indie

The Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars never agree. Well, almost never. In 28 years of co-existing, the two organizations have only agreed once before – on Oliver Stone’s Platoon back in 1986. It’s not surprising since the Spirit Awards focus on celebrating a particular method of filmmaking that is often overlooked by the red-carpet-ready Academy Awards, but if both honor prestige movies, it seems at least likely they’d agree from time to time, right? They didn’t until last night. The more-than-two-decades-long drought was finally broken when The Artist took home Best Picture less than a week after bringing home the top Spirit prize. It became the first movie since 1986 to win both the Oscar and the Indie Spirit Award. One was in an ornate theater, the other was in a tent on the beach, but the implication is clear: independent movies are breaking more and more into the mainstream.

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Culture Warrior

Last week, as I watched Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, I noticed that the trailers on the rental Blu-Ray were all of titles sharing space at the top of my queue: titles like Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw the Devil, and Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun. All, I quickly realized, had been released by the same studio, Magnet Releasing, whose label I recalled first noticing in front of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. After some quick Internet searching, I quickly realized what I should have known initially, that Magnet was a subsidiary of indie distributor Magnolia Pictures. The practices of “indie” subsidiaries of studios has become commonplace. That majors like Universal and 20th Century Fox carry specialty labels Focus Features and Fox Searchlight which market to discerning audiences irrespective of whether or not the individual titles released are independently financed or studio-produced has become a defining practice for limited release titles and has, perhaps more than any other factor, obscured the meaning of the term “independent film” (Sony Pictures Classics, which only distributes existing films, is perhaps the only subsidiary arm of a major studio whose releases are actually independent of the system itself). This fact is simply one that has been accepted for quite some time in the narrative of small-scale American (or imported) filmmaking. Especially in the case of Fox Searchlight, whose opening banner distinguishes itself from the major in variation on name only, subsidiaries of the majors can hardly even be argued as “tricking” audiences into […]

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Vanessa (Savanah Wiltfong) sits and enjoys an ice cream cone with her boyfriend Philip (Shayne Topp) at the beginning of summer vacation in suburban Alaska. Life couldn’t be any better, which is of course the perfect time for Philip to break up with her… he’s heading to France for the summer, and he fully expects that when he returns the two of them will no longer be compatible equals…

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, champion foosball player Kevin Smith joins us for the most sobering, introspective interview the man has given all week. Jokes aside, no topic is out of bounds, so we ask the tough questions about Sundance theatrics, taking Red State out on his own, his animosity toward critics, and retiring from filmmaking (but not from storytelling). If you’re a Smith fan, you’re probably already clicking Play. If you’re one of the people that lost some respect for the man during the past year, his appearance here will do a lot to earn it back. No, we don’t find time to review Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, but we do dig in for 105 minutes on the state of distribution, the future of his own films, and how it ties in to his past. Listen Here: Download This Episode

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The review quote missing from the Dear Lemon Lima trailer is Rob Hunter saying, “What an oddly beautiful and bittersweet little film this is…” In his review, he describes exactly why he fell in love with the movie, but since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s 2,208,000 words (at 24 frames per second) on why you should love it. The movie tells the story of a young girl whose boyfriend calls it quits, and she decides that winning the Snowstorm Survivor Competition is the way back into his arms and affections. The sweet and sour and funny and strange are all there. Just like growing up. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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It’s not surprising that Little Birds, the feature film debut of writer-director Elgin James, was one of the most buzzed-about films at the Sundance Film Festival. The story of teenage girls drifting through life set against the awesome, shriveled up landscape of Salton Sea, California, the picture packs in the Amer-indie cliches. There are aimless youths, helpless parents, dreamy evocations of the unattainable world outside a car window and an engulfing sense of the worn down detritus of small town American life, past its peak. Yet the whole enterprise is an exercise in wheel-spinning, a plodding picture rife with familiar characters and situations, rendered with a nasty edge. It’s a brutish experience that puts star Juno Temple through an emotional and physical ringer, without the sort of larger, unifying purpose that justifies such turmoil.

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‪Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as ClairesKneeFan and THXForAllTheFish1138 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest. This week, the two finally manage to answer last week’s question while reveling in the continuation of Sundance and the totally old revolutionary model of distribution that Kevin Smith wants the world to take note of. But instead of wasting more internet words on Smith, the question is far simpler and far too high concept to attempt without some Sandlot references: Is the movie distribution system really broken?

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Unfortunate rhyming headlines aside, the trailer for Slackistan makes it look like the Reality Bites of Islamabad. The movie from newcomer Hammad Khan features the restlessness of 20-somethings in Pakistan’s capital city as they go from being talented students to being unemployed and without direction. Pakistan has effectively banned the movie’s release (even as it rocks its way around UK theaters and international festivals) by not allowing it passage through the hallowed Central Board of Film Censors (the only body that could make us appreciate the MPAA). Check out the trailer for yourself and the list of sins perpetrated by this banned movie:

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There is perhaps no more fertile storytelling ground than high school. Countless movies have mined the depths of awkward despair to which interesting, offbeat teens descend during those trying years. One could program an entire satellite Sundance Film Festival comprised entirely of offbeat, whimsical films centered on secondary school dysfunction that have premiered in Park City. So, it’s reasonable to wonder whether there’s anything left to say, and why Azazel Jacobs – director of the acclaimed, innovative Momma’s Man and son of avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs – turned to the proverbial setting for his new film Terri.

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Comedy. Drama. Thriller. These are the three words that the Apple website uses to describe Rubber, but you could add to that list, Horror, Psycho-Satire, Meta-Parody and a few other made up words. Rubber is a hell of a movie. It’s a ridiculous film about a killer psychic tire (named Robert) that shows that some filmmakers out there still have the stones and creativity to make something truly new under the sun. Directed by Quentin Dupieux, the movie now has a trailer for you to enjoy/decipher and a sweet release date of April 1st.

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There is a fine line to walk as an indie dramedy, and HappyThankYouMorePlease seems to walk right up to the line and then raise its eyebrow. On the optimistic front, Neil really loved it when he saw it at Sundance last year and talked it up as the natural next step in the evolution of romantic comedies signified by 500 Days of Summer. The comparison seems obvious even from just the trailer, but Josh Radnor (of How I Met Your Mother) seems to want to juggle more than one relationship here with his writing/directing/starring debut. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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John Hughes had a powerful effect on us all. His films defined a generation that is held together by spirit and not arbitrary birth dates. He found a way to speak to the eternal teenager in all of us. His movies will also speak to Maya Donovan, a character in the forthcoming Pure Life, who is charmed by the Brat Pack and heads out to find a Smoke Up Johnny to give her purity to. The 13-year-old character will be played by Elle Fanning, and according to The Playlist, Vera Farmiga is also slated to play her mother – a woman burdened by work but not by money. The sexual component and the extreme young age brings to mind Dakota Fanning’s role in Hound Dog, but the subject matter here sounds completely different if not still engaging. At the very least, two strong performers will be at the center of it all with indie director Van Fischer at the helm.

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Even with a high tolerance level for quirk, twee-ness, and indie fare about young people in love, this trailer is far too much to stomach before lunch. Waiting For Forever stars Rachel Bilson and Tom Sturridge as childhood friends who hasn’t seen each other in years, except Sturridge’s character (who dresses like that guy at every local show you want to punch/ a poor man’s Benny of Benny and Joon) has apparently been stalking her and saying a lot of creepy things about “breathing her in.” It all sounds like Red Dragon more than, well hell, Benny and Joon. Check out the pajama pants wearing creepster for yourself, and enjoy the seizure:

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It was the banner that no one understood at Comic Con 2010. Amidst the massive advertisements for Scott Pilgrim and RED was a building-sized image for Skyline – a movie that no one had ever heard of before. The reason for that lack of knowledge was simple. The film was an independent feature built under the radar and far under the normal budget of a film of its kind. Now with Universal distributing it, the press was on to make Skyline a household name. Greg and Colin Strause have directed an indie that doesn’t see a lot of people talking to each other about life and love in the middle class or how difficult it is to be a 20-something. They’ve made an alien invasion movie with over 1,000 effects shots, and they’ve done it without the help (or hindrance) of a studio. The Brothers Strause were gracious enough to speak with me about this new world of independent filmmaking, the problems with the studio system, and the need to shake things up.

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After seeing Tiny Furniture at SXSW, Neil Miller called it “the single most adorable movie I’ve ever seen that involves characters who I’d otherwise like to see get hit by a bus.” That summation is entirely accurate despite not mentioning that it feels like a self-conscious Diablo Cody wrote a Woody Allen script and then decided to direct and star in it. It’s visually engaging and upbeat despite its idiosyncratic shortcomings, but unlike the bait and switch marketing, the trailer says it all in crystal clarity. If you dig it, then you’ll probably enjoy the film. If it hits your ears like a navel-gazer questioning whether they should even, like, bother to scratch their nails on the chalkboard, the film might not be for you. [Apple]

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Gareth Edwards is a funny man. You might not know that just from seeing his feature film debut Monsters. You also might not know it from the things he had to do to get the film made. Edwards speaks with the casual tone of a seasoned pro, and after seeing heads on spikes, making his actors eat ants, and making a CGI-heavy film with almost no money, he might just be a few years ahead of his own resume. I got the chance to speak with Edwards, whose film comes out Friday October 29th, and we spoke about the advice he has for aspiring filmmakers, the challenges of shooting in South America and why the worst day of his life happened during production.

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One of the benefits of making an indie film is that you can repeat the process and keep the ball rolling if you want. There’s freedom there. Most indie flicks don’t exactly lend themselves to sequels, though, because they hardly ever involve aliens blowing Los Angeles to Hell and back. I just spoke with Colin and Greg Strause, the co-directors of Skyline, and they mentioned another thing you’re not beholden to: the box office. They’re looking for a strong return, but even if it doesn’t garner huge numbers, the pair have already got 45 pages of a treatment for the next installment on paper. It’s not a guaranteed personal green light, but the Brothers point out that they only need to make “a tenth” of what normal event movies make in order to be successful financially, so there’s a good chance that they’ll start on page 46 after the film hits theaters the weekend of November 12th.

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Conviction, the story of a man falsely accused of murder and the sister that puts herself through law school to defend him, is one of those fall films that will inevitably be labeled as “Oscar bait.” That’s as unfair as it is with most cases. This isn’t the overwrought drama that it may seem or the one that those hilarious parody trailers poke fun at. In fact, it’s fairly subdued and strays away from sugarcoating. Betty Anne Waters isn’t portrayed as a total hero, but instead, almost obsessive and delusional. Kenny Waters isn’t shown as a boy scout and you could buy him actually killing someone in the film. They’re shown as good people, but not without their not-so-appealing flaws. This could’ve been a Hallmark film through and through, but thankfully, most of it isn’t played with the subtlety of a jackhammer. It’s not heavy and it’s not schmaltzy. It’s always a surprise to see small (female driven, especially) dramas like this get made, and from what director Tony Goldwyn says about the hardship of getting financing, it’s a shock this even made it to the screen. Here’s what Goldwyn and star Sam Rockwell had to say about the long process of getting the film made, avoiding melodrama, and keeping things raw:

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It’s difficult to conduct an interview about a film that no one’s supposed to be talking about, but there’s more fascinating things going on beyond the mystery of Catfish. In a closed door, password-protected session, I sat down for a lengthy conversation with directors Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman, and the subject of the documentary Nev Shulman to discuss how real everything was, the horror aspect, aborted plans to use Bruce Willis’s face for advertising, the list of possible titles, it’s Grizzly Man connection, and what they’re turning down the Justin Bieber biopic to make next. [Spoilers exist simply because we'll be talking openly about the film.]

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The casting for Generation Um… is the kind of thing that leaves me, and probably Keanu Reeves, speechless. Of course, it’s clear that calm breezes, snails running, and actors speaking lines of dialogue to him also leave Reeves speechless. In theory, that makes him perfect for Um…, because any drug-drama that’s name ends with ellipses deserves a bit of the acting powerhouse that is Keanu Reeves. According to Variety, the indie film starting rolling cameras today and also includes Bojana Novkovic (the daughter in Edge of Darkness and possibly the devil in Devil) and newcomer Adelaide Clemens. Apparently the three will play characters living in an oblivion of coitus and cocaine, but it sounds like it’s being shot to show those things, somehow, in a negative light.

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