Many people these days like to say, “TV’s much better than film.” Being something of a cinephile myself and not much of a TV fan, I would have to respectfully disagree. In this post I’d like to talk about six indie writer/directors who prove that there are still some unique and challenging films being created for the big screen; modern movie making is not all about shoot-em up blockbusters catering only to teenage boys. We may have to look a little harder to find these gems of modern cinema than we’re used to, but they’re still there.
In highlighting these six filmmakers, I’m going to avoid obvious indie heroes–such as Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola or Richard Linklater–who, with his mega hit, 2014’s “Boyhood,” is now almost a household name. Instead, I’m going to shine a spotlight on some of my personal favorite auteurs currently lighting up the silver screen, probably a little outside the awareness zone of the average TV fan.
“In Search of a Midnight Kiss,” Holdridge’s 2007 movie about a depressed, aspiring screenwriter who spends New Year’s Eve with a girl he’s just met on Craigslist, is one of my favorite indie movies of all time. The movie is shot in black and white and follows the pair around LA on an extended date over 24 hours, with their free flowing walk-and-talk heavily influenced by Linklater’s “Before Sunset.” But to me it’s an even better movie.
Reichardt has been quietly churning out low-key indie gems since 1994 with her debut movie, “River of Grass.” My personal favorite is “Wendy And Lucy,” starring Michelle Williams as a young woman traveling in an almost destitute state with her dog. And when the dog goes missing, her life starts to unravel even more.
Like Reichardt, Wingard has been knocking out first-rate indies for years, but unlike Reichardt, Wingard’s milieu is a mix between horror, thriller and comedy — the best example of which is, in my opinion, 2011’s “You’re Next.” If you’re a low-budget horror fan you probably already know all about Wingard’s work, but if you’ve never heard of him, check out his back catalog, including his last film, “The Guest,” which was something of a bigger budget breakthrough.
From “Incendies” to “Enemy,” “Prisoners” to “Sicario” — Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s films regularly make it into my top ten best movies of the year lists. “Enemy,” for example–a thriller about a man who becomes obsessed with his doppelgänger after spotting him in a movie–is a highly inventive mystery that keeps you guessing all the way to the end. Admittedly, that’s not something that you can say many Hollywood thrillers manage to do these days.
Having begun her career writing and starring in Mumblecore — indie films shot on a micro budget whose plots usually revolve around young people’s relationships — Gerwig has now made inroads into Hollywood, including a leading role in the dire 2011 remake of “Arthur.” Thankfully, though, she’s still writing and directing more thoughtful work, usually in tandem with indie darling, Noah Baumbach, such as “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America.”
Both of Granik’s feature films so far have been small masterpieces, each strangely featuring the word “bone” in the title — “Down To The Bone” and “Winter’s Bone.” The latter was, of course, the movie that put Jennifer Lawrence on the map, about a young girl who has to go looking for her father when her family is threatened with eviction. But if you’re yet to see the former, then I strongly recommend you do. Vera Farmiga (“Up In The Air”) stars as a woman struggling to balance her family life with a secret drug habit, and it’s a movie that’s every bit as good as “Winter’s Bone.”
To me, I guess you could argue that TV has come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s but as an art form, it’s still a ways behind film. In fact, in this post I could’ve gone on to write about many other first class writer/directors such as Mike White, Ed Burns, Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij, Lynn Shelton, Shawn Christensen, Jeremy Saulnier, Patrick Brice and many more, which proves there’s still original, thoughtful, and above all, highly entertaining movies being made out there. They’re just not all on the average TV watcher’s radar. Or movie-goer’s for that matter.
Alex Bloom is the founder of Script Reader Pro, a screenplay consultancy based in LA made up of working screenwriters and filmmakers. Having grown tired of receiving vague and unhelpful feedback on his own spec scripts, like “Just trust in your characters”, and “You need to put more obstacles in act two”, he decided to set up a company which specializes in actionable, hands-on advice. Some of his favorite films are The Awful Truth, The Shining, and Manhattan. He lives in Los Angeles.