Unfortunately this list has some glaring omissions—some due to Philadelphia not getting initial release dates (it really grinds my gears that my New York friends have already seen Citizenfour), others due to a busy personal schedule (here’s looking at you, Nightcrawler). Regardless, now that November is upon us, I wanted to take the time to recognize what a truly exceptional year it’s been for film. I should also note that I’m using the catchall descriptor “indie,” which is often a misnomer, but serves its purpose here.
11) Listen Up Philip
Though this movie occasionally borders on being derivative of certain filmmakers (namely Wes Anderson), it still manages to be a highly engaging, funny film. Although Jason Schwartzman has played the arrogant, anti-hero character before, there’s something colder and less redeeming about him in this, setting it apart from his previous work. Not to mention, this was filmed in 16mm and looks absolutely gorgeous.
10) Grand Budapest Hotel
I will forever have a love/hate relationship with Wes Anderson. Rushmore (1998) is easily one of my favorite movies, but most of the time I find Anderson’s overly specific and predictable style to get really old, really fast. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Budapest. Like any other Wes Anderson film, it’s beautifully filmed, well acted, and imaginative. That doesn’t always result in a good movie (Life Aquatic ), but in this instance, he doesn’t really give you much to dislike.
9) Giuseppe Makes a Movie
Possibly the only true “indie” movie on this list, this documentary from Adam Rifkin follows the eccentric actor-turned-trailer-park-filmmaker Giuseppe Andrews as he films his newest movie. It’s hilarious, endearing, and captures an incredibly intimate portrait of a truly unique individual.
8) Under the Skin
This is definitely one of the greatest sci-fi thrillers in recent history. It’s very slow, but in the best way possible. It takes its time, all the while building the intrigue and anxiety. As if people needed more reasons to jump on the ScarJo bandwagon, she delivers an unforgettable performance in this.
This ostensibly simple coming-of-age story follows a young nun about to take her vows, circa the ‘60s in Poland. It’s an exquisite, engrossing film with a stunning black and white color palate.
This was not an easy film to watch. It was utterly shocking, and I don’t think I’ve ever said “ew” aloud so many times while watching anything ever. That being said, this pretty disgusting portrait of a young girl growing up manages to escape the “shock value” pitfall like others in this genre. Its underlying messages are strong and stable, allowing for the surprising success of this film. (Trailer is, obviously, NSFW.)
5) Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II
Much like Wetlands, there’s not much I can really say about Nympho (both I and II) that would accurately capture the experience of watching it. Leave it to Lars Von Trier to create something that is at once horrifying, disgusting, beautiful, and expertly crafted (more NSFW trailers).
This Sundance favorite continues to shock and enthrall its viewers. It’s airtight, and filled to the brim with anxiety. It manages to make jazz music competitions just as exciting as a high-intensity action sequence.
Birdman is like a neon colored train on an endless loop. From the second it starts it doesn’t slow down, and never once gives its characters (or viewers) a chance to take a breath. This selection may be the most mainstream on the list, but remains wholly unconventional. Simultaneously hilarious and a little horrifying, this surreal story delivers a pretty disconcerting depiction of showbiz (Hollywood and otherwise). Additionally, the performances in this are truly amazing.
Richard Linklater’s highly ambitious film set out to realistically capture a young boy growing up by literally filming him (and the same cast) over the course of twelve years. Somehow Linklater really pulled it off. Though the “gimmick” (if you want to call it that) is large in scope, the film itself is a simple portrait of family dynamics and growing up, and never seems to present itself as anything more. It’s a truly special film.
1) The Babadook
This may not be the most popular choice for the number 1 spot, but I couldn’t help being completely blown away by this Australian horror film. I personally find that very few horror films these days have much artistic merit, so maybe I was just the prime candidate for this one, utterly desperate for a scary movie that doesn’t rely on cheap scares and plots filled with holes. Babadook is brilliantly crafted and executed. It’s terrifying for a myriad of different reasons, and will likely continue to seep into your thoughts long after seeing it.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.