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109 Good Independent Dramas Movies to Watch

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Understated in budget but lavished with praise, this semi-autobiographical drama by Daniel Destin Cretton flings its audience into the chaotic lives and personal crises of at-risk youths and the passionate social workers that aid them. In his first feature film, the young director draws the viewers into the storm of events and the emotional ups-and-downs of social work in America, going from uplifting to depressing and back – and every emotion in-between. Set in the real-life and eponymous group home Short Term 12, devoted but troubled foster-care worker Grace is played by Brie Larson, whose shining performance in her first leading role was lauded by critics. Fans will also recognize the supporting actors Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek, who broke out in this movie. Short Term 12 is now considered one of the most important movies of 2013 – some say of the decade – owing to its immaculate writing, intimate camerawork, and gripping performances.

10

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This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had. The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

9.9

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Much like Berlin’s infamous nightlife, which serves as the backdrop to the plot, this daring German real-time drama will eat you up and spit you out. After leaving a nightclub at 4am, Victoria, a runaway Spanish girl, befriends a gang of four raucous young men, climbing rooftops and drinking beers among the city’s moon-lit streets. The gang’s light-hearted banter is impressively improvised from a skeleton script, offset by Niels Frahm’s ominous original score. But what starts out as late-night high jinks swerves into darker territory. Driven by her infatuation with the pack leader Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, Victoria ends up being recruited as a get-away driver for an ill-prepared bank robbery and loses herself in a sinister spiral of events. What sounds like a standard-issue crime drama is, in fact, a staggering cinematic experiment. Filmed in one take, on location, and in real time, the movie’s production is indeed a gamble, but director Sebastian Schipper more than pulls it off. The claustrophobic camerawork of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen leaves the viewer feeling like a hapless accomplice to Victoria’s plight. With Laia Costa giving an awe-striking lead performance, the high wire acting of the entire main cast only adds to this effect. Victoria is a stellar directorial debut, heart-stopping drama, and a truly immersive experience.

9.8

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This is the true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old black man in Oakland, California, who was shot dead by police in the morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Incidentally, 2009 was also the time when smartphones started going mainstream, and so the incident was not only captured by CCTV but also many private cell phone cameras. The killing went viral. Grant is superbly played by Michael B. Jordan in what now counts as one of his breakthrough roles, when many only knew him as Wallace in the now-legendary crime drama The Wire. Director Ryan Coogler went on making two more movies with him, including Black Panther in 2018. You’ve probably read and heard many harrowing stories of African Americans and police brutality. Still, we urge you not to skip on this film. Produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and compassionately told, Fruitvale Station surpasses the sadness of its subject matter and amounts to an extraordinary celebration of life. A must-watch.

9.7

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A hot summer night, around 2 a.m. You’re outside talking with a close friend about life, happiness, and the human condition. That quality and depth of conversation, which you reach at best a couple of times a year is present throughout the 106 minutes of The End of the Tour.The film depicts the story of David Foster Wallace, played by Jason Segel, and his interactions with then Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg.It’s like being with two smart friends and discussing your life and theirs in the sense that it is deeply personal, very smart while being simple, and unpretentiously relevant.Performances are nothing short of perfect as Segel completely transforms into the character, and everything is authentically orchestrated with the deft hand of The Spectacular Now director James Ponsoldt. A rare and important film.

9.5

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Revealing the gaps in the social safety net, I, Daniel Blake, is a tale centered around a blue collar worker navigating the welfare system in England. At a time where class and social mobility could not be more politically salient, this film calls into question the notion of the “citizen” and exposes the inaccessibility to the social protections in which one presumes entitlement. At the forefront of this, is a heart-warming parable of paternal companionship between Daniel (played by Dave Johns) and a single mother – Katie – (played by Hayley Squires) who is wading through similar terrain. The acting in the film is unfathomably raw which cultivates the deepest source of gut wrenching compassion. Ken Loach has created a film that exposes the true power of empathy, leaving you feeling helplessly human.

9.5

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A heart-breaking examination of a decaying shell of a once-bright marriage, this sad yet erotic-seeming story mixes happy flashbacks of attraction and desire with the grim reality of a dull life. It boosts an electrifying performance from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, who seamlessly combine tenderness, rage, lust and sadness. This is a guaranteed tear-jerker, so make sure you've brought your Kleenexes!

9.5

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A fish out of water coming-of-age story with an abundance of charm. Greg Gaines, a kid with few to zero close people finds himself obliged to befriend a girl recently diagnosed with cancer. She enters his seemingly balanced social life and he tries to adjust to her new predicament, and the story goes from there. There is excellent cinematography and really funny sequences, but to me what is most amazing is that with three perfectly played and perfectly written characters, you are sure to see parts of yourself in either Greg, Earl, or Rachel - if not some parts in each one.

9.5

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The main reason to watch Love & Mercy could be that it's about the life of Beach Boys leader Bryan Wilson, but it shouldn't. That wouldn't do the film any justice. Yes it is a great rock biopic, but its reach goes way beyond that: it's a compelling and beautiful character study performed in unparalleled perfection by Paul Dano and John Cusack. It gives an inside look into the mind of a genius in all its glory and obscurity. And so much of it rings true because, yes, it is about the life Beach Boys leader Bryan Wilson. Such a unique and beautiful film.

9.5
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