The last cork has been popped and the final flute of Kirkland Signatures sparkling wine drained down to the last drop. Old Man 2023 has gathered his sash about his withered frame and slunk into the night, clearing the way for cherubic New Year 2024–giggly, chubby and brimming with promise.
Or something. In reality, years don’t flip on and off like a light switch. They smear into each other like paint, until everything is the same weird shade of brownish-purple. But still: we all strive to make each new chapter in the Gregorian filing system a fresh start–a chance to break bad habits and begin good ones.
The traditional way of kickstarting these self-improvement reboots is through the maddeningly self-deceptive ritual of setting New Year’s Resolutions–80% of which are inevitably abandoned by February 1, according to most studies. But hey! A sustainable 20% is still pretty good. And for cineastes, motivation to stick with our lofty “New Year, New You!” ambitions can readily be found lurking within our favorite movies.
So for our first Must-List of 2024, we’re taking a look at some of the United States’ most common resolutions (per Forbes magazine) and seeing which indie pairings might inspire continued self-improvement, or at least kill a couple of hours waiting for your Postmate to show up the goddamn burritos and ice cream. Enjoy!
GET IN SHAPE!
Film: Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)
Writer, Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Producers: Margot Hand, Tobey Maguire, Matthew Plouffe
Starring: Jillian Belle, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh, Alice Lee
Why We Love It: The great Jillian Bell (Workaholics, 22 Jump Street) turns in her equivalent of Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta in this quarterlife-crisis dramedy. Bell plays the titular Brittany, a 28-year-old Brooklyn underachiever whose partying–and weight–have been steadily ballooning for most of a decade. A grim doctor’s visit prompts Brittany (not a natural self-starter) to improve her health, beginning with some way-easier-than-it-sounds jogging dates with prickly neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins). The first non-documentary to ever shoot at the New York Marathon, playwright Paul Down Colaizzo’s feature debut is brisk and bright, with a clear-eyed view of just how much getting fit both will and won’t change who you are.
Where to Watch: Prime Video, Freevee
PAY OFF DEBT!
Film: The Laundromat (2019)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Jake Bernstein, Scott Z. Burns
Producers: Scott Z. Burns, Lawrence Grey, Gregory Jacobs, Michael Sugar
Starring: Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Meryl Streep, Jeffery Wright
Why We Love It: For many folks across the world currently laboring under crushing debt, money itself can often feel like a duplicitous supervillain. And while you won’t find many practical tips for scrimping and saving in Steven Soderberh’s anarchic The Laundromat, the film–part feature-length video essay, part true crime black comedy–is instructive as to just what money is, exactly, and how it works to grease, animate and manipulate the gears of human civilization. “Hosted” with frequent asides by impish demon-bankers Gary Oldman and Antonio Bandares, Soderbergh’s movie tells the story of retiree Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep), whose husband’s freak death uncorks a Pandora’s box of insurance policies, shell companies and offshore banking.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Film: Everything Must Go (2010)
Writer, Director: Dan Rush
Producers: Wyck Godfrey
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace
Why We Love It: An overlooked mid-career gem in the back catalog of funnyman-turned-MLS-owner Will Ferrell, Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go (adapted from the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance?”) is the rare example of a film depiction of alcoholism that doesn’t wallow in the miserable or grotesque. Ferrell’s Nick Halsey is an unassuming Arizona businessman with a drinking problem and a dissolving marriage. When his soon-to-be-ex-wife moves all of his worldly possessions out onto the lawn in front of their house, Nick decides to take up permanent residence in his new outdoor living room, draining can-after-can of Pabst and drawing the ire and/or concern of the rest of the neighborhood. Featuring supporting performances by Rebecca Hall, Glenn Howerton and Stephen Root, Everything is a teetotaling essential.
Where to Watch: Freevee, Plex, Pluto TV, Roku
Film: Morvern Callar (2002)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay, Liana Dognini, Alan Warner
Producers: George Faber, Charles Pattinson, Robyn Slovo
Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Linda McGuire
Why We Love It: Lynne Ramsay’s breakthrough sophomore feature will at the very least make you desperate to hightail it to Spain for a few months. And at most, it may inspire you to commit publishing fraud whilst hiding from authorities the dismembered corpse of your late boyfriend. When the titular Morvern Callar (Morton) wakes up one morning to find her lover gruesomely and suddenly expired, she reacts in atypical fashion. True: everyone grieves in their own way. But Morvern’s reaction is to bug out to the Mediterranean, leaving dreary Scotland far behind. What follows is a sumptuous visual and auditory experience, propelled not by plot, but by pure vibes. An expressionistic journey into the unknown, both geographically and emotionally, Morvern Callar is essential early-‘aughts art house.
Where to Watch: Freevee, Roku
RESTORE WORK-LIFE BALANCE!
Film: Lost in America (1985)
Director: Albert Brooks
Writers: Albert Brooks, Monica Mcgowan Johnson
Producer: Marty Katz
Starring: Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty
Why We Love It: A classic of itchy yuppie-boomer malaise, Albert Brooks’ third feature as writer/director explores the two poles of the American Dream circa the late 20th century: the fragile status-dependent self-worth of the modern patriarch in a post-Industrial Capitalistic society, and the cheap rebel fantasy of hippie self-annihilation. When California businessman David Howard’s career abruptly goes up in flames, he retreats into the fantastical romance of Easy Rider–grabbing wife Linda (Julie Hagerty, crushing it) and a rickety Winnebago to ditch the upper-middle-class rat race and hit the road in search of, well… something. But after some disastrous luck at craps table and an epic marital blowout atop the Hoover Dam, the Howards soon discover that turning on, tuning in and dropping out isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Where to Watch: Rental, all platforms
Film: In Pursuit of Silence (2016)
Director: Patrick Shen
Producers: Patrick Shen, Brandon Vedder
Why We Love It: The only documentary on this list, Patrick Shen’s 2016 SXSW hit explores a different sort of climate change: that of our aural environment–its increasing clutter and the disappearance of truly silent space in the modern world. Examining several test cases illustrating the worldwide rise in ambient decibel level, Shen and producer Brandon Vedder (who we interviewed at the time of the film’s release) make a case for stillness as an essential ingredient in unlocking human potential. With sidequests to spaces specifically designed for maximum quietness (sound art installations, religious monasteries, scientific experiments), In Pursuit of Silence is guaranteed to inspire you to find some time for quiet contemplation.
Where to Watch: Kanopy
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(Header: Brittany Runs a Marathon)