Skip to main content

Main Area

Main

Best independent films of 2019 (so far)

1/
CG Cinéma

Best independent films of 2019 (so far)

Independent filmmakers have released tons of amazing films this year and we’re only halfway through. We've seen gut-wrenching documentaries, feminist coming-of-age stories, compelling historical dramas, and much more. Some films come from acclaimed Hollywood directors while others were shot by first-time directors. But what's clear is that this year's slate of indies is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory.

Independent, in this case, is defined as any film not produced, financed, or distributed by one of the major studios (Fox/Disney, Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros, Columbia, Sony) or American mini-majors (Lionsgate, Amblin, STX, CBS, MGM). It's hard to keep up with all the great independent films that come out since they typically only get limited releases in theaters, especially those from other countries.

For a deeper dive into new indie releases, Stacker surveyed the top-rated films on Metacritic, a site that aggregates critics’ film reviews all in one place. Stacker removed any films that were produced, financed, or distributed by a major or mini-major studio, and then ranked the top 50 by Metascore (ties broken by the number of reviews written about a given film). Films from all countries were considered. Any film with less than four reviews was not considered. Films that received an international distribution from a major or mini-major but did not receive domestic distribution or production work from one were considered.

With all that in mind, the following films are some of the most interesting, unique, and innovative films of the year. Independent cinema is the stage where moviemaking can change and evolve. Pay attention to the filmmakers and actors involved with the films on this list, as all of them have promising careers ahead of them with the work they put out this year.

You may also like: 100 best movies of the 21st century, according to critics

2/
Canal+

#50. The Mustang

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
- Metascore: 77
- Reviews: 33
- Runtime: 96 minutes
- Release date: March 15

In this emotional drama, Matthias Schoenaerts plays Roman Coleman a hardened prisoner who finds guidance in training wild mustangs. Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre presents an inspiring story of rehabilitation and growth with an ending that will move anyone to tears.

 

 

 

3/
Alcatraz Films

#49. High Life

Directed by Claire Denis
- Metascore: 77
- Reviews: 41
- Runtime: 113 minutes
- Release date: April 5

Auteur French director Claire Denis was the talk of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and it continued to stun audiences when it was released this year. “High Life” finds an all-star cast of Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, and Mia Goth in a spaceship trying to survive. This unique story about sex, life, and space will stand out in the sci-fi genre for years to come.

 

 

4/
Schiwago Film

#48. Styx

Directed by Wolfgang Fischer
- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 10
- Runtime: 94 minutes
- Release date: Feb. 27

On her sailing trip, Rike (Susanne Wolf) happens upon a boat full of refugees in a storm. She’s forced to be their only hope when authorities never answer her calls for help. Her leisurely trip turns into a dire rescue mission that is a must-watch for anyone looking for a high-tension drama.

 

 

5/
Jafar Panahi Film Productions

#47. 3 Faces

Directed by Jafar Panahi
- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 18
- Runtime: 100 minutes
- Release date: March 8

Famous Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari abandons a project to travel with filmmaker Jafar Panahi and help a young girl with dreams of being an actress. Her parents forbid her from studying acting because of traditional customs that are still a commanding force in the small villages the crew travels through. “3 Faces” sheds light on patriarchal oppression in the guise of a road movie that makes for a moving story of human connection.

 

 

6/
Extension 765

#46. High Flying Bird

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
- Metascore: 78
- Reviews: 23
- Runtime: 90 minutes
- Release date: Feb. 8

Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh took to Netflix for his latest film, “High Flying Bird.” André Holland stars as a sports agent trying to navigate a pro basketball lockout. He comes up with a scheme that uncovers parts of the game he never expected to know.

 

7/
Les Films d'Ici

#45. Funan

Directed by Denis Do
- Metascore: 79
- Reviews: 9
- Runtime: 84 minutes
- Release date: June 7

“Funan” is an animated drama that dives into the political strife of 1970s Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime. A young woman is exiled from her home and separated from her family. She is forced into a work camp, but is determined to reunite with her family no matter what and shows how unrelenting hope can get you through even the worst times in history.

 

 

8/
Lama Films

#44. Working Woman

Directed by Michal Aviad
- Metascore: 79
- Reviews: 11
- Runtime: 93 minutes
- Release date: March 29

Orna is a working mother who becomes the main breadwinner for her family. To support her family, Orna has to deal with sexual harassment from her boss, even as she continues to soar in her career. This feminist-realist movie tells the story that many women experience, but we hardly see on screen.

 

 

9/
Jeonwonsa Film

#43. Hotel by the River

Directed by Hong Sang-soo
- Metascore: 79
- Reviews: 12
- Runtime: 96 minutes
- Release date: Feb. 15

This meditative black-and-white drama follows a poet as he invites his sons to reconnect with him when he thinks he is dying. He also meets two young women at the hotel and he does some soul-searching that creates an existential story of family and death with art-house style.

 

 

10/
CG Cinéma

#42. Non-Fiction

Directed by Olivier Assayas
- Metascore: 79
- Reviews: 27
- Runtime: 108 minutes
- Release date: May 3

Olivier Assayas teamed up with Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet again for his latest film “Non-Fiction.” The movie shows a couple going through turmoil when the husband begins using his real-life love affairs in his fiction writing. Brilliantly funny and poignant, Assayas navigates through themes he tackles so well—love and life.

 

 

11/
Fabula

#41. Gloria Bell

Directed by Sebastián Lelio
- Metascore: 79
- Reviews: 40
- Runtime: 102 minutes
- Release date: March 8

Julianne Moore stars as Gloria Bell, a divorcee trying to find love and a new identity later in life. In this meandering drama, Moore shines in a role that rarely graces the screen with such dedication and understanding. The film proves that just because you get older, doesn’t mean your story will be boring.

 

 

12/
Starhaus Filmproduktion

#40. All Is Well

Directed by Eva Trobisch
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 7
- Runtime: 93 minutes
- Release date: June 6

This German drama delves into the life of Janne after she has been raped. It deals with the trauma she faces when she decides to keep the instance to herself. This devastating story is as emotional as it is necessary.

 

 

13/
Terra Mater Factual Studios

#39. Sea of Shadows

Directed by Matthew Podolsky, Richard Ladkani, and Sean Bogle
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 8
- Runtime: 104 minutes
- Release date: July 12

“Sea of Shadows” is an exciting documentary that exposes how the Mexican cartels and Chinese mafias are endangering the world’s smallest whale, the vaquita. Unlikely partners, environmental activists, investigators, and the Mexican Navy come together to fight the illegal business that’s ruining ocean life.

 

 

14/
Diversity Music

#38. Babylon

Directed by Franco Rosso
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 9
- Runtime: 95 minutes
- Release date: March 8

In 1980, Franco Rosso’s “Babylon” premiered at Cannes, but wasn’t released in the United States until 2019. It’s stark look at racism kept it from viewers in the U.S. until now, but that’s exactly why it is one of the great movies of this year. A young DJ encounters xenophobia as he tries to succeed in South London, but his story rings true everywhere. The story alone makes it a must-see, but the history behind its release in the U.S. makes it extremely important.

 

 

15/
Prowler Film

#37. Firecrackers

Directed by Jasmin Mozaffari
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 11
- Runtime: 93 minutes
- Release date: July 12

This unpredictable film follows two young teenagers as they seek freedom outside of their hometown and everything that gets in the way. Jasmin Mozaffari exerts a unique style in her first feature by showing young women’s stories with conviction and innovation.

 

 

16/
Field of Vision (II)

#36. The Proposal

Directed by Jill Magid
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 12
- Runtime: 86 minutes
- Release date: May 24

Artist Jill Magid sets out to release the hidden work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán in her documentary “The Proposal.” The poetic story questions artistic ownership and how far someone should go to make art available to everyone.

 

 

17/
BRON Studios

#35. The Nightingale

Directed by Jennifer Kent
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 13
- Runtime: 136 minutes
- Release date: August 2

In probably the most brutal film of the year, Aisling Franciosi stars as an Irish convict in colonial Australia trying to escape her abusive master. The newest Jennifer Kent film shows the worst of humanity (extreme violence, rape, etc.) as fuel for hate-filled revenge, which makes for a thrilling film if you can handle it.

 

18/
Perfect Day Films

#34. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 14
- Runtime: 120 minutes
- Release date: June 21

It’s hard to sum up one of the most influential American writers of our time, but “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” does it in a way that honors her style and legacy. With interviews from those who know her like Oprah Winfrey and Angela Davis, the documentary not only examines Morrison’s extraordinary career, but race and humanity as a whole.

 

19/
Cinestación

#33. Too Late to Die Young

Directed by Dominga Sotomayor Castillo
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 15
- Runtime: 110 minutes
- Release date: May 31

In 1990, Chile gains democracy again, but this film focuses on the three teenagers of an isolated part of the country. Emotional and intimate, Dominga Sotomayor Castillo directs the film in a way that keeps the attention on the lives of these individual young people during a national political crisis.

 

 

20/
Artemis Rising Productions

#32. Knock Down the House

Directed by Rachel Lears
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 20
- Runtime: 86 minutes
- Release date: May 1

This Netflix documentary shows four women who campaigned during the 2018 midterm election against incumbents. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin each have their own fascinating stories that got them into politics, but their passion to make a change unites them and the documentary in an inspiring way.

 

21/
BFI Film Fund

#31. Wild Rose

Directed by Tom Harper
- Metascore: 80
- Reviews: 32
- Runtime: 101 minutes
- Release date: June 21

Jessie Buckley (“Chernobyl”) stars as a Scottish woman determined to become a country star despite being fresh out of prison. She plans to go to Nashville, but her life in Glasgow continues to make her dreams harder to achieve. This original and surprising story is a heartfelt and rewarding drama everyone will love.

 

 

22/
Dream Factory Group

#30. Luce

Directed by Julius Onah
- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 9
- Runtime: 109 minutes
- Release date: August 2

One of Sundance’s most-talked about film premieres was “Luce,” a thrilling drama about a star-student and adopted son hiding something from his parents. With insightful analysis of class and race in society, it’s a movie that sparks conversation, and the only way to know why critics love it is to watch it for yourself.

 

 

23/
Endorfilm

#29. I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History As Barbarians

Directed by Radu Jude
- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 10
- Runtime: 140 minutes
- Release date: July 19

In 1941, Romanian soldiers massacred thousands of Jewish Ukrainians. A young theater director wants to reenact the tragedy on stage and unsurprisingly, the officials in her city want to put a stop to having one of their historical blights dramatized for a crowd. All of this makes for an inventive, ridiculous, and witty look at how we view the past.

 

 

24/
Amplitud

#28. The Chambermaid

Directed by Lila Avilés
- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 11
- Runtime: 102 minutes
- Release date: June 26

Behind Mexico City’s most luxurious hotels are the women who work tiring days to keep it beautiful. Lila Avilés creates the atmosphere of everyday life for these women through Eve, a chambermaid in the hotel. This one woman’s experience would be overlooked in real life, but the film focuses on her, revealing a heartfelt and beautiful story.

 

 

25/
Busca Vida Filmes

#27. The Edge of Democracy

Directed by Petra Costa
- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 12
- Runtime: 121 minutes
- Release date: June 19

Filmmaker Petra Costa lets the world have a closer look at Brazilian presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff than they ever allowed before. Their lasting influence on the country is an unbelievable story that shows just how surprising today’s political arena can be just as unpredictable outside of the U.S.

 

26/
Jacqui Davies

#26. Ray & Liz

Directed by Richard Billingham
- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 15
- Runtime: 108 minutes
- Release date: July 10

This bleak look at impoverished life in Birmingham brings a photographer in confrontation with his sad upbringing. Parents Ray and Liz are helpless in many ways, but the movie refuses to be hopeless, making for a well-rounded and realistic family drama.

 

 

27/
Slot Machine

#25. Woman at War

Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 24
- Runtime: 101 min
- Release date: March 1

An adoption acceptance letter interrupts one woman’s war against her town’s aluminium factory and its environmental destruction. This enjoyable, yet emotional film embarks on a journey through an independent woman’s story that will warm your heart in a way only a quirky indie can.

 

 

28/
Perfect Village Entertainment

#24. Shadow

Directed by Yimou Zhang
- Metascore: 81
- Reviews: 25
- Runtime: 116 minutes
- Release date: May 3

The women in the palace and a peasant ignite an action-filled story during China’s Three Kingdoms era. It proves that action films can still have the artistry and refinement usually reserved for dramas. “Shadow” makes for a fresh kind of martial-arts movie.

 

 

29/
Sob Noisse Movies

#23. Relaxer

Directed by Joel Potrykus
- Metascore: 82
- Reviews: 7
- Runtime: 91 minutes
- Release date: March 22

This absurd movie may not be for everyone, but if you’re into weird hangout humor and video games, then this one's for you. Set before the supposed Y2K apocalypse, the movie finds Abbie stuck to his couch with the hardest Pac-Man level to conquer. He’s allowed no food and no water, just a lot of dumb humor from childish friends.

 

30/
Exhibit A

#21. Wrestle (tie)

Directed by Lauren Belfer, Suzannah Herbert
- Metascore: 82
- Reviews: 8
- Runtime: 96 minutes
- Release date: Feb. 22

In a rough town, four boys cling to the high school’s wrestling team to deal with the struggles of small-town life. This documentary gives a stark look at how sports unify and stabilize the lives of young people. It’s an inspiring look at the final season for this tight-knit wrestling team that has gone through more together than any teen should experience.

 

31/
Element Pictures

#21. Rosie (tie)

Directed by Paddy Breathnach
- Metascore: 82
- Reviews: 8
- Runtime: 86 minutes
- Release date: July 19

A woman goes through the worst 36 hours a family can imagine after their landlord sells their home and they end up on the streets. This understated, but harrowing story will leave you emotionally drained and moved to the core.

 

32/
Sphinx Productions

#20. Carmine Street Guitars

Directed by Ron Mann
- Metascore: 82
- Reviews: 13
- Runtime: 80 minutes
- Release date: April 24

In the heart of Greenwich Village, Rick Kelly continues to make his legendary guitars. Famous musicians speak about Kelly’s legacy in the art community and director Ron Mann shows what a week is like for Carmine Street Guitars now that the neighborhood is no longer the artistic hub of musicians.

 

33/
New Black Films

#19. Maiden

Directed by Alex Holmes
- Metascore: 82
- Reviews: 25
- Runtime: 97 minutes
- Release date: June 28

An all-female charter boat crew isn’t something you hear of every day and Alex Holmes tells their remarkable story in “Maiden.” Tracy Edwards fights an uphill battle to become the skipper on their boat, with opposition from male boaters and sponsors alike. This inspiring story is a documentary that blows other sports documentaries out of the water.

 

34/
Multitude Films

#18. Roll Red Roll

Directed by Nancy Schwartzman
- Metascore: 83
- Reviews: 9
- Runtime: 80 minutes
- Release date: March 22

In small-town Ohio, high school football teams have a lot of power in the community, but in Steubenville, they have enough power to cover up rape charges. An incident at a pre-season party exploded on social media and when adults interfered, it made national news. The story is angering and unbelievable, but it is a must-see for those familiar with the case or not.

 

 

35/
Vinyl Films

#17. David Crosby: Remember My Name

Directed by A.J. Eaton
- Metascore: 83
- Reviews: 16
- Runtime: 95 minutes
- Release date: July 19

Documentaries about musicians uncover secrets that even fans didn’t know, and this is no exception. David Crosby reflects on his legendary career and how his life has evolved as he’s entered into retirement. Reflective yet wise, Crosby is a dynamic subject and far from any ordinary old man.

 

 

36/
Schramm Film

#16. Transit

Directed by Christian Petzold
- Metascore: 84
- Reviews: 27
- Runtime: 101 minutes
- Release date: March 1

Adapted from Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel, “Transit” becomes a thrilling tale of a refugee who falls in love with the wife of the dead man he pretends to be. The story itself is fascinating, but the way the film translates the story on-screen is unlike any film this year.

 

37/
A24

#15. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Directed by Joe Talbot
- Metascore: 84
- Reviews: 37
- Runtime: 121 minutes
- Release date: June 7

Independent movies are made for the kind of eccentric and illuminating stories like “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” Jimmie Fails lives with his playwright best friend Mont, but he continues to fix up the Victorian home he grew up in long after his father lost it and a rich white family moved in. A meditation on family, place, race, and class, Joe Talbot’s first feature is bursting with more heart and soul than most dramas today.

 

 

38/
Annapurna Pictures

#14. Booksmart

Directed by Olivia Wilde
- Metascore: 84
- Reviews: 51
- Runtime: 102 minutes
- Release date: May 24

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut brought together a star teenage cast and a script ten years in the making. “Booksmart” isn’t your typical teen comedy; it’s feminist, unifying, and downright hilarious. It’s the fun and artfully constructed film that summer 2019 desperately needed.

 

 

39/
Ciudad Lunar Producciones

#13. Birds of Passage

Directed by Ciro Guerra, Cristina Gallego
- Metascore: 85
- Reviews: 27
- Runtime: 125 minutes
- Release date: Feb. 13

This drug-crime thriller doesn’t perpetuate the stereotypes typical of past movies in the subgenre. It explores how Wayuu indigenous people turned to drug culture to survive the 1970s in Columbia, despite bad omens. Greed and evil are present in any culture, but the visuals in this film are extremely unique to this story.

 

 

40/
Arte France Cinéma

#12. Ash Is Purest White

Directed by Zhang Ke Jia
- Metascore: 85
- Reviews: 33
- Runtime: 136 minutes
- Release date: March 15

China is the main star of this gangster movie as Jia Zhangke nails bringing every aspect of the culture to life in the story. Action-filled and beautiful to look at, this story is one that demands to be told on screen.

 

 

41/
Cinereach

#11. Black Mother

Directed by Khalik Allah
- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 9
- Runtime: 77 minutes
- Release date: March 8

Khalik Allah documents the past and present of Jamaica with a gentle touch and honest eye. Her dedication to every aspect of the film as her own cinematographer, editor, and sound designer shines through its construction and depth of its subject. Few filmmakers can capture an entire country in one film, but Allah does it poetically.

 

 

42/
Apolo Media

#10. Honeyland

Directed by Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska
- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 15
- Runtime: 87 minutes
- Release date: July 26

A family disrupts a peaceful woman’s life of beekeeping in this documentary that explores how nature is upended with greed. This immersive documentary tells a story that none of us could reach in an isolated part of our world.

43/
Dongchun Films

#9. An Elephant Sitting Still

Directed by Bo Hu
- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 16
- Runtime: 230 minutes
- Release date: March 8

Three unlikely characters come together after an incident where the powerful school bully is left gravely injured in the hospital. They decide to flee their town together to visit a circus elephant sitting still. The rumored elephant is supposed to be in as much pain as they are and the film grows into a lyrical exploration of the sadness of life.

 

 

44/
Detailfilm

#8. The Wild Pear Tree

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 22
- Runtime: 188 minutes
- Release date: Jan. 30

After returning home from college, Sinan hopes to write his first novel. He ends up coming to terms with what has shaped his life so far and where he wants it to go. His strife is what post-graduates go through everywhere and the film's an enlightening look at such a pivotal moment in someone’s life.

 

 

45/
Grey Water Park Productions

#7. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story

Directed by Martin Scorsese
- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 27
- Runtime: 142 minutes
- Release date: June 12

Martin Scorsese captures the spirit of 1975 America as much as he captures the film’s subject, musician Bob Dylan. Mysterious himself, Dylan tries to explain the elusive story behind his Rolling Thunder Revue tour. The tour brought together many artistic geniuses, and the film does the same thanks to Scorsese’s wonderful direction and the man who captured the tour behind the scenes, Martin von Haselberg.

 

 

46/
AgX

#6. Diane

Directed by Kent Jones
- Metascore: 86
- Reviews: 28
- Runtime: 95 minutes
- Release date: March 29

This profound look at a selfless woman’s own internal struggle is one of the most moving films of the year. Mary Kay Place’s performance makes the study of her character even more vivid and unforgettable.

 

47/
CNN Films

#5. Apollo 11

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
- Metascore: 88
- Reviews: 33
- Runtime: 93 minutes
- Release date: March 1

Gorgeous reconstructed archival footage is the gleaming star of this documentary about the moon landing. You may think you know the story of Apollo 11’s trip to the moon, but this documentary proves you haven’t seen or heard everything about it yet and the story is still as thrilling as it was 50 years ago.

 

48/
CG Cinéma

#4. Long Day's Journey Into Night

Directed by Gan Bi
- Metascore: 89
- Reviews: 18
- Runtime: 138 minutes
- Release date: April 12

Told in two parts, this film stretches the narrative boundaries audiences are used to. It’s tinged with noir style in the cinematography and the characters, but its storytelling technique is entirely unique. It’s the perfect film if you’re looking for an innovative movie about love and loss through a dreamlike filter.

 

49/
Channel 4 News

#3. For Sama

Directed by Edward Watts, Waad Al-Kateab
- Metascore: 90
- Reviews: 12
- Runtime: 100 minutes
- Release date: July 26

Few documentaries could be more emotional than a young mother’s love letter to her daughter born during the uprising in Aleppo, Syria. She shows her daily life during war, a slice of life that hasn’t been revealed in media, and tells a story most people want to ignore, but cannot any longer.

 

 

50/
Big Beach Films

#2. The Farewell

Directed by Lulu Wang
- Metascore: 90
- Reviews: 43
- Runtime: 100 minutes
- Release date: July 12

If this movie can break records previously set by “Avengers: Endgame,” you know it is one of the best films of the year. Lulu Wang put her heart and soul into this film based off a real lie to her grandmother and the authenticity of family breathes throughout every word spoken and everything left unsaid. Awkwafina shows a dramatic side in her performance as Billi that will stick with you long after people stop talking about this film, which will be a very long time.

 

 

51/
BBC Films

#1. The Souvenir

Directed by Joanna Hogg
- Metascore: 92
- Reviews: 40
- Runtime: 120 minutes
- Release date: May 17

This personal drama about a young filmmaker and the intense relationship she forms with a man all her friends and family distrust is the perfectly planned and beautifully acted film we expect from independent cinema. It’s a film that dares to be inexplicitly raw with emotion, so much that only happens with a dynamite director, a phenomenal cast, and one-of-a-kind story.

2018 All rights reserved.