Neon: Lighting Up New Worlds
Over the past decade, there have been many independent film distributors who have come to establish themselves as a brand of quality when you cast your eyes over their output. One such American distributor is Neon films. From getting behind independent movies from around the world, Neon is establishing itself as a mark of quality for those looking for films that offer something a little different to the norm.
To best express the variety of films that Neon has to offer, and the gems that exist within its distribution wheelhouse, their output can be categorised into four areas that demonstrate their keen interest in providing audiences with distinct voices and stories from across the world. These four categories are as follows: The American Indie, Documentaries, Genre Movies, and World Cinema.
In this selection, not only will you hopefully end up with a healthy watchlist, but you will also see just what kind of movies Neon have been behind when it comes to their distribution Stateside, and why they stand as one of the most eclectic distributors operating today.
The American Indie
Neon has been amongst those promoting some of the most exciting filmmakers on the American Indie scene, with these two films standing out as underrated highlights.
Joseph Kahn, the director behind such music videos as Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, brings a tale of navigating cultural sensitivity to your screens as Bodied follows a white student diving into the world of battle rap as part of his university thesis. It is a film that seeks to traverse the thorny world of political correctness in a manner that is often shocking, funny and deceptively insightful. That matched with some whip-smart lyrics, Khan’s exuberant visual flair, Bodied is an exercise in the threshold of taste that makes for thrilling viewing.
Monsters and Men (2018)
A film that is very pertinent to our times and well worth your attention, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Monsters and Men shows the effects of the police shooting of an unarmed black man on the lives of three men: John David Washington’s conflicted cop, Kelvin Harrison Jr’s promising athlete, and Anthony Ramos as the young man who recorded the event on his phone. For a film that could so easily and justifiable be driven by a sense of rage and injustice, it is one that is more empowered by a very sensitive approach that demonstrates both a great deal of compassion for the complexity of its characters. I highly recommend that you catch the film while you can watch it for free on Neon’s website.
See also: Ingrid Goes West (2017), Vox Lux (2018), Assassination Nation (2018)
The world of non-fiction has also given Neon a number of distinctive documentary features that stand as some of the most impressive and thrilling of the last decade.
Three Identical Strangers (2018)
This startling documentary from Tim Wardie begins telling what is a seemingly miraculous and joyous story of three identical triplets finding each other later in life after having been adopted by three separate families at birth. What unfolds, however, is a highly emotional and shocking mystery that packs devastating twists as the truth is unearthed surrounding the lives of the three brothers Bobby, Eddie, and David. It’s a fascinating documentary that provokes questions both about its approach and its subject matter that explores notions of nature vs nurture, identity and conspiracy. An absolute rollercoaster of a documentary.
Apollo 11 (2019)
Through pulling together footage of Apollo 11’s mission from its launch to the astronauts’ return, Todd Douglas Miller’s space-age documentary is a fascinating time capsule of staggering scale. Using previously unseen 70mm footage discovered deep within NASA’s vaults, this is a pure nuts and bolts account of the effort taken to get to the Moon, very much emphasising that each step of the journey was fraught with risk. It is a film that brings you closer to the event that united all humankind in triumph (however briefly) than ever before and is an absolute treasure for anyone fascinated with the history of space travel.
See also: Honeyland (2019), Amazing Grace (2018), The Biggest Little Farm (2018)
The Genre Movie
Neon has demonstrated a desire to promote genre movies that take new spins on tired tropes in unexpected ways, as these following films certainly prove.
One of Neon’s first distribution deals, Nacho Vigalondo’s take on the monster movie is a singularly original flick from the Spanish filmmaker. The film follows Anne Hathaway’s Gloria, an unemployed alcoholic who finds herself intrinsically tied to the movements of a monster wreaking havoc in South Korea. From there the film becomes a hilarious depiction of someone trying to find the strength to pull themselves out of a spiral, whilst also revealing itself to be a striking tale about abusive relationships and gaslighting, albeit with a monster destroying cities in the background. A film filled with emotion, imagination and excellent performances from Hathaway and a never-better Jason Sudekis.
French filmmaker Coralie Fargeat takes the often sexist genre of rape-revenge exploitation and creates her own tale of violent retribution that takes a shotgun to the genre’s tropes and cliches, leaving them in tatters as it goes about its bloody business. Following Matilda Lutz’s brutal journey is not a trip for the squeamish, but for those who can stomach it, they’re in for a fearless destruction of the exploitation genre that more than succeeds in its aim of putting a feminist spin on the history of revenge movies. It both satisfies in offering the gory genre thrills that fans of such films come to expect while delivering something that is distinctly its own in a highly effective manner.
See also: Little Monsters (2019), The Bad Batch (2016), The Lodge (2019)
Neon has helped bring some of the finest examples of cinema from across the world to audiences of millions, with two of their most recent offerings standing as stone-cold modern classics.
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite made history earlier this year by becoming the first film not in the English language to win the Best Picture Oscar, as well as taking home the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes some months before. One often expects a certain level of backlash to accompany any film that goes on to sweep up during awards season, but that has not been the case for Parasite, and rightfully so. A devilishly clever and sinister examination of class divides, Parasite leaves you hungry for more, making each revisit as delicious as the last. Bong Joon-ho effortlessly demonstrates his mastery of tone, his skill at crafting compelling characters, and his dynamic visual grammar to deliver a film that is rich and deeply engrossing.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
No love story has made the soul ache quite as much in recent memory as Celine Sciamma’s beautiful Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Set on an isolated island in the English Channel, the film depicts the relationship between painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and her subject Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), whom Marianne has been tasked to paint for a wedding portrait. Fittingly, almost every frame of this resplendent film could be its own painting, such isthe way Sciamma shoots her stirring romance, one which uses its period setting to a heart touching effect. Stunning performances, captivating cinematography with a very pure romance at its centre; simply gorgeous.
With such eclectic titles already under their banner, it is with excitement that cinema fans can look to that glowing sign of the Neon logo. As films like the above demonstrate, Neon has more than established themselves as a marker of quality for those looking to explore fresh and exciting avenues of cinematic storytelling.