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Archive for August 29th, 2010

by Joel

#82 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

The zeroes did not see many high-profile “movements” or artistic trends in American cinema. Indie cinema, the big news of the early to mid nineties, was co-opted by Hollywood, and (perhaps resultingly) few new young directors emerged; likewise widely-embraced new developments. Still, there were transformations, some subtle, others under the radar. With Royal Tenenbaums setting the tone, studio “independents” embraced quirk as their defining characteristic – a once marginal taste now became the norm. Financially independent (which is to say, actually independent) cinema reacted accordingly. There were two prominent approaches, both defiantly smallscale. The first, and more low-budget, was dubbed “mumblecore.” Its subjects were middle-class youths, usually well-educated but not concerned with work (either for mysterious reasons or because they were given rather unconvincing “cool” jobs). The narrative focus was almost always on (heterosexual) relationships, and the form took anti-sleekness to its extreme: handheld camera, tiny casts and crews, often shot on video. Long-held close-ups were the aesthetic trademarks of the mumblers, and this (along with the filmmakers’ penchant to cast themselves and their friends in the main parts) often led to charges of narcissism.

At any rate, “mumblecore” received more media attention (albeit exclusively in hip, trendy outlets) than any other indie movement, and seems to have spent itself after reaching a high-water mark a year or two ago. Meanwhile, quietly but with growing acclaim and less controversy, a number of independent films appeared at festivals with an opposite tack: rather than explore the emotional travails of the financially secure but spiritually wandering young, it sought out subjects on the periphery of society: struggling immigrants, street orphans, crack addicts in the flooded hinterlands. Stylistically there was a similarity, in that these indies were usually shot low to the ground, but it should be noted that (ironically) the films with more impoverished subjects sometimes had bigger budgets, more access to professionals – even movie stars, and more established backers (Wendy and Lucy was produced by Todd Haynes). Movies like Ballast, Frozen River, and particularly the films of Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo) represented this trend which, unlike mumblecore, shows no signs of dissipating at the moment. Wendy and Lucy very firmly belongs to this category. (more…)

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