I’m being arbitrary once again with my definition of “independent.” In this category, I’m going to include a) indie or non-mainstream films that are not new releases, like the first two films below, and b) new release films that are truly small films, i.e., did not get a lot of studio publicity and a wide release, and probably were not financed by a major studio, even their speciality arms. I don’t always know about the financing side, though, so I don’t want to use that as an absolute standard, even though it should be. Basically, this means that films like Juno or No Country for Old Men would appear in the New on DVD category rather than here. When in doubt, my logic goes “if a moviegoer who only goes to multiplexes knows about the film, it doesn’t go in the independent category.” I want to use it to highlight lesser-known films.
When I start writing on a film-by-film basis, Indie Cinema and World Cinema will be separate categories; I just threw them together here because there weren’t too many of either one.
Kicking and Screaming
NOT the Will Ferrell soccer movie. :) No, this is an early film from the guy who did The Squid and the Whale, one of my favorite movies from a couple of years ago. And this one is similarly excellent, though with much less plot. Basically take Slacker, throw in some Metropolitan, and then maybe a dash of Wes Anderson. The nominal plot follows a group of recent college graduates trying to figure out what to do next with their lives (a concept that hit very close to home among our group of grad students; after all, why else were we getting graduate degrees in English if not because we were unable to figure out what to do after college?). The story falls off a bit toward the end, but the characters are so identifiable and the script so outstanding that it comes very close to Richard Linklater’s best, which is a high compliment from me. Also, the cover of the Criterion edition is quite possibly the most awesome DVD cover ever, so I’m using it in lieu of the poster. Click on it to see it bigger and read the quotes, which are good in context, but perhaps even better out of context. ;)
Well Above Average
USA 1995; dir: Noah Baumbach; starring: Chris Eigeman, Samuel Gould, Olivia d’Abo
IMDb | The Frame
Dazed and Confused
My experience with other Linklater films had me anticipating this one to a possibly unhealthy degree, and it didn’t live up to my expectations. I think he does better with college and later than with high school, because Dazed and Confused was all right, but not great. Basically it follows a couple of freshmen as they try to survive the hazing given them by the older students and ingratiate themselves into the booze-and-drug ridden high school world. Yay! *eyeroll* It’s not that that story couldn’t work, it’s just that it doesn’t – it doesn’t go anywhere, and in a much less satisfying way than the way, say, Slacker didn’t go anywhere. I think because it felt like it was meant to go somewhere, whereas Slacker fit the meandering style much better. Plus, any movie wherein Matthew McConaughey (who I usually can’t stand) is the most entertaining part? Yeah.
USA 1993; dir: Richard Linklater; starring: Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Wiley Wiggins
IMDb | The Frame
Wristcutters: A Love Story
While the opening credits run, Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) slits his wrists. Soon he finds himself in a limbo-esque place, full of other suicides who all go about relatively normal lives – working dead-end (no pun intended) jobs and wandering around aimlessly. It sort of reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s hell in The Great Divorce; just a dismal, grey place characterized more by depression and boredom than pain. Anyway, Shannyn Sossamon shows up one day, claiming that she’s not supposed to be there because she didn’t commit suicide. She snags Fugit and another friend and they start seeking whoever runs the place to fix the apparent administrative mix-up. Oh, and they’re also looking for Fugit’s ex-girlfriend, who committed suicide a few weeks after he did. I could go on with the plot; there’s a commune at one point, and a guy with Jesus delusions (played by the guy who played Gob on Arrested Development; I have such a hard time disassociating him with that role enough to see him in anything else), etc. Even though the story gets fairly unbelievable at times, even for a film that’s about suicide-limbo, it remains quirkily engaging.
USA 2006; dir: Goran Dukic; starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Will Arnett
IMDb | The Frame
Hannah Takes the Stairs
I’m not wholly against considering films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno as indie films, despite the fact that they had financing from specialty divisions of major studios and clearly straddle the line between mainstream and indie, but sometimes I’m tempted to just point at films like Hannah Takes the Stairs and say “Now THIS is an independent film.” Swanberg, Gerwig, and a group of other filmmakers including Ronald and Mary Bronstein, Mark and Jay Duplass (whose Baghead is in limited release now), and Andrew Bujalsi have made a number of films at this point loosely grouped together by critics under the name “Mumblecore.” Hannah got wider distribution than most of the others, but still was hardly seen outside of New York, Los Angeles, and Austin. Following a largely improvised script, Hannah is a twenty-something struggling through a failing relationship with her boyfriend and the possibility of relationships with two of her coworkers. There isn’t much more plot to mention, and the film comes under perhaps deserved criticism for its lack of development and the frustrating uncertainty of its heroine. On the other hand, there’s a rawness here that feels more real than most films, a rawness that gets polished away by the mainstream, a rawness I found quite refreshing. I certainly wouldn’t say that all films should be more like Hannah, but I think it’s important that there’s a space in the filmmaking/distribution world for these willfully non-mainstream films that push the envelope by refusing to play by the rules.
USA 2007; dir: Joe Swanberg; starring: Greta Gerwig, Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski
IMDb | The Frame
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Fabulous. But then, you pretty much have to call any half-way decent film about three drag queens driving a bus (the eponymous Priscilla) through the Australian outback in outlandish costumes (and sometimes lipsynching to opera while sitting in an enormous shoe strapped on top of the bus) fabulous. Hugo Weaving is the one with the secret former marriage and son, Terence Stamp the aging one who tends to be somewhat bitter but can also be the consummate lady, and Guy Pearce is the flamboyant youth. As they move through the Outback toward their next proposed gig as lipsynching dancers, they run into mechanical difficulties, bigotry, and interpersonal conflicts. Ultimately, though, it’s a fun journey, at least for the audience if not necessarily for the three guys. Let me just say, though, that Hugo Weaving makes one ugly woman. Also interesting to see Guy Pearce before his big Hollywood roles – as my Australian friend Anna pointed out, I wonder who saw this film and thought, “you know what, I bet he’d be perfect for that straight-laced cop in L.A. Confidential!”
Australia 1994; dir: Stephan Elliott; starring: Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce
IMDb | The Frame
I’m working on my appreciation for Japanese film. I’m getting there with anime, especially Miyazaki, but even Kurosawa I often don’t connect to on the level I would like. My friend Kat suggested I try Kwaidan, since she feels roughly the same way and now places Kwaidan among her all-time favorite films. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether it’s because I watched it during a time of moving stress or what, but it didn’t have the same effect on me. Basically, it’s a collection of unrelated ghost stories, none of which are particularly scary. Or memorable, to me. Well, there was one I quite liked, about a blind monk who gets drawn away from the monastery at night to recite poems to a mystical court which only he can see. Honestly, most of the others I don’t remember. Given my level of distraction, though, I’ll put it on the rewatch list.
Japan 1966; dir: Masaki Kobayashi; starring: Katsuo Nakamura, Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuyo Nakadai
IMDb | The Frame