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Movies of Interest to Filmmakers, N-Z

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Interesting New Year's Day (2000) Two 17-year-old boys mark the new year by doing twelve dangerous but exciting tasks set for them by their friends. The boys decide to live for one more year then commit suicide after their classmates are killed in a school tragedy. But they can only take their own lives after completing a mysterious series of tasks written in blood in "The Book Of Life".
Must Have! The Piano Jane Campion's The Piano struck a deep chord (if you'll excuse the expression) with audiences in 1993, who were mesmerized by the film's rich, dreamlike imagery. It is the story of a Scottish woman named Ada (Holly Hunter), who has been mute since age 6 because she simply chose not to speak. Ada travels with her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) and her beloved piano to a remote spot on the coast of New Zealand for an arranged marriage to a farmer (Sam Neill). She gives piano lessons to a gruff neighbor (Harvey Keitel) who has Maori tattoos on his face, and, well, things develop from there. The picture takes on a powerful dream logic that simply defies synopsis. It's a breathtakingly beautiful and original achievement from Campion, a unique stylist. The Piano won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Oscars for Hunt, Paquin, and Campion's screenplay.
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Must Have! Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Only available in a set with the rest of the series.) As with Star Wars, the George Lucas-produced Indiana Jones trilogy was not just a plaything for kids but an act of nostalgic affection toward a lost phenomenon: the cliffhanging movie serials of the past. Episodic in structure and with fate hanging in the balance about every 10 minutes, the Jones features tapped into Lucas's extremely profitable Star Wars formula of modernizing the look and feel of an old, but popular, story model. Steven Spielberg directed all three films, which are set in the late 1930s and early '40s: the comic book-like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the spooky, Gunga Din-inspired Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the cautious but entertaining Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Fans and critics disagree over the order of preference, some even finding the middle movie nearly repugnant in its violence. (Pro-Temple of Doom people, on the other hand, believe that film to be the most disarmingly creative and emotionally effective of the trio.) One thing's for sure: Harrison Ford's swaggering, two-fisted, self-effacing performance worked like a charm, and the art of cracking bullwhips was probably never quite the iconic activity it soon became after Raiders. Supporting players and costars were very much a part of the series, too--Karen Allen, Sean Connery (as Indie's dad), Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Denholm Elliot, River Phoenix, and John Rhys-Davies among them. Years have passed since the last film (another is supposedly in the works), but emerging film buffs can have the same fun their predecessors did picking out numerous references to Hollywood classics and B-movies of the past.
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Must Have! Rear Window (Collector's Edition) (1954) Like the Greenwich Village courtyard view from its titular portal, Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window is both confined and multileveled: both its story and visual perspective are dictated by its protagonist's imprisonment in his apartment, convalescing in a wheelchair, from which both he and the audience observe the lives of his neighbors. Cheerful voyeurism, as well as the behavior glimpsed among the various tenants, affords a droll comic atmosphere that gradually darkens when he sees clues to what may be a murder.
Recommended Reservoir Dogs (1992) Quentin Tarantino came out of nowhere and turned Hollywood on its ear in 1992 with his explosive first feature, Reservoir Dogs. Like Tarantino's mainstream breakthrough Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs has an unconventional structure, cleverly shuffling back and forth in time to reveal details about the characters, experienced criminals who know next to nothing about each other. Joe (Lawrence Tierney) has assembled them to pull off a simple heist, and has gruffly assigned them color-coded aliases (Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink, Mr. White) to conceal their identities from being known even to each other. But something has gone wrong, and the plan has blown up in their faces. One by one, the surviving robbers find their way back to their prearranged warehouse hideout. There, they try to piece together the chronology of this bloody fiasco--and to identify the traitor among them who tipped off the police.
Interesting Return of the Secaucus 7 John Sayles began his commendable directing career with this terrific portrait of 1960s counterculture survivors, now teetering on the brink of turning 30. A homegrown movie all the way, Return of the Secaucus Seven was made for around $60,000 of Sayles's own money (earned writing horror pictures such as Piranha). An effortlessly funny and thoughtful ensemble piece, Secaucus unmistakably provided the template for the bigger-budgeted The Big Chill: old friends reunite for a weekend to sort through fond memories, old resentments, and new problems. The marvelous back-and-forth patter of the characters and the sprightly pacing show Sayles already had a sure sense of what he wanted on screen. This is the definition of "low-budget classic," from an indie pioneer.
Interesting Rope (1948) An early experimental film masquerading as a standard Hollywood thriller. The plot of Rope is simple and based on a successful stage play: two young men (John Dall and Farley Granger) commit murder, more or less as an intellectual exercise. They hide the body in their large apartment, then throw a dinner party. Will the body be discovered? Director Alfred Hitchcock, fascinated by the possibilities of the long-take style, decided to shoot this story as though it were happening in one long, uninterrupted shot. Since the camera can only hold one 10-minute reel at a time, Hitchcock had to be creative when it came time to change reels, disguising the switches as the camera passed behind someone's back or moved behind a lamp. In later years Hitchcock wrote off the approach as misguided, and Rope may not be one of Hitchcock's top movies, but it's fascinating viewing for filmmakers seeking new ways to express their art.
Must Have! Seven Samurai Unanimously hailed as one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of the motion picture, Seven Samurai has inspired countless films modeled after its basic premise. But Akira Kurosawa's classic 1954 action drama has never been surpassed in terms of sheer power of emotion, kinetic energy, and dynamic character development. The story is set in the 1600s, when the residents of a small Japanese village are seeking protection against repeated attacks by a band of marauding thieves. Offering mere handfuls of rice as payment, they hire seven unemployed "ronin" (masterless samurai), including a boastful swordsman (Toshiro Mifune) who is actually a farmer's son desperately seeking glory and acceptance. The samurai get acquainted with but remain distant from the villagers, knowing that their assignment may prove to be fatal. The climactic battle with the raiding thieves remains one of the most breathtaking sequences ever filmed. It's poetry in hyperactive motion and one of Kurosawa's crowning cinematic achievements. This is not a film that can be well served by any synopsis; it must be seen to be appreciated (accept nothing less than its complete 203-minute version) and belongs on the short list of any definitive home-video library.
Must Have! The Shawshank Redemption (Two-Disc Special Edition) When this popular prison drama was released in 1994, some critics complained that the movie was too long (142 minutes) to sustain its story. Those complaints miss the point, because the passage of time is crucial to this story about patience, the squeaky wheels of justice, and the growth of a life-long friendship. Only when the film reaches its final, emotionally satisfying scene do you fully understand why writer-director Frank Darabont (adapting a novella by Stephen King) allows the story to unfold at its necessary pace, and the effect is dramatically rewarding. Tim Robbins plays a banker named Andy who's sent to Shawshank Prison on a murder charge, but as he gets to know a life-term prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman), we realize there's reason to believe the banker's crime was justifiable. We also realize that Andy's calm, quiet exterior hides a great reserve of patience and fortitude, and Red comes to admire this mild-mannered man who first struck him as weak and unfit for prison life. So it is that The Shawshank Redemption builds considerable impact as a prison drama that defies the conventions of the genre (violence, brutality, riots) to illustrate its theme of faith, friendship, and survival. Nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor, and Screenplay, it's a remarkable film that signaled the arrival of a promising new filmmaker--a film that many movie lovers count among their all-time favorites.
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Must Have! The Silence of the Lambs (Full Screen Special Edition) Based on Thomas Harris's novel, this terrifying film by Jonathan Demme really only contains a couple of genuinely shocking moments (one involving an autopsy, the other a prison break). The rest of the film is a splatter-free visual and psychological descent into the hell of madness, redeemed astonishingly by an unlikely connection between a monster and a haunted young woman. Anthony Hopkins is extraordinary as the cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, virtually entombed in a subterranean prison for the criminally insane. At the behest of the FBI, agent-in-training Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) approaches Lecter, requesting his insights into the identity and methods of a serial killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). In exchange, Lecter demands the right to penetrate Starling's most painful memories, creating a bizarre but palpable intimacy that liberates them both under separate but equally horrific circumstances. Demme, a filmmaker with a uniquely populist vision (Melvin and Howard, Something Wild), also spent his early years making pulp for Roger Corman (Caged Heat), and he hasn't forgotten the significance of tone, atmosphere, and the unsettling nature of a crudely effective close-up. Much of the film, in fact, consists of actors staring straight into the camera (usually from Clarice's point of view), making every bridge between one set of eyes to another seem terribly dangerous.
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Must Have! Sleepless in Seattle The director and stars of 1998's You've Got Mail scored a breakthrough hit with this hugely popular romantic comedy from 1993, about a recently engaged woman (Meg Ryan) who hears the sad story of a grieving widower (Tom Hanks) on the radio and believes that they're destined to be together. She's single in New York, he lives in Seattle with a young son, but the cross-country attraction proves irresistible, and pretty soon Meg's on a westbound flight. What happens from there is ... well, you must have been living in a cave to have let this sweet-hearted comedy slip below your pop-cultural radar. There's little complexity or depth to writer-director Nora Ephron's cheesy tale of a romantic fait accompli, and more than a little contrivance to the subplots that threaten to keep Hanks and Ryan from actually meeting. But the purity of star chemistry here is hard to deny, and this may be the first film to indicate the more serious and sympathetic side of Hanks that is revealed in later roles. With its clever jokes about "chick movies" and repeated homage to the classic weeper An Affair to Remember, this may not be everybody's brand of amorous entertainment, but it's got an old-Hollywood charm that appeals to many a movie fan.
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Must Have! Some Like It Hot Maybe "nobody's perfect," as one character in this masterpiece suggests. But some movies are perfect, and Some Like It Hot is one of them. In Chicago, during the Prohibition era, two skirt-chasing musicians, Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon), inadvertently witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. In order to escape the wrath of gangland chief Spats Colombo (George Raft), the boys, in drag, join an all-woman band headed for Florida. They vie for the attention of the lead singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), a much-disappointed songbird who warbles "I'm Through with Love" but remains vulnerable to yet another unreliable saxophone player. (When Curtis courts her without his dress, he adopts the voice of Cary Grant--a spot-on impersonation.) The script by director Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond is beautifully measured; everything works, like a flawless clock. Aspiring screenwriters would be well advised to throw away the how-to books and simply study this film. The bulk of the slapstick is handled by an unhinged Lemmon and the razor-sharp Joe E. Brown, who plays a horny retiree smitten by Jerry's feminine charms. For all the gags, the film is also wonderfully romantic, as Wilder indulges in just the right amounts of moonlight and the lilting melody of "Park Avenue Fantasy." Some Like It Hot is so delightfully fizzy, it's hard to believe the shooting of the film was a headache, with an unhappy Monroe on her worst behavior. The results, however, are sublime.
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Must Have! Star Wars Trilogy (Widescreen Edition with Bonus Disc) The Star Wars Trilogy had the rare distinction of becoming a cultural phenomenon, a defining event for its generation. On its surface, George Lucas's story is a rollicking and humorous space fantasy that owes debts to more influences than one can count on two hands, but filmgoers became entranced by its basic struggle of good vs. evil "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," its dazzling special effects, and a mythology of Jedi knights, the Force, and droids. Over the course of three films--A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)--Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and the roguish Han Solo (Harrison Ford) join the Rebel alliance in a galactic war against the Empire, the menacing Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), and eventually the all-powerful Emperor (Ian McDiarmid).
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Interesting Swimming Pool (Unrated Version) Sarah Morton is a famous British mystery author. Tired of London and seeking inspiration for her new novel, she accepts an offer from her publisher John Bosload to stay at his home in the South of France. Sarah finds that the beautiful country locale and unhurried pace is just the tonic for her--until John's indolent and insouciant French daughter Julie unexpectedly arrives. Sarah's prim and steely English reserve is jarred by Julie's reckless, sexually charged lifestyle. Their interactions set off an increasingly unsettling series of events, as Sarah's creative process and a possible real-life murder begin to blend dangerously together.
Interesting Tape (2001) Based on a three-character, one-act play, Tape is set entirely in Room 19 of a seedy motel in Lansing, Michigan rented by Vince, a ill-tempered, outgoing party animal/drug dealer who's visited by his old high school friend Jon, a documentary filmmaker, where they pass the time reminiscing about the good old times which take a turn when Vince records their conversation with Jon admitting to a possible date-rape of Vince's old girlfriend Amy, who later shows up and opens up a new wave of talk and arguments about whose story is fact or fabricated.
Must Have! Thelma & Louise Thelma & Louise is a feminist manifesto writ large on the big screen, a smart and funny gender reversal of the standard Hollywood buddy formula, a road movie extraordinaire, with characters who became instant cultural icons. No matter how you define it, Ridley Scott's 1991 box-office hit pinched a nerve and made the cover of national news magazines for tweaking gender politics like no movie before or since. Callie Khouri's screenplay overhauls the buddy formula with its story about two best friends (Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis) who embark on a liberating adventure that turns into an interstate police chase after a traumatic incident makes both women into fugitives; they are en route to a destiny they could never have imagined. The perfect casting of Sarandon and Davis makes Thelma & Louise a movie for the ages, and Brad Pitt became an overnight star after his appearance as the con-artist cowboy who gives Davis a memorable (but costly) night in a roadside motel.
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Interesting THX 1138 is a minimalist SciFi movie about a future world without individual rights. Filmed on a low budget it still manages to create a very rich world. Lucas added some minor CGI "fixes" to this version. You also get many extra features including the original student film that inspired the feature. Worth seeing for all the extras and to see the early work of a modern master filmmaker. If you're into Lucas or SciFi this is must viewing.
Must Have! Titanic When the theatrical release of James Cameron's Titanic was delayed from July to December of 1997, media pundits speculated that Cameron's $200-million disaster epic would cause the director's downfall, signal the end of the blockbuster era, and sink Paramount Pictures as quickly as the ill-fated luxury liner had sunk on that fateful night of April 14, 1912. Titanic would surpass the $1-billion mark in global box-office receipts, win 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director, launch the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time, and make a global superstar of Leonardo DiCaprio. A bona fide pop-cultural phenomenon, the film has all the ingredients of a blockbuster (romance, passion, luxury, grand scale, a snidely villain, and an epic, life-threatening crisis), but Cameron's alchemy of these ingredients proved more popular than anyone could have predicted. His stroke of genius was to combine absolute authenticity with a pair of fictional lovers whose tragic fate would draw viewers into the heart-wrenching reality of the Titanic disaster. As starving artist Jack Dawson and soon-to-be-married socialite Rose DeWitt Bukater, DiCaprio and Kate Winslet won the hearts of viewers around the world, and their brief, but never forgotten, love affair provides the humanity that Cameron needed to turn Titanic into a moving emotional experience. Although some of the computer-generated visual effects look artificial, others--such as the climactic splitting of the ship's sinking hull--are state-of-the-art marvels of cinematic ingenuity. It's an event film and a monument to Cameron's risk-taking audacity, blending the tragic irony of the Titanic disaster with just enough narrative invention to give the historical event its fullest and most timeless dramatic impact.
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Must Have! Unforgiven (Two-Disc Special Edition) Winner of four Academy Awards, including best picture, director, supporting actor, and best editing, Clint Eastwood's 1992 masterpiece stands as one of the greatest and most thematically compelling Westerns ever made. "The movie summarized everything I feel about the Western," said Eastwood at the time of the film's release. "The moral is the concern with gunplay." To illustrate that theme, Eastwood stars as a retired, once-ruthless killer-turned-gentle-widower and hog farmer. He accepts one last bounty-hunter mission--to find the men who brutalized a prostitute--to help support his two motherless children. Joined by his former partner (Morgan Freeman) and a cocky greenhorn (Jaimz Woolvett), he takes on a corrupt sheriff (Oscar winner Gene Hackman) in a showdown that makes the viewer feel the full impact of violence and its corruption of the soul. Dedicated to Eastwood's mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel and featuring a colorful role for Richard Harris, it's arguably Eastwood's crowning directorial achievement. The digital video disc offers standard and widescreen formats and a remastered soundtrack.
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