5 Movies Like Scarface (1983) On Criterionchannel

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At the risk of being cliché, I'm going to state that only the French could have made a movie about racial issues and the troubles of youngsters in the suburbs and still make it elegant. I've tried looking for other adjectives, but I couldn't find one that better describes those long takes shot in a moody black and white. But despite the elegance of the footage, the power of the narrative and the acting makes the violence and hate realistic as hell, dragging you into the story and empathizing with the characters until you want to raise your arm and fight for your rights. Aside from this unusual combination of fine art and explicit violence, the most shocking thing about La Haine is how much the issues it addresses still make sense right now, even though the movie was released 20 years ago.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdel Ahmed Ghili, Andrée Damant, Benoit Magimel, Bernie Bonvoisin, Choukri Gabteni, Christian Moro, Christophe Rossignon, Cut Killer, Edouard Montoute, Félicité Wouassi, Florent Lavandeira, François Levantal, François Toumarkine, Heloise Rauth, Hubert Koundé, Joseph Momo, Julie Mauduech, Karim Belkhadra, Karin Viard, Laurent Labasse, Marc Duret, Mathieu Kassovitz, Mathilde Vitry, Nabil Ben Mhamed, Olga Abrego, Patrick Médioni, Peter Kassovitz, Philippe Nahon, Rywka Wajsbrot, Saïd Taghmaoui, Sandor Weltmann, Sébastien Tavel, Solo, Souleymane Dicko, Thang-Long, Vincent Cassel, Vincent Lindon, Virginie Montel, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Rating: Not Rated

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

Based on the true story of the last French woman executed by guillotine, Story of Women depicts wartime survival under the Vichy regime. While men were sent to fight in the war, women in France stayed home, in a country occupied by the Nazis, with their government collaborating with the Axis powers they were supposedly at war with. Marie-Louise Giraud is one such woman. Like her country, she is pushed to do crimes forbidden by the state, first for kindness, but eventually for comfort, but only she gets the death penalty for 27 abortions, when only a few Vichy officials have been tried for crimes against humanity, which includes the deportation of seventy thousand Jews to concentration camps. The contrast is made much more poignant with Isabelle Huppert and Claude Chabrol’s creative partnership.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Caroline Berg, Dani, Dominique Blanc, Evelyne Didi, François Cluzet, Guillaume Foutrier, Henri Attal, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Michel Noirey, Lolita Chammah, Marie Bunel, Marie Trintignant, Nils Tavernier

Director: Claude Chabrol

What Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher intentionally refuses to give you by way of plot or resolution, it more than makes up for in sharp visuals, a beautifully sparse score, and an unscratchable feeling of restlessness. It's a downer for sure, watching 12-year-old James hounded by guilt as he navigates the mundane bleakness of his everyday life. But in every detail and in every interaction he has in this rundown scheme in Glasgow is a window into the simple joys James wishes he could be enjoying. The more trouble the boy walks into, the more the guitar string tightens, and the more you wish something could finally break the cycle. There's still beauty even in these conditions, Ratcatcher tells us—but it isn't right that anyone should have to live like this.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jackie Quinn, James Ramsay, John Comerford, Leanne Mullen, Lisa Taylor, Mandy Matthews, Mick Maharg, Molly Innes, Robert Farrell, Rory McCann, Tommy Flanagan

Director: Lynne Ramsay

In this romantic drama, James Ivory adapts E.M. Forster's novel Maurice. Set in the early 20th century, Maurice Hall befriends Clive Durham while studying at Cambridge. Clive is rich, handsome, endlessly charming—and in love with Maurice. The two’s relationship blossoms quietly as they steal intimate moments in lush pastures and empty hallways. Fans of Call Me By Your Name will recognize some of the most tender and tense scenes, wherein Clive and Maurice lie together in the grass, surrounded only by weeds and flowers, as if they were the only two lovers left in the world. 

But their love story is stunted and complicated by notions of class and etiquette in an oppressive, conservative England. This is a coming-of-age story in which Maurice must ask himself not only who he is, but also who he wants to become, and how to live an earnest, honest life in the light.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alan Foss, Arthur Whybrow, Barry Foster, Ben Kingsley, Billie Whitelaw, Breffni McKenna, Catherine Rabett, Christopher Hunter, Denholm Elliott, Harriet Thorpe, Helena Bonham Carter, Helena Michell, Hugh Grant, James Wilby, Jean-Marc Barr, John Elmes, Judy Parfitt, Julian Wadham, Kitty Aldridge, Maria Britneva, Mark Payton, Mark Tandy, Matthew Sim, Michael Jenn, Miles Richardson, Olwen Griffiths, Orlando Wells, Patrick Godfrey, Peter Eyre, Philip Fox, Phillada Sewell, Phoebe Nicholls, Richard Warner, Rupert Graves, Serena Gordon, Simon Callow

Director: James Ivory

Rating: R