Damsels in Distress

Culture Warrior

It’s nothing new to say that the term “independent filmmaking” has come to no longer reference the actual practice of making films outside the studio system, and alerts more directly to an aesthetic of hipness. That the cute-and-quirky consecutive multi-Oscar nominees Little Miss Sunshine and Juno were similarly marketed by Fox Searchlight as “independent films” despite the fact that the former was actually produced independently and the latter was funded by studio dollars, effectively put the nail in the coffin for actual independent filmmaking to have any meaningful visibility. Meanwhile, first-time directors who make their name at Sundance like Marc Webb, Doug Liman, and Seth Gordon quickly reveal themselves to be aspiring directors-for-hire rather than anti-Hollywood renegades. Tom DiCillo, Hal Hartley, and Jim Jarmusch seem ever more like naïve, idealist relics each passing year. It’s clear what the blurring of the lines between independence and studio filmmaking has meant for the mainstream: as my friend and colleague Josh Coonrod pointed out last week, it renders “platform release” synonymous with “independent,” it means that movies featuring Bradley Cooper and Bruce Willis are the top competitors at the “Independent” Spirit Awards (see the John Cassavetes Award for actual independents), and it means that Quentin Tarantino is, for some reason, still considered an independent filmmaker. American independent filmmaking has lost its ideological reason for being. But when it comes to films that are actually independently financed – films for whom the moniker is less an appeal toward cultural capital and more an accurate […]

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Welcome back to This Week In Discs! I’m at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Damsels In Distress A newcomer at Seven Oaks College is guided through her year by a trio of erudite girls determined show her the light of socializing, reason and dating beneath her station. It’s to defend your love Greta Gerwig when she seems to end up in fairly shitty movies more often than not, but the odds favored her starring in a true winner eventually. That time has come thanks to Whit Stillman’s smart, funny and somewhat satirical look at modern day college life. Gerwig plays the trio’s leader and the one who most believes their own brand of bull, and it’s a joy to watch her play with such loose and casually humorous dialogue. Adam Brody has a small role, but it’s enough to remind us all that he should be headlining more comedies. Also available on DVD. Check out Kate Erbland’s full review. [Extras: Commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes]

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Depending on who you ask 2012 is either on target to be a great year for movies or an underwhelming one. It’s worth noting though that anyone who answers with the latter is a complete and utter tool. There have already been several fantastic movies in theaters over the past six and a half months including The Grey, The Avengers, The Raid: Redemption, 21 Jump Street, The Cabin In the Woods, Moonrise Kingdom and more. In addition to being fantastic entertainment though, most of those movies also had studio support to increase awareness and help make them big hits. As for The Raid and Cabin, well, you can’t say the internet didn’t do its damnedest to get the word out on just how awesome they are. Not our fault if American moviegoers didn’t listen… But a third group of great movies exists this year too. Ones that had little to no push from studios or distributors, a minimal presence on movie blogs and a near negligible presence at the box-office. The year’s only half over, but we wanted to share our choices for the best movies you’ve most likely missed this year…so far.

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Writer/director Whit Stillman‘s name hasn’t graced the big screen since his slightly divisive The Last Days of Disco hit thirteen years ago. That’s quite a long time between features, but if it takes Stillman that amount of time to write the dialogue he’s regarded for, then the wait is more than worth any inconvenience. So, it’s with Damsels in Distress that the breakout filmmaker of the ’90s returns with his signature wit and style. Speaking with the self-depreciating Stillman, it was clear his process is never quick and easy. From going through screenwriting books to attending Robert McKee‘s course, the Damsels in Distress director knows there is no right way to tell a story. What he unquestionably knows is musical dialogue, which, as he tells it, informs his stories. Here’s what Whit Stillman had to say about being rejected by NYU, how the director is the only one allowed to be an ignoramus on set, and how your first ideas are always your worst:

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Greta Gerwig is no stranger to screenwriting, as already in her young career she’s had writing credits on indie standouts like Nights and Weekends and Hannah Takes the Stairs. But, most recently, she’s been focusing more heavily on acting, as she’s been getting a string of roles in increasingly more mainstream projects. She’s gone from being the darling of the mumblecore movement, a sort of punk rock form of indie filmmaking that was all the rage a few years ago, to having roles in mainstream comedies like Arthur and No Strings Attached, and being featured in the films of big names in the arthouse world like Noah Baumbach, Whit Stillman, and Woody Allen. Still, despite her success in front of the camera, it doesn’t seem like the actress is ready to give up her creative pursuits behind the scenes just yet. In an interview promoting her work in Stillman’s recent release, Damsels in Distress, Gerwig talked to The Telegraph about a project that she has recently written; one that’s already been shot, even though there isn’t any news about it out there. That’s very sneaky.

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Within mere seconds, it’s obvious that writer-director-producer Whit Stillman’s first film in over a decade is going to have a spirit all of its own – after all, Damsels in Distress opens with a bright pink Sony Pictures Classic logo, a change-up from their classic blue. The message is clear – it’s the damsels’ world, we’re just living in it. Set at Seven Oaks College, a small liberal arts school somewhere on the East coast, Stillman’s film centers on the perpetually charming Greta Gerwig’s Violet and her three best pals as the foursome attempt to navigate the rough waters of friendship and romance in collegiate life. However, Stillman’s film twists around that bland and done-to-death premise with his most effervescent and light-hearted film yet, a fairy tale set in the real world and acted out by memorably off-beat and good-hearted characters.

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Whit Stillman was basically the king of the indies back in the 90s. The decade saw him release Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco, three movies about the young upper crust that got quite a bit of attention and earned him almost mythic status among the film nerd community. But the last time we saw a release from him was way back in 1998. I’m not going to do the math, but that was a long time ago. Does Stillman still got it? In a word, yes. I was fortunate enough to see Damsels in Distress last year at TIFF, and I have to say, it’s by far my favorite Stillman work yet. This movie once again deals mostly with college-aged, well-off white people, but it’s so much more whimsical and more fairy tale-like than anything Stillman has done before. Damsels in Distress takes place in a world that looks a lot like our own, but where things aren’t quite the same; they’re a little bit weirder, and a little bit more wonderful. This is the sort of world where a new kind of soap can save a life and a new dance craze can break out at any moment. Check out said whimsy in the film’s first trailer:

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With the Toronto International Film Festival mere weeks away, cinephiles everywhere are prepping to ship off to America’s hat for ten days of films and fun, all fueled by bagged milk and and trademark Canadian politeness. TIFF has already established itself as North America’s premiere film festival (duking it out with Sundance for top billing), but this year, the festival’s programmers have truly outdone themselves when it comes to putting together a drool-worthy schedule. This year’s TIFF has already announced the bulk of their lineup, including The Ides of March and Moneyball and their documentary and genre picks, but they now round out their programming with some final and spectacular picks.

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Considering how much I like striped shirts, pasta, and films from controversial Greek directors, it looks like I may need to stow away in someone’s suitcase and get over to Italy next month for the 68th Venice Film Festival. The fest, which runs from August 31 to September 10, has just released their lineup for the year, and I may be speaking out of my macaroni here, but this batch of films really wets my noodle. Nathan already reported last month that George Clooney’s The Ides of March was likely to join the festival, and today’s announcement confirms that twofold – Ides will not only show at the festival, it will serve as opening night film. Other good stuff here includes Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which has one of my favorite trailers of the year), Roman Polanski’s adaptation of play God of Carnage (shortened to Carnage), Ami Canaan Mann’s Texas Killing Fields, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Steve McQueen’s Shame, Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse, Madonna’s W.E., Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, and Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos’s Alps. In short terms, this is an incredible lineup of films that I cannot even remotely snark on, because I would probably do something violent if it meant I could go to the festival. Check out the full list of films after the break.

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