Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots portray the titular characters in writer-director Matthew Ross’ thriller “Frank & Lola.”
By Lucy Spicer
Whether or not you’re a fan of the holiday season, familiar festive films are ubiquitous around this time of year. If you need a break from the sound of sleigh bells, consider revisiting some Sundance Film Festival titles that opened to wider audiences in the month of December.
The list below features a wealth of neo-noir thrills and crime investigations (of both the real-life and fictional variety) to draw you in, as well as powerful performances by actors like Ray Liotta, Kevin Bacon, Michael Shannon, and more to keep you riveted until the credits roll.
Affliction (1998) — This neo-noir thriller stars Nick Nolte as Wade Whitehouse, a small-town policeman who becomes determined to prove that a local hunting accident was, in fact, murder. His obsessive investigation inevitably affects every aspect of his life, including his relationships with his brother (Willem Dafoe), his girlfriend (Sissy Spacek), and his daughter (Brigid Tierney). Writer-director Paul Schrader based his screenplay on Russell Banks’ 1989 novel of the same name. Nolte received a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards for his performance, while James Coburn won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Wade’s abusive father. Check here for viewing options.
Narc (2002) — Narcotics officer Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is looking forward to a quieter life after an undercover mission goes south. But before he can secure a desk job, he’s tasked with investigating the murder of another undercover officer. He enlists the help of Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), a detective close to the case, but his new partner’s erratic behavior and disregard for the rules suggest that his involvement might be deeper than anyone realized. Writer-director Joe Carnahan developed his neo-noir script from a short film he made while he was a college student. Check here for viewing options.
The Woodsman (2004) — Walter (Kevin Bacon) returns to his hometown of Philadelphia after spending 12 years in prison for child sexual abuse. He makes a start at rebuilding his life thanks to help from his brother-in-law, Carlos (Benjamin Bratt), and a budding relationship with co-worker Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick). But there are those who know about his past, and they’re watching for any sign of a wrong move. It’s up to Walter to look within and confront the darkest parts of himself. Director Nicole Kassell co-wrote her feature debut with playwright Steven Fechter based on his play of the same name. Check here for viewing options.
West of Memphis (2012) — On May 5, 1993, three 8-year-old boys went missing in West Memphis, Arkansas. The next day, their bodies were found in a creek. Three teenage boys who would become known as the West Memphis Three were convicted of the murders. But the presence of dubious evidence, police coercion, personal bias, and more caused widespread controversy and criticism of how the case was handled. Director Amy Berg’s documentary examines the case and the aftermath, including the introduction of new evidence and the release of the West Memphis Three following a plea bargain in 2011. Check here for viewing options.
Frank & Lola (2016) — In this neo-noir psychosexual thriller, Frank (Michael Shannon) is a Las Vegas chef whose life is turned upside down after he meets and falls in love with the enigmatic Lola (Imogen Poots). Their intense relationship takes a turn when Lola suddenly cheats on him, prompting Frank to look into a mysterious and dangerous figure from her past. Writer-director Matthew Ross’ feature debut was supported by the 2015 Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound before premiering at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Check here for viewing options.