When you’re tired of formulaic, big-budget Hollywood blockbusters you can often find solace in indie films. Neal Damiano takes a look at 10 of the best.
10. Clerks (Smith, 1994)
Armed with a 16mm Arri SR2 camera using black and white film stock, Kevin Smith made the quintessential slacker film of the 90s. Miraculously, Smith funded Clerks using ten credit cards, raising the $27,575 he needed to produce the indie film. To play Dante, Smith’s wise cracking clerk of a convenience store, he hired struggling New Jersey actor Brian O’Halloran primarily for his ability to work with the verbose dialogue. Set across a single day, we meet all sorts of quirky characters, the result being one of the most hilarious indie films of the 1990s.
9. Party Girl (Mayer, 1995)
There was an influx of indie films in the early 1990s and Party Girl stood out from the crowd. Parker Posey plays Mary, a free spirited club girl, who throws wild raves in her apartment to pay the rent. She finally gets arrested for illegally charging people before being released on bail and realising she needs to get a proper job. She calls upon her godmother for help and lands a job as a library clerk. Along the way we meet very eccentric characters that are the centre of Mary’s universe. Mary finally realises she needs to grow as an adult and ironically becomes a librarian. This film put Parker Posey on the map. She went on to do several other indie films, and Hollywood affectionately labelled her the Indie Film Queen.
8. Welcome to the Dollhouse (Solondz, 1995)
During the indie film craze of the 1990s we discovered some great directors. One of them was Todd Solondz. Welcome to the Dollhouse was his second film and definitely made its mark thanks to being one of the quirkiest films of the 90s. Solondz has such a unique way of telling a story on screen that he often divides audiences. You either get him or you don’t.
7. Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch, 1984)
Stranger Than Paradise is the closest thing you can get to a reality based film without it being one; the way it’s filmed seems like you’re right there with the three protagonists, filming them yourself. Shot in black and white, Stranger Than Paradise follows three drifters travelling from New York to Florida. Jim Jarmusch had such a unique, stylised way of filming – it was way ahead of its time, in my opinion. The film really set a benchmark for the indie films to come.
6. Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969)
The ultimate independent film, Dennis Hopper directed a masterpiece in Easy Rider. The film represented anti-establishment to the core with the simple moniker – They’re not scared of you…they’re scared of what you represent. That representation is freedom from the entanglements of modern day society. Two travel buddies Billy (Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) epitomised the druggy rebellion of the 60s drop-out generation with their Wild West mentality and costumes. The film still resonates today because of the timeless theme it promoted and that is individualism.
5. Mean Streets (Scorsese, 1973)
Mean Streets is Martin Scorsese’s third feature and one of his best films to date. Scorsese gives the viewer a candid glimpse into the gritty hustle of 1970s Little Italy. Shot in New York for six days on a shoestring budget, the film tells of the day to day antics of Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and Johnny Boy (Robert Deniro) which essentially consists of brawls and gunfire. Johnny boy seems to have a death wish, which he is trying to fulfil, as he sinks deeper and deeper into debt with the local mob bosses and then spits in the face of authority. Charlie is loyal and tries to help but loses grip fast. The film brings up questions of morality, loyalty, and the brutality of your environment. Mean Streets really showed the brilliance of Robert De Niro.
4. Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992)
Reservoir Dogs is the first feature by Quentin Tarantino. Little did anyone know that this film fanatic and ex-video store clerk would change the face of cinema as we knew it. Tarantino, obsessed with b-movies and indie films, went on to become a cultural icon in cinema. Reservoir Dogs was made for $1.2m and had virtually no promotion attached to it. It grew to prominence thanks to word of mouth, and the film set the stage for the indie film explosion in the early 90s. Heavily influenced by 70s cinema, Tarantino used witty dialogue, pop culture references, and creative shots to tell the story of a violent jewellery heist gone wrong. Reservoir Dogs is a very bloody ride from beginning to end, and features one of the most graphic scenes involving a strait edge razor and an ear you’re ever likely to see.
3. The Squid And The Whale (Baumbach, 2005)
The Squid And The Whale centres around a dysfunctional family living in Brooklyn. The family is led by a pompous writer played by Jeff Daniels. Daniels’ character is so self righteous, he’s almost unlikeable, but somehow you feel empathy for him. His wife Joan, played by Laura Linney, is so fed up with his behaviour that she walks out. Jessie Eisenberg plays the oldest son and the most troubled by far. He maintains a resentment towards women and sides with his father during the divorce. What I found so fascinating about this film is that both parents have few redeeming qualities, but somehow you still care for them. You can relate to the drama in their lives and the performances are exceptional. The movie deservedly won five Indie spirit awards.
2. Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989)
More than any other film, Sex, Lies and Videotape encapsulates the American independent film renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s. Shot in Louisiana for $1million by first time director Steven Soderbergh, the film is an erotic ride of racy thrills that made quite the splash at Sundance in 1989. The film is not conventional in any way at all until the end and that’s what makes it so quirky. The characters are on the fringes of life and devoid of emotion. It is a very dark film that deals with betrayal, voyeurism, and sexuality. James Spader is so convincing in his obsession with sexuality it’s utterly scary.
1. Buffalo ’66 (Gallo, 1988)
Writer-director-star Vincent Gallo takes the quirky film genre and makes it his own. Gallo plays Billy Brown, a slacker with no goals in mind, that reaches an all time low when he bets $10,000 on the Buffalo Bills in the 1966 Super Bowl. He doesn’t have the “vig” to pay when the Bills’ kicker misses the field goal. So to make amends with the bookie he takes the rap for a crime committed by one of the associates. Fresh out of jail he decides to kidnap a fiery little dance student named Layla (Christina Ricci) to play his wife as he returns home to have dinner with his family. The bond between the two is unlikely but does spark up and it’s interesting to see the two misfit characters relate to each other as if they are the only two people left on earth. This happens to be one of my favourite films. The chemistry between Gallo and Ricci is undeniable, you can’t take your eyes of the screen.
What are your favourite indie films?
Discover More on Top10Films.co.uk:
Search our collection of Top 10 lists sorted by type:
THEME | ACTOR | DIRECTOR | TIME PERIOD | GENRE | COUNTRY | SPECIAL INTEREST | FUNNY
See the A – Z of films featured on Top 10 Films / Check out our film review database