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The 50 Greatest American Independent Movies
Empire celebrates Independence Day the independent way

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As much as blockbusters can thrill us, beyond the well-tended flowerbeds and spacious corner offices of Hollywood there's a world bubbling with creativity, free spirits and up-and-coming talent. Some of the heroes of American indie cinema have gone on to try their hand at multiplex fodder; some have stayed resolutely outside the mainstream. This roll of honour celebrates both, as well as some of the names that didn't achieve the acclaim they deserve. But how you define 'indie'? Do big studios' independent arms count? Should Miramax's output qualify? Our criteria is aesthetic rather than financial: if it feels like an indie, it's in; if it's The Phantom Menace, it's not. Ultimately though, whether they're made for millions or 50p and bits of pocket fluff, it's about great movies that are worth celebrating again...

WORDS SAM TOY, STEPHEN CARTY, DAN JOLIN, JAMES WHITE, HELEN O'HARA, ALI PLUMB, PHILIP DE SEMLYEN
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1. Mean Streets (1973)

Mean Streets

Director: Martin Scorsese

Father Martin Scorsese. Stated simply like that, those three words just don't scan correctly, but if Martin Scorsese had gone with his first love, the priesthood, instead of his second, making movies, we'd never had Goodfellas, or Raging Bull, or Taxi Driver, or Kundun. OK, maybe forget the last one, and replace it with Mean Streets which, to this day, remains probably Scorsese's most personal and powerful work. A strange mixture of seedy violence, frank nudity and the sort of language you'd expect to hear from gangsters in New York's Little Italy, the film is nonetheless drenched in a veil of Catholic guilt (lead Harvey Keitel, as Charlie, a small-time hood who knows that he should get the hell out of the game, constantly chastises and tests himself) and seems to act as a permanent celluloid confessional for Scorsese's baser instincts. For this alone, this gritty Lower East Side drama would be worth noting, but it's also shot through with hints of Scorsese's virtuosity (the wonderful pop-infused soundtrack and the scene where a drunk Keitel teeters through a bar in one disorienting shot), and tantalising glimpses of his future preoccupations: gangsters, the mores of masculinity and a rich and varied partnership with one Mr. R. De Niro, so magnetic here as wildcard wiseguy Johnny Boy. It’s strange to think that with a quirk of casting it could have been Jon Voight joining the ranks of the mooks. 

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Your Comments

1 Love it but...
Great list and of course there is no way to fit in more in a list of just 50. I'm missing Badlands on this one. It's a masterpiece and probably Malick's best. More

Posted by scparegien on Tuesday August 20, 2013, 15:55

2 No documentaries?
Great list, but would have liked some documentaries on the list. Fantastic with inclusion of 'In Search of a Midnight Kiss', but would have liked to see 'Zero Day' (http://indiemondo.com/zero-day/) on the list as well. More

Posted by indiemondo.com on Saturday June 15, 2013, 19:23

3 Great Feature Film Shot On DSLR
Hot New Indie Film "STEEL CHAMBER" (Suspense/Thriller) You Can Play A Major Role In Its Success! Watch Trailer: http://tinyurl.com/SteelChamberMovie Get Behind This Indie Film! More

Posted by bobbywash on Monday April 15, 2013, 07:15

4 RE: I booked Christopher Cross
Support for that? More

Posted by elab49 on Monday April 1, 2013, 10:09

5 I booked Christopher Cross
A great list, but most of these are unavailable to stream on Netflix. This is quite lame. It's time for these studios and distributors to ante up and accept the fact that most people are not going to purchase DVD's anymore. More

Posted by TikiMan on Sunday March 31, 2013, 05:02

6 The best of the best is not on this list
I've seen the vast majority of the movies on this list, and I agree that they all belong on the list. But, in my opinion the best independent movie of all time is: Special (2006). More

Posted by jay.baker on Sunday January 20, 2013, 03:53

7 What the hell?
Most of the list was correct, but the fact you forgot Halloween is amazing. That had a very low budget and it helped pave the way for other horror indies (like the Last House On the Left, or Friday the 13th). More

Posted by RicoDiGiorgio on Friday November 23, 2012, 17:21

8 RE:
Fine list which makes makes me want to watch a lot of those films. One MAJOR flaw to the list which is I think is a crime: Where the hell is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? More

Posted by R W on Monday July 4, 2011, 13:13

9 RE: The 50 Greatest American Independent Movies
A well-considered list; although I'm sure many will question why their favourites etc aren't on there. With this in mind, here's a cursory handful worth looking into if the American Indie list there gets anyone interested: The Living End (Gregg Araki) Gummo (Harmony Korine) Ken Park (Larry Clark) More

Posted by Keyser_So_So on Monday July 4, 2011, 01:32

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