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The Best Independent Film from Each of the Past 20 Years

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Gettysburg chapter.

2023, Earth Mama

Earth Mama (2023) is the somber directorial debut from Savannah Leaf. The movie follows a pregnant young woman who tries to regain her financial independence while also attempting to regain her sense of family in her bay area community. This film stars the talented Tia Nomore, who also made her debut with acting in this movie.

2022, Bones and All

The famous Call Me By Your Name (2017) director, Luca Guadagnino, came out with the film Bones and All (2022) which starred Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet as star crossed cannibals. Though this one may be a bit unnerving for most, it is undoubtedly an underrated and extremely unique film in the horror and romance genres.

2021, Plan B

The film Plan B (2022) is a modern take on the quirky road trip film where two high school best friends must travel hours away from their small South Dakota town to get a birth control pill after one of the friends loses her virginity. This fun buddy comedy makes for a great weekend watch. I personally believe that this is a great recent entry to one of my favorite genres: the chick flick.

2020, The Kid Detective

2020 was a tumultuous year, filled with sporadic pandemics, and movie going went extinct. Sadly, some of the films that were brought to us were lost among the chaos of Covid-19. This film was one of the unfortunate countless films who slipped through the cracks. Adam Brody stars as a depressed former child detective trying to regain his former glory while investigating a seemingly unrelated homicide to the kidnapping that led to his downfall decades before.

2019, Mid90s

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut stars a young Sunny Suljic who befriends a group of older skateboarders looking at their futures and what that means for each of the young men, who each have their own struggles. Hill and Suljics careers seem to have dehydrated a bit (due to one reason or another), making this film a slice of history in my opinion that could never be made now.                                                        

2018, Sorry to Bother You

This hidden gem starring LaKeith Stanfield was brought to audiences in the year of 2018. Boots Riley, the artist turned director, made his debut with this original take on a black comedy about intersectionality between capitalism and race in the USA. Riley is coming out with a new movie about female shoplifters soon if you enjoy this film.

2017, Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan stars in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut that explores a 2002 teenage girl’s tumultuous relationship with her mother as she gets closer to graduating and going to college, on the east coast if she has her way. This film has appearances from Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, and Laurie Mitchell as the supporting cast.

2016, Moonlight

Barry Jenkins, the director known best for his best picture winner at the 2016 Academy Awards, and yet, was still snubbed by a big studio film for the biggest moment of the night. This film stars Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and Alex R. Hibbert playing the protagonist Chiron in different places of his life, and the film dealt with themes of family, sexuality, and identity.

2015, It Follows

This independent, low budget horror film is critically acclaimed and well known for its unique and terrifying take on how horror portrays sex and the consequences of it. This movie uses this popularly used trope in a unique and new way that I haven’t quite seen before, or since. The director, David Robert Mitchell, had Disasterpiece, who has gone on to work on films like Under the Silver Lake (2018), Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021), and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (2022) to do the horrifyingly electric score.

2014, Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s, directorial debut, not to mention breakout hit, is about an obsessively manic drummer who is a music student at a prestigious school where an overbearing and abusive teacher guides Andrew (Miles Teller) down a road of madness and glory. Chazelle will go on to make modern classics like La La Land (2016) and Babylon (2022).

2013, The Way Way Back

The 2013 film is a coming age story that focuses on a teenage boy named Duncan, who must find a way to salvage his summer after he has been forced to spend it at his mothers obnoxious boyfriend’s vacation home. Liam James stars alongside Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, and a favorite actor of mine, Sam Rockwell.

2012, Celeste and Jesse Forever

This mumblecore romantic comedy is a love story about a divorcing couple who are looking to reconcile with the fact that they are separating but still incredibly important to each other’s lives. Rashida Jones wrote and stars in this sad tale that reminds us to hold onto the people we connect with even when the nature of the relationship may change. It also stars Andy Samberg, an SNL alumnus, known for his comedic musical stylings as well as writing and directing films.

2011, The Raid

This 2011 action film is known for being one of the most influential films to come out in its genre in the past 20 years. This Indonesian thriller, directed by Gareth Evans, follows a rookie cop on an elite team of commandos who was told to stay back but eventually must literally fight his way to the top of a 30 story building to save his team.

2010, Incendies

If you’re a fan of Dune part 1 and 2 then you will probably enjoy this 2010 war time drama noir directed by the renowned Denis Villneuve before he made his other masterpieces. The plot looks at the individual stories of twins traveling to their native country in order to reconcile with their mothers death during their infancy.

2009, Chloe

Chloe is a 2009 erotic thriller from Atom Egoyan that follows a young woman who lets her obsession with Julianne Moore drive her to insanity. Amanda Seyfried and Moore have amazing chemistry in this fun campy crime flick.

2008, Wendy and Lucy

The independent director, Kelly Reichardt, known for her work in slow cinema, brings a sad story that follows Wendy (Michelle Williams, a common actress in Reichardt’s films from this point in her career on) and her dog Lucy as she drifts from one odd job to another to provide for them. One day, she runs out of money, and this leads to Wendy being arrested. Once she gets out of jail, she must look for her beloved dog.

2007, Death Proof

This 2007 thriller is a lesser known gem from the otherwise famous director, Quentin Tarantino. The film follows a group of four women, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Vanessa Ferlito, and real life stunt woman, Zoe Bell, who are being tailed by a maniacal ‘stuntman mike,’ played by Kurt Russell. This film is recommended to watch as a double feature with the film Planet Terror (2007), directed by Robert Rodriquez, or Grindhouse (2007). These are meant to pay homage to 60s and 70s that were played as the B-movies in double features.

2006, Little Miss Sunshine

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris brought us a melancholic tale of a young Abigail Breslin, who makes her family travel cross country so that she can compete in a beauty pageant right after her uncle (Steve Carrell) had to stay with the family because of a recent suicide attempt. Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, and Greg Kinnear play the supporting cast of quirky characters, each with their own unique hang-up to get over through their journey, facing their fears and competing in the pageant, together.

2005, Brokeback Mountain

This western romance is famous for being one of the first mainstream films to depict a gay romance in Hollywood. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall co-star on the sorrowful trip of self discovery for these cowboys. Not only did this film make great strides historically, but it also comes from the same director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Ang Lee.

2004, Mysterious Skin

This film is the work of the critically acclaimed director, Greg Araki, who is known for directing the teenage apocalypse trilogy. This story follows a young hustler (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who goes on an emotionally taxing journey to learn about an event he endured with a childhood friend, who took a very different route. Trigger warning because this story discusses heavier themes such as child abuse, rape, PTSD, etc. 

2003, Oldboy

This Park Chan-Wook film is one of the most critically acclaimed action films in the last 20 years. Choi Min-Sik plays a down on his luck business man who gets kidnapped and locked in a room for 15 years, until one day he is let out. He goes on a thrilling journey through South Koreas criminal underworld to unmask his mysterious nemesis.

Sophie "Chase" Roth was the treasurer of the HerCampus chapter at Gettysburg College. Chase Roth served as representative of the club in communications between them and the college in any financial capacity.