23 Movies Like Come True (2020)

Staff & contributors

Even a straightforward documentary on the New York East Village visual artist David Wonjarowicz (pronounced VOY-nuh-ROH-vitch) would be thrilling, given the energy and the irreverence of his artworks especially during the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to the 1990s. But director Chris McKim goes above and beyond, essentially imagining how Wojnarowicz would have directed his own film. McKim treats the movie like a collage in itself, expertly blending footage and sound together not just to capture the artist's fury, but to remember how deeply he loved, transcending space and sickness. As an account of the underground New York art scene at the time, a profile on a supposed enfant terrible, and a tribute to all those who lost their lives to a disease accelerated by discrimination, Wojnarowicz is a beautiful, complex tapestry.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin

Director: Chris McKim

To plenty of countries around the globe, democracy has become so ubiquitous that we forget it’s relatively new, at least relative to the rest of human history. Bhutan is one of the last countries that became a democracy, and writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji chose to depict a slice of how they made the shift in The Monk and the Gun. As Tashi sets out to obtain two weapons for his mentor, and Ron seeks a specific antique gun, Dorji presents slice-of-life moments of the beautiful Bhutan countryside, intercut with the subtle ways tradition still persists amidst modernity, and the funny ways change can clash with culture. It’s no wonder The Monk and the Gun was chosen as the Bhutanese entry for the Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Choeying Jatsho, Deki Lhamo, Pema Zangmo Sherpa, Tandin Sonam, Tandin Wangchuk

Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji

This documentary from journalist David Farrier, New Zealand’s answer to Louis Theroux, plays more like an out-and-out horror movie. But don’t be fooled by the serial killer connotations of its title — the real Mister Organ’s crimes are (mostly) psychological and have no obvious motive, making him quite a bit scarier than your usual screen villain. Described as a “parasite,” “terrorist,” and a “black hole” by the few traumatized victims of his who agree to talk on record about him, Organ is clearly a master at weaving a sticky web around everyone who comes near him — including, as it turns out, Farrier himself, who soon becomes a casualty of his own investigation.   Though the doc never really punctures the nebulous aura of this deeply creepy — and yet somehow deeply dull — character, that’s what makes it such an arresting watch: Farrier takes us along for the ride as he’s sucked into the disorienting orbit of an energy vampire, largely denying us the relief of a clarifying explanation so that we, too, get a taste of the claustrophobia and psychological torture that come with dealing firsthand with someone like Organ.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: David Farrier, Michael Organ

Director: David Farrier

Biographical documentaries tend to depict exceptional people– people who are so great that everyone wants to know about them, and people who are so terrible that they serve as a warning. Great Photo, Lovely Life depicts a serial sexual abuser in photojournalist Amanda Mustard’s family, able to get away with nearly all his crimes each time he skips over state lines. It’s not an easy film. It’s deeply uncomfortable. There are certain interviews that will trigger anger, despair, and bewilderment over how someone so evil can remain out of bars all his life. Great Photo, Lovely Life doesn’t provide any easy, comforting sequence as a balm to sexual abuse survivors around the world, but it’s an urgent reminder of the consequences of maintaining silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Amanda Mustard

Director: Amanda Mustard, Rachel Beth Anderson

Mike Leigh’s films have always touched on class politics, but seldom as directly as in this lowkey portrait of Thatcher-era London. Cyril and Shirley are a sweet working-class couple at a crossroads in their relationship. Their lifestyle is contrasted with Cyril’s sister and her husband who exist in a more comfortable middle-class setting, and then paralleled again with an upper-class couple living next door from Cyril’s mother. 

Even at this early stage of his career Leigh gracefully entwines these stories to create a moving and coherent narrative. ‘High Hopes’ as a title might be largely sarcastic, but the film is full-hearted and occasionally even optimistic as it strides its snarky way through the grim facades of 80s London.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Cheryl Prime, David Bamber, Diane-Louise Jordan, Edna Doré, Heather Tobias, Jason Watkins, Judith Scott, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Phil Davis, Philip Jackson, Ruth Sheen

Director: Mike Leigh

Alexander Sokurov might best be known for Russian Ark, his grand single-take jaw-dropper featuring over 2,000 actors. In a way, Mother and Son is the exact opposite, featuring only two, and instead of traversing hundreds of years of history, it wades through a singular moment in time. This intimate and hypnotic piece of slow cinema trails a son taking care of his dying mother out in the beautiful countryside.

Sokurov’s frames mirror impressionist paintings, while the mix of slow movement and sparse dialogue creates heartbreaking poetry. So many films casually employ death like a light-switch - on and off and out of mind. Sokurov instead confronts it as a corrosive force that bends time to its will and pulls both the dying and the grieving into its grasp.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aleksei Ananishnov

Director: Aleksandr Sokurov

This fascinating documentary traces the roots of freestyling back to the rhythmic sermons of Baptist preachers, the improvisational energy of jazz music, and the spoken word artistry of the civil rights era’s Last Poets — but, like the form of rap it chronicles, it largely exists in the moment. The ephemeral nature of freestyling makes it a tricky thing to bottle, but The Art of Rhyme does so by mimicking the freewheeling energy of the MCs onscreen. And there are many legends of the medium featured here: from underground titans like Supernatural and Craig G (whose epic battles are shown here) to big names who crossed over into recording success like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and even precious footage of a 17-year-old Notorious BIG. It’s as enlightening as you’d hope, but what makes this documentary such an impressive portrait of freestyle are all the ways it mirrors the impulsive, quick-thinking philosophy of the form in little over an hour.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Akim Funk Buddah, Bahamadia, Bobbito Garcia, Boots Riley, Debi Mazar, DJ Kool Herc, Eluard Burt, John Coltrane, Muhammad Ali, Planet Asia, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Yasiin Bey

Director: Kevin Fitzgerald

After years of documentaries covering Thailand’s controversial issues, some of which have been temporarily banned by the Ministry of Culture, Nontawat Numbenchapol takes a step into feature film in Doi Boy. The plot covers plenty of the topics he’s previously depicted– immigration, prostitution, and corruption– but it unfolds naturally into a slow-paced, but moving drama where an undocumented sex worker tries to find home. Awat Ratanapintha as Sorn excellently leads this journey, but Arak Amornsupasiri as reluctant cop Ji, and Bhumibhat Thavornsiri as passionate activist Wuth also make their mark. While the film doesn’t delve into the intricate intersectionality, it feels like that’s part of the point. The notion of a nation doesn’t care about people’s dreams, even if that dream is for the nation to be better.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Arak Amornsupasiri, Awat Ratanapintha, Bhumibhat Thavornsiri, Ornjira Lamwilai, Panisara Rikulsurakan, Teerawat Mulvilai

Director: Nontawat Numbenchapol

Robert lies dying in hospital, an activist still raging against the lack of financial support and mainstream acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis. David volunteers to be his “buddy” while he’s bedbound, keeping him company and conversing. He’s less bothered by how the world treats homosexuality and AIDS, and although he commits to sticking by Robert, he’s doubtful of the need for his protests.

The film is firmly on Robert’s side, giving him space to shout and show frustration. What’s more, Buddies never treats sex as dirty or dangerous, allowing it to be something in which gay people find joy and solace, refusing to cast it as shameful. By the end of the decade, Geoff Edholm, who played Robert, and director Arthur J. Bressan Jr. had both lost their lives to the pandemic. It’s a snapshot of hospital rooms across the world, which were often hidden from sight, as a community was left to fend for itself, unsupported. David comes to understand.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: David Rose, David Schachter, Geoff Edholm, Tracy Vivat

Director: Arthur J. Bressan Jr.

Rating: Not Rated

Somewhere near the border between Russia and Ukraine lies a shelter for kids coming from unstable homes. Their parents, either alcoholics or abusers, have nine months to prove that they’re fit to look after their children; otherwise, the kids are sent straight to the orphanage, with no chance of a goodbye. A House Made of Splinters is a documentary that quietly and closely follows the shelter’s occupants amid growing joys and pains, not to mention the ever-present danger of war.

Perhaps one of the most striking things about A House Made of Splinters is how attuned it is to the kids. It serves as a reminder of their immense sensitivity and observational skills (more than once, you’ll hear a child assess their home situation in the calmest of manners), as well as their clever ingenuity (there’s a lot of playing going on despite everything, which is heartwarming to watch.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont

Focusing on the personal over the global, 76 Days serves as a valuable reminder for generations to come, of the catastrophic human cost of a pandemic. The film's directors (including one or more filmmakers who have had to keep themselves anonymous) take an entirely boots-on-the-ground approach in Wuhan, China. Together they find both humanity and the loss of humanity in these individual cases of COVID that are stalled by small inconveniences or a general lack of understanding of the disease. And all of this confusion is punctuated by the humbling fact that we never see the nurses' faces. It's a harrowing watch, but it tells us everything we need to know about how much assistance our health workers need and the kind of superhuman things they're tasked with doing every single day.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Hao Wu, Weixi Chen

Is courage still courage when you have no choices left? What do you do when you're pressed to the wall and have no way to go? Maria, a pretty, modest and hardworking girl living in a small Colombian town, where the only career choice (thus not being a choice, really) is working in a floral plant, packing and distributing flowers - a dead-end job with killer hours and zero-tolerance boss. Yet, it's money. Until the day Maria gets pregnant and her choices become even more limited. By accident, she makes acquaintance with a guy who turns out to be her way out - and the way is out to become a drug mule, transporting drugs in your stomach across the border to the American soil. A job dangerous in many aspects, illegal and potentially deadly, but also paid well. Maria decides to take the only way out, a way that may be a one-way street. Maria Full of Grace is a gut-wrenching story about survival in a seemingly hopeless situation. It's about taking that one chance that has all the potential to go south, and investing in it all the hope you have left, and all the survival instinct you have in your heart and soul. And when everything that could go bad does, and everything turns from bad to worse beyond imagination, it's about standing strong and not giving up, no matter what. Though technically not a documentary, it's real beyond belief, and you can be sure Colombia is full of Marias - just hoping for a decent life, ready to sacrifice the very life itself to obtain it. It's a masterpiece of its genre and it also boasts one of the best posters in the history of the cinema. Highly recommended.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Charles Albert Patiño, Guilied Lopez, Jaime Osorio Gómez, Jhon Álex Toro, Johanna Andrea Mora, John Álex Toro, Orlando Tobón, Patricia Rae, Selenis Leyva, Victor Macias

Director: Joshua Marston

Rating: R

Partially based on the 860-page memoir, "A White House Diary", and on the actual audio recordings Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson made during her time as first lady, The Lady Bird Diaries is an intimate reworking of a past we still know very little about. Told from the vantage point of First Lady Johnson candidly and in detail, the audio track shapes the whole film. All the archival footage is nicely complemented by hand-drawn animations to fit the missing images, but all the visuals are always in service of the narration. In this way, the documentary becomes a piece of history and an archive in itself, its illustrative functions – a crucial storytelling tool for posteriority.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Dawn Porter

If you've never encountered Beth Stelling before, it might take some getting used to before her brand of comedy really hits. Her routine in this special isn't necessarily built around huge punchlines, animated delivery, or edgy subject matter. But there's plenty of oddly specific detail to her many, many anecdotes that gradually begins to feel warm and easy to connect with, whether or not you've ever been to Ohio. Stelling usually comments on the absurdity of many of these details herself—which, surprisingly, never ruins the joke but helps invite the audience in closer. Her storytelling is consistently engaging all throughout, painting this easygoing outlook on life, which just happens to be punctuated by the most bizarre memories that still remind us of the people we're fondest of.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Beth Stelling

Director: Mo Welch

Rating: R

Borrowing heavily from yakuza films of the past, The Blood of Wolves feels like a movie plucked straight out of the 1970s and given a slick coat of 2010s neo-noir shine. The film never tries to reinvent the recipe it's working with, but it doesn't have to when its violence is still satisfyingly brutal, its plot endlessly twisty, and its morality grey. At the center is a brash and sleazy performance from the great Koji Yakusho, whom you can never really clock as being in control or out of his depth. It might only hold special value for hardcore fans of the genre, but it provides enough solid thrills for the more casual viewer.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Abe Junko, Eiji Takigawa, Gorō Ibuki, Hajime Inoue, Issei Okihara, Joey Iwanaga, Junko Abe, Katsuya, Ken'ichi Yajima, Kenichi Takito, Kenichi Takitoh, Kōji Yakusho, Kyūsaku Shimada, Marie Machida, Megumi, Pierre Taki, Renji Ishibashi, Ryuji Sainei, Shidô Nakamura, Shun Nakayama, Takahiro Kuroishi, Takaki Uda, Takamitsu Nonaka, Taketo Tanaka, Takuma Otoo, Taro Suruga, Tomorowo Taguchi, Tomoya Nakamura, Tori Matsuzaka, Yôko Maki, Yosuke Eguchi, Yutaka Takenouchi

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi