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8 Best Movies to Watch From China

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.

9.0

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This true story of a white-supremacist and the civil rights unit that tried to stop his group was so gripping. You might recognize the title from the Oscars ceremony, as a shorter version of Skin (same director but different actors) won the Academy Award for Best Short Film. The longer movie provides much more time for the characters to develop, and room for more of a commentary on the current political situation in the U.S.Fun fact: see that scary man in the picture? That’s Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell who went through a transformation for the role, including always wearing a device to pull his ears closer to his head because they were “too cute”.

8.1

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Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

8.0

A wonderful, witty teen comedy—possibly the best the genre has known in a long time! In a powerhouse performance, Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a high school junior at peak angst and awkwardness. Her roller coaster journey through family, friends, lovers, or lack thereof, gives her that all-too-common impression for people her age that life is unbearable. Things get more complicated when Nadine's dad passes and her only friend hooks up with an unexpected person. Her temperament and humor will help her see past her demons to understand what's important in life, putting you in privileged spectator mode to this highly smart and exciting coming-of-age story.

8.0

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei directs his attention towards the ongoing refugee crisis, the biggest displacement of people since World War II. His documentary is apolitical and tries to focus on the human side of the picture. It's not a news report or a commentary on the causes of the situation. Instead, it's a combination of heartfelt stories spanning 23 countries that showcase people's battle for dignity and basic rights. A truly epic movie complemented by impressive drone footage that's as impressive as it is sad.

7.5

After being held captive his whole life, a man sets out to finish the only show he's ever seen. Thoughtfully written with a creative cast; it is not a film you would expect to laugh at and enjoy so thoroughly with such an unconventionally dark premise. However, it is a hilarious, wholesome, and loving film that will leave your heart feeling warm.

7.5

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Jia Zhangke (who NPR critic John Powers once called “perhaps the most important filmmaker working in the world today"), directed this movie based on the story of a gangster he knew while growing up.And he is far from being the only noticeable talent here. Actress Tao Zhao shines as a character called Qiao, a dancer who infiltrates the crime scene in Northern China by way of her boyfriend (the gangster). When a boss leader is assassinated, Qiao finds herself in jail after she refuses to incriminate her boyfriend. This is a gangster movie but it’s also about how Qiao processes her time in jail and what she does once she gets out. It serves more as a character study and a picture of modern-day China.

7.3

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An uplifting and inspiring movie with Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. Jones stars as Supreme Court Justice Associate Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this biopic centered around her hallmark case against sex-based discrimination. While it doesn't feel like it truly conveys the power of Ginsburg's story, her determination, or all the odds that were stacked against her, it serves as a mellowed-down preview of her remarkable story. Watch this if you're in need of a good dose of inspiration.

7.0
Also see: The Very Best
The Very Best are our staff picks, they're all rated 8.0 and above. Here, we selected a few for you.

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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.

9.2

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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.

9.0

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This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had. The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

9.9
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