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Mike S. Ryan’s (Very Biased) Favorite Low-Budget Indies Of The Decade

Mike S. Ryan’s very biased 25 fave low budget American Indies of the ‘10 Decade.

1. Moonlight-Barry Jenkins

2. Meek’s Cutoff/Certain Woman– Kelly Reichardt

3. The Rider-Chloe Zhao

4. The Fits– Anna Rose Holmer

5. It Felt Like Love– Eliza Hittman

6. The Florida Project/Tangerine– Sean Baker

7. The Comedy/The Mountain-Rick Alverson

8. Computer Chess-Andrew Bujalski

9. Heaven Knows What-Josh and Bennie Safdie

10. A Ghost Story-David Lowery

11. Keep the Lights On/Love is Strange/Last Address-Ira Sachs

12. Museum Hours-Jem Cohen

13. 3 Backyards– Eric Mendelsohn

14. Bellflower– Evan Glodell

15. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter-David Zeltner

16. Experimenter-Michael Almereyda

17. Free in Deed-Jake Mahaffy

18.  Pavilion/Dark Night/Memphis-Tim Sutton

19. About Sunny- Bryan Wizemann

20. Listen Up Phillip– Alex Ross Perry

21. Sylvio-Albert Berney/Kentucker Audley

22. Hale County This Morning this Evening-Ramell Ross

23. Leviathan -Lucien Castaing Taylor, Verena Paravel

24. Putty Hill/I Used to Be Darker– Matt Porterfield

25. Ghost Box Cowboy– John Maringouin

The list is very biased because I was involved with several of these films. It is also biased because, like many of these lists, it is based on what I saw and I obviously did not see every low budget American film that was made in the decade.

I could easily do another 25 and it’s too bad many of these titles are not known by everyone who loves American Indie Film. That’s because our limited number of theaters are mostly booked with “Fake Indie,” plot driven, visually DOA mush that some desperate distributor miscalculated as a potential hit because it looks and feels like a Friends TV sitcom.

A still from Albert Berney and Kentucker Audley’s “Sylvio”

Films like Sylvio and Ghost Box Cowboy should have been in every theater for at least a month and they would have been loved by many. Most end of year lists reflect a type of group think, not because everyone truly agrees that these are the best films, it’s that other critics put it on their lists and that jogs their memory. You see many films here that are not on anyone else’s list because other critics either haven’t seen these films or they are persuaded by group think to favor other, more “popular” titles.

That’s one of the reasons to explain some of the bizarre choices and exclusions from  the “Film Comment” collection of lists. In the case of “Film Comment” it is also clear that they have a bias AGAINST American Low Budget Narratives and the more personal Indie Art cinema. That is also why I call it my “favorites list,” not a “best of” list. But, if you are only watching films that are fed to you out of the Sundance  pipeline via the corporate streamers you should know, you are missing A LOT of great true Indie Cinema.

This list is also biased toward the hybrid fiction film using non-actors or mixing professional actors with non-actors. Thus, some of my inclusions here are some that few other lists mention.

What is low budget? Yes, it is a relative distinction, but these films range from around $1.5m to under $100,000. The Mountain, one of my fave films of 2019 is probably the most expensive film on the list.  Maybe Moonlight cost more, but for me, Moonlight is the Indie film event of the decade hands down. Besides being a great film that celebrates true personal cinema with its inventive structure and non-star cast, I still can t believe it won the Best Picture Oscar. Wow.

Another Indie film event for me was seeing Rider in Reno, Nevada in a shopping mall theater with audience members wearing cowboy hats. The film is another mind-blowing event, again no stars and a total take down of the male American myth about “dreams” and “bootstraps” all told in an innovative hybrid style. I’m sure Ruth Orkin, Morris Engel and Lionel Rogosin, early Indie Pioneers, would give it thumbs up from the grave.

Please write in and mention films that I might have missed. I could go on and maybe I will, such lists as, best studio and corporate financed films of the decade and best of 2019, here are some of my favorite International films of the decade.

  1. Tabu-Miguel Gomes
  2. No Home Movie-Chantel Akerman
  3. Turin Horse Béla Tarr
  4. Norte, End of History-Lav Diaz
  5. Cemetery of Splendor– Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  6. An Elephant Sitting Still– Hu Bo
  7. Image Book-Jean-Luc Godard
  8. Stranger By the Lake-Alain Guiraudie
  9. Tony Erdeman-Maren Ade
  10. Force Majeure-Ruben Östlund
  11. Melancholia-Lars von Trier
  12. Ida-Pawel Pawlikowski
  13. Love/Climax-Gaspar Noé
  14. The Souvenir-Joanna Hogg
  15. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear -Denis Côté

– Mike S. Ryan

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Mike is a New York City native who hasn't left the city, despite the city having left long ago. He was lucky enough to catch the final hurrah of NYC's film rep theaters in the mid '80s by working as projectionist and co-programmer at Bleecker Street cinema. He still prefers the analog experience of light passing through celluloid, vinyl records and conversation eye-to-eye. When he's not out of town producing a film he can be found lurking in the basement of Cinema Village or yelling at the old codgers at MoMA to stop snoring. Mike has produced many award winning films including JUNEBUG, FORTY SHADES OF BLUE, PALINDROMES, OLD JOY, MEEK'S CUTOFF and recently THINK OF ME, THE COMEDY and THE TURIN HORSE.


    Malcolm Murray’s Bad Posture (2011)

    John Magary’s The Mend (2014)

    Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (2013)

    David Zellner’s Kid-Thing (2012)

    Todd Rohal’s The Catechism Cataclysm (2011)

    Michael Tully’s Ping Pong Summer (2014)

    Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin (2013)

    Dan Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act (2012)

    Ryan Coogler Fruitvale Station (2013)

    Craig Zobel’s Compliance (2012)

    Adam Wingard’s You’re Next (2011)

    Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here (2010)

    Josh Lowell & Peter Mortimer’s The Dawn Wall (2017)

    Zack Parker’s Scalene (2011)

    Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road (2018)

    Alexandre Moors’ Blue Caprice (2013)

    Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

    Steve James’ The Interrupters (2011)

    Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 (2012)

    Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth (2015)

    Damon Russell Snow on tha Bluff (2011)

    E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills (2013)

    Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015)

    Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan’s Swiss Army Man (2016)

    Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer (2012)

    Chris James Thompson’s The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2012)

    Tony Elliott’s A R Q (2016)
    Joe (2013) for the original epilogue David Gordon Green penned to Brown’s southern gothic (source novel)

    David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
    Joel Edgerton’s The Gift (2015)
    Ti West’s The Innkeepers (2011)
    David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014)
    Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell (2018)
    Ti West’s The Sacrament (2013)
    S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk (2015)
    Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012)
    Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
    Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015)
    Antonio Campos’ Christine (2016)
    Doug Liman’s The Wall (2017)
    Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (2016)
    Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman (2014)
    Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog (2016)
    Andrea Arnold American Honey (2016)

    honorable mention: ‘Goodbye to All That’ (2014) Directed by Angus MacLachlan + ‘Never Let Me Go’ (2010) Directed by Mark Romanek

    ARP’s Listen Up Philip [only one “l”] (2014) is extraordinary, just not my favorite or his best, imho.

    David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom (2010) …and everything else he accomplished cinematically, and the like.

    March 13, 2020
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