Back to IndieWire

The 22 Best Indie Movies of 2018 So Far (Updated)

The year is far from over, but there are already several movies in theaters worthy of celebration.

"First Reformed"

“First Reformed”

A24

Yes, we know: It’s early! There are months of new movies around the corner. However, the end of the year is a tricky time to survey the best movies released over the previous 12 months, since there’s often so much to consider. As an alternative, we’ve decided to get a jump on the process and keep you posted as the list keeps growing.

Below, you’ll find our current favorites among the films that have either opened theatrically this year or become available on other platforms (yes, Netflix releases count). We see a lot of movies early, primarily on the festival circuit, and so we’ve included films at the end of our list that are “on deck” for inclusion — but only if we know for certain that they’re coming out this year.

Note: While some films on this list were released by studios, they were initially developed as independent projects. Additionally, we reserve the right to include some films that were produced at studios if they encapsulate an independent sensibility. You’ll never see a Marvel movie on here, but a singular vision with studio backing is fair game.

Want to gripe about our choices or suggest others? Drop us a line at editors@indiewire.com.

1. “First Reformed”

Paul Schrader’s best movie in years stars Ethan Hawke (in one of his finest roles) as an upstate New York priest who faces a crisis of faith as he attempts to help out a pregnant woman and learns of an ecological conspiracy behind his church’s main benefactor. The movie’s taut, suspenseful narrative remains in the confines of its protagonist’s perspective as his grip on reality slowly comes unraveled, leading to a shocking finale that forces its audience to grapple with its potent themes from the inside out. It’s filmmaking of the highest order from an American master finally receiving the appreciation he deserves. —EK (Review)

2. “Hereditary”

Ari Aster’s first feature is more than just a terrifying movie — though it certainly hits its mark in that regard — because it uses the genre to craft a mesmerizing portrait of the grieving process. Toni Collette delivers some of her best work as a woman reeling from multiple deaths in her family and struggling to address the resentment she feels toward her teenage son (Alex Wolff, also first-rate). Collette’s character produces a number of miniatures that provide a chilling signifier for the encroaching paranoia and doom that dominates each scene, but the most astonishing thing about “Hereditary” is the way it portrays this broken family in such credible terms even as the story careens into outrageous supernatural territory. The final minutes are some of the most riveting you’ll see all year. —EK (Review)

3. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”

Fred Rogers didn’t simply define children’s television — he embodied its highest ideals. The soft spoken minister turned away from televangelism to preach universal messages about community and behavior, defining the ethics for multiple generations of viewers. Morgan Neville’s fascinating documentary explains how he pulled it off, while examining the mystery of Rogers’ perennial cheeriness and how much it stands at odds with today’s divisive climate. With a tender, sophisticated tone, Neville fuses the voices of Rogers’ longtime friends and family with an archival assemblage that communes with the spirit of his work. The result is the sense that this genial figure was either ahead of his time or too good for us, period. Either way, it’s essential viewing that brings a sensible voice back to the table right when we need it. —EK (Review)

4. “The Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci’s Soviet satire takes the “In the Loop” and “Veep” creator’s scathing tone into “Dr. Strangelove” terrain with a madcap look at scheming despots jockeying to take over the country. Steve Buscemi is brilliant as the scheming Nikita Khruschev, who butts heads with a series of dysfunctional wannabe despots in a comedy of errors as they each scramble for the top spot. Iannucci has always excelled at peaking behind the curtain at political dysfunction, but this exemplar of gallows humor takes his talents to a whole new level — and provides a historical backdrop to much of the governmental chaos dominating the headlines today. —EK (Review)

5. “Annihilation

“Annihilation”

Paramount Pictures

Alex Garland’s heady sci-fi thriller wasn’t a theatrical hit, but it deserved attention for following up on “Ex Machina” with another mesmerizing look at the nature of human identity. Once again, Garland crafts a mysterious investigation into the nature of human intelligence, with an ominous atmosphere that suggests complex forces taking place just beyond its characters’ perspectives. The finale, an experimental dance piece that doubles as a fight scene, puts the action showdowns dominating most studio blockbusters to shame. —EK(Review)

6. “Paddington 2”

The latest exploits by the furry city slicker outmatched expectations with a heartfelt adventure about theft and incarceration, mining more universal poignance out of the material than even fans of the children’s books could have anticipated. —EK (Review)

7. “The Rider”

Chloe Zhao’s Cannes-acclaimed tale of a South Dakota bronco rider recovering from an accident is a delicate, understated achievement that manages to present an underrepresented culture while situating it within the context of cowboy iconography that feels definitively American. Following up on “Songs My Brother Taught Me,” the new movie confirms Zhao’s status as one of the most exciting voices working today, and she’s just getting started. —EK (Review)

8. “A Quiet Place”

John Krasinski’s mostly silent monster movie is a riveting survival story that owes as much to its intricate sound design as the script itself. While the premise (monsters that attack if you make a sound) may be ludicrous on paper, Krasinski tackles with an ambitious eye for visual storytelling; even some of the more ludicrous twists go down easy because nobody wastes time talking things through. Who needs monologues when a single terrified expression does the trick? More studio-produced movies should take such risks; this one was written outside of the system. —EK (Review)

You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix in Lynne Ramsay’s film

“You Were Never Really Here”

Alison Cohen Rosa | Amazon Studios

9. “You Were Never Really Here”

Lynne Ramsay’s existential hit man drama is a poetic look at a broken man (Joaquin Phoenix, never better) who finds some measure of comfort in his gunslinger skills. Soulful hitman stories are an old cliché, but Ramsay’s lyrical style transcends the boundaries of its familiar mold by turning it into a poetry of loneliness and yearning — think “Taxi Driver” by way of Walt Whitman — and deserves to be celebrated alongside the rest of her first-rate work. —EK (Review)

10. “Disobedience”

Sebastián Lelio’s British drama finds two former lovers (Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz, in peak form) rekindling their romance under the constraints of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where their relationship is considered taboo. It’s a tender, moving look at forbidden love. —EK (Review)

11. “Zama”

Argentine master Lucrecia Martel tackles her most ambitious subject to date with this eerie and darkly funny look at a Spanish diplomat adrift in Colonialist Latin America. Martel’s movies have always been difficult to parse, and “Zama” is no exception, but as with “The Headless Woman” this movie sympathizes with the state of confusing afflicting its character. This time, however, the stakes are much higher, as the man becomes a metaphor for a region still struggling with its complicated history. —EK (Review)

12. “Isle of Dogs”

The world is trash, and Wes Anderson is currently enjoying the hottest streak of his career. These things, it turns out, are not unrelated. The worse things get, the more fantastical Anderson’s films become; the more fantastical Anderson’s films become, the better their style articulates his underlying sincerity. Disorder fuels his imagination, and the staggeringly well-crafted “Isle of Dogs” is nothing if not Anderson’s most imaginative film to date. —DE (Review)

13. “RBG”

“RBG”

Betsy West and Julie Cohen deliver a wide-ranging documentary portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsberg that’s as sharp and energetic as the Justice herself. —KE (Review)

14. “Thoroughbreds”

Cory Finley’s delightfully vicious debut is a pitch-black comedy about two rich, white, teenage girls who discover that empathy is the only thing they can’t afford. “American Psycho” meets “Heathers” (in broad strokes, anyway), this twisted chamber piece offers a blistering portrait of privilege gone wild. —DE (Review)

15. “Nancy”

The first thing we learn about Andrea Riseborough’s eponymous character in Christina Choe’s taut feature debut, “Nancy,” is simple: she’s a liar. Yet Choe’s sharp writing and Riseborough’s nervy performance only use that as a jumping-off point to craft a twisted and emotional story that was good enough to pick up the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance, where it premiered. Plus, the film also offers Riseborough the kind of complex leading lady role she’s more than able to fully make her own. Bored, alienated, and at loose ends after the death of her tyrannical mother (Ann Dowd, of course), thirtysomething Nancy happens to catch a local newscast dedicated to exploring the kidnapping of a young girl decades ago, with her still-shattered parents (J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) taking to the airwaves to discuss both the scholarship they’ve put in place in memory of young Brooke and to share an aged-up picture of what Brooke might look like today. She looks like Nancy. You’ll never guess what happens next. —KE (Review)

16. “Lean on Pete”

Andrew Haigh’s third feature is a searching, violently unsentimental coming-of-age drama about all the things we have to offer one another, with a superb Charlie Plummer as a troubled teen who escapes his troubled working class surroundings with the titular horse as the pair flee towards the Canadian border. Set against the indifference of desert shrubbery, the story is propelled by its moral velocity, by the friction it finds between its characters. Each scene is so quietly compelling because Haigh doesn’t focus on cruelty, but helplessness. —DE (Review)

17. “The Tale”

Jennifer Fox’s semi-autobiographical narrative debut, “The Tale,” has been rightly billed as the first great #MeToo movie, but it’s also a deeply personal portrait of a complicated woman, told with an inventive and unique cinematic language. The heartbreaking drama follows Fox’s on-screen surrogate (Laura Dern) as she comes to terms with a decades-old molestation experience; it’s spawned by her mother’s (Ellen Burstyn) discovery of a “story” she wrote when she was 13, documenting her experiences with a pair of older coaches (Jason Ritter and Elizabeth Debicki). A documentarian and journalist in her own right, Fox also uses the film as a clever way to explore memory, and its fallibility; as Fox, Dern struggles to take possession of her own story, even when she’s desperate to rebuke the “victim” label forced on her by loved ones. The film will likely continue to be hailed for its “timely” nature (weirdly, it was filmed almost three years ago), but it’s also a true cinematic achievement. —KE (Review)

18. “Love After Love”

Andie MacDowell gives the performance of her life in Russell Harbaugh’s stunning drama about a family dealing with the way things change after someone dies, and also the ways in which they don’t. Like a traditional melodrama that’s been thoroughly filleted and then pounded flat, “Love After Love” bristles with an honesty that few films about grief have ever found the strength to show. —DE (Review)

“Love After Love”

19. “Foxtrot”

Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s brilliant followup to his debut “Lebanon” takes a seemingly dreary story of loss and crafts a wonderfully unexpected hodgepodge of insights into intergenerational Israeli frustrations. —EK (Review)

20. “A Fantastic Woman”

The other great Sebastián Lelio film from this year, the Oscar winner features first-time actress Daniela Vega in a breakout role in the rare movie about a trans person that — for better or worse — feels of its time, and not at least a half-step behind. —DE (Review)

21. “Who We Are Now”

Not only does Matthew Newton’s scorching character study explore notions of forgiveness and self-worth with surgical precision, it also boasts an extraordinary lead performance from Julianne Nicholson, proving once and for all that the under-appreciated actress is one of the greatest we’ve got. —DE (Review)

22. “Leave No Trace” 

“Winter’s Bone” director Debra Granik is drawn to stories about survivors — stories about people who don’t fit into the one that America likes to tell itself, but are no less valuable for that. The taciturn father (played by Ben Foster) at the heart of “Leave No Trace” is no exception. He and his young daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) have always lived off the grid in the green sogginess of Portland’s Forest Park, but that all changes when a stray jogger spots the girl and reports her to the authorities. From there, Granik’s latest grows into a tug-of-war between the system and its outliers, resolving into a modest but extraordinarily graceful film about what people need from each other, and the limits of what they can give of themselves. —DE (Review)

On deck: “Eighth Grade” (July 13), “Madeline’s Madeline” (August 10), “We the Animals” (August 10), “Mandy” (September 14)

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged , ,