41 Movies Like Magnolia (1999)

Staff & contributors
In 2008, legendary and controversial director Darren Aronofsky delivered yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime, who is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose, and dignity later in life. Rourke, who worked as a professional boxer in his 90s and, like his protagonist, almost hung his hat at the time the movie was shot, delivers a once-in-a-lifetime performance that rightly earned him a Golden Globe. Everybody talked about this movie when it came out! Marisa Tomei's performance, who plays the mid-40s stripper The Ram pursues a serious relationship with, was also deemed iconic by some critics. Shot on 16mm film, The Wrestler's cinematography, like its acting, feels incredibly raw, intimate, and realistic. It is essentially about bouncing back, making amends, and growing old and features acting performances that will be remembered for a long time. One for the books!

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Abraham Aronofsky, Ajay Naidu, Alex Whybrow, Alyssa Bresnahan, Andrea Langi, Armin Amiri, Ben Van Bergen, Bernadette Penotti, Bill Walters, Brandon DiCamillo, Brian Heffron, Charlotte Aronofsky, Claudio Castagnoli, Cobian, Daniel Healy Solwold Jr., Daniel Solwold Jr., Darnell Kittrell, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Douglas Crosby, Dustin Howard, Dylan Keith Summers, Dylan Summers, E.J. Carroll, Emmanuel Yarborough, Eric Santamaria, Erika Smith, Ernest Miller, Evan Rachel Wood, Felice Choi, Giovanni Roselli, Gregg Bello, Jamar Shipman, Jeff Chena, Jen Cohn, Jess Liaudin, John Corson, John D'Leo, John Zandig, Jon Trosky, Judah Friedlander, Lloyd Anoa'i, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Marisa Tomei, Mark Margolis, Matt Cannon, Michael Drayer, Mickey Rourke, Mike Miller, Nate Hatred, Nicholas K. Berk, Nick Papagerio, Olivia Baseman, Paul E. Normous, Paul Thornton, Peter Conboy, Rebecca Darke, Rob Strauss, Robert D. Siegel, Robert Oppel, Ron Killings, Ryan Lynn, Ryan Tygh, Sakinah Bingham, Scott Franklin, Steven Haworth, Sylvia Kauders, Todd Barry, Tommy Farra, Vernon Campbell, Wass Stevens

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Rating: R

Directed by David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises is at times brutal—such is the famous Canadian director's trademark—and operates at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge. Starring a tattooed, ruthless, and terrifying Viggo Mortensen as a very convincing Russian strong-arm gangster as well as Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, it features intense psychological drama and a gritty crime story. Midwife Anna (Watts) delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian prostitute, who dies while giving birth, and later learns that she was forced into prostitution by the Mafia. To keep this knowledge from seeping out, she gets entangled deeper into London's criminal underbelly, whose various factions and languages are aptly showcased by Cronenberg. Add to all this a smart script and Mortensen's daring performance and you have yourself an intense auteur thriller in signature Cronenberg style.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aleksandar Mikic, Aleksander Mikic, Alice Henley, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David Papava, Donald Sumpter, Elisa Lasowski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Josef Altin, Mina E. Mina, Naomi Watts, Raza Jaffrey, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Sinead Cusack, Tamer Hassan, Tatiana Maslany, Tereza Srbová, Tony Cook, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, who won an award in Cannes for it, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of the Parisian journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Paralyzed almost completely by what is termed locked-in syndrome, his left eye was the only part of his body that he was still able to move. In a Herculean effort, Bauby learned to blink in an alphabet code that eventually enabled him to communicate. The film alternates between Bauby's interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including painstakingly dictating his memoir, the titular Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) and dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. The title alludes to this juxtaposition: the diving bell representing his final state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver under a bell, and the butterfly as a symbol for his blinking eye and the freedom he has in his mind, dreams, and imagination. Shot from Bauby's perspective, we see what he sees. Be it his divorced but loyal wife and his family visiting him, or his old father, played by Max von Sydow, which is probably the scene in this fascinating movie that will make you lose it and weep like the rest of us.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Agathe de La Fontaine, Anne Alvaro, Anne Consigny, Emma de Caunes, Emmanuelle Seigner, Fiorella Campanella, Françoise Lebrun, Gérard Watkins, Isaach De Bankolé, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Lenny Kravitz, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Mathieu Amalric, Max von Sydow, Michael Wincott, Nicolas Le Riche, Niels Arestrup, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Patrick Chesnais, Talina Boyaci, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Julian Schnabel

Rating: PG-13

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

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler's hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson's incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adam Sandler, David H. Stevens, Don McManus, Emily Watson, Hazel Mailloux, Jason Andrews, Joji Yoshida, Jonathan Loughran, Karen Kilgariff, Larry Ring, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Nathan Stevens, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rico Bueno, Robert Smigel, Shelley Waggener

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: R

This masterpiece from Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a clear-eyed movie that takes place in one day in the life of a 34-year-old. Anders, a recovering drug addict, gets to leave his rehab facility for the first time to take a job interview. He visits friends, tries to meet his ex, and goes to the interview. With every interaction, you get to know him more and understand that what he's going through is shared with everyone he meets. At 34, Anders feels it is too late to turn his life around, and so do his friends. He just happens to be a drug addict.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aksel Thanke, Anders Borchgrevink, Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Malin Crepin, Øystein Røger, Petter Width Kristiansen, Renate Reinsve, Tone Beate Mostraum

Director: Joachim Trier

Rating: Not Rated

, 1995

Something is wrong with Carol White. She’s a well-off housewife living in the picturesque suburbs of Los Angeles. Her husband’s job is going well, her step-son is pleasant, and her social life consists of boutique lunches, fruit-filled diets, and lavishly pink baby showers—all is well on this side of the white picket fence.

Until Carol starts sneezing. Then she begins coughing, and she experiences a violent asthma attack while driving on the freeway. Afterward, Carol’s nose won’t stop bleeding. She starts having seizures. Struggling to breathe, Carol winds up in the hospital, seeing doctors and psychologists trying to diagnose what’s wrong and whether her mystery illness is physiological or psychological.

Todd Haynes’ Safe is an unnerving examination at our relationship with the environment—and in an increasingly modernized world, how much we can tolerate of what we create: white noise, toxins, busy work, everyday poisons, monotonous obligations. It’s also a complicated reflection on the ways in which women’s pain is disregarded and minimized, and what the loss of invisible agency looks like when it begins to manifest outward.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allan Wasserman, April Grace, Beth Grant, Brandon Cruz, Cassy Friel, Chauncey Leopardi, Dean Norris, Eleanor Graham, Elinor O. Caplan, Francesca P. Roberts, James Le Gros, James Lyons, Janel Moloney, Jean St. James, Jessica Harper, Jodie Markell, John Apicella, Julianne Moore, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Lorna Scott, Martha Velez, Mary Carver, Peter Crombie, Peter Friedman, Rio Hackford, Ronnie Farer, Saachiko, Sarah Scott Davis, Steven Gilborn, Susan Norman, Tim Gardner, Tricia Dong, Wendy Haynes, Xander Berkeley

Director: Todd Haynes

The Sweet Hereafter is the kind of movie that feels very different from the one you might imagine when reading the plot synopsis. The tragic accident at its center doesn’t form a dramatic crescendo as you might be primed to expect — and, despite revolving around a lawsuit, this is no courtroom drama. Instead, the ironically titled The Sweet Hereafter deals with the messy, difficult emotions that come with grief, survival, and blame in the aftermath of a bus crash, with the film largely taking place in a snowy Canadian town rent apart by the loss of nearly all its children in the accident. Ian Holm plays the out-of-town lawyer battling to unite the bereft parents behind a class action lawsuit, all while struggling to deal with the quasi-loss of his own drug-dependent daughter. Non-linear chronology means the before-the-crash and the after intermingle, scene after scene; it’s an unorthodox remix of the way we’re used to seeing this kind of story unfold, but it allows the movie to home in on the complexity of the community’s pain. Unsparing performances, haunting music, and meditative cinematography plunge us into it all, recreating the terrible iciness of grief in a way that is difficult to shake off.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alberta Watson, Allegra Denton, Arsinée Khanjian, Brooke Johnson, Bruce Greenwood, David Hemblen, Devon Finn, Earl Pastko, Gabrielle Rose, Ian Holm, Kirsten Kieferle, Marc Donato, Maury Chaykin, Mychael Danna, Peter Donaldson, Sarah Polley, Sarah Rosen Fruitman, Simon Baker, Stephanie Morgenstern, Tom McCamus

Director: Atom Egoyan

Rating: R

A flawless Daniel Day‑Lewis stars in this thought-provoking romance. He plays a successful dressmaker in post-second-World-War London who falls for a waitress while on an excursion to the countryside. It's hard to tell you what this movie is about without ruining the story for you but I can tell you how it made me feel: it kept me guessing the whole time. Day-Lewis' character is so masterfully played that I felt that every move he made was calculated and that every line meant something. Plus, expect stunning dresses, beautiful country-side sequences, and an all-around gorgeous aesthetic experience.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amber Brabant, Amy Cunningham, Brian Gleeson, Camilla Rutherford, Charlotte Melen, Daniel Day-Lewis, Dave Simon, David Charles-Cully, Emma Clandon, Eric Sigmundsson, Evie Wray, George Glasgow, Gina McKee, Harriet Leitch, Harriet Sansom Harris, Ian Harrod, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Jane Perry, Jordon Stevens, Joshua Tomkins, Julia Davis, Julie Vollono, Lesley Manville, Louis Hannan, Lujza Richter, Martin Dew, Michael Gabbitas, Nicholas Mander, Niki Angus-Campbell, Pauline Moriarty, Philip Franks, Phyllis MacMahon, Richard Graham, Silas Carson, Steven F. Thompson, Tim Ahern, Vicky Krieps, Zarene Dallas

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: R

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan's life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Al Vandecruys, Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Andrew Simms, Angela Galuppo, Arthur Holden, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Bill Croft, Bob Dylan, Brett Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Colvey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Clarice Byrne, Craig Thomas, Daniel Richard Giverin, Danny Blanco Hall, David Cross, David Gow, Dennis St John, Dominic James, Don Francks, Emmanuel Schwartz, Eric Newsome, Eugene Brotto, Fanny La Croix, Garth Gilker, Gordon Masten, Graham Cuthbertson, Greg Kramer, Heath Ledger, Hélèna Laliberté, Holly Uloth, Ivan Freud, Jane Gilchrist, Jane Wheeler, Jason Cavalier, Jean-Loup Yale, Jennifer Rae Westley, Jesse Todd, Jessica Kardos, Jim James, Jodie Resther, Joe Cobden, Joey Burns, John Koensgen, Julianne Moore, Kathleen Fee, Kathryn Kostlivy, Kim Gordon, Kim Roberts, Kris Kristofferson, Kristen Hager, Kyle Gatehouse, Kyle Switzer, Larry Day, Leif Anderson, Leigh Ann Taylor, Lina Roessler, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, Lorne Brass, Maggie Castle, Marcus Carl Franklin, Marie-Julie Rivest, Mark Camacho, Matt Holland, Matthew Boylan, Matthew Harbour, Max Walker, Melantha Blackthorne, Michelle Williams, Nathalie Girard, Noel Burton, Patrick Costello, Paul Cagelet, Paul Johnston, Paul Spence, Pauline Little, Peter Friedman, Phyllis Gooden, Pier Paquette, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Alexandre Fortin, Richard Gere, Richard Jutras, Richard Robitaille, Richie Havens, Rob Burns, Roc LaFortune, Sharlene Royer, Shaun Balbar, Shawn Baichoo, Steve Godin, Susan Glover, Terry Haig, Thiéry Dubé, Tim Post, Trevor Hayes, Tyrone Benskin, Vito DeFilippo, Wyatt Bowen, Yolonda Ross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) is back in full form with this three-hour movie based on a true story. His creation has one of the most beautiful depictions of happiness ever seen in film, portraying the simple yet joyous life of a farmer in the Austrian mountains. You'd have to see it for yourself to understand, but how Malick depicts this character's love for his wife (and her love for him), their children, and even their farming rituals are nothing short of cinematic wizardry. 

This peaceful existence changes when World War 2 intensifies and this farmer is called to serve for the Nazis. He refuses to enroll out of principle and puts himself and his family at great danger and alienation from their village. The question at the center of the film is one that other villagers and the church ask him a lot: what good can his actions do? And the title of the movie is taken from A George Eliot quote: "The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alexander Fehling, Alexander Radszun, August Diehl, Bernd Hölscher, Bruno Ganz, Chris Theisinger, Dieter Kosslick, Dimo Alexiev, Ermin Sijamija, Franz Rogowski, Joel Basman, Johan Leysen, Johannes Gabl, Johannes Krisch, Johannes Nussbaum, Jürgen Prochnow, Karin Neuhäuser, Karl Markovics, Katja Lechthaler, Leonard Kunz, Maria Simon, Mark Waschke, Martin Wuttke, Matthias Schoenaerts, Max Malatesta, Max Mauff, Michael Nyqvist, Michael Steinocher, Monika Lennartz, Moritz Katzmair, Nicholas Reinke, Sarah Born, Sophie Rois, Thomas Mraz, Tobias Moretti, Ulrich Brandhoff, Ulrich Matthes, Valerie Pachner, Waldemar Kobus, Wolfgang Michael

Director: Terrence Malick

Rating: PG-13

You don’t have to be a theater kid to enjoy this feel-good mockumentary set in a summer camp for junior thespians. While there are plenty of in-jokes here for those who might have spent a summer or two somewhere like AdirondACTS, Theater Camp also good-naturedly lampoons every instantly recognizable stereotype of theater kids and the classic failed-performer-turned-teacher. 

Amongst the note-perfect ensemble, particularly hilarious standouts include co-writer Ben Platt and co-director Molly Gordon as camp instructors and best friends Amos and Rebecca-Diane. Both are Juilliard rejects with codependency issues and a classic case of actorly self-indulgence — as encapsulated in the moment they accuse a young attendee of “doping” for using artificial tears during a performance (“Do you want to be the Lance Armstrong of theater?”). But even seasoned performers like Platt and Gordon can’t pull the spotlight away from the film’s absurdly talented young ensemble, who are just as game for poking fun at their passion: standouts include Luke Islam, Alexander Bello, and Minari’s Alan Kim as a pint-sized “aspiring agent” who skips dance class to make business calls. All this self-satirising never obscures the movie’s heart, though; what begins as a self-deprecating ribbing of theater-heads ultimately becomes a rousing love letter to those very same misfits.

Genre: Comedy, Music

Actor: Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Amy Sedaris, Ayo Edebiri, Ben Platt, Caroline Aaron, David Rasche, Dean Scott Vazquez, Donovan Colan, Jimmy Tatro, Kyndra Sanchez, Luke Islam, Max Sheldon, Molly Gordon, Nathan Lee Graham, Noah Galvin, Olivia Puckett, Owen Thiele, Patti Harrison, Priscilla Lopez, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson

Director: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman

Rating: PG-13

An offbeat film with a more than decent amount of suspense. To that it adds really good music and unexpected animation, to make for a very audacious, interesting and mostly fun film. It uses all this to show how life can change in a twist and how it can be influenced by weird connections of otherwise unrelated events.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Armin Rohde, Beate Finckh, Franka Potente, Hans Paetsch, Heino Ferch, Herbert Knaup, Joachim Krol, Julia Lindig, Lars Rudolph, Ludger Pistor, Marc Bischoff, Monica Bleibtreu, Moritz Bleibtreu, Nina Petri, Peter Pauli, Sebastian Schipper, Suzanne von Borsody, Ute Lubosch, Utz Krause, Volkhart Buff

Director: Tom Tykwer

Rating: R

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bob Stephenson, Bob Yerkes, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour, Caron Colvett, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Curt Clendenin, Curtis Hanson, David O. Russell, Donald Dowd, Doug Jones, Gary Farmer, Gregory Itzin, Jay Tavare, Jim Beaver, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Judy Greer, Larry Krask, Lisa Love, Litefoot, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Peter Jason, Roger E. Fanter, Roger Willie, Ron Livingston, Sandra Lee Gimpel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tilda Swinton

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: R

The magic of this movie — and every other one directed by Aki Kaurismäki — is in the way it inspires so much hope despite the darkness of its subject. When a man (Markku Peltola) is beaten and robbed one night, he wakes up without any memory of who he is. Forced to start life all over again, he’s subjected to yet more cruelty at the hands of a greedy slum landlord and callous authorities, but finds sympathy and support from his equally downtrodden neighbors. Though the street thugs have emptied his wallet, the unquestioning generosity of the people around him suggests he’s now richer than he was at the film’s outset — as does the sweetly simple romance he strikes up with a lonely Salvation Army worker (Kati Outinen). 

Kaurismäki doesn’t just make films about the disenfranchised for the sake of it: he shows us how easy — and yet momentous — acts of human kindness and solidarity can be, how radical they are in a bleak world. It’s not often a movie can so persuasively reassure us of people’s inherent goodness, but it’s even rarer still for it to be done with as much deceptive, charming simplicity as here.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aarre Karén, Aino Seppo, Andrey Chernyshov, Anneli Sauli, Antti Reini, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Janne Hyytiäinen, Juhani Niemelä, Kaija Pakarinen, Kati Outinen, Liisa Mustonen, Markku Peltola, Olli Varja, Outi Mäenpää, Panu Vauhkonen, Pentti Auer, Pertti Sveholm, Sakari Kuosmanen, Silu Seppälä, Sulevi Peltola, Vesa Mäkelä

Director: Aki Kaurismäki