Outside of big cities like New York and Los Angeles, many moviegoers don’t have access to great independent films until they reach home video, and even those who can see them in theaters don’t always take advantage. Hulu has become a steady destination for films from quality distributors like Neon, Magnolia and Bleecker Street; these are 12 titles the streamer is currently carrying that deserve to find an audience.
‘The Art of Self-Defense’ (2019)
After getting assaulted in his neighborhood, an ineffectual accountant (Jesse Eisenberg) starts taking karate classes at a strip-mall dojo in this dark comedy, which gets darker by the minute as the dojo’s violent, alpha-male culture starts to reveal itself. The most obvious point of comparison for “The Art of Self-Defense” is “Fight Club,” another film about a rogue visionary who builds a philosophy around brutal masculinity. The Brad Pitt role here belongs to an inspired Alessandro Nivola, a sensei who teaches his students to listen to death metal music, kick with their fists and commit the occasional crime after hours.
‘Beach Rats’ (2017)
Before wowing Sundance earlier this year with the drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” the writer and director Eliza Hittman explored the secret desires of a young man in a hypermasculine environment in this insightful and dreamily realized character piece. Harris Dickinson stars as a Brooklyn teenager who has a girlfriend (Madeline Weinstein) but trolls for older male sexual partners online, carefully keeping this information from his friends while telling himself he’s neither gay nor bisexual. “Beach Rats” sounds adjacent to “Moonlight,” but it has more in common with the specific New York cultural dynamics of “Saturday Night Fever,” another film about thrill-seekers who run in packs, always looking for an escape from their dead-end lives.
‘Golden Exits’ (2018)
The prolific writer-director Alex Ross Perry has a reputation for high-toned misanthropy and emotional distress, with credits that include the literary comedy “Listen Up Philip,” the ’70s-style psychodrama “Queen of Earth” and the musical meltdown “Her Smell.” But in the middle of that run, Perry turned down the volume for “Golden Exits,” an ensemble piece about midlife crisis starring Emily Browning as a 25-year-old from Australia who destabilizes the lives of two different Brooklyn families. Perry keeps the conflict to a minimum, especially by his standards, leaving the subtle anomie to a great cast, including Adam Horowitz, Mary-Louise Parker, Jason Schwartzman, Analeigh Tipton and Chloë Sevigny.
‘Knives and Skin’ (2019)
Wearing its many influences on its sleeve, Jennifer Reeder’s candy-colored slice of life movie draws from cult favorites like “Repo Man,” “Suspiria,” “Heathers” and the films of John Hughes. It’s something of a feminist twist on “Twin Peaks,” spinning out from the disappearance of teenage girl. Reeder does give the audience a glimpse of what happened to her Laura Palmer type, who went missing after denying a jock a sexual favor, but she’s equally compelled by what it means to her mother (Marika Engelhardt), a high-school choir teacher, and classmates who are embroiled in their own secret lives. “Knives and Skin” doesn’t hold together perfectly, but Reeder imagines a Midwest town unlike any other and takes a particularly keen interest in how its girls interact under strange and terrifying circumstances.
‘Little Woods’ (2019)
The North Dakota border town of Nia DaCosta’s “Little Woods” is like a working-class variation on the rural Ozarks in “Winter’s Bone,” with more jobs available in construction, perhaps, but a population equally hooked on opioids. Tessa Thompson plays a reformed drug runner who’s late in her probation and eyeing an opportunity for legitimate work in Spokane, Wash., but with the family home nearing foreclosure and her sister (Lily Jones) close to destitution, she unearths a bag of 500 pills she buried and starts selling again. DaCosta, who directed the upcoming remake of “Candyman,” grounds her hero’s predicament in an austere setting where life is difficult under the best of circumstances and people are always on the precipice of disaster.
Lighting a long fuse on issues of race, revolution and the legacy of global conflict, Julius Onah’s provocative drama stars the gifted Kelvin Harrison Jr. as an accomplished high-school athlete, debater and scholar who isn’t the uncomplicated success story he appears to be. After his history teacher (Octavia Spencer) assigns the class to write a paper from the perspective of a historical figure, he chooses Frantz Fanon, the political philosopher who believed that colonialism could only be toppled by violent revolt. His parents (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts), who adopted him from war-torn Eritrea, don’t understand her alarm, but they soon discover that their son hasn’t been forthcoming about how he feels and what actions he intends to take.
Not many actors get the opportunity to end their careers like Harry Dean Stanton. “Lucky,” a drama tailor-made for Stanton, was his last film in an onscreen career spanning more than six decades; it was released in theaters less than two weeks after he died at 91. Then again, not many actors are as brilliant as Stanton was or as willing to reveal so much of himself that close to the end. Directed by another character actor, John Carroll Lynch, the film is about a 90-year-old Texan who’s been cheating death for years but must finally face the inevitable after taking a fall. What might have been a pre-fab tribute to Stanton is deepened by his willingness to show fear and vulnerability, as well as the regret of a loner who doesn’t have loved ones to say goodbye.
‘Mister America’ (2019)
There’s a for-fans-only quality to Tim Heidecker’s satirical comedy: It’s the latest expansion of the “On Cinema at the Cinema” universe, a “Siskel & Ebert”-style movie review show parody that began life as a podcast before breaking as a web series on Thing X and Adult Swim. But even newcomers who don’t get all the in-jokes can appreciate “Mister America” as an absurdist commentary on a period in politics when unctuous boors felt they were entitled to public service jobs. Heidecker stars as a no-hope independent candidate for district attorney of San Bernardino County, Calif., running mostly to unseat the man who charged him for second-degree murder for hawking tainted vape juice at an EDM festival.
‘Skate Kitchen’ (2018)
Crystal Moselle made her directorial debut with 2015’s “The Wolfpack,” a documentary about home-schooled brothers in Manhattan’s Lower East Side who learned about the world through movies, which they’d then re-enact at home. “Skate Kitchen” is Moselle’s graceful transition into features, but she takes a piece of documentaries with her in the film’s on-the-fly naturalism and her continued interest in outcasts banding together. Real-life skateboarder Rachelle Vinberg plays a Long Island teenager who befriends a multiracial group of boarders at a New York skate park and stops coming home to her conservative mother. The improvised street scenes in “Skate Kitchen” may recall Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s “Kids,” but Moselle has a subtler feel for social dynamics and the stolen pleasures of youth.
‘The Standoff at Sparrow Creek’ (2019)
“Reservoir Dogs” (1992) proved that sticking a bunch of great character actors in a warehouse and turning up the heat was a cheap and efficient formula for tense genre film. To that end, the drum-tight thriller “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” is stocked with recognizable faces that may not come with recognizable names — James Badge Dale, Brian Geraghty and Patrick Fischler are the leads — but add depth to Henry Dunham’s story about militia members hiding out after one of them is accused of shooting up a police funeral. The film’s Waco-influenced politics are clouded with ambiguity, but the slow-burn tension is cleanly rendered, with the inevitable spasm of violence reserved for maximum impact.
‘Support the Girls’ (2018)
The spirit of the late Jonathan Demme lives on in Andrew Bujalski’s funny and generous slice of Americana, set at a downmarket Hooter’s-like “breastaurant” called Double Whammies. Regina Hall is wonderful as its general manager, who spends her day dealing with emotionally volatile waitresses, rude customers, a faulty cable-TV connection, an attempted robbery of the office safe and the encroaching threat of a new chain about to open up. Through all this hectic action, Bujalski offers rare insight into the humbling challenges of the service industry, where hourly workers scrape together rent money with thin margins for health or child care emergencies.
‘The Unicorn’ (2019)
Well-known in improv circles and for her turns on the TV series “Orange is the New Black” and “Crashing,” the comedian Lauren Lapkus hasn’t gotten the breakout roles in film that she deserves, but her daffy performance in Robert Schwartzman’s cringe comedy is evidence of her talent. Lapkus and Nick Rutherford star as a long-engaged couple who head to Palm Springs, Calif., for her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. In a bid to recharge their own flatlining relationship, the couple spends one spectacularly awkward evening in search of a threesome, but their crippling inhibitions make them a poor fit for swinger culture.