23 Movies Like May December (2023)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching May December ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

The colloquial phrase "May-December" refers to romantic partners with a large age gap, but leave it to Todd Haynes to craft a poetic and unsettling world out of this (slightly troubling) banality of life. His new film is loosely based on the real case of Mary Kay Letourneau, who in 1997 was convicted as a sex offender after being caught having a relationship with a minor, a student of hers, 12 years old (22 years her junior). May December begins twenty years after the tabloid scandal surrounding the marriage of Joe and Gracie has died down. Elizabeth, an actress, is conducting research in preparation to play Gracie in a film production, but she doesn't know what to expect. Alongside her, we are welcomed into the family home, meet their teenage children, sit through their family dinners, marvelling at the levity and nonchalant atmosphere in the air. Something is missing, or at least that's what Elizabeth suspects. A psychological drama-thriller-black comedy, May December is impossible to pin down. A profound film on human confusion, identities, and past traumas, it unites two of the best Hollywood stars, Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, in a delightfully eerie play of doubling and revelations.

Monster is a deceptively simple story about growing up and the many misunderstandings that come with it. It’s told through different points of view, a technique that could easily feel gimmicky in the hands of a lesser director. But with director Hirokazu Kore-eda at the helm, it feels natural and inevitable, as if there was no other way to tell this specific story. It’s a masterful mystery, but Monster is less about suspense and answering the whodunnit question than it is about navigating the murky waters of truth and real life. As corny as it sounds, watching Monster is an experience unto itself: you’ll find yourself believing something one moment and dismantling it the next, learning and unlearning in a span of two hours. But as with past Kore-eda films, it’s the story’s heartwarming sensitivity that trumps everything. You’ll likely come for the mystery but stay for its heart.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akihiro Kakuta, Ayu Kitaura, Daisuke Kuroda, Eita Nagayama, Hinata Hiiragi, Kayo Noro, Mitsuki Takahata, Moemi Katayama, Pee, Ryu Morioka, Sakura Andô, Shidô Nakamura, Soya Kurokawa, Yûko Tanaka

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Rating: PG-13

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”

When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).

Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: An Min-yeong, An Min-young, Chang Ki-ha, Chase Sui Wonders, Choi Won-young, Emily Cass McDonnell, Federico Rodriguez, Greta Lee, Hwang Seung-eon, Isaac Powell, Jack Alberts, Jane Yubin Kim, Jay Karales, John Magaro, Jojo T. Gibbs, Kristen Sieh, Moon Seung-a, Moon Seung-ah, Park Jun-hyuk, Seo Yeon-woo, Shin Hee-cheol, Teo Yoo, Yim Seung-min, Yoon Ji-hye

Director: Celine Song

Rating: PG-13

Of all the Christmas-set films to have come out over the last couple of months that were, inexplicably, about grief and regret (you'd be surprised by how many there are), The Holdovers easily outdoes its contemporaries by being confident enough to just sit with its characters. Like the best of director Alexander Payne's other films, there are no melodramatic crescendos or overcomplicated metaphors; there are only flawed individuals going about their lives, occasionally noticing the things that bind them together. Payne's gentle touch means the characters (and the audience) aren't forced to "solve" their grief, but allowed to come to terms with it in their own way, with each other.

Payne evokes the film's 1970s setting through a muted color palette and analog—almost tactile—sound design, giving warmth to this New England despite all its snow and chilly interiors. It's understandable that these characters are similarly cold to each other on the surface at first, but they manage to thaw the ice simply by taking the chance to listen to each other's pain. It's the kind of film in which relationships develop so gradually, that you hardly notice until the end how much mutual respect has formed between them when they return from their dark nights of the soul back to their status quo.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexander Cook, Andrew Garman, Bill Mootos, Brady Hepner, Carrie Preston, Carter Shimp, Cole Tristan Murphy, Colleen Clinton, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dakota Lustick, Dan Aid, Darby Lee-Stack, David J. Curtis, Dominic Sessa, Dustin Tucker, Gillian Vigman, Ian Dolley, Ian Lyons, Jim Kaplan, Joe Howell, Jonathan von Mering, Kelly AuCoin, Kevin Daigneault, Kevin Fennessy, Melissa McMeekin, Michael Malvesti, Michael Provost, Naheem Garcia, Oscar Wahlberg, Osmani Rodriguez, Pamela Jayne Morgan, Paul Giamatti, Rena Maliszewski, Stephen Thorne, Tate Donovan

Director: Alexander Payne

Rating: R

The story of the Von Erich family is excruciatingly sad, but Iron Claw doesn’t dive right into the tragedy. Instead, it takes care to paint a picture of a close-knit family that’s filled with just as much warmth, jealousy, affection, and resentment as the next bunch. Durkin masterfully draws you into their circle so that everything that happens next is sure to cut deep. The choreography, chemistry, color—everything is carefully and beautifully set up, but the casting is what stands out the most. This wouldn’t have worked as well if it weren’t for the inspired move to pair Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Stanley Simons as brothers and partners. On the internet, people have been dubbing The Iron Claw as “Little Women and The Virgin Suicides for men” and it’s not hard to see why. Apart from the sibling bond over glory and growing pains, all these films are also powerful explorations of gender. Iron Claw is a vicious takedown of toxic masculinity, while also being a searing family drama and an incredible showcase for Efron and company.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Aaron Dean Eisenberg, Brian Hite, Cazzey Louis Cereghino, Chad Governale, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Chelsea Edmundson, Christina Michelle Williams, Garrett Hammond, Harris Dickinson, Holt McCallany, Jeremy Allen White, Jim Gleason, Jullian Dulce Vida, Kevin Anton, Kristina Kingston, Lily James, Maura Tierney, Maxwell Friedman, Michael Harney, Michael Papajohn, Mike Dell, Ryan Nemeth, Scott Innes, Stanley Simons, Zac Efron

Director: Sean Durkin

Rating: R

Art is a hobby for most people, but for musician Jon Batiste and writer Suleika Jaouad, art is part and parcel of this thing called life. Of course, it’s part of their work, and it’s how they make a livelihood, but it’s more than that– it’s almost a spiritual ritual they cling to, especially when Jaouad finds out that her leukemia has returned. American Symphony mainly depicts the creation of said orchestral work, but director Matthew Heineman translates the symphony into cinematic form, culminating in a performance played over the intimate moments between Batiste and Jaouad. It’s not just a documentary of a performance, but a documentary about art, about creation despite life’s pains, perhaps to survive life’s pains. It’s a powerful work that makes it easy to believe in art as imperative for life, and vice versa.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Anna Wintour, Billie Eilish, James Taylor, Jon Batiste, Jonathan Dinklage, Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz, Louis Cato, Questlove, Simon Helberg, Stephen Colbert, Stevie Wonder, Suleika Jaouad, Trevor Noah

Director: Matthew Heineman

Rating: PG-13

In Letterboxd, Cleaners was once the highest rated film of 2021, and was once in the list of the top 250 narrative features overall before the rating system changed in 2023. To viewers outside the Philippines, this might have been mind-boggling, especially since the film wasn't yet released internationally the year it premiered, but it shot up the ranks for a reason. The coming-of-age anthology just looks so different, being filmed live, then xeroxed and highlighted, frame by frame, just like print-outs for school. The unique approach evokes a sense of nostalgia in high contrast print and blurred movement, and it's matched with the classic Filipino coming-of-age moments that has rarely been seen before.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Carlo Mejia, Gianne Rivera, Ianna Taguinod, Julian Narag, Leomar Baloran

Director: Glenn Barit

You would expect a courtroom drama to be built around damning pieces of evidence, passionate speeches, or certain social issues lending weight to the investigation. But what makes Justine Triet's Palme d'Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall so remarkable is how direct it is. Triet doesn't treat this case like a puzzle for the audience to participate in solving; instead she fashions this trial into a portrait of a family being eroded by even just the suggestion of distrust. It ultimately has far less to do with who's responsible for the death of a man, and more to do with the challenge of facing the reality that the people we love are capable of being cruel and callous to others.

Which isn't to say that Anatomy of a Fall doesn't still possess qualities that make it a great courtroom drama—doubt only continues to pile up with every new piece of information that's revealed to the audience, until we begin to interpret characters' expressions and actions in a contradictory ways. But the way Triet executes these reveals is just so skillful, choosing precisely how to let details slip and obscuring everything behind faulty memory, intentional dishonesty, or any other obstacles that usually come up during an investigation.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandre Bertrand, Anne Rotger, Anne-Lise Heimburger, Antoine Bueno, Antoine Reinartz, Arthur Harari, Camille Rutherford, Christophe Devaux, Cyril Karenine, Emmanuelle Jourdan, Florent Chasseloup, Iliès Kadri, Isaac Abballah, Jean-Pierre Bertrand, Jehnny Beth, Judicaël Ajorque, Kareen Guiock, Laura Balasuriya, Maud Martin, Milo Machado-Graner, Nesrine Slaoui, Nicholas Angelo, Nola Jolly, Pierre-François Garel, Saadia Bentaïeb, Sacha Wolff, Samuel Theis, Sandra Hüller, Sandrine Chastagnol, Savannah Rol, Sophie Fillières, Swann Arlaud, Wajdi Mouawad

Director: Justine Triet

Rating: R

For public toilet cleaner Hirayama, “enjoy the little things in life” is more than just an adage: it’s a philosophy. Every day, he follows a strict routine of watering his plants, going to work, taking a break at a nearby shrine, and having dinner at his favorite stalls. It seems unexceptional, and yet Hirayama manages to find small, meaningful joys in between (and at) those very moments. A tree branch dancing in the breeze and shadows making funny shapes are enough to make him chuckle, while it seems like a good book and a trusty cassette are all he needs to be at peace. Hirayama’s mundane miracles are life-affirming, but make no mistake: this isn’t one of those cheesy films that push you to be happy no matter what. Director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire) infuses the film with a certain gloom so that the overall tone is one of deep, poignant melancholy. Through vague clues about Hirayama’s past, we learn that his attempts at capturing joy might also be bids to escape a traumatic life. All this builds to a powerful ending that speaks to the complexity of human emotion. We can be happy and sad, peaceful and troubled, lonely and content all at the same time, and it’s okay. At the end of the day, we’ll still have our favorite book passage, our favorite singer, a great artwork, or a beautiful park to return to, and sometimes that’s all the reminder you need that life can be worth living.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aki Kobayashi, Aoi Iwasaki, Aoi Yamada, Arisa Nakano, Atsushi Fukazawa, Bunmei Harada, Daigo Matsui, Gan Furukawa, Hairi Katagiri, Hiroto Oshita, Inuko Inuyama, Isao Matsui, Kisuke Shimazaki, Kōji Yakusho, Makiko Okamoto, Masahiro Koumoto, Mijika Nagai, Min Tanaka, Miyako Tanaka, Morio Agata, Morooka Moro, Motomi Makiguchi, Nao Takahashi, Naoko Ken, Nari Saitô, Nijika Tonouchi, Sayuri Ishikawa, Shunsuke Miura, Soraji Shibuya, Taijirō Tamura, Tamae Ando, Tateto Serizawa, Tokio Emoto, Tomokazu Miura, Tomoyuki Shibata, Yasushi Okuwa, Yoneko Matsukane, Yumi Asou, Yuriko Kawasaki

Director: Wim Wenders

Rating: PG

The key to what makes this apocalyptic thriller from Mr Robot and Homecoming showrunner Sam Esmail so unnerving is how resolute it is about not taking place in an alternate timeline. Making references to memorable events in recent history and namechecking real brands and cultural touchstones (like Tesla and Friends), Leave the World Behind is uncannily familiar — which, when combined with the film’s meticulous crafting of tension, makes it all the more unsettling.

Though taking place amidst an ambiguous national emergency, the film is largely set in one house — a claustrophobic setting that puts the characters’ self-conceits and prejudices under a microscope and forces them to confront their own impotence in an analog world. If it all sounds a bit “we live in a society,” be assured that Leave the World Behind cleverly manages to avoid the pitfalls of seeming like a bad Black Mirror ripoff by sidestepping expectations and deploying all the atmospheric tools in its arsenal. Withholding key plot and character information to increase our own paranoia means the movie always runs the risk of disappointment when explanations are finally given, but its focus on the human drama and its well-set-up ending ultimately eclipse any niggling frustrations.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alexis Rae Forlenza, Charlie Evans, Erica Cho, Ethan Hawke, Farrah Mackenzie, Josh Drennen, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Myha'la Herrold, Orli Gottesman, Sam Esmail, Vanessa Aspillaga

Director: Sam Esmail

Rating: R

An old friend shows up on the doorstep of a happy family home and brings a whirlwind of trouble with him. Charles Burnett’s startling parable is tinged with magic and creeping danger. It digs into the tensions between African American folklore of the rural South and the assimilated middle-class lifestyle out West. 

This rift takes the form of Harry, whose disquieting presence throws his old friend Gideon’s Los Angeles home into disarray. Danny Glover is captivating as the devilish visitor, delivering each line with playful ease and simmering menace. Burnett’s sly narrative doesn’t boil down to good and evil but instead offers a layered and enigmatic exploration of identity.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Carl Lumbly, Cory Curtis, Danny Glover, Davis Roberts, DeForest Covan, DeVaughn Nixon, Ethel Ayler, Jimmy Witherspoon, Julius Harris, Mary Alice, Paul Butler, Paula Bellamy, Reina King, Richard Brooks, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Sy Richardson, Vonetta McGee, Wonderful Smith

Director: Charles Burnett

Set in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas, Blue Caftan is a tender portrayal of pure love and the different forms it takes. It follows traditional tailor Halim (Saleh Bakri) and his wife Mina (Lubna Azabal) who, despite their imperfect marriage, prove their affection in small but moving ways. He peels tangerines for her and washes her hair, she preps his meals and defends his craft from demanding customers. When a third person, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), enters the picture, even more manifestations of passion (and the lack and longing and excess of it) emerge. 

It’s a dramatic film, but never overly so. Like the silky fabric Halim handles with expert care, it’s rich but soft, detailed but delicate. In the face of poverty, sickness, and discrimination, the film mines moments of joy, friendship, and pleasure, subverting the expectation that tragic circumstances must mean tragic outcomes. 

Blue Caftan, even in its saddest moments—and there are plenty—is a film full of love, made even more memorable by the deft performances and palpable chemistry of its three leads.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Lubna Azabal, Saleh Bakri, Zakaria Atifi

Director: Maryam Touzani

Frybread Face and Me is a little indie gem: though rough around the edges, it’s full of charm and heart. Drawn from its director's own childhood experiences, the movie charts a formative moment in the life of Benny, a city boy of Navajo, Hopi, and Laguna Pueblo heritage who’s carted off to his grandmother’s ranch on a Navajo reservation for a summer. It's suffused with all the specificity of real memories in a way that never distances us from it, only enfolding us closer into its nostalgic embrace. That effect largely comes from the tender bonds between Benny and his cousin Dawn (unsympathetically nicknamed Frybread Face and played by newcomer Charley Hogan), who acts as translator between him and their non-English-speaking grandmother (Sarah H. Natani, also a non-professional actor). Though he’s constantly berated by male family members for not being “masculine” enough, Benny finds unconditional acceptance from his grandmother and misfit camaraderie with Frybread, who also gives the film a dry comedic edge — a welcome touch in a usually saccharine genre. Ultimately, though, it’s the movie’s soft sweetness and intimate depths that are most distinctive: it’s so gently told, and with such genuine feeling behind it, that it’s impossible not to be swept away by its charms.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Charley Hogan, Jeremiah Bitsui, Kahara Hodges, Keir Tallman, Leilani Taliaferro, Martin Sensmeier, MorningStar Angeline, Nasheen Sleuth, Sarah H. Natani

Director: Billy Luther

Rating: R

Who among us hasn’t committed a white lie to save a relationship? And who among us hasn’t yearned for the full and brutal truth? In You Hurt My Feelings, Nicole Holofcener digs into that paradox and delivers a film that is honest and funny in equal measure. Here, the writer-director doesn't just use a hilarious situation to make relatable observations and clever witticisms; she also extracts the nuances of it. She is aware, for instance, that her well-to-do characters exist in a world where it’s possible to only care about this, and not much else. And she likewise knows that Beth's (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) and Don's (Tobias Menzies) trust issues are complicated by their age and respective mid-life career troubles. But rather than stay stuck in the specificity of those details, Holofcener uses her perceptive script to highlight the relatable and the universal. These characters hurt just the same—they're plagued with the same insecurities and seek the same validation—and they express that hurt in the petty and unvarnished language everyone else does. Watching all this come to play is a comforting delight.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Amber Tamblyn, Arian Moayed, Clara Wong, Claudia Robinson, David Cross, Deniz Akdeniz, Doug Moe, Jeannie Berlin, John Sousa, Josh Pais, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kenneth Tigar, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Owen Teague, Rebecca Henderson, Sarah Steele, Sue Jean Kim, Sunita Mani, Tobias Menzies, Walter Brandes, Zach Cherry

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Rating: R

There’s a lot to think about in Dream Scenario, which posits the possibility of collectively seeing the same real man in your dreams. Norwegian filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli drops the painfully ordinary Paul (Cage) in an extraordinary reality to show us how easily one can spiral into insanity, how dangerous groupthink can be, how fickle cancel culture is, and how anything can happen to anyone, even to someone as unsuspecting as Paul. But Borgli doesn’t just experiment with ideas here, he also expertly plays with sounds and transitions, sometimes even cutting a scene before someone is done talking, to capture the skittish and unreliable language of dreams. More impressively, he takes into account how this phenomenon would play in our real, profit-oriented world. The capitalistic urge to make Paul an advertising tool, for instance, or to create tech that makes it possible for others to appear in dreams too, is both uncanny and depressingly realistic. Some might feel that Borgli is biting off more than he can chew but there’s a balance and ease to Dream Scenario that makes it feel inevitable. That’s thanks to Borgli’s brilliant direction but also, in no small part, to Cage’s inspired performance as a pathetic but harmless loser.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction

Actor: Agape Mngomezulu, Al Warren, Amber Midthunder, Ben Caldwell, Conrad Coates, David Klein, Domenic Di Rosa, Dylan Baker, Dylan Gelula, James Collins, Jennifer Wigmore, Jeremy Levick, Jessica Clement, Jim Armstrong, Jordan Raf, Josh Richards, Julianne Nicholson, Kaleb Horn, Kate Berlant, Krista Bridges, Lily Bird, Lily Gao, Liz Adjei, Maev Beaty, Marc Coppola, Marnie McPhail, Michael Cera, Nicholas Braun, Nicolas Cage, Nicole Leroux, Nneka Elliott, Noah Centineo, Noah Lamanna, Philip van Martin, Ramona Gilmour-Darling, Richard Jutras, Sofia Banzhaf, Star Slade, Stephen R. Hart, Tim Meadows, Will Corno

Director: Kristoffer Borgli

Rating: R

Being an awkward comic is a very difficult trick to pull off; even self-deprecating humor and long, quiet beats in between jokes can't just be used over and over. But while Ralph Barbosa's incredibly chilled-out personality might not be for people who like their comedians loud and animated, his matter-of-fact punchlines and willingness to make himself sound like a bit of a wimp work like a charm. Cowabunga doesn't touch on any hot-button topics, but it doesn't have to. Throughout this hour-long special, Barbosa gives us a strong, frequently very funny view from the point of view of a guy who doesn't want any trouble, but feels no pressure just being himself—a relatable dude if ever there was one.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Ralph Barbosa

Director: Eric Adams