55 Best Character-driven Movies On Kanopy (Page 2)

Staff & contributors

If you're less about adventurous plots, and more about the emotional journey and relationship arcs, we've got you covered. Here are the best character-driven movies and shows to stream right now.

Find the best character-driven movies to watch, from our mood category. Like everything on agoodmovietowatch, these character-driven movies are highly-rated by both viewers and critics.

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan's life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Andrew Simms, Angela Galuppo, Arthur Holden, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Bill Croft, Bob Dylan, Brett Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Colvey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Craig Thomas, Danny Blanco Hall, David Cross, David Gow, Dennis St John, Dominic James, Don Francks, Emmanuel Schwartz, Eric Newsome, Eugene Brotto, Fanny La Croix, Garth Gilker, Gordon Masten, Graham Cuthbertson, Greg Kramer, Heath Ledger, Holly Uloth, Ivan Freud, Jane Gilchrist, Jane Wheeler, Jason Cavalier, Jennifer Rae Westley, Jesse Todd, Jessica Kardos, Jim James, Jodie Resther, Joe Cobden, John Koensgen, Julianne Moore, Kathleen Fee, Kim Gordon, Kim Roberts, Kris Kristofferson, Kristen Hager, Kyle Gatehouse, Kyle Switzer, Larry Day, Leif Anderson, Leigh Ann Taylor, Lina Roessler, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, Lorne Brass, Maggie Castle, Marcus Carl Franklin, Marie-Julie Rivest, Mark Camacho, Matt Holland, Matthew Boylan, Matthew Harbour, Melantha Blackthorne, Michelle Williams, Nathalie Girard, Noel Burton, Patrick Costello, Paul Cagelet, Paul Johnston, Paul Spence, Pauline Little, Peter Friedman, Phyllis Gooden, Pier Paquette, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Alexandre Fortin, Richard Gere, Richard Jutras, Richard Robitaille, Richie Havens, Rob Burns, Roc LaFortune, Sharlene Royer, Shawn Baichoo, Steve Godin, Susan Glover, Terry Haig, Thiéry Dubé, Tim Post, Trevor Hayes, Tyrone Benskin, Vito DeFilippo, Wyatt Bowen, Yolonda Ross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

Putting the inherent eeriness of stop motion animation to perfect use, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa create a legitimately disturbing experience of a man's paranoid delusions, as he tries desperately to make a real human connection while perceiving everyone around him as the same person. It's that (unfortunately) rare animated film that understands that this medium can tell complex, even terrifying, stories for grown-ups while respecting their intelligence. And it's still gorgeously put together, with seamless movements from the character puppets and evocative lighting and cinematography that puts the film firmly in the uncanny valley. It's a tougher watch than it looks, but the depth of feeling it captures is nothing short of totally human.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

Director: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Margarita with a Straw is a bold and unflinching film that offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of disability, sexuality, and identity. The film follows the journey of a young woman with cerebral palsy as she navigates her way through life, love, and self-discovery. The film's honest portrayal of exploring sexuality, its rich and diverse cast of characters, and its raw and emotional story make it a deeply affecting watch. It's a triumph of representation and inclusivity, and a testament to the power of storytelling to challenge and change the way we see the world.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Doug Plaut, Hussain Dalal, Jacob Berger, Kalki Koechlin, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Marco Torriani, Revathi, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Tenzing Dalha, Vin Scialla, William Moseley

Director: Nilesh Maniyar, Shonali Bose

Rating: Not Rated

Director Gianni Di Gregorio’s gorgeous debut is an understated masterpiece about a bachelor who is his mother's caregiver. The movie takes place almost entirely in Di Gregorio's family home in central Rome, a beautiful, big, and well-furnished apartment that his character can't afford any longer. 

To catch a break from rent, he agrees to host the landlord’s mother while the landlord goes on holiday. The same for his and his mother’s medical bills, and the doctor shows up with yet another elderly woman.  

Di Gregorio finds himself running an impromptu elderly home, with conflicts rising about who gets to watch TV and whose dietary restrictions should be respected. But his calm demeanor, love for cooking, and a lot of white wine make him the perfect man for the job.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alfonso Santagata, Gianni Di Gregorio, Maria Calì, Marina Cacciotti, Valeria De Franciscis

Director: Gianni Di Gregorio

Rating: Not Rated

A young girl is looking for her father while struggling to care for her family. The film is bleak and slow but great performances from the cast, especially the lead, will keep you engaged throughout. The story has a very real, raw, and natural feeling to it, so natural in fact that at times, you will forget it is a movie. And in many ways, it feels that Winter's Bone is to Jennifer Lawrence what The Believer was to Ryan Gosling, as her performance is nothing short of perfect.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Ashlee Thompson, Casey MacLaren, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Isaiah Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Lauren Sweetser, Ronnie Hall, Shelley Waggener, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor

Director: Debra Granik

Rating: R

This teenage crime drama contains enough grit to stand on its own, but The Tribe’s real hook is in the way it’s told: entirely in Ukrainian sign language, without subtitles. Set in a boarding school for deaf students, new arrival Sergei must contend with an institution that’s run like a gang. His journey through the ranks is extremely violent and graphic, including unflinching depictions of rape and a back-alley abortion that lingers long in the mind.

Its unpleasantness will be a barrier for some, but for the curious, it’s an oddly balletic film. Among the misery, actors communicate the entire story via body language. Emphatic dialogue delivery conveys the mood of each scene (which often changes for the worse), and the characters’ actions speak loud and clear. Narratively it breaks little ground, and its darkness can’t be overstated, but there’s grace to its reliance on everything but words to tell its story. A film you won’t stop thinking about.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alexander Panivan, Grygoriy Fesenko, Hryhoriy Fesenko, Ivan Tishko, Oleksandr Dsiadevych, Oleksandr Osadchyi, Rosa Babiy, Roza Babiy, Yana Novikova

Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

Rating: Unrated

, 2021

In Luzzu, tradition and modernity — plus principles and necessity — come crashing up against each other like waves in a raging storm. Trying to navigate his way through the tempest is Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), a Maltese fisherman proudly descended from a long family line of the profession. But Jesmark’s work — and his identity, which is tightly bound up with it — is reaching a crisis point, as fishing's dwindling returns can no longer provide his family with a living. His baby son needs expensive medical care, and his wife (Michela Farrugia) sees little choice but to abandon their independence and lean on her family (who have been hostile to her choice of spouse) to get by.

And so Jesmark finds himself pricing his principles: does he struggle on in vain, or give in to the pull of the lucrative black market, which respects neither EU fishing laws nor the sanctity of the seabed? With the weight of his family legacy on his back, Jesmark’s crisis feels like a crushing existential one. As visually stunning as the titular brightly painted wooden boat passed down by Jesmark's great-grandfather, Luzzu also feels as preciously crafted, with its raw look at the realities of economic survival recalling the acutely painful dilemmas of classic neorealist cinema.

Genre: Drama

Actor: David Scicluna, Frida Cauchi, Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, Uday McLean

Director: Alex Camilleri

It’s always fun to watch something that makes you second guess each move, that shifts seamlessly from one thing to another. Frantz is that kind of film, and as the deceptively simple premise unfolds—a widow befriends her late husband’s friend—you’re never really sure if what you’re watching is a romance, a mystery, or a sly combination of both. 

It helps that Frantz is also more than just a period piece, packed as it is with tiny but thoughtful details. When it is filled with color, for example, it does so in the muted palette of 1900s portraits, making each shot look like a picture come to life. When it talks about love, it goes beyond heterosexual norms and hints at something more potent and, at times, political. And when it takes a swing at melodrama, its actors ground the moment with enough restraint and reserve so that it never teeters on excess. All this results in a well-executed, gripping, and overall lovely film to watch.

 

Genre: Drama, History, Romance, War

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anton von Lucke, Axel Wandtke, Camille Grandville, Claire Martin, Cyrielle Clair, Eliott Margueron, Elizabeth Mazev, Ernst Stötzner, Étienne Ménard, Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat, Jean-Paul Dubois, Jean-Pol Brissart, Jeanne Ferron, Johann von Bülow, Johannes Silberschneider, Laurent Borel, Louis-Charles Sirjacq, Lutz Blochberger, Marie Gruber, Merlin Rose, Michael Witte, Nicolas Bonnefoy, Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Rainer Egger, Ralf Dittrich, Torsten Michaelis, Zimsky

Director: François Ozon

Rating: PG-13

Remember the name Rufus Norris. "Broken" is his directorial debut and he handles it like a seasoned pro. Also keep an eye out in the future for its young star, Eloise Laurence, who shows all the natural ability of a young Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster. Laurence plays "Skunk", a twelve year old trying to make sense of life - and whose task isn't made any easier by her own family's internal struggles, or the other families living in the peaceful-looking cul-de-sac where much of the action takes place. We're informed from the get-go that some sort of tragedy will befall the girl, but we don't know what shape it will take, or what the outcome of it will be. The tension builds from there, with a little relief along the way, thanks to her often-amusing performance as she witnesses the confusing actions of her elders. Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy are also in good form, both of whom seem happy to complement Laurence's presence rather than try to upstage her. "Broken" is equal parts cute, frightening, and brutally tense. It's well worth checking out.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alicia Woodhouse, Andrew Frame, Bill Milner, Charlie Booty, Cillian Murphy, Clare Burt, David Webber, Denis Lawson, Eloise Laurence, Faye Daveney, George Sargeant, Lily James, Lino Facioli, Martha Bryant, Michael Shaeffer, Nell Tiger Free, Nick Holder, Nicola Sloane, Paul Thornley, Penny Layden, Robert Emms, Rory Kinnear, Rosalie Kosky, Seeta Indrani, Tim Roth, Zana Marjanovic

Director: Rufus Norris

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) reunites with Mads Mikkelsen to tell the story of four teachers going through a mid-life crisis. They’re not sad, exactly—they have homes and jobs and are good friends with each other—but they’re not happy either. Unlike the ebullient youth they teach, they seem to have lost their lust for life, and it’s silently eating away at them, rendering them glassy-eyed and mechanic in their everyday lives. 

Enter an experiment: what if, as one scholar suggests, humans were meant to fulfill a certain alcohol concentration in order to live as fully and present as possible? The teachers use themselves as the subjects and the tide slowly starts to turn to mixed effects. Are they actually getting better or worse?

With an always-satisfying performance by Mikkelsen and an instant classic of an ender, it’s no surprise Another Round took home the award for Best Foreign Film in the 2020 Academy Awards.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Christiane Gjellerup Koch, Diêm Camille G., Dorte Højsted, Frederik Winther Rasmussen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Lars Ranthe, Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang, Magnus Sjørup, Maria Bonnevie, Martin Greis-Rosenthal, Mercedes Claro Schelin, Michael Asmussen, Morten Thunbo, Niels Jørgensen, Per Otto Bersang Rasmussen, Silas Cornelius Van, Susse Wold, Thomas Bo Larsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: 0, Not Rated

Even a director of William Friedkin’s caliber had his work cut out for him with this remake of the towering 1957 drama tracking a jury's fraught deliberations in an apparently open-and-shut murder trial. Wisely, he changes little: most of the incisive dialogue remains the same, and the film still only takes place in one sweltering room on New York’s hottest day.

There are some key differences, though: namely, in a few of the characters (most notably Mykelti Williamson’s ex-Nation of Islam member Juror #10, who helps update the story to the '90s) and the intensification of the ensemble’s star power. The all-star quality of the cast is never wielded to call attention to itself, though; everyone, from James Gandolfini and William Petersen to Tony Danza and Edward James Olmos is on fine character acting form here. Replacing the unforgettable Henry Fonda is Jack Lemmon (exuding warmth and good sense) as the principled lone dissenter who calmly wages a war of words with George C. Scott’s bigoted Juror #3 to give real justice a chance. The 1957 version is admittedly a timeless classic, but Friedkin's version isn't very far off from reaching its predecessor’s dazzling heft plus, this stands as a compelling argument that every era should have its own 12 Angry Men.

Genre: Crime, Drama, TV Movie

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Courtney B. Vance, Dorian Harewood, Douglas Spain, Edward James Olmos, George C. Scott, Hume Cronyn, Jack Lemmon, James Gandolfini, Mary McDonnell, Mykelti Williamson, Ossie Davis, Tony Danza, Tyrees Allen, William Petersen

Director: William Friedkin

Rating: PG-13

Who among us hasn’t committed a white lie to save a relationship? And who among us hasn’t yearned for the full and brutal truth? In You Hurt My Feelings, Nicole Holofcener digs into that paradox and delivers a film that is honest and funny in equal measure. Here, the writer-director doesn't just use a hilarious situation to make relatable observations and clever witticisms; she also extracts the nuances of it. She is aware, for instance, that her well-to-do characters exist in a world where it’s possible to only care about this, and not much else. And she likewise knows that Beth's (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) and Don's (Tobias Menzies) trust issues are complicated by their age and respective mid-life career troubles. But rather than stay stuck in the specificity of those details, Holofcener uses her perceptive script to highlight the relatable and the universal. These characters hurt just the same—they're plagued with the same insecurities and seek the same validation—and they express that hurt in the petty and unvarnished language everyone else does. Watching all this come to play is a comforting delight.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Amber Tamblyn, Arian Moayed, Clara Wong, Claudia Robinson, David Cross, Deniz Akdeniz, Jeannie Berlin, Josh Pais, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kenneth Tigar, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Owen Teague, Rebecca Henderson, Sarah Steele, Sue Jean Kim, Sunita Mani, Tobias Menzies, Zach Cherry

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Rating: R

A24 + Steve Buscemi = ?. 

In “Lean on Pete,” Buscemi plays a guy called Del Montgomery (of course), who is a racetrack horse owner in Portland, Oregon. He befriends a kid, Charley (Charlie Plummer in an amazing performance), who had been abandoned by his family and is new to Portland. 

Together they take care of Montgomery’s only horse, until the kid discovers that the horse is set to be slaughtered. He embarks on an impossible journey across the U.S. to try to save the horse while also looking for his family. 

This movie flew under most peoples’ radars. It is truly amazing. If you like “Lean on Pete” you should watch other A24 gems like “Lady Bird” or “The Florida Project.”

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Alison Elliott, Amy Seimetz, Ayanna Berkshire, Bob Olin, Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Chloe Sevigny, Chris Ihlenfeldt, Dana Millican, Dennis Fitzpatrick, Frank Gallegos, Heath Lourwood, Jason Rouse, Joseph Bertót, Julia Prud'homme, Justin Rain, Kurt Conroyd, Kyle Stoltz, Lewis Pullman, P.E. Ingraham, Rachael Perrell Fosket, Robert J. Olin, Rusty Tennant, Steve Buscemi, Steve Zahn, Teyah Hartley, Travis Fimmel

Director: Andrew Haigh

Rating: 15, R

Florence Pugh broke through with her powerhouse performance here as Katherine, a young woman who is “sold” into a coldly transactional marriage with a cruel and impotent merchant in 1800s Northern England. Lady Macbeth seems to begin as one thing — a gloomy period tale of oppression and feminist rebellion — but, on the strength of Pugh’s performance, pivots into an even bleaker subversion of that initial impression, the kind we haven’t really seen before.

When her disinterested husband takes a long leave of absence to tend to some business affairs, Katherine does more than just defy his command that she stay indoors: she begins an unabashed affair with one of her husband’s gruff groomsmen (Cosmo Jarvis), who ignites in her an obsessive passion that brings out her dark side. She’ll stop at nothing to remove any obstacles in the couple’s way — but, while her initial targets are arguably quite deserving of their fate, her scheme soon implicates the innocent. The creeping revelation that all the cruelty Katherine has been subjected to has brutalized her in turn comes as a shock, but this dramatic overturning of our expectations is made chillingly real by Pugh’s fierce, unfaltering performance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bill Fellows, Christopher Fairbank, Cliff Burnett, Cosmo Jarvis, David Kirkbride, Florence Pugh, Golda Rosheuvel, Ian Conningham, Kema Sikazwe, Naomi Ackie, Nicholas Lumley, Paul Hilton, Rebecca Manley

Director: William Oldroyd

Rating: R

Tilda Swinton stars in this gorgeous Italian production by Luca Guadagnino, part of the director’s “Desire Trilogy”, together with Call Me By Your Name and A Bigger Splash.

Swinton learned to speak Italian and some Russian for the movie, where she plays - to absolute perfection - the wife of a Milan textile mogul who starts having an affair with a cook.

It’s an elegant family drama that’s definitely more concerned with aesthetics than substance, but the setting in snowy Northern Italy and lush 35mm film make that very easy to look past.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Gabriele Ferzetti, Honor Swinton Byrne, Maria Paiato, Marisa Berenson, Mattia Zaccaro, Pippo Delbono, Tilda Swinton, Waris Ahluwalia

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Rating: R