9 Movies Like Down by Law (1986)

Staff & contributors
Whilst a classic in some circles, Festen is many things, but it's definitely not mainstream entertainment. It was shot by Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, who founded the Dogme 95 movement together with Lars von Trier in 1995, which sought to put the auteur director back at the heart of filmmaking, as opposed to the power of the studios or special effects. This was the first movie to come out from that group. You thought your family was messed up? Think again. This macabre, Poe-esque, gut-wrenching tale of debauchery will leave you feeling confused and slightly nauseous. This effect is exacerbated by Winterberg's directing style and the crazy camerawork of Anthony Dod Mantle. With a highly volatile tone and a great cast, the effect Festen has on you is not easily shaken off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Birgitte Simonsen, Birthe Neumann, Bjarne Henriksen, Erna Boas, Gbatokai Dakinah, Helle Dolleris, Henning Moritzen, Klaus Bondam, Lars Brygmann, Lasse Lunderskov, Lene Laub Oksen, Linda Laursen, Paprika Steen, Therese Glahn, Thomas Bo Larsen, Thomas Vinterberg, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

Martin Scorsese had just spent a year prepping for The Last Temptation of Christ when Paramount Pictures unceremoniously pulled the plug on the movie just one month before production was due to start. After Hours was Scorsese’s way of exorcising all that disappointment and frustration, and you can feel it: this black comedy vibrates with manic intensity as it charts a night from hell in the life of Paul (Griffin Dunne), a somewhat scuzzy yuppie living in ‘80s New York City.

In keeping with its title — which suggests the movie is suspended in temporal limbo — After Hours feels like it takes place in some mythological hellscape, a demonic underworld in which everyone Paul meets has been sent forth with the express mission to make his life more miserable. Surreal coincidences pile up, deepening his paranoia and turning his simple goal of returning home into a labyrinthine quest for survival on the deserted, rain-soaked streets of SoHo. It’s the kind of celluloid nightmare that terrorizes and thrills you at the same time (a la the Safdie brothers’ best works, which draw inspiration from After Hours). Only a director of Scorsese’s caliber could turn profound professional disappointment into such a win as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bronson Pinchot, Catherine O'Hara, Charles Scorsese, Cheech Marin, Clarence Felder, Dick Miller, Frank Aquilino, Griffin Dunne, Henry Judd Baker, John Heard, Larry Block, Linda Fiorentino, Margo Winkler, Martin Scorsese, Murray Moston, Paula Raflo, Robin Johnson, Rocco Sisto, Rockets Redglare, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Tommy Chong, Verna Bloom, Victor Argo, Victor Magnotta, Will Patton

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch's best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It's really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I've rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Gianni Schettini, Isaach De Bankolé, Jaakko Talaskivi, Kari Väänänen, Klaus Heydemann, Lisanne Falk, Matti Pellonpää, Paolo Bonacelli, Pascal N'Zonzi, Richard Boes, Roberto Benigni, Romolo Di Biasi, Rosie Perez, Sakari Kuosmanen, Stéphane Boucher, Tomi Salmela, Winona Ryder

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

An instant essential film in the Jim Jarmusch catalog. In his traditional directing fashion, Paterson disregards plot and instead finds inspiration in deconstructing the seemingly mundane aspects of life. Adam Driver stars as a bus driver and amateur poet who leads a content life staying away from change as much as possible. His girlfriend, Laura (played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), is the complete opposite: eager to be creative, to explore new paths, and to decorate and design every object in her life. Jarmusch takes these two characters, adds only a few others, and makes a movie that celebrates similar so-called simple lives, reaching surprising levels of beauty. Again, not much happens in terms of plot, and the pace is slow. But if you are interested in the kind of movie that will let you into people's lives, you will love Paterson.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Driver, Barry Shabaka Henley, Brian McCarthy, Chasten Harmon, Frank Harts, Golshifteh Farahani, Helen-Jean Arthur, Jaden Michael, Jared Gilman, Johnnie Mae, Jorge Vega, Kara Hayward, Luis Da Silva Jr., Masatoshi Nagase, Method Man, Nellie, Owen Asztalos, Rizwan Manji, Sophia Muller, Sterling Jerins, William Jackson Harper

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Two misfits, an immigrant and a traveling cook, team up to start an unlikely enterprise in this slow but captivating drama. The story, set in 19th century Pacific Northwest, evolves around the arrival of the first cow to that part of the world. This presents a unique opportunity that the two main characters try to benefit from. 

First Cow is a mix between a Western and a modern-day plot-less indie drama.  It has likable characters, stunning scenery, and a fascinating look into how social outcasts lived back then.

Genre: Drama, History, Western

Actor: Alia Shawkat, Dylan Smith, Eric Martin Reid, Ewen Bremner, Gary Farmer, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Jeb Berrier, John Keating, John Magaro, Kevin-Michael Moore, Lily Gladstone, Mary Ann Perreira, Mitchell Saddleback, Orion Lee, Patrick D. Green, Phelan Davis, Rene Auberjonois, Scott Shepherd, T. Dan Hopkins, Ted Rooney, Toby Jones, Todd A. Robinson

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: PG-13

Jim Jarmusch’s latest film is the story of a pair of vampires, Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), married for thousand of years and living thousands of miles apart, subsequently reunited in modern-day Detroit to find Hiddleston in state of disrepair and depression. Their lives are shaken up by the sudden appearance of Swinton’s wayward young vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) that sets their lives into tumult. It's the type of evenly-paced and wryly amusing dramedy that only Jarmusch could craft. I loved the atmosphere and sensibility of this film, not to mention the various literary allusions along with the dark, somber soundtrack. Less of a narrative and more of a modern-day-vampire-slice-of-life, this is one of those films that gets under skin and stays awhile (and not in a bad way).

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ali Amine, Anton Yelchin, Aurélie Thépaut, Carter Logan, Ego Sensation, Jeffrey Wright, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Slimane Dazi, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Wayne Brinston, Yasmine Hamdan

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Leave it to a master filmmaker like Krzysztof Kieślowski—known for the Three Colours Trilogy, The Double Life of Veronique, and the miniseries Dekalog (whose sixth episode was expanded into this film)—to take a premise as banal as that of a peeping tom and to turn it into something mysterious and poignant. There are definitely still parts to this story that may not hold up to scrutiny, like its belief in a romantic/spiritual connection that rewards the immature man for barging into a woman's life. In different hands, this subject matter would just be creepy. In Kieślowski's, the loneliness of these characters takes full shape.

As young postal clerk Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) quickly admits his spying to the older and more jaded Magda (Grażyna Szapołowska), the two are drawn to each other with a combination of fear, pity, and lust. And what Kieślowski does—with the help of cinematographer Witold Adamek's stunning, intimate frames; and his cast's subdued sorrow—is move the film away from concerns about consent and control, and to tell a story about what it means to truly be seen and acknowledged by another person. In an existence made up of meaningless routine and temporary relationships, seeing someone else at their most vulnerable feels like lightning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Artur Barciś, Grażyna Szapołowska, Olaf Lubaszenko, Piotr Machalica, Stanisław Gawlik, Stefania Iwińska

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

How does a standout director follow up to a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? With a more profound exploration of style, a further exploration of his originality. Gael Garcia Bernal (who you might know from Y Tu Mama Tambien) plays an imaginative but awkward kind of guy who falls for his cute neighbor, played Charlotte Gainsbourg. Bizarre and whimsical dream sequences follow and a sweet, if hesitant, love story unfolds. An eccentric, funny and very French movie (with most scenes in English).  

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Alain Chabat, Aurelia Petit, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Emma de Caunes, Eric Mariotto, Gael García Bernal, Jean-Michel Bernard, Miou-Miou, Pierre Vaneck, Sacha Bourdo, Stephane Metzger, Yvette Petit

Director: Michel Gondry

Rating: R

A deadpan anthology of three interconnected stories set in a run-down hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The film's deliberate pacing, minimalist approach, and observational style are present throughout, capturing the essence of each character and their encounters with the city. 

Director Jim Jarmusch's indie film displays its characters' quirks and desires, all underlined with a love letter to Elvis Presley. Each unique segment has some charm, humor, and soundtrack that creates a palpable sense of time and place even if the sum displaces the overall narrative.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Calvin Brown, Elizabeth Bracco, Jim Stark, Jodie Markell, Joe Strummer, Masatoshi Nagase, Nicoletta Braschi, Richard Boes, Rick Aviles, Rockets Redglare, Rufus Thomas, Sara Driver, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Tom Noonan, Tom Waits, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Youki Kudoh

Director: Jim Jarmusch