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101 Best Thought-provoking Movies to Watch

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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
Best Film

Some of the best black actors working today team up for When They See Us - the list includes Michael K William (Omar Little from The Wire) Jovan Adepo (Fences) and Jharrel Jerome (Moonlight). And as most on-camera faces in this miniseries are recognizable (there is also Felicity Huffman and Michael Peña), so is the writer, director, and creator of the show, Ava DuVernay. She is the director of Selma, for which she became the first female black director to ever be nominated for an Oscar. I’m spending a lot of time on credentials because the performances and high-quality direction are one of the few things that will get you through this show. It’s a tough watch - chronicling the story of five black teenagers who get falsely accused of rape. The case, known as The Central Park Five, was also made into an excellent documentary by the same name (available on Amazon Prime). When They See Us goes through the mechanisms and details of how the U.S. justice system framed these teenagers. It also pays special attention to their time in prison, and their family relationships. It’s an excruciating but incredibly important watch.

9.4

As the name indicates, Losers tells stories of failure in sport - an unconventional way to look at competitive personalities. The first episode is on boxing, the second is on soccer, and so on. But if you stick around, you’ll make it to episode five - my favorite (full disclosure: it is set in Morocco, where I’m from).Every episode is about a different story, so you can watch one or two not in any particular order, then keep the rest for later. It is the perfect documentary style with enough of a narrative to keep plot-addicted people like me captivated.A bonus is that this show is created and directed by renown animator Mickey Duzyj - prepare for stunning yet purpose-driven animations.

8.4

Iceland is a country of vast lands but limited population - only about 300,000 people can call themselves Icelandic. On the other hand, 8 million people have connecting flights through Iceland every year. In this setting of mass movement, a single mother dealing with poverty is offered a chance to turn things around - a job as a border agent. One of her first days, she comes across an asylum seeker on a connecting flight from Guinea Bissau to Canada, trying to cross with a fake passport. Their stories don’t only intertwine as border agent and asylum seeker, but as two mothers. And Breathe Normally is about struggling with poverty both in Europe and coming from a place like Guinea Bissau. It’s a beautiful, plot-heavy statement on the importance of solidarity and of seeing the human behind the country of origin or race.

7.8

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.

8.8
Best Film

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.

9.0
Best Film

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.

8.2
Best Film

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.

9.1
Best Film

Maniac is really original. Original as in aesthetically weird, in a good way. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone star in this tale set in an alternative world that is a blend of 1990s technology and fictional words and concepts. Their characters, suffering respectively from schizophrenia and heartbreak, participate in a drug test that was supposed to cure their problems. Things don’t go as planned. This show is like if Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had a child with Inception, and then that child grew up to marry Get Out. The child of that marriage is Maniac. A refreshing, original and beautifully creative miniseries well worth your time.

7.8

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.

9.4
Best Film