The 50 Best Indie Movies of All-Time

The 50 Best Indie Movies of All-Time

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agoodmovietowatch is a platform that recommends little-known but acclaimed movies – films you haven’t yet seen that you are likely to enjoy. Naturally, many indie movies fall in this category. 

“Indie” used to refer to the way the film was made, a comment about its low-budget or lack of association with big studios. But recently, it has morphed into its own genre. Calling a movie “indie” is like saying it is a comedy, it means that it has very specific characteristics. 

The genre has been overexploited, but many new releases still stand out every year. So, looking back at the evolution of the genre, here are the 50 best indie movies of all-time as ranked by our staff. 

20. Secretary (2002)

7.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Steven Shainberg

Actors

Amy Locane, Ezra Buzzington, James Spader, Jeremy Davies

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

19. Compartment Number 6 (2021)

7.6

Country

Estonia, Finland, Germany

Director

Juho Kuosmanen

Actors

Dinara Drukarova, Polina Aug, Seidi Haarla, Sergey Agafonov

Moods

Dramatic, Heart-warming, Slice-of-Life

In Compartment Number 6, two different people strike an unlikely friendship during a train ride from Moscow to Murmansk. One is Laura, a Finnish student looking to observe ancient rock carvings at their destination, and the other is Ljoha, a gruff miner who hopes to secure a job once there. While the pair are initially unable to get on the same page, their friction eventually lends way to curiosity and empathy, especially as they learn more about each other and life itself.

It’s a great film to put on if you’re a fan of smart but subdued movies like the Before trilogy and Lost in Translation, and there is a lot to mine beyond their already-rich conversations, especially in terms of class and romance. It’s little wonder then that this delightful two-hander shares the 2021 Grand Prix award with another brilliant piece of art, Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero.

18. Leona (2018)

7.6

Country

Mexico

Director

Isaac Cherem

Actors

Adriana Llabrés, Carlos Aragón, Carolina Politi, Christian Vazquez

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

Present-day Mexico City—Ariela comes from a Jewish family that insists on getting married only to people of the same religion. This rule is complicated when Ariela falls in love with the non-Jewish Iván. She is then faced with the dilemma of choosing herself or her family, who for all their severity, she still loves deeply.

Leona’s modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet recalls the likes of Crazy Rich Asians and The Big Sick, but unlike those big-budgeted movies, this intimate Spanish-language film exchanges melodrama for restraint, and it’s all the better for it. Leona is a quietly moving story that’s easy to relate to, despite the specificity of its premise.

17. Croupier (1998)

7.6

Country

France, Germany, Ireland

Director

Mike Hodges

Actors

Alex Kingston, Alexander Morton, Barnaby Kay, Clive Owen

Moods

A-list actors, Suspenseful, Thrilling

Clive Owen stars as a struggling writer who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to work as a croupier at a London casino. His characteristic aloofness, hatred of gambling, and sharp observational skills allow him to remain uncompromised and able to catch any attempt at cheating within his field of vision. But when a savvy professional gambler he shares an attraction with asks him to participate in a heist in an uncompromised way, he’s forced to consider playing the angles. Owen’s coolly detached performance is a marvel, and the depiction of the London casino scene is detailed and gritty, both of which make for compelling British noir.

16. One Cut of the Dead (2017)

7.8

Country

Japan

Director

Shin'ichirō Ueda

Actors

Ayana Goda, Donguri, Harumi Shuhama, Harumi Syuhama

Moods

Action-packed, Challenging, Grown-up Comedy

Another indie zombie movie? Far from it. One Cut of the Dead, written and directed by Shin’ichirô Ueda, became a global sensation following its small theatrical run in Japan for its creative and original screenplay. A hack director and film crew are shooting a low-budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility when they are attacked by real zombies. That’s all you need to know about the plot, as the film is full of surprises that will catch you off guard. Wondering how an independent film with a budget of just $25,000 was able to gross over $30 million worldwide? The answer lies in the film itself. 

15. Buddies (1985)

7.8

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Arthur J. Bressan Jr.

Actors

David Schachter, Geoff Edholm, Tracy Vivat

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Thought-provoking

Robert lies dying in hospital, an activist still raging against the lack of financial support and mainstream acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis. David volunteers to be his “buddy” while he’s bedbound, keeping him company and conversing. He’s less bothered by how the world treats homosexuality and AIDS, and although he commits to sticking by Robert, he’s doubtful of the need for his protests.

The film is firmly on Robert’s side, giving him space to shout and show frustration. What’s more, Buddies never treats sex as dirty or dangerous, allowing it to be something in which gay people find joy and solace, refusing to cast it as shameful. By the end of the decade, Geoff Edholm, who played Robert, and director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. had both lost their lives to the pandemic. It’s a snapshot of hospital rooms across the world, which were often hidden from sight, as a community was left to fend for itself, unsupported. David comes to understand.

14. Ilo Ilo (2013)

7.8

Country

France, Japan, Singapore

Director

Anthony Chen

Actors

Angeli Bayani, Chen Tian Wen, Chen Tianwen, Jialer Koh

Moods

Character-driven, Slice-of-Life, True-story-based

At the height of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a small Singaporean family scrambles to keep their middle-class status afloat. The parents shave their expenses and work extra-long hours, but their busyness causes them to neglect their misbehaved son. When his misdemeanors prove to be too much, the mother is forced to hire a stay-at-home nanny, and her presence (along with other external pressures) brings about a change in the house. Suddenly, everyone becomes a bit more aware of their limitations and potential, and from this, a shared empathy grows. In other hands, this story might come off as bare and forgettable, but under first-time-feature director Anthony Chen’s helm, Ilo Ilo comes to life in rich detail, thoughtful shots, and captivatingly natural performances. Despite its many heartbreaking scenes, the film rarely dwells in sentiment, and it’s this restraint that makes Ilo Ilo all the more gripping to watch. 

13. Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

7.8

Country

Australia, France

Director

P.J. Hogan

Actors

Annie Byron, Barry Crocker, Basil Clarke, Belinda Jarrett

Muriel is a young social outcast who spends her time obsessively planning a dream wedding without ever having been on a date. Her life is flipped upside down when she steals $15,000 from the family business to go on a tropical getaway. This brilliant comedy is memorable as much for Toni Collete’s breakout role as it is for its snarky subversion of rom-com tropes.

Muriel’s Wedding arrived in a wave of bright and brash Australian comedies of the early 90s like Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Strictly Ballroom. And like these counterparts, its heightened reality gives way to a surprising and heartbreaking emotional core. Director PJ Hogan would go on to direct My Best Friend’s Wedding – a fun but watered-down imitation of the surprising storytelling that made this a cult classic.

12. Limbo (2020)

7.9

Country

United Kingdom, United States

Director

Ben Sharrock

Actors

Amir El-Masry, Cameron Fulton, Grace Chilton, Kais Nashif

Moods

Character-driven, Funny, Lighthearted

This offbeat drama is about a Syrian refugee who gets sent to a remote island in northern Scotland. “There was a better signal in the middle of the Mediterranean,” another refugee tells him when he arrives. Omar is as the title suggests stuck: until his asylum request is processed he can’t work or continue his journey onwards. His situation is frustrating and difficult, but it’s also full of absurdities, as Omar is stuck around some very weird people.

Limbo perfectly portrays the duality between sad and nonsensical in the refugee experience. In the entrance to the isolated and rundown facility that houses Omar, a handmade sign said “refugees welcome”. The next day a “not” is added between “refugees” and “welcome”, in the exact same paint. 

If you like Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s work, this has a similar brand of dark humor to his also refugee-themed 2017 drama The Other Side of Hope.

11. Dogtooth (2009)

best

8.0

Country

Greece

Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Actors

Anna Kalaitzidou, Michele Valley

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Mind-blowing

Dogtooth is a bonkers tale about three teenagers who live an isolated life on their family’s estate due to strict rules set by totalitarian parents. Their vocabulary is limited and their perception of the world is strange. They’re taught that cats are bloodthirsty monsters, that disobedience is grounds for horrific punishment, and that the world outside the house will kill them.

Equal parts bizarrely funny and disturbingly terrifying, director Yorgos Lanthimos pulls no punches with this fascinating examination of authoritarianism. As usual with his actors, they are directed to deliver lines in a matter-of-fact, often even deadpan manner, making the escalating lies and deceptions more and more unsettling as the film goes on. Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography also places the twisted tale in a home that has a somewhat dreamlike beauty.

Those who enjoy dark, comical situations told with dry humor will be amused by Dogtooth. Those who enjoy stories that quietly build up to gruesome conclusions will also be amused by Dogtooth. It takes a unique mind to depict nameless children being subjugated and stripped of the fundamentals of conceptualization in an isolated world, and treat it as an absurdist comedy rather than a flat-out horror film. Lanthimos does it.

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