If the 1990s was the modern heydey of the indie film, with many a new voice emerging from an era of renaissance, the 2000s represented the period in which American filmmakers began to churn out indie films in factory-like abundance. They became cheaper to make, a fact which yielded endless independent production companies were sprouting from the woodwork to give rise to many an emerging auteur.
The pioneers of the 1990s inspired many a wealthy patron to the genre in the following decade. Whilst Miramax was the flagship of Indie’s initial 1990s rise, in the 2000s it seemed as though there were an infinite number of fledgling production companies emerging yearly, many seemingly for the sake of producing one single film. It was, simply, the decade in which anybody could endeavor to make an Indie film. Apropos to this, we have quite the eclectic mix to discuss in this particular article.
Of course, with this plurality of competitors, must come a large array of films that were either not seen, or not appreciated amidst the din of Indie’s insurgence. Some of these films were poorly distributed by their modest production companies, others didn’t quite strike the critical palate as much as their directors would have hoped; at least initially.
Others, as they say, we just a little unlucky. Yet, here are 20 shining examples of Indie cinema between the years of 2000 and 2009. Great characters, quirk, big themes, and cinematic voice are ubiquitous in each. They are quite the motley crue. They are over-looked today, perhaps appreciated in hindsight tomorrow. For now, they are simply great Indie films.
20. Humpday (2009)
The filmmaker who never finishes anything, the long estranged childhood friend, the frustrated wife, the hotel room, and the video camera. When two straight men elect to film themselves in a homosexual sex act as an erotic art piece, mumblecore gold is struck. This shoestring budgeted film is as odd as they come.
Highlights from this wandering film include a drunken confession from Andrew to Ben’s wife Anna, the obligatory random party encounter that has long become the bread and butter of the mumblecore subgernre, and a surprisingly mature husband and wife reasoning session. But, of course, the best scenes come in the bedroom.
Naturally, the film is dialogue driven. But, rarely has an Indie film hinged so much on the prolonged avoidance of action. Andrew and Ben, both straight, spend their time talking each other into, then back out of, the idea of a coital exchange. They take their shirts off and hug, imagining themselves to be two old friends meet at a pool.
The scenarios are increasingly ludicrous, but an exchange between the two men on the hotel bed, however intimate or not one chooses to see it, begets the film true intent. The film is about a renewed friendship, and a profoundly renewed sense of hope for a directionless filmmaker.
19. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is strong in every area of filmmaking, and with such a rich array of stars in front of and behind the camera, it is a tragic marvel that this film such take its place on a list of overlooked films. Perhaps it is was surprise that George Clooney’s directorial debut was not a financial success. But, thankfully, the real surprise came when said debut proved to be one of the most stylistically deliberate, well acted, and assured debuts in recent years.
This crazed biopic of Chuck Barris, written by the virtuoso Charlie Kaufmann, is remarkably visually creative. The film is rife with framing, editing, and camera movement innovation. Clooney takes to the director’s chair for the first time like Orson Welles, desperate to find new ways in which to cinematically accent the story he is charged with the telling of.
Those looking for a straight biopic of a television mogul will be stunned, as the film is far more centered on Baris’ madness. Of course, his assumed second career as a contract killer, may or may not be related to said madness. The film does not clarify whether or not he is imagining these episodes of espionage and murder, only endears this strange fellow to us and passionately tells his story.
There are sequences so beautifully staged they could stand alone as short films, yet they never distract from our spectatorship of Barris’ fractured life narrative. In the end, the journey has been rewarding, if rather sad. It is the story of a unique individual, who committed the less than unique crime of wandering through 20th Century llife.
18. Far From Heaven (2002)
An ideological remake in the contemporary Tarantino vein, this sweeping romance more than earns its right to stand alone. A homage to Douglas Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows”, Far From Heaven takes the aformentioned film’s notion of a forbidden love between the classes and moves the ideas forward a generation to a era of racial intolerance. As such, it is like a second chapter to Sirk’s original dissection of upper class America.
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 devastating. The performances are first rate. Patricia Clarkson is eminently noteworthy as the small-minded local gossip Eleanor, who single-handedly encapsulates the film’s themes. Dennis Quaid steals the show as an urban alpha male struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality.
Ironically, Quaid is the only character that emerges from the narrative with any semblance of hope. The scenes, such as a sequence in which Raymond’s daughter becomes the subject of violent prejudice, are well-picked. It is at times a repulsive world, but one rife with well speculated moments of humanity. One thing’s for certain, the film’s title is apt.
17. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
As a film anchored in a character that is neither sensational nor saccharine, Lars and the Real girl is, ironically, one of the most balanced account of mental illness on film. Funnily enough, it is a wonderful account of romance also; despite the almost ubiquitous presence of a sex doll. It is also an exercise in cinematic empathy.
As we see Lars staring out at the world from his basement bedroom early in the film, so too do we see Lar’s unique view on office politics, his brother’s marriage, psychiatry, and the local townspeople. We see the world through Lar’s eyes, and then the other characters attempt to follow suit.
Like a line spoken towards the end of the movie, lars and the Real Girl is far more a celebration of being unique in love than a mournful look at mental illness. Perhaps this is a rare film that hints at positivity in the lives of those who are psychologically different from the norm.
Indeed, this is more than just a film about a man conducting a relationship with a sex doll. It is about brothers, lovers, and communities. it is about connecting with people. The film’s lasting legacy may well be a heartwarming one, without delving too far into the saccharine. And, even when it goes get a little sentimental, the characters are there to dog the film out of the snow.
16. Paranoid Park (2007)
Paranoid Park is a solemn, quietly disturbing tone poem of a film. Though it is the very definition of Indie in film, Gus Van Sant’s film was not only a financial flop, it also proved too elusive for many. With an overly amateurish lead performance from non-actor Gabe Nevins, the film may come across deliriously droll in parts.
The dialogue, too, is quite nonchalant. Add to this the deceptively nonchelant manner in which Van Sant liked to stage his indie flicks of this period and you have a recipe for a truly divisive indie film.
Yet, there is a disarming realism to the way this tale of skaters in over their heads is presented. The normality in Nevins’ performance makes the gruesome scenario in which he has been linked all the more real. It begs the question, what would you do? Indeed, the whole affair unfolds like a distinctly dreamy noir tale.
Using the beauty of its location and the rhythm of its editing, Van Sant joins forces with Nevin’s to link gruesome crime with everyday teen hardship; and they do so with alarming efficiency. A gruesome death is played in much the same way as a brooding exit of the principal’s high school office. This is sincerely recommended adolescent viewing.
15. Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Falling victim to the curse of unlikeable characters, this is one overlooked film is comfortably worthy of a second viewing. Though anchored in effect by Nicole Kidman’s increasingly vulnerable titular character, this is truly an ensemble film. Family dysfunction is rife.
As Margot’s long suffering sister Pauline (Jennfier jason Leigh) prepares for her wedding to the miserable artist Malcolm (a perfect Jack Black), she must bear the brunt of both Margot’s surprise arrival and her dubious feelings about Pauline’s new union. Margot’s Son Claude attempts to seduce a local girl, as does Malcolm, Malcolm attempts to seduce Margot, Margot attempts to seduce Margot, and much existential despair follows.
It is certainly miserable. A memorable scene finds Margot stuck at the top of a large tree, determined to prove she could climb it. Margot has a complete inability to repress her ego, she is a character that can grate on the viewer. Thankfully, Noah Baumbach’s script is determined to also show her vulnerability, and, in time, even her goodness.
In a film like this the likeable moments shine through like diamonds in the spiritual rough. Jack Black’s Malcolm in particular has an amiable humanity to him. There is a strange sweetness to this film at times. A well written script can straddle the line between maudlin and hopeful, and this is a well written script. Amazingly, its last scene is as human as coda’s come.