From Richard Linklater to Paul Thomas Anderson: The 30 best indie films available on Netflix
(Credit: Netflix)


From Richard Linklater to Paul Thomas Anderson: The 30 best indie films available on Netflix

Mainstream films and film franchises are always a great joy to watch; however, a lot of best cinematic creations are indie films. These indie films are more daring and experimental. Some of them have won high praises and accolades such as Oscars, Emmys and other signals of major cinematic triumphs. Beautifully crafted, these movies leave an everlasting impact on the minds of the viewers. Some indie films are created by masterful auteurs while others bear testimony to the creation of new ones. 

Martin Scorsese, who likened Marvel film franchise as merely “theme park”, argues that cinema is an “art form”, it is “about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.”

Netflix is the unsung hero of 2020. Trapped in this living nightmare, ravaged by the virus, Netflix seems to be our only saving grace. Netflix has a wide variety of indie films that feature “unsettling horrors” like The Witch, Academy Award winners like there Will Be Blood and many more. 

Scouring through the multitude of viewing options on Netflix, we have hand-picked 30 best indie films for you to enjoy and binge on to understand the sheer cinematic brilliance and aesthetics. 

Here are the 30 best indie films available on Netflix. 

30 best indie movies available on Netflix:

Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017)

Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name, Mudbound is a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking film that resonates with the hearts of the audience long after credits roll out. It is a neatly crafted film which shoes two poverty-stricken farmer families white and black) residing adjacently in Mississippi. The sons of the respective families, both war veterans, return and strike an unusual friendship based on common experiences, transcending racial limitations imposed on them. The film ends on a horrifying note as it constantly reminds the audience of the racism prevalent in the United States even today.

Shot on an intimate scale, the film is deliberately slow-paced. The trauma due to the war followed by the rigid racial hierarchy evokes rage and pity. The actors deliver spectacular performances in this brutal and cruel period drama. Menacing and scary, the antagonists’ reek of corruption and white privilege. Rees does an outstanding job at maintaining his composure while projecting an exploitative narrative with high shock-value. With a focus on the horrors of racism and the misery that follows, the film also gives a delicate insight into love, family, friendships and relationships. Rachel Morrison, as the cinematographer, blends in the rich texture of the earth, mud and soil, forming everlasting images in the minds of the viewers. Morrison, for her wonderful contribution, was the first woman to be nominated at the 90th Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, while Dee Rees was the first Black woman to have been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2015)

To quote A.O. Scott, “the line between innocence and evil is as thin as the blade of a machete”. Beasts of No Nation is a violent and tragic film that chronicles the loss of innocence amidst an African civil war. Agu, a young boy separated from his family, is forced and manipulated into being a child-soldier for a guerrilla army, trained by a ruthless and sinister warlord. Subject to the violent abuse and degradation, Agu transforms into a destructive, maniacal beast; his family values are constantly at conflict with his new self.

Abraham Attah as Agu is splendid on-screen. His involuntary transformation amidst the dreadful conditions of war and economic inadequacy is moving; the atrocities he has to face at such a tender age is often hard to bear. The film paints a very realistic and poignant picture of the condition of children subjected to the war. Abuse, rape and violence are rampant. Agu is given heroin to keep his spirits high after he had been brutally raped by the Commandant. Idris Elba as the vile and opportunistic warlord is nightmarish and brilliant. He is terrifying and exists as a manifestation of the trauma and loss that sprung from the war. Agu’s horrendous experiences zombify him into a survivor-killer. He is caught in between with neither an adult consciousness nor a childish innocence; he is afraid of himself and the gory violence he was embroiled in, while constantly reassuring himself of his good roots and upbringing. Powerful and engrossing, Fukunaga does justice Uzodinma Iweala’s novel, by delivering a well-crafted masterpiece with stunning performances.

Roma (Alfonso Cuaron, 2018)

 The first Mexican entry to win Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Best Cinematography and Best Director awards at the 91st Academy Awards, Alfonso Cuaron’s slow, artistic and emotionally resonating masterpiece, employs intimacy and clever use of shadow and light to affect the viewers deeply. Set in 1970-71 Mexico, ridden with the horrors and hardships of a student massacre, the film chronicles the life of an indigenous housekeeper, Cleo, who lives a simple life, caught between her duties as a devoted nanny and anxieties of impending motherhood.

Roma is an intricate combination of slapstick comedy and personal hardships. The camera pans leisurely as it captures Cleo and her surroundings via an intimate lens. Cleo is content with her humbled existence; she has pure love and affection for the children she tends to. Tragedy strikes in her own life when her daughter is stillborn; it is interesting to note how nobody can save Cleo’s daughter, however, Cleo risks her lives to save the kids from drowning. A poignant commentary on the class and power dynamics that existed in the society, the film focuses on the humble acceptance of fate and disempowerment by the indigenous people. Cleo is an epitome of grace; she adds on to the emotional atmosphere of the film that makes it a wonderful cinematic experience.  Shot in a stunning monochrome, it reflects on the artistic mood, memory and monotone of a 1970s Roma.

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, 2012)

This neo-noir drama chronicles three linear stories that include a daredevil motorcycle stuntman, Luke Glanton, turning into a robber to support his beloved and their child and an ambitious policeman, Avery Cross, who exposes the corrupt malpractices of his department. They also run into each other with disastrous results; history repeats itself when their sons, A.J and Jason befriend each other fifteen years later oblivious to the bad blood between their fathers.

Ambitious with daring leaps in the plotline, Cianfrance’s film is an epic commentary on the lives of the working-class who are uncertain about their future. An outstanding cast is pulled forward by the stellar performances of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. As the blatantly ambitious cop, Cooper is perfect for the role, while the tattooed Gosling, clad in ripped T-shirts and flaunting his bleached hair and huge biceps, is a “startling presence”. His quiet nature and deliberate movements heighten the anxiety on the screen; he is desperate to feed his family and ends up taking the wrong route.

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

The film is observant of an arc of romance which witnesses the lives of Dean and Cindy, a young couple living a quiet life. On the outside, they have a normal and somewhat happy life, getting by. However, they are caught in a downward spiral which results in an extremely irritable and rocky relationship. All the passion they had at the start of the relationship starts to fizzle out with Dean’s lack of ambition and Cindy’s self-withdrawal, which leads to impending marital doom.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are stunning on-screen. Though it might be slightly disturbing to watch the intrinsic analysis of a rocky marriage, the unusual depth and emotional bandwidth of their characters make the film extremely special. The actors would improvise dialogues and film unscripted scenes based on what they thought would be essential to their respective roles. To add authenticity to the characters, Cianfrance would fan the tension. “One night he told Gosling to go into Williams’ bedroom and try to make love to her. Gosling, soundly rejected, ended up sleeping on the couch”. Intense and minutely crafted, the film sees the development of a relationship complicated by an unplanned pregnancy and the subsequent fracture.

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)

Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed Driver, who is a Hollywood stuntman, playing a getaway driver in movies. He grows increasingly fond of his neighbour, Irene, and her son, Benicio. When Irene’s husband, Standard Gabriel, is released from prison, they become friends and plot a million-dollar heist that endangers the lives of everyone. With the heist-gone-wrong, the Driver must put his life at stake to protect Irene and Benicio from the vengeful sharks behind the robbery.

Like Tarantino, Refn is an exploitation-film maniac and thus his work mirrors cult favourites like To Live and Die in L.A. With talented actors like Ryan Gosling, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan etc. Drive is a riveting watch. “Drive takes the tired heist-gone-bad genre out for a spin, delivering fresh guilty-pleasure thrills in the process”. Gosling as the Driver is stoic and hardly breaks into a cold sweat during the nerve-wracking scenes. He is not a one-dimensional character- his emotional depth and sensitivity to the situation are remarkable. Having performed several of his stunts, Gosling’s Driver is iconic.

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

Boyhood chronicles the life events of a young boy, mason Evans Jr. for twelve years from childhood (age six) to adolescence (age eighteen) as he and his sister grow up with divorced parents in Texas. Directed by Richard Linklater, this film is certainly one-of-its-kind with a whopping twelve-year shooting span; the director d Hawke once: “. He wanted the raw and honest emotions of the characters to touch the hearts of the audience through the screen.

The stupendous investment of time and patience on the director’s part makes it “a masterpiece in cinematic history”, and a “life project” for the cast and crew. Audacious and endearing, it captures the ill-effects of constant domestic squabbles and abuse on the development of a child psyche. In what is considered to be one of his finest performances as Mason Sr., Ethan Hawke delivers a stellar performance in this “emotional powerhouse”. Hawke claims that working with a director is an “act of faith” as it is almost a spiritual union of their psyches. Having played a character for so long, who had matured along with Hawke himself, Ethan said, “There’s something so beautiful about the final moments of the movie, and it was clear to me that it’s about an adult being born. Yeah, I would love to see Mason Sr. get older. I’d like to see where he goes and what the evolution of his thought might be. But, that said, the magic of the movie is that it is over.” The film had been nominated for six Academy Awards and is one of the most memorable roles in Hawke’s career. 

Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

Based on Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name, Room is a 2015 indie-drama film based on the trials and tribulations a single mother and her son face after being released from captivity. Joy Newsome, lives with her five-year-old son, Jack, n a tiny shed where they share all the essential amenities and are cut off from the outside world. Old Nick, their captor and Jack’s father, rapes Joy every night. Having planned an escape after years of abuse, Joy and Jack escape the clutches of their abuser; Old Nick is arrested. However, having been confined for so long, they are unaware of how to communicate with the outside world- strangely enough, they feel unsafe and vulnerable. The movie ends with the mother-son duo visiting the Room for one last time to bid goodbye.

Brie Larson as Joy Newsome is exceptional. She delivers a striking performance where her doubts, anxiety, trauma and depression shrouds her like a blanket. Joy is terrified of the world, she is even more terrified of how her son would deal with “real” things. Child actor Jacob Tremblay is incredibly gifted- he portrays his innocent role with magnificence and poise which is unthinkable at his age. The movie is quite distressing- the scenes involving the duo can be quite overwhelming.  Quite unexpectedly, it ends on a positive note where they can free themselves from captivity- although they had been rescued long back, it is not until the very end that they can break free from the emotional shackles that prevented them from going back to ‘normal’. The anxiety of a captive, once they attain freedom, is unsettling yet beautiful; Room is an astonishing tale of survival which must be watched and cherished.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

Dallas Buyers Club is a biographical drama which is based on the story of Ron Woodroof, a cowboy electrician based in Texas, diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s when not much was known about the disease which led to stigmatization and ostracization of the diagnosed patients. Given a month to live, in a desperate attempt to experiment with the treatment of the disease, he illegally smuggled in pharmaceutical drugs. He distributed these drugs to fellow patients and established the “Dallas Buyers Club” despite the growing resentment and protest of the Food and Drug Administration.

McConaughey’s stunning performance wowed the audience. Jared Leto is brilliant as well, but McConaughey’s phenomenal performance is sure to blow everyone’s minds. His epic portrayal of Woodroof’s desperation and anguish, as well as the harrowing path he chooses for his survival, is indeed shocking. The actor had to lose around fifty pounds for the role to get into character. He survived eating nothing but egg whites, fish, tapioca pudding and plenty of wine. Within five months, he went from 188 to 135 pounds.  Following this intense weight loss journey and incredible performance, Matthew won his first-ever Academy Award in 2014 for Best Actor in Leading Role; a reward he well deserved after the weight loss left him hyper and clinically aware. Commenting on his legendary character, Matthew McConaughey praised Woodroof’s resilience and expressed his gratitude for the warm reception of the film saying, “It’s vital it has translated, it has communicated with people, it’s become personal with people. That’s something I’m very proud of.”

Mud (Jeff Nichols, 2012)

A bold take on Mark Twain’s usual narratives of the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Mud is focused on two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who aid the eponymous Mud hide on the little island to evade arrests and act as a bridge of communication between him and his alleged lover, Juniper. In return, they expect Mud to give them his boat and his pistol.

Mysterious and stunning, the film is neatly crafted with a set of authentic performances from the talented ensemble. The leisurely pace of the movie adds to the humid and surreal atmosphere of the movie which conceals within itself a rich, spiritual world. The boys bask in their ability to move their audience as two coming-of-age Southerners. McConaughey is outstanding as Mud, a poetic, lovesick fugitive. He is honest and yearns to provide a better life for Juniper. His arc of sin and redemption is portrayed beautifully by him which resonates with the audience. As McConaughey was himself quoted saying, “The love he has for this woman is a very simple thing…Didn’t matter if she loved him back or not. He didn’t love her any less ever… This man has a passionate love for somebody as passionate as it was the first three hours and that just doesn’t happen in real life real often. You can say it does, but it’s pretty tough to keep that light burnin’ like that.”

Babel (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2006)

The third instalment of Inarritu’s Death Trilogy series, Babel is a work of art in itself when it manages to connect groups of people across three continents over how their lives are affected by one gunshot. Vacationing Americans, Richard and Susan are travelling on a bus when Susa gets fatally shot. Richard tries to get her desperately to the hospital amidst the rising tension with other annoyed passengers who are forced to wait with him. 

Rightfully named Babel, it refers to the Biblical story where God punishes men by causing a rift based on the language they speak. The film, too, focuses on how cultural differences are almost unbridgeable, and how that adversely affects survival. Intense and riveting, it is a fantastic and cathartic end to the trilogy. Brad Pitt’s helplessness and desperation in unchartered environments add to the heightened anxiety in the film. Adrianna Brazza’s soundtrack won him the Academy Award for Best Original Score. A woeful multi-narrative, Inarritu’s Babel has “no villains, only victims of fate and circumstance”. 

The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2013)

Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is a war veteran who struggles to adapt to the new post-war society. He finds ultimate solace in ‘The Cause’ which marks the rise of the Church of Scientology. 

Phoenix’s performance is phenomenal; his portrayal of a person suffering from PTSD is sure to spark fear in the hearts of the viewers. Hoffman’s character is realistic, oscillating between radicalism and control. Exquisite cinematography and controlled and calculated direction make The Master one of Anderson’s very best. The film’s tense, rich soundtrack accompanied by ragged and frenzied classical pieces harvest a sense of paranoia, ambiguity and moral degradation of the society as well as Phoenix’s character.

There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis plays the role of a ruthless and mercenary oilman who strives relentlessly and stops at nothing to become the most influential oil mogul. He refuses to stop at anything and can even take drastic measures such as manipulating his adopted son. 

Dealing with ruthlessness, capitalism and greed, the film focuses on the conflict of humanity. Day-Lewis’ incredible performance as the despicable and volatile Daniel Plainview goes down as one of his best performances. Jonny Greenwood’s music was harrowing and unabashedly remorseless to its core by the accompanying scenes. This is undoubtedly one of Anderson’s finest as he manages to deal with the problems of ambition and hunger for success in humans with poise and effortless ease. 

First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

Alluding subtly to Bergman’s Winter Light and Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver, First Reformed was considered to be one of the best movies of 2018, and earned a nomination at the Academy, while bringing home various other prestigious awards. This American drama focuses on Toller, a Protestant pastor of an old Dutch Reformed Church, struggling with his faith and personal loss; this is heightened by his encounter with a young couple where Michael, an orthodox environmentalist, is tormented by his beliefs and commits suicide, abandoning his pregnant wife, Mary.

The film is appreciated for its “sensitive and suspenseful look at weighty themes. Deliberately slow-paced, the film unfolds, in wonderful shots, a perfect study of a priest tormented by his crisis in faith, and anguish at not being able to help his troubled parishioner. Hawke’s moral struggle, as the angst-ridden priest, and eventual descent into madness and frenzy, is excruciating. In this standout role, he single-handedly shoulders the responsibility of carrying the film forward gracefully and poignantly while battling with personal doubts, caught in the dichotomy of hope and despair. An ode to the German playwright Ernest Toller, Hawke’s character, too, suffers a similar psychological collapse as he comes to terms with the absurdity of existence. However, unlike his namesake, Toller survives as his suicide is interrupted by unexpected love and warmth which has a profound significance at the end of the film.

Advantageous (Jennifer Phang, 2015) 

In a futuristic dystopia, Gwen lives with her daughter Jules amidst economic hardship. Gwen is fired from her job as a spokeswoman for a biotech company as she is neither a man nor too young and marketable. The film revolves around Gwen’s pursuit and sacrifices to ensure Jules’ future, as she volunteers to be the test subject for a new procedure to transfer one’s consciousness to another body. 

 A battle between cynicism and hope, the film spirals into despair. Terrorist attacks, child prostitution and dysfunction plague the society. Gwen loses the job because of underlying problems in the society- subtle sexism, a standard for marketable beauty etc. the deep bonding shared by the mother and daughter holds the film together. An attempt on the part of the company to gain body and mind control is terrifying because that is what the near future comprises as well. The growing disconnect between Gwen and her daughter, at the end of the procedure, is heartbreaking, as Gwen tries to retain the memories she has of the latter. Phang’s sense of colour and music enhances the cinematic experience and adds a touch of melancholy to the already gloomy atmosphere.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)  

While Denis Villeneuve had always wanted to direct a sci-fi film, he complained of “never getting the right thing”.However, having read Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life, Denis was convinced that he wanted to adapt it into a film. And so he did, making a film that was not only sci-fi but also a heart-rendering tale of knowing the future. Amy Adams is perfect in her role as the intelligent, reserved and empathetic Louise, who despite knowing the future cannot break out of it. The film’s soundtrack sets a melancholy mood and is omnipresent in the movie adding a sense of gloom. Smart and neatly crafted, the twisted bends in the film are fascinating. Transcendence of language barriers forms the basic crux of the story where humans try to communicate with otherworldly creatures, namely heptapod aliens. The movie ends on a wistful note with questions regarding loss, love and the bleak future- if only the ending had been less rushed, Arrival would have gone a notch higher on this list. 

Louise Banks is a linguistics expert, and along with her team, which includes love interest Donnelly, is assigned the task of interpreting the language of heptapod aliens who have arrived in spaceships. Louise and Donnelly are also plagued by personal loss’ their daughter Hannah having succumbed to an incurable disease. Though it appears to be an innocuous tale of aliens inhabiting the earth, Arrival subverts audience expectations and takes them on an alien-adventure nobody signed up for.

The Platform (Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, 2019)

This Spanish sci-fi horror film is set in a huge “Vertical Self-Management Centre” where the residents are switched at the interval of 30 days between the many floors. The film begins with Goreng who gains consciousness to find himself on the 48th floor with another ‘convict’, wise and reserved Trimiagi, for company, who explains their predicament. Food is delivered through a platform which is initially filled with delicacies. As it descends from the top floor to the bottom, the amount keeps dwindling, and the prisoners at the bottom levels get to eat leftovers. This leads to an inevitable conflict which fishes out the destructive and wild, cannibalistic side of the prisoners.

This film mirrors the current society; the levels being the ladder of social hierarchy. As one descends, poverty and deprivation loom large along with a growing resentment for the ones at the top. The film forces the audience to introspect. It is a gruesome and realistic portrayal of issues that plague society. Diving deep into the desperation, madness and depravity of the human psyche, the film is jarring and disgusts as well as terrifies the viewers. The dystopian aesthetic with pervasive darkness provides a perfect setting for the crisis that threatens humanity. The actors are vivid in the portrayal of murderous, violent urges, and the anguish and distress of the human mind at the brink of catastrophe and class conflict.

Her (Spike Jonze, 2014)

Spike Jonze’s brilliant 2014 film Her leaves a profound impact on the audience, irrespective of whether they enjoy the romantic genre or not. The film is a blend of the sci-fi and rom-com genres, bringing with it the best of both worlds. Theodore Twombly is lonely and depressed- he is a recluse who composes letters on behalf of people who cannot find the right words to articulate their emotions. Ironically, Theodore is not very good at expressing his feelings and is going through a divorce with his childhood sweetheart. Struggling to come to terms with reality, he escapes it completely when he befriends (and later falls in love with) an artificial intelligence who prefers to call herself Samantha. Though intangible, Samantha leaves an everlasting impact on Theodore’s mind, helping him cope with his feelings.

Her, which is both an insightful and unsettling take on the near future, addresses a very important question “How to be Human?” Joaquin Phoenix is meticulous in his portrayal of the lonely and forlorn Theodore, who is desperate to find someone who understands him. He is tormented by his messy divorce and finally seeks solace in an AI which is not physically present yet manages to add colour to his monochromatic life. Scarlet Johansson lends her voice to Samantha- her soothing voice mesmerizes the audience. She is fun and flirty and behaves just like she has been programmed. Though Johansson never appears on the screen, she is omnipresent. This peculiar human-AI relationship is quite convincing- it puts forward the popular notion that falling in love would lead to inevitable heartbreaks which in turn could be beautiful and magical. The movie ends on a solemn yet promising note- the sunrise would indicate a new relationship. Perhaps Theodore and Amy would rekindle their love; perhaps Theodore would finally find comfort and warmth in the arms of a woman who is present in his life. This film is a tear-jerker; the audience would oddly be at peace once they immerse themselves in this story, yet quickly snap out of it in fear, dreading the reality that is right around the corner. 

The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, 2015) 

True to the meaning of the word which refers to someone returning from the jaws of death, The Revenant is based on a man’s terrifying quest for survival when pitted against Nature’s wrath and the terrible betrayal of his compatriots.

Leo, who had been snubbed by the Academy multiple times, rightfully took the much-coveted Academy Award for his role as Hugh Glass. Like Hugh, he showed unwavering courage and determination while preparing for the film; despite being a vegetarian, he went to the extent of consuming an actual raw liver to add realism to the film. Outstanding performances by the rest of the cast is overshadowed by Leo’s gut-wrenching portrayal of a helpless man surviving by his will to live. “I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do”, he was quoted saying, “whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. I was enduring cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”

The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, 2019)

An old school masterpiece, the film focuses on Frank Sheeran, a truck driver-turned-hitman who works in close collaboration with a North-eastern Pennsylvania crime family, headed by Russell Bufalino. Frank begins “painting houses”, a code word for a contract killing and is cold and charismatic. Eventually, he is introduced to the fiery Jimmy Hoffa who has ties with organized crime. Scorsese’s brand-new outlook on the gangster genre is phenomenal.

Finely curated, the film boasts of a heavyweight ensemble, including Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci etc. Pacino is exhausted and vulnerable yet loud and funny. DeNiro as the cold-blooded killer does not talk much and carries out his orders without breaking into a cold sweat. Pesci is equally compelling and communicates with his mere presence. Reminiscent of Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, the film conveys how the upcoming modernity is changing the ways of the old world. The film ends on a poignant note, and with Scorsese’s name in the credits, it is almost heartbreaking to think of how the golden era has come to an end. A brilliant epic, it features the dream team while paying tribute to the dying genre via the inevitable doom that awaits the characters. 

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

Like Boyhood, The Florida Project is human, heartbreaking and beautiful to watch. The narrative focuses on poverty and the desire to move up the social ladder. It is realistic and individualistic; Baker’s docudrama-like-filmmaking adds a hint of realism to the film. Tender and raw, it deftly captures lost innocence quite vividly. The setting is simplistic but the anxiety and terror rooted in the lives of the people in the film make it an astonishing indie masterpiece. 

The protagonist is the six-year-old Moonee, a resident of a motel in Kissimmee, Florida, whose days are filled with action and adventure with her crude and reckless single mother Via the lens of the motel manager Bobby, the viewers get a sneak peek into the lives of abject poverty being led by the tenants along with the innate thirst to step into a better tomorrow despite the financial stagnance in their lives. 

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)

L.A. resident Louis Bloom makes a living by scavenging and theft. He stumbles upon a new career as a cameraman, and armed with a camcorder and police scanner begins to embark on nocturnal strolls to record gruesome crimes. When he catches the attention of a news director, the latter wants to raise her station ratings and persuades Louis to go to grotesque lengths to record the ‘money shot’. 

Gilroy portrays the darker side of urban life in this Taxi Driver-esque film. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a stellar performance with his character’s ambition, desperation and stubbornness making him transcend limits and enter the world of the questionable, illegal and immoral. He is a persuasive and cunning sociopath driven by fierce ambition reflects the news depiction of the media industry which can go to any length to increase show ratings. Rene Russo delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the local station director. Stylistic writing, cinematography and incredible performances make the film an impressive watch. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

The film, which begins with an ominous stream-of-consciousness monologue, revolves around the events that unfold when Lucy, an intellectual and a University student, takes a road-trip with her boyfriend Jake to visit his parents’ secluded farmhouse. On arrival, she meets his socially inept parents; jake’s calm nature takes a turn for the worse and she keeps receiving anonymous, sinister phone calls amidst surreal happenings. 

Kaufman resists categorisation with his fiendishly bizarre narratives. While some may find it difficult to understand his perspective due to the lack of a coherent narrative, the film is a wonderful take on the theme of identity, loss and fate. Brilliant performances from the talented ensemble heighten the existential anxiety of the film where the characters gradually seem to lose track of time, memories, emotions and identity. The film descends into a poignant and menacing dreamlike sequence with a wonderful climactic scene. 

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas (Mark Herman, 2008)

Adapted from John Boyne’s eponymous novel and set during World War II, the film revolves around the unusual friendship an eight-year-old son of a German commandant of a concentration camp, Bruno, and a Jewish captive, Shmuel, strike up. 

Despite being on two different sides of a barbed-wire fence, the boys develop affection for each other. The film does not actively portray the horrors of the Holocaust. Instead, it focuses on the depth of human emotions and the childhood innocence which subtly brings out how humankind can turn into Frankenstein’s monster if required. Bruno and Shmuel’s friendship, as well as the tear-jerking and haunting climactic scene of the film, will stay with the viewers long after the end credits have rolled out. 

The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015)

After the accidental death of their son Ty, Eden and Will divorce each other. Two years later, WIll takes his girlfriend to Eden and her new husband, David,s party; Eden and David befriended each other at a grief camp. As Will wanders his former home, pondering over the various pain-inducing memories associated with it, he witnesses several events. As the night progresses, he is convinced that Eden and David have sinister plans for the party group. 

A classic dinner-arty-from hell, the film has an interesting take on grief, depression and general distrust of the world. The general air of vulnerability is enshrouded in cult-like insanity. The slow-burning aspect of the film is scary yet satisfying as it shows how people take different measures to help their loved ones while coping with their grief and loss. 

A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)

Described as a “poetic and profound experiment”, this film is a story of love and loss which is endearing as well as terrifying. With an amazing soundtrack that added poignance to the already solemn atmosphere, the film boasts of wonderful performances by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Affleck, as the ghost clad in a white sheet, steals the show. The director creates aesthetic poetry by freezing on certain sequences to give the viewers to ponder, self-reflect and analyse their purpose in life. 

Having missed the short window to escape the earthly realm, C returns home as a spectral ghost. He watches over his family and longs to be a part of all that is lost or is changing. When a new family moves in, he tries to scare them off as ‘newness’ frustrates him. 

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

The film focuses on the life of a French teenager, Adele, who discovers desire, love and non-conformity when an aspiring painter, Emma, walks into her life. From her high school years to adult life and career-building stage, the story revolves around the development of a beautiful lesbian relationship coupled with love and loss. 

Raw, feverish and honest, the film not only deals with themes of homosexuality but also the difference of class. Emma’s middle-class family is concerned with art and music and is aware of their lesbian relationship while Adele’s conservative working-class family believe them to be friends and discuss social and realistic problems. It is interesting to perceive the film from the perspective of a male directorial gaze. A powerful story laden with emotions, sexuality and the concept of ‘having loved and lost’, the narrative is shouldered forward by brilliant cast members as well as the omnipresent motifs of colour and food. 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman, 2004)

Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski meet each other during a train ride at Montauk Station, fall in love and spend a good time before their wonderful time comes to an end. Instead of communicating with each other, Clementine erases her memories of the relationship. The film is about Joel’s erasure of memories while the viewers relieve the relationship in his head before complications arise forcing the star-struck lovers to meet again.

A wonderful take on fate and predestination, the film basks in the brilliance of its main leads, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. With seamless visuals and whimsical music, the film leaves an everlasting impression on the viewers’ mind. Winslet’s hair colour changes following her moods. A timeless masterpiece that revels in the poetic nature of love and sorrow,  “the formidable Gondry/Kaufman/Carrey axis works marvel after marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being trapped inside one’s addled mind, and in allegorising the self-preserving amnesia of a broken but hopeful heart.”

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)

The film revolves around the stages of growth in the lives of Chiron- childhood, adolescence and adulthood. As the African-American boy tries to survive in the world, grappling with issues including sexuality, identity, abuse etc., the advice of drug-dealer Juan functions as a guiding force and helps hi get by. 

A raw and captivating take on the intersection of blackness, masculinity and vulnerability, Moonlight is visually fluid and seductive. It is mellow and compassionate about the crisis of identity and sexuality in a lonely world. Somehow the experiences of Juan and Chiron find a common ground in being a black vulnerable man trying to seek his place in the world. Supported by a stellar cast, top-notch writing and wonderful cinematography, Moonlight is a mesmerising film that remains etched in the minds of the audience forever. 

The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)

Set in 1630s New England, a Puritan family is banished from the Puritan Plymouth Colony over a religious dispute. They relocate to a farm in a secluded forest where they are plagued by the hauntings of sinister forces and a fabled witch.

The film embarks on a stoic yet engrossing journey of a family’s struggle with religion, nature, faith and the supernatural. Picturesque cinematography and well-fitting music heighten the on-screen horror of the diabolical nature of the cinematic themes. The mere atmospheric horror adds to the beauty that Eggers creates on-screen. Gorgeous and thoughtful, the Witch does not depend on cheap jumpscares natural to the ‘horror herd’- the view inside the human mind and the relentlessness of emotions bring out the horror and torment in the film.