I love films, but I confess to easily tiring of the cliched, humdrum, been-there-done-that fluff that Hollywood has a tendency to churn out at breakneck speed. I like my movies witty, clever, unusual, and if I’m being honest, just a little weird.
Or a lot weird.
That’s why indie flicks are my go-to. They stay with me longer, impact my life in a deeper way, make me flinch, make me laugh, and make me think.
However, sometimes they go over my head (looking at you, Being John Malkovich). I guess it’s a fine line.
In no particular order, here are my top eleven personal favorite feel good indie movies. Pop some corn, pour some wine, and put your feet up!
11 Best Feel-Good Indie Movies
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1. Moonrise Kingdom
Moonrise Kingdom is a perfect movie. Directed by Wes Anderson, the undisputed king of odd but lovable films, it stars Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.
This is Anderson’s flagship feel-good indie movie. It’s sweet, hilarious, and totally odd. And also quite quotable, which I find to be a must in a flick.
Moral of the story: always be prepared when running away, kids. Also, bring a record player.
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Ricky Baker, played by Julian Dennison, is pretty much my spirit animal. Also starring Sam Neil as Hector and Rachel House as Paula, this movie is hysterically funny but will also bring you to tears by the end.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is basically the story of a chubby foster kid who comes to a new home where the mom loves him, but the dad (Hector) isn’t real sold on the idea.
To make sure you don’t read too much and ruin the flick for yourself, I’ll break this up with a little advert for my books:
When the new mom up and dies suddenly, Ricky knows he’ll be taken away again so he runs away into the Australian bush.
Hector, who is a badass survivalist, catches up to Ricky but bonding isn’t his strong suit. So their relationship is awkward and laugh-out-loud funny. Paula is the social worker who is close on their trail, and she has some awesome one-liners.
It’s such a great movie.
3. Two-Bit Waltz
Two-Bit Waltz is a lesser known gem that my daughter and I found and bonded over. Now we quote it at least twice per week, usually accompanied by blank stares from other people who don’t get the reference. Their loss!
William H. Macy is the only big star, but Clara Mamet is the star of the show, not only playing the lead role of Maude, but also directing and writing the whole thing. All at the age of 20.
I had self respect once, but I put it in the ironing cupboard and it never seemed to turn up again.
Oh, and did I mention her brother is played by Jared Gilman, from Moonrise Kingdom? Good stuff.
4. Ruby Sparks
This is a great movie for all you novelists out there. The story line is clever and witty and goes something like this:
Struggling writer, Calvin, played by Paul Dano, comes up with a new character named Ruby Sparks. You know how some characters just leap off the page? Well, Ruby does. She’s real and she’s perfect … and when she isn’t, Calvin gets to rewrite the script.
While Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy at first blush, this indie movie offers up a lot of morality issues and it gets beautifully ugly in parts when Calvin’s power goes to his head.
5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Highschoolers Greg and Earl (Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler) aren’t doing much with their lives, other than making parodies of movies and cleverly fitting in with every social group in high school. Then their moms force them to make friends with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who, as you may have guessed, is dying.
With supporting roles played by Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a tear jerker but it’s also hilariously funny.
6. Little Miss Sunshine
Possibly the most loved and best known indie of all time (?), Little Miss Sunshine is a modern classic that has an all-star cast: Steve Carell, Toni Colette, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, and Greg Kinnear, to name a few.
And really, they’re all Oscar worthy performances: from the cussing grandpa to the suicidal brother to the haggard mom to the incredibly annoying dad to the adorably chubby and sweet Little Miss Sunshine.
There is just as much drama as there is comedy in this one, although there are laugh-out-loud funny moments sprinkled in between the family angst, as they travel (sometimes by pushing) their VW bus to a children’s beauty pageant.
7. Lars and the Real Girl
Lars and the Real Girl may be the strangest plot yet, but you’ll fall in love with Lars (and not just because he’s played by Ryan Gosling).
A lonely, awkward young man, he lives in the adjoining house next to his sister (Emily Mortimer) and her husband (Paul Schneider). To curb his loneliness, Lars orders a blow-up doll and names her Bianca.
Yes, a blow-up doll.
Worried for his mental state, the entire town rallies behind Lars and Bianca and their odd relationship, including Lars’ therapist (Patricia Clarkson). Eventually, Lars will need to let his delusions go … and it will break your heart to smithereens.
8. Dave Made A Maze
If your significant other doesn’t like overly sappy, “girly,” chic-flicks, this is the movie for date night. Dave (Nick Thune) stays home one weekend, bored, while his girlfriend (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) goes out of town. To pass away the hours, he builds a fort in the living room.
Problem is, in Dr Who fashion, it’s bigger on the inside. Dave is trapped in the maze, and soon his girlfriend and other friends join him in his labyrinth. There’s a Minotaur chasing them, and let’s just say not everyone survives.
Dave Made a Maze is a goofy, comedic horror film that will crack you up with its creativity and loony plot twists.
As you’re watching, ask yourself, Did she die or did she just turn into a craft project?
9. This Beautiful Fantastic
Is this an indie movie or just British? I dunno, but it’s quirky and adorable and unusual, so I’m including it.
In This Beautiful Fantastic, Jessica Brown Findlay plays Bella, an eccentric girl who writes children’s books, kills plants, dresses like the librarian she is, and avoids society. Her cantankerous, elderly neighbor (Tom Wilkenson) begins to interfere in her life, and while that particular story-line isn’t new or fresh, the way they do it is.
Soon the cranky old man loses his help to Bella (Andrew Scott, whom you’ll remember as the terrifying Moriarty in Sherlock), and Bella begins to branch out of her small world, finding unexpected love and friendships. It’s a witty, funny movie that hits all the right notes.
10. Safety Not Guaranteed
Possibly my favorite off this whole list (mmmm, ties with Wilderpeople probably … and/or Lars), Safety Not Guaranteed is a comedic gem of a movie.
Mark DuPlass and Aubrey Plaza are two loners, drawn together in a quest to harness time travel. It’s sweet, but not cloyingly so, it doesn’t have a tinge of Hollywood glamour or gloss, and it’s just the best.
Will they, won’t they, can they?
Watch and find out.
11. Captain Fantastic
I saw the trailer for this and was so pumped up to see it. I was expecting more of a comedy than a drama, and while there are some funny parts, it’s a serious drama with bite. Viggo Mortenson is phenomenal in his role (he was nominated for an Oscar and should have won IMO) as an off-the-grid dad named Ben, raising six homeschooled kids in the Pacific Northwest.
After his wife commits suicide due to mental health issues, her father begins the process of taking the children away, so they can be “normal.”
Not preachy, sometimes ugly, and utterly heartrending, Captain Fantastic is a gorgeous film with stellar performances by the kids, who at turns are wise beyond their years and yet sheltered and socially stunted in others.
But it’s the father’s personal growth that has to expand the most, as Ben has to come to grips with the loss of his wife, his freedom, and now possibly his children. Dealing with all kinds of taboo and difficult subjects, from homeschooling to Christianity to survivalist living to child abuse to death to sex, it’s a wonderful and unforgettable movie.
11 great, wonderful, must-watch, tearjerker, hilarious, feel-good indie movies in no particular order:
- Moonrise Kingdom
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople
- Two-Bit Waltz
- Ruby Sparks
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
- Little Miss Sunshine
- Lars and the Real Girl
- Dave Made a Maze
- This Beautiful Fantastic
- Safety Not Guaranteed
- Captain Fantastic
What do you think? Did I miss a stellar feel-good indie movie in this list? What are your favorite quirky flicks?