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    20 Indie Films On HBO Max That Shouldn't Be Ignored

    With theaters closed and Blockbuster productions slowed to a crawl, now is the time to look off the beaten path.

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    1. Her Smell (2019)

    Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something on-stage in 'Her Smell'
    Gunpowder & Sky

    Co-produced by Elisabeth Moss, the ever-evolving actress once again gives a riveting performance in Her Smell, playing a self-destructive punk rock star who's hit rock bottom. Despite Becky Something's enormous success as a musician, she seems determined to alienate everyone around her, even if that means sacrificing her own band's careers. Fun fact: Short-lived celeb couple Cara Delevinge and Ashley Benson met on-set of this film.

    2. Eraserhead (1977)

    Laurel Near as the Lady in the Radiator in 'Eraserhead'
    Libra Films International

    You may be familiar with the more popular of David Lynch's works, from Mulholland Drive to Twin Peaks, but what he calls his "most spiritual film" is a bizarre, surrealist love letter to 1960s Philadelphia. The story itself matters far less than atmosphere and mood, and it's best to go in relatively "blind," but as a quick primer: a man named Henry Spencer does his best to survive in a bleak, industrial environment, tormented by his angry girlfriend and the screams of his newly born mutant child. It's one of those dream-like movies you really have to experience for yourself.

    3. Yesterday (2004)

    Leleti Khumalo as Yesterday overlooking a scenic vista in 'Yesterday'
    HBO Max

    This 2004 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film shines a light on the complex politics surrounding the AIDs crisis in South Africa. Our focal point is Yesterday, a kind village woman dying of the disease with a husband in denial and only one goal on her mind: live long enough to see her child go to school. Poignant and at times utterly heart-wrenching, it's one of those lesser known indies from abroad that more than deserves a second glance.

    4. Clerks (1994)

    Jeff Anderson (Randal Graves) and Brian O'Halloran (Dante) having a conversation in 'Clerks'
    Miramax Films

    Written, directed and co-produced by Kevin Smith for a minuscule budget of $27,000, here is one of those '90s indie comedy gems you don't get to experience all too often. The story centers around two New Jersey store clerks — one in a convenience store, the other in a video store — who absolutely loathe their jobs, and make sure their customers damn well know it. Deceptively simple in its execution, Clerks is considered to be a landmark in independent filmmaking, and was even deemed culturally significant in 2019 by the Library of Congress.

    5. Unpregnant (2020)

    Haley Lu Richardson (Veronica) and Barbie Ferreira (Bailey) in 'Unpregnant'
    HBO Max

    Based on the young adult novel of the same name, Unpregnant takes a comedic yet sensitive look at just how far one teen might go in order to get the safe, legal abortion she needs. Ivy League-bound Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) never expected to end up pregnant, but with conservative parents, an incompetent boyfriend, and the closest clinic that will help her 1,000 miles away, she decides to enlist the help of her misfit former BFF (Euphoria's delightful Barbie Ferreira). The teens drive from Missouri to New Mexico on perhaps the weirdest road trip ever, dodging cops, crazy ex-boyfriends and the awkwardness of why they aren't really friends anymore. With Roe v. Wade under threat of being overturned, this girl buddy road trip film feels a much-needed Gen Z reprisal of Thelma & Louise.

    6. Ikiru (1952)

    Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe in 'Ikiru'
    Toho Co., Ltd.

    While the story itself reads as fairly staightforward (a man dying of cancer devotes his last months to building a children's playground), the poignancy and existential heaviness presented cannot be overstated. The script poses the ultimate question: What gives life meaning? Dozens of essays have been penned about the way Ikiru looks at post-World War II Japan, and it's no wonder, as this stunning film has a way of capturing universal emotions despite it being set in a very specific time and place.

    7. Sound of My Voice (2012)

    Brit Marling (Maggie) and Richard Wharton (Klaus) holding hands in front of a group of seven cult members in 'Sound of My Voice'
    FOX Searchlight Pictures

    What begins as one couple's attempt to expose a charismatic cult leader as a fraud via documentary quickly unravels into a nerve-scraping drama when Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) begin to fall under her spell. Creepy cult leading lady Maggie is played by the elusive Brit Marling, known for her work in various sci-fi movies and television such as The OA. Combining wit, horror and nuance, the ending will raise questions you'll be pondering for days to come.

    8. An Angel at My Table (1990)

    Alexia Keogh as adolescent Janet Frame smoking a cigarette in 'An Angel at My Table'
    Hibiscus Films

    To say that New Zealand writer Janet Frame had a tumultuous start to life would be an understatement. From childhood to early adulthood, Janet suffered through poverty, countless tragedies and a number of mental and emotional issues, culminating in her time spent in a mental institution. This is where she found her acclaim for writing. With striking images and a keen attention to detail, this autobiographical drama brings the true story of one woman alive in the ways that only cinema can.

    9. Belle de Jour (1967)

    Catherine Deneuve (Belle de Jour) kissing Geneviève Page (Madame Anaïs) in 'Belle de Jour'
    Euro International Films

    Beautiful housewife Séverine cannot reconcile her masochistic sexual fantasies, leading her to live a double life. She spends her nights working at a high-class brothel while her doctor husband is away at work, but when one of her clients grows possessive, Séverine must decide if this secret second life is worth it. As comedically deadpan as it is fascinating, Belle de Jour is one of Spanish-Mexican director Luis Buñuel's most successful films, and certainly provocative for its time period.

    10. Grey Gardens (1976)

    Edith Bouvier Beale sitting on her bed in 'Grey Gardens'
    Portrait Films

    As bizarre as it is utterly fascinating, this documentary has now become something of a modern cult classic. It was even referenced on RuPaul's Drag Race in Season Five, when contestant Jinkx Monsoon gave a highly memorable (and winning) impersonation of Little Edie. The film follows the everyday lives of two recluse, eccentric women, Mrs. Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, who live in a derelict mansion and, arguably, a world of their own. Grey Gardens is everything you could want in an off-beat, humanistic doc: non-judgmental, tender and inquisitive.

    11. Open Water (2004)

    Blanchard Ryan (Susan Watkins) and Daniel Travis (Daniel Kintner) embracing in the water wearing scuba gear in 'Open Water'
    Lionsgate

    In this chilling horror film that probes your deepest, darkest fears of the ocean, a couple's tropical vacation quickly turns into a nightmare when the two accidentally separate during a group dive and find themselves stranded at sea. Sharks lurk beneath the murky waters, their oxygen supply is slowly but surely running out, and their chances of survival grow slimmer by the second. With no cheesy jump scares or special effects to be found, Open Water relies on tension alone, and provides pure existential terror and dread.

    12. Pi (1998)

    Sean Gullette at Maximillian Cohen in 'Pi'
    Artisan Entertainment

    You likely know him better for Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, but Darren Aronofsky made his film debut and won the Directing Award at the1998 Sundance Film Festival with Pi. The surreal story follows an unstable math genius who has discovered a 216-digit number that may unlock the secrets of the universe. Gripping and terrifyingly smart, Pi explores themes of religion, mysticism, and cosmic claustrophobia.

    13. The End (2004)

    A terminally ill man sitting at a table drinking coffee and eating a pastry in 'The End'
    United Artists

    Five hospice patients diagnosed with terminal cancer contemplate the final days of their lives in this visceral and deeply personal documentary. Family members armed with video cameras chronicle their dying loved ones' journeys toward...well, the end, and what we get is a contemplative and disquieting portrait of people confronting their own mortality.

    14. The Last Seduction (1994)

    Peter Berg (Mike Swale) and Linda Fiorentino (Bridget Gregory) sitting together in 'The Last Seduction'
    October Films

    Theft, murder, mystery...and sex. It's all here —and features a badass woman as its leading lady. If you're looking for a great indie noir film updated for the modern era, look no further than The Last Seduction. The story follows a woman fleeing New York City with a fortune of drug money she swiped from her husband. She hides out in a small town where she finds a new lover, and tons of trouble, as her husband has hired a private investigator to track her down.

    15. Nightingale (2015)

    David Oyelowo as Peter Snowden in 'Nightingale'
    HBO Films

    David Oyelowo (Selma) gives a powerhouse performance as Peter Snowden, a man who descends into dangerous madness while providing the unseen viewers of his video log frequent updates on his day-to-day musings. Peter is a traumatized war veteran harboring an obsession over his old Army buddy. We see him talk to himself, on the phone, dictate letters in his head, but never directly to any other character. The one-man show is made all the more harrowing by off-kilter direction and strong script with an ending difficult to forget.

    16. Funny Games (1997)

    Frank Giering (Peter) and Arno Frisch (Paul) in 'Funny Games'
    Concorde-Castle Rock/Turner

    An innocent family's idyllic vacation home becomes their own personal hell when they make the grave mistake of letting inside two young men who hold them hostage. Filmmaker Michael Haneke went on to release a shot-by-shot remake of this psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts, but you're looking at the original here and, as many horror fans might argue, the superior version of the film. Peter and Paul wear white gloves as they sadistically torture the husband, wife, son, and their dog, evoking eerie parallels to the cartoonish adventures of Mickey Mouse. Oh, and they also are somehow able to "rewind" and "replay" the film as it's running, and regularly break the fourth wall. Horrifying, self-aware, and wildly inventive, this is not one to miss if you have a strong stomach for the disturbing.

    17. Charm City Kings (2020)

    Jahi Di'Allo Winston as Mouse walking down the streets of Baltimore in 'Charm City Kings'
    HBO Max

    In this HBO Max original, fourteen-year-old Mouse and his friends desperately want in on the West Baltimore dirt biker group known as The Midnight Clique. Reeling from the tragic loss of his brother, a legendary Midnight rider, and determined to help out his family and win his neighborhood's respect, Mouse makes it his mission to join the Clique no matter the cost. The film blurs the lines between coming-of-age contemporary and cautionary crime thriller, and is beautifully written.

    18. Long Gone By (2020)

    Erica Muñoz (Ana Alvarez) sitting at a diner booth with Izzy Hau'ula (Izzy Alvarez), blowing out a birthday candle in 'Lone Gone By.'
    HBO

    If you want a sordid but raw and honest depiction of the current United States, this is your movie. Single mother Ana Alvarez moves from Nicaragua to Warsaw, Indiana with her teen daughter, Izzy, but a routine check leads to a devastating deportation order. In a last-ditch effort to pay for Izzy's college tuition and give her a shot at the life she never had, Ana risks absolutely everything. The film is intimate and deeply personal, giving audiences a closer look at the lesser-known stories of American immigrants in the flyover states.

    19. Sisters (1972)

    Margot Kidder as Danielle Breton and three others in the cast of 'Sisters'
    American International Pictures

    They sure don't make slashers like they used to! The '70s and '80s was decidedly the "golden age" of slasher horror films, though many to this day are still written off as merely exploitative, cheap entertainment. This early '70s incarnation, however, has been noted by critics for drawing deep inspiration from the works of Alfred Hitchcock. To put it simply, Sisters isn't just all about the blood, gore and shock value (though it's also fine if that's what you're after): rather, Sisters is a psychological slasher film that gets inside your head and under your skin, featuring separated conjoined twins, a brutal murder and a bleak Staten Island setting.

    20. A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

    Gena Rowlands as Mabel Longhetti, sitting at a table full of family members in 'A Woman Under the Influence'
    Cine-Source

    Lacking funding from a major Hollywood studio, John Cassavetes mortgaged his house and borrowed money from family and friends to produce a film about what he called "a crazy, middle-aged dame" that he thought no one would want to watch. Audiences, of course, proved him dead wrong. Said "crazy" dame is doting Los Angeles housewife and mother Mabel, whose increasingly odd behavior is concerning her husband. Worried she's a threat to herself and possibly their children, he commits her to an institution. Though when she returns after six months of treatment, neither she nor her husband are prepared for what's to come.

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