25 Movies Like Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Staff & contributors

Former activists Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie drop out from modern consumerist society to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, to survive in nature through boot-camp-like workouts, and homeschool them in literature, music, and left-wing philosophy. Instead of Christmas, they celebrate Noam Chomsky's birthday. Then, one day, this unusual family life is shaken by a phone call and they are forced to leave their life of adventure to reintegrate into American life.

Directed by Matt Ross, who also brought you Good Night, and Good Luck, the film offers a poignant look at alternative living, the effects of modern technology, and the nature of good parenting. Viggo Mortensen is indeed fantastic as the grizzled father and was rightly nominated for a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actor. George MacKay and the entire cast of “children” also deliver terrific performances. As emotionally raw and thought-provoking as it is funny, Captain Fantastic will have the viewer decide if Ben Cash is the best father in the world or the worst.

Written by actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and directed by David Mackenzie (who is responsible for the prison drama Starred up), this well-acted Western is one of the most captivating movies of 2016. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play two brothers, one cautious and out to better himself, the other, an ex-convict with an itchy trigger finger, whose family ranch is threatened by the local bank. Both set out to make a high-risk living of travelling and robbing that bank's local branches. On the other side of town, grizzled Texas ranger Marcus, played by none other than Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges, has one foot in retirement but is bent on solving their case. The film's spectacular cinematography is reinforced by the brooding original music, composed by none other than Nick Cave and long-time collaborator Warren Ellis. It takes you on a journey that is as much about the two brothers' violent upbringing as it is about the decaying towns they visit, making this modern-day crime western not only a great thriller but a tribute to the Texan way of life.
Echoing Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesmen, Oscar-winning writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly) tells the story of a loving middle-class couple who live in Tehran, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), who are forced to move out of their apartment. After arriving at their new place, violence erupts, upending their life and straining their previously happy relationship. Farhadi does what he does best here, delivering simmering tension, complex realism, and unaltered emotion. Originally titled Forushande, every scene of The Salesman is a privileged look for Western viewers into Iran's collective consciousness. And even with all that aside, the film still stands out as an extraordinary drama with a tense plot and outstanding performances across the board. Another incredible addition to Farhadi's first-class filmography.
Being an intimate, black-and-white portrayal of just two people, it is worth mentioning the two leads in the very first sentence: Blue Jay stars the incredibly versatile Sarah Paulson, who most of you will know from her depiction of Marcia Clark in The People vs. O.J., and Mark Duplass from Creep. In this incredibly intricate dialogue-driven drama, he is of course named Jim, a regular guy with some issues, who runs into his high-school sweetheart Amanda at the grocery store. She is only in town briefly because her sister is having a baby. Amanda agrees to have coffee with him, later they get beer and jellybeans, and find themselves recreating silly tapes at his late mother's house that they use to make when they were still at school. This could quickly become a soppy affair if it wasn't for the heart-felt realness of the acting, for lack of a better term, and all the fine details that the two leads bring to the screen. The chemistry between them is something to behold!
Winning him Best Director at the Academy Awards, Kenneth Lonergan's drama Manchester By the Sea is a delicate and profound study of loss and grief—and a true triumph. Its focus on characters, well-paced unfolding as well as world-class acting are only equal to the very best of European dramas. This type of quiet exploration of the possibility that grief cannot be overcome has rarely been successful in American cinema, if ever. The last best attempt was probably You Can Count on Me. Originally a playwright, this is Lonergan's third film and Manchester by the Sea is where he unveils his full potential. It follows a depressed handyman, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who leads a quiet but angry life. After his brother dies, he returns to his hometown only to discover that he is the only left to take care of his teenage nephew. There, he is confronted with his past and the blue-collar community from which he was raised. Co-produced by Matt Damon, it grossed around $80 million on a budget of $8.5 million. One of the most noted films of 2016.

Based on Fredrick Backman's 2012 best-selling book of the same name, this Swedish hit comedy-drama introduces us to Ove, an elderly man who feels like his life is over. After losing his wife, the short-fused retiree spends his days grumpily enforcing block association rules in his neighborhood. He is your typical unhappy, old neighbor, somebody you would try to avoid. One new family does not give up and befriends Ove, played by an impeccable Rolf Lassgård, despite his best intentions to put them off. As the plot unfolds, however, you learn more about the story behind the man, and, in classic walk-a-mile-in-his-shoes fashion, start to find him rather loveable. After all, nobody is born grumpy and cynical. Naturally, this is a sweet and sentimental film. But an amazing lead performance and a charming, darkly funny script rescue it from drifting too far off the shore. The result is a wholesome, fun, and thoughtful dramedy with a beautiful message.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an impromptu freelance videographer who begins covering the crime world in LA for a local TV station. Almost as dark as a mystery can get, it is disturbing, and plays out as a combination of "Drive" and "The Network". The film is visually stunning as well as immensely suspenseful. It then becomes almost impossible to look away, even when you're the most horrified by just how far Bloom is willing to go to reach success. Gyllenhaal's performance is widely compared to that of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, which should give you an idea of its caliber.

A unique movie about a near-future society obsessed with couples; viewing couples as the norm, as opposed to single people who are viewed as unproductive and undesirable. In that way, the film shows David (Colin Farrell), a newly single person who is transferred to the Hotel, a place where single people have just 45 days to find a suitable mate, and if they fail, they would be transformed into animals of their choice. While the film’s original premise may not be everyone’s cup of tea, The Lobster will prove a goldmine for people who are into a Kafkaesque, absurdist mentality, or anyone looking for an idea-driven experience.

Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But man, is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experiment that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (Okja). When the company who originally ran the experiment want their pig back (performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) – the two find an ally in an animal advocacy group led by Jay (Paul Dano). This is a straightforward movie, but nevertheless it is entertaining and full of thought-provoking themes and performances from an excellent cast.

This small movie set over one summer weekend is a tender and affecting coming-of-age drama.

Jack is a bullied adolescent who lives in a run-down small town. When his aunt falls sick, he has to take care of his cousin, a younger and even more vulnerable kid. Their relationship evolves in this sensitive drama that spans a quick hour and 15 minutes.

Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and many other big names star in this comedy-drama directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker.) The story spans multiple generations but starts in 1979, where Dorothea Fields (Bening) is finding it increasingly difficult to raise her son alone. She enlists the help of two other women, one her son’s age and the other a New Yorker in her twenties who is very active in the punk scene. The three women, of three different generations and personalities as well as takes on the concept of “only a man can raise a man,” play different roles in this kid’s life. 20th Century Women is based on director Mike Mill’s own upbringing in Southern California.

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

Nelly is a concentration camp survivor who undergoes reconstructive facial surgery, and comes back to question whether her husband (unable to recognize her) was the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Heavy, heavy stuff. But in Phoenix you will also see something else, as the story takes you beyond the subject matter to become almost a celebration of film: elements of Hitchcockian cinema intertwine with the realism of the likes of David Ayer are added to perfect performances to create a stunning, compelling, and exceptional film.

Graduation is a Romanian movie from the director of the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (also number 15 in the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.) Romeo is a 49-year-old doctor in the city of Cluj-Napoca. He is immensely proud and dedicated to his daughter, Eliza, who gets awarded a scholarship to go to Cambridge provided that she does well in her last high-school exam. The day before this exam, Elisa is sexually assaulted outside her school, and her wrist is broken. The event haunts the family and jeopardizes Elisa’s chances of succeeding in her exam. Romeo, still determined to ensure his daughter’s success, vows to do anything to not let the assault ruin his daughter’s future. Graduation is about this father and daughter duo as they go against a corrupt but quickly changing Romanian system.
This is the first film directed by actor Macon Blair (so good in both Blue Ruin and Green Room), and while it is shaggy and tonally all over the place, there is a lot to recommend here. First off, I’m a huge fan of the (underrated) Melanie Lynskey, so I was primed to like this movie from the get-go. After Ruth’s (Lynskey) home is broken into, she seeks revenge against the perpetrators with help from her martial arts obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, sporting an impressive rat-tail). What starts out as an empowering journey for Ruth & Tony quickly teeters into dangerous and increasingly violent territory. This movie is probably not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 90s indie films and don’t mind some violence mixed in with your dark humor, then you will enjoy this small, well-acted film.