Mandatory Best of 2019: Ranking the 10 Greatest Indie Movies of the Year
2019 has been a great year for the medium of film as a whole, and the indie scene has also been particularly ripe for the picking. With what could be one of the strongest awards seasons of the decade, the year has offered a wide assortment of wonderful indie movies to choose between. From dramas and horror movies to coming-of-age tales and teen comedies, here are some of the best indie movies of 2019.
Cover Photo: Plan B Entertainment
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As Ari Aster’s follow-up to his divisive directorial debut, Hereditary, Midsommar is destined to be equally as schismatic. A self-described “breakup movie dressed in the clothes of a folk horror film,” it’s also the rare horror movie to be set almost entirely during the day. There’s no doubt that Midsommar definitely isn’t for everyone. At the same time, it’s hard to deny that its extremely specific vision sears its way into your brain with some unforgettable imagery.
9. ‘Jojo Rabbit’
If someone were to tell you that one of the year’s best indie dramas would be a film featuring Taika Waititi playing a fantastical version of Hitler, you’d probably think they were insane. And yet, Jojo Rabbit manages to be exactly that. In an era where white nationalism is somehow fashionable again, Waititi’s satirical black comedy is the antidote. It’s not perfect by any means, but Jojo Rabbit is also an important film that reminds us of how silly certain belief systems can be in the grand scheme of things.
8. ‘The Last Black Man In San Francisco’
As the only movie on this list to be funded primarily through Kickstarter, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a true art film. A Sundance darling that won awards for directing and creative collaboration, the film follows a man who attempts to recover his childhood home in a gentrified area of the Fillmore District of San Francisco. Not only does The Last Black Man in San Francisco prove that both Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails are up-and-coming talents worth keeping an eye out for, but it’s ultimately a powerful tone-poem about the adoration of its titular setting.
7. ‘Marriage Story’
While Noah Baumbach pretty much helped to define the mumblecore movement of the 2000s, his filmography in the past decade has matured significantly. Even though Frances Ha is an absolute masterpiece, Marriage Story is also an equally significant work from Baumbach. With a trio of powerful performances from Laura Dern, Adam Driver, and Scarlett Johansson, the film is a subtle tour-de-force with both the direction and writing. Marriage Story may not be the easiest movie to watch, but it certainly is one of the best dramas of the year.
6. ‘The Farewell’
The Farewell is easily one of the year’s biggest surprises. This Sundance hit was inspired partially by writer-director Lulu Wang’s real-life experiences, which she first chronicled on a 2016 episode of This American Life. The film follows a family who – after learning that the matriarch is dying of cancer – decide not to inform her, scheduling a final family gathering under the guise of a wedding. For a story about confronting the inevitability of death, The Farewell is a surprisingly funny and heartwarming tale that explores culture clashes and complicated family dynamics in the most intimate way imaginable. Mix in excellent screenwriting and direction, along with a powerfully subdued leading performance from Awkwafina and you get an insanely detailed portrait of the immigrant experience.
Although Us is technically a studio movie, it’s really an indie disguised as a genre film. While Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out isn’t as narratively strong, it’s also much broader in scope and far more thematically omnipresent than its predecessor. Moreover, it’s far more rewatchable, with a mesmerizing dual performance from Lupita Nyong’o and a highly effective score by Michael Abels. Ultimately, Us is the most ambitious horror film of the year that rewards repeat viewings.
Within the genre of teen comedies, Booksmart presents a fresh and interesting premise: What if a pair of straight-laced high schoolers realized that they did it all wrong and should have partied more? As one might expect, a wild night ensues. The best thing about Booksmart is how it modernizes the outdated machinations of the teen comedy genre. It features smart writing that is aided by gleeful direction from Olivia Wilde and star-making performances from both Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. Ultimately, Booksmart manages to breathe new life into teen comedies, while also being one of the most entertaining indie movies of the year.
3. ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’
The Peanut Butter Falcon is undoubtedly the most heartwarming movie of the year. The film stars newcomer Zack Gottsagen as a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from his nursing home to fulfill his dream of training with his favorite professional wrestler, The Salt Water Redneck. In the process, Zak befriends a fisherman on the run (Shia LaBeouf, in his best performance in years) and the duo set out on the adventure of a lifetime. This modern-day rendition of Huckleberry Finn features the two eluding capture, drinking whiskey, firing guns, catching fish, and even finding God. In short, it’s an absolutely delightful movie that just about anyone can enjoy.
2. ‘Ready or Not’
Ready or Not is the type of movie that came and went from theaters without much fanfare, even though it’s arguably the most fun genre movie to see release this year. While “eat the rich” movies have had a prominent place in the film landscape this year, none offers a more biting satire and social commentary than this horror film that is also a black comedy. Aside from a star-making performance from Samara Weaving, Ready or Not is wholly engaging, with interesting direction, smart writing, and a supremely subversive finale.
1. ‘Fighting With My Family’
It may seem impossible, but two of the best indie movies of the year are directly linked to the sport of wrestling. Another Sundance favorite, Fighting With My Family is based on the documentary of the same name that depicts the rise to fame of WWE wrestler Paige. While a story like this one might seem filled with clichés and tropes, the movie manages to push past the antics of the squared circle into a legitimately great family drama. Moreover, Stephen Merchant’s solo debut writing and directing brings a vigorous blend of energy and heart that is sure to please any crowd.