domenica 26 ottobre 2014

I miglior film indipendenti americani degli anni 2000 per Taste of Cinema

The 2000s was the best of times for indie, and it was the worst of times for indie. It was the dawn of cinema’s second millenium, a clean slate for a new century of cinematic art. However, it was not all good news for indie cinema. On one hand, following the indie renaissance of the 1990s, there was certainly more of a return to big studio films in the 2000s.

Furthermore, the rise of Judd Apatow, found footage, and other such phenomena dragged indie increasingly in a direction that certain cineastes may not have seen as satisfactory. The 2000s also did not see the birth of as many new film voices as the 1990s, a decade which seemed to announce dozens of fresh faces to the scene.

Yet, there was a silver lining as the decade seemed to consistently produce challenging and insightful work. Each of the ten years represented by this decade provide a potential wealth of quality independent cinema. Alfonso Cuaron, Darren Aronofsky, and Todd Field, and David Green were all uncovered in this decade.

Distinct, too, were the notable returns to form from veterans Clint Eastwood and Sidney Lumet, who among others found a new voice in this decade. Naturally, the decade also saw a considerable comeback for a certain Mr. Tarantino in 2003.

In the end, an era’s legacy can be defined by those who took the risks, had the insight, and gave the audience respect. As such, there were copious moments like this in the 2000s, the first cinematic decade of a new century.


20. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)


Perhaps, all told, this is the archetype 2000s indie flick. Premiered at Sundance to instant cult appeal, this divisive opus has immortalised the slogan “Vote Pedro” into the popular lexicon.

Though a bit tiresome for some viewers, ironic humour enthusiasts continue to be driven towards the film in droves. It’s plot, centering around the titular character’s attempts to get his pal and fellow oddball Pedro elected student buddy president is incidental, this film is simply an excuse to be introduced to an outlandish cast of characters, each relishing their ample opportunity for bizarre antics.

Jon Heder’s performance is seen as being every bit as divisive as the film itself, but none can say that his portrayal hasn’t etched its way into cult hero. The key seems to lie is Heder’s ability to straddle the line between surrealism and reality, making Napoleon oddly relatable. Through double entendres, awkward silences, and a now infamous dance scene we stick with him as he makes humanity appear from out of the bizarre. This is an odd way to pose humanist questions.


19. Shattered Glass (2003)

Shattered Glass

If you are unconvinced about the acting ability of Hayden Christensen would be well served to watch his lead performance largely underexposed 2003 film. Christensen’s portrayal of Stephen Glass anchors the film and represents as comprehensive a study of the unreliable narrator device as one is likely to see in cinema.

The film chronicles the true story of a journalist who rose to prominence with publications such as Rolling Stone, only to have his career ruined by allegations of false reporting. Glass’ delusion is played with considerable emotive charge, with Christensen exuding both confidence and vulnerability in equal measure, making Glass’ story a cautionary tale of ambition gone awry.

The film is framed by an interesting storytelling device in which Glass is telling his story to a high school class. Impressive too are turns by Chloe Sevigny as a peer taken in by Glass and Peter Sarsgaard as an editor who sees trouble in Glass from the onset. This film has the capacity to both entertain you as you watch it and linger in the consciousness long afterwards. As such, it is very telling of the appeal of the modern indie film in general.


18. Little Children (2006)


A dark, murky assessment of modern suburbia coming apart at the seems, Little Children is one of the darkest films to appear on this list. From Jackie Earl Haley’s pedaphile, to the unfulfilled husband Brad, to Noah Emmerich’s neighbourhood buddy Larry, these are characters that one must certainly warm to in spite of considerable flaws.

An ensemble movie with a kind of omniscient narrator, life’s conventions are presented here as conservative estimates discussed by town elders at book clubs; they are there to be shunned at will. With a female workaholic played by Jennifer Connolly, and a semi-likeable pedaphile, there are many conventions being turned on their head in a film which settles into a rich character prose early.

It is all very formal stylistically, but there is heart to. Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet have chemistry as a two locals brought together by sheer despondence towards the system, and united in an intimate affair. This is the kind of film that Douglas Sirk would make, one of people trying to live in spite of their lifestyles clashing with traditional America. Out of its time? Perhaps. But, like the films of Sirk, the characters may have you engrossed quickly. However, let the viewer be wary; there are many shocks.


17. Elephant (2003)

Elephant (2003)

As narrative loose and structurally divisive as any film ever made, let alone to win the Palme D’Or, Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film is either his masterpiece or utter trash, depending on whom you ask. Based on the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, this film is far from what one might expect, given the subject matter.

Firstly, it centers on no one protagonist, instead wandering from student to student in a dreamy haze. Furthermore, the shooting only takes up a small part of the film. The rest consists of diatribes on weight loss, gay culture, drunk Dads, romantic yearnings, and dark rooms- in other words: high school.

The film finds poetry in the banal rather than finding a plot. Both the victims and the shooters are frequently given time to breath (or, as the case may be, die) independently of any narrative conventions.

A beethoven operatic swell over a school football game, a woman wandering across a gym is given a jarring abundance screen time, as is a jock as he stroll casually through his school corridors. Van Sant’s high school as opera ideal may divide viewers, but it is gripping when it wishes to be, and in every sense the work of an artist.


16. In the Bedroom (2001)

In The Bedroom (2001)

Another suburban tragedy from Todd Field, another indie hit. This time out, we have a tale best described by its fans as a story if escalating serendipity.

The film is also a worthy entry into the unlikely vigilante canon, as murder and revenge abounds in what initially appears like it may be simply a kitchen sink melodrama. The fact that the vigilante element gels admirably with the romantic elements is a credit to both the script and the tactful storytelling of Todd Field, as well as a tremendous ensemble cast that include Sissy Spacek, Marisa Tomei, Nick Stahl, and Tom Wilkinson.

The story of a young man who begins a romance with an older woman and a middle aged man who seeks vengeance for his murdered son is told in a realist vein’, but the stylistic flourishes are present also.

The photography is quite breathtaking, and there are fascinating editing techniques at play such as the match cut and montage rhythms to please the purist. Most importantly for the films devotees, the final scene is left open to moral assessment. The viewer is left to decide whether or not anybody’s actions were truly justified.


15. Adaptation (2002)


This film is a curious, era transcending, meta-fiction puzzle that nonetheless charms and oozes both the best and worst of the human condition. In the film, Charlie Kaufman writes himself into the lead role (albeit portrayed by Nicolas Cage).

The plot fins Charlie in the wake of writing being John Malkovich, but still plagued by doubt and writers block. As he tries to adhere to his artistic principles whilst adapting a book on horticulture, he learns that his oafish brother Donald has found ironically success with his seemingly hack screenplay. Murder, sex, lies, and condescension ensues.

The chemistry between Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper is magnetic, as is the performance as Cara Seymour as Amelia, but the film’s true chemistry lies with Nicolas Cage playing opposite himself.

Loveable simpleton Donald and neurotic Charlie are polar opposites, but the affection between them bubbles to the surface by the end and strengthens the film’s occasional montage experimentation. The film’s originality and visual splendor may lure its fans at the onset but, by the end, the film’s empathy may be its abiding characteristic.


14. Down to the Bone (2005)

Down to the Bone

A realist movie if ever there was one. This story of a Irene (Vera Farmiga), a woman who struggles to juggle motherhood, drug addiction, and an affair with fellow addict Bob (Hugh Dillon) attempts no glamour or Hollywood sentiment; it is quintessentially indie. The American flag flies over gloomy urban slums as a stark plot unfolds which pulls no punches.

Irene packs bags at a grocery store, drives home, drives to score, and has occasional romantic encounters without any hint of the burgeoning glamour that we are accustomed to mainstream cinema providing at every turn. Only the family’s pet snake provides any hint of the exotic.

Like the snake slowly consuming its prey, one gets the idea that the characters are very much consumed by, and trapped in this life of monotony. However, the hope and beating heart of the piece lives and breathes in Vera Farmiga. Her dignity and determination keeps the audience from drowning in the mirk, instead we identify and are somewhat edified.

In the end, irene chooses to protect herself, whatever the cost; one can relate. This strikingly shot, tensely crafted work of indie realism comes highly regarded by critics and is worth your time.


13. Birth (2004)


Featuring subject matter as controversial as any and initially derided by the vanguard of the world’s critics, Birth nonetheless is the work of consummate craftsman in Jonathan Glazier and a stellar lead performance from Nicole Kidman. Yes, the critical reevaluation of this piece is well underway, thanks to its rich fairytale aesthetic and searing humanity.

Roger Ebert, one of the films admirers, likened the film to Rosemary’s Baby. This is certainly evident in scenes in which a snow capped New York looks like something out of fantasy, and through the bewitched nature of Kidman’s Anna. But, perhaps, the film is even better seen as a hunting elegy on loss, or even as the 2000s’ oddest break-up movie.

Many viewers were unable to get past the pedophilic elements of the film’s narrative. True, seeing Kidman is a bath tub with a ten year old boy claiming to be her husband reincarnated will provoke too much knee-jerk outrage for many; ditto with the notorious kiss. But, alas, the point is not to tell a tale a pedophilia, of which is there is none explicitly or implicitly.

This is a tale of loss, of sadness following the death of a loved on and how we search for answers. The journey that this film takes is rewarding, and worth the shock.


12. House of Sand and Fog (2003)


A property dispute turns fatal in this film which is as grim and irky as the city encapsulating fog that the film’s cinematography so gamely depicts.

Aside from the occasionally derided shots of Jennifer Connelly’s Kathy’s occasionally derided shot on a beachside pier, criticised for their similarity to similar moments in the earlier film Requiem for a Dream, House of Sand and Fog was rather lauded by critics. The film explores two characters from vastly different backgrounds who, nonetheless, are equally consumed by perversions of the American Dream, destroyed by the city that they thought could be called home.

The movie belongs to Connelly and Ben Kingsley. Kingsley excels Massoud, a general in his native Iran who nonetheless must suffer the indignity of a manual labour job in the United States in order to make his dream of life in America come true for his wife and son. Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is a perturbingly desperate character.

Homeless after Massoud’s family takes her house, we witness her at the dismal edge of the American spectrum, in love with a married man and fighting addiction, constantly needing support of some kind after a gripping scene in which she injures her foot. Neither character shall emerge for the better, we are keenly aware of this from the onset. This is searing, thought provoking cinema, predilicting consequences over resolution.


11. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)


A lyrical and seliberately paced film, this film encouraged some criticism but much cult devotion. Aesthetically beautiful and epic, Brad Pitt’s Jesse James is presented in this film as poetically as any gunslinger, and also with a sadness that will resonate with the viewer long afterwards.

Told through omniscient narration, we witness the deterioration of Jesse James, voyeuristically witnessed through the eyes of both his biggest fan and his potential murderer. The exhaustion of Brad Pitt’s Jesse and the desperation of Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford allow the film to resonate ominously long before any bullets fly. In fact, it is the waiting for violence to occur that this western, like the great Spaghetti Westerns of old, concerns itself with.

The film took two years to find distribution after it was finished. That, along with certain misreadings of the film may have led to slightly less than unanimous acclaim for the film. The film has been interpreted as a critique of celebrity culture, with Robert Ford pining for Jesse’s acceptance as he has grown up hearing tales of his legend. A dinner table scene in which Jesse informs Ford that most of the tales are false is particularly telling.

However, the film is better described as a cautionary tale against assigning myth to mortals. Jesse is the product of a dying breed. He is introduced as a Confederate freedom fighter, though the war is already lost. His insecurities are as evident as Roberts, his fears too. This makes the film’s conclusion all the more mythic, an irony which may not be lost on the viewer.


10. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Punch Drunk Love

When Paul Thomas Anderson announced at Cannes that his next film would be a romantic comedy with Adam Sandler, the announcement was met with laughter from a crowd that assumed Anderson to be speaking in jest. Yet, Anderson had a curiosity for both Sandler and the romantic comedy that he could not resist.

So, the film transpired, and the result was extraordinary indeed. Punch Drunk Love is deceptively breezy. Yes, the film is a romantic comedy. However, its gentle pace, dreamy music, it’s lead actor, and the film’s premise deceptively hides neurosis, sadness, and even violence buried just under the surface.

Barry Egan is a thirty-something misfit with seven sisters and no girlfriend. He runs his own plunger manufacture business. It is a conventional premise, but from the onset things get unfamiliar. There are phone sex lines, harmoniums, blackmail threats, and room trashings. To see these odd events, all told through the innocence of Barry and his love interest Lena (Emily Watson) is striking.

One particular scene involves Barry running and leaping to escape some thugs, all told through the gentle long shots associated with the romance genre. Striking too is Barry’s bright blue suit in contrast to Lena’s red dress, casting them both as outcasts. These are outcasts you can learn to care for, resulting in Adam Sandler’s brief moment in the critical favor.


9. Broken Flowers (2005)

Broken Flowers

An ageing Don Juan receives a pink letter informing him that he is a father. But from who? And who is the son? This is one of the strangest movies ever to be played dead straight. It is just as well, then, that director Jim Jarmusch cast the deadpan comedy guru Bill Murray, fresh off a career revival, as his leading man. What follows is a detective story that feels more like a window into the wreckage of an old rogue’s past.

Thankfully, the characters are played straight as Murray’s Don Johnson. The promiscuous ex and her voyeuristic daughter, the jealous lesbian lover, the loveless upper class marriage, the irate biker chick, the characters that Don meets on his journey of investigation into his past become apt incites into various break-ups of Don’s, not to mention the human condition in general.

Of course, there are plenty of signs of Jarmusch’s odd take on humanity. The sleuth-obsessed neighbour of Don makes him an odd mix cd to play on his voyage, one which periodically keeps the tone of the film somewhat surreal. As does Don’s inexplicable decision to wear only Adidas training attire. But, as witnessed by a graveside visit by Don to a perished ex, the humanity of this film tends to admirably overpower any indie contrivement. This comes as good news in a film that prides questions over answers.


8. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The tagline “Family is not a word, it’s a sentence” is an apt one for the film that cemented Wes Anderson as a fixture of indie cinema.

When a family including a disdainful old sage Royal (Gene Hackman), his long-suffering ex-wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston), droll diva Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), adversarial entrepreneur Chas, and troubled former tennis star Richie (Luke Wilson), find themselves under the same roof for the first time in years following the announcement that Royal is dying, tension and absurdity mounts. Of course, as does a sensational vintage soundtrack.

As always with Anderson, there is much colour and surreal character staging. The script, too, is wild and boisterous as lines such as “you want to talk jive, I’ll talk jive with ya” are given hysterical weight.

But, family runs deep, and so do the tender moments. Richie’s brush with suicide is followed by an unforgettable scene in a tent with Margot, the final moments between Royal and Chas are worth the film alone. As the family ensemble walk out of frame together at the end of the film, we feel like we have taken quite the journey with them.


7. Far From Heaven (2002)

Far From Heaven

A spiritual remake or, if you will, extended homage to Douglas Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows”, Far From Heaven nonetheless more than earns its own identity. Like Sirk’s film, the stark color palate and opulent setting is simply a veneer that hides a society of judgement and prejudice.

There is something deeply sinister about this seemingly hospitable upper-class community of Hartford, Connecticut.Julianne Moore’s Cathy, once quite capable of keeping up with the Joneses, discovers her husband’s sexual yearnings are not what she imagined.

As her world falls apart, her only real support comes in the form of her African American Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). But, in 1957, their budding love affair is far from socially acceptable, neither to Cathy’s cocktail party contingent nor Raymond’s working class black community.

The premise may seem like schmaltz, but the execution is exquisite. The performances are first rate, in particular Patricia Clarkson as the small-minded local gossip Eleanor, who single-handedly encapsulates the film’s themes.

Dennis Quaid, too, cannot be forgotten for his compelling subplot as a supposed man’s man unable to be frank about his sexuality. The scenes, such as a sequence is which Raymond’s daughter becomes the subject of violent prejudice, are well-picked. In the end, the film’s conclusion will leave you believing in the film’s appropriate title.


6. The Squid and the Whale (2005)


One of the frankest, and most comprehensively characterized films ever made about the disintegration of a family, The Squid and the Whale may still be Noah Baumbach’s masterpiece. Loosely centering on Jesse Eisenberg’s Walt Berkman, this tale of a marital breakup in 1980’s New York is both cinematic and frighteningly real.

The tale touches on subjects as diverse as tennis, erotic prose, Lou Reed, Kafka, and juvenile alcoholism, all with a sense of human understanding that gives the viewer a genuine feel of realism. We see through the facade of some characters, we identify with others, but either way we leave having been gifted a true slice of life.

The film is semi-autobiographical for Noah Baumbach, and as a writer he draws his characters with surgical precision. Jeff Daniels’ Bernard is a frightfully pompous patriarchal figure, Laura Linney’s Joan is a likeable but subdued matriarch with hidden abilities, Owen Kline is magnificent as the juvenile Frank up acting out tragically in the wake of family dysfunction.

We also meet the provocative writing student, the tennis coach lover, the ernest girlfriend, and a host of other characters on our journey. It is difficult to avoid seeing your own life reflected painfully in this film.


5. Dogville (2003)


As audacious a film as has emerged from any decade, Dogville is quickly earning acclaim as one of the bravest indie films of the 2000s. Furthermore, it is truly fascinating. Over the film’s near three hour running time, we are presented with a litany of moral conundrums, “what would you do?” questions that resonate on a most human of levels.

The protagonist, Grace, arrives in the sleepy town of Dogville whilst on the run from dangerous criminals. She brings out the best in her love interest Tom, but slowly brings out more and more of the worst in the villagers who begin to take advantage of, then persecute her in increasingly disturbing fashion. Sound interesting? How about if I tell you there are no sets, just a sound stage with chalk outlines?

Spending three hours in the hand-drawn imaginary town of Dogville is more cinematic than you might think. The ensemble cast is hugely impressive, boasting the likes of Stellan Skarsgard, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, John Hurt, and Philip Baker Hall. The hand held camera makes terrific use of the Altman-esque zoom and pan approach to capture the action in immediate fashion.

Then, there is the ending, which will give any vintage James Cagney caper a true run for it’s money. It is a brutal, stylish, and oddly hysterical finale that finds an unexpected musical contribution. Indeed, Dogville is entirely too fascinating to miss.


4. Before Sunset (2004)


Simply to attempt a sequel to one of the most structurally courageous romantic films of all time, 1995’s Before Sunrise, was a courageous task. To have it be even more structurally stubborn as its predecessor magnified the risk even more so.

However, for director Richard Linklater and actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, to revisit the characters of Jesse and Celine was fate and, as such, essential. Nine years on, we find Jesse and Celine in Paris, reunited after their first and only meeting at Jesse’s book signing. The book is based on his one night only romantic triste- so their second meeting is as such somewhat of an unusual one.

Yes, this film is 85 minutes of two people talking, with little to no narrative intervention. However, for fans of this franchise, this installment could not be more urgent. Now in their thirties, Celine is alone and Jesse is caught in a loveless marriage. With Jesse due to fly out of Paris in the evening, Jesse and Celine have one afternoon in which to decide whether or not to spend the rest of their lives together, or part once more and forever hold their peace.

This urgency adds a depth and power to the wandering premise, and the characters slight melancholie air makes the film more powerful than the first. The end will have you virtually reeling, the idea of and meaning of love ruminating in your head long after.


3. The Wrestler (2008)


Raw, natural, and unassuming. This is a film where the little moments are truly allowed to gradually gain weight. Unfairly marketed as a macho professional wrestling movie, the reality is something quite removed from that.

Certainly, the story of the downfall of washed up professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (real name Robin) showcases the athleticism, passion, and respect inherent to the performers of the business, but the savagery and loneliness of the lifestyle is more so the center of this unflinchingly realist film. It is also about age, as Randy is an old man in a young man’s game, success and glamour long since gone by, left with only the wreckage of his life of excess to haunt him.

Yet, there is humour and many moments to relish in, it is to the film’s credit that it never feels overly depressing. Instead, it is a film about people. Central to Randy’s life is his friend Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). An ageing stripper, she too is a performer lost in her persona and running out of time. She is his glimmer of hope.

Randy’s daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) is the most egregious evidence of the damage caused by Randy’s former life, but also his greatest opportunity to reconcile his past and redeem himself. Beyond wrestling, there is life, and this absorbing drama is most concerned with our ability to alienate those we love; to self-destruct. As such, it conveys this message disturbingly well.


2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is many things. A love story, a break-up movie, a dreamy avant garde film, a visual experiment, an odyssey, a character piece. That a film can conform to so many archetypes and still be so original is very much to it’s credit.

The film’s playful visual experimentation plays off of the idea of fractured memory, of two lovers who try to erase each other from their pasts from their brains only to have it come screaming back to them in a bizarre dream narratives. We see Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) lying in a bed on snow-capped beach, bathing in Joel’s mother’s sink, and caught in the rain indoors. The practical effects team seem to have truly extolled the best of their abilities here.

There are great supporting performances from Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and a truly creepy Elijah Wood. All of these performance make one’s trip to Lacuna Inc more than memorable. However, amidst all of the mad cap antics and characterisations, the film truly belongs to Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.

Screenwriting wizard Charlie Kaufman is to be credited for the fact that such a wildly structured movie can, nonetheless, hold such a compelling romance as its central conceit. Furthermore, to have Kate Winslet play the wacky one and Jim Carrey play it straight is quite a bizarre thing to witness. But, the romance succeeds on the chemistry of its leads. For all of the visual mayhem, it is the character’s first encounter on a train that resonates most, and for all of the right reasons.


1. Lost in Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation is not a 2000s indie film, it is the 2000s indie film. It goes nowhere but where the characters dictate that it goes. It say nothing but what the sprawling Tokyo landscape wants it to say. It has a pulsating score, two infectious leads, and instantly unforgettable scenes. Most importantly of all, in a genre of hipsters and auteurs, Lost in Translation is very, very cool.

It’s cult following was almost instantaneous. The Tokyo landscape is breathtakingly set to the droll melodies of the synth pop group Air. The beauty and soul of Scarlett Johansson echoes through every scene. Her backside is impressive enough to warrant an extended close-up in the film’s opening shot. Her underwear-clad looks of longing as she sits against her hotel-room window, overlooking Tokyo, her teary cries for help to an unsympathetic friend, these are now the stuff of cinematic lore.

Of course, as any devotee of the film will tell you, Johansson does especially well when one considers the tour de force that she plays opposite. You see, this is the moment at which the world fell once again in love with Bill Murray. Murray is a revelation in this film. He plays Bob Harris, a washed up actor in Tokyo to shoot a nonsensical whiskey advert, with the kind of hilarious sarcasm that appeals to the world weary side of us all.

His ennui as a the instructions furiously enthusiastic advertisement director are poorly translated by an interpreter, his incredulousness on a ludicrously camp Japanese talk show, his attempts in vain to converse with an old woman in a hospital waiting room, are beyond priceless. But, in the end, the film is best summarised in a sequence in which Bob and Charlotte, now firm friends, lie on a bed together discussing the possible meanings of their existence. Bob’s grasp of Charlotte’s foot, along with his line “you’re not hopeless”, is as passionate as any sex scene.

The muted last line from Bob to Charlotte is apt. Were they lovers? Were they friends? In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter. They found each other for the briefest of times, and we the viewer felt every moment. Lost in Translation is a shameless, essential slice of indie cinema.


Author Bio: Ross Carey is a Film Studies graduate from County Cork In Ireland. He is an amateur filmmaker and aspires to write and direct a feature film someday. Before joining Taste if Cinema he was ran a popular blog entitled “Kino Shout! Films” and is currently a film critic for a Cork based magazine Insert Title.

VIA: Taste of Cinema


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