I rather liked We Own The Night and Two Lovers, written and directed by James Gray, so I thought I should check out Little Odessa (1994) which launched his career to much acclaim and awards.
I did a little research and learned that this was not actually a student film--Gray's student film was called "Cowboys and Angels." Nonetheless, Little Odessa has the feeling of a 35-minute short stretched out to feature length. It has so little action, whether narrative events or interior development of the characters; the characters are so sketchy and generalized, and their choices are without motivation or purpose. Vanessa Redgrave has nothing to do but vomit and die. Tim Roth is a hitman for a criminal organization that doesn't seem to make any money, because all they do is kill each other. Edward Furlong looks sad, because that's what he does. It is hard to imagine such an empty bag of pretension was hailed as the arrival of a new talent. If I'd seen this in 1994, I could never have predicted that Gray would be revealed as an actual talent, albeit a narrow and limited one to date.
The other mark of a student film is that it is based not on human experience, but on other movies. This is understandable, given that film students are generally young with limited experience. But even movies based on other movies have to make some kind of sense. I mean, Tim Roth carries an enormous body wrapped in a bloody sheet down the middle of a Brooklyn street in broad daylight without exciting comment of any kind. This is a movie? Twaddle.
The film received much praise for its moody cinematography by Tom Richmond. He did a good job.