The 50 Best Indie Dramas of All Time

The 50 Best Indie Dramas of All Time

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The one genre that indie movies have perfected is drama, and it’s not just due to budget constraints. Films like Juno and Lady Bird have shown that a realistic, stripped-down approach works best for dramas.

Below are the best indie drama movies as ranked by our staff. 

40. The Believer (2001)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Henry Bean

Actors

A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, Chuck Ardezzone, David Bailey

Moods

Challenging, Intense, Thought-provoking

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

39. To Leslie (2022)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Michael Morris

Actors

Alan Trong, Allison Janney, Andre Royo, Andrea Riseborough

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

To Leslie follows the eponymous Leslie (Andrea Riseborough), a Southern woman who finds herself at the bottom of the barrel after finally using up every penny of her $190k lottery win. Out of work, friends, and family, she drowns herself in alcohol—that is until a kind soul in the form of motel owner Sweeney (Marc Maron) takes her in and gives her a shot.

To Leslie starts off a bit slow, and its premise may seem like it’ll give way to weepiness, but it’s worth sticking by till the end. The film only gets better, especially with the arrival of Maron, whose presence lends the film a much-needed buoyancy. It’s also worth noting that unlike many of its kind, To Leslie avoids the poverty porn trap by depicting issues like addiction and indigence with nuance, honesty, and humanity.

38. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Sophie Hyde

Actors

Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson, Isabella Laughland, Les Mabaleka

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

There are only two main characters in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Nancy, a retired teacher who was recently widowed, and Leo, an adept sex worker with a mysterious past. They’re almost always in one place and work on a single goal: pleasure. But despite the seeming monotony, the movie is crackling with wit and sensuality every step of the way. It doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Nancy and Leo go back and forth about their past, with Nancy divulging much about the stigma of aging and Leo about the stigma of sex work. They also dive into the shame attached to pleasure, ultimately revealing more than just their naked bodies to each other and to the audience.

37. Nightcrawler (2014)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Dan Gilroy

Actors

Ann Cusack, Bill Blair, Bill Paxton, Bill Seward

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Character-driven

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an impromptu freelance videographer who begins covering the crime world in LA for a local TV station. Almost as dark as a mystery can get, it is disturbing, and plays out as a combination of “Drive” and “The Network”.

The film is visually stunning as well as immensely suspenseful. It then becomes almost impossible to look away, even when you’re the most horrified by just how far Bloom is willing to go to reach success. Gyllenhaal’s performance is widely compared to that of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, which should give you an idea of its caliber.

36. Nebraska (2013)

best

8.7

Country

United States of America

Director

Alexander Payne

Actors

Angela McEwan, Anthony G. Schmidt, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Dern

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Original

Nebraska is a poem distilled into a film. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says “is it a comedy or a drama? Both at the same time, as life itself.” Everything about it is perfect: the acting, the photography, the story. In case that’s not enough and you need to know the plot to get convinced, I’ll tell you that it’s a road movie about a senile old man and his son. If you still want more information, you can Google it, but come on! You’ll just be wasting time that would be better spent on watching this masterpiece.

35. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

best

8.7

Country

United States of America

Director

Paul Thomas Anderson

Actors

Adam Sandler, Don McManus, Emily Watson, Hazel Mailloux

Moods

Easy, Lighthearted

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler’s hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson’s incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

34. Philomena (2013)

best

8.8

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Stephen Frears

Actors

Amber Batty, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton

Moods

Character-driven, Feel-Good, Heart-warming

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

33. Kings of Summer (2013)

best

8.8

Country

United States of America

Director

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Actors

Alison Brie, Angela Trimbur, Austin Abrams, Brady Novak

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Quirky

A quirky and lovely coming of age film, the Kings of Summer celebrates the beauty and madness of adolescence and the sheer joy of long summer days. The plot follows three teenage friends, who, in the ultimate act of independence, decide to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land. The house soon becomes a microcosm of their relationships with each other and the world at large, prompting conflict and mirroring their own transformations as they grow. Simple yet powerful, the Kings of Summer has a lot to say.

32. Drive My Car (2021)

best

8.9

Country

Japan

Director

Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Actors

Ahn Hwi-tae, Ahn Hwitae, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jin Dae-yeon

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Slow

In Drive My Car, a widowed artist travels to Hiroshima for his latest production. There he meets a young woman enlisted to drive him around the area. They forge an unexpected bond and soon share pithy observations and long-buried secrets, which culminate in a touching scene of catharsis and forgiveness.

Not a lot is said in this three-hour film, but when words (and signals) are shared, they are always underlaid with simple but transcendent truths. Drive My Car is a gripping film that explores love and loss in its own quiet way, at once intense and intimate.

31. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Dito Montiel

Actors

Adam Scarimbolo, Chance Kelly, Channing Tatum, Chazz Palminteri

Moods

A-list actors, Dramatic, Intense

Not only is this multi-award-winning drama seriously star-studded, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf also deliver superb performances. With two Sundance Awards and many other nominations in its pocket, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the eponymous memoir by author, director, and musician, Dito Montiel, who recalls his violent childhood on the mean streets of Queens in the 1980s (LaBeouf plays the young Dito), as he visits his ailing father after 15 years away in Los Angeles (Downey Jr. plays present-day Dito). It is also real-life Dito’s directorial debut, recalling the loose, improvisational style of 70s cinema a’la Scorcese. The powerful plot is told through flashbacks and fourth-wall bending monologues, while the eccentric directing style makes for a raw and immediate experience. The energy of this coming-of-age drama is off the charts!

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