In the age of summer blockbusters and award season drama, the independent film has a unique hold on its audience. Sequestered to their smaller budgets and sometimes lesser known thespians, indie films are the place that actors get discovered, new film techniques emerge and great stories are told.
These seven films currently streaming on US Netflix are great examples of acting chops, mesmerizing scenery and unparalleled storytelling. From gritty war stories to racially charged comedies, these picks are sure to make you appreciate the indie genre a little bit more.
After graduating from UCLA, Indian-American 21-year-old Kaju travels to her native India—a place she left at the age of 3—to discover her culture and traditions as a happy, naive tourist. Not content to just stick to the Taj Mahal, Kaju delves into busy markets, streetside cafes and slums to uncover the “real” India. Yet she discovers more than she set out to. Unravelling family secrets and a haunted past, Kaju meets friends and family who reveal that everything she thought she knew was a lie. Including concealed genocide, military coups and social unrest, Amu is one woman’s tale to discover her past that is fraught with danger.
Beasts of No Nation
Starring Bond hopeful Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation may be one of the best movies currently streaming on Netflix. Based in Africa and shot in Ghana, this war story revolves around one boy whose life is ripped apart at the seams as a rebel army takes over the government and his family is murdered. Taken under the wing of a war commandant, the boy develops into a full-fledged militia soldier and becomes even more embroiled in the war that killed his family and broke apart his country. Filmed, written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and introducing Abraham Attah, this war story is one that resonates with plenty of violence and brutality, but also truth.
In the vein of Kerouac and Thompson, Asthma arrives as this generation’s personal journey road trip. It is a refreshing take on the hipster revolution that’s obsessed with a rose-colored version of the past. Early on in the film, Gus (Benedict Samuel) makes it known that his artistic leanings and penchant for 1970’s New York labels him at best an authentic poser. Yet as the movie progresses, his pain becomes real. He meets up with Ruby (Krysten Ritter) as they make their way out on the road. A traditional journey story, this one has great cinematic moments and clever film direction, making it a must-see.
The One I Love
When a couple played by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss gets marooned at a weekend house during the summer by their therapist, their crumbling marriage becomes the centerpiece for strange happenings at the countryside estate. When Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) realize that they are interacting with doppelgangers, things start to get out of hand. Between seductions, fights and impersonations, Ethan and Sophie fight with themselves, each other and their doppelganger counterparts until the reality around them crumbles. As Charlie McDowell’s directorial debut, The One I Love premiered at Sundance 2014 to rave reviews, earning an 80 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
This short starring Robert De Niro is one that delves into the heart of American cinematography by going back to its roots. Set and filmed inside an abandoned, derelict Ellis Island hospital, the story of how immigrants shaped the United States as it is today is at the forefront of this film. By framing the narrative around one immigrant, the early stories of Ellis Island are revealed to the audience. The film accomplishes exposing the very real nature of people who fled oppression, culture and hunger to arrive at the shores of Ellis Island in only 16 minutes. Ellis is visceral, haunting and real, making it absolutely worth a watch.
Dear White People
The catchy title should be enough to tell you that this cleverly sarcastic comedy is one worth watching. Yet if that’s not enough to go running to your remote, try its protagonist and heroine on for size. When Sam (Tessa Thompson), a biracial college student, shocks the student body with the racially charged transgressions she witnesses, the traditionally white collegiate student body is outraged and blindsided by her accusations on broadcast radio.
Pulling in as many laughs as it exposes real world truths, Dear White People was labeled a comedy “for the Obama generation,” and aimed to educate them about race and labels. Riotously funny and biting, it’s worth a watch just for the killer burns.
This 2015 science fiction film starts out in an age not so distant from our own. It follows Gwen (Jacqueline Kim), a model for the Center for Advanced Health and Living which provides citizens with cosmetic procedures. When she is unceremoniously fired from her job, Gwen’s preoccupation with keeping her daughter healthy leads Gwen to make the radical decision to have her conscious transferred into a new body to ensure her daughter’s safety. After the transformation procedure, many things do not go as planned. The reality of the new situation becomes clear to the doctors and Gwen’s daughter.
Perfect for lovers of mind-bending sci-fi thrillers such as Shutter Island and Transcendence, Advantageous also received a high rating from Rotten Tomatoes (at 80 percent freshness) and was released exclusively on Netflix.
While most independent films may never be as big as their heavily budgeted counterparts, their inclusion in the film cannon is essential for sparking new talent and entrancing audiences with story alone. From mistaken identities to history, these seven films are sure to give you some concrete things to think about. Can you say that about Thor?
Have a suggestion for more indie films to watch next? Leave a comment below and share your suggestions with your fellow readers.