By Megan Reilly
With more than a century’s worth of films to pore over, choosing a movie to watch can be a daunting task. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve carved out two hours to devote to expanding my cinematic horizons, only to resort to an old favorite after scrolling through endless Netflix recommendations and Amazon genre categories. Here’s a more targeted approach: if you enjoyed the following 2013 releases, check out the corresponding suggestions for a fresh take on a similar story, tone, or style.
If you liked Short Term 12, then check out Pariah (2011)
Destin Cretton‘s SXSW darling Short Term 12 shares an emotional core with Pariah, Dee Rees’ first and only feature to date, as both quiet, contemplative indies explore trauma from the perspective of young women. Like Brie Larson as the central foster care employee in Short Term 12, Adepero Oduye drives Pariah with her fierce performance as Alike, a Brooklyn high school student navigating newfound subcultures and family tensions as she comes into her lesbian identity. Rees explores the brutal implications of Alike’s self-expression, especially in terms of her parents’ reactions, but she balances that heaviness with lighter moments between Alike and her friend Laura. A particularly amusing scene involving a strap-on hits similar comic notes to Mason’s taco-aftermath story in the opening of Short Term 12, which is likewise sprinkled with humor to mediate the gravity of the foster care facility. The films also share immersive aesthetics, both made intimate by hand-held camera work and striking color palettes. The opening sequence of Pariah showcases Bradford Young’s Sundance award-winning cinematography; the camera starts upside-down and slowly rotates around Alike as she sits in a lesbian club, mesmerized by a pole dancer, awash in blues and magentas that are as lush as the greens and golds of Short Term 12. Pariah‘s gorgeous look and potent narrative make the film well deserving of a watch, especially among fans of gutsy, low-budget indies.
If you liked Nebraska, then check out Wild Strawberries (1957)
Director Alexander Payne cites Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries as an influence on his 2002 feature About Schmidt, and the black-and-white Swedish classic also seems to inspire Payne’s most recent film. The road movie structure and family squabbling of this year’s Nebraska, also shot in black and white, echo Bergman’s film, which follows retired Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) on his journey from Stockholm to Lund to receive an honorary degree from a university. Filling the shoes of Will Forte’s compliant son and escort to Bruce Dern’s senile Woody in Nebraska, Isak’s daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) accompanies him on the trip. Both films hinge upon this central relationship between initially dismissive companions and aging men, whose curmudgeonly exteriors dissolve as they travel through space and into their pasts. Existential dread drives Isak’s interior progression: in an early dream sequence, he investigates a coffin that has fallen from a horse-drawn hearse, only to be confronted by his own reanimated corpse. Through a series of flashbacks over the course of the car trip, Isak assumes a new perspective on events from his past, which shade in details about his character to the viewer and to Marianne, much like Woody’s encounters with old friends and adversaries as he visits his hometown with his son. Nebraska’s melancholic tone and monochromatic palette evoke a distinct art-film style, so the elements that the film shares with Wild Strawberries provide a smooth path for Payne fans into the director’s European influences.
If you liked Frances Ha, then check out Waitress (2007)
Most comparisons to Noah Baumbach‘s Frances Ha focus on the connection to Woody Allen’s work, and justly so. But if you strip away the black and white, Manhattan setting, and the art film sheen, you’ll be left with Frances’ story: not quite a rom-com, not quite a drama, but a breezy tale of a young woman moving through the world. While not nearly as inept as Frances (Greta Gerwig), Keri Russell‘s Jenna, the titular character of Waitress, likewise begins making moves to remedy her unsatisfying existence. Jenna kicks her plans to leave her abusive husband and her dead-end job into high gear after unhappily discovering that she is pregnant. Like dancing for Frances, Jenna finds solace in inventing new pie recipes, into which she pours, whips, and bakes her feelings. She narrates fast-motion, high-angle montage shots of pie-prep, envisioning sardonic creations such as “I Hate My Husband Pie” and “Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie.” Director Adrienne Shelly‘s final project before her murder in 2006, the film dutifully nurtures Jenna’s story, maintaining attentive focus on Russell despite charismatic supporting performances by Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, and Shelly herself. Though lacking the stylish trappings of Baumbach’s film, Waitress compensates for its visual simplicity with a bluntly compelling heroine, snappy dialogue, and many tenderly shot pies.
Megan Reilly is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies English and Cinema Studies. Netflix has deemed her taste preference to be “dark, cerebral, foreign dramas featuring a strong female lead,” but she also likes Clerks.
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