The 10 Best Feel-Good Indie Films That Will Keep You Distracted From Your Phone

By James Gallagher.

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is screening the world over and stars some of Hollywood’s biggest hitters. But more than 25 years ago Tarantino was just another video store clerk with big ideas and dreams of making in Hollywood. So we’re making a list of the best 'feel-good' independent films that will at least keep you distracted from your phone long enough to charge it past 40 percent.

This is the low-budget independent little engines that could and should make you 'feel good' even if there's been a bit of liberty taken on that part. I’ve added some titles that you won’t necessarily find in the ‘feel-good’ section of your local video store - mostly because there’s like five of them left in the country but I digress, these are all feel-good in one way or another.

And I get it, this list is, like, so predictable. You’re probably right, Mr Person wearing a Margaret & David Farewell Tour shirt, but the other day I read somewhere that a high school teacher had to explain 9/11 to a bunch of year 7 or 8 kids and they all just thought it was a meme. In fairness they'd be what 12-13 years old? It's pretty young - and that's coming from an adult quoting something I saw on Reddit the other day.

So with that in mind I’m keeping my standards low here. Low budgets, low expectations, you name it, low it all on the fire. There’s not ten soapy happy fun timers here, but they’ll at least make you 'feel good' - if only because most of these films kickstarted the careers of some of the greatest directors and screenwriters of the modern age.

1. Reservoir Dogs (1992) - Quentin Tarantino

Yeah yeah, everybody knows Reservoir Dogs, duh, but I may as well get it out of the way now. The darling of indie-kids everywhere, Tarantino’s debut shocked the world when it premiered in 1992 on the film festival circuit and remains one of the most important and impressive debut efforts of all time. Initially Tarantino planned to shoot his heist film with friends on a budget of $30,000 before the man himself - Mr Harvey Keitel was offered a part in the film. Keitel decided he’d be doing more than that and decided to jump onboard as producer. The story of a bank heist gone wrong and the various Mr’s involved has all the hallmarks of Tarantino’s world - the high-level violence, epic soundtrack, quick-wit dialogue heavy on the profanity and homages to the lesser-known outposts of the cinema world - are all here. Filmed in an abandoned mortuary during a scorching LA summer, Dogs changed the game in the 90’s bringing with it a changing of the guard and a flurry of imitators and admirers that, in the process, helped Tarantino become one of the greats of modern cinema. Feel good? Probably not. Director Wes Craven was one of many that walked out of screenings of the movie (during THAT scene), and while it’s gritty, gross and more than a little fucked up - what’s not to like here?

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2. Clerks (1994) - Kevin Smith

Another no-brainer, Clerks is the epitome of 'indie'. The story of store clerks Dante Hicks and Randal Graves came to director Kevin Smith while he was working in a (surprise) convenience store. Filmed in black and white, Smith’s debut was shot for $27,575 in the same store he worked in. Smith took his chances, pushed his luck and shot the thing in less than a month. “We filmed for 21 nights straight. I closed the store at 10.30pm, we would start shooting by 11 and continue until 6am. "Everyone assumed I was making a porno.” Simple, staunchly lackadaisical, Clerks took the conventions of what made a film ‘successful’ and provides one of the more endearing looks at the life of the everyman.

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3. Lost in Translation (2003) - Sofia Coppola

This is another one that’s tough to call 'independent' - Sofia Coppola did have a father who will stand in his own right as one of the greats so this is not a rags-to-riches story. But it's the feel-good indie-lovers wet dream - Bill Murray plays an aging actor in Tokyo for a whiskey commercial who befriends Scarlett Johansson, a bored wife sitting in her hotel room. Coppola’s second feature was written with Murray in mind and given its comparably modest budget of $4 million, Lost in Translation became a huge hit earning Coppola one of the more impressive box office takings of any of the films on this list. Is it independent? To be honest, not really, but taking the audience on a ride through the modern metropolis of Tokyo whilst exploring the lost, lonely worlds of two complete strangers is in itself pretty daring especially for Coppola. Murray makes this worth-watching (duh) - the stark, existential reality of a life lived in the spotlight isn’t supposed to look like this, but it works. Coppola filmed, directed and produced the whole thing and with that alone credit’s due, but Lost in Translation is a great watch - famous filmmaker Dad or not.

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4. Swingers (1996) - Doug Liman

Whilst directed by Liman, this is John Favreau’s story. The guy is directing Marvel movies now but as a struggling writer in L.A. - Favreau wrote the screenplay for Swingers in about two weeks. Enlisting his friends and filming illegally in some of the Casino and bar scenes - this is a great story of filmmakers doing it by any means possible. To be honest, this probably doesn’t stand up so well nowadays, but there’s a pretty good time to be had here, as pals Mike Peters and his womanising friend Trent Walker hit the town to help get Mike over his recent break-up. Apparently, they spent more money on the music licensing than the film itself, and Swingers helped launch the careers of nearly everyone involved as well as the swing revival in the ’90s (questionable). But this is pretty bloody funny and will at least give you a glimpse into the weird world of Hollywood.

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5. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) - Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton

Working with your partner would be the top of many couples 'absolutely not' list but husband-and-wife Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris did it with their directorial debut Little Miss Sunshine. The story of a family on a cross-country road trip is simple in its idea but the cast takes the reigns and runs with it. From Steve Carell’s forlorn middle-aged depressed uncle, Alan Arkin’s heroin snorting grandpa to Abigail Bresnan’s impossibly sweet Olive - the characters in this movie will warm even coldest of hearts. The script was purchased from first-time screenwriter Michael Arndt for $250,000 by Marc Turtletaub, one of the film's producers and went on to gross over $100 million at the box office, landing a bunch of accolades and awards in the process. Little Miss Sunshine is probably the most 'feel-good' of all the films on this list. It’s as endearing as anything you're likely to see. Here is a family unit so far from the conventional nuclear family so often seen in cinema, that familiarities with the characters hit you right in the feels. This is the movie this list was made for.

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5. Dazed And Confused (1993) - Richard Linklater

Stoners rejoice! Your Hallmark card in celluloid form is here. The life of high schoolers never looked so real (at the time anyway) and Dazed and Confused is long regarded as one of the more important pieces of 90’s cinema. Tarantino listed it as one of his favorite films of the decade. The American coming-of-age comedy written and directed by Richard Linklater was an homage to the 70s and the real goings-on of most high schoolers. There’s no star-crossed lovers and tragic stories of death or destruction here - just an endearing and pretty damn funny look into the world of High School according to the rest of us - if we were at school in Texas in the ’70s. The film centers on the last day of high school for various students at Lee High School in 1976 and for all its unexceptional happenings, Dazed And Confused hits home for so many, in ways not seen before. The feelings of high school and all its heart-wrenching awkwardness play out here and it's easy to see why it launched the careers of many of its lesser-known actors and took director Linklater from new kid on the block to legitimate director. Its feel good at its core but for something so unassuming Dazed And Confused really packs a punch.

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6. Adaptation (2002) - Spike Jonze

Something that’s even hard to write basically about is Adaptation - a movie directed by Spike Jonze and written by one of the greats Charlie Kaufman. Is it meta? What does that mean? Who’s idea was this? How am I still watching this? Those will all probably come into your thought process at some point if you watch this and will no doubt continue long after you finish it. It’s all going on in real life but it's the movie? And there’s two of them there? Oh no, that’s his brother, who also helped with the writing of the movie in real life. And the movie is based off Susan Orleans The Orchid Thief? But it's not at all like it? Or is it? How did this happen? I’m not really sure but it's brilliant, subtle and hilarious all in one. Nicholas Cage plays it so well and when all is said and done you’ll probably still be confused - but this is bold, confusing and for those involved - a mighty risk. But it somehow works. Even Kaufman himself didn’t know what to think of the script, "I really thought I was ending my career by turning that in!"

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7. Juno (2007) - Jason Reitman

Yep, this is is the mother-load of feel-good indie success stories. Written by Diablo Cody, now a household name and grossing more than $230 million at the box office, this little coming-of-age drama about teen pregnancy set the world alight when it was released. Starring Ellen Page as the whip-smart but suddenly pregnant teen Juno, this film was THE indie film of the 2000s. It’s probably been said enough but there’s plenty of reasons to watch Juno and I’m pretty sure nearly everyone has - for everyone else, it could be your time.

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8. Blood Simple (1984) - Joel Coen

Ok, another film that’s not exactly ‘feel-good’ but it’s important it's on this list. I was going to mention The Big Lebowksi here but by the time the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan) dropped that on the world, their work was already pretty well known. So instead of talking about that feel-good-must-watch film, I’m leaning on the independent side here because this movie is so important. This is the one that set the brothers on their way to becoming one of the most important director/writing partnerships of their time and displays plenty of the hallmarks of their later work. The double crossings, foul play, and that familiar noir-ish tone are all here but with a little more darkness than their later efforts - No Country for Old Men would probably beg to differ. Feel good independent movie? As with some of the others here - not really. This is pretty brutal - the story of a kidnapping/murder gone wrong takes no backward steps matching the brutality and violence of the film with some pretty dark comedic moments - which makes it all the more entrancing. The Coen’s are one of the best storytellers ever and I would recommend every one of their films to anyone so Blood Simple was a no-brainer.

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9. Mean Streets (1973) - Martin Scorsese

The Godfather of filmmaking has always been just that, right? Well not really, again Mean Streets isn’t so much a feel-good feature as it is an incredibly important piece of celluloid. This was Scorsese's real feature film of his own making based on actual events a young Scorsese witnessed as young boy New York’s Little Italy. This is again pretty tough to watch, there’s not many rainbows and tender moments to be found here but come on, its Scorsese we’re talking about. And it's got it all, a young De Niro as Charlie the protagonist, everyone’s favorite gangster Harvey Keitel (again) and still today stands tall among all that's come after it. There’s not much more you can say about this film. It's essential viewing and the standard that all gangster films are measured by.

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10. Roger and Me (1989) - Michael Moore

This one might seem a little left-field but its certainly ticks both boxes here at least. The first of many for serial pest Michael Moore the story of Moore and General Motors CEO Roger B. Smith is honestly worth a mention. A documentary about a General Motors CEO and the small-town reality and repercussions of his company’s decision to close several auto-plants in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan - started it all. Going on to have huge commercial success with his subsequent documentaries Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11) Roger and Me is the opening of the can of worms America needed at the time, earning the film the title of the most successful documentary of its time. But you knew that wouldn’t stop him and nearly all of Moore’s work shines a light on the economic policies and social attitudes of the United States government or big businesses and the reality of what that means for the average Joe.

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