4 Best Critically-acclaimed Independent Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bob Stephenson, Bob Yerkes, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Curt Clendenin, Curtis Hanson, David O. Russell, Donald Dowd, Doug Jones, Gary Farmer, Gregory Itzin, Jay Tavare, Jim Beaver, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Judy Greer, Lisa Love, Litefoot, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Peter Jason, Roger E. Fanter, Roger Willie, Ron Livingston, Sandra Lee Gimpel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tilda Swinton

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: R

The walk-and-talk roots of the Before Trilogy are traceable to this low-budget cult movie from writer-director Richard Linklater, which came five years before our first introduction to Celine and Jesse. Rather than follow a single, winding conversation, though, Slacker hops from character to character every few minutes, and we never meet them again. In fact, we rarely even learn their names, which makes the credits a particular pleasure to watch as it identifies cast members with wry monikers like “Dostoyevsky wannabe,” “Ultimate loser,” and “Scooby Doo philosopher.”

Shot in Linklater’s adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, the movie captures the city’s uniquely alternative vibe — or, as one character succinctly puts it, “This town has always had its share of crazies.” Conversations range from the spaced-out to the flat-out paranoid, a fair amount of the movie’s ragtag band being partial to conspiracy theories, from the well-worn (JFK's death) or the more bizarre (the real meaning behind The Smurfs). With its freewheeling approach to narrative, Slacker shares the lovable weirdness of its characters, as attested to by its enduring status as a cult classic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Athina Rachel Tsangari, Bob Boyd, Charles Gunning, Clark Walker, D. Montgomery, Deborah Pastor, Kim Krizan, Mark James, Richard Linklater, Robert Jacks, Tommy Pallotta

Director: Richard Linklater

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

Anyone who's seen All That Heaven Allows will naturally be skeptical that a movie claiming to be an homage to Douglas Sirk’s sumptuous masterpiece will live up to the heights of its inspiration. It’s a ballsy move, molding your film so closely to a peerless classic, but Todd Haynes transcends thin pastiche to be a genuinely great film of its own. Where Sirk’s movie charts the social scandal caused by an upper-class widow (Jane Wyman) falling in love with her gardener (Rock Hudson), Haynes sharpens the conflict by recasting the couple as an interracial one (played by Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert). What’s more, Haynes brings her husband back from the dead and into the closet to give Far From Heaven another angle through which to tackle the repression and stigma and explore the characters' rocky pursuit of happiness. If that sounds like the stuff of melodrama, it is — Far From Heaven is proudly of that genre, cracking through the veneer of suburban perfection to find roiling tension and repressed desire underneath.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Barbara Garrick, Betsy Aidem, Bette Henritze, Brian Delate, C.C. Loveheart, Celia Weston, Chance Kelly, Declan Baldwin, Dennis Haysbert, Dennis Quaid, Duane McLaughlin, Ernest Rayford, Geraldine Bartlett, J.B. Adams, James Rebhorn, Joe Holt, Johnathan McClain, Jordan Nia Elizabeth, Julianne Moore, June Squibb, Kevin Carrigan, Michael Gaston, Mylika Davis, Olivia Birkelund, Patricia Clarkson, Ryan Ward, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Susan Willis, Ted Neustadt, Viola Davis, Virl Andrick

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: PG-13