24 Movies Like Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

This adaptation of a tragedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson might retain the mostly minimal setting of its source material — two rooms in a Chicago recording studio — but the searing performances at its heart more than warrant the translation to the big screen. A ferocious Viola Davis plays the titular ‘Mother of the Blues’, a fiery artist whose diva-ness is powerfully revealed to be a matching of the same transactional energy with which she’s treated by her white managers. On a steamy day in the roaring 1920s, one of Ma’s recording sessions morphs into a tinderbox of debate on art, race, and these exploitative power dynamics that exist at their intersection. As her band awaits her characteristically late arrival, its members tease, and then bicker, and finally erupt at one another. The youngest musician, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), is the most hot-headed — in his older band-mates’ eyes, he’s an arrogant young upstart with delusions of grandeur, but Levee’s ambitions are powered by real pain, as revealed in a blistering monologue. The film is unabashedly stagy in many respects, a quality that can work both ways — but, ultimately, the crackling current that runs through Davis and Boseman’s acting gives the movie all the blazing, goosebump-inducing immediacy of a live performance.

Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer, who plays in a band and lives in a tour bus with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Quickly after meeting the couple, we witness the touring musician drastically losing his hearing. As recovering addicts with little financial means, they soon run out of options. Lou desperately wants to prevent Ruben's relapse into addiction and so she helps him retreat to a deaf community group home, run by the illustrious Joe, a truly amazing character played by the equally amazing Paul Raci, himself the hearing son of deaf parents. There is something deeper going on though: the question of what disability is, and how, despite how it drastically changes Ruben's life, it might not be his biggest problem. In addition to the stellar acting and delicate writing, we experience his condition through the incredible sound design used by director Darius Marder, complete with muffled conversations, garbled noises, and piercing silence. This is a movie to be taken in completely. Above all, it's about Riz Ahmed's performance. He learned to play drums, sign language, and studied deafness ahead of the shooting, and he does not strike a wrong note.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alan Resnic, Bill Thorpe, Chelsea Lee, Chris Perfetti, Ezra Marder, Hillary Baack, Jamie Ghazarian, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric, Michael Tow, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Rena Maliszewski, Riz Ahmed, Tom Kemp, William Xifaras

Director: Darius Marder

Rating: R

While quite testing for viewers, this is one of the craziest, most high-energy movies you'll ever watch. In this incredible German drama, child actor Helena Zengel plays Bernadette aka Benni, a traumatized 9-year-old child who tends to lash out and has been repeatedly suspended from every school she went to. Benni is a so-called “Systemsprenger” (which is the original German title). A system crasher is a child so uncontrollable and aggressive that, over time, she falls through the grid of special schools, foster care, and social work facilities. Despite the best efforts of her designated social worker, Frau Bafané, played by Gabriela Maria Schmeide, she is turned down by everyone, testing the patience of her surroundings, wherever she goes. A trip with Micha (Albrecht Schuch), a tough boxer and anger-management trainer, turns out to be the last resort. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, System Crasher is intense, punky, and wild with an almost eerie sense of authenticity. Its devastating effect is helped along by its unique, hyperactive camerawork. Much like the social workers themselves, you might have a hard time keeping professional distance to all this. This intense drama will stay with you for a long time.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Albrecht Schuch, Axel Werner, Barbara Philipp, Bärbel Schwarz, Bruno Thiel, Cederic Mardon, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Gisa Flake, Helena Zengel, Imke Büchel, Jana Julia Roth, Julia Becker, Lisa Hagmeister, Louis von Klipstein, Maryam Zaree, Matthias Brenner, Melanie Straub, Moritz Thiel, Peter Schneider, Roland Bonjour, Steffi Kuhnert, Tedros Teclebrhan, Till Butterbach, Victoria Trauttmansdorff

Director: Nora Fingscheidt

Rating: 12

One of the most thrilling biographical films to come out of Hollywood in the 2020s, Shaka King's exhilarating take on a truly remarkable leader within the Black Panther Party—and the young man who would eventually be twisted into betraying him—also provides a respectful, honest space to voice out progressive views that still aren't fully embraced in the United States. Much of the film is made up of beautiful, powerful rhetoric, contrasting in fascinating ways with scenes of violence or deception that only remind us how ahead-of-his-time chairman Fred Hampton was and still is. And in a thunderous, Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Kaluuya brings all of Hampton's words roaring to life while still reminding us of how tragically young this inspirational figure was at the time of his death.

But Judas and the Black Messiah tells an equally powerful second story over this one: that of FBI informant William O'Neal who reluctantly agrees to sell Hampton to the feds, and quickly realizes that he's been scammed too. Rivaling—and, arguably, besting—Kaluuya's performance is LaKeith Stanfield, whose tortured and increasingly despairing performance as O'Neal is the stuff of pure Shakespearean drama. Together, both stories ask us what real freedom looks like, and that we believe we can still fight for it.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Algee Smith, Amari Cheatom, Amber Chardae Robinson, Ashton Sanders, Caleb Eberhardt, Chris Hahn, Daniel Kaluuya, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, Graham Lutes, Ian Duff, James Udom, Jermaine Fowler, Jesse Plemons, Khris Davis, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Martin Sheen, Nick Fink, Robert Longstreet, Terayle Hill

Director: Shaka King

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they're not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron D. Alexander, Alan Wells, Aldis Hodge, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Beau Bridges, Christian Magby, Christopher Gorham, Derek Roberts, Dustin Lewis, Eli Goree, Emily Bridges, Hunter Burke, Jason Ament, Jeremy Pope, John Curran, Kevin Reid, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lance Reddick, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Leslie Odom Jr., Mark Allan Stewart, Matt Fowler, Michael Imperioli, Nola Epps, Randall Newsome

Director: Regina King

Rating: R

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Jacob Ming-Trent, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, T.J. Atoms, Welker White

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

From Aaron Sorkin, the creator of every liberal's favorite 2000s political drama, The West Wing, The Social Network, and the master of the “walk and talk”, comes the dramatization of a sadly true American story from the mid-last century. In 1968, different groups from all over the country travelled to Chicago to protest the Vietnam War at the Democratic National Convention. The Chicago police greeted them in full riot gear, purposely attacking the peaceful protesters. Five months later, eight of them (charges against Black Panther leader Bobby Seale were dismissed) were arrested for inciting riot. As the title suggests, the film details the trials that followed, which highlight the still ongoing battles within American society and politics: racism, ineptness, corruption, complacency, you name it. On a lighter note, while you wouldn't necessarily call this an ensemble cast, the number of unlikely familiar faces in this film is off the charts: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sascha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne. It also features some of the greatest supporting actors in American TV history like John Carrol Lynch, Frank Langella, and the amazing John Doman aka Bill Rawls from The Wire.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Alan Metoskie, Alex Henderson, Alex Sharp, Alice Kremelberg, Ben Kass, Ben Shenkman, Blair Lewin, Brady Jenness, Brandon Fierro, Brendan Burke, C.J. Wilson, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Christian Litke, Damian Young, Danny Flaherty, David Fierro, Ed Flynn, Eddie Redmayne, Edward Fletcher, Frank Langella, Gavin Haag, J. C. MacKenzie, James Pravasilis, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, John Doman, John F. Carpenter, John Quilty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Juliette Angelo, Kate Miller, Kathleen Garrett, Keeley Morris, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Kevin O'Donnell, Larry Mitchell, Lex Elle, Mark Rylance, Max Adler, Meghan Rafferty, Michael A. Dean, Michael Keaton, Michelle Hurst, Mike Brunlieb, Noah Robbins, Sacha Baron Cohen, Shawn Parsons, Steve Routman, Tah von Allmen, Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Wayne Duvall, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Rating: R

On their drive back from a Tinder date that was only average, a couple are pulled over by a racist police officer. Things escalate unexpectedly and the couple, one of whom is a lawyer aware of the corruptedness of the system, start a life on the run together. This thrilling set-up mixing social commentary and romance is a movie that's actually many movies in one. And almost as if to cut in-between the different tonalities, there are so many quiet and beautiful shots of the couple: silent, still or dancing - these moments are true cinematic magic. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Andre De'Sean Shanks, Andy Dylan, Benito Martinez, Bokeem Woodbine, Brian Thornton, Bryant Tardy, Chloe Sevigny, Colby Boothman-Shepard, Daniel Kaluuya, Dickson Obahor, Flea, Gayle King, Gralen Bryant Banks, Indya Moore, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Jodie Turner-Smith, Joseph Poliquin, Karen Kaia Livers, Lucky Johnson, Melanie Halfkenny, Robert Walker Branchaud, Soledad O'Brien, Sturgill Simpson, Thom Gossom Jr.

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Rating: R

This new documentary is about the exact scale to which social media is harming us, as testified to by people from the industry: ex-executives at Google, Instagram, Facebook, and even the ex-President of Pinterest. All have left their companies for (incredibly valid) ethical concerns that they share here.

It's a blend of interview footage and a fiction film that follows a family who feels more distant because of social media. This allows to see the implications of what the interviewees are saying in real life but quite frankly it also serves as a welcome break from the intensity of their words. How intense? One of them predicts civil war within 20 years.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Catalina Garayoa, Chris Grundy, Gavin White, Kara Hayward, Laura Obiols, Skyler Gisondo, Sophia Hammons, Tristan Harris, Vincent Kartheiser

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Rating: PG-13

The Father is a compelling inner look at the ways dementia distorts memories. By occupying the unstable headspace of 80-year-old Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), the film allows us to experience his frustration and confusion firsthand. We, too, are unsure about the ever-shifting details we’re presented with. Conversations are circular and time seems inexistent. The faces we know are swapped with names we don’t know. Even the tiniest elements, such as the wall tiles and door handles, are constantly changing in the background. We grasp for the slippery truth with Anthony but always come up empty and unsure.

In a thoughtful move by director Florian Zeller, we also get a glimpse of the lives surrounding Anthony. The daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), in particular, is often the victim of her father’s tirades, but she takes care of him still, conflicted as to where to draw the line between his needs and hers. 

With its fluid editing, subtle detail-swaps, and empathic portrayal of characters, The Father is just as technically impressive as it is movingly kind.

Genre: Drama, Family, Mystery

Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Ayesha Dharker, Brian Rodger, Evie Wray, Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Roman Zeller, Romulus Stoicescu, Rufus Sewell, Scott Mullins

Director: Florian Zeller

Rating: PG-13

Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) reunites with Mads Mikkelsen to tell the story of four teachers going through a mid-life crisis. They’re not sad, exactly—they have homes and jobs and are good friends with each other—but they’re not happy either. Unlike the ebullient youth they teach, they seem to have lost their lust for life, and it’s silently eating away at them, rendering them glassy-eyed and mechanic in their everyday lives. 

Enter an experiment: what if, as one scholar suggests, humans were meant to fulfill a certain alcohol concentration in order to live as fully and present as possible? The teachers use themselves as the subjects and the tide slowly starts to turn to mixed effects. Are they actually getting better or worse?

With an always-satisfying performance by Mikkelsen and an instant classic of an ender, it’s no surprise Another Round took home the award for Best Foreign Film in the 2020 Academy Awards.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Christiane Gjellerup Koch, Diêm Camille G., Dorte Højsted, Frederik Winther Rasmussen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Lars Ranthe, Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang, Magnus Sjørup, Maria Bonnevie, Martin Greis-Rosenthal, Mercedes Claro Schelin, Michael Asmussen, Morten Thunbo, Niels Jørgensen, Per Otto Bersang Rasmussen, Silas Cornelius Van, Susse Wold, Thomas Bo Larsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: 0, Not Rated

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer, Christopher Speed, Cole Doman, Colton Ryan, Hannah Black, Jane McNeill, Judy Greer, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, Michael Banks Repeta, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Steve Zahn

Director: Alan Ball

Rating: R

, 2020

This intimate and personal film is about Sibil Fox Rich, an entrepreneur and mother of six. Fox is driven by an unparalleled, contagious determination to succeed — so present in the mix of video diaries and present-day footage of her in Time.

For the past 20 years, Rich has channeled that tenacity towards the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence.

Through the video diaries and family footage, Time feels almost too personal. It’s like stepping into a person’s most intimate moments for 81 minutes, with all their ups and downs.

It could be seen as a commentary on the deeply flawed American justice system, but at its core Time is an uplifting portrayal of resilience, true, long-lasting love (she and her husband were high-school sweethearts), and boundless hope.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fox Rich, Freedom Rich, Laurence M. Rich, Rob Rich II

Director: Garrett Bradley

Rating: PG-13

Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti (Modern Love, Black Mirror), and J.K. Simmons star in this easy but original rom-com that takes place in a wedding time loop. Nyles (Samberg) finds himself living the same day over and over again, so he gives in to the monotony and the fact that there is no way to escape it. 

When he is about to hook up with one of the guests, Sarah (Milioti), he is attacked by a mysterious character. The routine of his time-loop is broken. 

Palm Springs is often surreal and philosophical, which are not adjectives usually used to describe rom-coms. It offers just enough twists to be original without jeopardizing the things that make it a good rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Andy Samberg, Brian Duffy, Camila Mendes, Chris Pang, Conner O'Malley, Cristin Milioti, Dale Dickey, David Hutchison, Erin Flannery, J.K. Simmons, Jacqueline Obradors, Jena Friedman, June Squibb, Lilli Birdsell, Mark Kubr, Martin Kildare, Meredith Hagner, Michelle Johnston, Peter Gallagher, Rocky Bonifield, Tongayi Chirisa, Tyler Hoechlin

Director: Max Barbakow

Rating: R

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ira Sachs, Kevin Loreque, Kirsten Johnson, Mary Page Nance, Michael Hilow, Vasthy Mompoint

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: PG-13

The Painter and the Thief opens with a great hook: an artist tracks down and confronts the man who stole her painting. In a surprising turn, the two become close and develop an intimacy that deepens when she begins to paint the troubled man.

Yet, director Benjamin Ree pushes past where other documentarians would have been content to stop, and instead begins to deconstruct the very narrative we’ve followed up till now. At its core, this is a film about the way we tell stories about ourselves and others, and how often people don’t fit into the neat categories we set out for them.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Bjørn Inge Nordland, Karl-Bertil Nordland

Director: Benjamin Ree