Take a look at where some of Hollywood’s best and brightest got started. (All of the following ten titles are available for stream on Netflix instant.)
1. Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson took the independent movie scene by storm with his successful breakout film Boogie Nights in 1997, but it was his first movie Hard Eight (alternatively titled Sydney) that launched his career one year earlier. Expanded from the 1993 short Cigarettes & Coffee, which earned an invitation by Sundance to make a first feature, Hard Eight contains all of the early stirrings of the prolific and talented PTA making movies today. The premise is simple: an old man meets a young man outside a diner. The two hit it off and proceed to share casual conversation over cigarettes and coffee. The young man needs money and the old man can teach him how to get it. A quasi father-son friendship develops, repeatedly tested by a series of rather unfortunate events, but this movie isn’t one driven by plot. Instead, Paul Thomas Anderson flashes his dexterity at constructing a subtle yet nuanced story with convincing characters and transports his audience to life’s classroom to learn a light lesson about human nature, all the while delivering a thriller with brilliant style. It’s not difficult to see why the young director was granted the privilege of final cut with only his third feature Magnolia. (Edit: this title is no longer available on Netflix Instant)
2. Following (Christopher Nolan)
Christopher Nolan is the Hollywood Renaissance man responsible for acquainting art house filmmaking with blockbuster moviemaking. It is equal parts enlightening and engaging to experience the modest 70-minute movie that precedes box office hits such as The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. Nolan shot his 1998 debut Following on a budget of just $6,000, assuming screenwriting, directing, editing, and photographic responsibilities, and allotting the majority of his money to 16mm film stock. A proven master of mass appeal, Nolan exercises obvious early abilities here by crafting an accessible movie with an immediately engaging storyline. Following traces the steps of a man named Cobb, a young thrill seeker who thrives off of infiltrating the lives of strangers. He breaks into homes and burglarizes at random, defending his criminal activity with the assurance that his actions teach his victims to reevaluate their lives. Nolan’s established auteurism is already evident in his first feature, with emphases on nonlinear structure, unreliable narration, cinematic realism, and distinct visual style.
3. Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino)
Widely renowned for his cult classic Pulp Fiction, which catapulted independent cinema into its golden age in 1994, Quentin Tarantino established himself as one of film’s frontrunners two years earlier with his first feature Reservoir Dogs. Both movies explicate Tarantino’s trademark style: nonlinearity, glorification of violence, heavy pop culture reference, genre mixing, and obvious homage to neo-noir aesthetics. Reservoir Dogs is a pure, unabashed crime film that depicts the events before and after, though not actually during, a diamond heist. The movie opens with group of eight men, most of whom mask their identities with aliases, seated around a diner table discussing organized crime over breakfast. The rest plays out as an erratic conversation intermittently interrupted by stressful confrontations and graphic assault. Though Reservoir Dogs was mostly met with immediate praise and later gained regard as one of the greatest independent films ever made, Tarantino knows his abrasive and provocative style isn’t for everyone. In a 1992 interview for The Seattle Times he explained, “for some people the violence, or the rudeness of the language, is a mountain they can’t climb. That’s OK. It’s not their cup of tea. But I am affecting them.”