43 Movies Like Prisoners (2013)

Staff & contributors

With ‘Wild tales’, writer-director Damían Szifrón explores exactly how thin the proverbial veneer is on the passions of the human heart. Or rather he gleefully rips it off. Visually dazzling and laced with social critique, violent revenge is the theme joining the six vignettes together. Each one starts off in a relatable everyday situation, including an airplane, a wedding, and a coffee shop, which quickly propels into complete savagery of Roald Dahlian proportions.

Like the famous author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Szifrón writes great satirical characters, which he relishes in hurting and throwing in the ditch. And much like the rage of its protagonists, featuring Ricardo Darín as a family man articulating his by way of explosives, this movie does not know peaks and valleys. It’s a dark comedy thrill ride that will have you gasping for air!

Understated in budget but lavished with praise, this semi-autobiographical drama by Daniel Destin Cretton flings its audience into the chaotic lives and personal crises of at-risk youths and the passionate social workers that aid them. In his first feature film, the young director draws the viewers into the storm of events and the emotional ups-and-downs of social work in America, going from uplifting to depressing and back – and every emotion in-between.

Set in the real-life and eponymous group home Short Term 12, devoted but troubled foster-care worker Grace is played by Brie Larson, whose shining performance in her first leading role was lauded by critics. Fans will also recognize the supporting actors Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek, who broke out in this movie. Short Term 12 is now considered one of the most important movies of 2013 – some say of the decade – owing to its immaculate writing, intimate camerawork, and gripping performances.

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

Much like Berlin’s infamous nightlife, which serves as the backdrop to the plot, this daring German real-time drama will eat you up and spit you out. After leaving a nightclub at 4am, Victoria, a runaway Spanish girl, befriends a gang of four raucous young men, climbing rooftops and drinking beers among the city’s moon-lit streets. The gang’s light-hearted banter is impressively improvised from a skeleton script, offset by Niels Frahm’s ominous original score.

But what starts out as late-night high jinks swerves into darker territory. Driven by her infatuation with the pack leader Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, Victoria ends up being recruited as a get-away driver for an ill-prepared bank robbery and loses herself in a sinister spiral of events. What sounds like a standard-issue crime drama is, in fact, a staggering cinematic experiment.

Filmed in one take, on location, and in real time, the movie’s production is indeed a gamble, but director Sebastian Schipper more than pulls it off. The claustrophobic camerawork of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen leaves the viewer feeling like a hapless accomplice to Victoria’s plight. With Laia Costa giving an awe-striking lead performance, the high wire acting of the entire main cast only adds to this effect. Victoria is a stellar directorial debut, heart-stopping drama, and a truly immersive experience.

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

This is the true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man in Oakland, California, who was shot dead by police in the morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Incidentally, 2009 was also the time when smartphones started going mainstream, and so the incident was not only captured by CCTV but also many private cell phone cameras. The murder went viral.

Grant is superbly played by Michael B. Jordan in what now counts as one of his breakthrough roles, when many only knew him as Wallace in the now-legendary crime drama The Wire. Director Ryan Coogler went on making two more movies with him, including Black Panther in 2018.

Produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and compassionately told, Fruitvale Station surpasses the sadness of its subject matter and amounts to an extraordinary celebration of life. A must-watch.

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot - a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.
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!
A Good Movie to Watch features almost every work of Asghar Farhadi for the sole reason that his films, although highly acclaimed and brilliant, are criminally under-watched. As always, Farhadi offers complex, compelling, and contemporary drama and piercing insight into human relationships and emotions. Expect the twists, subtleties, and emotional limbo that you're probably familiar with from A Separation or About Elly. That said, The Past is a bit different, because, for one, it focuses on romantic relationships, and, secondly, it plays in the far more permissive world of a Parisian suburb –⁠ and not in theocratic Teheran. Independent of its location, The Past's key subject is the universally human phenomenon of having to deal with the choices made in the past. In addition to Farhadi's intricate directing and the sensitive script, it is imperative to mention the powerful performances by Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim, and, above all, Bérénice Bejo. An unforgettable experience.
The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

You know you're in for a treat when you see Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini heading the cast of a sweet and slightly goofy comedy. Steadily going beyond his persona in The Sopranos, you see James Gandolfini playing a role that his fans have probably always imagined him playing: a nice, funny guy with an endearing personality. Directed by Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said almost has a sit-com feel to it: a divorced single parent and masseuse, Eva (Louis-Dreyfus), is looked up by a guy, she briefly met at a party, Albert (Gandolfini). Upon finding out they have much in common, the two start dating. At the same time, she meets Marianne (Catherine Keener), who she becomes friends with and who cannot stop talking ill of her apparently awful ex-husband. You guessed it: it's her new, promising date, Albert. Things get muddy and very funny as she starts to doubt, whether she has made a big mistake. Hilarious, romantic, and smart, it's very much like we expected: a real treat.

Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman, an ambitious young jazz drummer striving for greatness, who is edged towards breaking point by the sadism of his teacher and conductor, Terence Fletcher, played expertly by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher insults him, pressures him, and makes him cry in front of all his peers. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who was one of the youngest people to receive a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for the powerful La La Land, the aptly titled Whiplash poses some intense questions about artistry and ambition. Will Andrew survive? Will it lift him to a higher artistic level? Can his tormentor be appeased through accomplishment? It's almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Cherishing the existential artist without giving easy answers, Whiplash is an inspiring watch.
If you thought Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar, or True Detective was already the pinnacle of what Mathew McConaughey could do, wait until you see this film! Created by writer-director Jeff Nichols and set in the American South, Mud is a beautiful tale of love, loss, and personal growth. Two children, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), come across the elusive Mud (who is played by McConaughey), a man on the run wanted for murder. Initially scared of his mysterious character, the kids end up wanting to help and protect him from his those pursuing him. Ultimately a story of love, the film deals with a very human crisis seen through the eyes of children, drawing from American adventure tales and the humidity of the South. Mud is exciting, uneasy, sad, and quite beautiful. All at once.

A period comedy set in New York in the summer of 1994, the Wackness is a coming of age story about Luke Shapiro (Joshua Peck), as he deals with family trauma, love, and economic hardship while selling pot to his strange psychologist. Rescued from a somewhat typical bildungsroman plot by sharp character acting, a firm directorial hand and an absolutely fitting soundtrack that evokes the golden age of rap music.

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.