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Best of Summer 2011: The Indie Movie Round-Up

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Aug 27, 2011 | 8:18am EDT

“Summer indie” is something of an oxymoron. Even the most casual moviegoer, be it consciously or subconsciously, has come to rely on the hot months for his annual dose of superhero movies, comic-book adaptations, high-profile sequels (and three-, four-, and fivequels) and overall popcorn fare--not, say, a documentary about a stalwart newspaper trying to adapt to the digital age. So that's precisely what makes summer independent movies the perfect escapism. Escapism from escapism. Here are a few of the notable smaller movies that maybe, just maybe, were overshadowed by [insert summer blockbuster] and the like:

The Beaver 

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Big name(s), little movie? Yes: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster (actor/director), Jennifer Lawrence

Neither a porno nor quite great enough to reverse Mel Gibson’s indeterminate sentence in movie jail, The Beaver was an odd little movie. Gibson gave a very strong, quirky performance that might’ve garnered Oscar buzz in previous years, but his off-screen troubles undoubtedly hurt all aspects of the film’s business; meanwhile, Jodie Foster, directing her third movie, didn’t do The Beaver any favors onscreen, often seeming overmatched by the screenplay.

Box office, or lack thereof (domestic): $ .97 million

Everything Must Go 

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Big name(s), little movie? Yes: Will Ferrell

That’s right—Will Ferrell in an indie. Which could’ve brought with it the potential for some waves, even with a very limited release schedule, but moviegoers, especially during summertime, are allergic to Will Ferrell in a dramedy.

Box office, or lack thereof: $2.7 million (still tracking)

Midnight in Paris 

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Big name(s), little movie? Yes: Owen Wilson, Woody Allen (director), Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard

The highest-grossing movie of Woody Allen’s career cost a non-art-house $30 million to make, but Midnight in Paris was still technically “independent”: It was released by Sony’s indie division and only played at 1,000-plus theaters on one occasion (by comparison, Thor opened at almost 4,000 theaters).

Box office, or lack thereof: $50.6 million (still tracking)

The Tree of Life 

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Big name(s), little movie? Yes: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Terrence Malick (director)

The notoriously reclusive director Malick released his fifth film in five decades, and the abstract meditation on life and post-life split audiences—even with Brad Pitt as the lead. But even odder than the movie itself? Malick has since lined up TWO projects slated for release within the next couple years.

Box office, or lack thereof: $12.7 million (still tracking)

Beginners

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Big name(s), little movie? Yes: Ewan McGregor

Mike Mills’ very, very personal story of an elderly father coming out of the closet in his twilight years struck a chord with critics (which may prove beneficial again come Oscars time), but not so much with viewers. Bonus indieness: Mills’ wife, the beloved-by-the-artsy-community Miranda July, also released a movie this summer: The Future.

Box office, or lack thereof: $5.6 million (still tracking)

Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times 

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Big name(s), little movie? No (unless you consider Bill Keller a star)

Andrew Rossi’s tame, somewhat unfocused (or perhaps wrongly focused) documentary was a bit of a failed opportunity to catch a glimpse of the inner workings of arguably the biggest newspaper in the world. Still, anyone even slightly interested in journalism or the digital-vs-print conundrum thereof would be wise to check out Page One.

Box office, or lack thereof: $1.02 million (still tracking)

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop 

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Big name(s), little movie? Yes: Conan O’Brien. Duh.

Behind every comic, there is a tortured, desperate-to-make-you-laugh soul; Conan O’Brien is no exception. This under-appreciated documentary shows Conan in that rare, sometimes unflattering light following his banishment from The Tonight Show, as he embarks on the Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.

Box office, or lack thereof: $ .26 million (still tracking)

Project Nim 

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Big name(s), little movie? Yes: Nim Chimpsky

Lemme guess: You probably don’t think a documentary a showbiz-vet chimpanzee could make you cry. Well, neither [*sniffle*] did I. Then I saw the heart-wrenching Project Nim, which hasn’t been anywhere near as successful as it was at January’s Sundance Film Festival, but then again, it basically hasn’t been released.

Box office, or lack thereof: $ .33 million (still tracking)

Another Earth 

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Big name(s), little movie? No.

An odd little sci-fi-leaning tragi-drama that would possess nothing worth noting at all if not for star/co-writer Brit Marling and her breakout performance, which has resulted in her being cast in future movies at Gosling-like speeds.

Box office, or lack thereof: $ .95 million (still tracking)

The Devil’s Double 

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Big name(s), little movie? Dominic Cooper (Captain America).

All this movie really has going for it is Dominic Cooper’s performance – well, performances – as Uday Hussein AND his body double, but man, is that quite an asset. Expect to hear much more about his tour de force come awards season, and expect big things from Cooper going forward.

Box office, or lack thereof: $1.02 million (still tracking)

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