So last week was admittedly a slog of subversive family drama. Thankfully this week offered some truly intriguing indie efforts.
First I was introduced to the marvelous and miniature world of Marwencol, next subjected to the dreary worldview of Everything Stranger and New, then exposed to the heart-filled weight loss journey of Lbs., and finally watched a truly enchanting tale of young love unfold in Kisses.
Marwencol ~ Directed by Jeff Malmberg
This carefully crafted doc unfolds the story of Mark Hogancamp, a drunk whose life changed dramatically after he was beaten within an inch of his life outside a local bar. His attackers “kicked every memory of [his] head,” leaving Hogancamp to relearn basic motor skills and grappling to rediscover himself. His method of self-made therapy: constructing a model town named Marwencol that he peoples with miniature doppelgangers of his loved ones. With these figures he enacts winding wishful narratives, which he photographs and shares with his friends and neighbors. Hogancamp is a colorful character who could easily be cut to look absurd, but instead writer/director/editor Jeff Malmberg is careful to lovingly unpack the complexities of this outsider artist, whose work earns a gallery show in NYC by film’s end. Malmberg lovingly introduces the audience to Malwencol, revealing its detailed construction and its healing powers. Here, Hogancamp re-appropriates his own life in this doll village, and in doing so mends his broken self while inspiring all he lets into his self-constructed world.
This is unlikely to take the best doc prize with all the buzz of Banky’s Exit Through the Gift Shop and the gravity of RESTREPO’s subject matter, but this doc is deeply moving, thoroughly charming, and deserves credit for its bracing and tender portrait of a man searching for himself. Happily it has won the already announced Truer Than Fiction Award.
Nominations: Best Documentary, AVEENO® Truer Than Fiction Award [Winner]
Snubbed? The clever and deft cutting style makes me lament the Spirit Awards lack of a Best Editing category.
Everything Strange and New ~ Directed by Frazer Bradshaw
Unappealing antiheroes are admittedly an indie cliché, but this drama’s griping protagonist takes this shtick to a whole new level as he murmurs through the plotless narrative which unfolds at the monotone and leisurely pace of Steven Wright’s comedy act – minus Wright’s incisive humor and wit. But Everything is not just plotless, it also purposely avoids showing scenes of conflict, in one example resorting to janky phone conversation in lieu of showing a catastrophic occurrence. And when the married couple at the film’s core get into a heated argument, we aren’t shown them as they fight. Instead, the camera meanders throughout a gutted house in the midst of renovation with their row playing out in floating VO. Man, if you like shots of buildings, then this movie was made for you, as much of it is shot after shot after shot of hallways and walls and bathrooms laid out beneath a groaning monologue by the grim sad clown protagonist. As he himself drones, “It’s just so fucking everyday…so what?” My thoughts exactly.
Nominations: Best First Feature
Snubbed? Absolutely not.
Lbs. ~ Directed by Matthew Bonifacio
Created by two-long time friends, Lbs. follows a New Yorker’s quest to lose the weight that’s killing him by moving to the country and away from temptation. During the course of the film, actor Carmine Famiglietti lost more than 150 lbs, using the production as a catalyst to change his own life. His efforts are inspiring, and this dramedy is engaging despite some abrupt tonal shifts. This marks green director Matthew Bonifacio’s feature film debut, and like many of the films eligible for this category, Lbs. is a bit rough around the edges. Having said that, it’s peopled with grounded performances and manages a gripping through line. It comes out on DVD January 25, and is worth a rental.
Nominations: John Cassavetes Award (Best Film with a Budget of Under $500,000)
Kisses ~ Directed by Lance Daly
Writer/director Lance Daly’s bittersweet tale of first love follows two ten-year-old runaways as they discover the wonders and perils of life on the streets of Dublin. While many indies go bleak to prove provocative, Kisses has dark elements but chooses not to dwell in them, instead giving way to simple moments of grace and joie de vivre. The kids’ story begins in a dingy world of parental abuse and neglect, but when they escape, the film itself bursts into color as the paired protagonists’ hopes soar. They travel to a new world of bright lights and endless indulgence, but as the night wears on the city proves to be a dangerous place for kids on their own. The two young leads (Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry) carry the piece with ease, relishing in the joys of an empty ice rink one moment, and vehemently fighting off danger while cursing up a storm in the next. While some of the drama’s narrative devices seem a bit tawdry, overall this Irish indie is a true gem. It’s now available on DVD.
Nominations: Best Foreign Film
Snubbed? I’m not sure if foreign films are eligible for the other categories, but I think Daly deserves a writing nod at least.
This week by the Numbers:
Manchild Protagonists: 3
Children Wise Beyond Their Years: 2
Displays of Subversive Behavior: 5
Men Who Used Art to Heal Themselves: 2
Films Watched: 23/35
Runningtime conquered: 2048 minutes
State of Mind: This week was full of surprises. I saw four films I knew little to nothing about going in, and was rewarded with some deeply affecting tales. Feeling great about this week, but apprehensive about next…
Next week I’ll be looking at 127 Hours and giving you my thoughts on the nominees chances so far.
What are your thoughts on these nominees?
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