Photo credit: Jake Hills
The pandemic took away the joy of heading to the theater on the weekends, scarfing a large bucket of buttered popcorn, and experiencing the art of cinema with a group from your town. But that didn’t stop movies of all sorts from being released, albeit, on a much slower and depreciated level.
Indie films were affected as much as blockbusters by this scheduling strain, but 2020 offered plenty to enjoy as well. Indie movies in 2020 delivered on topics from family drama, romance, comedy, to movies about race, gender, and ethics. Let’s look at a few gems that you might have missed out on.
David Byrne’s American Utopia
Byrne was the frontman for the legendary band Talking Heads but he is no stranger to filmmaking. His concert documentary in 1984, directed by Jonathan Demme, is largely accepted as the gold standard for musical filmmaking. With American Utopia, Byrne combines great music with charisma, charm, and thoughtfulness again.
This time, Spike Lee lent his hand in directing. The combination is as indelible as it sounds. The album by the same name was subsequently followed by a Broadway interpretation and both received wildly rave reviews. Byrne once again proves that he’s not only a talented writer, but that he has a lot of profound things to say.
Evan Rachel Wood stars as Old Dolio in this movie about family, violence, and traumatic repercussions from them. This movie isn’t without heart, humor, and triumph. At the center is a story of how love pierces through (even in strange ways). Wood is joined by Gina Rodriguez, who joins Wood in a bizarre heist.
The duo makes an entertaining pair, to say the least. And, though Rodriguez isn’t the lead, you’ll find yourself thinking she was. She stands out in this film. If you’re looking for an unconventional film that leaves you feeling good about the world, then this should suffice.
On The Rocks
Sofia Coppola delivers a silly, awkwardly funny film about a writer (Rashida Jones) and her father (Bill Murray) as they gang up to secretly determine whether her husband is cheating on her.
The humor is subtle but clever and the film is artfully reminiscent of films like Rushmore and The Royal Tannenbaums. Murray and Jones work well together and Coppola creates a great-looking movie. The movie also stars Damon Wayans as Jones’s husband. Fantastic casting, clever story-telling, and elite directing make this a charming movie worth watching.
This movie has been called the more grown-up, college version of Superbad and Eighth Grade, two other recent coming-of-age charmers. Where there are resemblances in tone, the story delves more into true tension between growing up and finding your identity versus succumbing to your existential fears.
Cooper Raiff writes, directs, and stars in this film, alongside Dylan Gelula. Together, they bring their differences and unique upbringings into a new friendship as they help each other discover something about themselves and maybe life itself.
Most of these movies are available online currently. So go to the grocery store, invite your friends over, pick one of these films, and catch up on some great filmmaking.