Catching up with indie film in 2013

The year 2013 has been stuffed to the brim with some truly exciting films that may have gone unnoticed by many film goers. Before we hit the year’s end, consider these titles that unfortunately never made it to the local multiplex.

The Dirties” (directed by Matthew Johnson)

“The Dirties” is a film with enormous audience potential. With a release guided by filmmaker Kevin Smith (who, at this point, has become something of a household name), Matthew Johnson’s meta-take on bullying and school shootings is as hilarious as it is uncomfortable and disturbing.

Using their real names to create a kind of hyper realistic faux-documentary, film-obsessed pals Owen and Matt (yes, the director also stars) decide to make their own movie about getting revenge on the bullies overrunning their school. The catch is that Matt isn’t really joking — in fact, he is making his own real-life revenge movie out of the process of making their fake movie … get it? By offering a unique approach to touchy subject matter, “The Dirties” remains one of the year’s greatest achievements.

The Dirties is available on iTunes.

Computer Chess” (directed by Andrew Bujalski)

Surely one of the weirdest creations — both in concept and form — to emerge in 2013, Andrew Bujalski’s “Computer Chess” details the proceedings of an ’80s chess tournament in which the players are man versus machine, but it is reductive to give that description of the film without acknowledging its oddities.

It was shot on analogue video (the camera used is a Sony AVC3260) giving the work a distinctly retro look; it pulls a switcheroo in the second half, experimenting with style and form in ways that are practically unheard of nowadays; and maybe unexpectedly, the very loose narrative is complemented by bursts of wistful sensitivity and humor. For those unafraid to explore the sort of unconventionality “Computer Chess” offers, it brings an uncommonly pure example of indie filmmaking to the table.

“Computer Chess” is available on home video, Netflix Instant and iTunes.

Upstream Color” (directed by Shane Carruth)

Shane Carruth’s second film comes years after the ultra low-budget, cult-favorite “Primer” and shows the mark of an indelible craftsman asking important questions about man’s intrinsic connection to nature. The director co-stars alongside Amy Semeitz (who should be considered the breakout performer of the year for this role) as a man and a woman who are drawn to each other by an inexplicable force.

This force, as it happens, is because of an experiment that unbeknownst to them, has altered their way of living and thinking. The plot is actually a bit more complex than that, but subsequent viewings reveal Carruth’s film as a moving and grand work of science-fiction. His triumphant return to making movies is welcomed with open arms.

“Upstream Color is available on home video, Netflix Instant and iTunes.

The Unspeakable Act (directed by Dan Sallitt)
The very premise of Dan Sallitt’s fourth feature is sadly enough to turn most people away. It deals with Jackie, a 17 year-old that is in love with her brother, Matthew. Avoiding any kind of exploitative turns, Sallitt’s un-showy direction allows room for the characters to air out all of their longing and frustrations through intelligent dialogue.

To be sure, this is a talky movie that is blithely unconcerned with piling on plot elements. In that sense it is a refreshing ode to the kind of delicate cinema of yesteryear; the kind that invests in its characters without any added condescension. “The Unspeakable Act” could never have been made in Hollywood; it is much too attuned to the way we live, talk and feel.

“The Unspeakable Act” is available on home video and iTunes.

Post Tenebras Lux” (directed by Carlos Reygadas)
A slew of impressive foreign imports have crossed over this year (among them, Johnnie To’s “Drug War,” Wong-Kar Wai’s “The Grandmaster,” and Claire Denis’ “Bastards”). But Carlos Reygadas’ “Post Tenebras Lux” is the greatest and most perplexing of them all.

Even though it works with a budget much higher than the previous options on this list, Reygadas’ film is outlaw cinema in the most bracing sense. After being booed at the Cannes Film Festival last year, “Post Tenebras Lux” saw a bare-bones DVD release and indifference among those who took the journey into its strange world.

The story, if you could even call it that, centers on Juan, a mid-to-upper class father who runs his patriarchal home in the Mexican countryside. The character is an obvious stand-in for the director, which makes the movie feel almost uneasily personal. Baffling surprises abound in “Post Tenebras Lux” and there are far too many to name here. The best advice is to go and seek this surreal masterpiece out.

Post Tenebras Lux is available on home video and Amazon Instant.