: VoD Rent, Buy

Monsters is hard to pin down, and it's definitely the sort of film which many will be disappointed with because they walk in with the wrong expectations. Let's clear it up right away: there are giant, alien monsters in this movie, but it's not a giant monster movie. Ultimately, it's closer to a wartime travelogue than anything else. Our heroes are trapped in Central America some time after Mexico and parts of Central America are overrun by an alien infestation, accidentally returned from space by a NASA probe. The aliens appear briefly from time to time, but for the most part are just there to provide the motive force that keeps our heroes moving. The question the film silently asks is: who are the monsters and to whom? An excellent movie I'm happy to recommend.

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Ginger Snaps
Netflix: DVD only
Amazon: VoD Free with Prime, Rental, Buy

This clever twist on the werewolf genre uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for the specifically female experience of puberty. Ginger Snaps is an unexpectedly funny and yet troubling journey that the titular character embarks on against her will. Werewolf fans and indie angst fans alike can come together with their bowls of popcorn to enjoy this one. Unfortunately, the sequels: Ginger Snaps 2 - Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back - The Beginning are not nearly as novel, though Ginger Snaps Back is interesting for the fact that the recent Red Riding Hood is pretty much a direct riff on the film.


The Man From Earth
Netflix: Instant Queue
Amazon: VoD Rental, Buy

There are a fair number of one-room indie films. Excellent examples that come to mind are Exam and Fermat's Room which are both recent and excellent examples of this puzzle-oriented drama format. The Man From Earth, however, is an exceptional film for many reasons which are uniquely its own. First up: it tackles its central subject matter, which is so controversial that I'm shocked this movie didn't draw protests, with a casual grace that's phenomenal to watch. Second, the puzzle in question is a fairly simple issue on its surface: is the main character lying, insane or honestly what he claims to be. This question is posed a short while into the film, and there's no dramatic prize to be won as in Exam. There's no threat of death as in Fermat's Room. There's just a group of friends trying to decide who this man is that they've called friend for ten years. Absolutely brilliant and plenty of unexpected twists. See it and enjoy.


Moon
Netflix: DVD Only
Amazon: VoD Buy only

Moon is almost a one-room thriller like The Man From Earth, but it does involve a few more sets than your typical one-room flick. What's interesting about Moon is how easily it compares to 2001: A Space Odyssey without feeling derivative. Sam Rockwell essentially carries the entire film with the help of a disembodied computer voice acted by Kevin Spacey, and let's face it: if that's not enough to get you to watch this, there's not much else I can say.


When Do We Eat?
Netflix: Instant Queue
Amazon: VoD Rent, Buy

A pleasant family comedy with some truly amusing twists, When Do We Eat? is the story of a dysfunctional Jewish family that is attempting to have their Seder dinner (Passover Seder on Wikipedia) amid the swirl of recent events including the estrangement of the eldest son; tension between the parents and the youngest son having been discovered at school with drugs. To set the whole evening on its ear, the youngest son then semi-accidentally gives his father ecstasy. Brilliantly written and funny, the film is only slightly preachy about the value of family unity. Well worth seeing.


Suck
Netflix: Instant Queue
Amazon: VoD Rent, Buy

Suck is a fun little mashup between the self destructive band road-trip trope and vampires. Probably most notable for its list of music industry names that make cameo appearances such as Moby, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper; Suck is just popcorn, but it was made fresh and is served with real butter, if I can stretch an analogy.