• (L - R) 'Colossal', 'Tangerine', 'Her Smell' and '99 Homes' (SBS)Source: SBS
Step away from the big studios and watch the best of American Indie Cinema at SBS On Demand.
By
SBS Movies

14 Sep 2020 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 16 Sep 2020 - 11:09 AM

From intimate character studies, LGBTQI+ narratives, Sundance (and even Oscar) winners, genre-bending and unclassifiable oddities and more... these American independent films now streaming at SBS On Demand tell personal stories with heart and individuality that far exceed their films' production budgets.

 

Colossal

M
Canada, USA, Spain, 2016
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Language: English
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens
What's it about?
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an out-of-work party girl who, after getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend, is forced to leave her life in New York and move back to her hometown. When news reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, South Korea, Gloria gradually comes to the realisation that she is somehow connected to this far-off phenomenon. As events begin to spin out of control, Gloria must determine why her seemingly insignificant existence has such a colossal effect on the fate of the world. 

Deconstructing the monster movie genre in wildly imaginative ways, writer-director Nacho Vigalondo unleashes a fantastical tale that also triumphs as a wholly original and subversive romantic comedy. Colossal is that rare beast, the story of a woman battling for her survival and taking control of her own life in the shadow of two very different monsters on either side of the world.

 

Adam

M
USA, 2019
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Director: Rhys Ernst
Starring: Nicholas Alexander, Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Leo Sheng, Chloë Levine, Margaret Qualley
What's it about?
Adam (Alexander), an awkward teen, spends a summer with his older sister, who is part of New York City's lesbian and trans activist scene. He meets the girl of his dreams (Menuez) but can't figure out how to tell her he's not the trans man she thinks he is. Based on the novel by Ariel Schrag (who also wrote the film's script).

 

Certain Women

M
USA, 2016
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone
What's it about?
A handful of intersecting lives across Montana. A lawyer (Dern) tries to diffuse a hostage situation and calm her disgruntled client (Chernobyl's Jared Harris), who feels slighted by a workers’ compensation settlement. A married couple (Williams, James Le Gros) breaks ground on a new home but exposes marital fissures when they try to persuade an elderly man to sell his stockpile of sandstone. A ranch hand (Gladstone) forms an attachment to a young lawyer (Stewart), who inadvertently finds herself teaching a twice-weekly adult education class, four hours from her home.

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Donnie Darko

M
USA, 2001
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Cult
Language: English
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze
What's it about?
During the presidential election of 1988, a teenage boy named Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal) sleepwalks out of his house one night, and sees a giant, demonic-looking rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world will end in 28 days, six hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. He returns home the next morning to find that a jet engine has crashed through his bedroom. As he tries to figure out why he survived, and tries to deal with people in his town, Frank continues to turn up in Donnie's mind, causing him to commit acts of vandalism.


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Donnie Darko review: A shot at small-town repression
A shot at small-town repression.

 

Frances Ha

MA15+
USA, 2013
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Mickey Sumner
What's it about?
Frances (Gerwig) is a gangly 20-something who lives in New York, but is perennially broke, unfocused and prone to mildly self-destructive behaviour. An apprentice for a dance company, Frances is also a klutz, but that does not stop her from chasing her dreams. Written by Gerwig in collaboration with Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), who also directed.

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Deceptively upbeat modern romance runs deep.

 

Her Smell

MA15+
USA, 2018
Genre: Drama, Music
Language: English
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Amber Heard, Agyness Deyn
What's it about?
Moss gives a riveting performance as manically destructive punk rocker Becky Something, leader of the (fictional) seminal all-female rock band Something She, who pushes her relationships with bandmates, family and followers to the limit as she wages a years-long war against sobriety. When a new, younger band bursts onto the scene, Becky becomes their mentor. With added responsibility and watching her former friend rise to stardom while her career falters, Becky falls deeper into her downward spiral. The fourth collaboration between Moss and writer-director Alex Ross Perry (following Listen Up Philip, Queen of Earth and Golden Exits).

 

It Felt Like Love

M
USA, 2013
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Eliza Hittman
Starring: Gina Piersanti, Jesse Cordasco, Giovanna Salimeni
What's it about?
During an uneventful summer on the outskirts of Brooklyn, Lila (Piersanti), a lonely fourteen-year-old from Gravesend, turns her attentions to Sammy (Rubinstein), an older thug she sees at Rockaway beach. Wanting something to brag about, she weaves a story about him and becomes fixated on seeing it realised. When her attempts fail, she propels the lie even further, claiming they’ve had sex. During her sexual quest, Lila turns from predator to prey. Directed by Eliza Hittman, whose acclaimed Never Rarely Sometimes Always comes to Australian cinemas later this year.

 

The Kids Are All Right

MA15+, 2010
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Language: English
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska 
What's it about?
Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are a lesbian couple who have each given birth to a child using the same anonymous sperm donor. Nic, an obstetrician, is the primary breadwinner and the stricter parent, while Jules is more laid back and after previous failures to launch a career, is starting up a landscape design business. While the family functions well, their relationship has begun to go stale - until Paul (Ruffalo) enters the picture. Nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture.

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A contemporary family tale that cuts through the cliché.

 

Leave No Trace

G
Canada, USA, 2018
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Debra Granik
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Ben Foster, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey
What's it about?
A father (Foster) and daughter (Jojo Rabbit's Thomasin McKenzie) live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. But when a small mistake tips them off to authorities, they are sent on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own. From Debra Granik, acclaimed writer-director of Winter's Bone.

 

Lovesong

M
USA, 2016
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: So Yong Kim
Starring: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker
What's it about?
Neglected by her husband, Sarah (Keough) embarks on an impromptu road trip with her young daughter and her best friend Mindy (Malone). Along the way, the dynamic between the two friends intensifies before circumstances force them apart. Years later, Sarah attempts to rebuild their intimate connection in the days before Mindy's wedding.

 

Maggie's Plan

M
USA, 2015
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Language: English
Director: Rebecca Miller
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader
What's it about?
Maggie's (Gerwig) plan to have a baby on her own is derailed when she falls in love with John (Hawke), a married man, destroying his volatile marriage to the brilliant and impossible Georgette (Moore). But one daughter and three years later, Maggie is out of love and in a quandary: what do you do when you suspect your man and his ex-wife are actually perfect for each other? From acclaimed writer-director Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity).

'Maggie's Plan'
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'Maggie's Plan' review: A delightful screwball comedy for grown-ups

 

99 Homes

M
USA, 2014
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Starring: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern
What's it about?
Hard-working single father Dennis Nash (Garfield) and his mother (Dern) are evicted from their home. Desperate to get his house back, Nash goes to work for the wealthy and ruthless businessman Rick Carver (Shannon) - the very man who repossessed Nash’s home. It is a deal-with-the-devil that comes with an increasingly high cost - on Carver’s orders, Nash must evict families from their homes; in return, Nash is promised a lifestyle of wealth and glamour.

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Precious

MA15+
USA, 2009
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz, Bill Sage
What's it about?
Set in Harlem in 1987. Precious (Sidibe, in an Oscar-nominated lead performance) endures unimaginable hardships in her young life. She's pregnant for the second time to her abusive father; at home she must wait hand and foot on a poisonously angry mother (Mo'Nique, winner of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). In these conditions she grows up unloved and generally unnoticed. But underneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities exist for her.

 

Short Term 12

M
USA, 2013
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, LaKeith Stanfield, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever
What's it about?
Grace (Larson), a 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility, navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend. Winner of the SXSW Grand Jury Award in 2013. 

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Spa Night

M
USA, 2016
Genre: Drama
Language: Korean, Spanish, English
Director: Andrew Ahn
Starring: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim, Janice Pak, Youn Ho Cho, Tae Song, Topher Park
What's it about?
Like many first generation immigrants, David Cho serves as the intermediary between his parents’ insular Koreatown life in Los Angeles and the frenetic landscape of the city. When the family restaurant is forced to close, David does not accept his parents’ dreams for him to pursue an education and instead decides to help his family make ends meet by secretly taking a job at a Korean spa. There, David finds himself suddenly exposed to the clash between traditional Korean culture and the underground world of gay hook-ups. Winner of the John Cassavetes Award (given to features budgeted under $500,000) at the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards and the Special Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

 

Swiss Army Man

M
USA, 2016
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Adventure
Language: English
Director: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Shane Carruth
What's it about?
Alone on a tiny deserted island, Hank (Dano) has given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a dead body (Radcliffe) washes ashore, and he soon realises it may be his last opportunity to escape certain death. Armed with his new “friend” and an unusual bag of tricks, the duo go on an epic adventure to bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams (Winstead). This uncategorisably original film won the Directing Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe star in 'Swiss Army Man'
'Swiss Army Man' Wears Its Weirdness As Badge Of Honour
A wildly original blend of 'Cast Away' and 'Weekend At Bernies' with shades of Michel Gondry, and featuring Harry Potter as a flatulent corpse, which won the Directing Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

 

Tangerine

MA15+
USA, 2015
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Language: English
Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, James Ransone
What's it about?
It's Christmas Eve in Tinseltown and Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) is back on the block after 28 days in prison. When she hears that her pimp boyfriend has cheated on her while she was locked up, the working girl and her best friend, Alexandra (Taylor), embark on a mission to get to the bottom of the scandalous rumour. Their odyssey leads them through various subcultures of Los Angeles, including an Armenian family dealing with their own repercussions of infidelity. This critically acclaimed and often hilarious film was famously shot on three iPhone 5 smartphones.

 

Thunder Road

M
USA, 2018
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Language: English
Director: Jim Cummings
Starring: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Jocelyn DeBoer, Macon Blair
What's it about?
A police officer (Cummings, who also wrote and directed) faces a personal meltdown following a divorce and the death of his mother. Winner of Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival award for Best Narrative Feature, this microbudgeted film began life as a short film in 2016 and was largely funded by kickstarter, and played in Australian theatres in 2019.

Jim Cummings, the writer, director and star of Thunder Road

'Thunder Road': A Funny, Moving Character Study
Jim Cummings writes, directs, and stars in the uncanny tale of a Middle American cop who's a funny, crazy, moving, indelibly authentic lost soul, which won the top prize at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.

 

 

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