8 Movies Like Avatar (2009) On Mubi India

Staff & contributors

In Cameraperson, documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson creates an incredible patchwork of her life—and her life’s work. Johnson has been behind the camera of seminal documentaries like Citizenfour, The Invisible War, and The Edge of Joy. Here, Johnson stitches together fragments of footage, shot over 25 years, reframes them to reveal the silent but influential ways in which she has been an invisible participant in her work. 

In one segment, Johnson places the camera down in the grass. A hand reaches into the frame briefly, pulling up weeds that would otherwise obscure the shot. Cameraperson is a must-see documentary that challenges us to reconsider and reflect upon how we see ourselves and others through the camera lens, and beyond it.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jacques Derrida, Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Roger Phenix

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: Not Rated

This slow-burning drama is set in an Indigenous reservation in South Dakota, where Johnny is a teenager who dreams of moving to L.A. with his girlfriend. He would have to leave behind his little sister, who is just grappling with the recent loss of their father. 

Director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland) worked with amateur actors whose lives mirror the characters, often adapting the script to the actors' stories. She filmed 100 hours of footage that she then distilled into an hour and a half. 

The result is a film shot from the outside but which is grounded in local stories. And these stories are rough, sad, complex - but so important to listen to and understand. It's an incredible feat to make an observational film that's so grounded in reality - only a genius could: that's Chloé Zhao, and this mature work is -somehow- her first feature film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cat Clifford, Derrick Janis, Eléonore Hendricks, Irene Bedard, Jashaun St. John

Director: Chloé Zhao

Rating: Not Rated

A razor-sharp script and beautiful scenery make this one of the best road movies in recent memory. When their cynical best friend dies, Seph and Alex embark on a journey to scatter his ashes over four spots he wants to go back to. Tupperware of ashes in the glove-box, they start their big adventure. Burn Burn Burn, an expression their friend quotes from Kerouac, is a chance for the two friends to escape their hectic city life and to discover themselves. It’s a beautiful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alice Lowe, Alison Steadman, Chloe Pirrie, Eleanor Matsuura, Hannah Arterton, Jack Farthing, Jane Asher, Joe Dempsie, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Kyle Lima, Laura Carmichael, Matthew Kelly, Melanie Walters, Nigel Planer, Owen Findlay, Sally Phillips, Susan Wokoma

Director: Chanya Button

Rating: N/A

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

When Brian was eight years old he lost five hours of his life to a black out. Now ten years later he is searching for the truth. His search leads him to Neil, a boy who was on his little league team the summer of the blackout. Brian has always believed he was abducted by aliens from the dreams he had with Neil in them. Neil however knows the truth. Neil had just left the small town life and moved to New York. When he comes home for Christmas and meets Brian will he finally tell him the answers he has been looking for? This is the story of one boy who can't remember and a boy who can't forget.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bill Sage, Billy Drago, Brady Corbet, Bruno Alexander, Chase Ellison, Chris Mulkey, David Alan Graf, David Lee Smith, Elisabeth Shue, Gwenne Hudson, Jeffrey Licon, Joan Blair, John Ganun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kelly Kruger, Larry Marko, Lisa Long, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Michelle Trachtenberg, Reedy Gibbs, Richard Riehle, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Zane Huett

Director: Gregg Araki

Rating: NC-17

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adiatou Massudi, Bernardo Montet, Dan Herzberg, Denis Lavant, Gianfranco Poddighe, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor, Mickael Ravovski, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Richard Courcet

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

The idea of representation in movies is often limited to superficial gestures of putting on screen people who look a certain way. Kokomo City is a reminder of cinema's possibilities when one really tries to queer filmmaking itself, with genuine queer voices driving a production. This documentary is messy and incredibly playful in its style—in ways that might read to some as lacking cohesiveness, or as tonally inconsistent. But the way director D. Smith is able to capture the dynamic energy of a series of conversations makes these powerful, funny, tragic anecdotes and dialogues feel truly grounded in people's everyday experiences, and makes the plea for protection of trans lives all the more urgent.

Throughout Kokomo City, this collection of individuals goes off on various tangents that never become difficult to follow. They speak about the nature of sex work, hidden desires felt by traditionally masculine male clients, and various degrees of acceptance within the Black community. And between these statements alternating from impassioned to emotional to humorously candid, Smith injects cheeky cutaway footage, layers text on screen, and plays an eclectic rotation of music throughout. It's about as real and as three-dimensional as these trans lives have ever been shown on screen.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daniella Carter, Dominique Silver, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, XoTommy

Director: D. Smith

Rating: R

In Waltz with Bashir, director Ari Folman grapples with the trauma and dehumanization of war by examining the role he played in the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon. But his memories are fractured, so in an attempt to piece them back together, he visits his comrades and has them recall the events for him. The result is both poignant and painful, a horrific tell-all of what happens on both sides of the battleground. The film is a documentary, chillingly honest and straightforward, but it's also an animation gem that continues the legacy that Persepolis started and Flee continues. By combining the harshness of war with the lightness of animation, all three films effectively deliver their anti-war message with a much-needed human and personal touch. 

Genre: Animation, Documentary, Drama, War

Actor: Ari Folman, Mickey Leon, Ori Sivan, Ron Ben-Yishai, Yehezkel Lazarov

Director: Ari Folman

Rating: R