The Best Independent / International Films of 2012

by PopMatters Staff

21 January 2013


15 - 11

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Only the Young

Director: Jason Tippet, Elizabeth Mims
Cast: Garrison Saenz, Kevin Conway, Skye Elmore


Only the Young

“Everything that goes into your life never comes out,” says Skye. “Just like me.” Garrison agrees: “Like a stain.” Skye keeps going, “And no Tide can get rid of it.” The teens are lying on the floor in her bedroom and as you first see them, they look upside down. A cut to a long shot from behind them shows a camera perched over them. “I got involved in being your friend,” Skye concludes, “and now I’m stuck in your black hole, and you couldn’t get rid of me if you tried.”

Skye’s assessment of their relationship—intense, affecting, and so forever—is laced through the film Only the Young, which tracks their experiences over a few months. Skye and Garrison live in Canyon County, California, one of those mostly sunny west coast locales with palm trees and dusty deserts in equal measure. As you come to see right away in the documentary, they’re typically, vaguely rebellious: he’s a skater determined to improve their go-nowhere environment by building a half-pipe with his best friend Kevin, “so we can skate somewhere that no one knows about.” Right, Kevin agrees, and with no adults in sight, they can “do whatever the hell we want out here, there’s no one to stop us.”

The film bears out this fantasy, showing both its thrills and its limits. Directed by Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims, Only the Young records, remembers, and conjures a bit of what it’s like to be these three kids, smart white punks who think about the world and see their place in it through a lens that’s simultaneously specific and indefinite. While they belong to their local Baptist church’s Ignition Skate Ministry, they don’t so much preach as explore, occasionally meeting people at charity events but mostly hanging out at the auto shop, where they work on their boards and help out the mechanic Shannon, whom Garrison calls “way older than me.” Shannon laughs and scratches his greying temple at this jibe, the three guys posed perfectly in Shannon’s vintage car with pale green interior, boys in the wide back seat and Shannon at the king-sized steering wheel. Cynthia Fuchs


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Let Fury Have the Hour

Director: Antonio D’Ambrosio
Cast: Chuck D, Eve Ensler, Shepard Fairy, Wayne Kramer, Tom Morello, John Sayles


Let Fury Have the Hour

“Once upon a time, we were, I’m told, citizens with rights,” says Hari Kunzru. His half-smile as he speaks, along with his phrasing, are at once precise and also ambiguous, so as to pose the question, what is a citizen? DJ Spooky answers, “A citizen is someone who participates.” Jonah Lehrer refines that notion with another question: “It’s not just how will this decision affect me, but how will it affect everyone else?” And Eve Ensler punctuates, “It’s trying to create a structure and systems that supported the majority.”

This understanding of citizenship as a relationship, a commitment to a community, is currently under siege, submits Let Fury Have the Hour. Antonio D’Ambrosio’s documentary assembles an impressive array of talking heads, intercut with split screens of archival footage, to argue for that commitment, and against the account of citizenship as an individual condition. In that condition, “rights” are a function of personal benefit, not community.

The film makes effective use of news footage from a period when such rights were sensationally restricted, during the era of Thatcher and Reagan in particular. As artists seek alternatives to power systems, as they make visible the crises that governments and corporations do their best to cover over (or drum up and exploit, in some instances), they might seem, as the MC5’s Wayne Kramer puts it, to be “troublemakers.” He goes on, “Democracy requires participation.” Cynthia Fuchs


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Oslo, 31 August

Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava


Oslo, 13 August

Considering its subject matter—a suicidal former drug addict returns to his hometown and searches for a reason to keep living—Oslo, August 31st should be much more depressing than it is. Instead, Joachim Trier’s gorgeous drama is one of the most deeply human, sympathetic, and moving character studies to come along in recent memory. Working again with lead actor Anders Danielsen Lie, who starred in Trier’s excellent Reprise in 2006, Trier paints a portrait of a lost soul who seems to have drifted hopelessly beyond the point of no return, and yet still remains frighteningly relatable and familiar. Lie’s heartbreakingly honest performance is one of the very best of the year, and Trier’s direction manages both gritty realism and stunning visual poetry—Lie and Oslo each bloom before his camera like icy flowers opening their petals amidst the snow. Pat Kewley


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Monsieur Lazhar

Director: Philippe Falardeau
Cast: Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron


Monsieur Lazhar

When a Montreal elementary school teacher commits suicide, an Algerian refugee named Bachir Lazharfills the vacated position. Unbeknownst to students and faculty, Bachir had sought asylum in Canada following the murder of his wife and children at the hands of terrorists in his homeland. Unaware of his pain, Bachir’s pupils come to accept their new teacher who bridges the cultural and emotional gap between his students. When Bachir gives the children a forum for their grief, he finds himself facing barriers put in place by a stringent school administration, bent on compacting human emotion into a tidy, inoffensive “process”. Monsieur Lazharbeautifully illustrates the universal language of suffering and friendship, as well as the ability to recognize both with a sense of empathy and compassion. Lana Cooper


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Your Sister’s Sister

Director: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass, Mike Birbiglia, Jeanette Maus


Your Sister’s Sister

Every once in a while, up pops a movie made simply for the actors to show off. It’s usually plainly directed and simply written, allowing for ample improvisation (coughDoubtcough). Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister is more than merely an actors’ movie. It’s a minimalist piece on friendships, secrets, liquor and what happens when they all come together. That’s not to say its cast isn’t at the top of their games. Rosemarie Dewitt handles what could have been a tertiary character with grace, making her memorable and empathetic. Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass find a friendly chemistry I didn’t expect and a bond I absolutely believed. Low-budget doesn’t mean your movie has to feel like a play. Thanks for the reminder, Miss. Shelton. Ben Travers


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