The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Top 5: Indie Films

With Little Miss Sunshine featuring in HOME’s ‘This is Human’ season, and David Lowery’s A Ghost Story currently in cinemas, Jamie McEvoy lists the top 5 independent films from both the US and UK


5.         The Blair Witch Project (1999)

In an era where ‘found footage’ features are a familiar addition to cinema listings, it is easy to forget that there once was a time when ‘hand-held-cinema’ was a rarity.  The ‘shaky-cam’ techniques which are now associated with the likes of Paranormal Activity (2007) were originally regarded as a stroke of cinematic genius.

Despite earlier pictures such as Alien Abduction: Incident In Lake County (1998), it was Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project that kick-started the trend of the found footage film.

Criminally overlooked nowadays due to the influx of similar films which have followed suit – notably the V/H/S series – The Blair Witch Project took immersive cinema to the next level.  Through an ingenious viral campaign and tales of actors going missing, the semi-improvised film with a mere $60,000 budget terrified audiences, convincing many that the on screen events were in fact real.

It follows three film students who venture sceptically into a Maryland forest to make a documentary about the fabled ‘Blair Witch’, yet their incredulity is quickly usurped by dread and fear as they face inexplicable horrors in the woods.  The Blair Witch Project is simple yet spine-chilling, and is arguably one of the most influential films ever made.

4.         The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Coen Brothers’ indie crime-comedy is considered not only one of the greatest indie films ever, but one of the best movies full stop.  Jeff Bridges stars as Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski. He becomes embroiled in a web of crime after he is assaulted in his own home by two hired thugs who believe him to be the titular millionaire, the ‘Big Lebowski’.

Coens regulars Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, and John Turturro support a cast which boasts household names such as Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore.

Combining hilarity with the morose, The Big Lebowski is a psychedelic, Pulp Fiction-esque story which all hinges essentially on one man being in the wrong place at the wrong time, surrounded by an assemblage of morons and maniacs.

Clearly an inspiration of so many ‘stoner comedies’ which have been released since — Pineapple Express (2008) being one example — it is widely regarded as the Coen Brothers’ greatest feature, and a spin-off/sequel has been rumoured for years.

3.         Being John Malkovich (1999)

Triple nominee in the 2000 Academy Awards, Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich follows John Cusack’s unemployed puppeteer Craig Schwartz, who stumbles across a portal into the mind of Hollywood actor John Malkovich, played by Malkovich himself.

The daring and innovative originality of the film lead to it receiving a rapturous critical response, as well as being named by critic Roger Ebert as the film of the year.

A young Cameron Diaz and the femme fatale-esque Catherine Keener round off a stellar leading cast, yet director Jonze’s quirkiness, ingenuity and disregard for mainstream Hollywood narrative has cemented Being John Malkovich in cult classic territory.  A hilarious yet at times overwhelmingly dark comedy, it remains to this day one of the most original films ever made.

2.         Withnail and I (1987)

Financed by George Harrison’s independent company ‘HandMade Films’, Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I is an extremely close second in this list.  Set in the late 60s, Richard E. Grant’s ‘Withnail’ and Paul McGann’s ‘I’ are two unemployed, alcoholic actors in London. They decide to leave behind their decrepit Camden flat to go on holiday to stay with Withnail’s eccentric uncle Monty, played hysterically by the late Richard Griffiths.

The film’s protagonists are detestably loveable, with ‘I’ being loosely based on director Robinson during his youth.

Prior to Harrison’s involvement, the film was on the brink of being shut down, but HandMade Films saved the day and ensured that Withnail and I underwent production and became the indie classic it is today.

1.         Time Bandits (1981)

Also financed by George Harrison’s independent production company, Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits brought together Monty Python-esque silliness, Tolkien-esque mythology, and the historical, to make it potentially the only ever indie epic.

The film’s hero is eleven-year-old Kevin who leaves behind his obnoxious and ignorant parents when a group of six dwarves appear in his bedroom one night, who he follows on a time-hopping quest, from the Napoleaonic Wars to Ancient Greece.

Pythons John Cleese and Michael Palin have small roles, and Sean Connery stars as the Mycenaean king Agamemnon.  A grand and ambitious story, but told with a domestic and at times Grimm-esque tone, Time Bandits is peak Gilliam, and for a film which is approaching forty years of age, it is ageing superbly.