Going to the video store used to be a big treat for me. What would I find on the shelves? What had just been released? My heart literally used to race, and it would make my day—knowing I was going. Now, I find (yes, I still have a local dvd store that I patronize whenever I can) I just get depressed. Most of the shelves are filled with huge event movies. SPIDERMAN this, or BOURNE IDENTITY that. What Marvel Comic can they trot out next?
I love big tubs of popcorn and summer movies as much as the next guy, but where are the little films about people I can recognize? Stories about actual human beings who live lives like mine? They are getting harder and harder to find. An exploration of the reasons behind this could fill its own blog site. But that doesn’t mean we can’t sing the praises of independent films starring authentic human beings when we see them.
Here are few indie releases that have made my trips to the video store (or theater) worthwhile.
MOTHER AND CHILD: Annette Bening, beautiful Annette Bening, who hasn’t felt compelled to mess with the structure of her face. A wonderful film that intersects the stories of three women and their complicated relationships as children and mothers. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Go see it.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN: I am a horror film freak. Those of you who know me, know that the quickest way to my heart is through scaring the hell out of it. This Swedish film is one of the best vampire movies ever made. And I think I’ve seen most of them. Small, terrifying, poignant. Yeah, ok, one of the characters is not an actual human being, but that’s what makes it great.
LOVELY AND AMAZING: Nicole Holofcener is a wonderful filmmaker. She captures women, and in particular, Los Angeles, with perfect pitch. This is a lovely and amazing movie about a mother and her three daughters, all trying to find their places in the world. Starring Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer, there are several scenes that are unforgettable.
THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE: Let me start by confessing I have a huge crush on Daniel Day-Lewis. I pretty much faint and fall over whenever I see his face. He’s fantastic in this film about a father and daughter who face the shattering of their isolated hippie existence, when he’s diagnosed with a heart condition. Not one ounce of corny-ness in it. Directed by Day-Lewis’s wife, Rebecca Miller, this film is a stunner. Get ready to cry.
MYSTERIOUS SKIN: A disturbing and deeply felt film by Gregg Araki about kids living on the margins. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as a gay hustler, is unbelievably good.
THE LOOKOUT: Again, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a high school athlete whose life is altered by a car accident. He now has no short-term memory and is forced to take a job as a janitor at a bank. He’s targeted by criminals, and gets pulled deeper and deeper into a robbery. Riveting.
LIMBO: Does anyone else miss John Sayles? I do. This film stars David Strathairn and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as a couple targeted for murder by drug dealers. They are trapped on a wild Alaskan island with her daughter and their survival is in doubt. The daughter finds the journal of a young girl left on the island years before and reads it every night. Independent filmmaking at its unresolvable, human best.