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. 

20. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

best

9.0

Country

Belgium, France, Spain

Director

Abdellatif Kechiche

Actors

Adèle Exarchopoulos, Alain Duclos, Alika Del Sol, Alma Jodorowsky

Moods

Intense, Original, Thought-provoking

More simply called La Vie d’Adèle in its native language, this French coming-of-age movie was hugely successful when it came out and was probably one of the most talked-about films of the time. On the one hand, the usual puritans came to the fore, criticizing the lengthy and graphic sex scenes. On the other hand, Julie Maroh, who wrote the source material that inspired the script, denounced Franco-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche for directing with his d*ck, if you don’t mind me saying so, while also being an on-set tyrant. Whatever you make of this in hindsight, the only way to know is to watch this powerfully acted drama about the titular Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and her infatuation with Emma, a free-spirited girl with blue hair, played by Léa Seydoux. The film beautifully and realistically portrays Adele’s evolution from a teenage high-school girl to a grown, confident woman. As their relationship matures, so does Adèle, and she slowly begins to outgrow her sexual and philosophical mentor. Whatever your final verdict on the controversial sex scene, Blue Is the Warmest Color is without doubt an outstanding film as are the performances from Exarchopoulos and Séydoux.

19. God’s Own Country (2017)

best

9.1

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Francis Lee

Actors

Alec Secareanu, Alexander Suvandjiev, Gemma Jones, Harry Lister Smith

Moods

Lovely, Romantic

You might call Francis Lee’s spellbinding debut a Call me By Your Name without the privilege and pretentiousness, and we think it’s a better movie because of it. God’s Own Country tells the story of Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), a farmer’s son who is trapped working on the family farm, who dulls his frustration and misery with binging at the pub and aggressive sex with strange men—his true desire is not so much repressed by society’s rampant homophobia here, but by his family’s emotional callousness. When his strict and icy father suffers a stroke, things get worse for him still. Then, during lambing season, help arrives in the shape of watchful, radiant, and strikingly handsome Romanian seasonal worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), whose warmth of character and professional competence feels threatening to Johnny at first. But when they withdraw to the hills to repair a stone wall, Johnny’s aggression gives way to passion as Gheorghe helps him to feel, to love, and to see beauty in the country around him. God’s own country. A beautiful, stirring, and passionate debut!

18. Blue Jay (2016)

best

9.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Alex Lehmann, Alexandre Lehmann

Actors

Alex Lehmann, Clu Gulager, James Andrews, Mark Duplass

Moods

Character-driven, Grown-up Comedy, Romantic

Being an intimate, black-and-white portrayal of just two people, it is worth mentioning the two leads in the very first sentence: Blue Jay stars the incredibly versatile Sarah Paulson, who most of you will know from her depiction of Marcia Clark in The People vs. O.J., and Mark Duplass from Creep. In this incredibly intricate dialogue-driven drama, he is of course named Jim, a regular guy with some issues, who runs into his high-school sweetheart Amanda at the grocery store. She is only in town briefly because her sister is having a baby. Amanda agrees to have coffee with him, later they get beer and jellybeans, and find themselves recreating silly tapes at his late mother’s house that they use to make when they were still at school. This could quickly become a soppy affair if it wasn’t for the heart-felt realness of the acting, for lack of a better term, and all the fine details that the two leads bring to the screen. The chemistry between them is something to behold!

17. Beginners (2010)

best

9.1

Country

Poland, United States of America

Director

Mike Mills

Actors

Algerita Wynn Lewis, Amanda Payton, Bambadjan Bamba, Bruce French

Moods

Dramatic, Grown-up Comedy, Romantic

Told through a series of flashbacks and personal archival footage, Beginners gives us the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a 38-year-old graphic designer from Los Angeles, and his two parents across three timeframes. Oliver has never had a meaningful relationship. Six months after his mother dies, his father, Hal, played by the amazing, Academy Award-winning, and, sadly, late Christopher Plummer, comes out to Oliver. He lives the last days of his life in liberation and, well, gaiety, before protracting terminal cancer. Some months later, Oliver meets Anna at a party, a young French actress (Mélanie Laurent) who is beautiful and warm-hearted, and they start an affair. Through this all, there’s Arthur, a Parson Jack Russell. But don’t worry. He doesn’t talk. Beginners is a beautiful and intricate film about finding love and happiness. It’s funny, warm, and sincere. A beautiful movie.

16. Mary and Max (2009)

best

9.1

Country

Australia

Director

Adam Elliot

Actors

Barry Humphries, Bethany Whitmore, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Christopher Massey

Moods

Grown-up Comedy

Mary and Max is the tale of an overlooked 8-year-old girl from Australia starting an unlikely friendship via mail with a middle-aged Jewish man from New York. Shot completely in monocromatic claymotion, it is the first feature film by Australian stop-motion animation writer, Adam Elliot, and the first ever animated film to score the opening slot at Sundance Festival. In all its playful absurdity, Mary and Max is an emotional and wise gem of a film that examines the human condition through the eyes of a troubled child and an autistic American. In contrast to its clay-based animation, it deals with some pretty dark and adult themes, but succeeds in balancing those with happiness and absurd humor. Moreover, Elliott gathered an ensemble cast to do the voice-overs, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana. We recommend it 8 condensed milks out of 10.

15. Hell or High Water (2016)

best

9.2

Country

United States of America

Director

David Mackenzie

Actors

Alma Sisneros, Amber Midthunder, Ben Foster, Buck Taylor

Moods

Raw, Suspenseful, Well-acted

Written by actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and directed by David Mackenzie (who is responsible for the prison drama Starred up), this well-acted Western is one of the most captivating movies of 2016. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play two brothers, one cautious and out to better himself, the other, an ex-convict with an itchy trigger finger, whose family ranch is threatened by the local bank. Both set out to make a high-risk living of travelling and robbing that bank’s local branches. On the other side of town, grizzled Texas ranger Marcus, played by none other than Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges, has one foot in retirement but is bent on solving their case. The film’s spectacular cinematography is reinforced by the brooding original music, composed by none other than Nick Cave and long-time collaborator Warren Ellis. It takes you on a journey that is as much about the two brothers’ violent upbringing as it is about the decaying towns they visit, making this modern-day crime western not only a great thriller but a tribute to the Texan way of life.

14. The Wrestler (2008)

best

9.3

Country

France, United States of America

Director

Darren Aronofsky

Actors

Abraham Aronofsky, Ajay Naidu, Alex Whybrow, Alyssa Bresnahan

Moods

Emotional, Thrilling, Well-acted

In 2008, legendary and controversial director Darren Aronofsky delivered yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime, who is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose, and dignity later in life. Rourke, who worked as a professional boxer in his 90s and, like his protagonist, almost hung his hat at the time the movie was shot, delivers a once-in-a-lifetime performance that rightly earned him a Golden Globe. Everybody talked about this movie when it came out! Marisa Tomei’s performance, who plays the mid-40s stripper The Ram pursues a serious relationship with, was also deemed iconic by some critics. Shot on 16mm film, The Wrestler’s cinematography, like its acting, feels incredibly raw, intimate, and realistic. It is essentially about bouncing back, making amends, and growing old and features acting performances that will be remembered for a long time. One for the books!

13. After the Wedding (2006)

best

9.3

Country

Denmark, Norway, Sweden

Director

Female director, Susanne Bier

Actors

Anne Fletting, Christian Tafdrup, Claus Flygare, Erni Arneson

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Emotional

Danish films somehow have a unique approach to emotions that are rarely matched and this Susanne Bier-directed drama is no exception. Its protagonist is Jacob Peterson, a driven idealist played by Mads Mikkelsen, who runs a fledgling orphanage in India. Close to giving up, Peterson returns to Copenhagen to meet a billionaire, who is offering to fund his charity project. However, there is a dark secret at the heart of this relationship, throwing Peterson into disarray. This elegant and Academy-Award-nominated Danish film has it all: fantastic cast, great direction, and a few special ingredients that turn a good drama into a thrilling one!

12. Wind River (2017)

best

9.4

Country

Canada, France, UK

Director

Taylor Sheridan

Actors

Althea Sam, Apesanahkwat, Austin R. Grant, Blake Robbins

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Suspenseful

Phenomenal and heartbreaking, Wind River is a true masterpiece by Taylor Sheridan, the man behind Sicario and Hell or High Water. In a Native American Reservation, a local girl is found dead and a young detective (Elizabeth Olsen) tries to uncover the mystery. She is accompanied by a tracker (Jeremy Renner) with his own dark history in the community. It’s not a very rewarding movie at first, so don’t expect an incredibly fast-paced story from the get-go. However, when everything unfolds, it’s not only action-packed, its reflections on indigenous communities are deep and poignant. How this remains a relatively known movie is shocking, it has to be one of the best mysteries of the past 20 years.

11. You Can Count on Me (2000)

best

9.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Kenneth Lonergan

Actors

Adam LeFevre, Amy Ryan, Betsy Aidem, Gaby Hoffmann

Moods

Character-driven, Heart-warming, Warm

Written and directed by Academy-Award-winning Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea, Gangs of New York), you can certainly count on the qualities of this subtle, beautiful, and moving drama about two siblings growing apart and reuniting later in life.

An Academy-Award-nominated Laura Linney plays Sammy, a single mother in a small town who is extremely protective of her 8-year-old son. When her younger and somewhat troubled brother Terry (played by the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo) visits her out of the blue, Sammy has to deal with a slew of contradicting emotions towards her brother, whose appearance threatens to upend her life as she knew it.

Straight, thoughtful, and beautifully crafted, You Can Count on Me is an honest and genuine exploration of unconditional love in celluloid form. Think of it as much more hopeful The Skeleton Twins.

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