It’s a good week for the small picture. While Scorsese‘s "The Departed" is garnering critical acclaim as the best reviewed wide release of the year, it’s in sparse company — "Jackass: Number Two" was one of two wide releases in the past few weeks to even make the fresh margin. Thank goodness for Helen Mirren, Michael Apted, art-house sex and stop-motion mice!
"Independent" and "art-house" are nowadays fairly interchangeable labels pointing to a loose confederation of films made not just for profit, not for the sake of making movies, but made as cinema. That’s not to say a big-budget studio effort can’t be good — Peter Jackson made that much obvious with his gazillion-dollar, CGI-heavy "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Plus, the man hasn’t made a rotten movie yet.
But seriously, with the recent dearth of worthwhile offerings in multiplexes across the country, it’s nice to know that the "indie" world is still doing its part, even if you have to wait to see some of these pics on DVD.
Leading the pack this week from across the pond is British royalty drama "The Queen," about Windsor matriarch Queen Elizabeth II and the royal reaction to Princess Diana’s death. Critics praise Helen Mirren‘s powerhouse performance in the title role — a star turn that’s garnering her plenty of Oscar-buzz as a near-certain Best Actress nominee. What’s more impressive is the film’s Tomatometer of 98 percent, drawn from 51 fresh reviews and one lone rotten rating (from the BBC, incidentally). After a tiny three-theater U.S. debut last week, "The Queen," now Certified Fresh, expands next week in limited release.
Another little picture with star wattage out this week is "Little Children," a tale of sordid suburban happenings from "In The Bedroom" director Todd Field. Four-time Oscar nominee Kate Winslet may once again win a nom for her performance as an adulterous housewife, as rumblings from the film’s festival run have generated strong kudos. The flick is also now Certified Fresh to boot, and stands at a strong 83 percent on the Tomatometer.
Director’s Guild of America President Michael Apted has had a long and varied career in feature films ("Coal Miner’s Daughter," "Gorky Park," "The World is Not Enough," to name a few) but he’s also well-known for the astounding "Up" documentary series, which followed a group of British school kids every seven years of their lives. The latest installment, "49 Up," is in limited release this week and, by the look of its 97 percent Tomatometer rating, measures up to the strong critical acclaim of the previous chapters in the series.
New York film aficionados can catch a true indie, "Blood Tea and Red String," during its one-theater run this week. Director Christine Cagavske reportedly put in 13 years to make this stop-motion fantasy for adults, set solely to an original, lyrical musical score. Even with no dialogue, this tale of aristocratic mice, subordinate woodland creatures, and a coveted doll is beautifully unsettling, with riveting stop-motion animation and ornate details that critics have loved so far, to the tune of a 100 percent Tomatometer.
Christine Cegavske’s "Blood Tea and Red String" — watch the trailer!
Fans of filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell know from his 2001 cult hit "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" that he is a director who pushes boundaries, and his latest, the ensemble sex dramedy "Shortbus," more than meets that expectation. Despite more graphic sex than you’ve probably ever seen before in one place (and all of it actually performed by the film’s daring cast), the film’s examination of relationships, sex, and personal happiness has won over most critics. That’s not to say the sex isn’t shocking, at least by mainstream standards; but Mitchell’s cast members live in their roles (they should, having spent two years honing their characters together) and adventurous moviegoers should buy tickets to satisfy their curiosity. "Shortbus" now has a Tomatometer of 67 percent.
Needless to say, there are scores more indie films currently in release to choose from as your alternatives to the Big Studio Movie. Go out and watch one now!