30 Movies Like City of God (2002)

Staff & contributors

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

If you're not a fan of F1 racing, you might not know who Ayrton Senna is. If you are, there is no way you don't know. However, this 2010 British-French documentary packs so much thrill and emotion, you don't have to be a racing enthusiast to be engrossed by it.

So, who is Ayrton Senna? At a time when F1 cars were +1000HP fire-breathing monsters and the grid was stacked with world champions, the Brazilian racing driver rose above the rest to take 3 world championships and win the fabled Monaco Grand Prix a record 6 times. At the age of 34, a devastating car crash took his life.

Director Asif Kapadia develops a compelling, emotional, and exhilarating portrait of F1 racing and the man that was Ayrton Senna. He is still considered by many to be one the best and most exciting racing drivers to have ever stepped into an F1 car. The documentary too, is a thrilling pursuit: moving, psychological intriguing and absolutely nerve-wracking!

A Prophet, or Un Prophete, is an unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. Shot by the inimitable French director Jacques Audiard, A Prophet is a future classic from the get-go, taking age-old cliches and turning them on their heads. It's not often that a film leaves us giddy with enthusiasm and constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet is so intense, you won't be able to let it go. Incredible acting, especially by then-newcomer Tahar Rahim, fantastic pacing, a great narrative arc with a brutal and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization, and life on the fringes of society. There are only two, quote unquote, action sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch this film.
A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot - a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.
From Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought you the far quieter The Handmaiden, comes a movie that is positively terrifying. Its premise alone is enough for any sentient human being to shudder. On his daughter's birthday, the good-for-nothing Oh Dae-su (played by Choic Min-sik) gets drunk and is arrested by the police. A friend eventually bails him out and, while he is making a phone call, Oh Dae-su disappears. Not knowing why, he is held in the same room for 15 years for no apparent reason. Until, one day, he is released. That's all that can be revealed about this winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 without giving away too much. All we can add here is the way we recommend Oldboy to people admitting to not having seen it yet: “Watch Oldboy. You're welcome. We're sorry.” A crazy, twisted film that goes to extremes. A cult classic and a statement.
In 2009, Departures surprised everybody by winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instead of everyone's favourite, Ari Folman's Waltz of Bashir. This is even more surprising since this Japanese comedy almost never saw the light of day because many distributors refused to release it at first for its humorous treatment of a very human, but weirdly taboo subject: what happens when you die. Daigo Kobayashi (played by former boyband member Masahiro Motoki) just bought an expensive cello when he learns that his Tokyo-based symphony orchestra is going bankrupt. Daigo and his wife Mika, played by Ryôko Hirosue, decide to move back to his hometown, where he applies for an opening at what he thinks is a travel agency, hence the departures. You might have guessed by now that what he was applying for was, in fact, the job of an undertaker—a profession considered unclean in Japan. It's one of those rare movies that will make you laugh, to making you cry, and laugh again. It's dead-on!

The Secret of the Grain is a saga of the immigrant experience and a packed 151 minutes of diverse storylines and themes that could have each been a film on their own. 

Slimane Beiji is a Tunisian immigrant in the French port city of Sète. His large family consists of two units: his ex-wife Souad, with whom he has many children, and his current partner Latifa who own a run-down hotel where Slimani lives. Slimani gets fired from his shipyard job and is pushed by the children from his first marriage to return to Tunisia, where he can lead a quiet life. But Rym, his current partner’s daughter, convinces him that he can still be happy in France if he pursues his dream: to open a restaurant on a boat he owns that would serve his ex-wife’s unique couscous with fish recipe. Slimani chooses to rekindle his immigrant dream.

It's a beautiful and rich slice-of-life film about immigrant life in Southern France. Slimani's charachter is based on the filmmaker's father. 

Get ready for one hell of a journey. From the writer of City of God, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a poignant and powerful action-packed movie. Set in Brazil, the film follows two seemingly opposed characters (one a police officer, one a professor) as they both work to treat the systemic social ills that corrupt the country. As much a social commentary as it is an action-packed drama (think The Departed and The Wire), Elite Squad will take you on a whirlwind journey that will leave you considering the larger issues of poverty, crime, and "doing good" in the world.

At the risk of being cliché, I'm going to state that only the French could have made a movie about racial issues and the troubles of youngsters in the suburbs and still make it elegant. I've tried looking for other adjectives, but I couldn't find one that better describes those long takes shot in a moody black and white. But despite the elegance of the footage, the power of the narrative and the acting makes the violence and hate realistic as hell, dragging you into the story and empathizing with the characters until you want to raise your arm and fight for your rights. Aside from this unusual combination of fine art and explicit violence, the most shocking thing about La Haine is how much the issues it addresses still make sense right now, even though the movie was released 20 years ago.

A foreign film on par with City of God, and carrying its heritage of naturalistic performances and raw stories. Sin Nombre will take you into a world filled with gut wrenching violence, heart-breaking loss, and non-stop suspense. And while definitely a tough watch, it reports the horrors of immigration with humane and sometimes hopeful outlook. The profound and epic redemption in this movie will leave you thinking about it for days.

Alejandro González Iñárritu's cleverly layered directorial feature film debut follows three persons whose lives are connected by a car crash in Mexico City. It directly involves two of them: a young man who enters the world of dogfighting to earn enough to elope with his sister-in-law, and a supermodel whose life is changed for the worse after she is fatally injured. The third segment of the film centers on a mysterious homeless man on the street who witnesses the crash.

The title, Amores Perros, refers to the characters’ love of dogs as well as love being a source of misery, and it’s a hint of the chaotic, unforeseen circumstances they each face. Iñárritu’s film shows his brilliance in direction. Despite the film being an early work, his ingenuity shines through and the compelling performances propel all three stories to gritty heights.

Cut-throat editing, handheld cinematography, and Guillermo Arriaga’s intricate screenplay flesh out each character. The viewers are pushed to the edge of their seats as we navigate the gripping miseries of life along with the rest of the cast. The tightly woven film is a painful must-watch, a brutal and uncompromising look at despair and animalistic aggression among humans that is also mirrored in the cruelty their dogs suffer.

Let's fight! I'm not a fan of "Into the wild" okay okay, calm down... Maybe we can fix this. Maybe we could watch "The Motorcycle Diaries" together. Watching this heartwarming movie, you will get the travel bug. I got it and I never got rid of it. I even want to go on a motorcycle tour through South America although I would have never dreamed of getting on a motorbike. Have fun with it. Oh and... this film is about the young Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado by the way.

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. 

If you’ve never heard of Sonia Braga, you’re in for a ride with this movie. She is, in my opinion, one of the best actresses alive today. In Aquarius, she stars as a 65-year-old trying to keep the home in which she pledged to die. In a quiet, yet stoically powerful performance, she reminds us that identity often intersects with the spaces in which we live.