CA Recommends: Independent Films

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Check out our pick of influential independents and how they made their mark on cinema history.

Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Spike Lee’s upcoming directional feature, a remake of Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy, is currently causing quite the stir, but it is his third effort at film making that we are recommending as an inspirational piece of independent cinema due to its crescendo-building, thought-provoking social commentary, comprising of the style, wit, tragedy and insight that became synonymous with Lee's 'joints' in the 90s. It is one of just five films to be selected for the National Film Registry in its first year of eligibility, due to its cultural significance; although at the time of its release it was quite controversial due to the mixed perceptions of the actions of its protagonist and the racial tensions it portrays. Powerful and shattering, Do the Right Thing divides audiences’ and gives reason to stop, think and discuss its intentions.

Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)

Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)

With Blue Velvet, Lynch was back to his unrestricted best after the critical panning of Dune. Here he manages to create a transparency between the ideals and horrors of small, suburban communities, and the notion of age unmasking the seedier echelons of life. Kyle MacLachlan’s wide-eyed do-gooder collides with the sordid underbelly of American suburbia, which is personified by Dennis Hopper's show stealing turn as violent sociopath Frank Booth. Hopper gives frighteningly unnerving performance, one made all the more real when you learn of his association to Booth’s personality. Blue Velvet is a visionary masterpiece that takes you on a terrifying journey, which is at once erotically charged and repulsive, abundant with Lynch’s surreal and uniquely disturbing imagery.

City of God (Kátia Lund and Fernando Mierelles, 2002)
City of God (Kátia Lund and Fernando Mierelles, 2002)

City of God (Kátia Lund and Fernando Mierelles, 2002)

City of God’s origins lie in a true story by Paula Lins, and knowing this makes it all the more emotional to watch. Spanning almost two decades in Rio de Janeiro’s ‘City of God’ favela, the story centres around narrator Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) and follows his attempt to stay on the straight and narrow whilst surrounded by violence, gang barbarity, greed and hostility in a world where the only way to get ahead seems to be submitting to a life of crime. We see a boy who Rocket knew as a child steadily develop into a demented and uncontrollable slum don, however this is not a simple tale of good vs. evil and even the most monstrous characters have show moments of humanity. Unlike many Hollywood efforts, this gangland film does not glamorise violence but rather looks at the desperation and devastation that is both product and cause of heinous actions. A truly authentic vision, with amazingly realistic performances by a cast primarily made of young non-professionals, City of God is a truly unique watch able to induce both tears of sadness and laughter. Without a doubt one of the most entertaining and stylish films of the naughties.

Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)

Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)

Despite his current status as Hollywood’s sexiest man, Ryan Gosling has never atoned to stereotypical role choices. In Lars and the Real Girl he plays a sweet, emotionally disturbed young man who embarks upon a relationship with a silicone doll. With such a unique, seemingly unrelatable, premise there are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong, however its innocence makes it gentle, charming and the best possible version of itself – never mocking or condescending, but rather succeeding in giving us a positive, sensitive look at humanity. Shot in just 31 days, Lars is a perfect mix of comedy and personal drama, showing a lonely man overcoming a childhood trauma. One of the most romantic films we have ever come across where there is a ‘he’ but not a ‘she’ in the typical sense of the word.

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

Before Nolan became a household name he adapted a screenplay written by his brother to make this stylish, fascinating and mind bending rollercoaster of a thriller. Afforded the budget after the success of his first effort in filmmaking Following, which he shot in London at weekends on a shoestring budget of £3000. A subgenre that had become slightly clichéd was reinvented with some slick storytelling, and with Memento Nolan gave us a completely new structure which has since seen numerous imitations, much like Tarantino before him. Running through the primary tale backwards makes it a puzzle for the audience to piece together along with the main character (Pearce) who suffers from short term memory loss, this results in our complete involvement as oppose to acting as a mere bystander. Shot in just 25 days, Memento is complex and beautifully crafted, it’s success made Hollywood shift away from the predictable and mundane, recognising that audiences love a challenge intelligence attracted audiences. Memento has also been praised as portraying one of the most realistic and accurate depictions of anterograde amnesia in any motion picture.

Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)
Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)

Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)

Made on a micro budget ($114,000) and grossing over $18million internationally, this film defines the classic black and white horror. Its success paved the way for modern day zombie horrors, and without it, we wouldn't have films such as Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later and World War Z, although Romero himself has admitted to drawing inspiration from Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. Upon release the film created much controversy due to the extreme violence it portrayed, which at the time could be viewed by people of any age as the MPAA film rating system was not introduced until just after it hit cinemas; however its critical acclaim is without doubt, featuring on many ‘Top 100’ lists and being selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed ‘culturally, historically of aesthetically significant’. It was such a triumph that is spawned five subsequent Living Dead films and numerous re-mastering.

Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

As the studio could not obtain the rights for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, they changed the names and various details of the original story and went ahead with this unauthorised adaptation. However Stoker’s heirs sued, succeeding in gaining a court order that called for the destruction of every copy of the film and led to the bankruptcy of Prana Film, making this its only production, although luckily one print survived and Nosferatu went on the become one of the most renowned masterpieces of cinema; an early example of a true cult film. It’s dark and expressionist images have entered our collective consciousness so deeply, they will be forever entwined with shadows and nightmares. Nosferatu will feature at this year's Frightfest and is a truly iconic piece of work, perhaps even more so than the original vision it deftly sidestepped, with the memory of the film reaching down into what it is to be afraid, and also, what it is to love. Nosferatu has been, and still remains, a huge influence on modern cinema, perhaps most recently seeing its renowned staircase scene replicated through a tongue-in-cheek comedy version during this year’s This is the End.

Katie Hall is the assistant editor at Critics Associated.