Jim Jarmusch, known by many on the fringes of the Hollywood industry as “The King of American Independent Cinema” and the worthiest heir to John Cassavetes’ throne, is a director concerned with wanderers. The characters of Jarmusch films are not tourists, but travelers. They are not concerned with going to a particular location, but rather more concerned with the journey itself that can lead to any unknown destination. His stories are populated by the cavalier outcast and misfit. Whether they are hipsters, drifters, drunkards, lost foreigners, smalltime pimps or bums, a Jarmusch character could care less about a destination, but is distracted, entranced and occupied by the aimless wandering that leads him or her to places unexpected and strange, and that is what defines their full, satisfying experience of life.
Permanent Vacation (1980)
– About a young self-professed hipster living in the ghetto who goes out and meets weird characters in the dark parts of NY. The movie is very slow, sometimes very hypnotic and consists of very downtrodden, disturbing characters.
Stranger than Paradise (1984)
– Probably Jarmusch’s signature film, deals with a young hipster who’s Hungarian cousin comes from Europe to visit and he has to ‘deal’ with her. The movie is Jarmusch’s first attempt at looking at cultural differences between Americans and foreigners and how an immigrant’s view of America is shaped from first time encounters.
Down By Law (1986)
– You can consider this one a low-budget independent “Shawshank Redemption”, but instead of the ‘event’ of escape being the center of the story, it is the unique and awkwardly growing friendship between the 3 prison escapees (a radio-jockey, a pimp and an Italian tourist) that makes up the meat of the story. Features an outstanding performance by Roberto Benigni who once again, revisits Jarmusch’s theme of the foreigner assimilating into American culture.
Mystery Train (1989)
– This time, Jarmusch dives head first into the theme of “foreigners in America” as three separate stories (a Japanese couple, an Italian woman and a British man visiting the city of Memphis, Tennessee) unfold and are strangely connected by a train, a hotel and Elvis Presley. This is Jarmsuch’s most ambitious film I believe and is executed with that same dingy, hipster atmosphere he loves.
Night on Earth (1991)
– Jarmusch’s first time working with Hollywood insiders. This anthology movie features taxi drivers in 5 cities and their interesting conversations with their passengers. Stars Gena Rowlands, Winona Rider, Robert Benigni, Giancarlo Esposito and Armin-Mueller Stahl. Benigni’s Italian taxi driver in Rome is a particularly hilarious segment and the New York taxi segment with Muller-Stahl and Esposito is the most endearing and heartfelt. This is one Jarmusch film I would recommend to just about anybody.
Broken Flowers (2005)
– This one got to me because of Bill Murray’s wonderful performance. It is probably Jarmusch’s most ‘popular’ movie and is a tale of love, lust and regret. I wasn’t a huge fan, but many here may want to try it out and see if it works for you.