Tiny Furniture

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Lena Dunham basically blew up out of nowhere after the release of her second feature, Tiny Furniture. The film had a minuscule budget, it employed a couple of her real family members as actors, and it was largely filmed in her family’s real life apartment. That’s a damned thrifty approach to filmmaking, and generally you’re going to have to add a good deal of talent to a presentation like that if it’s going to catch the attention of the powers that be in the entertainment industry—but catch their attention it did. After Dunham released Tiny Furniture, HBO came calling and essentially opened up their pocket books so that she could create her own television show, the similarly-themed Girls, which is now one of the most buzzed about things in popular culture. Zach Braff’s career path moved in the opposite direction. His first exposure to the public’s eye came from his starring in one of the most popular series on television, Scrubs, and by the time he decided to make his own feature film, Garden State, he was already an established name. Unlike Tiny Furniture, Garden State brought fairly respectable production value to the table, its cast was full of respected actors, and in general it just felt much more like a marketable movie than Dunham’s work. And yet, despite the fact that it was generally greeted with favorable reviews upon its release, Garden State didn’t seem to do Braff’s career any favors. To say that a big entertainment company didn’t […]

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We love television, but we love movies more. And we love movies a lot more than awards for television. So, why would we watch the 2012 Emmy Awards when we can just watch any number of this year’s nominees in their great film works, a lot of which are streaming on Netflix. Classics that you’ll find from the Watch Instantly service featuring Emmy nominees include Platoon, Fatal Attraction, Reservoir Dogs, Black Hawk Down, The Terminator and plenty others. But I noticed a bunch of recommended titles with the special circumstance of involving two or more Emmy-nominated talents, including a few from the contending directors. Speaking of which, I could have counted Louis C.K.‘s Pootie Tang, but I still haven’t seen it. Maybe that’s what I’ll be watching this evening. Check out the list and links after the jump.

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Let’s get it out of the way right now – I liked Tiny Furniture. I was not wild about it, and I didn’t hate it with the passion of a thousand suns. I’m in the minority on this one – the middle. Should it have won Best Narrative Feature at SXSW 2010? Perhaps not. Should it already have its own Criterion Collection release? Maybe. But I find Lena Dunham interesting, and there were moments of brilliance in Tiny Furniture, moments that absolutely spoke to twentysomething ladies looking for whatever “real life” happens to be (ladies like, well, me). And perhaps Dunham’s humor and insight and experience is better-suited to the series treatment, a structure that would condense her more twee affectations into shorter bits, and one that would benefit from a larger cast. And so there is Girls – Dunham’s new HBO series, produced by none other than Judd Apatow. Like Tiny Furniture, Girls chronicles the lives of twentysomething ladies trying to find their way in big, bad New York City. Dunham is joined by Jemima Kirke and Allison Williams, and the series centers on the gals and their lives (often funny, sometimes kind of heartbreaking). The series will premiere at this year’s SXSW, with a three-episode screening on March 12 at the Paramount. Check out the full trailer for the series after the break.

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Nobody Walks is the next project from Lena Dunham, the writer/director/star of last year’s ultra-low budget indie film Tiny Furniture. It tells the story of a Los Angeles family that takes in an artist and has their lives changed by the experience, presumably because of her free wheeling quirkiness. Dunham is one of those young filmmakers whose voice is so specific and whose films are focused so intently on the struggle of modern youth that they get derided as naval gazing and narcissistic. Kind of like a proto-Sofia Coppola. Given that criticism of her work, warranted or not, she has at least picked three actors who are well experienced working in said hipster genre for her next feature. Rosemarie DeWitt has already been in one of the last decade’s big unlikable white people movies with Rachel Getting Married, John Krasinski worked with Sam Mendes when he took his stab at hipster ennui in Away We Go, and Olivia Thirlby is known for almost nothing but playing in movies about quirky, self obsessed youths, starting with Juno. If you are one of those people who rolls your eyes at movies about upper class, faux artsy white people, then be sure you don’t roll them right out of the sockets while you’re reading this. But if you’re a person that sometimes enjoys them, like myself, then this is already an interesting looking project. Source: Variety

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If you’ve ever wondered about the intimate hell of finding financing for an independent film, Edward Epstein has written a strongly worded, easy to understand primer on the subject that should be required reading for anyone even remotely interested in making their own film through traditional channels. As a (frustrating) standard, his essay is incredibly compelling, but even though his points are all correct, his ultimate conclusions about the possible negative fate of indie movies is slightly off. It’s not independent movies that are endangered. It’s the corporately-sponsored brand most have gotten used to that’s really in trouble.

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Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as NoWaveSurfer and KeatonRox2738 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest. This week, the purported death of indie films that’s reported upon faithfully every year (at least 4 times a year). In the face of the Independent Film’s best friend festival beginning this weekend, we tackle the real question: Indie films can’t actually be dead, can they?

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It’s that time of the year again: that brief span of time in between Christmas and New Year’s when journalists, critics, and cultural commentators scramble to define an arbitrary block of time even before that block is over with. To speculate on what 2010 will be remembered for is purely that: speculation. But the lists, summaries, and editorials reflecting on the events, accomplishments, failures, and occurrences of 2010 no doubt shape future debate over what January 1-December 31, 2010 will be remembered for personally, nostalgically, and historically. How we refer to the present frames how it is represented in the future, even when contradictions arise over what events should be valued from a given year. In an effort to begin that framing process, what I offer here is not a critical list of great films, but one that points out dominant cultural conversations, shared trends, and intersecting topics (both implicit and explicit) that have occurred either between the films themselves or between films and other notable aspects of American social life in 2010. As this column attempts to establish week in and week out, movies never exist in a vacuum, but instead operate in active conversation with one another. Thus, a movie’s cultural context should never be ignored. So, without further adieu, here is my overview of the Top 10 topics, trends, and events of the year that have nothing to do with the 3D debate.

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The top nominations for this year’s Indie Spirit Awards are no surprise. Winter’s Bone continues its march through the woods to find its father and an Oscar with 7 nominations (which is almost all it was even eligible for). In a close second, The Kids Are All Right finds itself with 5 nominations. If you’re a fan of female directors, this year is celebrating a number of them in the top spots, but it’s also incredibly important to point out that Samuel L. Jackson and Bill Murray are finally up for the same award. The Indepdenent Spirit Awards make a good primer for the films that might make their way into the Academy Award nominee pool. In recent tradition, the winner of the Best Feature prize goes on to be an Oscar contender (and occasional winner). Examples of that include Precious, The Wrestler, Juno, and Brokeback Mountain. The full list of nominees continues below:

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Tiny Furniture brings me to an impasse that few films have, and I think this in part results from the fact that it arises from a peculiar situation in contemporary American independent film from which it would be judged. Since around 2004 or so, the “Andersonian” “trendy indie” has been a visible part of American cinema culture. Films ranging from Juno to Garden State have ramped up soundtrack sales for hip bands, added slang to the lexicon, and given us initially brisk low-scale entertainment that quickly escalated to a level of annoyance once critical and audience praise reverberated a bit too loudly.

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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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Tiny Furniture

Too often we’re made to feel as if we might root for characters who we’d otherwise want to smack, if they were real. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And in the case of Tiny Furniture, it doesn’t quite work. However, I will concede that it is the single most adorable movie I’ve ever seen that involves characters who I’d otherwise like to see get hit by a bus.

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SXSW Film 2010

In a ceremony last night at the Austin Convention Center, the Jury and Audience Award winners for the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival were announced. Hosted by comedian Eugene Mirman, the ceremony ran a bit long — and even caused a bit of a ruckus on Twitter, as Variety and other publications released the winners before they were actually announced at the ceremony — but in the end, it was a celebration of an excellent year for SXSW.

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I’m less of an anti-Monday person and more of an anti-Tuesday person. That’s a little-known fact about me. So it’s wonderful that today’s SXSW 2010 preview piece happens to fall on what appears to be one of the more charming and (at least from the trailer) funny films in competition at this year’s festival.

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