66 Best Smart Movies to Watch (Page 2)

Staff & contributors

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

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.

Something is wrong with Carol White. She’s a well-off housewife living in the picturesque suburbs of Los Angeles. Her husband’s job is going well, her step-son is pleasant, and her social life consists of boutique lunches, fruit-filled diets, and lavishly pink baby showers—all is well on this side of the white picket fence.

Until Carol starts sneezing. Then she begins coughing, and she experiences a violent asthma attack while driving on the freeway. Afterward, Carol’s nose won’t stop bleeding. She starts having seizures. Struggling to breathe, Carol winds up in the hospital, seeing doctors and psychologists trying to diagnose what’s wrong and whether her mystery illness is physiological or psychological.

Todd Haynes’ Safe is an unnerving examination at our relationship with the environment—and in an increasingly modernized world, how much we can tolerate of what we create: white noise, toxins, busy work, everyday poisons, monotonous obligations. It’s also a complicated reflection on the ways in which women’s pain is disregarded and minimized, and what the loss of invisible agency looks like when it begins to manifest outward.

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they're not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

This searing allegation of sexual abuse against Def Jam Recordings' Russell Simmons unfolds with the intelligence and tenacity of a world-class prosecution. But more importantly, On the Record remembers to fight for a justice that's restorative, too—paying proper tribute to Drew Dixon and many other equally creative and talented women behind the scenes in the American hip hop industry. With every new argument it introduces, this documentary encourages us not only to be open to new information, but to rewire our very way of thinking about race, intersectional feminism, and the music business. It may be a bit of a cliché, but On the Record really does leave you smarter than when you started, with a heightened awareness of how the present moment is inseparable from our history.

Disclosure is a patient and articulate study of the ways movies have physically conditioned us to respond to certain expressions of queerness with fear, disgust, or laughter. But it also serves as a reminder that trans bodies have been represented on screen for as long as movies have existed—making it all the more unacceptable that we still often only see reductive and harmful stereotypes of trans people over 100 years since the birth of cinema. However, Disclosure is far from a "takedown" designed to make viewers feel bad. At the end of it all this remains a celebration film's power to dignify perspectives we rarely get to see through, and it's one of the nerdiest and most passionate trips through film history you could hope to have.

When Sr. Lino started his warehouse job, he had to work for 11 years before being able to sit down during work hours. This is because there was one chair, and he had to wait for his more senior colleague to retire before he could have his turn.

Now, many years later, he’s about to retire. A new recruit is sent to replace him just five days before he leaves. Sr. Lino is disgruntled that the new kid will only have to stand for five days, but on the second day, the kid brings a chair from home and sits.

Warehoused is a comedy about these two characters with completely different personalities as they interact during the few days left in Sr. Lino’s career. The most interesting thing is perhaps how little seems to happen: the warehouse is empty, unvisited, and yet religiously maintained by Sr. Lino.

It’s such a joy to watch the two actors carry this movie. And behind the funny and simple premise, there is a lot that this movie tries to deal with: deceit and lies, the weight of modern working life, and more.

A revelation of a movie, both in filmmaking and commercial success. While little-known abroad, it has made more than $42 million in US Box Office revenue out of a tiny $5 million budget. Kumail Nanjiani, stand-up comedian and star of the show Silicon Valley, tells his own story of romance with his now-wife Emily V. Gordon (who co-wrote the movie). Because it is based on a true story, and because it is the product of the love of both its writers and stars, this movie is incredibly heartfelt. It is also timely, addressing heavy themes such as identity, immigration, and family relationships. Not to mention it is absolutely hilarious. And it's produced by Judd Apatow. Trust me and go watch it.

In the year of the Netflix TV Show Maniac, another absurdist title stole critics’ hearts. Sorry to Bother You is a movie set in an alternate reality, where capitalism and greed are accentuated. Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) is a guy called Cassius who struggles to pay his bills. However, when at a tele-marketing job an old-timer tells him to use a “white voice”, he starts moving up the ranks of his bizarre society. A really smart movie that will be mostly enjoyed by those who watch it for its entertaining value, and not so much for its commentary. It is like a Black Mirror episode stretched into a movie.

Two storylines take place in this Parisian animation: one of a Moroccan immigrant who works as a pizza delivery guy, and the other of his hand, somehow no longer part of his body, but also going on a trip around Paris.

The hand storyline is not gory by the way, except for one or two very quick scenes. Mostly, this is a film about loneliness and not being able to find your way back, both as an immigrant who misses how they were raised and as a hand who misses its body.

Sporting some of the most beautiful animation work this year, this movie premiered at Cannes where it became the first-ever animated film (and Netflix film) to win the Nespresso Grand Prize.

“It is better to live miserable than to die happy,” or so says one of the characters in Jia Zhangke’s anthology film A Touch of Sin. On its surface, the “sin” referenced in the title might pertain to the acts of murder that the four protagonists commit, but in the context of China’s rapidly changing capitalist landscape (a theme explored in the director’s other pictures), it reveals itself as a malady shared by Chinese laborers treated as dispensable resources by the powers-that-be. Murder, then, is explored as an extremity, the effectual breaking point of people no longer able to contain the injustice within themselves. Beneath the splatters of blood is a plea for empathy and understanding, at once remorseful and full of conviction.

After 2019's The Souvenir—a drama about a toxic, suffocating relationship—director Joanna Hogg brings back her protagonist (played by a superb Honor Swinton Byrne) and sees her attempting to communicate the experience of this failed romance through her thesis film. Anybody with an interest in the production process of cinema should glean a ton of useful advice from The Souvenir Part II's mundane on-set interactions and difficult conversations about the line between compromise and practicality. And through increasingly surreal images of stages within stages and reflections within reflections, Hogg paints a complex, intelligent portrait of cinema as a place of ultimate self-examination.

This is a hilarious political comedy starring the ever-great Steve Buscemi. Set in the last days before Stalin's death and the chaos that followed, it portrays the lack of trust and the random assassinations that characterized the Stalinist Soviet Union. Think of it as Veep meets Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator. Although to be fair, its dark comedy props are very different from the comedy that comes out today: where there are jokes they're really smart, but what's actually funny is the atmosphere and absurd situations that end up developing.