Indie Films in 2003
January 7, 2004 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Did you catch any worthy films that may have been under the mainstream radar?
posted by boost ventilator at 8:25 PM on January 7, 2004

Wow, The Brown Bunny and Dolls were the only films I'd even heard of on those lists, (though I definately want to see Goodbye Dragon Inn because I've enjoyed Tsai Ming-Liang's previous work).

Under the radar? I caught Gus Van Sant's Gerry, good film, but don't expect anything. Bored by Barney's Cremaster 3 (but the commentary cleared up a lot of the details about freemasonry). Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Bright Future was merely okay, filmed beautifully.
posted by bobo123 at 9:20 PM on January 7, 2004

Well, I trust both Phil Hall and indieWire, but the problem with these two lists is that these movies are indeed unseen--they played only at festivals or went straight to video. I've watched a lot of small and very small movies last year, but I've only caught one of the films on either list. "Good Morning, Night" about the Aldo Moro affair does deserve a bigger audience. My favorite new film of 2003, Lars von Trier's "Dogville," [self-link] is certain to get a lot of attention when it opens later this year, and I'm still waiting for the release of one of my favorites of 2000, "Before the Storm."
posted by muckster at 9:25 PM on January 7, 2004

...and then there's Ultrachrist!, an outrageous comedy in which I play the undead Richard Nixon. I don't know how, but it did slip under the mainstream radar.
posted by muckster at 9:49 PM on January 7, 2004

Do these directors self-release their films on DVD? Are any of them turning up on Netflix?
posted by neuroshred at 10:27 PM on January 7, 2004

yeah, never heard of any of them :D i wonder if they'll be picked up by IFC or sundance!?

btw, here's j.rosenbaum's eclectic list of mainstream and unseen for 2003 and another top 10 :D

the only thing i've seen i think that might've qualified as under the mainstream radar is to be and to have, which was really great!

yeah, i wanted to see gerry and elephant (and zero day :) but they never came out where i am... oh and morvern callar, was that 2003!?

btw, on a bit different note :D hidden in plain view, i just came across these!

Peter Pan.
Practically perfect in every way. Not since the neglected A Little Princess have special effects been put to such traditional, enchanting uses, and without pandering to the (presumed) shrinking attention span of the modern child. Jason Isaacs is terrific as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, Ludivine Sagnier is the liveliest Tink ever (she farts, but in a good way), and the rest is pure magic. If this little gem doesn’t make it at the box office, I might shoot myself.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action
The New York Times can praise Sean Penn's cartoonish Method acting to the heavens; it takes an actual cartoon to show up all their idiocies. Truly, no one does the push-and-pull of human grief like Daffy Duck, here voiced by Joe Alaskey in a revelatory performance that goes above-and-beyond mere imitation of the great Mel Blanc. Alaskey no doubt remembers what frequent Warner Bros. director and animator Chuck Jones set in stone: “When I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, there's Daffy.”
posted by kliuless at 10:37 PM on January 7, 2004

I've seen Milwaukee, Minnesota (on the indiewire list) and it's really not that great.
posted by drezdn at 11:02 PM on January 7, 2004

I've seen Bright Leaves, the first film on the indiewire list. It is quite good but not as good as McElwee can be (Time Indefinite is one of the greatest documentaries I've ever seen and Sherman's March and Charlene are both excellent as well). I missed Brown Bunny when it played Toronto and have been kicking myself.

My fave unreleased film of 2003 was Flyerman ("self link"--I made the site for them, long before the film was done--hence no trailer there). It's bloody brilliant and I hope it gets picked up (NOW Magazine picked the filmmakers as top two Canadians to watch in 2004).

I also quite liked Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf but suspect it'll get released in due time. (Maybe has already played stateside, I'm not sure.)

I've seen most of the films on the Chicago Reader list that klluless linked to and don't much agree with it. Marion Bridge as #1? Yeah, it's a fine film but hardly the best of the year.

Under the radar...? Northfork, the stunningly beautiful but very bizarre movie by the Polish brothers; The Good Thief; Capturing the Friedmans; Gambling, Gods, and LSD (though probably deservedly so. I lasted 30 minutes); Spider (though technicaly 2002)--best film David Cronenberg's made in a decade and a half; Russian Ark.

I can't believe Film Threat rated the rerelease of Marker's San Soliel as one of the worst films of 2003. Idiots.
posted by dobbs at 11:33 PM on January 7, 2004

My favorite of the year was Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish. Tops anything like Lost in Translation--its screenwriter was a young first-time writer (of anything) who won an internet contest; the prize was having her movie actually made.
posted by jennanemone at 12:06 AM on January 8, 2004

Aha! They mention Gimme Gimme Octopus!

I saw that playing at a club here in san francisco. It is one of the most surreal things I have seen in recent memory!
posted by vacapinta at 12:43 AM on January 8, 2004

Don't bother with Goodbye Dragon Inn. It was incredibly slow and tedious, consisting mainly of a series of fixed perspective shots with very little actually happening. It's not that beautiful, it's not all that funny, and I'm pretty damn annoyed that I wasted £9 and about 80 minutes of my life watching it.

On the other hand, Dolls *is* a beautiful film. It is also slow, and the meandering of the main couple is somewhat random, but it is a joy to watch and is a far greater accomplishment.

I prefer Kitano's rendition of Zatoichi myself, but then I'm a sucker for samurai films.
posted by Lal at 4:21 AM on January 8, 2004

great post.
posted by moonbird at 4:52 AM on January 8, 2004

Hey, folks ... longtime MeFite, also the producer of indieWIRE. Great discussion here, wanted to pop in a few things (and resort to a bit of self-linking back to indieWIRE to explain.)

"but the problem with these two lists is that these movies are indeed unseen--they played only at festivals or went straight to video"

Kinda ... some of them are still earlier in the creative lifespan. Remember, though, that list is of undistributed films ... we also did two other lists that might be more accessible to people, one of indieWIRE staff picks and another of indie actor, directors and exec picks that are interesting mix of films that you can still probably access in one form or another.

But don't rule out the films without distribution yet!

If you look at our list from 2002 you'll see some titles that would have been just as obscure then that did get at least a little push in the American marketplace (either on broadcast, DVD or ... in 4 of the 16 picks from last year ... limited theatrical engagements.) But you're right: a depressing number of really interesting films still exist outside of the commercial marketplace (some of my all-time favorite films existed only on the festival circuit, so enjoy your local festivals!)

"Do these directors self-release their films on DVD? Are any of them turning up on Netflix?"

More and more do, and it's something I try to encourage them to do, but we independents are still waking up to that. The film I exec produced (discussed in this this year old MeFi thread) is just getting ready to self-release this month: the manufacturing costs of DVD production are certainly down, but the maze of sales and acting like your own distributor is alot more work than what most directors (of the independent variety) feel comfortable doing... they tend to think of their film as done once it's started showing at festivals, where I'd argue that's actually about halfway through the workload if you want to make the most of your creative work.

Netflix, as a rental outfit, seems pretty straight-forward to place product in (as are places like Amazon) but the old illusion that rental houses pay an inflated per copy price to compensate for the fact it is rented ... well, those days seem far behind us, at least if you are self distributing (so Netflix fees really just barely cover the replication cost, no profit in it.) There are some interesting outfits like GreenCine that are experimenting with masters and just-in-time duplication ... GreenCine is nice because they essentially take the manufacturing risk and pay the filmmakers a fee per sale (where as others are the DVD equivalent of CafePress that let you set a margin on top of a manufacturing cost.)

I'm hopefully, actually, that we're about a year or two away from a viable market in "burnt at home" DVD distribution. We've been experimenting with paid downloads of our film, and you can finagale a high-end delivery environment at about $5/GB transfer right now (which means it is still too expensive to charge you to download a DVD quality version of a full disk yet, but affordable so far to do a 455MB high res QT that is near broadcast quality.)
posted by bclark at 5:41 AM on January 8, 2004

wow, bclark. those are some really great ideas and predictions...and i don't say that because i hope that you will write about my films someday. :)

my top ten list would be rife with stuff on everyone else's (lost in translation and american splendor are my top two), but i want to chip in four more titles that may have passed you by.

zero day. a video diary of two teenaged boys who plan to blow up their high school, columbine style. a film i found utterly chilling not only in its conviction but also in the normalcy of the kids and their families. this got a small release in the big cities and made the festival circuit, and should see release on dvd soon.

dracula: pages from a virgin's diary. in which the puzzling, etherial manitoba filmmaker moves beyond "self-important canadian smallpox movies" and makes a breathtaking, inventive document of a ballet, shot in his inimitable style. worthy of comparison to murnau and powell and pressburger. this played for a weekend at the local rep house, and has yet to come back or make it onto dvd.

bubba ho-tep. how can you not love a movie with bruce campbell as elvis, fighting zombies? with ossie davis as jfk. best part: bbq accident.

i capture the castle. this british smash went straight to the second run houses stateside (and the website,, has been taken down). this adaptation of dodie "101 dalmatians" smith's beloved coming-of-age novel is more dramatic than the comedic tone smith favored, but the film aches with adolescent love. fans of love actually's bill nighy should check out his impassioned performance as the melancholy, writer's block-beset james mortmain.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:37 AM on January 8, 2004

Did you catch any worthy films that may have been under the mainstream radar?

I thought Hulk was quite good. No, seriously. Divine Intervention is another.
posted by blueshammer at 8:03 AM on January 8, 2004

Don't bother with Goodbye Dragon Inn. It was incredibly slow and tedious, consisting mainly of a series of fixed perspective shots with very little actually happening.

Lol, all of Tsai Ming-Liang's films are like that.
posted by bobo123 at 10:18 AM on January 8, 2004

Of the smaller but released movies that didn't get much play last year, I liked "Magdalene Sisters," the French "Chaos," "Stone Reader," "City of God," "The Fog of War," "Autumn Spring," "Lilya 4-Ever," "Dog Days," "Casa de los Babys" and the unfairly maligned "Masked & Anonymous." And blueshammer, I also thought "Hulk" was quite good.
posted by muckster at 11:34 AM on January 8, 2004

muckster, i would love to hear your defense of masked and anonymous, which i thought was the worst movie that came out this year (bearing in mind that this year also brought gigli, the cat in the hat, and bad camera placement: the movie the shape of things).
posted by pxe2000 at 7:15 PM on January 8, 2004

I second (or third) the recommendation for "City Of God", and would add "Intacto", "Nine Queens" and "Belleville Rendezvous".

"Intacto" is all about luck being an attribute, one that can be stolen, traded, sold or given. A group of people compete in bizarre games to determine who is the luckiest person in the world, where the final game is that of Russian roulette with 5 bullets loaded into the revolver.

"Nine Queens" is one of those twist-filled movies, set in Buenos Aries about a con man and his newly acquired apprentice, out to make the deal of their lives. Except it all starts going horribly wrong, and they have to improvise like crazy to stay on track. Similar to David Mamet's films like "The Spanish Prisoner" and "The Heist".

"Belleville Rendezvous" is a quirky, near dialogue-free French animation, about a Tour de France cyclist who gets kidnapped and his grandmother's efforts to rescue him from the French Mafia in the city of Belleville. A superb mix of cel-animation and CGI, and very very funny.
posted by Lal at 2:55 AM on January 9, 2004

belleville rendezvous (or the triplets of belleville for us in the u.s.) thirded. i've seen it three times and i still pick up new things i haven't seen before. the dog is the most dog-like dog i've ever seen in a movie, real or animated, and much of the film fell into place after i realised how much of the film was drawn from his perspective.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:31 AM on January 9, 2004

pxe2000, I hope it's not a cop-out to link to my review of "Masked & Anonymous." Essentially, I agree with Charles Taylor, who put it on his Top 10 list for 2003 and wrote "critics reacted as though they'd never heard a Dylan record in their lives." I consider "Kill Bill," "The Singing Detective," and "Whale Rider" among the worst of the year (didn't bother with "Cat in the Hat.")

"Triplets of Belleville" was cute, "Intacto" had a better concept than actual characters but was interesting in an abstract way, and I liked "Nine Queens" pretty well, too, Lal.
posted by muckster at 9:26 AM on January 9, 2004

Now that I'm thinking about it, last year's most satisfying small film was Aki Kaurismäki's "Man Without a Past." It came out early in the year, which always guarantees that you're getting left off all the top 10 lists. Kaurismäki's wry humor is terrific, and the movie's already out on DVD. Highly recommended.
posted by muckster at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2004

muckster: i hated the cat in the hat and the shape of things based on the trailers alone (and after seeing the trailer for the shape of things four times in four different theatres located in three states, i can assume that the sheer number of booms in the frame had nothing to do with bad projectionists). a film critic friend took me to see masked and anonymous and i had an open mind about it -- i'm not a huge dylan fan, but i respect the man's music (my dad and i saw him in 1994), liked don't look back, and have a burgeoning love of the band. i came out with a sore ass and a deep and abiding fear of the basement tapes that continues to this day.

part of my dislike of the film stems from my disinterest in random, anarchic movies -- i had a similarly bad reaction to daisies, and a recent viewing of gas-s-s-s! redeemed itself with a few small virtues. the deeply pretentious dialouge -- in which every line wanted to carry a profound meaning but came off stilted and unbelievable. there was so little joy in the way the film was made, too -- i don't expect all films to turn cartwheels and make mirth the way something like sullivan's travels (for example) or this year's triplets does, but there was something so perfunctory and boring about the film that i couldn't get into it, at all. and this is coming from someone who has heard quite a few dylan songs.

re: chuck taylor -- it's been said here before, but i agree with those who state that he has too many personal issues to take seriously as a film critic, as his recent review of something's gotta give would suggest.

still haven't seen kill bill or the singing detective. i thought whale rider was beautifully shot and keisha castle-hughes is among the best child actors working today, but as i look back, the movie hasn't stuck with me all that much. perhaps that is the ultimate sign that a movie fails, when it's completely banal.

(btw, i'm posting this here because there's no email in your profile. i hope the respectful tone comes through.)
posted by pxe2000 at 12:26 PM on January 9, 2004

That's odd--when I look at my profile page, I see my address listed. Anyway, I'm sending you an email.
posted by muckster at 2:28 PM on January 10, 2004

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