Highly-rated yet little-known movies

agoodmovietowatch suggests excellent movies (and recently shows) that you might not know about. Curated by humans, not algorithms. Read More.

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moodChallenging

Being challenged by a movie has to be one of the best experiences, period, not just of movie viewing. A harsh reality portrayed, or complex ideas being exposed, though-provoking problems and situations, or the film boosting a dark, interesting outlook on life – all are cherished and deeply humane interactions with this form of art and storytelling.

Below are recommendations handpicked by our staff from this mood featuring challenging movies.

Demian Bichir was nominated for an Oscar for his role in this movie where he plays an illegal immigrant and father. You might be wondering "who is that?", but trust me you won't after watching this movie. The kindness, complexity, and authenticity he brings to this story are unparalleled.A Better Life is about the illegal immigrant experience, about the line between the fear of being caught and the aspiration for a better future. It's an excellent and important movie.

7.6

This is the type of movie I completely fell in love with but cannot articulate exactly why. Maybe it's the mixture of beauty and pain portrayed, maybe it's the intricate sounds and beautiful imagery, maybe it's the story, maybe it's all of the above. A woman is hit with sudden disability after an accident and calls on an unlikely companion, a night club bouncer by the name of Ali. Together they explore her new predicament and its implications, while forming a special bond. This is a movie that will call upon your internal strength, while portraying how us humans can become strong together. Most of all it provides an immensely powerful, ultimately simple story that is both touching and will stay with you for a very long time. Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).

8.1

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.

9.0

There is footage and coverage to prove that the pizza bomber story actually happened but watching Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist everything is so intriguing it is almost impossible to believe. A pizza-delivery guy shows up to rob a bank with what he says is a bomb secured around his neck, something that he claims is part of a treasure hunt. By robing the bank, he will unlock the next set of clues that will allow him to defuse the bomb. Bank tellers comply but on the way out he is suddenly arrested by the police, who doubt his claims, handcuff him and keep him at a distance. The device he has around his neck then starts beeping. What follows is one of the most unusual investigations ever led by security forces, brilliantly framed by executive producers Duplass brothers. A perfect follow-up to their other amazing True-crime Netflix collaboration, Wild Wild Country, it’s a tight 4-episodes that is equally terrifying and intriguing.

8.5

A dramatic take on the life and capture of Ted Kaczynski, popularly known as UNABOMBER(UNiversity and Airline BOMber) from the eyes of an FBI profiler. Kaczynski was responsible for 16 bombings, and it took 17 years for the FBI to catch him. To date, he's the target of the most expensive chase the FBI has ever launched. The show is not a mystery (facts are the matter of public domain) and doesn't even pretend to be one. Instead, it focuses on the complex motives of the UNABOMBER, as well as the bureaucracy that the FBI ran through trying to catch him. It's a really well-made, engrossing show that's hard not to watch in one take. It's 8 episodes of 40 minutes, so pick the time you start it wisely.

9.4

Short Term 12 is exactly like being injured in a part of your body where you didn't think it was possible to get injured before. It will hurt but it will make you care. Natural and understated by budget and by purpose, it is powered by perfect performances that will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride you will never forget. It is at times sweet, at times depressing and at times hilarious. The thing is, without even taking into consideration its small budget or the importance of the issues it talks about - we would still consider Short Term 12 as one of the best movies of the past 20 years.

10
BF

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.

9.0

If you liked Netflix’ Stranger Things gloomy suspense, sit tight because there is a lot more of where that came from in Dark. Here is what they have in common: the aesthetic, great music, and they’re both about the disappearance of a child. Other than that, it is very difficult to compare Dark to anything else I’ve seen before.This German show is about a town with a long and dark history, which is brought to the forefront of the collective conscious when a child goes missing. The plot twists and turns through decades of history – and that’s as much as I will share without ruining the show for you. Dark uses beautiful aesthetic, both visually and musically, to be compelling and painfully tension-ridden. Season two has more bouncing between timelines and more dark and inexplicable events, as now six people are missing.

9.0

Twisted yet deep. Sad yet interesting. Slow yet exhilarating. A Ghost Story is an incredible artistic achievement. With hardly any dialog, and breathtakingly long takes in its first half, it manages to bring you in its own creepy world and not let go until you feel completely lonely. Starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a loving couple who are hit with a horrible tragedy, the beginning is slow, and it's not a plot driven movie, but if you give it a chance it will blow your mind.

7.9

This is an amazing mini-series of 7 episodes marketed as being the same as the Netflix hit show Making a Murderer. While the two share some of the defining tones, The Keepers is a much more interesting show. It trades cliffhangers for substance, without compromising at all on the mystery of the murder addressed. It gives the bigger picture on what was going on in Baltimore at the time of the murder, and then heavily focuses on the victims from after the murder. It's a riveting tale of injustice, sexual abuse, and corruption. If you so much as like true crime shows (or movies like Spotlight), you're going to not only love The Keepers, but you will find it inspiring in how it addresses the uncovering of secrets.

8.1

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

7.8