14. Daddy Longlegs (aka Go Get Some Rosemary) (2009)
Ben and Joshua Safdie direct this absurdly funny drama about an unconventional dad and his two sons, Sage and Frey. The film is about as frenetic as the lead character, Lenny (Ronald Bronstein). The movie examines the relationship he has with his two sons and his own struggles between having adult responsibilities and wanting to be a kid himself.
Lenny is a tall, lanky, carefree, wild, and passionate man in his early thirties who is the father of two young boys. He is divorced and only gets to see them for two weeks out of the year. His aim is for the boys to have as memorable of an experience with him as possible and he does not disappoint.
A lot of what he does is reckless and sometimes downright dangerous (walking across a busy Manhattan street on his hands), but the kids are nothing else if not entertained. He wants to be his kids’ friend just as much as their dad, sometimes with catastrophic results. Ronald Bronstein is the perfect choice for this role and he is able to evoke just as much empathy as laughter in this role.
Ben and Joshua Safdie crafted this character based on their own experiences in their childhood. Ronald Bronstein has a writing credit in the film so he was really able to add his own dimensions to this character. Leah Singer (the wife of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo) plays Sage and Frey’s mom in the movie. Everything about the performances is very natural, especially the kids, as this subject matter is near and dear to the Safdie’s own experiences. The little boys are brothers and were good sports during their dad’s shenanigans. The ending of the film is very endearing and sums up Lenny’s life perfectly.
13. Bellflower (2011)
Written and directed by Evan Glodell, this is an extremely brutal and hardcore take on relationships, hypermasculinity, and what happens when you have too much free time on your hands. Glodell made this film on a shoestring budget and the special effects were quite spectacular considering. Special effects and Mumblecore aren’t necessarily things that go hand in hand but when the characters aren’t talking about girls and fantasizing about their future with Mother Medusa, they spend their time creating a post apocalyptical, flame-throwing automobile.
Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are old friends from Wisconsin who move out to L.A. They are in their early 20’s but come across as a couple of 14 year-old boys stuck in pubescent development. They live in a run down neighborhood where they spend their free time drinking and building the Medusa, a modified muscle car that can shoot flames. They are truly a product of the Mad Max generation, a movie they have watched several times.
One evening, Woody and Aiden join a cricket eating contest. Woody makes it to the finals with a young blonde named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) who catches his eye. The two may be prepared for the apocalypse but they are definitely not prepared to deal with heartbreak and emotional discomfort.
Many critics couldn’t get past the violence in the film, which misses the larger point of the movie. It’s about two emotionally crippled men who were sold a false bill of goods about what their lives were going to be. They fantasize about how they will handle women who hurt them or anyone who hurts them for that matter. They find their own way to deal with their masculinity in a society who has dictated that parts of it no longer socially acceptable. It is a searing and tragic film. Lord Humongous will not be denied.
12. Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)
Jason Segel is part of an all-star cast in this darling indie charmer about a 30 year-old jobless man who lives in his mom’s basement. The Duplass brothers have just about perfected this genre. Ed Helms does a great job as a suspicious husband who is wading through his own midlife crisis. The film is filled with whimsy but not overly so and handles each story arc very carefully.
Jeff (Jason Segal) spends his days getting high and wondering what he should do with his life. His mother (Susan Sarandon) calls him from work to fix a broken blind in the house. Before he leaves the house to buy wood glue for the blind, he receives a call for a wrong number that he believes will set him on his path if he keeps following the signs. Meanwhile, his brother, Pat (Ed Helms) has bought a Porsche that he cannot afford and believes his wife might be cheating on him with a co-worker. Pat employs Jeff on a mission to see what his wife is up to during a series of weird events and happenstances that make up this film.
Everything is connected. All of our actions have consequences. Sometimes, our inactions have consequences. Jeff ends up being the hero in this movie on several levels. The story is heartwarming and Jason Segal does an excellent job. Susan Sarandon gives a great performance as usual as she is caught up in a secret romance with a co-worker. This film is somewhat of a slow burn but the action keeps you engaged until the film’s climax.
11. Lonesome Jim (2005)
It is not uncommon for post grads to move back in with their parents now. Many indie films capture the alienation that a young protagonist feels from his or her families. There are a lot of films that document the despair and isolation a person on a quest for personal fulfillment might experience. Lonesome Jim is one of those films. What sets it a part from the others is Casey Affleck’s performance. He is so reticent; he almost seems to shy away from being on camera. It is easy to empathize with him after being introduced to his train wreck of a family.
Jim (Casey Affleck) has been living in New York trying to eke out a living as a writer. Like many people in his generation, he had big hopes of achieving success in a large metropolitan city, but things did not pan out and now he has to return to his hometown of Indiana where dreams go to die. His family runs a lumber and ladder company that his uncle uses as a place to run drugs.
His brother, Tim (played by the imitable Kevin Corrigan) is divorced and living with his parents. Tim has never left his hometown, so at least Jim knows what it’s like to make an attempt at greatness. Anika (Liv Tyler) serves as the woman who can offer at glimmer of hope for Jim. She’s not a manic pixie dream girl per se, but she’s a jewel in this otherwise dump of an Indiana town.
Lonesome Jim is an many ways, a very sad film. It’s filled with pathos and the reminder that anything that you care about can be taken away in an instant. It also has its moments of pure joy and tenderness. Casey Affleck does such a great job in this role you would believe you are watching a documentary about his life. It has a great soundtrack and solid story line. Steve Buscemi directs this film and it shows through its brilliant performances.
10. The Puffy Chair (2005)
This film is perhaps the best of the Duplass brothers’ efforts to date. It’s arguably one of the more popular Mumblecore films. Jay Duplass has done a little more behind the scene work than his brother as of late but in this film, Mark and Jay’s parents make an appearance. The film revolves around a puffy chair as the title implies, but is about so much more.
Josh (Mark Duplass) invites his girlfriend Emily (Katie Aselton) to travel from New York down to Virginia to pick up a puffy, purple chair that he bought on eBay to give to his father for his birthday. Emily is pretty volatile which makes for interesting conversation over dinner. Josh decides to take on her this long road trip anyway and makes a pit stop to visit his brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins). They hadn’t planned on Rhett actually making the trek down to Virginia with them, so Emily is upset when he tags along. This is just the beginning of the many misadventures they have along the way to pick up the puffy chair.
This film is adorable. It really hits home that life is not always what it seems and sometimes you have to make the best of wherever you are. The Duplass brothers excel at making micro-indie films such as this one and it is a shame that it wasn’t viewed by a wider audience. The Puffy Chair is a good introduction to the movies in this genre.
9. Your Sister’s Sister (2011)
People make a wide variety of questionable decisions when they are grieving. Naturally, there’s several ways to process grief and sometimes it’s good to get away for a while. Lynn Shelton wrote and directed this film about the weird little unexpected things that can happen when we are allowed to look at ourselves through a different lens.
Jack (Mark Duplass) is mourning over the death of his brother. His friend Iris (Emily Blunt) invites him for some alone time to her father’s cottage where he can get away from everything for a while. Little do they know, Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already staying at the cottage. She just out of a seven year relationship so she is nursing a bottle of tequila. The next day, Iris shows up to as a surprise to them both. This weekend will be a revelation for everyone involved.
Emily Blunt was an interesting choice for Iris as she has done her fair share of big budget fare. She does a great job playing Iris though. She can definitely carry the level of subtlety that was needed for this film. There’s no heavy dose of quirk or whimsy per se, but it is filled with great performances that these three actors carry with precision.
8. Appropriate Behavior (2014)
Mumblecore movies are definitely not known for having a great deal of diversity in them. Desiree Akhavan shook things up a bit with Appropriate Behavior. Navigating multiple identities is not easy in America, particularly if you are coming from a more conservative background. Akhavan absolutely nails her role in this comedy and speaks to the trials and travails someone would have in a situation such as this one.
Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) wrote, directed, and starred in this riotously funny Mumblecore comedy about a Persian-American, bisexual girl who is living in Brooklyn. She is not out to her parents and her ex-girlfriend can’t understand why she hasn’t told them. Her brother is getting ready to get married and it makes Shirin start to examine some of her past romantic relationships. She goes through a mix of flashbacks and present day stories to show the audience how she is where she is in life professionally and personally.
This is one of the better comedies of 2014. The film is effective on so many layers. Desiree Akhavan hopefully has a huge career ahead of her as a writer and director. She is a great comedic actress as well. Akhavan does a wonderful job portraying a person who has to be everything to everyone but doesn’t give herself enough space or time to sort it all out for herself. In an era where the 20-something Brooklynite flitting about new York seeking out their own identity has be come a ubiquitous thing in cinema, Akhavan figured out how to make this story relevant and something that appeals to a wider audience. It is fantastic and is worth a viewing.