With what was possibly the most acclaimed independent debut film since Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, first-time director Kimberly Peirce paints an unforgettable portrait of small-town doldrums and gender identity crisis, using the harrowing tale of Teena Brandon, a young Nebraska girl who successfully passed herself off as a male, resulting in a violent attack on her life. Expertly realized by Peirce, the film is straightforward, uncompromised filmmaking, and smartly removes any traces of martyrdom or cheap sentiment in exploring its fascinating lead case study. More than any film about gender identity preceding it, Boys doesn't resort to needless exposition in order to translate the story to the uninitiated. This factor is best actualized by the film's sterling cast, including Hilary Swank in a mesmerizing, dexterous performance as Brandon; Chloe Sevigny, heartbreaking and faultless as Brandon's love interest; and Peter Sarsgaard, hypnotically and believably menacing as one of Brandon's eventual assailants. In a robust Best Actress victory, lead actress Swank managed to beat perennial favorite Annette Bening to the Oscar podium in 1999, proving that being a relatively new talent to motion pictures was by no means a deterrent to the recognition of her significant achievement. (Many noted that not since Simone Signoret's win for 1959's Room at the Top had an actress in an independently-produced film received the statuette.) The events of Boys are also covered in a documentary film about the same subject, The Brandon Teena Story, which recounts some material in a different light.