The Independents Have Their Day: The Top Indie Filmmakers of 2011

March 28th, 2012

Independent film directors made a huge splash in 2011. With a mix of old favorites and new blood, these filmmakers presented material to audiences that challenged and inspired them. This eclectic view led to critical acclaim and numerous accolades. With four of the nine Academy Award nominations for Best Picture being independent productions, this was truly a year where the Indie spirit connected to the masses.

Michael Hazanavicius

Michel Hazanavicius is a French director whose film 'The Artist' won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film, which starred frequent collaborator Jean Dujardin, premiered in Cannes and has gone on to win massive critical acclaim. Hazanivicius also won an Oscar for Best Director.

Hazanavicius is known in his native France for his 'OSS 117' series. Also starring Dujardin, the spoof films were major hits in Europe before being distributed in the United States. 'The Artist' followed a similar template by gently spoofing silent films, before taking a turn towards more dramatic territory. The black-and-white silent film defied expectations and has slowly become a minor hit for Hazaniavicius and distributors The Weinstein Company.

Following his win over Hollywood titans Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, Hazanivicius is directing a section of 'The Players' with Jean Durkardin. He will follow that up with a remake of Fred Zeinnemann's 'The Search.'

Mike Mills

Mike Mills' sophomore effort, 'Beginners,' brought him rave reviews, an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay and an Oscar for Christopher Plummer. Mills first came onto the scene as a music video director for Moby, Yoko Ono and Air before making his film debut with 'Thumbsucker.' While his visual style and directing acumen were well noted, few could anticipate the emotional depth of 'Beginners.'

Based on Mills' personal experiences, 'Beginners' deals with a son (Ewan McGregor) who must accept his father (Christopher Plummer), who has announced he is gay following the death of his wife. Dealing with numerous contemporary issues and societal taboos, the film took what could've been a morose topic and turned it into a life-affirming motion picture.

Woody Allen

Acclaimed director Woody Allen has been making independent films for decades, often putting together his movies on a small budget. His 2011 film, 'Midnight in Paris' became his highest grossing film ever and returned him to prominence amongst critics and audiences.

The film, which sees a frustrated writer (Owen Wilson) travel back to 1920's France to meet such literary stalwarts as Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddelton), also earned Allen an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Not one to rest on his laurels, he is working on his latest film, 'To Rome With Love', which is due out in 2012.

Alexander Payne

With his first film in seven years, director Alexander Payne returned to the forefront of the independent film world. As a satirist of American culture, Payne's 'The Descendants' is just the latest in a long line of critically acclaimed films that include 'Election' and 'Sideways.' Starring George Clooney, the film deals with several of Payne's favorite themes, including adultery and dysfunctional family relationships.

Payne won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 'The Descendants' with writing partners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. He also produced Miguel Arteta's 'Cedar Rapids,' keeping himself at the forefront of the Indie film world.

Terrence Malick

Director Terrence Malick's latest visual poem, 'The Tree of Life' was critically acclaimed, but audiences were divided on it. Starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, the non-linear film experimented with what a film could do visually, taking viewers through the life of a contentious relationship between a father and son. It won the Palm d'or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

Malick, who has a reputation for being private, has only released five films in his four-decade career. He is currently shooting two films that could be released in 2012 and 2013.