The 75 Best Indie Movies on Netflix

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The 75 Best Indie Movies on Netflix

When we first catalogued the best indie films on Netflix back in 2017, we noted that there really wasn’t any rhyme, reason or rigor when it came to the streaming giant’s definition of “independent movies.” Some were the typical low-budget dramas you’d expect to find playing in your local art-house cinema or debuting at festivals like Sundance and Cannes, but plenty of movies that fit that description were missing. That’s still the case, but it’s been further complicated by the presence of “Netflix Originals” with the “indie” tag—films from independent production companies that Netflix picked up for exclusive distribution.

We’ve included most anything that Netflix calls independent, excluding documentaries since almost all of those are indie and we’ve already broken down the 50 Best Documentaries on Netflx elsewhere. We’ve also added several films from companies like A24 and foreign distributors.

Many of these, of course, are already on our monthly best movies on Netflix super-list. Dig in, and try to remember that there actually was a time, not too long ago, when some movies could have a $60,000 budget and be box office hits.

Here are the best independent movies streaming on Netflix:

laggies.jpg 75. Laggies
Year: 2014
Director: Lynn Shelton
Laggies leans into coming-of-age and romantic dramedy genre tropes, but fiddles around with them in a pleasing manner. The film centers on Meg (Keira Knightley), a college graduate wasting her higher education. Reeling from the one-two punch of a marriage proposal by her longtime boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) that she’s still not sure she’s ready for and also seeing her father, Ed (Jeff Garlin), making out with a random woman at the wedding of her friend, Allison (Ellie Kemper), Meg wanders off into the night. She’s approached by 16-year-old Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), who’s looking to have Meg buy some beer for her and her friends. Meg acquiesces, and then bonds with Annika and her pals over skateboarding. Shelton has the ability to coax extraordinarily relaxed, naturalistic performances out of her actors and actresses, and that’s where Laggies really succeeds. It gives a smart nudge to the oddness of its conceit, and Knightley and Sam Rockwell, especially, rise to the occasion to help sell the material. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie offers up an evocative score. And with the assistance of cinematographer Benjamin Kalsulke and production designer John Lavin, Shelton crafts a film that feels intimate and to-scale. —Brent Simon


BEST-ROMANTIC-MOVIES-NETFLIX-blue-jay.jpg 74. Blue Jay
Year: 2016
Director: Alex Lehmann
Sarah Paulson is one of the most vital actors working today, and at this particular moment she’s damn close to ubiquitous; here she shows up as one of two leads in newcomer Alex Lehmann’s lovely romantic comedy Blue Jay, a compact and unassuming film about big, life-changing things that’s presented in a beautiful monochrome package. Think of it as a palate cleanser for Paulson after a year spent maneuvering productions of grander scope and ambition. But scale and quality exist in two separate zip codes, and what Blue Jay lacks in import it makes up for with effervescence and melancholy. As though to put Paulson’s luminous talents to the test, Lehmann has cast her alongside Mark Duplass, a man primarily known for making tons of low-fi mutter-fests and whose range allows him comfortably to play himself. Paulson and Duplass make such a great pair that the film’s relative nothingness is pleasurable rather than painful. Blue Jay only clocks in at about an hour and twenty minutes (less, counting the credits scrawl), so it should breeze along by its very nature, but it feels like it only runs about half as long as that. It’s well crafted, well mannered and very well acted, though you may decide for yourself if all credit should go to Paulson. She draws out Duplass’ best merits as an actor, much as Amanda draws out the best in Jim: The more the film progresses, the brighter and more enthusiastic Duplass becomes, relishing every second he gets to be on screen with her. Their chemistry is palpable. —Andy Crump


wind-river.jpg 73. Wind River
Year: 2017
Director: Taylor Sheridan
2017’s Wind River marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and it stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert—a veteran tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service. After discovering the dead body of a young Native American woman, he joins Elizabeth Olsen’s jane Banner, an FBI Agent, on a quest for answers and, for Lambert, personal redemption for something that happened in his past. What follows is nearly two hours of pure white-knuckle tension as the duo tries to solve the murder. It is a sparse, desolate thriller—a snow-covered neo-western—where violent acts bring about violent repercussions. In a land where hope hasn’t existed for a while, or maybe it was never there to begin with, heinous acts go unpunished. Lambert and Banner want to fix that, trying to bring justice and redemption to the condemned few on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The film flirts with the all too real problems of life on Native American reservations, the blind-eye America turned to their once-perpetrated genocide and the real fact that the rape of young Native American women is a crime that rarely sees the perpetrator convicted. Wind River’s thematic resonance and tonal texture is nearly post-apocalyptic in its spatial desperation and tangible sorrow. It is a quiet, methodically paced thriller where a metaphorical kettle is at a constant near boil until it reaches a fever-pitch punctuated by extreme violence, and one of the tensest and most nerve-wracking stand-offs in cinematic history. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s somber score interrupt the film’s haunting silence with equally haunting melody. Sheridan proves himself a capable director who frames most of the film in striking wide shots that capture the sheer nothingness of the landscape, and when lead starts flying, he keeps the camera steady—all of the action remains in frame, adding to the sense of desperation, sloppiness and overall pointlessness that each outburst of violence seems to harbor. As a whole, it may fall victim to an all-too-common “white savior complex,” but it’s a thriller that feels as necessary as it is riveting. —Cole Henry


24-best-so-far-2015-Manglehorn.jpg 72. Manglehorn
Year: 2015
Director: David Gordon Green 
David Gordon Green’s film stars Al Pacino as the titular locksmith with nothing but time on his hands. Manglehorn lives a solitary life—his ailing kitty his only friend—but Green and first-time screenwriter Paul Logan hint at the world he once occupied. Periodically, the film will downshift so that a side character can tell a story about the Manglehorn they used to know: the father, the baseball coach, the loving grandfather. That we see little of the warmth or humanity these characters describe is Manglehorn’s great mystery: Where did that man go, the man Pacino plays in an agreeably modest, empathetic performance? Too many years of hoo-ah overkill have stifled his light touch and effortless charm, replaced with hammy intensity and Scarface parody. But the Pacino on display here mostly puts aside those actor-ly embellishments for something warmer. —Tim Grierson


dallas-buyers.jpg 71. Dallas Buyers Club
Year: 2013
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Despite some feel-good conventionality, Dallas Buyers Club succeeds thanks to its pragmatic view of its rather pragmatic hero. Inspired by true events, the film stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, who in the mid-1980s was living in Dallas and happily screwing every woman in town when a trip to the doctor uncovered that he was HIV-positive. A man’s man—in other words, a small-minded homophobe—Woodroof initially refuses to believe the diagnosis since he’s not gay, but after being told he has about 30 days to live, he focuses his energy on seeking out drugs that can help him survive. You walk away from Dallas Buyers Club not so much moved by the larger issues as you are by the simple, odd friendship forged by Woodroof and Rayon. These two accidental crusaders are heroes precisely because they never set out to be—they just wanted to stay alive. —Tim Grierson

i-dont-feel.jpg 70. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, writer-director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonally audacious genre outing unafraid to slip for a moment or two into the sweet relief of magical realism. Blair’s premise is simple—Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, cast to perfection), a quiet loner, comes home to find her house robbed, and when the police won’t help, she seeks vigilante justice with equally socially inept neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood)—but his ever-increasingly sprawling plot is fueled by a myopic moral perspective rendered in black and white. Ruth wonders aloud why everyone is an asshole (moreso, why assholes so easily get away with being assholes), and Blair seemingly wonders the same thing, punctuating his mundane neo-noir with gruesome violence and unexpected physical comedy (a projectile vomit scene, in particular, rivals the classic back-alley puke-fest from Team America). Blair’s worked extensively with his friend Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room), so the two share a startling sense of pace and a knack for making even the most sloppy action sequences feel precise, but Saulnier is so much bleaker, whereas Blair allows each of his film’s supposed assholes a chance to redeem, or at least explain, themselves. A crappy cop is going through a messy divorce; a delinquent son acts out against the specter of an absentee father; a guy whose dog craps on your lawn just wasn’t really paying attention—as Ruth struggles to confront the callousness of her cold world, she realizes that we’re all pretty much doing the same thing too: We’re struggling. —Dom Sinacola


results.jpg 69. Results
Year: 2015
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Results is a significant departure for Andrew Bujalski. While relatively low-budget, this is the director’s biggest film to date—there’s no shaky camerawork or poor sound quality here, and working, notable actors are seemingly getting working day rates. Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha, in 2002, was one of the first to be coined “mumblecore,” and the awkward but natural performances from its nonprofessional actors became a defining characteristic of the movement. There’s certainly more polish from Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce and Kevin Corrigan, but their performances—refined and, admittedly, “professional”—only enhance the lived-in nature of the characters Bujalski’s created—who all happen to be rather pathetic, emotionally stunted and odd human beings. Still, you can’t help but become invested in their lives, each with their own endearing quirks, each amusing in their own way, to discover and observe. Results is a series of wondefully tiny, revealing moments. —Regan Reid


deidra-laney-rob-train-poster.jpg 68. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train
Year: 2017
Director: Sydney Freeland
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train is a heart-melter. The film, like its two title characters, like its handful of supporting characters and like its director, has spunk, personality, a spark of vitality keeping its narrative humming from start to finish, but it takes its material as seriously as it needs to at the precise times when it needs to, as well. There’s a certain level of amorality here, as you might expect from a film about locomotive larceny, but submerged beneath the murky ethics of theft are currents of empathy: Freeland has constructed a judgment-free zone for telling the tale of sisters Deidra (Ashley Murray) and Laney Tanner (Rachel Crow), inspired toward criminal enterprise all in the name of family. It’s a caper, alright, but a caper that refuses to make light of the premise-shaping predicaments that shape its premise, a feat Freeland pulls off with casual brio. You get the feeling that there are lots of Deidras and Laneys out there who are constantly denied the chance to escape their circumstances, whether in backwater America or elsewhere, by the very institutions that are supposed to help them achieve. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train manages to address these ideas, without focusing on them. They remain in the background for the whole of the film, self-reinforced by the flow of Freeland’s plotting. This is appropriate for the sort of picture that Deidra & Laney Rob a Train wants to be: a romp, but a romp of substance and heart. —Andy Crump


gods-pocket.jpg 67. God’s Pocket
Year: 2014
Director: John Slattery 
When Philip Seymour Hoffman died in 2014, he left behind a few performances that hadn’t yet been released. Among those was a starring role in the debut feature from Mad Men’s John Slattery. God’s Pocket is set in a working-class South Philadelphia neighborhood in the early 1980s. Hoffman plays a low-level thief who tries to cover his loser stepson’s accidental murder. The plot is a little thin and nothing you haven’t seen before, but Hoffman’s performance alone makes this worth watching. The superb cast of Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks and John Turturro, and the grimy world of God’s Pocket—the fictional South Philly neighborhood based on Devil’s Pocket—are just bonus. —Josh Jackson


dayveon-movie-poster.jpg 66. Dayveon
Year: 2017
Director: Amman Abbasi
“…stupid house,” Dayveon (Devin Blackmon) lists as he rides his bike aimlessly through his rural Arkansas town, beginning the film that bears his name with the kind of flippant cynicism that seems right for a 13-year-old. Dustin Lane’s cinematography floats Dayveon in the center of the 4:3 screen, buoyed by a world of humidity. “Stupid tree. Stupid rock. Stupid concrete,” he goes on in voiceover, under his breath but fed up. “Stupid people.” His cynicism is infectious—not that such cynicism is in short supply in 2017, the kind that’s purposeless and broad and generally disgusted with everything. “Everything stupid,” Dayveon agrees. In Amman Abbasi’s debut, Dayveon has plenty of big reasons to believe that everything is stupid: His older brother was recently killed in gang-related violence and there isn’t much of a chance Dayveon will be able to avoid a similar fate, both because he’s already facing hazing rituals with the Bloods in town, and because Abbasi reflects the milieu of a young African American male growing up in the impoverished South in tones of unmitigated naturalism shot through with shreds of magical realism. Lane’s colors are lushly romantic (red, as one might expect, leaps from practically every frame, surrounded by a thousand verdant shades of green) but loaded with melancholy. All this Abbasi captures in heightened hand-held glory, demonstrating (with the willing, nuanced performances of his non-professional cast) a finely tuned familiarity with more than the people and places of rural Arkansas, but with their everyday struggles with stupidity. —Dom Sinacola


WhiteGirl232x345.jpg 65. White Girl
Year: 2016
Director: Elizabeth Wood
The title of Elizabeth Wood’s lean, vicious, black comic act of autobiography is a loaded phrase: It references the powdery stimulant that greases the film’s dramatic wheels, it’s a nod to Wood’s subject-cum-protagonist-cum-screen avatar and it’s a two-word curse, the film’s “Khan!”, an abject expression of repulsion. White Girl holds nothing back, frontloading its narrative with graphic sex sequences and even more graphic white privilege sequences, where young Leah (Morgan Saylor), recently relocated from her Midwestern home to attend college in NYC, recklessly indulges her every whim without a thought to the cost her abandon incurs for both her and the people around her. That’s the point, of course: She doesn’t have to think about consequences. She’s White Girl™, a super-powered force of entitlement. Wood’s film might make you laugh, or it might make you tear out your hair. No matter where your reaction to White Girl on the spectrum falls, though, you won’t soon forget it. —Andy Crump


dont think twice netflix.jpg 64. Don’t Think Twice
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Birbiglia 
One of the most appealing aspects of Don’t Think Twice is the sense of close-knit community it depicts among its main characters, all of them members of a fictional New York City-based improv troupe named the Commune. They’re so attached to each other, at least in the film’s early stages, that they regularly spend their Saturday nights with each other watching Weekend Live, the Saturday Night Live-like late-night comedy show that represents the endgame for which they’ve devoted so many of their years toiling in relative obscurity. When one of the Commune members, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), finally reaches that aforementioned pinnacle and becomes a new member of Weekend Live, the ascension brings out into the open the sense of cutthroat competition that was perhaps always underlying the surface camaraderie. As close-knit as he, his mentor Miles (director Mike Birbiglia), Jack’s girlfriend Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and the rest are, they’re all vying for the same highly coveted spots; no surprise that an unspoken sense of jealousy soon develops after Jack is picked. Therein lies Don’t Think Twice’s most poignant insight into this particular creative world: This “frenemies” dynamic takes place in an environment so brutal that it forces those who don’t make it to the top to wonder if they ever had the talent to begin with. Even Jack, who may have proved to be the “best” of the Commune members, finds himself still facing an uphill climb at Weekend Live. —Kenji Fujishima


james-white.jpg 63. James White
Year: 2015
Director: Josh Mond
Eventually while watching James White, you’ll decide you simply cannot get a bead on its main character. The sooner you do, the better: Like no movie in recent memory, the feature debut of writer-director Josh Mond is a small marvel of evenhanded empathy. Played by Christopher Abbott, James White has a restless energy, a self-destructive streak, a bratty sense of entitlement, and a fierce devotion to those he loves. So, what does that make him, exactly? A cautionary tale? Utterly insufferable? A misunderstood romantic? James White never quite decides, which isn’t the same as not having strong opinions about its central figure. Mond has nothing but feelings for White, and they’re compellingly complicated. Loosely based on Mond’s own life, James White spans about five months, but the jaggedness of the telling makes the movie feel like the scenes are simply ripped-out patches in a much larger quilt of a life. There’s a looseness to the film that’s attuned to White’s own twitchy psyche, but Mond constructs his story with care, keeping an eye on its emotional through line. White’s life is in tumult when we first meet him, but we soon get the impression that his life is always fraying—it’s just that, this time, his distant father has died and now that’s become the central focus of his personal whirlwind. White isn’t so much grieving the loss—he hardly knew the man—but, rather, is concerned about his divorced mother Gail (a terrific Cynthia Nixon), who has stage 4 cancer and doesn’t need the additional emotional blow. The second half of James White is given over to Gail’s unalterable condition, and Abbott and Nixon hunker down as their characters travel down a road that only has one final destination. Even then, though, Mond refuses to give in to sentimentality or easy takeaways. To call James White a coming-of-age tale is simplistic—plus, it creates an expectation that its protagonist actually grows in some sort of quantifiable, conventional way. Maybe White will turn over a new leaf later after the credits roll, but it will take more than an 85-minute film for such a change to occur. —Tim Grierson


kicking-screaming.jpg 62. Kicking and Screaming
Year: 1995
Director: Noah Baumbach 
The thing about college graduation is that you’re expected to do something afterward. As always, though, the movies are here for us. Young filmmakers have long exorcised those one or two (or seven) years after graduation, wherein caustic anxiety about the future leads well-educated twentysomethings to enter an extended period of uselessness on their way to whatever’s next. Thus emerged this talky cousin of the coming-of-age movie, which exists mostly to comfort new generations of grads and depress older ones. In the debut feature from writer-director Noah Baumbach, a group of liberal-arts types graduate and then sit around and lament a future they don’t bother to confront: “Oh, I’ve been to Prague. Well, I haven’t ‘been to Prague’ been to Prague, but I know that thing, I know that ‘stop-shaving-your-armpits, read-The Unbearable Lightness of Being, fall-in-love-with-a-sculptor, now-I-know-how-bad-American-coffee-is thing.’” The film both celebrates and satirizes that first post-collegiate year, and it gave the world a glimpse of Baumbach’s ability to remind us all of the realness and rawness of that youthful angst. Though it declines to wrap up tidily, there’s some comfort in that, too. —Jeffrey Bloomer


chasing-amy.jpg 61. Chasing Amy
Year: 1997
Director: Kevin Smith 
Anyone who has listened to enough hours of Kevin Smith’s podcasts or lengthy Q&A sessions knows that, behind his perpetual potty-mouth and flashes of egomania, Smith is a big softie at heart. After two films that reveled in crass slackerdom lifestyles (Clerks and Mallrats), Smith honed his writing voice for his third feature, Chasing Amy. The film stars Ben Affleck as an amateur comic book artist named Holden whose life is thrown awry when he meets a beautiful and vibrant girl named Alyssa (played by Smith’s then-girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams) and instantly falls in love. The problem? Alyssa is a lesbian. Crushed but still determined to spend time with her, Holden develops a close friendship with Alyssa, eventually telling her how he feels with the kind of speech that anyone who has ever experienced a hurtful bout of unrequited love has tossed around in their minds but never found the words to express. —Mark Rozeman


Honeytrap-netflix.jpg 60. Honeytrap
Year: 2014
Director: Rebecca Johnson
Based on a true and tragic story, Honeytrap tells of a young and naive teen from Trinidad who moves to London to live with her mother for the first time since her childhood. We know Layla’s desire—desperation, really—to fit in with the Brixton crowd is going to end badly, but Jessica Sula’s portrayal makes the character’s seemingly simple-minded moves feel completely relatable. Not unlike the beautiful French film, Goodbye First Love, Honeytrap takes young love and its oft accompanying obliviousness very seriously. When Layla chooses the (ahem, wildly attractive) bad guy over the good guy, and finds herself unable to walk away from an abusive relationship, we can’t help but identify with her because writer-director Rebecca Johnson has taken care to show how Layla’s decision-making is informed by both familial strains and a culture that celebrate hyper-masculinity. But it’s the end of the film that delivers a powerfully shocking blow—one that will make you wholly relieved that your days of teenage love are (hopefully) far behind. —Shannon M. Houston


christine.jpg 59. Christine
Year: 2016
Director: Antonio Campos
Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness. —Tim Grierson


beautiful-girls.jpg 58. Beautiful Girls
Year: 1996
Director: Ted Demme
Ted Demme’s 1996 film is many things, all but one of them not particularly unique or unheard of: it’s a well-executed ensemble relationship comedy set in a small town that’s recognizable to anyone who’s spent any time in a small town. It’s a calm, gentle study of a group of childhood friends struggling to come to terms with the responsibilities of adulthood and of their impending 30s. None of that is unique, though having it all come together as well as it does in Beautiful Girls is certainly unusual. What is uncommon, however—and pretty much absent from Hollywood—is its portrait of attraction between an older man and a young, barely teenaged girl. With the pseudo-courtship between the Marty (Natalie Portman) and Willie (Timothy Hutton), writer Scott Rosenberg allows for an attraction between age categories that isn’t prurient or melodramatic or improperly acted on—it just is. Watching the chemistry between Marty and Willie develop and watching the two wrestle with what to do about it is refreshing and romantic, even as its ultimate resolution rings true (and a bit bittersweet).—Michael Burgin


HellHighWater232x345.jpg 57. Hell or High Water
Year: 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
David Mackenzie’s film gets the balance between genre and plot so right that, after a while, I forgot I was watching a genre film and simply found myself immersed in the lives of these characters. That is a tribute to not only the performances and Mackenzie’s direction, but also to Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay, which finds seemingly boundless amounts of colorful human detail and unexpected humor in what, on the surface, stands as a clichéd narrative. Hell or High Water is essentially a cops-and-robbers tale, with grizzled soon-to-retire veteran sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his deputy, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), going after a brotherly duo of bank robbers: Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) Howard. Sheridan’s characters are so fully imagined that, combined with actors and a director sensitive to the nuances in the script, we ultimately respond to them as flesh-and-blood people. But Sheridan—who tackled the moral difficulties of the drug war with his script for Sicario—has even bigger thematic game in mind. Hell or High Water is also meant to be a topical anti-capitalist lament, being that it takes place in a west Texas town that looks to have been decimated by the recent economic recession, with big billboard signs of companies advertising debt relief amid stretches of desolation, and with Toby driven in large part by a desire to break out of what he sees as a cycle of poverty for his loved ones, to provide a better life for his two sons and ex-wife. The film builds up to a finale that thankfully goes not for a mindlessly violent showdown, but for a tension-filled dialogue-based confrontation which plays like a meeting of minds between characters who have more sympathy toward each other than they perhaps realized. Even as two of the main characters reach a kind of truce, however, Mackenzie comes up with an even more devastating image with which to end his film: He simply moves the camera from high in the air down to a batch of grass. It’s as if Mackenzie wanted to contextualize these human dramas for us—we all end up in the ground, ultimately. Here, in Hell or High Water, is a sterling example of genre craftsmanship at its intelligent and unexpectedly affecting best. —Kenji Fujishima


ASeriousMan.jpg 56. A Serious Man
Year: 2009
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Working with few recognizable stars, the Coens have made a funny but odd and inquisitive film about guilt. It’s also their most Jewish film to date, a film about physics professor Larry Gopnik and the Jewish subculture of a medium-sized late-’60s American town. Larry’s life begins to fall apart when his wife says she wants a divorce, and in the great unraveling that follows, the Coens have made Kafka’s implications explicit. The K word is often slapped onto any old symbolic nightmare, but Kafka’s own work was actually very funny, even though he could slip into gray areas without much warning. The Coens can, too. A Serious Man is one of the most fascinating, maybe even heartfelt, renderings of a Kafkaesque sensibility that I’ve seen. —Robert Davis


hellion.jpg 55. Hellion
Year: 2013
Director: Kat Candler
Kat Candler’s Hellion is set in the aftermath of a family losing its matriarch, and no one is handling her death very well. Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is the titular hell-raising pre-teen who takes his younger brother on dangerous adventures in vandalism. Aaron Paul is his grief-stricken father trying desperately to hold the family together. Jacob sees a motocross rally as his chance for some redemption, but this is no heart-warming sports movie. It’s an intimate look at a difficult childhood offering no easy answers, one that leads you to care deeply about its flawed but sympathetic characters. —Josh Jackson


blue-warmest.jpg 54. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power. —Tim Grierson


brick.jpg 53. Brick
Year: 2005
Director: Rian Johnson
High-school sleuths are popular on TV—Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Hardy Boys, to name a few. Social cliques and hormonal tensions coupled with deceptively blasé suburban backdrops tend to refresh gumshoe maneuvers, even as murderous intrigue adds zap to all the Clearasil melodrama. But Brick, director Rian Johnson’s crackling debut, shakes up a genre that’s grown a bit routine, while indulging our familiarity with it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, the smart, loner kid whose broken heart leads him to the local teenage underworld when his ex-girlfriend (Lost’s Emilie de Ravin) goes missing. The extremely mannered dialogue evokes the clipped lingo of Philip Marlowe, cross-wired with David Mamet. Southern California kids who look like they should be in line for a Gwen Stefani show drop slang like “duck soup” (easy pickings) and “bulls” (cops) as if they were studying James Ellroy in English class. Like those punches that lunge across the screen and send Brendan reeling toward his next clue, it’s a left-field surprise. —Steve Dollar


swingers poster.jpg 52. Swingers
Year: 1996
Director: Doug Liman
With their breakout roles in Swingers, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau established the personalities that still define them 20 years later. Vaughn’s a fast-talking Eddie Haskell type who isn’t quite as charming as he thinks, and Favreau’s an affable everyman with a sensitive side. This carries over to their recent work: Vaughn motormouths his way through comedies and dramas alike, while Favreau makes big budget Hollywood films that tend to be a little bit smarter and better crafted than most. The ease and charm of their friendship is what makes Swingers so memorable—it would’ve been called a bromance so often if that portmanteau existed in 1996. Swingers is a character-first comedy that captures a specific time and place in vivid detail. —Alan Byrd


lock-stock.jpg 51. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Year: 1998
Director: Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie’s debut film, a super-stylistic take on the gangster formula, pays homage to the work of Quentin Tarantino—from the sardonic humor, to slapstick violence, to the twisty plot, you could call it the British Reservoir Dogs on crack. Vinnie Jones plays Big Chris as tough as he looked on the football field but also as a loving new dad. P.H. Moriarty is the out-of-control crime boss ‘Hatchet’ Harry Lonsdale. And its obtrusive soundtrack—a mix of classic rock, reggae and pop—brings it all together.

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