Cold, dark days call for exploring the full breadth of contemporary cinema. And as the recent British Independent Film Award nominations showed, there are plenty of exceptional indie options to choose from. Whether you’re after an eccentric adventure or a powerful love letter to one filmmaker’s hometown, these are the best new independent films you won’t want to miss this winter.
The Best New Independent Films
Actor Riz Ahmed is on a roll — following his acclaimed performances in Sound of Metal and The Night Of, the groundbreaking British actor takes the lead in this new sci-fi thriller. Written by Pearce and Joe Barton, Encounter sees Ahmed play Malik Khan, a decorated Marine whose life is upended when he believes the world is coming under attack from a mysterious threat.
Determined to save his family, Khan goes on a rescue mission to save his two young sons. But as their journey becomes increasingly dangerous, Khan’s boys will be forced to grow up much quicker than expected. And when we see Khan get a call from Hattie (Octavia Spencer) who introduces herself as his parole officer, the entire premise of the Khan’s mission is called into question.
In cinemas 3 December 2021, on Amazon Prime Video from 10 December 2021
The Souvenir Part II
A moving tale of a young woman’s formative years, Joanna Hoggs’ The Souvenir Part II is a follow-up to her 2019 semi-autobiographical drama, The Souvenir, about a young film student, Julie, who falls for an older man, Anthony (Tom Burke). In Part II of this metatextual work, we join Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) as she deals with the aftermath of her tumultuous relationship with the man who turned out to be as manipulative as he was charismatic.
As part of her effort to untangle herself from her fraught and toxic love affair, she decides to use her graduation film as a way to distinguish fact from his elaborately constructed fiction. She abandons the worthy docu-style study of working lives in Sunderland that she’d been focused on in the first installment, and instead embarks on a pursuit of an abstract, meta personal journey of discovery. Even more meta — her mother, Rosalind is played by the actor’s real life mother, Tilda Swinton.
In cinemas 31 January 2022
Following his powerful turn in the pandemic drama Help, the formidable Stephen Graham returns to the big screen as a charismatic, up-and-coming head chef, Andy Jones. The dizzying single-shot drama follows Jones and his kitchen staff behind the scenes of one of London’s hottest restaurants on the busiest night of the year in a feature film that is packed with tension, unexpected twists and a brilliant performance from Graham.
The events immediately set off on the wrong foot, as Jones (Graham) arrives late and clearly distracted by personal domestic issues, much to the dismay of his team, including Carly (Vinette Robinson) and commis chef Freeman (Ray Panthaki). Things only get worse when a health and safety inspector comes for a surprise visit, and the front-of-house maitre d’ Beth (Alice Feetham) reveals that the hotspot restaurant is overbooked with guests, who are also giving her multiple off-menu requests. Directed by Philip Barantin, Boiling Point offers a unique look at the real action in restaurant kitchens.
In cinemas 31 December 2021
One of a number of new films making the case for monochromatic cinema, this is a heartwarming drama from director Mike Mills. The film follows Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny, a documentary journalist whose life is transformed when his estranged sister asks him to watch her nine-year-old son Jesse (Woody Norman) so she can care for her estranged husband who is struggling with mental illness. Together, the uncle and nephew must navigate how to be in each other’s company as strangers at very different ends of life.
Over the course of their time together, however, the two forge an incredible bond, finding commonalities that overcome Jesse’s obnoxious personality and Johnny’s unwillingness to talk about his own life. Delicate and well-observed, C’mon C’mon is a beautiful tale of cross-generational friendships and bonds.
In cinemas now
Academy Award nominee and Shakespearean titan Sir Kenneth Branagh takes a turn behind the camera with this poignant, joyous coming-of-age story. The semi-autobiographical film focuses on a young, working class boy (Jude Hill) and navigating the challenges of growing up and the The Troubles in his home city of Belfast, all against the backdrop of the energy of the 1960s — full of music, style and rebellious spirit.
The ensemble cast in Belfast is stellar — Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan play the parents, trying to figure out whether they should stay in Belfast amidst the political upheaval or abandon their home that they love, while Dame Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds play the steadfast Irish grandparents. Already honoured with the People’s Choice Award at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, this will not be one to miss.
In cinemas 21 January 2022
Written and directed by Stephen Karam, this adaptation of his Tony-winning 2016 Broadway play may put any Americanophile off the idea of hosting a Thanksgiving get together. Actress-of-the-moment Bean Feldstein stars as Brigid Blake, who is hosting a family dinner on Thanksgiving day in her somewhat bar downtown Manhattan apartment with her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun). It doesn’t take long, as one might expect, for the hopes of a warm family meal to go awry.
Joined by Brigid’s father Erik (Richard Jenkins), mother Deidre (Jayne Houdyshell), sister Aimee (Amy Schumer) and grandmother Momo (June Squibb), underlying tensions in the Blake family slowly bubble to the surface, with Karam patiently drawing out the various repressed traumas, grudges, secrets and lies. Just wait for the final explosion in the last act…
In cinemas 31 December 2021
The trailer may have blown up the internet when it dropped a few weeks ago, but details of Licorice Pizza’s plot are still pretty mysterious. Haim sister and band member Alana Haim makes her film debut as Alana Kane, a photographer’s assistant in her 20s, who becomes the object of fascination of the film’s protagonist, teenager Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman).
Set against the backdrop of the San Fernando Valley in the Seventies, this heady, nostalgic antic comedy follows the duo’s journey as they develop a friendship, start a waterbed company together, audition for films, and get involved with Joel Wachs’ mayoral campaign.
A standout cast joins them as various figures, heroes and antiheroes in the politically and culturally charged environment, with Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits just a few of the eye-catching names.
In cinemas 7 January 2022
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Delve into the mind of eccentric English artist Louis Wain with this biographical comedy-drama. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the titular artist, who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century for his surreal cat paintings that seemed to echo his own declining sanity, but director Will Sharpe is far more concerned with how the Victorian artist’s life played out in all its colourful detail.
After the death of his father, Louis Wain (Cumberbatch) is charged with looking after his five sisters and his mother, all while working as a freelance artist. Luckily, Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), editor of the Illustrated London News, decides to offer him a job as an illustrator. Things continue to go his way when Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) enters his life as the new governess of his sisters, and soon becomes the love of his life. But when they decide to adopt a cat, at a time when keeping a cat as a pet was not at all typical, their world begins to become even more eclectic.
In cinemas 31 December 2021
Franz Kanz makes his directorial debut with the intimate, emotionally raw drama about grieving parents. Gail and Jay Perry (Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs) lost their son in a mass school shooting that saw 10 students lose their lives. Years after the tragedy, the parents agree to meet with Richard and Linda (Reed Birney and Ann Dowd) , the parents of the shooter, who was a depressed and disturbed young man.
The camera stays with them in the basement of an Episcopalian church where the two sets of parents meet, closing in on their conversation as they grapple with their shared grief and anger and try to forge a path to acceptance or, at the very least, some sense of release. Intense and emotionally draining, this is a difficult but worthy watch.
In cinemas 21 January 2022
The latest offering from Palme d’Or-winning Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul – his first in English – stars Tilda Swinton as Jessica, a Scottish expat in Bogota who, after experiencing a loud ‘bang’ at daybreak, starts to suffer from a mysterious sensory syndrome.
An enigmatic slow-burner of a film, it follows the director’s trademark realist-mystic style, mixing the unsolved riddles of human existence with fantastical sci-fi. Do the strange noises that only Jessica can hear have something to do with the ancient bones that have been dug up in the city? Or is she simply having some sort of breakdown? Powerfully evocative, this is an example of one director and his muse working in perfect harmony.
In cinemas 14 January 2022
Celebrated Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar reunites with long-time collaborator Penélope Cruz once again in this boisterous melodrama, with celebrates the power of families and female solidarity. Cruz plays Janis, a 40-year-old woman who is determined to raise her daughter as a single mother – while on the maternity ward in Madrid she meets teenager Ana (Milena Smit), who is in the same boat. The pair quickly form a strong bond over their shared situation – but neither are aware yet just how closely linked they truly are.
This is a film that tackles themes of hardship and tragedy, as well as – and perhaps most importantly – hope. Packed full of twists and turns, all carried out with Almodóvar’s signature exuberance, it will keep you gripped until the very end.
In cinemas 28 January 2022
This compelling family drama is made all the more watchable by the fact that it features a real-life father-daughter duo with serious acting credentials. Based on a true story, Sean Penn directs and stars as notorious American counterfeiter, bank robber and con man John Vogel, wanted in the 90s by the FBI for forging thousands of $100 bills from a Minnesota copy shop. Penn’s daughter, Dylan, takes on the role of Vogel’s journalist daughter Jenny, who would later go on to tell his story in her memoir The Flim Flam Man: A True Family History.
The film explores Vogel’s violent and criminal past, with flashbacks revealing him to be a complex, charismatic character whose madcap antics lead to the adoration of his children, only for him to ultimately abandon them to fend for themselves. Moving and filled with emotion, this is a family affair that packs a powerful punch.
In cinemas 28 January 2022