Lost in the onslaught of this year’s bloated blockbusters were a handful of wonderful independent films that made going to the movies worthwhile. Here are five great ones, representing genres like drama, horror, and documentaries.
Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer elevate this suspenseful tale from acclaimed director Brad Anderson. They play two Americans traveling abroad by train who find that a couple traveling with them may not be what they appear to be. A riveting mystery unfolds, the likes of which haven’t been seen since classic films like “The Lady Vanishes” or “Murder on the Orient Express.” Most people missed this limited release in theaters, but you can catch it now on DVD.
This horror film, based on the book by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, was well received by fans, but suffered from a poor release date (the week after Halloween). The story revolves around two couples trapped in a remote house while being stalked by a mysterious man who wants a human sacrifice to spare the others. They find the house has some secrets of its own, and they must confront their own past sins before they can escape. Unlike so many of today’s gore-fests, the film relies on suspense and pure thrills instead of buckets of blood. While it was hardly a classic, it was a welcome change from the many “Saw” clones and “torture porn” we are so used to seeing.
YOUNG AT HEART
This wonderful documentary follows a Massachusetts senior citizens singing group. The “Young at Heart Chorus” specializes in singing classic and modern rock songs. The appeal isn’t in seeing a choir made up of mostly 80 and 90 year olds sing the hits of the Ramones or Coldplay, but the determination and gusto with which they approach their performances. They are proof that you don’t have to be young to rock.
Few remember that Sylvester Stallone had to make this film with his own money and a limited budget because all the major studios turned it down. It finally found a distributor in LionsGate and was released in February, when few major films open. It was a box office hit and even earned wide critical acclaim, with its brutal realism of the war in Burma. Stallone plays an older, jaded Rambo who goes into the heart of the genocide in Burma to rescue a group of missionaries. It makes for a violent but entertaining morality tale.
EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED
Ben Stein’s biting documentary about scientific elitism and the search for truth did pretty well at the box office despite a limited release. For anyone who thinks intelligent design is a hokey cover for getting creationism in schools, Stein expertly reveals that many scientists are rethinking the evolution theory and admit intelligent design has a place in the discussion. The deadpan political commentator/actor also skewers the bigotry in upper crust scientific circles who refuse to consider anything other than the mainstream, just as the scientific establishment did in the middle ages.