30 Movies Like Encanto (2021)

Staff & contributors

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

, 2021

Celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest movie is about Rahim, a man who is in jail because he was unable to repay a debt. He gets a temporary release from prison, and with a big smile on his face, he leaves his confinement with a plan not to come back.

His secret girlfriend hands him a pack of gold coins, which they plan to sell to repay the creditor. But, as is custom with Farhadi’s movies, the center of the story is a moral dilemma that comes from one of the characters trying to be a good person. The gold coins are not Rahim’s or his girlfriend’s, but it's life-changing for both of them. 

Selected as Iran's official submission to the Oscars. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Ali Reza Jahandideh, Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Farrokh Nourbakht, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Maryam Shahdaie, Mohsen Tanabande, Sarina Farhadi

Director: Asghar Farhadi

, 2021

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Michelle N. Carter, Reed Birney

Director: Fran Kranz

, 2021

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Bo Asdal Andersen, Daniel Karimyar, Elaha Faiz, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Jean-Pierre Pernaut, Mikhail Belinson, Milad Eskandari, Rashid Aitouganov, Tormod Ringnes

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Rating: PG-13

Following a group of journalists uncovering an entire architecture of institutional corruption in Romania, Collective makes for an inspiring watch—not just because these people are pursuing a story outside their usual wheelhouse, but because their enemy really is so much greater than they can handle. Yet they continue chipping away, never once backing down from speaking truth to power. Director Alexander Nanau understandably might not have much access to the government's side, but he still manages to portray them as an ever-present, omnipotent invisible force, giving the film a thick atmosphere of dread and paranoia. But still, in the face of such overwhelming odds, the best thing to do is refuse to be scared into silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Tedy Ursuleanu

Director: Alexander Nanau

Rating: Not Rated

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they're the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Chris McCurry, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Conor MacNeill, Drew Dillon, Elly Condron, Gerard Horan, Gerard McCarthy, James O'Donnell, Jamie Dornan, John Sessions, Josie Walker, Jude Hill, Judi Dench, Kit Rakusen, Lara McDonnell, Leonard Buckley, Mairéad Tyers, Mark Hadfield, Michael Maloney, Olive Tennant, Oliver Savell, Orla McDonagh, Sid Sagar, Turlough Convery, Vanessa Ifediora, Victor Alli

Director: Kenneth Branagh

The Hand of God is the autobiographical movie from Paolo Sarrantino, the director of the 2013 masterpiece The Great Beauty. He recently also directed The Young Pope with Jude Law and Youth Paul Dano, both in English. He is back to his home Italy with this one. 

More precisely, he’s in his hometown Naples, in the 1980s, where awkward teenager Fabietto Schisa’s life is about to change: his city’s soccer team Napoli is buying the biggest footballer at the time, Diego Maradona.

Sarrantino, who is also from Naples, made this movie that is half a tribute to the city and half to what it meant growing up around the legend of Maradona.

The Hand of God is to Sarrantino what Roma was to Alfonso Cuarón, except it’s more vulgar, fun, and excessive. It is equally as personal though, and it goes from comedy to tragedy and back with unmatched ease.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alessandro Bressanello, Alfonso Perugini, Betti Pedrazzi, Birte Berg, Ciro Capano, Cristiana Dell'Anna, Daniele Vicorito, Dora Romano, Enzo De Caro, Filippo Scotti, Lino Musella, Luisa Ranieri, Marina Viro, Marlon Joubert, Massimiliano Gallo, Monica Nappo, Renato Carpentieri, Sofya Gershevich, Teresa Saponangelo, Toni Servillo

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

All the synopses going around the internet won’t fail to let you know that The Falls takes place at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The film is certainly marketed that way, with commercial posters featuring the leads in ubiquitous face masks, socially distanced from the blurred crowd. 

But interestingly, The Falls is not just a situational, pandemic-era story. More than anything else, it tells the story of Pin-wen and Xiao Jing, mother and daughter who, despite previously living a life of comfort, are now dealt with unfavorable circumstances (exacerbated but not entirely caused by the pandemic). Now, they are forced to navigate life with only each other, and it’s in the isolation they instate from the rest of the world do they forge a genuine and heartwrenching bond any and all family members will immediately recognize and perhaps even sympathize with. 

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Alyssa Chia, Chen Yiwen, Gingle Wang, Guan-Ting Liu, Huang Hsin-Yao, Kuan-Ting Liu, Lee-zen Lee, Liang-Tso Liu, Shao-Huai Chang, Shau-Ching Sung, Tiffany Hsu, Waa Wei, Yang Li-yin, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Rating: Not Rated

If Steven Spielberg had just decided to do a straightforward cover version of West Side Story, it still would have been a wonder of music, movement, and color. But more than the lush camerawork and impassioned performances from Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, this adaptation is most memorable for its renewed focus on the senselessness of its central turf war. Here, New York City exercises absolute power over the Jets and the Sharks, rendering all this gang violence as a futile attempt to hold on to outdated values in the face of economic desolation. Spielberg might not be able to do much about the story's weaker Romeo and Juliet-inspired parts, but he still finds a way to let this often ridiculed tragic romance serve a greater purpose.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Ana Isabelle, Andrea Burns, Andy Powers, Annelise Cepero, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Ben Cook, Bert Michaels, Brian d'Arcy James, Chryssie Whitehead, Corey Stoll, Curtiss Cook, David Alvarez, David Guzman, Denia Brache, Ilda Mason, iris menas, Jamie Harris, Jamila Velazquez, Jeff Ward, Joe Lanza, José Ramón Rosario, Josh Andrés Rivera, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Allen, Maddie Ziegler, Mike Faist, Mike Massimino, Myles Erlick, Nadia Quinn, Natalie Toro, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Patrick Noonan, Paul Niebanck, Rachel Zegler, Reginald L. Barnes, Rene Ojeda, Ricky Garcia, Rita Moreno, Ryan Woodle, Sean Harrison Jones, Shade Rupe, Talia Ryder, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Victor Cruz, Yassmin Alers

Director: Steven Spielberg

, 2021

This offbeat drama is about a Syrian refugee who gets sent to a remote island in northern Scotland. “There was a better signal in the middle of the Mediterranean,” another refugee tells him when he arrives. Omar is as the title suggests stuck: until his asylum request is processed he can't work or continue his journey onwards. His situation is frustrating and difficult, but it's also full of absurdities, as Omar is stuck around some very weird people.

Limbo perfectly portrays the duality between sad and nonsensical in the refugee experience. In the entrance to the isolated and rundown facility that houses Omar, a handmade sign said "refugees welcome". The next day a "not" is added between "refugees" and "welcome", in the exact same paint. 

If you like Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's work, this has a similar brand of dark humor to his also refugee-themed 2017 drama The Other Side of Hope.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amir El-Masry, Amir ElMasry, Cameron Fulton, Ellie Haddington, Grace Chilton, Kais Nashif, Kenneth Collard, Kwabena Ansah, Lewis Gribben, Ola Orebiyi, Qais Nashif, Sanjeev Kohli, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Sodienye Ojewuyi, Vikash Bhai

Director: Ben Sharrock

Rating: R

Even if you aren't familiar with the original, Tony Award-winning Broadway production from Lin-Manuel Miranda, this adaptation of In the Heights is still infused with the same infectious energy and loaded with many of the same eclectic songs. This is musical theater at its most fundamental (cheesy, us-against-the-world romance; unstoppable optimism) and also at some of its most unique—with old-school Broadway numbers mixing seamlessly with hip hop, Latin dance, and cheery 2000s pop. But beyond its music, In the Heights offers a gorgeous tapestry of stories about life in a proud immigrant community and the challenges of staying rooted to home while reaching for the stars.

Genre: Drama, Family, Music, Romance

Actor: Anthony Ramos, Ariana Greenblatt, Christopher Jackson, Corey Hawkins, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanco, Dean Scott Vazquez, Gregory Diaz IV, Javier Muñoz, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, Mateo Gómez, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Olivia Perez, Patrick Page, Ryan Woodle, Seth Stewart, Stephanie Beatriz, Susan Pourfar, The Kid Mero, Valentina

Director: Jon M. Chu

Based on the true story of the last French woman executed by guillotine, Story of Women depicts wartime survival under the Vichy regime. While men were sent to fight in the war, women in France stayed home, in a country occupied by the Nazis, with their government collaborating with the Axis powers they were supposedly at war with. Marie-Louise Giraud is one such woman. Like her country, she is pushed to do crimes forbidden by the state, first for kindness, but eventually for comfort, but only she gets the death penalty for 27 abortions, when only a few Vichy officials have been tried for crimes against humanity, which includes the deportation of seventy thousand Jews to concentration camps. The contrast is made much more poignant with Isabelle Huppert and Claude Chabrol’s creative partnership.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Caroline Berg, Dani, Dominique Blanc, Evelyne Didi, François Cluzet, Guillaume Foutrier, Henri Attal, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Michel Noirey, Lolita Chammah, Marie Bunel, Marie Trintignant, Nils Tavernier

Director: Claude Chabrol

Whether or not you’re familiar with director Pedro Almodóvar’s body of work, Parallel Mother stands as a gorgeous melodrama, a striking story about motherhood and our ties to the past. On one level, it’s a simple but engaging drama about a misunderstanding that ensues between two women. But on another, it’s a deep dive into a nation’s cruel history, as well as an observation of people’s commitment to never letting that part of themselves go. 

The film references Almodóvar’s past films but it also works as a standalone, a perfect starting point for moviegoers interested in exploring his oeuvre. Of course, Penelope Cruz continues to be a powerhouse, each line delivery an emotional gut punch, while relative newcomer Milena Smit is stirring, a true revelation, as her director calls her.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adelfa Calvo, Agustín Almodóvar, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Ana Peleteiro, Arantxa Aranguren, Carmen Flores, Chema Adeva, Daniela Santiago, Inma Ochoa, Israel Elejalde, José Javier Domínguez, Julieta Serrano, Milena Smit, Penélope Cruz, Rossy de Palma

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: R

If you were on the Internet around 2015, you might be familiar with the viral phenomenon that is Wakaliwood, a “slum” neighborhood of Kampala, Uganda from where self-taught director Isaac Nabwana churns out bombastic DIY action comedies. Though they rack up online views in the millions, Isaac’s low-budget films weren’t money-makers due to a lack of proper distribution — something Alan Hofmanis, a Wakaliwood superfan and well-meaning New York-based publicist, wanted to help change.

Once Upon a Time chronicles the ups and somewhat perplexing downs of Isaac and Alan’s partnership, but their murky beef doesn’t detract too much from the documentary’s greatest strength, which is its showcasing of the scrappy spirit shared by Isaac and his volunteer collaborators: the actors who gleefully throw themselves in the mud for him, the “voice jokers” who provide riotous live narration at his screenings, and the props man who can jerry-rig just about anything his scripts call for. As Isaac points out, filmmaking is a business in the rest of the world — in Wakaliwood, it’s a passion. If Once Upon a Time does one thing, it’s faithfully transmit Isaac’s pure love for the craft — and, in doing so, reinvigorate us with the infectious joy that animates all of his movies.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alan Hofmanis, Nabwana IGG, V.J. Emmie

Director: Cathryne Czubek

This sensitive and elegantly crafted melodrama recognizes that a death in the family doesn't have to lead to the same expressions of mourning we expect from movies; there might not be any real sadness at all. But when different family members come together again and bring their own personal conflicts with them, suddenly everyone else's little griefs fill the space, and the road to recovery becomes even messier. Little Big Women understands all this with an understated touch and brilliant, naturalistic performances from its cast. It makes for a loving tribute to the generations of tough and complicated women who often hold a family together.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Buffy Chen, Chang Han, Chen Shu-fang, Chen Yan-Fei, Chia-Kuei Chen, Ding Ning, Grace Chen Shu-Fang, Han Chang, Honduras, Hsieh Ying Shiuan, Hsieh Ying-xuan, Janine Chang, Lung Shao-Hua, Sara Yu, Siu Wa Lung, Sun Ke-Fang, Vivian Hsu, Weber Yang

Director: Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu, Joseph Hsu

Rating: N/A