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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

5 Reasons Indie Films Are Better than Hollywood Films

During the mid-1960s, a young, bold, New York actor started working with a student filmmaker named Brian De Palma on a series of innovative, in-your-face political satires (The Wedding Party, Greetings, Hi, Mom!) that thumbed their nose at the American and Hollywood establishment.

Influenced by the French New Wave irreverent cinema, the films offered the up-and-coming performer juicy spontaneous moments in which to swagger and light up the screen. By 1972, another student writer-director, Martin Scorsese, snapped up the actor for his breakthrough film Mean Streets. That same year when Hollywood officially came calling, Robert De Niro's mainstream acting career was born.

For almost every A-list star -- Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson and Brad Pitt, to name just a few -- there were a couple low-budget or B-movie flicks -- Mystic Pizza, The Little Shop of Horrors, Johnny Suede – that helped kick-start their careers. Since Hollywood always needs to find a fresh face, little indie movies have become the garden for growing and cultivating new talent. Where would America's dream factory be without alternative, independent and iconoclastic films and actors to add to its rosters?

Just look at the performances and you'll see why these actors aren't just practicing for the big leagues; they're playing an completely different and far more daring game. In her breakthrough film 2002's Secretary, Maggie Gyllenhaal bared body and soul as an ugly ducking assistant who found her inner swan through a relationship with her sadistic boss (James Spader). First glimpsed crawling across an office floor, handcuffed and carrying a letter in her mouth, the apple-cheeked darling conveyed not simple subservience, but a far more complex state of bound bliss.

Paul Giamatti's career would have been nothing without the independent films brave enough to cast the balding 36-year-old bit-player (long associated with a character named "Pig Vomit" in Howard Sterns' Private Parts) as a leading man. With the hit alternative movies American Splendor and Sideways, a schlumpy middle-aged downbeat fellow became the anti-hero of the moment, and throngs of people began shunning Merlot in favor of downing Pinot Noir. Now, we can also enjoy Giamatti in a host of higher-profile roles, from Cinderella Man to The Illusionist. Thank you, Indiewood.

From Vera Farmiga's achingly stunning depiction of a drug-addled single mom in Down to the Bone to Terrence Howard's Capra-esque portrayal of a pimp who just wants to be a hip-hop star in Hustle & Flow to Catalina Sandino Moreno's memorable turn as a steely and scared Columbian drug mule in Maria Full of Grace; the list goes on and on. These recent talents stunned audiences with refreshing, bold and astoundingly real portraits that no Hollywood star could achieve.

For one thing, stars rarely play drug addicts and pimps. Independent films focusing on character arcs and emotional beats rather than three-act structures and tidy resolutions, allow for a more full-bodied interpretation of the human condition. These are fictional stories imbued with gritty, true-life authenticity, allowing actors the time and space to get deeper into their characters and bring out a palpitating lump of living, breathing humanity onscreen.

Not only have indie films launched the careers of unknown talents, but they also have offered seasoned veterans the chance to take risks, up-end expectations and change the direction of their careers. Case in point: Charlize Theron's ferocious, nearly unrecognizable performance as lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. It's become nearly a cliché at this point: Beautiful actress turns indie, becomes ugly and wins Oscar, just as Halle Berry in Monster's Ball.

This year's transformation prize could easily go to Angelina Jolie. Though she's still attractive, with slightly darker skin and a pronounced French accent, as Daniel Pearl widow Marianne Pearl in Michael Winterbottom's tense political thriller A Mighty Heart, she delivers a sturdy, anguished performance that culminates with a volcanic eruption of grief that's anything but pretty.

With male thespians, consider Kevin Bacon's psychologically rattling turn as a pedophile in The Woodsman, or Bill Murray perfecting his late-career laconic act in any number of offbeat films (Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers, Rushmore).

Also look at the recent resurrection of Pierce Brosnan, formerly of James Bond fame.
Replaced as 007 by the younger beefier Daniel Craig, Brosnan quickly bounced back from would-be retirement with a pair of memorable performances in two slick indie dramedies, as a weathered hitman past his prime in The Matador and as a rakish charmer in the upcoming Married Life. In both roles, Brosnan boldly subverts his own type, taking the suave U.K. gentlemen from his early years in TV's "Remington Steele" and turning it upside down.

CLICK HERE to READ MORE by Anthony Kaufman - Curator Emeritus
All Content Copyright ©2007 The FilmCatcher Company


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