While the best and brightest among us are staying home and preventing the Covid-19 outbreak from being as deadly as possible, we need quality entertainment to help us pass the time. An independent film might be just what you need. Made outside of Hollywood’s sometimes cookie-cutter (one man seething, two explosions) approach, an independent film can make you think, during and after the film. Here, then, is Gildshire’s list of the most important independent films of all time. We’re not suggesting that this is an exhaustive list, but rather a list to build on to create your own list, or even a collection of independent films.
“Get Out”, directed by Jordan Peele, released in 2017.
A box office hit and Oscar winner, this social thriller made writer-director Jordan Peele a household name. It’s Blumhouse’s best image, and they’ve done it by sticking to their best angels: ambitious filmmakers, achievable budgets, and consistent creative support.
“Moonlight”, directed by Barry Jenkins, released in 2016.
Sadly, that film’s Best Picture Oscar will forever be haunted by Warren Beatty’s onstage gaffe, who announced the wrong winner. But the sheer number of bands often overlooked by Oscar embraced by “Moonlight” could fill a theater all on its own. Let’s count them. People of color, LGBTQ, deprived people. Everyone can claim a certain level of ownership in “Moonlight”.
“Frances Ha”, directed by Greta Gerwig, released in 2012.
Greta Gerwig’s later success with “Ladybird” and “Little Women,” was predicted by those who saw “Frances Ha.” This film cemented the relationship between Ms. Gerwig and Noah Brumbach. “Frances Ha” is bittersweet and French New Wave in a palatable package that only shows off the brilliance of this still-emerging young directorial talent.
“Garden State”, directed by Zach Braff, released in 2004.
Zach Braff’s maiden voyage into feature films has won an award for the first time! Interestingly enough, it was a Grammy for the film’s score. The “Garden State” mixtape of songs by Shins, Simon and Garfunkel, and obscure hits from Zach Braff’s iPod may or may not change your life. But it set the “independent sound” for films outside the mainstream for ten years.
“Lost in Translation”, directed by Sofia Coppola, released in 2003.
Three careers changed with the release of this film. Scarlett Johansson became an A-list star, Bill Murray became an adult and Ms Coppola became a heavyweight in directorial circles. What do you think Murray whispered to Johansson at the end of the film? This question and the subject of loneliness are at the heart of the success of this film.
“Boogie Nights”, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, released in 1997.
The San Fernando Valley porn scene was brought to light by this indie gem of a director whose light hasn’t faded since. Its requirements for an NC-17 tag and 3+ hour run time were legendary. Although he later waived those demands, the demands themselves spoke of a spirit that lives in all of the best independent films.
“Pulp Fiction”, directed by Quentin Tarantino, released in 1994.
The highest-grossing independent film of all time makes our list, whether it’s your Quarter Pounder With Cheese or not. This film recharged John Travolta’s career after being mired in opinions about his religious preferences and a series of poorly made films. “Pulp Fiction” is told out of sequence, which adds to the complexity of the tale. It’s a great movie and well worth a place in your collection.
“Clerks”, directed by Kevin Smith, released in 1994.
The budget champ on our list. It’s the kind of movie you and your buddies imagined making when you were two pizzas and four beers in college. “Some friends talking shit and Star Wars.” Everyone would go see this! “Rooftop Hockey.” Oh, and in black and white. Even better! Weirdness sometimes obscures the quality of the master of dialogue in Kevin Smith.
“Sex, Lies, and Videotape”, directed by Steven Soderbergh, released in 1989.
A small obscure film festival presented this film and has never been the same. Its director continues to string together independent hits, 30 years later. The plot about a repressed woman and her wandering husband has been told before, but rarely so effectively. Ah, the film festival? The American film festival at the time. Two years later, it changed its name to “Sundance”.
“She’s Gotta Have It”, directed by Spike Lee, released in 1986.
This story of an independent-minded black woman with a healthy sexual appetite was groundbreaking when Spike Lee published it. That it seems a little dated now just means that Lee was ahead of his time. At the time, urban blacks were pimps or drug dealers in movies. This movie brought black people into the mainstream like few would before.
“Easy Rider”, directed by Dennis Hopper, released in 1969.
We’ve listed our movies in reverse chronological order to avoid naming one better than the other. But, you better start your collection here and take it wherever it goes. It was the theme of “Easy Rider” and remains the theme of the most important independent films when they follow a legitimate muse. Where were Peter Fonda and Hopper going? Apparently New Orleans, but you could tell the journey was more important than the destination. The final scene confronts a reality that America struggles to overcome to this day…in the headlines…every day. Watch it again if you haven’t in a while.
Better yet, find a theater that shows independent films and ask for a screening of “Easy Rider.” It is truly one of the most important independent films of all time. Is it the best? Answer only after spending a few hours doing your own thing at your own pace, just like Peter Fonda suggested. It is the independent spirit.