10 Movies Like Django Unchained (2012) On Criterionchannel

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Martin Bell documents the lives of youth living in the streets of Seattle in the early eighties with profound empathy. It's a type of filmmaking that doesn’t judge or condescend, but seeks to capture the humanity of its subjects. The result is a film bursting with life and laughter, and although tragedy lurks around every corner it isn’t over-sentimentalized or exploited, taking a backseat to the compassionate depiction of everyday moments. 

The audience is left to its own devices to pull together the extent to which these youth have been failed by a broken safety-net and the expired promise of an American dream. These ideas rise to the surface naturally and serve as a testament to the power of the documentary form when it’s loosened from the grip of mawkish narrators and sugary moralizing.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dewayne Pomeroy, Lulu Couch, Roberta Joseph Hayes

Director: Martin Bell

La Cérémonie is the kind of thriller you can watch repeatedly and glean new insight from each time. Right from its first scene, there’s something puzzling about the buttoned-up Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) that narrows your focus and pulls you in. What’s remarkable is that, even after the secret Sophie's keeping that seems to explain her strangeness is revealed, our intrigue never dips. Director Claude Chabrol and his cast construct a gripping twin character study and biting social commentary around that initial hook, as Sophie finds a kindred spirit in the equally uncanny Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), who opens her eyes to the slyly patronizing way Sophie’s employers treat her.

The film’s study of class relations is always subtle, never veering into over-pronounced territory. That much is clear from the fact that, although some of Sophie’s employer’s family are quite likable, you still understand the ways they’re inextricably embroiled in the film’s quiet indictment of the power dynamics that rule this lofty mansion. More nuance comes by way of the strikingly nonchalant ways evil is depicted in La Cérémonie — just another example of the movie turning something expected (violence is foreshadowed early on) into something that remains viscerally shocking, no matter how many times you watch it.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Christophe Lemoine, David Gabison, Dominique Frot, Isabelle Huppert, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-François Perrier, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Julien Rochefort, Sandrine Bonnaire, Valentin Merlet, Virginie Ledoyen

Director: Claude Chabrol

Rating: NR

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 drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Freeman, Camille Paglia, Cheryl Clarke, Cheryl Dunye, David Rakoff, Guinevere Turner, Irene Dunye, Lisa Marie Bronson, Sarah Schulman

Director: Cheryl Dunye

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer, François Wertheimer

Director: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda

Rating: 0, Not Rated

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: 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

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: Dan Herzberg, Denis Lavant, Gianfranco Poddighe, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor, Mickael Ravovski, Nicolas Duvauchelle

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

Before The Rain is a very intriguing and unique film, to say the least. Its cyclical narrative structure may not be for everyone, it will puzzle most, leaving some in wonder while others fume at the illogicality of it all.

While the film's general production values have not aged very well, its intercut story of war and romance is a timeless one, makes this film one that is essential viewing for all international cinema lovers, and serves as a great introduction to Macedonian cinema as a whole.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Abdurrahman Shala, Aleksandar Mikic, Daniel Newman, Džemail Maksut, Gabrielle Hamilton, Grégoire Colin, Ilko Stefanovski, Jay Villiers, Josif Josifovski, Katerina Kocevska, Katrin Cartlidge, Kiril Ristoski, Labina Mitevska, Meto Jovanovski, Milica Stojanova, Mladen Krstevski, Petar Mirčevski, Peter Needham, Phyllida Law, Rade Serbedzija, Rod Woodruff, Silvija Stojanovska

Director: Milcho Manchevski

Rating: Not Rated

Dheepan is a French film from the director of A Prophet. It contrasts elements of Sri Lankan and French culture to provide interesting insights into both, while crafting a heart-wrenching and heartwarming tale of makeshift families in unimaginable circumstances. Like A Prophet, Dheepan makes occasional and shocking use of violence to underscore elements of culture and illuminate the inner workings of the characters. A fascinating and exhilarating movie, winner of the 2015 Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Aymen Saïdi, Bass Dhem, Claudine Vinasithamby, Faouzi Bensaidi, Franck Falise, Jean-Baptiste Pouilloux, Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Joséphine de Meaux, Joséphine de Meaux, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Marc Zinga, Sandor Funtek, Soufiane Guerrab, Tassadit Mandi, Vincent Rottiers

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: R

A wonderful homage to the woman, actress, and mother based largely on her own archives and interviews with her four children. Bergman was an avid photographer, filmographer and letter writer. What emerges is a loving portrait of an adventurous, driven, complex, and loving woman. Not to be missed.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Alan Marshal, Alberto Sordi, Aldo Fabrizi, Alfred Hitchcock, Alicia Vikander, Alma Reville, Anatole Litvak, Anna Magnani, Anthony Perkins, Cary Grant, Cecil Parker, Clark Gable, Ed Sullivan, Ernest Borgnine, Fiorella Mariani, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Ingmar Bergman, Ingrid Bergman, Isabella Rossellini, Isotta Rossellini, Jack Weston, Jean Renoir, Jeanine Basinger, Jennifer Jones, Liv Ullmann, Lyle Talbot, Mel Ferrer, Merv Griffin, Mervyn LeRoy, Pia Lindström, Roberto Rossellini, Sigourney Weaver, Spencer Tracy, Victor Fleming, Ward Bond, Yul Brynner

Director: Stig Björkman

Rating: Not Rated