Big-name Hollywood flicks get all the money and spotlight, but there are other films out there that deserve more exposure and financial success. Here is a look at some of the top independent films from around the world that are certainly worth checking out.
Written and directed by Danish independent film genius, Lars von Trier (“Dancer in the Dark,” “Melancholia”), this is the story of trust, abuse, redemption, and retaliation told in a way that defies the traditional filmmaker. The entire movie is set on a soundstage with chalk outlines for things like homes, business, doghouses, and even the dog. There are very few props and even less actual structures throughout the entirety of the movie.
Set in the 1930s, a woman (Nicole Kidman) on the run from her mob boss father (James Caan). She finds herself in a small Colorado town, where she is reluctantly accepted, and then systematically abused and taken advantage of by the residents of this small town.
In English, “Dogville” co-stars Lauren Becall, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Jean-Marc Barr, and Philip Baker Hall. You have never seen a film like this, you’ll never see another one like it, and you’ll be absorbed in this story until the very end.
“Dear Wendy” (2004)
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (“The Hunt,” “Submarino”) takes viewers through an interesting and well-told story in “Dear Wendy” that keeps us wondering about the meaning of the film throughout most of its 105 minutes.
“Dear Wendy” tells the story of a group of pacifist teens who own and name their guns. The group of teens, who call themselves the Dandies and are led by Dick Dandelion (Jamie Bell), have respect for the power, history, and mechanics of the weapons. They learn to use, clean, disassemble and reassemble, and shoot them with skill and expertise.
The final 20 minutes of the film are intense, include some graphic gun violence, and is very unexpected. The payoff for viewers is huge and very satisfying.
The cast includes Allison Pill, Bill Pullman, Novella Nelson, Michael Angarano, Mark Webber, and Chris Owen. It’s not like anything you’re expecting, so watching it without any preconceived notions is an excellent idea.
Sometimes referred to as “Intact,” this Spanish-language film delivers a powerful tale of fate and destiny. Each of the four primary characters—Tomas, Federico, Sam, and Sara—are sole survivors of various calamities that claimed the lives of many of their friends and family members.
For much of the first act of the film, viewers can get a little confused about what’s happening because of the lack of context for what’s taking place. As the film progresses, we learn it’s a game of wits inside a casino between Tomas and Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia and Eusebio Poncela), and Samuel (Max von Sydow).
Mostly in Spanish, with English subtitles, additional supporting actors include Monica Lopez, Guillermo Toledo, and Antonio Dechent.
“Dot the I” (2003)
Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Letters to Juliet”) leads an excellent cast in writer/director Matthew Parkhill’s romantic thriller, “Dot the I.”
This is not your typical love triangle. Carmen (Natalia Verbeke), a beautiful Spanish woman who’s set to be married to rich-but-boring Englishman Barnaby (James D’Arcy), has a life-altering evening on the town when she meets Kit Winter (Bernal), who sparks a passion inside her she didn’t know was there. Even as her wedding day approaches, Carmen cannot escape her feelings for Kit.
Expertly directed by Parkhill (“The Caller”) and perfectly cast, the actors do a superb job with the twists and turns of this thriller. A little different than the rest of the romantic-thriller genre, give this film a shot and you’ll be pleased with the outcome.
“Run Lola Run” (1998)
This little German gem (with English subtitles) replays the events of Lola (Franka Potente) and Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) in three separate segments, each told from a different point of view.
Manni, a low-life drug dealer, has lost a bag of cash that belongs to a violent drug dealer. Manni is in a panic and he calls Lola who starts running to him, literally, and she formulates a plan along the way.
This is a high-action, intense film told in an interesting way. Director Tom Tykwer (“Cloud Atlas,” “The International”) gets great performances out of both Potente (“The Bourne” series, “Eichmann”) and Bleibtreu (“The Experiment,” The Baader Meinhof Complex”).
Set to an industrial soundtrack, the pace is brisk, the action is constant, and the 81-minute films feels like it wraps in half that time.
“Waltz With Bashir” (2008)
Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman (“Saint Clara,” “Made in Israel”) put together a 90-minute animated documentary that will leave you heartbroken and simultaneously gratified with the results.
Folman is trying to piece together the events of the Israeli Army’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an invasion in which he participated but has since almost completely repressed. The reason for the film being animated is to hide the faces and voices of those he’s speaking with. They are also participants of that invasion and insisted on privacy for the sake of their own lives.
It’s a fascinating tale, told in Hebrew, Arabic, German, and English (with English subtitles), and on-par with “Apocalypse Now” for the honest portrayal of a soldier’s experience in an actual military conflict.
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“Valhalla Rising” (2009)
Denmark’s most famous actor, Mads Mikkelsen, headlines a brilliant cast as a mute warrior named One Eye who’s been held for many years by a Norse chieftain, Barde (Alexander Morton). With the aid of a slave boy (Maarten Stevenson), One Eye slays his captors and escapes with the boy.
From there, they board a Viking ship. In fairly short order, they find themselves engulfed in endless miles of fog, only opening when they arrive at an unknown landmass.
“Valhalla Rising” is a story of strength, perseverance, and self-discovery, and is brilliantly told. The film is 93 minutes and is in English.
“Love Me if You Dare” (2003)
There are few things better in the cinematic world than a foreign-language comedy. What’s funny is typically universally funny, even in a different language, and this is the case with “Love Me if You Dare,” a French film by the great storyteller, Yann Samuell (“My Sassy Girl,” “The Great Ghost Rescue”).
Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) are adults, but have been best friends since childhood. One of their enduring qualities is to compete against each other through fearless, daring, and outrageous stunts. All the games, of course, are a cover-up for their true feelings for each other, and the distinct fact that they’re meant for each other.
It’s funny from start to finish, and will have you cheering for them. In French with English subtitles, the 93-minutes are perfectly paced and acted by this superb French cast.
There are many satisfying independent films from around the world in every genre. It’s probably impossible to watch them all, but these seven films are definitely worth checking out. What is your favorite independent flick?
Andy has lived in several different areas of the United States, but always calls Utah home. He wrote articles for a local paper about outdoor recreation with pets before joining the USDish team in 2010. When he is not watching outdoor adventure programs on Animal Planet, The History Channel, or The National Geographic Channel, Andy can be found hiking in the red rock deserts of the Southwest.