24 Movies Like Pleasure (2021)

Staff & contributors

From Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi comes another film featuring long drives, thoughtful talks, and unexpected twists. An anthology of three short stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ponders over ideas of love, fate, and the all-too-vexing question, “what if?” 

What if you didn’t run away from the one you love? What if you didn’t give in to lust that fateful day? What if, right then and there, you decide to finally forgive?

Big questions, but without sacrificing depth, Hamaguchi does the incredible task of making every single second feel light and meaningful. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will leave you with mixed emotions: excited, startled, dejected, hopeful. But one thing you won’t feel is regret over watching this instant classic of a film.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aoba Kawai, Aoba Kawai 河井清叶, Ayumu Nakajima, Fusako Urabe, Hitoshi Omika, Hyunri, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kotone Furukawa, Shouma Kai

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: R-13

Many films have tried to decipher the indecipherable bond between mothers and daughters. Lady Bird, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Turning Red, to name a few, center on this particular relationship, which to outsiders may seem strange at best and dysfunctional at worst. How can mothers yell at their daughters one second and coddle them the next? How can daughters treat mothers like their best friend and enemy all at once? 

One of the best films to explore this complexity is Petite Maman, a fantasy-like film that brings together mother and daughter in a unique situation, forcing them both to regard the other in otherwise impossible ways. It succeeds where others haven’t precisely because it accepts that this relationship is beyond dissecting, and the only way to honor it is in the poignant, poetic, and otherworldly way that it does. It’s a quiet film that manages to say a lot, not least of which is that it’s okay to feel and love and hurt as much as one does.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Joséphine Sanz, Margot Abascal, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne

Director: Céline Sciamma

, 2019

A beautifully shot movie about a high-schooler who's pushed by his father to always work and exercise the hardest. He aces his exams and always wins at wrestling, but nothing is ever good enough for the father and there is no margin for error. When things with both his body and his relationship start going wrong, his existence comes crashing down. This movie has two parts, and it takes a lot of narrative risks, but the beautiful camera work and believable characters land every single risk. It's an incredible achievement and a movie that should have gotten much more attention than it did.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexa Demie, Avis-Marie Barnes, Bill Wise, Carter Harcek, Clifton Collins Jr., David Garelik, David Payton, Ellen Marguerite Cullivan, Harlan Drum, Harmony Korine, Joshua Brockington, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Krisha Fairchild, Kristin Wollett, Lucas Hedges, Neal Huff, Nicholas Ryan Hernandez, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Vivi Pineda

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Rating: R

An absolutely beautiful film about superficiality, arrogance, and heartbreak. It focuses on the life of Aydin, a retired actor who now lives very comfortably managing a small hotel and a number of other small properties. Throughout the film Aydin's image shifts as he tackles the problems of his rather typical life. Having said this, there is nothing else typical about this film. It captures human relationships with an almost frightening precision. It almost feels as though you have an inside view into someone's actual life as Aydin battles it out with his sister Necla and his young wife Nihal. To me this is easily one of the best dramas of the decade, and if you so much as like movies that focus on humans and their interactions, it will be that for you too.  Nuri Bilge Ceylan will make 3 hours pass more quickly than they ever have before.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayberk Pekcan, Demet Akbag, Ekrem İlhan, Emirhan Doruktutan, Haluk Bilginer, Mehmet Ali Nuroğlu, Mehmet Ali Nuroğlu, Melisa Sözen, Nadir Sarıbacak, Nadir Sarıbacak, Nejat İşler, Nejat İşler, Serhat Kılıç, Serhat Mustafa Kılıç, Serhat Mustafa Kılıç, Tamer Levent

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner, Dianna Agron, Fred Melamed, Glynis Bell, Jackie Hoffman, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Rachel Sennott, Richard Brundage, Rita Gardner, Sondra James, Ted Seligman

Director: Emma Seligman

Rating: Unrated

Georgian dance has cut-throat competition: the art form is dying even within Gerogia, and to make it, dancers compete to join the one duo that represents the country. The chance finally comes and the spot opens up, igniting the hopes of performers from around the country. Mervan is one of them, a young dancer from a poor background who takes food from his restaurant job to feed his family. His main competition is a newcomer, Irakli, who also comes from a difficult background and hopes to secure the spot to provide for his ill father.

When their lives hang on them competing against one another, Mervan and Irakli fall for each other.

And Then We Danced is full of incredible dance sequences that add to the beauty of the romance at its center; but it's also a heartbreaking exploration of unfulfilled ambition.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aleko Begalishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Bachi Valishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli, Mate Khidasheli, Ninutsa Gabisonia, Tamar Bukhnikashvili

Director: Levan Akin

Rating: 12

, 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

On the one hand, Godland is a film about nature’s unforgiving beauty. Like the photographs the priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) takes, these quietly superb scenes speak for themselves. The Earth moves in mysterious and harsh ways, and we are but mere specks, organic matter to be folded in and absorbed, in the grand scheme of things. It would’ve worked with just this message alone, but Godland also treads on political ground. Through Lucas, who is Danish, and his travel guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), who is Icelandic, we sense a palpable tension that electrifies the film with a colonial strain. There are layers to their deep aversion (and dependence) on one another, and director Hlynur Pálmason does well to pair this with imagery that is just complex, profound, and packed with meaning.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Elliott Crosset Hove, Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir, Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Vic Carmen Sonne, Waage Sandø

Director: Hlynur Palmason

Three half-Puerto-Rican, half-white boys grow up in suburban New York in this personal movie shot on stunning 16mm film.

This movie follows the boys, often literally with the camera behind their backs, as their parents’ relationship goes through turmoil. The kids are often left unattended and have to fend for themselves. The beauty of We the Animals is illustrating how they grow-up swinging between the angry character of their father and the protective nature of their mother.

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I think I loved it so much because I was able to relate and feel for the main character (one of the boys). I really hope you will too.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amelia Campbell, Evan Rosado, Giovanni Pacciarelli, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Josiah Santiago, Mickey Anthony, Moe Isaac, Raúl Castillo, Sheila Vand, Terry Holland, Tom Malley

Director: Jeremiah Zagar

Rating: R

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s new movie is about an arrogant European artist who tattoos a Syrian man's back, essentially turning the man's body into artwork. 

The man, as a commodity, is able to travel the world freely to be in art galleries, something as a simple human with a Syrian passport he couldn’t do. Seems unlikely? It’s based on a true story.

But Ben Hania is not really interested in the political statement aspect of this unlikely stunt. Instead, she looks at what this would do to a human-being, to the man's self-esteem, his relationships, and the turns his life takes. It's a fascinating movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrienne Mei Irving, Anissa Daoud, Christian Vadim, Darina Al Joundi, Fayçal Hassaĭri, Husam Chadat, Ichraq Matar, Ingo Brosch, Jacques Germain, Jan Dahdouh, Koen De Bouw, Marc de Panda, Monica Bellucci, Nadim Cheikhrouha, Najoua Zouhair, Patrick Albenque, Rupert Wynne-James

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania

, 2019

This crazy adventure thriller was Colombia's nomination for the 2020 Oscars. "Monos" translates to monkeys, the nom de guerre of a group of teenagers holding an American hostage in an isolated bunker. Other than the occasional visit from their supervisor, they're left to their devices, forming relationships, smoking weed, drinking, and eating psychedelic mushrooms. One day, on top of the hostage, they're also trusted with a milk cow, named Shakira. A party goes wrong and one of the Monos accidentally kills Shakira, triggering a series of events that sends them deep into the jungle, and deep into despair. 

Monos is not an action movie, it's more of a character study. It was loosely based on The Lord of the Flies.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller, War

Actor: Deibi Rueda, Jorge Román, Julián Giraldo, Julián Giraldo, Julianne Nicholson, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillón, Moisés Arias, Moises Arias, Paul Cubides, Sneider Castro, Sofía Buenaventura, Sofia Buenaventura, Wilson Salazar

Director: Alejandro Landes

Rating: R

Asako is in love with Baku—deeply and almost delusionally, in a way that can only manifest in young love. But when the freewheeling Baku ghosts Asako for good, she moves from Osaka all the way to Tokyo to start a new life. Years later, she's startled to meet Baku's doppelganger in Ryohei, an office man whose solid dependability and lack of artfulness, while endearing, could not place him any further from Baku. Confused and lonely, Asako tiptoes around her feelings for Ryohei and, in the process, raises thought-provoking questions about the meaning, ethics, and true purpose of love.

 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ariei Umefune, Atsushi Kaneshige, Daichi Watanabe, Erika Karata, Fusako Urabe, Koji Nakamoto, Koji Seto, Maki Nishiyama, Masahiro Higashide, Misako Tanaka, Nao Okabe, Rio Yamashita, Ryotaro Yonemura, Sairi Ito, Takeshi Ōnishi

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Not Rated

The curious link between smell and memory forms the basis of this intriguing — albeit uneven — exploration of the supernatural ties between mother and child. Eight-year-old Vicky (Sally Dramé), daughter of the unhappily married Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Jimmy (Moustapha Mbengue), has a sense of smell so fine-tuned she can identify a catalog of notes in any scent. Smells are so evocative for Vicky that they can also send her hurtling into someone’s past, like her mother’s thorny teenage history with Jimmy’s sister Julia (Swala Emati).

The film makes mostly effective use of its fascinating premise and brilliant (partly non-professional) cast. Set in the glacial Alps, the film dives under icy exteriors to find the tension smoldering between the family and their tight-knit community. Like Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman, it uses time-bending magical realism to articulate the elemental force of maternal bonds and a child’s shock at realizing their parents led a full life before them. It’s less illuminating about its central conceit, though, and some of the less fantastical elements are also underdone, coming off melodramatic in a way that clashes with its overall understatedness. Despite this, The Five Devils is a bewitching watch, particularly in its goosebump-inducing final shot.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Antonia Buresi, Daphne Patakia, Hugo Dillon, Moustapha Mbengue, Noée Abita, Patrick Bouchitey, Sally Dramé, Stéphanie Lhorset, Swala Emati

Director: Léa Mysius

A very touching film about Japanese children who are abandoned by their mother in their apartment and left on their own. It's movie that perfectly encapsulates the world of kids and its alignment with this story is both heartbreaking and joyful. Their innocence will make you smile from ear to ear until moments come where you will shed tears. This is a film everyone should have watched, it breaks my heart how little-known it is.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayu Kitaura, Hanae Kan, Hiei Kimura, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Ken'ichi Endô, Momoko Shimizu, Ryō Kase, Sei Hiraizumi, Susumu Terajima, You, Yuichi Kimura, Yukiko Okamoto, Yûya Yagira

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

Though it isn't the groundbreaking slasher movie that it initially seemed to be marketed as, X simply knows how to do its job very well: the gore is plentiful and the build-up to the inevitable kills is just loaded with anticipation. But where the film becomes much more interesting is in the palpable sadness that seems to follow all of its characters. Innocent or murderous, each of these people is just trying to cling to an idea of personal freedom and beauty that never seems to last. It's a horror movie that takes its portrayals of sex and sexuality very seriously, exploring the limits of sexual liberation in a country that actively tries to punish it.

Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Brittany Snow, Bryony Skillington, Geoff Dolan, James Gaylyn, Jenna Ortega, Karen Gillan, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Matthew J. Saville, Mia Goth, Owen Campbell, Simon Prast, Stephen Ure

Director: Ti West

Rating: R