29 Movies Like Cocaine Bear (2023)

Staff & contributors

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi has faced constant persecution from his country's government for over a decade, for his career of sharply political films speaking truth to power. In fact, No Bears—which was shot in secret, in defiance of the government banning him from filmmaking for 20 years—had its initial festival run in 2022 while Panahi was in prison. Evidence of Panahi's drive to keep making his movies, no matter what, are clear in this film's limited resources and occasionally inconsistent video quality. But even those obstacles can't get in the way of his vaulting ambition.

No Bears operates on several different layers that all express Panahi's growing frustration with—but also his commitment to—making art that only ever seems to put himself and other people in harm's way. At its base level, this is a suspenseful small-town thriller, as an exiled Jafar Panahi (playing himself) tries to evade suspicion from the villagers around him. At the same time, Jafar is struggling to direct a film remotely, which creates a strain on his production crew. On top of that, the characters in his film undergo their own drama, seeking asylum out of Turkey. All of this is edited together under a stirring screenplay written with heart, humor, and the hope that the institutions that try to scare us will never keep us in the dark forever.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Jafar Panahi, Naser Hashemi

Director: Jafar Panahi

All Quiet on the Western Front is a period epic that unflinchingly shows us the savagery and senselessness of war. Set at the tail end of World War I, it follows two main stories: that of German soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), whose boyish eagerness for warfare is diminished with each bloody step he takes towards the frontline, and that of Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl), the real-life German politician tasked to negotiate a ceasefire between the French and German forces.

Grim and sobering, the movie will leave you nothing less than stunned after viewing. Like 1917 before it, All Quiet on the Western Front relies on the juxtaposition of raw brutality and peaceful quiet to effectively forward its anti-war message. The film is Germany’s official entry for the 2023 Academy Awards.

Genre: Action, Drama, History, War

Actor: Aaron Hilmer, Adrian Grünewald, Albrecht Schuch, André Marcon, Andreas Döhler, Anthony Paliotti, Anton von Lucke, Cyril Dobrý, Dan Brown, Daniel Brühl, Daniel-Frantisek Kamen, Devid Striesow, Edin Hasanović, Felix Kammerer, Felix von Bredow, Gregory Gudgeon, Hendrik Heutmann, Jakob Diehl, Joe Weintraub, Luc Feit, Marek Simbersky, Markus Tomczyk, Martin Němec, Michael Pitthan, Michael Stange, Michael Wittenborn, Moritz Klaus, Nico Ehrenteit, Peter Sikorski, Sascha Nathan, Sebastian Hülk, Sebastian Jacques, Thibault de Montalembert, Tobias Langhoff, Tomáš Weber

Director: Edward Berger

Rating: R

At one point in the documentary, director Kristen Lovell says, “I wanted to archive the movement that was building between transwomen and sex workers,” and that’s exactly what she achieves with The Stroll, a well-researched, creatively edited, and deeply moving account of the trans-sex-work experience that defined New York for a good chunk of the 20th century. It’s both historical and personal, touching and rousing, as it recounts a history that’s often been forgotten even among the LGBTQ+ community. To do this, Lovell digs up archival footage, brings to life long-buried data, and strikes up heartfelt conversations with survivors of The Stroll, that street in New York where Lovell and her fellow homeless escorts used to pick customers up. Thanks to Lovell’s hard work in telling this extraordinary story of struggle and success, there isn’t a moment in this film where you’re not shocked, frustrated, or exhilarated along with them.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Laverne Cox, Michael Bloomberg, Rudolph Giuliani, RuPaul

Director: Kristen Parker Lovell, Zackary Drucker

The agonizing tug of war between dogma and desire is sharply illustrated in writer-director Laurel Parmet’s feature debut, set inside the claustrophobic confines of a conservative Christian community in Kentucky. Seventeen-year-old Jem (Eliza Scanlen) is at the age her elders believe is the right time to start thinking about a lifelong partner — a choice they’ve pretty much already made for her by setting her up with the pastor’s youngest son. But it's his brooding older brother, married youth leader Owen (Lewis Pullman), who catches Jem’s eye.

The attraction is returned — but, while The Starling Girl does subtly indicate the toxicity of their relationship, it never lets this point eclipse either the more interesting coming-of-age story at its heart or its keen exploration of the wholesale damage that the cult-like church has done to all of its congregants (including Owen). While some of those threads threaten to distract the film’s focus away from its greatest strengths at times, the anguish of that central tussle between Jem's burgeoning sexuality and her otherwise rigidly controlled existence is brought to aching life by sensitive writing and direction and a brilliantly complex lead performance — qualities that ultimately win out to let The Starling Girl fly.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Austin Abrams, Claire Elizabeth Green, Eliza Scanlen, Jessamine Burgum, Jimmi Simpson, K.J. Baker, Kieran Sitawi, Kyle Secor, Lewis Pullman, Wrenn Schmidt

Director: Laurel Parmet

Light-hearted and compassionate, Raining Stones is one of Ken Loach’s lesser-known films. It’s also one of his funniest, telling the story of an unemployed chancer trying to raise enough money to buy his daughter her first Communion dress. Desperate for the cash, he falls foul of ruthless loan sharks.

As ever, Ken Loach is keenly attuned to the concerns of the working class, as he finds humour even in the most depressing of circumstances. The dialogue is natural, funny, and yes, profane. He also gets excellent performances from the non-professional actors in the cast, with club comedian Bruce Jones superb in the lead.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Anna Jaskolka, Anne Martin, Bruce Jones, Gemma Phoenix, George Moss, Jack Marsden, Jimmy Coleman, Julie Brown, Karen Henthorn, Lee Brennan, Little Tony, Mike Fallon, Ricky Tomlinson, Stephen Lord, Susan Cookson, Tom Hickey, Tony Audenshaw, William Ash

Director: Ken Loach

Based on the real-life experience of director Elegance Bratton, who was himself a Black gay marine soldier during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” period in the US, The Inspection documents the behind-the-scenes cruelty that goes on in training the armed forces. Specifically, it inspects how institutions like the marines are hardwired to promote a certain kind of masculinity and how people like Bratton, perennially in the margins, respond, react, and fight back. 

It’s moving and artful but also lighthearted and humorous, finding light even in the darkest corners. It’s self-contradictory that way, but the film is all the better and nuanced for it. Gabriel Union’s performance is also worth noting here; in a career-defining turn, she transforms into a character at once so hateful and loving, you’ll be hard-pressed not to give her your full attention onscreen.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Dominguez, Andrew Kai, Aubrey Joseph, Becky Boxer, Bokeem Woodbine, Daniel Williamson, Eman Esfandi, Gabrielle Union, Jeremy Pope, McCaul Lombardi, Nicholas Logan, Raúl Castillo, Steve Mokate, Tyler Merritt, Wynn Reichert

Director: Elegance Bratton

Rating: R

Somewhere in Queens has the familiar feel of an indie dramedy. It’s intimate and unassuming, casually funny and effortlessly moving. It has the low-key charm that evades more large-scale productions, lending the film that rare poignancy that makes something feel special. 

All these boost an otherwise simple story of family and acceptance. Couple Leo and Ange (a very compelling Ray Romano and Laurie Metcalf) are getting on in years, and watching them navigate the common pitfalls of people their age is both funny and heartwarming to watch. This is cleverly paralleled with their son Sticks’ (Jacob Ward) coming-of-age journey, which is just as expected but tender as ever. 

Theirs is a tight-knit family that fights as much as they love, and watching them in a modest production like this isn't just feel apt but authentic and dear too, like an old family picture come to life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Caryn Richman, Danny Garcia, David St. Louis, Elizabeth Yu, Erik Griffin, Geoffrey Owens, J. C. MacKenzie, Jackson Pace, Jacob Ward, James Ciccone, Jennifer Esposito, Jennifer Simard, Joe Caniano, Jon Manfrellotti, June Gable, Karen Lynn Gorney, Katie Kreisler, Lauren Biazzo, Laurie Metcalf, Matt Romano, P. J. Byrne, Ray Romano, Sadie Stanley, Sebastian Maniscalco, Seth Barrish, Tony Lo Bianco

Director: Ray Romano

Rating: R

Six years after blowing box-office records out of the water with Titanic, director James Cameron once again plunged into the deep for Ghosts of the Abyss. This documentary charts several 12500-foot-deep trips that Cameron, actor Bill Paxton (who played a treasure-hunter in the 1997 movie), and others took in submersibles down to the ship’s wreckage on the pitch-black bed of the Atlantic. The images they captured there are eerie and awe-inspiring: the camera floats through the skeleton of the once-grand ship, now colonised by sea life but still bearing haunting reminders of the people who perished with it. Digital superimpositions of the original layout help to bring the rusted interiors back to life, while ghostly, translucent images of actors are overlaid to recreate the panic and tragedy of the Titanic’s last night.

Granted, it isn’t the romantic epic the 1997 movie was, but Ghosts of the Abyss is an absorbing opportunity for Titanic fans to geek out and a window into the plucky logistics of these undersea trips (which have themselves become an object of great interest, given more recent, ill-fated journeys). Stripping back the Hollywood glamor and diving more deeply into the tragic reality of the Titanic, this is a companion piece that works just as compellingly on its own.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Paxton, Charles Pellegrino, Don Lynch, Federico Zambrano, James Cameron, John Broadwater, Ken Marschall, Lewis Abernathy, Lori Johnston, Mike Cameron, Tava Smiley

Director: James Cameron

Rating: G, PG

Rye Lane knows it’s treading familiar ground by having its charming leads fall in love as they walk and talk their way through a beautiful city. So instead of experimenting on a tried-and-tested setup, it smartly focuses on specificity. It hones in on the characters’ Gen Z woes and cranks up the British references, giving itself character and charm for days. It also finds other ways to be inventive as it trades plot twists for bold editing and camerawork. Rye Lane is a refreshing entry into romcom cinema, but it is also obviously a big fan of it as it holds plenty of homages and subversions of the genre. This one is made for and by romcom fans, and it's always nice to see a modern love story set during our times.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Hewkin, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, Colin Firth, David Jonsson, Delroy Brown, Gary Beadle, George Taylor, Karene Peter, Levi Roots, Llewella Gideon, Malcolm Atobrah, Marva Alexander, Michael Dapaah, Munya Chawawa, Omari Douglas, Raine Allen-Miller, Sandra Daley, Simon Manyonda, Vivian Oparah, Yasmin Al-Khudhairi

Director: Raine Allen-Miller

Rating: R

When Big Tech and trolls have all but villainized the internet, it's hard to forget that good can come out of it sometimes. But Missing makes a case for its usefulness by making it the sole means by which an 18-year-old tries to find her missing mother. Played by Storm Reid, June Allen is endlessly creative in the digital sphere, which makes sense given she's from a generation that grew up with cutting-edge technology. She makes use of geotrackers, earth cams, and even digital watches to get ahead of the authorities, who for their part, are tied down by legalities and red tape. Missing shows us the potential of the internet, what it can do if used resourcefully and for good, and it's a refreshing take given the (understandably) many films that are fearful of tech. 

Missing embraces all this newness and builds a solid thriller out of it, making it a worthy and possibly seminal entry in the screenlife genre. 

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Amy Landecker, Briana McLean, Daniel Henney, Danielle Nottingham, Esteban Dager, Jalil Jay Lynch, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Javier Grajeda, Jill Remez, Joaquim de Almeida, Karina Noelle Castillo, Kelly Stables, Ken Leung, Kimberly Cheng, Lisa Yamada, Mauricio Mendoza, Megan Suri, Michael Segovia, Monica Bhatnagar, Nia Long, Oscar Camacho, Rick Chambers, Roy Abramsohn, Scott Menville, Sean O'Bryan, Storm Reid, Thomas Barbusca, Tim Griffin, Tracy Vilar, Wolfie Trausch, Zeke Alton

Director: Nicholas D. Johnson, Will Merrick

Rating: PG-13

Formally speaking, 20 Days in Mariupol is little more than a compilation of footage bravely collected by Mstyslav Chernov in Ukraine, excerpts of which may seem familiar from when they were broadcast by major news stations. Unsure of whether or not Chernov would survive long enough to pass on his footage, he shot as much as he could day-in and day-out, resulting in this numbing, relentless compilation of anguish and death. As a documentary, there isn't exactly a unifying idea to 20 Days in Mariupol, with Chernov's narration only meant to provide necessary context and a foreboding score that probably didn't have to impose itself as much as it does.

And yet it's hard to deny the importance of the very existence of this footage, especially in a time when genocide is occurring elsewhere in the world with far fewer cameras on the ground to counter the denialist propaganda of those in power. Chernov's decision to let the images speak for themselves, without feeling the need to dissect every major moment for political analysis, isn't reductive; it's a statement that nothing can rationalize the indiscriminate killing of civilians and children. That the footage becomes overwhelming and hard to watch isn't a reason for us to look away.

Genre: Documentary, War

Director: Mstyslav Chernov

Rating: NR

Bank of Dave is a simple but well-told film that feels utterly satisfying from start to end. Dave is the little guy who only wants to give back to his community, but stopping him from achieving his noble goals are the big guys in suits with vested interests and too narrow a focus to appreciate the good that Dave is after. The film is David versus Goliath, countryside versus cityside, socialist versus capitalist (or, if you like, ethical capitalism versus unethical capitalism). You know who will triumph in the end, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall enjoyability. The dialogue is smart and stirring, and you can’t help but root for the film’s small heroes to win big. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrian Lukis, Angus Wright, Cathy Tyson, Drew Cain, Florence Hall, Freddie Bolt, Harry Michell, Hopi Grace, Hugh Bonneville, Jo Hartley, Joe Elliott, Joel Fry, Naomi Battrick, Paul Kaye, Phil Collen, Philip Gascoyne, Phoebe Dynevor, Rick Allen, Rick Savage, Roger Morlidge, Rory Kinnear, Steve Edge, Vivian Campbell

Director: Chris Foggin

Rating: PG-13

One wouldn't expect to see Count Dracula's youthful-looking helper at your local 12-step self-help group for people in codependent relationships, but Renfield holds more than one surprise up its sleeve. By translating the working relationship (or master-slave, since the latter doesn't get any pay) into the vocabulary of common relationship counselling parlance, the film actually elevates its symbolic status. Even more, I'd dare call it a hoot. Not that many vampire films have managed to make a proper comedy out of the figure in question, and Renfield with its simplistic appeal puts to shame even the artsy Netflix production El Conde, which also came out earlier this year. With Awkwafina in the mix and iconic lines such as "I don't want your murder cookies", how can you resist?

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Adrian Martinez, Anil Bajaj, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Bess Rous, Betsy Borrego, Brandon Scott Jones, Brian Egland, Camille Chen, Caroline Williams, Chloe Adona, Christopher Winchester, Derek Russo, Gabriel 'G-Rod' Rodriguez, James Moses Black, Jenna Kanell, Joshua Mikel, Keith Brooks, Lacey Dover, Lena Clark, Lucy Faust, Marcus Lewis |, Marvin Ross, Mike Harkins, Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage, Rhonda Johnson Dents, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Stephen Louis Grush, Susan McPhail, T.C. Matherne, William Ragsdale

Director: Chris McKay

Rating: R

, 2023

More shooting and spectacle than story, Sisu is a stunningly shot and unapologetically gory action film set at the tail end of World War II in Finland. It follows former commando turned prospector Aatami (nicknamed "Koschei" or immortal by the Russians) as he retrieves his stolen gold from the Nazis who've occupied and pillaged the nearby town.  

Not much happens in the way of plot, but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up for in action, which easily matches the likes of John Wick. In fact, Aatami is a kind of John Wick with his undefeatable killer moves and trusty dog pal—a reprieve of cute in a sea of endless carnage. But in the long list of grindhouse movies, Sisu distinguishes itself as astutely patriotic. Of course, it's hard not to root for anyone going against Nazis, but Sisu compels you to its side in subtle but powerful ways. 

You'll be reminded of John Wick, Mad Max, and many a Tarantino film watching Sisu, but you'll be struck by the film's singular hero, a stand-in for a nation unwilling to give up in the face of oppression. 

Genre: Action, Drama, Horror, War

Actor: Aamu Milonoff, Aksel Hennie, Arttu Kapulainen, Elina Saarela, Ilkka Koivula, Jack Doolan, Joel Hirvonen, Jorma Tommila, Max Ovaska, Mila Leppälä, Mimosa Willamo, Onni Tommila, Pekka Huotari, Severi Saarinen, Tatu Sinisalo, Vincent Willestrand, Wilhelm Enckell

Director: Jalmari Helander

Rating: R

With a new, fast-paced media landscape, Call Me Chihiro might feel too slow for people new to the story. Composed of serene, slice-of-life moments, the film starts off feeling plotless, as the titular protagonist builds random interactions with the townspeople. She makes friends with people who seemingly don’t have much in common with her. Despite this, each interaction feels meaningful and genuine, thanks to the subtle acting of Kasumi Arimura. And as these scenes build up, and Chihiro’s friends begin to become friends with each other, these day-to-day moments form a character study of a lonely woman whose kindness and appreciation for life make her feel so admirable. For those wistful Sunday nights, Call Me Chihiro might be a great watch, but only if you’re in that certain mood.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Fusako Urabe, Hana Toyoshima, Itsuki Nagasawa, Jun Fubuki, Kasumi Arimura, Keiichi Suzuki, Lily Franky, Mitsuru Hirata, Miwako Ichikawa, Ryuya Wakaba, Shigeo Ôsako, Toshie Negishi, Van, Wakaba Ryuuya, Yoichiro Saito, Yui Sakuma

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Rating: R, TV-14