Kicking off his film career in 2011, Adam Driver has been part of both studio productions and indie movies. Ever since his breakthrough performance in the TV show Girls, the actor has risen to prominence with a succession of popular roles such as Kylo Ren, the main antagonist of Star Wars‘ latest trilogy, and Maurizio Gucci in the ambitious crime drama House of Gucci. Recently, Driver joined the cast of Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, a $120 million production funded by Coppola himself.
However, Driver doesn’t limit himself to big-budget productions or blockbusters only, but rather maintains a fair balance between massive productions and independent films, which makes him a notable figure in different niches of the film industry. Over the course of 12 years, Driver has starred in more than 25 films and continues to actively take part in many exciting projects. The actor has established a long-term partnership with renowned indie filmmakers such as Noah Baumbach and Jim Jarmusch, starring in small productions that rank among his best movies. Here are his best indie movies, ranked.
8 What If (2013)
What If is one of those indie gems that counts on a star-studded cast, including names such as Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, and, of course, Adam Driver. Shying away from typical rom-com conventions, the film establishes an amusing, yet anxiety-inducing scenario where two soulmates find themselves bound to become best friends.
The quirky set of characters is perfectly in sync with each other, nailing the balance between drama and comedy that permeates the narrative. In a performance reminiscent of his role in Girls, Driver plays Allan, the mediator between Wallace and Chantry’s relationship, who seem to be made for each other but find many obstacles on their way. What If gives rise to a realistic discussion on the friendship between men and women, and to what extent the love between two friends intertwines with the passion of two lovers.
7 While We’re Young (2014)
While We’re Young seems to establish the long-term collaboration between Driver and Noah Baumbach and highlight what the two artists do best. Driver is great in a self-contained performance, delivering a dry sense of humor that fits perfectly with Baumbach’s unconventional style; there are no ready-made jokes, but the character’s reactions to the absurdities of life unravel in a hilarious fashion.
However, while humor is fairly important to While We’re Young‘s narrative, especially with a comedy veteran like Ben Stiller in one of the lead roles, the movie’s biggest strength comes from analyzing the generational gaps of a world that changes too fast. The movie follows a documentary filmmaker and his wife in the face of an existential crisis that ensues after they meet a free-spirited young couple. Through a series of philosophical conversations and dilemmas between the four characters, While We’re Young leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
6 Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Inside Llewyn Davis marks Driver’s first collaboration with the renowned Coen brothers, who didn’t let themselves get carried away by the massive success of No Country For Old Men and continued to invest in small indie movies. With Oscar Isaac in the lead role, Inside Llewyn Davis follows the fortunes and, more frequently, misfortunes of a talented folk musician who tries to adapt to the uncertainty of the changing music scene and the chaos of his own life.
The film offers a realistic portrayal of the early-60s from the perspective of an overlooked portion of society, introducing artists both fictional and real that never came close to being part of the Elite music scene: these people spent their whole struggling with money and trying to make trustworthy connections. Llewyn Davis seems to encapsulate a whole generation of musicians who fell to oblivion before having the chance to shine in their own times. While music is a crucial element in Inside Llewyn Davis, the film also takes its time to explore complex relationships and existential matters. It’s different from anything the Coen brother ever pulled off, even though Driver is limited to a significantly small role.
5 Annette (2021)
Annette might be the weirdest movie in Driver’s career, which comes as no surprise considering director Leos Carax’s past films. The mind-bending story was initially conceptualized by brothers Ron and Russel Mael, members of the music duo Sparks. They are responsible for the brilliant set of songs present in Annette, which conduct drive the narrative in unexpected directions.
Driver plays Henry, an unusual stand-up comedian whose sense of humor is fairly dark, but the irony of his heart is toned down by the love of Ann, a charming actress. When their baby Annette is born, their relationship takes an unexpectedly dark turn. From the very first scene, which features an intense meta-performance by the main cast and the people behind the camera, it’s clear that Annette intends to challenge the audience. From the unorthodox musical numbers to the ambitious character study, Carax’s film presents a unique experience and an explosive Driver performance, which includes lots of singing and dancing.
4 Frances Ha (2012)
Frances Ha features the first time Driver and Baumbach worked together, but different from their other movies, this film starring Greta Gerwig is all about the feminine perspective. Frances is an aspiring dancer in her late-20s who doesn’t know what to do with her life, even though the people around her seem to be settling into their respective relationships and careers. Navigating through the vibrant city of New York and other busy places, Frances looks for something to hold on to.
In Frances Ha, Baumbach and Gerwig craft their most painfully relatable character yet. Frances is free-spirited, curious, and full of life, but she also has many flaws, starting with her unrelenting impulsiveness and her difficulty in making concrete decisions. The film delivers a heartwarming performance by Gerwig, and Driver is also a major standout as one of Frances’ dearest acquaintances. Frances Ha reveals the unwieldy truth about settling down in contemporary society, addressing the concept of the “American Dream” as just another setback in the grand scale of adult life.
3 BlacKkKlansman (2018)
Spike Lee dedicated his film career to exposing discrimination against Black communities and the harsh reality of growing up in one, usually crafting compelling fictional stories with a grain of truth. BlacKkKlansman recounts the unbelievably true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black police officer who manages to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
The narrative unravels through the perspective of Stallworth, who pulls the strings of the operation, and Driver’s character Zimmerman, his police partner and the person who works at the center of the action. Driver’s charismatic performance earned him his first Oscar nomination for a supporting role. The contrast between Stallworth and Zimmerman and their environments adds up to a dynamic style that keeps the movie in motion until their arcs collide in an anxiety-inducing fashion. Despite telling a serious and important story, Lee makes sure to add hints of acid humor that work as an effective comical relief.
2 Marriage Story (2019)
Marriage Story was a turning point in the careers of both Baumbach and Driver, who team up to tell the realistic story of a stage director and an actress coming to terms with their failed marriage and finding a way to move on without affecting their child. Driver and Scarlet Johansson nail the lead performances of two deeply flawed characters falling out of love. It’s difficult to choose who to root for, especially because each of the characters has their own understandable reasons to act as they do.
Known for his subtle performances, Driver finds himself out of his comfort zone with a role that demands a charged delivery of emotions, flirting with theatrical conventions. Marriage Story‘s main couple spends the majority of the film trying to repress their emotions and move on without conflict, yet the iconic argument scene will go down in history as one of the most powerful fights in cinema. The scene is a perfect showcase of how some feelings never really go away, despite all the rage and regret these characters carry in their hearts. Even though Charlie and Nicole’s marriage is coming to an end, their son is a powerful token of a time when love kept them together.
1 Paterson (2016)
Paterson is both the name of the character Driver plays and the town Paterson lives in, a simple place with nothing really special to offer apart from being the hometown of the many famous artists. Jim Jarmusch chooses Paterson to capture the beauty of everyday mundanity, following a week in the life of the bus driver who aspires to become a poet. Driver delivers a heartwarming, self-contained performance that speaks with the audience even in the quietest scenes.
Simplicity is precisely what makes Paterson so unique: every day Paterson goes through the same daily chores and meets the same people, yet his routine is always inspiring him to write new poems. Through Paterson’s eyes, viewers realize that ambition has nothing to do with stardom or recognition, but rather the feeling that one is evolving even though the life remains the same. And as the ending perfectly illustrates, in the case something goes wrong, it’s never too late to start anew.