Today and throughout the week at Moviefone, we're celebrating the unsung, hard-won, I've-maxed-out-my-credit-cards-to-finance-this world of independent filmmaking. We'll publish features that explore, expose, and explain today's independent movies. We call it "Independents Day." Get it? It's clever, right? We thought so. Read on.
This year has already seen a strong slate of indie stories ranging from mind-bending romances to shocking thrillers. We've also been introduced to some new names in the indie world like Xavier Dolan, alongside some favorite staples such as Steven Soderbergh and Harmony Korine.
To celebrate Independents Day, we've ranked the top 25 indie movies (so far) of 2013. Take a look at our list below and start adding the titles to your Netflix queue, because these films are ones you won't want to miss.
For more of Moviefone's Independents Day coverage, head here
Gallery | indies
- Just Missed: 'Blancanieves,' 'Fill the Void,' 'Something in the Air'
There are a few films that just missed our top 25 list, mainly because there have been so many great indies this year so far.
Pablo Berger’s twist on the Snow White fable, "Blancanieves" (shown in trailer), is set in 1920s Spain and follows a young girl who runs away with a troupe of dwarfs to become a famous bullfighter. This black-and-white silent film, and winner of 10 Goya Awards (the Spanish Oscars), is the perfect tribute to silent cinema, much like last year’s “The Artist.”
In "Fill the Void," the debut from Israeli director Rama Burshtein, a young orthodox Hasidic girl is forced to marry the husband of her late sister. This gripping portrait of love and religious obligation, which won two awards at last year’s Venice Film Festival, leaves the audience to ponder their own beliefs on following one’s heart versus fulfilling social expectations.
Olivier Assayas’s "Something In the Air" follows a young man’s artistic awakening during the 1968 student revolution in Paris when his desire to make art clashes with his friends' political endeavors. Based on Assayas' personal experiences, the film strongly captures this historical moment of the French youth rebellions.
- 25. 'In The House'
What’s It About? Francois Ozon’s (“Swimming Pool”) film stars Kristin Scott Thomas, and French actors Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, and Fabrice Luchin. "In the House” follows a young boy who writes about the affairs of a family he frequently visits and shares his reports with his middle school teacher, who slowly becomes more and more obsessed.
Why We Love It: Ozon’s comic thriller may be his best film to date, as his riveting script reveals the dangerous inner workings of writing and fiction. “In the House” will keep you hooked with its unexpected narrative that blurs lines between reality and imagination.
- 24. 'Hannah Arendt'
What’s It About? This biographical drama follows the life of German-Jewish philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt who reported on the 1961 trial of ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Why We Love It: Director Margarethe Von Trotta mixes actual trial footage and acted moments, which lends a dynamic portrait of the controversial writer who shaped the concept of “the banality of evil.” Barbara Sukowa’s performance as Arendt is a strikingly memorable one.
- 23. 'Laurence Anyways'
What’s It About? Xavier Dolan’s third film maintains his dedication to LGBT storytelling by following a French schoolteacher who decides to undergo his long-desired transformation into a woman. The film tracks the 10-year on-and-off relationship between Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement) as he transitions into his new life.
Why We Love It: If anyone can tell a profoundly heartfelt story about flawed love and the trials of a transgender it is Dolan. The Canadian filmmaker’s vibrant style and knack for passionate storytelling make this a remarkable addition to his small filmography and an achievement in LGBT filmmaking.
- 22. 'Like Someone In Love'
What’s It About? Iranian director Abbas Kirarostami’s “Like Someone In Love” is set in Tokyo and follows a sociology professor who spends one evening with a young prostitute and begins to fall for her.
Why We Love It: While it sounds like an age-old story, Kiarostami’s pensive eye gives us a slow-paced look at one-sided love with his signature style of naturalistic dialogue and performances. Fans of the director’s work, as well as patient art house moviegoers, will enjoy “Like Someone In Love.”
- 21. 'Sun Don't Shine'
What’s It About? Written and directed by Amy Seimetz (“Upstream Color,” “Tiny Furniture”), “Sun Don’t Shine” follows a couple across desolate central Florida on a mysterious road trip. As Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and her boyfriend Leo (Kentucker Audley) travel they begin to discover disturbing details about their past and future.
Why We Love It: Sheil and Audley’s powerful performances paired with Seimetz’s claustrophobic, tense photography make “Sun Don’t Shine” a dark, compelling film worth the visit.
- 20. 'No'
What’s It About? In Pablo Larrain’s Oscar-nominated drama, ad executive Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile's 1988 referendum.
Why We Love It: The film strongly captures the visual aesthetic of 1988, fusing history, fiction, and some humor into a powerful, inspiring story.
- 19. 'War Witch'
What’s It About? This war drama follows 14 year-old Komona (non-actor Rachel Mwanza) who was abducted from an African rebel army to become a child slave. Komona befriends a young man and attempts to return to her village to properly bury her deceased parents.
Why We Love It: Both filmmaker Kim Nguyen’s powerful screenplay and Mwanza’s remarkable first performance make “War Witch” a heartfelt and haunting portrait of child soldiers in Africa.
- 18. 'Stories We Tell'
What’s It About? Oscar-nominated director and writer Sarah Polley (“Away from Her”) investigates the secrets behind a family of storytellers in “Stories We Tell.” Polley’s interrogating unravels a tangle of contradictions in the family’s many layers of myths and memories.
Why We Love It: This compelling documentary is an innovative addition to the genre that will leave you in a deep thought-provoking state.
- 17. 'Berberian Sound Studio'
What’s It About? When Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is hired to do the sound effects for an Italian horror film in the 1970s, the lines between the film and reality begin to blur. This psychological thriller from Peter Strickland pays homage to the classic days of sound mixing and the Italian horror genre.
Why We Love It: Rather than scare us with cheap thrills, “Berberian Sound Studio” transforms a genre into a work of art and leaves us feeling an underlying creepiness.
- 16. I Killed My Mother'
What’s It About? Twenty-four year-old Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s first film “I Killed My Mother” premiered at Cannes in 2009, but was finally released for the first time in the U.S. this year. The film -- starring, written, and directed by Dolan -- is based on Dolan’s own experiences with his mother as a gay teenager and the struggles and fights that broke them apart.
Why We Love It: There is something courageous and heartbreakingly honest about Dolan’s story that hits you hard and stays with you. Pretty amazing that the first film from a (at the time) 20-year-old is a deeply moving work featuring one of the most powerful mother-son relationships on screen.
- 15. 'Room 237'
What’s It About? Rodney Ascher’s documentary explores the myriad theories behind Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece “The Shining.” Ascher interviews fan and scholars on their theories and matches them with imagery that reworks the classic film.
Why We Love It: Any fan of Kubrick’s and "The Shining," and even those who love to ruminate over the many meanings and connections behind a film, will love this doc. If anything, “Room 237” reveals how the genius mind of Kubrick led to an endless, and unanswerable, study of his work.
- 14. 'The Kings of Summer'
What’s It About? In Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s coming-of-age comedy starring Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, three young boys venture out into the woods to build a house and manage their own destiny.
Why We Love It: A story full of youthful spirit, “The Kings of Summer” evokes the summers of our own childhoods and the desire for independence craved as a teenager. Vogt-Roberts gives us a film that we can connect to, but avoids all the Hollywood cliches with a refreshing dose of comedy.
- 13. 'Beyond the Hills'
What’s It About? When a nun living in a monastery in Romania is invited back to her homeland by a visiting friend, she, in turn, decides to convert her friend to her religious ways. However, intense jealousy brings out a dramatic and devastating turn of events in this film based on a true story.
Why We Love It: This Cannes award-winning drama from Cristian Mungiu may have a slow start, but the film builds into a tense climax and is a remarkable piece of Romanian cinema.
- 12. 'Much Ado About Nothing'
What’s It About? Joss Whedon’s (“The Avengers,” “The Cabin in the Woods”) modern retelling of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy follows two pairs of lovers, mapping the intricate game we call love.
Why We Love It: Whedon’s spin on the classic comedy offers a refreshing mix of the modern and the Elizabethan. The film holds a sense of classic richness to it -- owed to the black-and-white picture and Shakespearean dialogue -- while the cast of mostly unknowns offers a delightful new touch that brings the text to life.
- 11. 'Stoker'
What’s It About? After India’s (Mia Wasikowska) father dies, her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never knew existed, comes to stay with her and her mother (Nicole Kidman). In this mind-bending thriller, India begins to become obsessed with her mysterious uncle.
Why We Love It: First of all, it’s a Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) film, so it’s guaranteed to shock. Second, this psychosexual thriller -- with its gorgeous photography and mesmerizing performances -- will satiate your desire for creepy suspense.
- 10. 'The Gatekeepers'
What’s It About? Dror Moreh’s documentary features all surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, who for the first time publicly share their insights and actions.
Why We Love It: This daring documentary offers honest insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will keep you gasping in continual shock.
- 9. 'Leviathan'
What’s It About? This documentary from Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor focuses on the commercial fishing industry of the North Atlantic.
Why We Love It: This cinematic essay uses gorgeous imagery to explore man’s existential struggle with nature and his relationship to God through tiny cameras attached to people and birds. The film won the Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award at last year’s LA Film Critics Awards.
- 8. 'The Place Beyond the Pines'
What’s It About? Ryan Gosling re-teams with “Blue Valentine” writer-director Derek Cianfrance in this drama about a motorcycle stunt rider who turns to crime in order to provide for his family. A bit of a fractured narrative, “A Place Beyond Pines” breaks off to then tell the story of a rookie cop, played by Bradley Cooper.
Why We Love It: Cianfrance takes the indie melodrama to bigger and broader heights in this film, which has many great achievements. While “A Place Beyond the Pines” has its flaws, it is an ambitious, compelling work.
- 7. 'V/H/S/2'
What’s It About? In the sequel to last year’s found footage horror favorite “V/H/S,” two private investigators searching for a missing boy discover a slew of abandoned tapes in an empty house.
Why We Love It: This follow-up takes the horrific shorts of the previous film to an even crazier level with the likes of demonic cults, ghost-detecting eye implants, and alien abductions. Unlike the first, “V/H/S/2” follows a circular story with a complete ending that, while disturbing in itself, still pokes fun at everything with an appreciated dose of humor.
- 6. 'Side Effects'
What’s It About? Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller “Side Effects” follows a depressed young woman (Rooney Mara) and her husband (Channing Tatum). When she gets in a car accident, a psychiatrist (Jude Law) prescribes her an antidepressant that turns out to have unexpected side effects.
Why We Love It: A solid, engaging thriller with many twists and turns, “Side Effects” is a well-made film that reinvents the murder mystery genre. This Hitchcockian thrill ride reminds us why Soderbergh is so great and makes us hope he won’t actually follow through with retirement.
- 5. 'Mud'
What’s It About? “Mud” tells the story of two young boys who discover a fugitive hiding out in their small town. When the boys learn that Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is evading bounty hunters to meet up with the love of his life, they make a pact to protect him.
Why We Love It: This coming-of-age story-meets-crime drama is a strong character study with solid performances that proves Jeff Nichols ("Take Shelter") continues to have a deep understanding of Southern life.
- 4. 'Spring Breakers'
What’s It About? Harmony Korine’s exploration into the destructive world of teenage girls, “Spring Breakers,” shows the crazy that dwells within all of us. When Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) decide that going to Miami for spring break is their only chance at small-town freedom, things get crazier than they ever expected.
Why We Love It: Korine’s gaze is satirical yet bluntly honest, as we watch three college girls go to any and every length possible to completely let loose. While utterly ridiculous, girls, greed, and the lust for mayhem have never be depicted so perfectly and hilariously. “Spring Breakers” is genius for testing audiences’ ability to laugh at their own absurd culture.
- 3. 'Frances Ha'
What’s It About? Noah Baumbach’s (“The Squid and the Whale”) film follows Frances (Greta Gerwig), a free spirit and dance apprentice who just can’t seem to get her life on track. After her best friend moves out to live with her boyfriend, Frances hops from one friend’s apartment to the next, making one stupid decision after another.
Why We Love It: Baumbach’s script (co-written by Gerwig) and the black-and-white treatment recall early Woody Allen and the French New Wave. While it may seem like every other story of a youth struggling to reach adulthood, “Frances Ha” takes the cliched tale to new heights and offers a refreshing, comedic approach.
- 2. 'Before Midnight'
What’s It About? The final installment of Richard Linklater’s romantic trilogy, “Before Midnight” picks up nine years after Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met in Paris in “Before Sunset,” and 18 years after they first met in “Before Sunrise.
Why We Love It: What could be more perfect than meeting the couple that fell in love in Vienna 18 years ago? The final film is darker than the previous two, yet goes to show the truth about love and long relationships. Linklater’s finale gives an insightful and genuine look at the hard work -- and tragedy -- that comes with love.
- 1. 'Upstream Color'
What’s It About? On one level, Shane Carruth’s (“Primer”) film is about an organism that horrifically destroys people’s lives by subjecting them to someone else’s control. On another, “Upstream Color” examines two lost people drawn together in a tangled web of connected identities. Yet neither really describe the fantastically complex film.
Why We Love It: Carruth film is one that will crawl into your head like a bug and not leave you alone; one that will puzzle you (probably forever) as the score swirls through your ears repeatedly. “Upstream Color” is beautiful, disturbing, perplexing, and fascinating, but the best part about it is there’s no real answer. Or is there?