1941- Citizen Kane: RKO Pictures releases this 119 minute long black and white movie and the filmmaking world is never the same again. Audiences, critics and fellow filmmakers are extremely impressed with this film. It is the life story of a newspaper mogul named Charles Foster Kane that is based on the real life of publishing giant William Randolph Hearst. Directed by a young Orson Welles, it is his first feature film and his best work of his career. Welles brings German Expressionism film production style to a whole new level with this film using a lot of geometric angles with large sets and stark lighting contrasts. He also uses the technique of deep focus in every scene showing everything in the foreground and background in focus. This film classic is considered by the American Film Institute, and most film historians to be the best movie of all time, independent or otherwise. It is complex and ambiguous in many ways and undeniably a masterpiece. Film scholars past and present have spent many hours debating issues involved with this film.
1943- Obsession (Ossessione): Based on the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, this was the very first film of the Italian Neorealist genre. It was written (adapted) and directed by Luchino Visconti with great difficulty under the scrutiny of the Fascist regime in Italy during that time. It tells the story of a drifter who has an affair with the wife of a restaurant owner and then conspires with the woman to murder her husband. The Fascist Italian government did not like the way the film turned out and they immediately banned it from being distributed. They destroyed the film's Master negative, but Visconti kept a duplicate hidden away. All prints that survive today come from that negative. This genre of filmmaking is all about the portrayal of real life people and the real things that happen to ordinary citizens. Visconti shoots most of this film using long-running medium and wide-shots, choosing to use close-ups only for very emotional situations. The rural setting of the film and the boring lives that the people lead is not romanticized. The characters and locations in the film are as you would expect them to be in real life. Sinks are full of dishes, dirt and dust cover the furniture and characters are unkempt. The absence of glamour and formulaic style helps the audience identify with the characters as fellow human beings.
1948- The Bicycle Thief (Ladri di biciclette): This neorealist film was written and directed by Italian filmmaker Vittorio De Sica. It is the story of a man living in depressed post-World War II Italy who has his bicycle stolen, and then searches the streets of Rome with his young son to try and get it back. He desperately needs the bicycle to work (posting flyers). This movie is a classic for this genre. It emphasizes realism and the struggle to survive in working-class Italy. It was shot entirely on location in Rome using people on the street as actors and with available light (no lighting equipment). The main character was played by a local factory worker.
1950- Rashomon: Film scholars worldwide consider this 88 minute black and white movie by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa to be a genuine masterpiece. It is the story of a young woman that is raped and murdered while walking in the woods. It is told by four different people who give completely different versions of the same crime. The audience is not quite sure about what really happened when the movie is over and the point is made that the truth is very difficult to find. Besides being very innovative with his storytelling style, using such techniques as a flashback inside a flashback, Kurosawa also pioneered several lighting techniques with this film such as the use of mirrors to reflect light onto the actor's faces and shooting directly into the sun. This film is also widely regarded as being responsible for introducing Japanese cinema to the world.
1956- The Thing from Another World: This 87 minute black and white film was the first of it's kind to use invading space aliens in the storyline. Ghost-directed by Howard Hawks using his Winchester Pictures production company, it is considered to be a classic of the science-fiction horror genre. It is the story of an Air Force crew and some scientists stationed in the Arctic who battle an alien that needs human blood to be successful with the proliferation of it's species. This film was very culturally significant at that time for it touched a nerve with the paranoid American public. The cold-war with the Soviet Union was getting worse and other things like the alleged discovery of an Alien spacecraft and dead Aliens at Roswell, New Mexico had people rattled a bit. This movie is symbolic of both these situations; American government officials face an adversary that is more powerful than they are, and it is from outer space.
1959- The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups): A classic film by François Truffaut from the French New Wave genre, which was similar to the Italian Neorealism genre for it's realism aspect. This 99 minute black and white film is the story of a young French boy who gets in trouble one too many times and gets thrown into the cruel French juvenile justice system. Truffaut and other New Wave filmmakers experimented with editing, narrative style and visuals with an emphasis on deviation from the established formulas of Hollywood filmmaking techniques and storylines. These types of films were statements about these French filmmaker's disapprovals of the pre-established state of the film industry as well as about their political beliefs. They were innovative works of art that often protested the injustices of society.
1965- Repulsion: Polish filmmaker Roland Polanki's first movie in English. This 104 minute long movie was written, directed and produced by Polanski, and it is widely considered to be a masterpiece of the psychological thriller genre. It tells the story of a young Belgian virgin woman who is both sickened and fascinated by the idea of having sex. This is the first film in Polanski's trilogy of apartment thrillers he made with the other two being Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). These films all depict people whose biggest threats lie within their own minds.
1966- Persona: This 85 minute black and white film by famous Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is considered by many film historians to be his best . It is an intimate look at the patient and client relationship that exists between two Swedish women, and how the roles can often be unintentionally reversed. Bergman introduces the Brechtian alienation technique (Verfremdungseffekt) for the first time in this film, which is a way of reminding the audience about the artificial nature of the film medium. There are several examples of this technique in the film, including shots at the beginning and end that show reels of film being loaded. Two more examples are a shot of the film burning up (in the projector) and a shot of the film production crew filming the movie when the camera swings around in one scene near the end. This movie was censored before it's release in the United States because of some scenes that contained full-frontal nudity and explicit sexual language. This is a classic Berman film with dramatic and controversial subject matter, innovative production techniques and an underplayed production value.
1968- 2001: A Space Odyssey: This 141 minute science-fiction film by American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick is considered by film critics and scholars to be one of the best ever made. The film deals with a host of deep subjects including the evolution of humans, extraterrestrial life and the dangers of artificial intelligence. This film had a realistic look to it that was quite convincing, long before computer effects were available. With this groundbreaking film Kubrick also pioneered the technique of using provocatively ambiguous images and replacing the narrative of a scene with music.
1969- Easy Rider: This 94 minute film by Peter Fonda (co-writer/producer), Dennis Hopper (co-writer/director) and Terry Southern (co-writer) is one of the first films from Hollywood's Renaissance period. It is the story of two cocaine smuggling bikers who make a big sale and then head out on a road trip across the American South and Southwest. Their goal is to reach New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. This film is considered by many to be a commentary on the hippie counter-culture of the 1960s and how it clashed with the status quo conservatives of society. This film also made the big studios realize that there is money to be made from independent filmmaker's who make movies that are small on costs, but large on creativity. The Hollywood Renaissance was similar to the Neorealism genre in that the independent filmmakers who made these types of films were very unhappy with the paradigms that had been established by the film industry and society in general. They strived to be different in both style and content.
1971- A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick's controversial 136 minute film about a young man (Malcolm McDowell) who likes classical music, rape and extreme violence. Because of his anti-social behavior, the young man is arrested and forced to undergo aversion therapy in an effort to cure him. There is strong sexual and violent content in this film, and this earned it "X" rating at first. But Kubrick edited thirty seconds out of it and this made it eligible for an "R" rating.
1972- Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes): A 100 minute film written and directed by German filmmaker Werner Herzog. This film is loosely based on the historic Spanish Conquistador Lope de Aguirre who led an exploration mission up the Amazon River in search of the legendary city of gold, El Dorado. It is a story of obsession and madness set amongst the beauty and harshness of the Amazon. Told with a minimalist style and dialogue, this film is both stunning and disturbing to watch. The imagery is breathtaking and the performance given by Klaus Kinski in the title role is mesmerizing. Many film critics consider it to be an independent film masterpiece.
1976- Taxi Driver- This 113 minute American film written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese was controversial for its unflinching commentary on the ills of modern society, and for the graphic depiction of violence at the end. It is the story of a psychologically disturbed New York taxi driver named Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who befriends a teenage prostitute (Jodi Foster) and tries to protect her from the cruel world she exists in. Scorsese pulls no punches with his sexual, psychological and violent content in this movie and audiences were a bit shocked by this display.
1979- Eraserhead: This 89 minute surrealist-horror film written and directed by American independent filmmaker David Lynch created quite a controversy amongst film critics when it was released. The reactions to this movie ranged from confused to awe-inspired. It is very much up to each individual to decide what this film is exactly about and yet it is still considered to be a cult-classic. The storyline is not presented in a linear structure and dream sequences are cut with scenes in a way that seems to blur the line between reality and fantasy. It is a nightmarish tale that involves a young couple and a reptilian-like new-born baby who live in a small apartment in a decaying industrial wasteland world. This movie became a favorite for midnight screenings in the 1980s and 1990s. It is estimated that Lynch's budget for the film was just $10,000.
1980- Raging Bull: Another groundbreaking film by American writer and director team Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese. This 129 minute black and white movie is considered by many to be one of the best films ever made. With stark realism and raw violence Scorsese tells the story of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a champion professional boxer who did most of his raging (in and out of the ring) during the 1950s. The film production process of this movie was put on hold in the middle so Robert De Niro could gain 60 pounds to play the aging LaMotta. This dedication to his art form would make him famous as a method actor.
1982- Pink Floyd The Wall: This 95 minute film was directed by British filmmaker Alan Parker and written by Roger Waters, the vocalist and bassist for the British rock group Pink Floyd. It is based on the 1979 album of the same title by that group. It is a group of stories about human alienation, suppression, aggression, anger, and a host of other emotions. There is a central figure named Pink (Bob Geldof) that seems to be emotionally damaged and in a catatonic state for most of the film as he explores his life through the use of flashbacks. Pink Floyd's powerful music plays to images that are visually stunning. There are segments of animation by political cartoonist and animator Gerald Scarfe that include armies of giant walking hammers, flowers having sex and the bombing of London during World War II. This film also became a cult-classic on the midnight screening circuit during the 1980s and 1990s.
1986- Blue Velvet: This 120 minute long independent film was written and directed by American filmmaker David Lynch. The title was taken from the song by Bobby Vinton by the same name, and it plays in a hauntingly contrapuntal way in several parts of the film. This movie falls into the category of neo/noir thriller, but it is really a unique film that is like no other. It is the story of a young man (Kyle Maclachlan) who takes a wild ride through the underbelly of society while investigating the story behind a severed human ear that he finds in a field at the beginning of the movie. Dennis Hopper's portrayal of a drug-crazed psychopath scares audiences and revives his acting career. Lynch and his script were turned down by all of the major film studios, so he approached Dino de Laurentiis, who liked the film so much he started a film production company (D.E.G) to produce and distribute the film. This film is widely considered to be one of the best independent films of the 1980s. It did moderately well at the box office.
1989- The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover: A black comedy written and directed by British filmmaker Peter Greenaway. It is a story about the clash between people with genuine culture and people who have a lot of money but no class. It is set in a restaurant where a gangster (and his gang) like to hang out, and it was shot in a visually appealing way that can only be described as cinematic eye-candy. This 123 minute film received an "X" rating when it was first released, but it was later given an "NC-17" rating. A 95 minute version was given an "R" rating for release on VHS after a few scenes involving full-frontal nudity and cannibalism were re-edited. The original uncut version was also released on VHS at the same time. This film was very controversial for the aforementioned reasons.
1990- Akira Kurosawa's Dreams: A collection of eight stories by Master Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa that represent actual dreams he had in his life. Some of these dreams are nightmares and some are pleasant experiences. This is more a film about imagery, themes and symbolism than it is about dialogue or linear storylines. The visuals in this 119 minute long film are stunning works of cinematic art. American film director Martin Scorsese has an acting part in one of the dream stories where he plays the part of the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh.
1991- Barton Fink: American independent filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen's movie about a young Hollywood screenwriter who gets a bad case of writer's block. This 116 minute film can be described as an entertaining investigation of the creative writing process, as well as a satirical look at the Hollywood film industry. It is full of interesting and repulsive characters that often exhibit shocking, violent and unexpected behavior. The Coen brothers took home the Palme d'Or (best picture) at Cannes with a unanimous vote for this film. They also received the Best Director and Best Actor awards, sweeping the big 3 categories for the only time in the history of this famous French film festival.
1991- My Own Private Idaho: 102 minute independent film by American filmmaker Gus Van Sant that is loosely based on Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1. It is the story of two teenage hustlers (Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix) from very different backgrounds who embark on a journey of self discovery across many parts of America (and some parts of Italy). There are many controversial aspects to this film such as the gay and bi-sexual relationships that are explored and the use of modern slang with Shakespearian language. Nonetheless, this film is well received by film critics overall and it becomes a gay film classic almost immediately.
1994- Pulp Fiction: Written and directed by self-taught independent filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, this 154 minute film is one of the most successful independent films of all time. With a film production budget of only $8 million, this film went on to earn $213,928,762 worldwide. It is a compilation of six different unrelated stories about a police officer, an organized crime boss and two hired killers. Tarantino includes many cinematic nods to famous independent filmmakers in this movie and a lot of references to modern pop-culture. The storyline is non-linear and much of the dialogue comes from famous B-movies. There are many ambiguous and provocative images in this film and unexplained elements that are still debated in film schools and Internet chat rooms to this day, such as the mysterious suitcase that emits a strange glow. This film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and an Oscar for Best Script. It made Quentin Tarantino the most famous independent filmmaker of the 1990s.
1994- Chungking Express ( 重慶森林): This 102 minute film about lonely and disconnected people living in a big city was written and directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. It is two interlinked (but not related) stories of two policemen and the romantic experiences they have while living in a vast metropolis like Hong Kong. This film is made with a creative style and an abundance of energy. Wong uses unusual techniques such as hand held shots that are always moving, quick sequences of stop-motion in action scenes and unusual camera angles. Upon it's release the film was praised by many fellow filmmakers including American Quentin Tarantino who gets the film released in the U.S. with his Rolling Thunder Pictures.
1999- The Blair Witch Project: This 86 minute low-budget horror thriller shocked audiences with it's ending and shocked the world with the profit that it made. It was written and directed by a couple of young American independent filmmakers named Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. The movie is shot in video and made to look like a documentary. It tells the story of 3 college students who disappear while shooting a documentary about the Blair Witch, a legendary monster that is believed to haunt the woods near the city of Burkittsville, Maryland. The story is told through pieces of footage that were recovered from a camera that was found in the woods where the 3 students disappeared a year before. This movie cost $25,000 to make but it was bought by Artisan Entertainment for $1 million after an all night bidding war the first night it screened at the Sundance Film Festival. It went on to make $248 million worldwide! Also, the producers of this film made brilliant use of the Internet prior to it's release by putting out the word that the story was real on a website they created called www.blairwitch.com. The most significant contribution that came from this film was that it opened the door for movies shot in video to compete at film festivals with the best of them.
2001- Memento: This 113 minute neo-noir–psychological thriller was written and directed by British-born (with an American mother) filmmaker Christopher Nolan. It is a unique film about a man (Guy Pierce) afflicted with a form of amnesia. He is looking for the man who raped and killed his wife and left him with brain trauma. The story structure is very innovative in that it is pieced together with bits of his memories that are very fragmented. The film is at times literally moving in reverse, but the sum of these disjointed parts is a good, solid story. This movie did well at Sundance. It also did very well at the box office and with the film critics too.
2004- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Famous comedy actor Jim Carrey and British actress Kate Winslet star in this 103 minute science-fiction romance film by French director Michel Gondry. It is the story of two people (Carrey and Winslet) who meet on a Long Island Rail Road train. They are inexplicably drawn towards each other and they eventually find out that they once had a relationship together for two years, but had an ugly breakup and decided to have their memories of each other erased at a place that will perform this service for a fee. This film is very innovative in it's storytelling technique which told their story in reverse through pieces of retrieved memories that were not erased.
2005- Brokeback Mountain: This 134 minute Western movie directed by Taiwanese independent filmmaker Ang Lee and written by American Larry McMurtry caused quite a controversy for it's depiction of two gay (or bi-sexual) cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal). It won many awards on the film festival circuit and received 8 Oscar nominations (winning Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score). It is a romance story about two men who carry on a love affair with each other for 20 years while keeping it a secret from their wives. Many critics praised this film for it's candor and honesty, and for the strong performances by the lead actors.
2007- Padre Nuestro: This 105 minute dramatic thriller was written and directed by American filmmaker, and former Alaskan Salmon fisherman Christopher Zalla. It is his feature film directorial debut and it is done with great style and a well-written script. This movie tells the story of a young man from Mexico who crosses the border illegally and travels to New York city to search for the Father that he never knew. Upon arriving in New York the young man has his identity stolen. This film is an allegory about how the world has become more globalized with less attention being paid to borders. It won the Grand Jury Award (Dramatic) at the Sundance Film festival and achieved much critical acclaim in the world of independent film.