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Culture

The best indie movies to watch in 2021

Gina Rodriguez (left) and Evan Rachel Wood in Kajillionaire

PORTER brings you the best indie movies worth adding to your must-see list – from recent releases to awards-season winners and contenders

Lifestyle

Kajillionaire

Miranda July’s third feature film is a part-comedy, part-satire portrait of an eccentric and dysfunctional family of scam artists, played by Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins, who invite a stranger (Gina Rodriguez) to accompany them on a major heist they are planning. Themes of loneliness and intimacy take on added meaning in light of recent global events, as does the idea of surviving “the big one” – although an earthquake, in this case, rather than a pandemic.

Nomadland

Frances McDormand gives a powerhouse performance in this masterwork of isolation, desperation and community spirit. Written, directed and produced by Chloé Zhao, the critically acclaimed movie follows the travels of a widow in her sixties who, after she loses almost everything in the 2008 economic crash, sets out on a journey across the American West, becoming a modern-day nomad.

Mangrove

Steve McQueen’s phenomenal five-part anthology series details stories of Black people in Britain during the 1960s and ’70s, portraying struggles and hard-won victories in the face of adversity. The first in the series, Mangrove, stars Letitia Wright as British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe, who is part of a group of activists facing a highly publicized trial in 1970, following a protest against police.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

The Assistant

Kitty Green directed this searing early onscreen product of the #MeToo era about an assistant – played by Julia Garner – to a powerful male entertainment executive, never seen on camera. As she goes about her day-to-day duties, the young, recent graduate becomes increasingly conscious of the abuse, manipulation and predatory behaviors going on.

Julia Garner in The Assistant

Ema

A stylish, edgy indie movie from Chilean director Pablo Larraín (who directed the 2016 Jackie Kennedy biopic, Jackie), Ema stars Mariana Di Girolamo as a dancer whose life goes into a tailspin after a dramatic event. Fans of street dancing will be well served as Ema begins to revisit her roots in urban choreography with a crew of friends. But this has plenty of depth and thought-provoking ideas as well as visual pleasures – plus, the great Gael Garcia Bernal co-stars as Ema’s choreographer husband.

Nichola Burley (left) and Roxanne Scrimshaw in Lynn + Lucy

Lynn + Lucy

Lynn (Roxanne Scrimshaw) and Lucy (Nichola Burley) are best friends and neighbors who do everything together, until a tragedy strikes Lucy’s family. Lynn must decide where her loyalties lie – and how to react to gossip and speculation in the hair salon where she works. Fyzal Boulifa marks himself as a filmmaker to watch with this gruelling, thought-provoking movie, which tackles challenging issues and boasts terrific performances from Burley and newcomer Scrimshaw.

An Easy Girl (Une Fille Facile)

Set in the glamorous yachts and grand mountain villas of Cannes, this French drama stars a real-life tabloid sensation – French-Algerian model and lingerie designer Zahia Dehar. She plays sophisticated 22-year-old Sofia, who is visiting her 16-year-old cousin and showing her a thing or two about the high life. Expect designer accessories aplenty – Chanel bags feature heavily – along with insights into the flirtations on the Côte d’Azur.

Bukky Bakray (center right) and her schoolgirl co-stars in Rocks

Rocks

This coming-of-age drama, directed by Sarah Gavron, is in equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting, with plenty of grit, resilience and humor. East London teenager ‘Rocks’ has great friends and an impressive Instagram account, but also an absent mother. Suddenly in the position of struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother, she needs to figure out who – if anyone – can help her.

Parasite

The 2020 Academy Award winner for Best Picture is an audacious, bitterly funny and utterly compelling trip through the mind of genius filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (who also picked up the Oscar for Best Director). The South Korean dark-comedy thriller follows an enterprising young man who fashions himself as a tutor for rich kids – and begins to infiltrate the home of a wealthy family, along with his own relatives. As stylish as it is daring and funny, if you haven’t seen it already, what are you waiting for?

Vivarium

A house-hunting couple end up in a nightmare in this surreal sci-fi that plays out like an episode of Black Mirror. Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg portray the pair who get stranded in a show home on a deserted estate. Who has trapped them there, and why? Black comedy and gender exploration gives way to mystery: if you enjoy guessing games, this one’s for you. And if you happen to be planning your next house move, you might want to reconsider…

Yeo-jeong Jo in Parasite
Taylor Russell in Waves

Waves

Kelvin Harrison Jr earns his reputation as a hot emerging talent in this intense family drama. He’s a teen sports star who struggles to cope with an injury, which impacts his relationship with his girlfriend. After a tragedy, the focus of the film shifts to his sister (Taylor Russell) and her boyfriend (Lucas Hedges). This is a deeply atmospheric indie that pulls you in and won’t let you go, leaving you with plenty of thoughts to chew on.

Last Night In Soho

Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright brings back the swinging ’60s in a psychological horror about a modern-day fashion student (Thomasin McKenzie), who’s obsessed with the golden era. One magical way or another, she gets to experience it – and it’s not quite what she expected. Neither is her idol, singer Sandy, played by The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy. Real-life ’60s icons Terence Stamp and the late Diana Rigg complete the key cast, along with The Crown’s Matt Smith.

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