G-S-T Top 10 – Movies Off the Beaten Path – Round 5

Off-the-Beaten-Path-BannerOne of the great things about Netflix is the collection of recently debuted independent films. These selections, however, can be hit or miss, so with this installment of “Movies Off the Beaten Path,” we’re bringing you a list of ten independent films worth watching that were released over the last five years – and they are all also currently available on Netflix Instant. How can you go wrong?

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Off the Beaten Path_Hunger

Hunger – One of Fassbender’s very best and no one even knows about it…except for the Criterion community of course. It’s also the start of his increasingly brilliant collaboration with Steve McQueen (check out their second film in our review of Shame). It’s a spell-binding drama with surprisingly very little dialog save for one the most engaging single-shot takes (a magnetic 17 minute exchange between Fassbender and Cunningham) you’ll likely ever see.

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Off the Beaten Path_New York, I Love You

New York, I Love You – This romantic-dramedy combines eleven short films by eleven different directors about eleven different characters as they fall in and out of love in New York. The film serves as a kind of sequel to Paris, je t’aime, which included similar themes about love and relationships in Paris. The stories in New York, I Love You are unrelated for the most party, although the film does include a unifying element at the end. The directors involved in the film include Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, Amelia), Yvan Attal (The Interpreter, Rush Hour), and Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, The Golden Age), among other notable filmmakers. Natalie Portman also directs one of the segments, along with starring in the segment directed by Yvan Attal’s.  One of the great things about these kinds of films is that even if you don’t care for certain segments, or for the film as a whole, you are introduced to a number of filmmakers and their work, and chances are at least one of them will appeal to you.

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Off the Beaten Path_The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse – This black-and-white work of art by legendary Hungarian director, Béla Tarr – his self-proclaimed final film – begins with Nietzsche who, in 1889 while, saved a horse from thrashing before collapsing into a stroke that began the decline of his health that led to his eventual death in 1990. Tarr’s film envisions what may have happened to that horse after the incident, and tells the story of the horse’s owners – an aging farmer and his daughter. It’s a dark, and appropriately Nietzschean, tale about the end of time and the end of days.

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Off the Beaten Path_Grassroots

GrassrootsGrassroots premiered last year during the Seattle International Film Festival and later screened at a few others, mostly international. It was eventually released theatrically in the U.S., but it’s likely you never even had the chance to see it in your own city it’s limited release, which is a shame because it’s such an inspiring story about standing up for what you believe, and the ability every individual has to bring about change. Based on a true story, Grassroots is a comedy about an unemployed writer (Jason Biggs), and his best friend Grant (Joel David Moore), who decides to run for city council. Grant is the most unlikely of candidates for such a position, and the film takes us on a hilarious and heartfelt ride as it follows the events of the campaign leading to the election.

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Off the Beaten Path_Butter

Butter – This film was not a favorite of the critics when it debuted in 2011 at the Telluride Film Festival, and ultimately your opinion will likely be determined by the kind of humor you tend to enjoy. Butter is a satire about the upper class, conservative, small-town society located in the heartland of the country. It centers on the town’s annual butter competition, which is won every year by the infamous local butter sculptor, Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell, Modern Family).  That is until Destiny, a 10-year-old orphan (Yara Shahidi) gets placed into the care of a local couple. Pickler decides to sit a year out to give others a chance to win the competition, but his wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner), refusing to let the trophy go to someone other than a Picker, decides to enter herself.  If nothing else, the hilarious, voice-over narrative, commentary from Shahidi’s character makes the film worth watching. If you’re still on the fence, see Grady’s review from when the film released last Fall to decide whether or not this one’s for you.

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Off the Beaten Path_Toast

Toast – This British drama tells the story of a young boy (played by newcomer Oscar Kennedy) whose passion for cooking serves as a small solace after his mother’s death leaves him alone with a less than compassionate father, and eventually, a conniving and competitive new stepmother, played by the ever-brilliant Helena Bonham Carter. The fact that the story is based on autobiographical novel of the same name makes it even more entertaining to watch as this young man struggles to overcome his past and take control of his future.

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Off the Beaten Path_Melancholia

MelancholiaMelancholia begins on the wedding day of Michael (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood) and Justine (Kirsten Dunst), and centers on the relationship between Justine and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, 21 Grams) as it slowly falls apart. The decay of this relationship coincides with the impending destruction of Earth. Along with introducing the characters, the opening sequence of the film also introduces the audience to a number of musical motifs featuring the prelude to Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde.  The story that follows is split into two parts focusing on Justine and Claire, respectively. Director Lars Von Trier’s one-sentence pitch for this labor of love project describes the film in a single phrase, “a beautiful movie about the end of the world,” and it’s probably the best way to sum up this complicated film.

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Off the Beaten Path_The Puffy Chair

The Puffy Chair – Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, The Puffy Chair, tells the story of Josh (Mark Duplass), who finds the perfect gift for his dad, a replica of his old favorite chair. All he has to do is drive across the country to pick it up before surprising his parents with the delivery just in time for his dad’s birthday. The road trip doesn’t so much go as planned, and instead of a solitary adventure, Josh ends up toting his high-maintenance girlfriend and kid brother along for the ride. This entertaining road film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, and took home the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival.

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Off the Beaten Path_Visioneers

Visioneers – This dark comedy depicts a future dystopian society controlled by the Jeffers Corporation, a company that heralds mindless productivity and deplore the dreams of the individual. The film stars Zach Galifianakis – pre-The Hangover, when the majority of his acting experience was still limited to the small screen – George Washington Winsterhammerman, a Level 3 Visioneer at the Jeffers Corporation. Galifianakis’s performance, full of all the wit and eccentricity so many have come to know and love, is reason enough to watch this clever comedy. On top of this, it also happens to be a beautifully unique depiction of the battle of the individual against the status quo.

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Off the Beaten Path_Beware the Gonzo
Beware the Gonzo
– This quirky comedy stars Ezra Miller as Eddie Gilman, as a high school newspaper reporter who, after being unfairly fired by the paper’s much more popular editor Gavin, vows revenge in the name of freaks and geeks everywhere. Eddie creates The Gonzo Files, an underground paper of his own, and the muckraking begins. The film, along with the title, lends a nod to the first-person narrative style of journalism established by Hunter S. Thompson during the 1970’s New Journalism that became known as “Gonzo Journalism.”

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That’s it for this installment of movies “Off the Beaten Path,” but we’ll bringing them back on a monthly basis this summer. We hope you discovered something that peaked your interest. If so, let us know what you think after watching, and if you’ve got a film you think we should check for next month’s list let us know. We’re always open to suggestions from you so let us know if you stumble across something noteworthy in your travels Off the Beaten Path.