The 20th anniversary of IFC Films just so happens to coincide with many of us suddenly having a lot more time on our hands. Since a sizable portion of the population is using social distancing for self-betterment—if social media brags can be believed—then this feels like an ideal time for a deep dive into the company’s vaults through their video on demand channel, IFC Films Unlimited.
IFC Films has spent the last two decades championing some of the world’s most innovative cinema in a no-fuss, under-the-radar manner. Less attention-grabbing than distribution houses like A24, IFC also cast a wider net of aesthetic styles than distributors such as Grasshopper and Oscilloscope. Across its 20 years, the company has continued to release a fairly eclectic grab-bag of movies—from mumblecore to earnest kitchen-sink drama to more unclassifiable what-the-fuckery—that other labels would likely have passed on.
You can spend weeks trawling through the foreign and domestic dramas in IFC’s extensive archives, which mostly range from the serious (Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah) to the very serious (Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), with the occasional event film that the studio took an unusually big gamble on, most notably Steven Soderbergh’s Che and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, scattered in between. Along the way, they also built a small but potent sideline in comedies with the meanest of stingers, from Armando Iannucci’s feature-length debut, In the Loop, to Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip series.
One way that IFC mimicked such rivals as Miramax and, later, Magnolia was by launching an offshoot label devoted to sci-fi, thrillers, and especially horror. Because of the studio’s IFC Midnight line, their streaming service is also well-stocked with dozens of low-budget screamers and spookers. A number of these look no different than the bottom-drawer horror product what you might find on other streaming services, though you can occasionally find some less-classifiable genre offerings like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.
More than anything else, it’s the element of surprise that makes time spent in the IFC backlist worthwhile. Any place where The Human Centipede and Y Tu Mamá También can be neighbors is probably worth visiting. Below is a list of some of our favorite films released by the studio across the last 20 years. Chris Barsanti
Editor’s Note: Click here to sign up for IFC Films Unlimited.
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
Lars von Trier’s two-hander psychodrama Antichrist draws heavily from a rich tradition of “Nordic horror,” stretching back to silent-era groundbreakers like Häxan and Vampyr (and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s later Day of Wrath), in particular their interrogation of moral strictures and assumptions of normalcy. In the wake of their son’s death, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) follow a course of radical psychotherapy, retreating to their wilderness redoubt, Eden, where they act out (and on) their mutual resentment and recrimination, culminating in switchback brutal attacks and His and Her genital mutilations. Conventional wisdom has it that von Trier’s a faux provocateur, but that misses his theme and variation engagement with genre and symbolism throughout, which renders Antichrist one of the most bracingly personal, as well as national cinema-indebted, films to come along in a while. It’s heartening to see that real provocation still has a place in the forum of international cinema. Bill Weber
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is an avatar of both endless becoming and endless stasis. His journey from video game-obsessed six-year-old to artistically inclined teenager, charted by director Richard Linklater in three surprisingly breezy hours, is a revelation of accumulated knowledge that extends far beyond the visual impact of watching Mason (and his family) age 12 years before one’s eyes. In fact, Boyhood’s greatest achievement is that even amid constant change (the fallout of friendships, the shuffling of abrasive stepfathers, the acquisition of new skills and fears), Mason at 10 (or 12, or 15, or 18) remains so recognizably Mason at six (or eight, or 11, or 14): laconic, eager to please, observant but weary of expressing said observations. Thus, Boyhood isn’t about the creation of a soul, but about the unburying of one: The most crucial difference between the cloud-gazing little boy of the first shot and the lovestruck, scruffy young adult of the final shot is simply that the latter has found a voice with which to articulate the wonder he has always felt whenever he stares up at the sky. David Lee Dallas
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
Certified Copy is a roaming two-hander that’s by turns haunting, confounding, uplifting, and sad. Unnamed art-dealer She (Juliette Binoche) and visiting author James Miller (William Shimmell) wander through the streets of a rustic Italian village, encountering presumptuous baristas, sacred shrines, and hordes of hopeful brides, who blow into the frame like gusts of windblown flowers. Under the guiding hand of an eminent humanist like Abbas Kiarostami, what’s essentially a rambling argument between two often-unlikable people turns into an extended examination of authenticity and imitation, expanding its characters’ love for copies from art to architecture to humanity itself, an open tap endlessly spewing reproductions of itself. Less formally explosive than The Tree of Life, Certified Copy nevertheless solidifies Kiarostami’s reputation as an international director, capable of porting his usual wistful themes and rigorous style onto a modern European setting, telling a story that’s achingly specific but also beautifully universal. Jesse Cataldo
The Exterminating Angels (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2006)
A sober surrealist, Jean-Clause Brisseau is charting terrain that has been of similar interest to both Catherine Breillat and David Lynch—only he shuns the sometimes repellent intellectualism of the former and the exhilarating visual pretenses of the latter. Like Lynch’s films, The Exterminating Angels rattles and hums with metaphysical interruptions. Ghosts and angels make their appearances, unseen to everyone except for the audience, plotting interference and pointing to François’s shame about what he may be doing to his women. A man, the Devil perhaps, narrates with chatter about a great blue desert and calls to order, multiple references to “three times” suggesting that François’s (Frédéric Van Den Driessche) search for the perfect actresses isn’t so much a matter of casting as it is a matter of life and death. In the film’s standout sequence, he takes two potential stars of his movie to dinner, where the women begin to touch each other. Nothing is ever one thing in The Exterminating Angels, and what starts as an improvisational exercise becomes something almost mystical when the secret things that go on beneath the dinner table catch the attention of the restaurant’s hostess. François and his women aren’t just testing moral waters, they’re also building an army. Ed Gonzalez
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)
The visual language of Frances Ha’s poster and trailer promises an alienating kind of hipster sensibility, an ode to quirkiness built on mumblecore affectation and “farmer’s market” irony. Director Noah Baumbach, however, rediscovers the sincerity of the original behind the inane copy in the way his New York City twentysomethings parade around like mumblecore caricatures, but laugh and suffer with pit-in-the-stomach gravitas. Theirs is a kind of hipster drag, the feigning of a communal style as a way to ensconce oneself from the solitude of cosmopolitan adulthood. Frances’s non-story, played with disarming and infectious honesty by Greta Gerwig, doesn’t thrive on the inside-jokeness of Brooklynite cool, but the cool of jazz, early Woody Allen, American sass, wit, and humanizing inelegance. Baumbach knows American film wins when it embraces the pedestrian-ness of its people and language. The beauty in the film isn’t in the literal poesis of its words, but in the unabashed way the characters are allowed to roam around this world of non-productive play without the burden of pretty. Diego Semerene
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