8 Movies Like Sex Lies and Videotape (1989)

Staff & contributors

Fear of abandonment is at the heart of The Vanishing. Lovers Rex and Saskia are separated on their way to France after the latter vanishes without a trace. For the next three years, Rex dedicates his life to finding out what happened to Saskia in whatever way possible, endangering his own safety in the process. George Sluizer’s chilling psychological thriller shows the evils that curiosity and obsession can bring, and is a uniquely perverse look at the ugly side of truth-seeking.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Bernadette Le Saché, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Caroline Appéré, Gene Bervoets, Gwen Eckhaus, Johanna ter Steege, Pierre Forget, Roger Souza

Director: George Sluizer

A woman yearns to find her biological mother, another woman struggles with infertility, a third wants to connect with her rebellious daughter. Director Mike Leigh has the prowess to seamlessly weave these stories together, and part of the joy is knowing, that like clockwork, these narratives are set on a spectacular collision course.

As melancholy as it is optimistic and as funny as it is tragic, Secrets & Lies is a perfect example of Leigh’s oeuvre and earned him a Cannes’ Palme d’Or. The film features a full cast of his regulars with the fantastic addition of Marianne Jean Baptiste as Hortense - the woman who sets the wheels of the film in motion.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alison Steadman, Angela Curran, Anthony O'Donnell, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Bovell, Claire Rushbrook, Clare Perkins, David Neilson, Denise Orita, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Frances Ruffelle, Gary McDonald, Grant Masters, Hannah Davis, Janice Acquah, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Jonny Coyne, Keylee Jade Flanders, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Liz Smith, Lucy Sheen, Margery Withers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Mia Soteriou, Michele Austin, Nitin Ganatra, Paul Trussell, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Phyllis Logan, Richard Syms, Ron Cook, Ruth Sheen, Sheila Kelley, Stephen Churchett, Su Eliott, Su Elliot, Su Elliott, Terence Harvey, Theresa Watson, Timothy Spall, Trevor Laird, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Even before any blood is inevitably shed during A Short Film About Killing (which serves as the expansion of another episode from director Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog miniseries, alongside A Short Film About Love), there's something positively oppressive and sinister even just in the way the movie is shot. Kieślowski and cinematographer Witold Adamek use color filters to make the film deliberately ugly—as if the image is degrading right in front of us. Oftentimes shadows obscure the edges of the frame, shining a sickly yellow spotlight on the characters on screen. It's the perfect way to get right into the heads of these people existing in a lawless land driven by primal instinct.

When crime and punishment finally occur, they're equally difficult to watch unfold, but in different ways. Kieślowski lingers on the details—the tools and processes that we tell ourselves will make the act of killing easier. And what he's ultimately able to expose is how capital punishment has been made to seem humane, just, or necessary, when it's often even more barbaric, cruel, and unproductive than a crime borne of desperation. The very government that does nothing to address the roots of crime is the same one most eager to kill criminals instead.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Aleksander Bednarz, Andrzej Gawroński, Artur Barciś, Barbara Dziekan, Jan Tesarz, Jerzy Zass, Krystyna Janda, Krzysztof Globisz, Leonard Andrzejewski, Małgorzata Pieczyńska, Mirosław Baka, Olgierd Łukaszewicz, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Zdzisław Rychter, Zdzisław Tobiasz

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Daniel Day-Lewis earned his breakout performance as Johnny, a reformed skinhead in this tale of  interracial gay romance in Thatcher’s Britain. Gordon Warnecke plays Johnny's lover Omar, the aimless son of a Pakistani intellectual who is given a leg-up by a successful uncle when he’s put in charge of rescuing a failing laundrette in gritty South London. Remarkably, Omar and Johnny’s romance isn’t presented as all that transgressive; far more central are the experiences and attitudes towards “assimilation” of Omar’s British-Pakistani family, the elders of whom live double lives and indulge both their financial and sexual greed. My Beautiful Laundrette is transgressive in many ways, but mostly in the dizzying array of tensions it sets its sights on — racial, ideological, class, generational, and gender — an ambitious quality that can, admittedly, overwhelm at times. But ambition is an admirable flaw for a film to have, particularly one as sharp and groundbreaking as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ayub Khan-Din, Badi Uzzaman, Bhasker Patel, Charu Bala Chokshi, Chris Pitt, Colin Campbell, Daniel Day-Lewis, Dawn Archibald, Derrick Branche, Dulice Liecier, Garry Cooper, Gerard Horan, Gordon Warnecke, Jonathan Moore, Nisha Kapur, Ram John Holder, Richard Graham, Rita Wolf, Roshan Seth, Saeed Jaffrey, Shirley Anne Field, Souad Faress, Stephen Marcus

Director: Stephen Frears

You can tell Drugstore Cowboy was written by someone who has been through drug abuse and incarceration himself. This is the kind of film that has to be lived, not researched. It’s realistic, sure, and it gets at the interiority of a drug user with ease. But there is no judgment to be found here, no preachy criticism or misguided glorification of a hardened lifestyle. Bob (Matt Dillon) and his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch) have created a nomadic, transient life that allows them to live on drugstore lootings one district at a time, while looking out for each other and the other couple they live with, Rick (James LeGros) and Nadine (Heather Graham). They chose this outlaw life, and because of the agency the film affords them, there is joy to be found despite their difficulties. It’s an authentic story, elevated by imaginative editing, a jazzy, heart-thumping score, and believable performances by a quartet of capable actors.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Beah Richards, Eric Hull, George Catalano, Grace Zabriskie, Gus Van Sant, Heather Graham, James Le Gros, James Remar, Kelly Lynch, Matt Dillon, Max Perlich, Michael Parker, Ted D'Arms, William S. Burroughs

Director: Gus Van Sant

Rating: R

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alison Tatlock, Amy Locane, Christina Gray, Ezra Buzzington, Herbert Russell, James Spader, Jeremy Davies, Jessica Tuck, Julene Renee, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Lacey Kohl, Lauren Cohn, Lesley Ann Warren, Lily Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary Joy, Michael Mantell, Osgood Perkins, Oz Perkins, Patrick Bauchau, Sabrina Grdevich, Stephen McHattie, Steven Fierberg, Steven Shainberg

Director: Steven Shainberg

Rating: R

In this neo-noir crime drama, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play a trio of con-artists in modern day (1990) California. Roy (Cusack) is a small-stakes hustler prone to swindling bartenders and drunken sailors for pocket money, while Lilly (Huston) plays his estranged mother who reappears in his life while working a series of horse track bluffs. Myra (Bening) notches in between the two of them as Cusack’s boisterous yet conniving girlfriend, and the instant mutual dislike between her and Lilly sets the film’s course of action in motion. It’s a fun, edgy thriller that will leave you guessing up until it's shocking finale. Elevated immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein’s old-fashioned, hard boiled music score, The Grifters is a real feather in the hat for both director Stephen Frears and producer Martin Scorsese.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, Billy Ray Sharkey, Charles Napier, David Sinaiko, Eddie Jones, Frances Bay, Gailard Sartain, Gregory Sporleder, Henry Jones, Ivette Soler, J.T. Walsh, Jan Munroe, Jeff Perry, Jeremy Piven, Jimmy Noonan, John Cusack, Jon Gries, Juliet Landau, Lou Hancock, Martin Scorsese, Michael Laskin, Micole Mercurio, Noelle Harling, Pat Hingle, Paul Adelstein, Richard Holden, Robert Weems, Sandy Baron, Stephen Tobolowsky, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Teresa Gilmore, Xander Berkeley

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: R

, 1994

Notorious comic artist Robert (R.) Crumb is definitely the most well-adjusted member of his immediate family. Fairly early in this documentary we are introduced to his two sibling brothers (mom is briefly viewed as well) and it becomes apparent that his childhood was less than rosy. Crumb and his brothers drew mind-blowing comics as an escape from their chaotic childhood, but it was only R. who would turn his talents into a means of permanent escape, while his oldest brother remains at home with his mom and never leaves the house, and his youngest brother is holed up in a seedy residence hotel and spends his days sitting on a bed of nails (I kid you not.) Whether or not you’re a fan of Crumb’s work, this is an amazing documentary about an eccentric individual and the world of underground comics.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Aline Kominsky, Charles Crumb, Robert Crumb, Robert Hughes

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Rating: R