50 Greatest American Independent Films

Black Swan (2010)

The Film: With its Oscar win and big box-office, this might not be as obviously 'indie' as Aronofsky's lo-fi debut Pi , but the budget was so tight Natalie Portman gave up her trailer to keep a nurse on set to treat all of the ballet injuries.

Only In America: Again, it's not as obviously American as Aronofsky's The Wrestler ... but consider this: the two films have the same plot.

Take Shelter (2011)

The Film: Indie's bright hope for the future, Jeff Nichols, whipped up a storm at Sundance and Cannes with his character study of a man plagued by apocalyptic visions, played by perennial scene-stealer Michael Shannon in a rare leading role.

Only In America: The film's central question - is Shannon crazy or a prophet? - gains resonance from the States' interest in evangelical Bible-bashers.

Half Nelson (2006)

The Film: Ryan Gosling earned an unanticipated Oscar nomination in Ryan Fleck's drama, a raw, ragged antidote to Hollywood's "inspirational teacher" genre.

Only In America: There are probably crack-addicted teachers in lots of countries, but be honest: USA would be the top answer if that question got asked on Family Fortunes .

Killer Of Sheep (1977)

The Film: Charles Burnett's episodic, moody account of a slaughterhouse worker and his strained family relationships is a touchstone for African-American independent cinema that doesn't have a hint of blaxploitation.

Only In America: Rights issues over the soundtrack kept the film largely unseen for thirty years. Wouldn't have happened to a studio pic.

Pink Flamingos (1972)

The Film: John Waters' growing reputation as a purveyor of taboo-busting filthy-encrusted comedy exploded in this chicken-sex, dog poo-eating extravaganza.

Only In America: You know the term trailer-trash? This pretty much defines the 'trash.'

Swingers (1996)

The Film: The definitive 90s dating comedy is a classic example of how low-budget verve and ingenuity can provide the calling card for future A-listers in this case director Doug Liman, star Vince Vaughn and writer/actor Jon Favreau.

Only In America: Penniless actors making impromptu road trips to Vegas. You don't really see RADA students driving up to Blackpool in the same way.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

The Film: Charlie Kaufman - the most self-consciously indie 'brand' around - goes semi-respectable with Michel Gondry's Oscar-winning (but still incredibly experimental) head-fucking romance.

Only In America: The higher the therapy bills get, the more likely it is that a quick fix like Lacuna will become a reality.

Sideways (2004)

The Film: After the Jack Nicholson vehicle About Schmidt , Alexander Payne could have gone A-list. Instead, he kept things low-key and bittersweet, in the process turning independent icon Paul Giamatti into the Noughties' least likely movie star.

Only In America: People actually listened to wine snob Miles' disparaging view of merlot; sales nosedived after the film's release.

Lost In Translation (2003)

The Film: Sofia Coppola escapes her father's shadow - not to mention THAT performance in The Godfather Part 3 - by eloping to Tokyo to make a tender tone-poem with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

Only In America: Only 30% of Americans hold a passport, so it's hardly surprising that those who do go abroad tend to stick together and hardly meet any locals.

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)

The Film: Made in 1986 but not released until 1990, John McNaughton's harrowing, realistic 'portrait' is proof that, whatever indie's ability to probe the darkness, it still has to get past the censors.

Only In America: Serial killers have been found worldwide, but the idea of Henry teaching protégé Otis to become one cuts to the idea of the American serial killer as a lifestyle choice.