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5 Reasons Indies are Better than Hollywood Films

5 Reasons Indies are Better than Hollywood Films

Thanks again to the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine, I am reposting an old story that remains just as relevant today: the first of what was to be a series of articles called “5 Reasons Indie Films Are Better than Hollywood Film” (which had evaporated along with its now defunct home, FilmCatcher.com). Published in 2007, some of the examples may seem a little out-dated (do people still remember Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut?) but the sentiment still remains powerfully relevant. My first reason is below. Since reasons 2-5 were never written, I’m taking suggestions in the comments section. Herewith, the first reason:

Risky Roles

the mid-1960s, a bold, young New York actor began working with a
student filmmaker named Brian De Palma on a number of innovative,
in-your-face political satires (The Wedding Party , Greetings, Hi, Mom! )
that thumbed their nose at the Hollywood and American establishment.
Influenced by the irreverent cinema of the French New Wave, the films
offered the up-and-coming performer juicy spontaneous moments in which
to swagger and soak up the screen. By 1972, another student
writer-director, Martin Scorsese, snapped up the actor for his
breakthrough film Mean Streets. That same year, Hollywood came calling:
Robert De Niro’s career was officially born.

Where would
America’s dream factory be without alternative, independent and
iconoclastic films to foster its talents? 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. Because Hollywood always needs a fresh face, little indie
movies have become the primo spot for finding new talent.

look at the performances and you’ll see why these actors aren’t just
practicing for the big leagues; they’re playing an entirely different
and more daring game. In her breakthrough film 2002’s Secretary , for
example, Maggie Gyllenhaal bared body and soul as an ugly ducking
assistant who finds 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 conveys not simple subservience, but a far more complex state of
bound bliss.

And what would Paul Giamatti’s career be 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 Pinot Noir. Now, we
can enjoy Giamatti in a host of higher-profile roles, from Cinderella
Man to The Illusionist . Thanks, Indiewood.

The list, of course,
goes on. 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, these
recent talents stunned audiences with refreshing, bold and astoundingly
real portraits that no Hollywood star could achieve. Stars rarely play
drug addicts and pimps, for one thing. And indie 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,
real-life authenticity, allowing actors the time and space to dig deep
into their characters and bring out a palpitating lump of living,
breathing humanity onscreen.

Not only do independent films launch
the careers of unknown talents, but also they offer 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
goes indie, turns ugly and wins Oscar, from Halle Berry in Monster’s
Ball all the way back to one-time glamour girl turned bloated beast
Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
(granted, a Warner Bros. studio release at the time, but undoubtedly,
indie in scope and spirit). This year’s prize could go to Angelina
Jolie; though she’s still attractive, with slightly darker skin and a
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.

On the male side, 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)
or the recent resurrection of Pierce Brosnan, formerly of James Bond
fame. Replaced as 007 by the younger, meatier Daniel Craig, Brosnan
quickly bounced back from would-be retirement with a pair of memorable
performances in two sly indie dramedies, as a weathered hit man 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 on its head.

Then there are simply the terrific
actors who populate indie films again and again, the it-girls and
it-boys of the non-Hollywood scene who have found in niche films a more
challenging and satisfying place to push the limits of their craft.
Sure, they’ll occasionally go slumming in Hollywood for a fat paycheck,
but more often, they prefer the shoestring budgets, long hours and
emotionally satisfying conditions of the intimate passion project.

the ultimate outsider and oddball, Steve Buscemi has done it all, but
his debut performance as a man dying of AIDS in 1986’s Parting Glances
is one of the true heartbreakers of American cinema. Indie queen Parker
Posey is a walking masterpiece of comic genius, from her early Hal
Hartley collaboration Flirt (1993) to her more recent outing with the
iconoclastic director Fay Grim 13 years later.

Arguably the top
actors of their generation, Peter Sarsgaard and Philip Seymour Hoffman
are never less than astounding in role after complex role in low-budget
dramas, whether as multi-layered monsters (Sarsgaard’s John Lotter in
Boys Don’t Cry; Hoffman’s Capote and the current Before the Devil Knows
You’re Dead) or aggrieved victims (Sarsgaard in The Dying Gaul or
Hoffman in Love Liza ).

Whether Frances McDormand, as pregnant
police officer Marge Gunderson in Fargo, or Patricia Clarkson, as a
lonely grieving artist in The Station Agent, or Catherine Keener, as
mischievous Maxine in Being John Malkovich, these are actors who
continue to give their best to films made outside of the mainstream—and,
of course, the converse is also true. It is these alternative films
that allow them and push them to create some of our most assured and
beloved performances.

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