1. Stranger than Paradise — directed by Jim Jarmusch. Composed entirely of awkward long-takes … a low-key, black-and-white film that captured everything that was cool about off-Hollywood movies, circa 1984.
2. Repo Man — directed by Alex Cox. Also 1984. Punk aesthetics, extraterrestrials in urban LA, something about a plate of shrimp … and it all ends in a radioactive car floating above downtown LA … a unique sensibility at the very moment dumb blockbusters were about all Hollywood could muster.
3. Big Lebowski — The Coen brothers’ funniest and best film … at once a lampoon of the classic detective story and a celebration of the slacker generation in which “the Dude,” who “just abides,” is a hero.
4. Sugar — A simple premise: a pitcher from the Dominican Republic lands in rural Iowa … what follows defies expectation at every turn … a baseball film that isn’t really about baseball. Released in 2008, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the same team that wrote and directed the terrific 2006 indie: Half Nelson.
5. Pi — So much style, such a crazy plot (featuring killer rabbis trying to corner the stock market!) … Darren Aronofsky’s unique jump cut style is relentless and unsettling. (1998)
Halloween: Few today think about John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher picture as anything more than a B-horror title, but it’s a terrific, compact little film that was in its day terrifying. With a production budget of around $300,000, and initially released by tiny Compass International, it is a truly independent film.
Tetro: I’m a big Coppola fan, and I really liked this little family melodrama. It’s certainly beautiful to look at (which is unusual for an independent film), shot lavishly on location in Argentina in black and white. Coppola financed and distributed the film himself … it’s hard to think of a more independent, independent film.
Read Leading Man, a profile of Oregon State University distinguished professor Jon Lewis.