This is a fairly obvious list. You’ll probably recognize a lot of the names on here, even if you haven’t seen the movies, and they’re all from after the year 2000.
There are a few popular titles that I did not include. Napoleon Dynamite doesn’t appear because as much as everyone raves and as much as I felt I, the indie comedy lover, should like it…I just don’t. I appreciate the understated tone, but I prefer for characters to be a little subtler than the ones in that movie.
500 Days of Summer also doesn’t make an appearance on this list because that movie drove me crazy and by the end I lost all respect I had had for all the characters and I found the Summer to be an awful human being. And I’m not a Zooey Deschanel hater, I just don’t like her character in that movie.
Also, there are a lot of indie films that I think are perfectly good movie, but aren’t in the I-have-to-tell-everyone-I’ve-ever-met-how-incredible-this-mocie-that-just-changed-my-life-is. It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Sunshine Cleaning would all slip into this category. Not to mention I’m sure there are some truly amazing indies I haven’t gotten around to yet.
These are the ones, that the mere mention of, brings a smile bursting from my face. And I try not to drop too many spoilers because the films really speak best for themselves and when you don’t know how it’s going to turn out a few of these might even have you yelling at your television set.
Grab some popcorn (and maybe a box of tissues) and settle in for the laughs and the…what’s a non-boring, unpretentious, ex-film student way of saying kick-ass character development? Well, whatever that is. Enjoy.
8.) Thank You for Smoking (2005)
This has to be the slickest film on the list, at times it almost doesn’t seem like an indie film, but it most certainly is.
It’s an interesting concept: a lobbyist for a tobacco company, basically a guy who makes his living off keeping smokers smoking, which he is very aware is wrong, while all the while trying to raise his son to be morally sound and stick up for what he believes is right. It’s about where he screws up as well as where he succeeds.
There are some real chair-squirming moments, where you might not know how you should feel. Basically the movie’s one conscience-fuck from beginning to end. And it’s a satire that pokes fun, not only at the tobacco company, but the film industry, the school system, and America’s political agendas.
The trick is that the character never lies, it just present the truth in a way that makes it look like it’s not such a big deal in comparison to whatever else happens to have been mentioned. It will probably make you want to run out and join a debate team.
And this one would probably have to be called a dramedy. The struggles make it to a frustrating point and you find yourself thinking, “but that’s not fair. Well, now that I think about it, maybe it is, but I like these people and I don’t like that they’re in these positions. But funny. Very very funny.
“Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Everyone has a talent.”
7.) Submarine (2010)
Okay, I swear to God, I’m not a hipster. I’m just a really massive Richard Ayoade fan and his directorial debut deserves to be on this list. His latest movie, The Double, was also exceptional, but I put Submarine on the list instead because it has a lighter feel more similar to the other movies on this list.
Submarine is odd man out anyway, being the only foreign film on the list. One could use the the style over substance argument against (or for) this movie, as stylistically the colors and camera angles are a driving force, noticeable throughout, but I’d disagree with such an assessment. What I love about this movie is that the style and substance are on par with each other.
At it’s heart, Submarine is about that first time a kid is head-over-heels madly in crush. Meanwhile he’s observing signs of his parents marriage beginning to flounder and wonders what the point of this whole love is anyway, if his own relationship is going to go the way of his parents.
Ultimately, the majority of the humor in this dramedy comes from the two lead characters trying to become adults and lovers the way adults are when they’re hopelessly weighed down by their adolescence. And the beauty comes from their connection with childhood, even as they’re quickly growing out of it.
“Jordana hates any place that could be termed romantic. With this in mind, I took her to one of my favourite industrial estates, for some quality one-on-one time.”
6.) Pieces of April (2003)
This is one of those ones that has a truly cruel central character, not April, but her mother. But we still understand her and she’s dying of cancer, which almost makes her behavior seem more acceptable. Really the movie is about her and April, which is funny because they have a couple of minutes of screen time together.
While the mother is in the car with her saintly husband, good two-shoes daughter, witty photographer son, and senile mother, April and her live-in boyfriend are trying to get the the Thanksgiving meal prepared and make their terrifying apartment look presentable. And then they discover their stove doesn’t work.
A large portion of the movie consists of April going from neighbor to neighbor, trying to find away to get the turkey cooked, which is largely accomplished by some wonderful (and not so wonderful) tenants) taking it is shifts. And it’s really amazing to see the way many of April’s neighbors band together for this girl they barely know.
The ending is great, but as is the case with all the movies on the list, it’s more about the journey. Which in April’s family’s case is very literal.
“This was long ago, before we stole most of their land, killed most of them, and moved the rest to reservations. Before they lost their language and their customs….Forget what I just said. Once there was this one day where everybody seemed to know they needed each other.”
5.) The Way Way Back (2013)
Get ready to loathe Steve Carell with every fiber of your being. I don’t like loathing Steve Carell, but it’s inevitable. It’s okay though, you’ll love Sam Rockwell enough to make up for it.
It seemed there was a run in there where a really spectacular indie comedy or dramedy came out every year. And then they were gone for a few years. And then this happened. It was like running headlong into a light you didn’t see at the end of the tunnel. It’s freaking funny and heartwarming, with a side of soul-crushing, but it’s all worth it.
An adolescent boy, Duncan, gets dragged along to the summer home of his mother’s psychologically abusive boyfriend and ends up with a job at a water park. That’s basically the whole thing. That would work as a logline. But it’s so much more than that.
The employees at the water park and the neighbors in the town can all see the value in Duncan, that his mother’s boyfriend is oblivious to, and they all end up engaging him in life.
The dialogue which is always clever and inventive, pistons through this movie with grace and ease and it’s really very much an ensemble piece, though there is a very clearcut protagonist.
You can categorize the ending as happy, but you’ll be choked up. And it’s not the ideal, it’s just a glimmer of hope, but that’s what makes it realistic.
4.) Juno (2007)
Teen pregnancy isn’t usually a set up for comedy, but as I’m sure everyone reading this has heard, that’s what this movie’s about. And the movie isn’t even really a dramedy, I just think of it as a dark comedy.
Like all the films on this list, the pumping heart of this movie is really the writing, but the actors bring the sincerity.
The reason that this movie made everyone sit up and listen when it first came out was the way that Juno, the protagonist, spoke and interacted with the other characters. It was big boost for dialouge. As a total dialogue junkie myself, I was genuinely excited to see a writer tell a good story through what the characters were saying.
There’s this rule in screenwriting that the mark of a good writer is someone who can show and not tell the audience what’s happening, but Juno tells the audience what’s happening in such a new and engaging way that no one seemed to care.
The movie has a nice even pace throughout, things aren’t raced, but every storyline reaches an ending in it’s own time without the movie dragging on.
Though Jason Bateman went and pissed me off. Like, I was actually mad at the actor, even though it was the character that I was offended by. I had to re-watch a lot of Arrested Development to forgive him. Chock it up to good acting.
“Oh, just out dealing with things way beyond my maturity level.”
3.) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Probably the best editing of any movie ever made. I have to start there because that’s the first thing I think. Awesome movie, incredible editing.
It managed to do what I always wanted from a movie that takes place in a characters mind. Any movie about memories or dreaming falls short in that everything is too polished, too clear. In this movie, Joel is in his own memory, which he requested be erased after a messy break-up with his girlfriend Clementine and realizes after he’s asleep and the procedure is already underway that he doesn’t want to forget her.
The rest of the movie is about him running through his memories which fade are turn into other memories. He’ll open a door, be in a totally different place. Or be standing in a bookstore, but because no one remembers what all the titles of the books on the shelves are, they’ll be blank.
The characters are massively flawed, but very lovable. You’ll find yourself rooting for Joel to outrun the memories as they’re being erased, even though that’s, of course, impossible, and all the little stories happening around the main plat are equally compelling and often heartbreaking. I have to admit, this is probably the saddest movie on the list.
The moral of the story seems to be that it doesn’t matter if you erase a person from your memory, if you run into them again, they’re the same person and you’re the same person and you’ll end up right back where you started.
“Adults are, like, this mess of sadness and phobias.”
2.) Garden State (2004)
For an actor who had worked on the same TV show for as many years as Zach Braff worked on Scrubs to turn around and make something as different to it as Garden State (and I’m saying nothing against Scrubs, I think I even mentioned how much I like that show in a previous post), but still has a lighthearted look at devastation that is life is pretty amazing to me.
After returning to the New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, after taking up a semi-successful acting career in Los Angeles, Andrew, Braff’s character, is reunited with childhood friends and meets Sam, a compulsive liar and love interest.
As the movie wares on, you realize why Andrew moved as far away from his hometown and previous life as he did and why he’s on the inordinate amount of medication that he is and who’s been prescribing it to him all this time.
He doesn’t return to LA immediately. Instead eh decides to stay in New Jersey and do some light soul searching, sans the pills and he begins to wonder whether there’s actually really something wrong with him and if he needs them.
After it toys with you for a good long while, the movie also just gives you the flat out happy, if rather open-ended, ending that you want.
“They sent me away to boarding school. Sent me away makes it sound like they sent me to an asylum. There were no straps involved.”
1.) Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
This is one that really seems to split people down the middle. If you talk to anyone about this film they seem to either love it or hate it, but to me it’s one of the most well crafted films ever made. The writing is phenomenal and each and every one of the actors in the cast gives a mind-blowing performance.
The people who seem not to like this movie seem to find the dysfunctional family dynamic to be unsettlingly relatable, the behavior of all the characters from the youngest to (most especially) the oldest, as unyieldingly subversive, and were caught off guard by Olive’s (and by extension her family’s) final send-off at the beauty pageant.
People who like the movie seem to find the dysfunctional family dynamic to be unsettlingly relatable, the behavior of all the characters from the youngest to (most especially) the oldest, as unyieldingly subversive, and were caught off guard by Olive’s (and by extension her family’s) final send-off at the beauty pageant. Yep. You’ll either love it or hate it for the same reasons.
The really thrilling thing about this movie is that, while the relationships are strengthened, none of the family’s problems are really fixed. In fact, they may even have more problems by the end of the movie than they did at the beginning.
But the whole point was the family was forced to look at themselves and say “wow. We’re really fucked up. But we’re okay and we’re all we’ve got right now.” Still, straight-up comedy.
“Everyone, just pretend to be normal.”