The 21st Century’s 100 Best Movies that Remain Overlooked

Yes, The Shawshank Redemption and Mulholland Drive are both fantastic movies, but what is the point of reminding you of that in every list?

Beyond frequent cult overstatements and box office revenue correlations, we decided to count down the 100 best and most unjustly little-known movies. A list of real suggestions you can make your way through.

Our purpose at agoodmovietowatch is to reference movies you haven’t yet seen, that you can watch immediately and love. To do this, we only recommend movies that have received a high rating on IMDb combined with a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. This means that these movies have been appreciated by both critics and viewers, so you can trust that they’re awesome. We also only suggest movies that didn’t make a huge splash at the box office or which didn’t get the attention they deserved, so there is little chance you have already seen them.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

A hilarious and smart comedy that is almost impossible to hate. It doesn’t matter if you liked The Room or not; or if you’ve even heard of it, you will find The Disaster Artist extremely enjoyable. Same applies for James Franco, it’s irrelevant if you think he’s the hottest man walking or a complete waste of screen-time – this movie is better approached without any preconceived ideas. It follows the true events surrounding Tommy Wiseau’s making of The Room, a movie so bad it actually became a worldwide hit. Tommy’s character, played by Franco, is 100% mystery. He pops out of nowhere and does and says things that contain little to no logic. Capitalizing on this, the movie is both absolutely hilarious and intriguing from beginning to end.

Leave No Trace (2018)

Leave No Trace is the amazing new movie from the director of Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik. It’s the story of a father and his daughter who live completely off the grid in a national park in Portland, and their quiet quest to not be separated and remain off the grid. It’s not the sensational, tear-jerker story that you’d expect something with this premise to be. Rather, and like Winter’s Bone, it chooses a humane and realistic approach to the subject matter. The decision to live outside society is almost irrelevant to this movie. More so, its inevitability for certain people with certain mindsets is what is interesting. A stunningly quiet movie, really well-acted too.

Shéhérazade (2018)

A gritty and realistic thriller set in France’s notorious capital city of crime – Marseille. 

Zachary is released from Juvenile prison to learn that his mother has abandoned him. He finds kinship in an underage sex worker by the name of Shéhérazade. 

This seems like the set-up for a tough watch, but Shéhérazade plays like a romance when it’s slow, and a crime thriller when it’s fast (it’s mostly fast). Everything about the story and two leads’ relationship rings true. Added to the fact that it has no interest in emotionally manipulating you, the movie is more gripping and thought-provoking than sad.

A great story, fantastic acting from the cast of first-timers, and outstanding direction give the feeling that Shéhérazade is bound to become a modern classic. If you liked City of God, you will love this. 

Long Time Running (2017)

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster.

The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease.

This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness.

Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears – this is this movie.

It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

For Sama (2019)

This story of a filmmaker who stayed in Aleppo, Syria during the war, got married then had a child called Sama, is a mix of difficult and inspiring.

There are stories of unsurmountable loss, as the filmmaker’s husband is one of the 30 remaining doctors in Aleppo (a city of almost 5 million), and she films many of the victims that come to his hospital. But while this is happening, there are also uplifting stories of resilience and rare but profound moments of laughter and joy.

We’re growing too sensitized to violence in Syria, and this movie, possibly the most intimate account of the war, can stir back a much-needed awareness of the injustices that take place.

When things get really bad in the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder where the humanity is in all of this. You quickly realize that it’s right there, behind the camera, in Sama and her mother’s will to live.

Oslo, August 31st (2011)

This masterpiece from Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a clear-eyed movie that takes place in one day in the life of a 34-year-old. Anders, a recovering drug addict, gets to leave his rehab facility for the first time to take a job interview. He visits friends, tries to meet his ex, and goes to the interview. With every interaction, you get to know him more and understand that what he’s going through is shared with everyone he meets. At 34, Anders feels it is too late to turn his life around, and so do his friends. He just happens to be a drug addict.

And Then We Danced (2020)

Georgian dance has cut-throat competition: the art form is dying even within Gerogia, and to make it, dancers compete to join the one duo that represents the country. The chance finally comes and the spot opens up, igniting the hopes of performers from around the country. Mervan is one of them, a young dancer from a poor background who takes food from his restaurant job to feed his family. His main competition is a newcomer, Irakli, who also comes from a difficult background and hopes to secure the spot to provide for his ill father.

When their lives hang on them competing against one another, Mervan and Irakli fall for each other.

And Then We Danced is full of incredible dance sequences that add to the beauty of the romance at its center; but it’s also a heartbreaking exploration of unfulfilled ambition.

The Wackness (2008)

A period comedy set in New York in the summer of 1994, the Wackness is a coming of age story about Luke Shapiro (Joshua Peck), as he deals with family trauma, love, and economic hardship while selling pot to his strange psychologist. Rescued from a somewhat typical bildungsroman plot by sharp character acting, a firm directorial hand and an absolutely fitting soundtrack that evokes the golden age of rap music.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler’s hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson’s incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska is a poem distilled into a film. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says “is it a comedy or a drama? Both at the same time, as life itself.” Everything about it is perfect: the acting, the photography, the story. In case that’s not enough and you need to know the plot to get convinced, I’ll tell you that it’s a road movie about a senile old man and his son. If you still want more information, you can Google it, but come on! You’ll just be wasting time that would be better spent on watching this masterpiece.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

This movie is gentle and utterly chaotic, intimate and massive, beautiful and ugly… it tries to be so many things and somehow pulls it off. It tells two stories parallel in time, based on the real-life diaries of two European scientists who traveled through the Amazon in the early and mid-twentieth century. Their stories are some of the only of accounts of Amazonian tribes in written history. The main character and guide in the movie is a shaman who met them both. At times delicate to the point of almost being able to feel the water, at times utterly apocalyptic and grand… to watch this movie is to take a journey through belief systems, through film… and to be brought along by cinematography that is at times unbelievably and absurdly beautiful. Meditative, violent, jarring, peaceful, luminous, ambitious, artful, heavy handed, graceful… it’s really an incredible film.

Upgrade (2018)

This film really satisfied my craving for an original thriller, despite the fact that I spent most of it thinking about how Logan Marshall-Green looks like a budget Tom Hardy.

He plays a guy whose wife is killed during a violent mugging that also leaves him paralyzed in the aftermath. When a billionaire approaches him with an Artificial Intelligence solution that would “upgrade” his body, he has a chance to take vengeance.

This is Robocop meets Ex Machina meets Blade Runner. It’s original, low-budget without feeling low-budget, and honestly just so thrilling. It gives the genre of sci-fi a much needed upgrade.

Pain and Glory (2019)

This is the latest Oscar-nominated movie by Spain’s highest-regarded director, Pedro Almodóvar. It’s his most personal work to date, being a slightly fictionalized account of his youth and then the last couple of years. He is mostly portrayed by Antonio Banderas, who was also nominated for an Oscar for this role; while another star performance comes from Penélope Cruz who plays his mother in the flashback scenes. Pain and Glory is about life in the arts: how a tormented artistic personality is formed, the days of focusing on work over relationships, and dealing with the consequences later in life. It begs the question: in Almodóvar’s life, was the glory that got him to making as great of a movie as this one worth the pain?

Waves (2019)

A beautifully shot movie about a high-schooler who’s pushed by his father to always work and exercise the hardest. He aces his exams and always wins at wrestling, but nothing is ever good enough for the father and there is no margin for error. When things with both his body and his relationship start going wrong, his existence comes crashing down. This movie has two parts, and it takes a lot of narrative risks, but the beautiful camera work and believable characters land every single risk. It’s an incredible achievement and a movie that should have gotten much more attention than it did.

Kings of Summer (2013)

A quirky and lovely coming of age film, the Kings of Summer celebrates the beauty and madness of adolescence and the sheer joy of long summer days. The plot follows three teenage friends, who, in the ultimate act of independence, decide to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land. The house soon becomes a microcosm of their relationships with each other and the world at large, prompting conflict and mirroring their own transformations as they grow. Simple yet powerful, the Kings of Summer has a lot to say.

Philomena (2013)

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The original Swedish mystery thriller that was later remade by David Fincher. It’s the same story of a wealthy man hiring a journalist and scrappy hacker to solver a murder, but told better. This version is slower, has more attention to detail and pace. In casting, authenticity triumphs over good looks. In staging, aesthetics are given as much importance as thrills. And in the story, intelligence wins over plot. This gives the main character of Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace) better space to deploy her full mysticism and enigmatic nature. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev masterfully brings everything together to make for a movie that will forever be remembered.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

A relevant and deeply entertaining movie that only has the appearance of being about politics. In reality, it is about television, and one brilliant journalist’s pursuit of the perfect interview.  Richard Nixon stepped away from the public eye after the Watergate scandal, and was counting on a series of interviews three years later to redeem himself. His team assigns an unlikely reporter to sit in front of him, a British reality TV host named David Frost. Both men have everything to gain from this interview by going against each other, as Frost tries to extract a confession of wrongdoing in Watergate that Nixon never gave.  Who will win? The master manipulator or the up-and-coming journalist? Frost / Nixon was originally a play, and this adaptation is full of drama and boosts great dialogue.

Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski (2018)

This is an amazing documentary but be warned, the main character has some weird characteristics.

By coincidence, an art collector stumbles upon an undiscovered collection of sculptures and paintings that can only be described as the work of a genius. There was almost no reference to the artist, but upon research the collector finds that they are by a man called Stanislav Szukalski. He traces him down and finally locates him living anonymously in a California suburb. 

The documentary, Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski, is a collection of tapes from numerous interviews in the 1980s between the collector and Szukalski. He was helped by George DiCaprio, who would later produce this movie with his son Leonardo (!). 

In these interviews it becomes clear that Szukalski is pure genius. The funny thing is that he seemed to be well aware of this fact himself. 

Remember the weird characteristics I mentioned in that first sentence? Here we go. Szukalski’s past is full of a lot of antisemitism, sexism and bigotry. 

The question that lingers is how exactly can this forgotten-genius story be reshaped by the discovery of his twisted opinions. Can the artist be separated from the art? It’s a personal matter for the people who found Szukalski and later made this movie. It might never get as personal for you, but this movie will sure try to provoke an answer.

First Reformed (2018)

When asked about starring in First Reformed, Ethan Hawke said it’s the kind of role he would have never dared to audition for 10 years ago. This is coming from the same goatee icon who did Gattaca 22 years ago, and Training Day 18 years ago. 

Needless to say that his performance in this movie is exceptional, and we hope that it will be rewarded with an Oscar. The film centers around his character, a reverend of a church in New York, who is trying to help a couple with marital issues (deciding the fate of a pregnancy). Instead, he uncovers a deeper story and becomes unexpectedly involved. 

Religion intersects with ethical questions on activism, abortion, and environmental issues. I know that sounds like a lot, but First Reformed delivers on everything. The writing by Paul Schrader is delicate yet ensures that the movie keeps a gripping pace.

This is an excellent Russian movie about an ambulance unit and the paramedic that leads it. 

His long-time relationship starts suffering from a combination of alcoholism and his devotion to his work, which are also linked together. This is set in a country where ambulances are underfunded and the health-care system is frail. 

As a consequence, the story of Arrhythmia is one of a worker dedicated to saving their patients’ lives in a system that seems not to care. This is portrayed in the ambulance’s everyday missions, but also in the paramedic’s decaying relationship. It’s Blue Valentine meets an Andrey Zvyagintsev movie like Elena. Sadly, it might be more realistic than both those movies, and added to the fact that it’s Russian, it has stayed severely under-watched since it came out.

Angry Inuk (2016)

Like all great documentaries, Angry Inuk is about way more than its tagline. At first glance, it’s about how anti-sealing activism has been harming Inuit communities since the 1980s, to the point of instituting the highest rates of hunger and suicide anywhere in the “developed” world. But beyond, it’s about the complicity of the government of Canada. A crushed seal-based economy means that the Inuit have to agree to oil and uranium mining in the Arctic.

Angry Inuk is also about the corrupt behavior of animal rights organizations like Greenpeace: seals are actually not on the endangered animal list but NGOs focus on them because they make them money.

It’s an infuriating but incredibly important documentary. One that is not about how Canada has a bad history, but about how Canada is harming the Inuit right now.

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Thrilling, well-acted and instructive. It doesn’t really make sense that it made less than 20 Million in box office revenue, but that makes it even more A Good Movie to Watch material. The Last King of Scotland is fast-paced, sometimes even too violent. It embodies political power and conflict perfectly. A great watch.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This French film, written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, is in the strictest sense an animated foreign comedy film but it is unlike anything I have ever seen. It has a unique surrealist animation style that manages to stay oddly grounded. In other words, it wasn’t some psychoactive drug trip but more like taking a look at the world through Salavador Dali’s eyes. However what struck me the most while watching this film was how everything was animated to extenuate ugliness and imperfection. None of the surroundings and characters look like you see in most animated films, either hyper-realistic or like unblemished porcelain dolls; everything is drawn with blatant, over-exaggerated, and warped features. These features define each character as well as instantly evoking what thoughts and feelings the director wants you to associate with them. The characters’ exaggerated features also allow the film to progress without almost any actual dialogue. Contextual clues and facial expressions were more than enough to conduct entire conversations as well as progress the story line without ever saying a word. This makes the movie accessible to people of all tongues without the subtitle stigma that many people have with watching foreign films. In conclusion, while this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is still a beautifully imperfect work of hand-drawn art that is an experience that goes far beyond mere entertainment.

Headhunters (2012)

A nasty little chase film with dark humor and balls to the walls action sequences. It is slightly insane, has some brutal fights in it and is completely beyond belief. The thing that keeps it going is its sheer pace; often circumstances shift so quickly the whole film seems a little surreal, which is part of its charm. The only point at which the film does slow down is when it hits incredibly suspenseful moments, which are stretched to near infinity. As it’s from the continental tradition, expect all the raw colors, emotion and slightly off kilter characters reminiscent of a violent Lars Von Trier.

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Sit back, relax, and wait for the feels. With amazing performances from the ensemble cast including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Annette Bening, as well as excellent directing; The Kids Are Alright is a highly realistic yet entertaining take on family, growing up, and witnessing children grow up. Two kids meet the sperm donor who enabled their parents to have them, and develop a relationship with him. This confuses everyone as to how it redefines their status, from the parents who add a major issue to their already delicate relationship, to the laid-back and lovingly goofy sperm donor (portrayed perfectly by Ruffalo). The Kids Are Alright is beautifully emotional, funny, and just overall a pleasant watch. Nominated to four Oscars and winner of two Golden Globes.

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Despite the background of its two leads, The Skeleton Twins is more of a beautiful, deep drama than it is a comedy.

After unfortunate events take place, estranged siblings Milo and Maggie (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) reunite and attempt to repair their fractured relationship.

The Skeleton Twins is a bittersweet and touching film about these two siblings trying to rediscover the childhood friendship and camaraderie they had lost many years earlier.

Again, don’t expect a traditional comedy, but an honest display of the complexities of sibling relationships and how conflict, compassion, and understanding fit into it all.

The Lunchbox (2013)

“Sometimes even the wrong train takes you to the right destination”. An Indian housewife dealing with her cheating husband and dying father seeks love, attention and appreciation through her cooking. By mistake, the lunchbox she sends to her husband through the famous delivery system of Mumbai is delivered to the wrong address, sparking an unlikely and unique romance through letters packed along with lunch every day. A very sweet, emotional and refreshing movie.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

Robert Downey Jr., Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf star in this powerful drama about growing up in 80’s Astoria, New York. It follows the memoirs of the author, director and musician Dito Montiel as he visits his ailing father after 15 years in Los Angeles, away from home. Told via flashback and present-day exposition, as well as several fourth-wall bending monologues,  A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a coming of age film that leaves a deep impact, with two Sundance awards and heaps of nominations to its credit. 

I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

In a stunning (re)introduction to James Baldwin, intellectual, author, and social critic, this movie digs very deep into the American subconscious and racial history. It is based off a book idea that would have studied the famous assassinations of three of Baldwin’s friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., he wrote about 30 pages of it before he passed away in 1987. Raoul Peck picked up the project and made it into this movie, highlighting at the same time Baldwin’s genius, his unique and always eloquent perspective as well as the beauty of his soul as a human being. A mesmerizing experience, it is an immensely sad fact that the narrative still feels as relevant now as it was in 1979, and as such this movie serves as a reminder on how far America still has to go.

Klaus (2019)

A beautiful 90s-Disney-like animation about the origin story of Santa Klaus. It starts with a mailman who gets sent away to a bleak northern town inhabited by two large families who have been fighting each other for centuries.

There are no colors and no joy left in this town. But when this mailman stumbles upon a faraway estate (I feel so festive just writing this review), he makes an acquittance that will change the town forever, and with it, how Christmas is celebrated around the world. There are also many genuinely funny moments AND you’ll recognize many voiceovers: J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, and Jason Schwartzman to name a few.

BPM
69.

BPM is centered around AIDS activist in the early 90s in Paris representing the French branch of the advocacy group ACT UP. In a time where information about AIDS was as limited as access to the appropriate medicine, activists were divided into groups depending on their preferred methods of shaking up the system. Some wanted to express their anger at it while others tried to maneuver within it. But themselves being HIV positive for the most part, they shared a common sense of urgency and passion towards the cause. BPM is a beautiful yet honest portrayal of these activists, a movie as full of life and emotion as the people it portrays.

Operation Odessa (2018)

This movie opens with a guy called Tarzan, saying in a Russian accent: “I called my friend Michel, and I said can I buy a submarine, a used one?” Two days later he calls me back “with, or without missiles?”

Operation Odessa is the crazy true story of how the FBI, Pablo Escobar, and the Russian Mafia were played by three outsiders in a $35 Million submarine deal. The deal itself is only the culmination of the movie, as it involves crazy stories such as going to post-Soviet Russia, borrowing helicopters for $500 a day and landing the helicopter in the center of a city to ask for directions. A crazy, fun, and really well-made movie.

Inside Job (2010)

This Oscar winning documentary is no standard film. Even by being beautifully crafted and having an amazing soundtrack–soundtracks are important–it does not miss its core story for a second. A delivery so good and so crisp that it will make you go “the sons of b” and “those motherf” more times than Joey from Friends got laid in 1999.

On a more serious note, Inside Job is a great and complete technical overview of the financial meltdown. I know the word “technical” scared you there, but it shouldn’t! The movie is simple, uses charts and colors for all of us who once thought figures and formulas were too complicated to understand — it even makes you go, “hey, this is not so difficult to understand. Them motherf.’ The movie is also very exciting: no spoilers but all I can say is that there are b*s trippin in there.

OldBoy (2003)

On his daughter’s birthday, Oh Dae-su gets drunk and is arrested by the police. His friend bails him out of jail and while he is making a phone call Oh Dae-su disappears, and is held by unknown captors, in a room for 15 years only to see the outside world through a television. But one day he’s released. That’s all that can be revealed, without telling too much of this intense and twisted film. All I can add, and this is precisely how I recommend Oldboy to new viewers: “You’re welcome & I’m sorry.” It is truly a twisted film, one that is mesmerizing in it’s directing, acting, and plot, all of which will stay with you whether you like it or not.

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

What happens when Banksy, one of the most famous ambassadors of street art, meets Mr. Brainwash, an egocentric aspiring French artist? Well, one of the funniest, interesting and exciting documentaries ever made about art, commercialism and the apparent gulf between them. But is it really a documentary? This confident and zany film will leave you guessing.

Samsara (2012)

In the grand tradition of the ethnographic world tours like Mondo Cane, Samsara hits you in the face with the diversity and wonder of human life on earth. Unlike many of its predecessors, which often descended into colonialist gawping, Samara maintains a non judgmental gaze. This film uses no words or narration to travel the world showing you the breathtaking beauty of various countries, cultures, religions, cities, industries and nature. Shot on 70mm film, the definition and clarity has to be seen to be believed.

Detachment (2012)

A very poetic film by Tony Kaye (American History X) about an English Literature teacher (Adrien Brody – “The Pianist”) who only works as a substitute in schools which are located in very poor urban areas. The reason behind his choice is that he doesn’t want to bond too much with his students and colleagues because he is trying to control his dark emotions about life and the triviality of our existences (although it sounds depressing it is absolutely not). He also takes care of his last family connection, his grandfather, to whom he is very close and who lives in an elderly home. Unsurprisingly, their relationship is very emotional and deep. Every time you think about your existence, your place in the world, your interactions with other people; watch Detachment.

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Based on a beautiful premise, sprinkled with artistic vision, it is an intelligent sit back and relax movie. The film explores the life and times of Nemo Nobody, the last mortal man on earth, as he reflects on the important choices he’s made. Each of these choices are presented as branching pathways of what could have been, utilizing innovative non-linear cinematography. In addition to the film’s winning structure, its soundtrack is considered a masterpiece, perfectly fitting the plot via looping and trilling melodies. The film garnered 6 Magritte awards, and has slowly been developing into an indie cult classic.

The Act of Killing (2012)

An Academy Award nominated documentary about the genocide committed against nearly a million “communists” in Indonesia in 1965. Still in power, the paramilitary of Indonesia commonly known as the gangsters, call themselves “free men” and glorify their acts of government-sanctioned blatant extortion and heinous cruelty while the film cleverly juxtaposes them against the nation’s scarred history. The corruption, fear and violence that characterizes the figures of authority in the Indonesian military government are revealed in a raw manner in the film.

As its name suggests, the film will take you through the actual act of forcing a human to die. The gangsters that committed all those murders speak about and recreate the gruesome details of the circumstances, methods and experience of taking a life. Even more interestingly, they explore whether they believed it to be the right thing and how their conscience copes with the aftermath.

In its dark and abstract ways, it will have you question what you know not only about war crimes and government corruption, but on a much grander plane, about the treatment of the truth in history.

About Elly (2015)

Having only made its way to the U.S. 6 long years after its initial release, this is the long-awaited film from the Oscar-winning director of A Separation– and it is in every way extraordinary. It’s a movie stripped down of almost everything to keep only its humans in focus, it is honest and realistic beyond belief and quite simply a must-watch. A group of old friends and relatives reunite for vacation in northern Iran with one of them bringing a new person to the group, Elly, in hopes of her marrying one of the friends, Ahmad. When Elly vanishes without notice, the questions that follow expose the group to unexpected levels, and eventually pose subtle yet sincere questions about gender, politics, and the delicate balance modern-day Iranians live in.

Thanks to the perfect performances and the director’s unparalleled talent, About Elly will feel interesting at times, thrilling and devastating at others, but above all, and because of it being so… human, it will feel familiar to you no matter where you are from.

Departures (Okuribito) (2008)

Death is a weird and scary concept. Ironically, the only way movies have been successful in covering it is through humor (Sunshine Cleaning and Beginners are other great examples). Departures gives this trend a new home, Japan. This film almost never saw the light of day, since at first many distributors refused to release it given the taboos against people who deal with death. Eventually, it received the credit it was due, including an Academy Award. It’s one of those rare movies that will take you on a journey through all of your emotions: it will move from making you laugh, to making you cry, then happy, and finally highly engaged in its subject matter. It’s a beautiful, funny, and compelling movie.

What Maisie Knew (2012)

A rock singer (played by Julianne Moore) and an art dealer (Steve Coogan) start a battle for the custody of their daughter, Maisie, mainly to spite each other. When one of them marries, the other rushes a marriage as well. What Maisie Knew is all that and more from the perspective of the little child, Maisie. Written by two writers, directed by two directors, and sporting an excellent cast, you should not be surprised to learn that What Masie Knew perfectly portrays its complex and sad subject matter, giving an honest, bitter portrayal of dysfunctional families.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of French journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Almost completely paralyzed by what is termed “Locked-in Syndrome”, Bauby was left with only the operation of his left eye intact, leaving him forced to communicate via partner-assisted scanning (selection of each letter of the alphabet via blinking). Ultimately, Bauby employed this painstaking procedure to dictate his own memoir “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon”, which became a number one bestseller in Europe. The film alternates between Bauby’s interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including the dictation of his book) and his own dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. With the title, Bauby uses the diving bell to represent his self-perceived state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver encased in an oxygenated chamber, and the corresponding butterfly to represent the freedom he enjoys as he often journeys quite magically through his own mind’s eye. It’s a somber yet engaging film full of heart and vision, featuring wonderful performances by the entire cast across the board.

Wolf Children (2012)

If you’re living alone and just came back home from a bad day, it could make you feel like everything’s alright again. This is the kind of movie that feels like a warm hug, that you’d keep in your hard drive to watch over and over again, just because it makes you feel so damn good! The story offers a realistic yet ultimately forgiving view of maternity, and growing up in general. From director Mamoru Hosoda, who’s known for his other works like “The Girl Who Leaps Through Time”, “Wolf Children” is another kind of beautiful that can only be fully understood after you watched it.

Enough Said (2013)

Enough Said is a realistically sweet movie that handles serious emotions without compromising its comedic chops. It portrays the difficulties and doubts that come with post-divorce relations in a somewhat goofy and original way. James Gandolfini is impeccably wonderful in his last lead role, and joined by Julia Louis-Dreyfus they generate exquisite chemistry right from their first scene together all the way until the movie ends. Like many other beautiful movies such as Your Sister’s Sister, Enough Said is hilarious, romantic, but to that it adds being smart and realistic. You’ll love it.

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Like Father, Like Son is a profoundly interesting, multi-layered Japanese film about a young couple who come to learn that their son was unknowingly switched at birth with another boy, and begin a complicated relationship with their real son and his family. Both sides struggle to cope with the looming possibility of returning each boy to his true parents, while the differences between the two families in means and lifestyle lend further complications to their attitudes and their ability to find a resolution. It’s an even-handed yet poignant story that examines the difficult emotions around parenthood and parental expectation, including a meaningful examination of the “nature versus nurture” argument. Very honest and real — you’ll enjoy it even more if you appreciate the intricate style of Japanese cinema. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

The Past (2013)

Beautiful story-telling and powerful acting boost the story of an Iranian man returning to France to finalize his divorce. He finds that his wife has a new lover. A lot more happens that I wouldn’t want to spoil for you, the film is in fact directed by Iranian legend Asghar Farhadi, so expect twists and subtleties you’re probably familiar with from A Separation or About Elly. That said, The Past remains to some extent different from his previous work since it focuses on romantic relationships, failed ones, and the toll they take on the humans involved. Learning about the characters is a lot like meeting them in real life and hearing their stories: it’s hard to take sides or tell who’s wrong – you’d rather stay silent and try to make sense of it all.

Deep in the suburbs of Paris, Divines follows the story of Dounia (played by Oulaya Amamra) and her best friend Maimouna (played by Déborah Lukumuena). Director Houda Benyamina serves a nest of social issues – welcoming the viewer into a world where poverty is pervasive and adults are haunted by their own ghosts, where there is a life vest only in the reliance on friendship. The nature of this bond between the two female characters is deep, playful, and backed by mesmerizing acting on behalf of Amamra and Lukumuena.

Just as prevailing throughout the film is the commentary on immigrant diasporas and the power of idealization. The girls fantasize about financial excess with guttural determination, guided only by the realization that their escape from their current lives has to come to fruition no matter what the cost. This film is entrancing and thought-provoking. You won’t be able to look away.

The Sea Inside (2004)

There are movies that make you a bit more mature when you watch them. This movie is one of them. They took very hard and controversial topic, but presented in so you do understand both sides and agree with them. Winner of an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, it tells the true story of a man who spent 28 years campaigning for the right to end his own life. Now you get why I said it was a hard topic, right? It’s a heart-wrenching watch to say the least, but thanks to a perfect performance from Javier Bardem the complex story gains such a big grasp that it ends up having uplifting and even funny moments.

The Salt of the Earth (2014)

The Salt of the Earth is a 2014 biographical documentary about famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Directed and narrated by Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, the film tells Salgado’s life story from his childhood in northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and ultimately the shift to photography that would lead him to over 120 countries as a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man’s lifelong dedication to capturing humanity and nature in remarkable states of peril, compromise and elegance. From the Brazilian gold mine of Serra Pelada to the Yali Tribe of Papua New Guinea to the war-ravaged people of Rwanda (to name just a few), the film follows Salgado’s career through his photography, accompanied by his personal accounts of his many encounters and impressions. It’s Salgado’s grace, empathy and kindness that shine the brightest—remarkable for a man who has seen (and photographed) the worst of humanity over the course of his lifetime. It’s an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war and death, but it ultimately serves as an exemplary presentation of Salgado’s work and his intimate reflections upon a career dedicated to truth, awareness and beauty.

A Man Called Ove (2015)

This is an initially touching film about a man who feels his life is over. His wife has died and he wishes to join her. Whenever he tries to meet his end, he gets interrupted either by his desire to make sure things in his neighborhood are being done properly and rules are followed, or by someone needing him to help them. Despite himself, he turns out to be a man that people are glad is around and they insist on making a friend of him. He helps families with small children, ostracized teenagers, and even elderly Volvo drivers. Ove’s journey is always compelling. This Swedish hit has a remarkably good story to tell about finding tolerance in surprising places and it also portrays a good balance of sentimentality against a harsh reality.

50/50 (2011)

It’s often said that trying to make a comedy movie featuring a character with cancer is just a bad idea. And while there may be a good share of failed attempts in that category, 50/50 is not one of them. In a movie that comes closer to a believable real life situation than most, 50/50 manages to mine humor, pathos and simple honesty from a dark and traditional situation.  Starring Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this film isn’t afraid to ‘go there’ but you’ll enjoy the journey.

Gook (2017)

Two Korean-American brothers run their family’s shoe store on the day of the 1992 L.A. riots. The day starts as they hang out at their struggling business with an 11-year-old African American girl, Kamilla. Then the Rodney King verdict is in the news and violence breaks out.

Written, directed, and starring Justin Chon, it’s a tight 94 minutes of impressive film-making that speaks volumes about America’s intra-minority race relations. It’s a work that elicits sympathy and manages to uplift the violent event to a human level. An amazing movie.

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)

A documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, the British artist whose art is made from natural materials found in their native environment. The opening has him patiently forming a spiral out of icicles using the heat of his hands to fuse the pieces together. Ephemeral works of astonishing patience and beauty and an artist who talks about his process with deep zen-like wisdom. This is one of those movies that bring you into their atmosphere, and make you see it through their main character’s eyes. Rivers and Tides adds to that more substance by being breathtaking, fascinating, and inspiring.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

A delicate and profound exploration of loss, and an unbelievably well-made drama, Manchester By the Sea is a true triumph. Its focus on the characters, its timely unfolding of story elements, as well as its world class acting are only equal to the best European dramas. This deep and slow exploration of the human condition has rarely been successful in American cinema, if ever. The last best attempt was probably another movie  by director Kenneth Lonergan, You Can Count on Me. Manchester by the Sea is where he unveils his full potential, and takes the viewer deep into the tensions and history of a building handyman, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). His angry but quiet life is interrupted by news that his brother suffered a heart attack, and upon going back to his hometown he finds that he is the only one left to take care of his teenage nephew. A truly amazing movie, not to be missed, and a huge success too.  It grossed around $80 million on a budget of $8.5 million.

McQueen (2018)

An intimate look into the rich yet short life of Alexander McQueen, the British fashion icon. I didn’t know much about him prior to watching that movie, and that didn’t matter. His story of a tormented genius transcends fame and even time. In art and in fashion, McQueen’s journey was celebrated by everyone but him.

This is the type of movie where after you watch it, you need a good hour of Wikipedia searches and Youtube interview viewing. It’s powerful and will introduce you to an entire world that is the impact of Alexandre McQueen when he lived.

The Guilty (2018)

Before you press play on this movie, I highly recommend you take deep, deep breaths. The suspense in it grows in such an incremental way that you will be out of breath before you know what happened. And it doesn’t use anything other than amazing acting and an amazing story to achieve all of this. One man, in the equivalent of a 911 police center in Denmark, and a room. That’s it. He receives a call that turns his night around and puts him in front of very important questions on his ethics and how far he can go to help the people that call him. This movie feels like it was made on a $100 million budget, but the reality was very far from that. It doesn’t even believe in budgets. Grab someone next to you and go watch it so that you can discuss it after.

Capernaum (2018)

Capernaum is both the highest-grossing Middle-Eastern movie of all-time and the highest-grossing movie in Arabic of all-time.

This Oscar-nominated masterpiece is about a 12-year-old kid in Lebanon who leaves his negligent parents and tries to make it in the streets on his own. It’s a tale of grinding poverty as experienced by a boy with a good heart and more resilience than one can fathom.

An acting tour de force by the child actors keeps the movie engaging throughout the grittiness and asks some hard questions about parental failures and parental love with the bigger regional political questions hovering silently in the background. Tough but ultimately uplifting – a movie to discuss.

Booksmart (2019)

If you liked Superbad, you will love Booksmart. It’s a funny coming-of-age movie about two best friends who embark on one last crazy night before their high-school ends. Sounds like something you’ve seen before? Don’t worry, it’s not. This movie might be for fans of smart coming-of-age comedies, but it’s very different from them. It’s current, creating situations and premises for jokes that haven’t been explored before, ranging from taking a Lyft and finding out the driver is their school principal; to mistakenly connecting to his car’s sound system while trying to get educated on how two women have sex. The girls in Booksmart are overachieving, fiercely supportive of each other, and yet in the right context, ready to let go and have fun. In short, their endearing attitude makes this movie not only funny but extremely likely to charm your socks off.

The Edge of Democracy (2019)

This is a gripping and incredibly well-made documentary about the demise of the last two Brazilian presidents, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2003-2011) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). The first is now in prison, while the second was impeached. The Edge of Democracy is narrated in English by the filmmaker, Petra Costa, a renown Brazilian director. Costa intertwines her family history with Brazil’s, as her parents were activists who were sent to jail in the ‘70s (her mother was held in the same facility as ex-president Rousseff). This grounds the documentary and turns it into a personal story that illustrates the bigger political picture. The Edge of Democracy knows that you don’t know much about Brazilian politics, but makes that a source of suspense rather than a disadvantage. It’s a perfect instructive watch.

Boy Erased (2018)

Russel Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) form an amazing pack of talent in this excellent drama. Crowe plays the father, a priest, and Kidman the mom, a religious person as well. When their son comes out as gay, they decide more or less with his acceptance to send him to a conversion therapy center. The movie is about the experience of the center but it’s also about the family dynamic as a whole. Also stars Joel Edgerton, who also adapted the screenplay (a true story) and directed the movie.

Still Walking (2008)

From the director of Shoplifters, Still Walking is a quiet movie about 24 hours in the life of a family gathering to remember the passing of a son. At the center of the story is the father, an emotionally distant man who commands respect both from his family and community. Opposite from him is the black sheep, the other son, who strives for his father’s validation. This dynamic is one of many depicted in this slice-of-life movie about how families deal with loss. It might seem like little is happening during the first stages, but the realism and subtlety with which the story is handled will gradually suck you into the beautiful atmosphere of Still Walking. And however distant the culture or setting in Japan may seem, you’re bound to recognize either yourself or your family in this movie.

Fireworks Wednesday (2007)

Another dramatic masterpiece from Asghar Farhadi who would later go on to direct the Oscar-winning A Separation. In his usual territory of capturing family turmoil and dismissing politics to focus on the human and social intricacies of his culture, this story is about a wife who suspects her husband is cheating on her with their neighbor, a beautician. To confirm her suspicions, she sends her maid, a woman who’s about to get married to investigate. But this woman’s involvement in the couple’s turmoil ends up causing more burden and complicating the situation even more. All of this is a drive towards Chaharshanbe Suri, a holiday in Iran celebrated with dangerous fireworks. This event contributes to the explosive ending of this incredibly well-acted and thought-provoking movie.

System Crasher (2019)

This is one of the craziest, most high energy movies you’ll ever watch. It’s about a 9-year-old who is considered a case the healthcare system calls a “system crasher”: someone who has exhausted every option child protective services has and still failed to get better.

This girl, called Benni, wants to get out of the system and go back to live with her mom, but her mother is scared of her. She is introduced to a new shelter with a social worker who tries a different approach in one last attempt to reform her.

System Crasher is a wild ride, but it’s made with so much heart that the thrills never feel senseless: it’s a movie that will stay with you for a long time.

Corpus Christi (2020)

This outstanding Polish movie is about an ex-convict who goes through a transformation in jail and decides he wants to become a priest. Not being able to at first because of his criminal record, he cons his way into taking over a parish.

Corpus Christi is a portrayal of a troubled religious community (a recent accident took the lives of many people in the parish), and perhaps even a reflection of modern-day conservative Poland. But in its essence, and especially due to a breathtaking central performance, it’s an examination of the life of a priest beyond the confines priesthood. It’s at the same time refreshing, seeing a new way of preaching, and thrilling, waiting for the priest to be exposed.

Mary and Max (2009)

A heartwarming and (ironically) heartbreaking indie film based around the lives of Mary, an 8-year old girl from Australia, and her pen pal Max, a 44-year old man from America. The film follows these two as they deal with life’s complications, from the perspective of a child and an autistic man. One of the most riveting and diverse films I’ve seen, with many joyous moments and cold plot twists. Would recommend 8 condensed milks out of 10.

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

Sensibly written and thoughtfully directed, intuitively acted, bitter-sweet like Belgian chocolate, and propelled by incredible bluegrass music, this is one of my coming-home movies. Aside from the beautiful imagery and stunning music, the highly emotional subject matter is perfect for summer nights. It’ll leave you full and empty, it’ll make you cry, value life, and will also more than likely get you back into bluegrass again. Elise and Dedier fall passionately in love despite their differences, but when their daughter falls ill, their future together becomes uncertain.

Eastern Promises (2007)

Starring a tattooed and terrifying Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises is a Russian gangster thriller film set in a very nasty London. Operating at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge, the film has moments of humanity and charm, thanks to the visionary director, David Cronenberg, in one of his most approachable films. While the violence and action are brutal and cathartic, equally as impressive is Mr. Cronenberg’s sharp understanding of the London crime scene and the various factions and languages that make up the largely hidden underworld.

Zero Days (2016)

Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus that raised red flags throughout the cyber-security world in 2010 due to its complexity and ambiguous threat. Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days details the efforts of analysts to painstakingly dissect the Stuxnet code, and ultimately determine that it was the wayward product of a joint effort between the U.S. and Israel governments to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant—in the hopes of slowing their development of nuclear weapons. The unfolding mystery of this story plays out with urgency and dismay, as the implications of this covert operation unfold, including the legitimate threat of retaliation by the Iranian government. It’s a stunning real-life thriller from renowned documentary Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) that not only details the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative visual manner, but also spells out much of the modern espionage involved in making such an elaborate operation even possible. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much our new reality, and this film deserves to be seen by anyone with any degree of concern over our safety and security in the 21st century.

Blue Jay (2016)

Shot in black and white to be the best dialogue-driven, character-study film it can be; Blue Jay stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass in a cozy, slow-burning film. Their characters, respectively Amanda and Jim, are former high-school sweethearts who run into each other in their hometown 20 years later. They talk, they get coffee, and then beer and jelly beans, until they find themselves to Jim’s mother’s house. As they familiarize themselves again, and the movie moves forward, it abandons its romantic chops to become a truly heartfelt and real film. A revelation of a movie.

The Salesman (2016)

In The Salesman, Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly), tells the story of a happily married couple who live in Tehran: Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti). When they are forced to move to a new apartment, something about the previous tenant causes a sudden eruption of violence that turns their lives upside down, causing strain on their relationship. Farhadi does what he does best here: deliver on complex issues that characterize his society through ordinary events. Every scene is a privileged look into Iran’s collective consciousness. And even with all that aside, the film still stands as an extraordinary drama, with a tense plot and amazing performances across the board.

After the Storm (2017)

A quiet, smart and well-crafted movie by the much celebrated director Hirokazu Koreeda. Like his other work, notably Like Father, Like Son and Nobody Knows, it addresses family dynamics and how they surface. Once a successful writer, Ryota is now a private detective who spends the little money he makes on gambling instead of paying child support. His ex-wife and son are increasingly alienated by his behavior, until one day, during a storm, they all find themselves trapped in Ryota’s childhood home. Subtly touching on notions of inter-generational bond and tension – this is the kind of movie of which you’ll remember flashes long after you watch it.

On Body and Soul (2017)

On Body and Soul is the impeccably crafted winner of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.

Two strangers have the same dream every night, they meet as deer in a forest and eventually fall in love. When they run into each other in real life, they search for the love they experience unconsciously. The reality of their introverted personalities and their surroundings make it hard to establish that same connection.

This unconventional love story is passionately told by Hungary’s best director, Ildikó Enyedi. Before it, she had taken an 18-year break from making movies, something that kind of makes sense when you watch On Body and Soul. That break was probably the only way to come up with something as thoughtful and creative as this.

God’s Own Country (2017)

A Call me By Your Name without the privilege, pretentiousness or wealth, and it’s probably a better movie because of it. God’s Own Country tells the story of Johnny, a kid from the Yorkshire countryside and underclass. The family’s workload and responsibility fell on his shoulders after his father suffered from a stroke, which drove him further into loneliness and alienation. Upon meeting a Romanian farmer, his ideas of loneliness, sex, and intimacy are confronted with change. A beautiful and beautifully humane film, and an unbelievable debut by British director Francis Lee.

Best of Enemies (2015)

Do you know that euphoric feeling you get when you watch a smart, eloquent person talk about important ideas? Multiply that by two in Best of Enemies.

This 2015 documentary traces the debates between two of the brightest intellectuals around the Nixon and Reagan eras. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley couldn’t be more opposed to each other in ideas and values. One is an ardent liberal, who wrote books and movies around gay sex (back in the 1960s), female empowerment, and the fall of the so-called American Empire. The second is an elitist and a Republican guided by Christian values and status quo ideals.

ABC put them together as commentators the 1968 presidential debates, and as such, they would change the future of talk-show TV forever. They both considered debating a sport, and they both were the best in their craft. It’s so, so entertaining to watch them spar with each other. They despised each other, I know that’s not something I should be proud of enjoying, but I did. These debates were not so much a clash of tepid arguments but more of a clash of geniuses. 

Shoplifters (2018)

Shoplifters is the Winner of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival from Japan. It’s about a poor family made of small-time outlaws who live from shoplifting amongst other petty crimes. They take in a new girl they find outside in the cold and introduce her to their otherwise happy family. But when the second-youngest member of the family finds himself teaching her how to shoplift, he faces a moral dilemma that threatens the fabric of the family.

From renown director Hirokazu Koreeda, and if you don’t know who that is – I really recommend checking out his other movies. Namely, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm.

Koreeda is often referred to as the best Japenese filmmaker alive, and Shoplifters is solid proof that he deserves that title. Its affecting story and slow-burning nature are sure to stay with you for a long time.

The Farewell (2019)

The true story of a grandma who gets diagnosed with a fatal disease and her family who keeps that information from her. They organize a fake wedding in China where she lives to say goodbye (hence the title).

Rapper Awkwafina is incredible as the granddaughter at the center of the story. Living in New York and having a complicated relationship with China, she embodies the cultural question at the center of the story: is it OK not to tell the grandma? But also: can a wedding that’s really a funeral to everyone but one person be held without that person’s suspicion? 

The best thing about The Farewell, and it’s mostly thanks to Awkwafina’s performance, is that it’s never melodramatic. It’s technically a comedy, it’s often funny, and when it’s sad, it’s heartfelt.

Sorry We Missed You (2020)

This smart and affecting drama is about a struggling family man who tries to turn his life around by working in package delivery. Gig economy delivery people are usually freelancers who own their trucks and are responsible for packages until they’re delivered. Of course, a lot goes wrong, parking tickets, traffic, complicated customers, etc; but this movie is not about that. It’s about how the very nature of the job is exploitative. From peeing in a bottle to sacrificing family, Sorry We Missed You is an introduction to the world of the people that bring you packages.

And huge benefit: it’s directed by the legendary Ken Loach, who works only with amateur actors. It has a raw and real feel to it without ever being melodramatic. It’s an incredible achievement and an important movie.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot – a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.

The Station Agent (2003)

The Station Agent is about loneliness, change and friendship. Sounds corny right? It’s not. The characters are developed, they have their own reasons for the choices they make and nothing feels forced, neither actions or conversations. It’s a small and wonderful movie about a little man that moves out of the city and his comfort zone when his only friend dies, moves to said friend’s old train station and sets his life there. From there on it follows his social interactions with a slew of people, the relationships he forms with them. Oh, and the little man? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), who pulls off a great performance, albeit a quiet one.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

A beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in a Shanghaiese territory in Hong Kong in the 1960s. The main characters, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires although they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting and stunning visuals and editing wonderfully represent the melancholia of repressed emotions, and help the audience truly “feel” the film’s “mood”.

Hell or High Water (2016)

From one small town to the other, two brothers, one extremely cautious and the other less so, travel and rob banks.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster do such an amazing job portraying the brothers. Their personalities, while seemingly opposed, share the mark of their common rough upbringing. Their journey is as much about them as it is about the decaying towns they visit, making this modern-day crime western not only a great thriller but a tribute to the Texan way of life.

The Handmaiden (2016)

From Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy) comes The Handmaiden, a great movie in line with his now mastered style of portraying the beautifully weird. A rich Japanese lady isolated from the world accepts a new handmaiden, a shrewd young Korean girl with hidden motives. The men around them, full of greed and lust, complete the grand Victorian tale of deception, romance or lack thereof, and dark humor. You will find yourself at times screaming “what?”, and at times bewildered by the general aesthetic of the film including clothes, traditions, and the stunning nature of both Korea and Japan. If you love cinema, you can’t miss this movie. It’s just too big of an achievement.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)

The story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, George Harrison, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers, Martin Scorsese. Director and producer, Scorsese offers one of the most complete documentaries on any artist – ever. And what an artist he was – successful and talented, yes, but also incredibly inspired and spiritual. Through interviews, home movies, and concert footage, this long and intimate film will allow you to travel through the world of The Beatles, and explore the incredible mind of George Harrison. A heartfelt documentary.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

When asked to play Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey decided that he would get into character and never get out, even when the camera was not rolling. This was extremely frustrating to everyone at first, especially the director, who had no way of communicating with Jim Carrey, only Andy Kaufman or Tony Clifton (an alter ego created by Andy Kaufman). At the same time, Carrey had allowed a camera crew to follow him in order to create a behind-the-scenes documentary. The footage was never released because Universal Studios expressed concerns that “people would think Jim Carrey is an asshole”. Jim & Andy is that footage being displayed for the first time since it was recorded 20 years ago, finding Carrey at a very unique point in his life. Sick of fame and almost sick of acting, he displays his true self – an unbelievably smart, fragile, and complex person. His commentary, when it’s not funny impressions, is extremely emotional and grounded – sometimes philosophical. This is one of the best documentaries that Netflix has ever bought the distribution rights for, and certainly a mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind.

Cold War (2018)

Cinematography is a big part of Cold War, the story moves through stunning shots of the Polish countryside and later on an incredibly delicate portrait of Paris. All of that would be a waste if you watch it on an iPhone, so I really recommend watching this on as big of a screen as you can get your hands on.

In 1950s Cold War Poland, a band of folk musicians find themselves used as a tool for Soviet propaganda. Their travel through the country is hijacked by this agenda, but it remains an incredible journey. It goes through different seasons and aesthetics uncovering lost Polish songs and poems.

The leader of the band falls in love with one of the dancers, and the limits imposed on the couple under communist rule make them seek alternatives. Cold War is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by politics but by romance.

It’s a poetic yet quiet movie that doesn’t scream its point but rather invites you to come to your own conclusions.

The Imposter (2012)

The impossibly true story of a mysterious Frenchman who claims to be the 16 year old son of a family from Texas that went missing three years prior. This movie is shot so well with a story so unbelievable that I had to look it up to believe that it was a real documentary instead of a fiction film played as true. Expect twists and turns at every corner, with brilliant storytelling from the real life people that lived through the whole thing. If Christopher Nolan created a 48 hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.

After the Wedding (2006)

There is a unique emotional approach to Danish films rarely matched by anything else, that has to be seen to be understood. Oscar-nominated After The Wedding perfectly embodies that. Jacob Peterson (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is an idealist who runs a financially struggling orphanage in India. He returns to Copenhagen to seek a large donation when he discovers that in order to get the money he will be unveiling dark secrets about his own personal past. Scenes are stretched, and feel incredibly realistic. But because of the great plot and premise as well as the fantastic cast, they’re never boring — on the contrary, After the Wedding is thrilling and at all times interesting.

A Prophet (2009)

A cynical, gripping and unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. A Prophet takes age-old cliches and turns them upside down, resulting in a movie that manages to be completely original while remaining truthful to its influences. It’s not often that a film leaves me giddy with enthusiasm and has me constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet achieves it. Incredible acting, fantastic pacing, great narrative arc, with a brutal, cynical and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization and life on the fringes of society. There are only two “action” sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch it.

The Wrestler (2008)

Darren Aronofsky delivers yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime. He is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose and dignity. The audience can see in Rourke the story of all men, that we will one day grow old, regret mistakes that it’s too late to fix, and mourn the end of our successes.

Head-On (Gegen die Wand) (2004)

Two strangers in Germany deal with their Turkish identity in separate ways but are joined together when they agree to a fake marriage in order to help each other break free. This is a dirty, gritty and heart-wrenching story about culture, love and the violence that unites them. Winner of a Golden Bear and “Best Film” as well as “Audience Award” at the European Film Awards.

Honeyland (2019)

The first movie to be nominated to both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories, Honeyland is a portrayal of one of the last wild beekeepers in Europe shot over three years. Her life consists of taking care of her ailing mother and harvesting honey according to rules her ancestors taught her, such as only taking half of the produced honey at any one time. These rules are broken when a nomad family arrives. The father, anxious about securing for his children, threatens the beekeeper’s way of life.

There is so much incredible footage in this difficult documentary, from hazardous mountain climbs to a kid helping a cow give birth. But throughout, the question of “how am I watching this?” often comes up, since the footage the filmmakers gained feels unobstructed by anything: it doesn’t feel like there is a camera around.

You Can Count on Me (2000)

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) and featuring the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo as well as a fantastic performance from Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me is a beautiful and beautifully told story of siblings growing apart and later finding each other again. Sammy (Linney) helped raise her younger brother Terry (Ruffalo) after they were orphaned at an early age. Now a single mother, her life turns around when Terry comes back after a long time of being absent, with the two having become almost completely different people in between. Such an honest, genuine exploration of unconditional love, think of it as much more hopeful The Skeleton Twins.

Icarus (2017)

Icarus starts with director Bryan Fogel deciding to inject himself with doping substances and participate in a biking race undetected. By accident, he ends up in contact with a Russian scientist. This man transforms the movie from a personal experiment to a highly relevant political thriller. Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the scientist is at the center of accusations in Russia of a virtually impossible state-sponsored doping scheme. With links to the Russian president Putin himself, the movie keeps getting more and more interesting as the relationship between Fogel and Rodchenkov develops. Aside from all the madness that unfolds, Rodchenkov’s likeable personality makes the story more relatable and humane, and gives an insight into the pressures of working in the regulatory body in a country like Russia. You will be astonished by how much material this movie has. A must-watch.

Wind River (2017)

Phenomenal and heartbreaking, Wind River is a true masterpiece by Taylor Sheridan, the man behind Sicario and Hell or High Water. In a Native American Reservation, a local girl is found dead and a young detective (Elizabeth Olsen) tries to uncover the mystery. She is accompanied by a tracker (Jeremy Renner) with his own dark history in the community. It’s not a very rewarding movie at first, so don’t expect an incredibly fast-paced story from the get-go. However, when everything unfolds, it’s not only action-packed, its reflections on indigenous communities are deep and poignant. How this remains a relatively known movie is shocking, it has to be one of the best mysteries of the past 20 years.

Captain Fantastic (2016)

A couple decides to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, far from modern culture. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, how to live in nature, but also give them classes on literature, politics, and music. The family drills boot camp-like workouts and climbs rock faces to create physical endurance. Then the wilderness adventure comes to an abrupt halt with a telephone call, and the family enters the world — with hilarious and sorrowful results. Emotionally raw and honest, with terrific performances by Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay and the entire cast of “children.”

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Taika Waititi’s follow-up to the (also great) What We Do in the Shadows, is a pure delight and the perfect antidote after a bad day or a steady diet of too many sad movies. “Bad egg” Ricky Baker has been bounced out of more foster care situations than he cares to remember until he’s given his last chance with a couple living on a rural New Zealand farm. After tragedy strikes early in the film Ricky and his foster uncle (Hec) find themselves on the run in the bush while a nationwide manhunt is initiated on their behalf. Hip-hop enthusiast Ricky and crusty, cantankerous Hec make quite the inspired pairing; this is a very funny film full of the deadpan humor that has become emblematic of Waititi’s work (Flight of the Conchords, Boy) but it is also oddly touching and full of heart.

Incendies (2011)

A movie which will catch you from the first second, with one of the best movie beginnings of all time, up until its outstanding end. It is a slow-burning and calm film with nonetheless a very powerful impact. Incendies is guaranteed to be one of those movies you will never forget. The story is about Jeanne and Simon who, to fulfill their mother’s last wishes, must journey to her birthplace in an unnamed Middle-Eastern country. There they discover her tragic and sad past life, and unveil a deeply disturbing secret which will change their lives forever. The movie contains a series of flashbacks telling the story of the mother, Nawal Marwan, while the rest is from the viewpoint of her children.

The Collini Case (2019)

A young lawyer has to defend a murderer after passing the bar only three months prior in this satisfying German drama. To make matters worse, the victim happens to be his mentor, a wealthy and seemingly kind-hearted business man. As for the perpetrator, he refuses to say a single word.

Caspar, the lawyer, is from a German-Turkish background, which is a hint to where the complexity of this legal drama lies: in Germany’s history and racial legacy.

The Collini Case is satisfying to a fault, but if you’re looking for substance-filled entertainment, this is some of the best you’ll get.

That's all from us for the The 21st Century’s 100 Best Movies that Remain Overlooked! For more, subscribe to the newsletter. It's ad-free, spam-free, and algorithm-free. You get two e-mails every week with the best of Netflix and Amazon Prime, and nothing else.

A quick recap

Split by genre of this selection on agoodmovietowatch.com
Comedy
109
Drama
358
Documentary
356
Romance
49
Average score
90%
from our staff
Average score
87.4%
from our users
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