Ten Great Indie Dramas You Must See

I’m a great lover of independent movies. I respect and admire them in general a lot more than Hollywood movies. So I thought it fitting to make a list of the ten best indie dramas I’ve seen, and would recommend to others. In no particular order:

Sex, Lies and Videotape (1988)

Of all the films I’ve seen that can be classified as raw, true indie; independent cinema at its heart, Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape has to be the best. Fantastic performances from James Spader and Andie MacDowell make this a very thought-provoking, intriguing drama which is not easy to forget.

Somewhere (2010)

I’ve mentioned this before; I love this movie. Love it with a passion. Sure, it’s not for people who are looking for any coherent plot with constant developments, but it is an extremely powerful character story about an actor who has faded into obscurity and the people around him. Shot magnificently by Sofia Coppola, this is her best film.

The Brown Bunny (2003)

Okay, I’ve ranted about this one enough. I love it. Every time I watch it, I like it a little bit more. It might be quiet and uneventful, but Vincent Gallo’s silent expression says so many words that don’t need to be spoken aloud. A heartbreaking story of loss that doesn’t try to be overly emotional, but just works the way it is. Though certainly not for everyone, this is, IMHO, a hauntingly beautiful movie.

Pi (1998)

Darren Aronofsky’s first movie is a fast-paced story shot in black-and-white about a man obsessed with numbers who believes that the entire world is made up in patterns that can be translated into numbers. Some of Aronofsky’s most well-known camera techniques, such as mounting the camera on the actor, are well established here in setting a mood of claustrophobic closeness.

Festen (1996)

Thomas Vinterberg’s Dogme 95 gem is one of the top ten films I always recommend. Because people always have different reactions to it, but even when you’re disgusted, it holds you tightly in its grip. A young man, at his father’s 60th birthday, reveals to a crowd that he sexually molested him at a young age and is indirectly responsible for his sister’s suicide. Chaos ensues, and Vinterberg captures it so brilliantly, with a film that is well-written, shot, and superbly acted.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

Miranda July’s film examines society in a frank and honest manner reminiscent of Todd Solondz, but distinctly different in style. The type of multiple character drama I absolutely love, Me and You and Everyone We Know is a stunning, brutally frank and explicit look at the people around us; the people in this film are likely to be either me, you, or someone we know; thus the title.

Storytelling (2001)

Looking at this list you might be wondering where Todd Solondz’s Happiness is. Well, I could only include one Solondz film here so I thought I would make it Storytelling instead, since more people haven’t seen it. Various storylines involving rape, racism, and exploitation unravel in one of Solondz’ more tragic films, a tremendously underrated gem.

Never Let Me Go (2010)

This adaptation of the bestselling novel is a distraught, harrowing movie which tells a tale involving rather dark themes with an almost tender lightness, as if being viewed by a passive or naive child. This gives it power, especially when the subject matter is, in a way, genocide ostensibly for the purpose of harvesting organs. But again, the way it is told is in an almost ironically light manner, which makes the subject matter all the more disturbing.

Blue Valentine (2010)

Derek Cianfrance’s “love story” is a film that will make all couples stop and think about their relationship. Where is it going? Will we end up like them? One of the most important films of the year, undoubtedly, it is a dramatic and painful look at a fracturing relationship as we examine simultaneously its early, carefree days and the downward spiral to a sadly inevitable oblivion.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

Easily the darkest film on this list, 4 Months… is also the one which is closest to reality. In Romania, in the 80s, it is illegal to have an abortion, but one woman attempts to do so by hiring an illegal doctor to perform the procedure, with unexpected consequences. The film is shot so unbelievably coldly that a shiver runs down my spine even when nothing is happening. That’s powerful.

Well, there’s my list. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment below, and I’d suggest taking this seriously as a list of recommendations; I recommend these movies to the people around me, and thus I recommend them to you.

Posted on August 30, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. Amen to the Never Let Me Go and Blue Valentine love! I’m personally a huge fan of indie dramas – they’re pretty much my favourite kind of movie. Great list!

  2. This is a great list with some films I really want to see, and also a few that I am not bothered by, Brown Bunny and Somewhere.

    I liked Never Let Me Go but I wouldn’t go as far as I loved it. But I believe that is mainly as I detest Knightley with a passion

    • The ones on this list that honestly I think you’d like (knowing how picky you are) are: FESTEN and 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. Those are the only two. But boy, are they a brilliant two. FESTEN is like #20 in my Top 50 Films of all time.

      Don’t like Knightley? That’s understandable. I’d rather have a piece of Carey Mulligan… wait, did I say that aloud? (awkward moment)

  3. Some nice choices.Although Somewhere is a movie which I didn’t like as much as you did, thought it was quite boring. I connected way more in the characters in Lost in Translation which is my favorite movie of her.

    • Yeah, a lot of people were disappointed with SOMEWHERE because they weren’t expecting something so artsy. But I love it. Though I can see how you’d find it boring.

  4. i am not saying that you’re incorrect but are Blue Valentine and Never Let Me Go really independent movies? i’m yet to see either of them anyway.

    i agree with your list, apart from somewhere and i havent seen 4 months. the other 6 are definitely worth seeing.

    • Yeah, I suppose it could be argued that those two aren’t indie. But they’re both made by indie directors, released independently, and they both have such a non-Hollywood feel to them that indie seems like the closest word to describe them, for me.

      4 MONTHS… is definitely worth seeing. I’ve seen it three times. Disturbing, but it is a true story.

  5. Nice list. I really liked Somewhere, Never Let Me Go, Pi, and Me and You and Everyone We Know. I did struggle with Storytelling, especially the second half. That one was rough, and I find the kid pretty annoying in it.

    • Glad to hear you liked SOMEWHERE. Everyone I know seems to be against it. As for STORYTELLING: I much prefer the first half; it’s less comic and more serious, and it deals with more startling yet important themes. But I don’t really have a problem with the second half.

  6. Never Let Me Go is a haunting, haunting movie even though I was a bit dissatisfied with how the movie unfolded. And I just rewatched Blue Valentine last weekend, that movie was robbed at the Oscars and so was Ryan Gosling.

    • Yeah, there was a thing or two about NEVER LET ME GO that bothered me, but overall I definitely loved it. I much prefer BLUE VALENTINE out of the two, though.

  7. I’ve only seen two on your list, Never Let Me Go and Somewhere. Sorry but I’m one of those people who dislike Somewhere, it’s not just boring but also pointless, but that’s just me. The Brown Bunny sounds intriguing, Vincent Gallo’s got such a unique face doesn’t he?

    • It’s okay, I know you don’t like SOMEWHERE. I would recommend THE BROWN BUNNY to you but I think it’s highly unlikely you’ll enjoy it. I agree that Vincent Gallo has an intriguing face, and we see plenty of it in that movie, but I can’t really see you enjoying it, especially in the extremely awkward unsimulated sex scene. If you want to give it a watch, I’d be pleased to hear your thoughts on it, as it is a very beautiful movie, but I would be surprised if you actually liked it. His 1998 comedy BUFFALO 66 is much more accessible (and freakin’ hilarious, too), but for my money THE BROWN BUNNY, aesthetically, visually and emotionally, is a better film.

  8. Wow! Sex, Lies, and Videotape is such a blast from the past. Haven’t seen it in ages, but I remember loving this film when I saw it in the theater. How can you not love a film that gives a guy like Soderbergh his start? Though he’s had a dud or two, he is still one of my favorite directors. So so talented!

    Thanks for sharing!

    PS… And thanks for all the Twitter and WordPress shout outs. You are too kind!

    • Hahaha, yeah, I love Soderbergh’s earlier movies. Wasn’t too fond of the Oceans’ trilogy, but stuff like TRAFFIC, THE LIMEY and this was definitely some of his best work.

      You’re welcome. You deserve it; you have a great blog!

      • I didn’t care for Ocean’s 11 the first time I saw it, but after a few viewings on HBO (we call this The HBO Effect), I have grown to love it and have seen it way too many times. It’s like a fine pastry. Light, airy, and totally delicious! Oceans 12 and 13 pale by comparison.

        As far as his more serious films, The Limey, Traffic, Solaris, Out of Sight, and several others are among my favorite films ever.

        • I need to revisit the Oceans trilogy.

          I didn’t care much for the Solaris remake (the original is miles better), but the other films you mentioned are great.

  9. Me and You and Everyone We Know is one of my all time favourite debut feature films. I personally consider it a comedy rather than a drama but I will be diplomatic and call it a ‘dramedy.’
    I can not wait to see her new film The Future it looks fantastic. Check out the trailer on imdb.

    Literally just watched Blue Valentine and now feel thoroughly disconsolate but I do love a depressing movie as it’s uplifting to know I have it better than the protagonists.

    I noticed a little discussion of ambiguity from some readers about what makes an Independent film an Indie film. I suppose the definition has got lost in translation over the years, the practical definition is any film funded by independent production companies or producers, usually low budgets. So technically the first Twilight film is an Indie film but cinephiles and film snobs find this offensive so they try and define ‘Indie’ as a genre of its own. Personally I don’t really care, although I do find it irritating that people feel they can define a genre based on their own personal taste.

    I found ‘Storytelling’ region 1 DVD on ebay so I should finally get to see it soon.

    • Yes, I freaking love ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW. Just Rewatched it the other day.

      Let me know what you think of STORYTELLING. The only problem with the Region 1 DVDs is that most of them have censored the most important scene in the entire film: an extremely rough sex scene bordering on rape. While I agree that it is explicit, I don’t think it should be censored because it is a very important scene. I myself have been fortunate enough to see it Uncensored on the Region 4 DVD, but the method which Solondz chooses to censor the scene should amuse you, as it is like a giant middle finger to the MPAA.

  10. Movie Remnants

    I just finished reading “Never Let Me Go” and enjoyed it so much I haven’t wanted to start another book, so as not to forget the characters and their story. I missed out on watching the film, but would love to see that and Blue Valentine. I’ve seen Somewhere and was also a little disappointed. I was really looking forward to it, but it seemed to never really go anywhere or have any structure.

  11. Okay, I’ve already seen Somewhere, because I love Sofia Coppola.
    I watched the “4 months…” movie via this list, and I really liked it. I absolutely love indie dramas that can be as stark as possible, and that movie is exactly that. I was wondering, do you have any similar films like that one to recommend? It’d be greatly appreciated!

    • Glad you liked 4 Months! Some similar films you might like: Code Unknown, The White Ribbon, Elephant, or Taste of Cherry. Those are four great ones off the top of my head. Enjoy!

  12. Ive just stumbled across this list while looking for some good indie dramas to add to my rental list. I adored ‘Somewhere’, ‘Blue Valentine’ and ‘4 Months…’ previously so have added pretty much all the rest of these films! All except ‘Pi’, saw that and really didnt get on with it. An odd one as i have been fairly impressed by the rest of Aranofskys’ back catalogue.
    I just wanted to add a shout out for ‘Import/Export’ too, more in response to Carly above who said she likes dramas that can be as stark as possible. I have never seen anything as bleak as that! Brilliant film though, if maybe a bit tough to watch in places.
    Any other Dogme95 recommendations atall? I bloody loved ‘Breaking the Waves’ for example!

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