17 Movies Like Sisu (2022)

Staff & contributors

Despite the amusing specificity of its title, this lovely documentary from director Les Blank is really for all of us. Through the example of gap teeth — a physical feature many of the participants here report being made to feel self-conscious about — the film makes a rallying call to embrace ourselves and all of our physical “flaws.”

A big part of what makes this film so heartening is that so many of the women featured here (including model Lauren Hutton) have come out on the other side of loathing their gap teeth, giving us a tangible example of what it looks like to love yourself in spite of other people’s opinions about your body. What’s more, even within a limited runtime, Blank finds space to devote to exploring other aspects of the featured women’s lives — their art, professions, religious practices — and thereby quietly expands the film’s focus from physical beauty and onto the myriad beauties of life itself. It’s an ironic pleasure that Gap-Toothed Women ultimately refuses to define its subjects by the very feature described in its title, and instead gives us this life-affirming shot of wisdom for the ages.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Lauren Hutton, Lauren Moore, Sandra Day O'Connor

Director: Les Blank

The debut feature by Palestine’s most well-known director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is an unusual movie about the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict in that it's closer to absurdist comedy than anything else. The only physical violence we see here are men cat-fighting in the street or arm-wrestling each other in cafes, and Israeli presence is limited to a couple of bumbling police officers. Chronicle is full of slapstick cinema touches — right down to the Buster Keaton-esque eyes of director Elia Suleiman, who appears here as a silent wanderer — and yet we feel the bitter reality of the occupation framing every deadpan gag. 

Structured as a series of vignettes, Chronicle’s loose form is both a way to depict the stagnation and dry repetition in which Palestinians are stuck and a wry metaphor for all this listlessness. Suleiman speaks plainly in some chapters — such as the one following a woman who is repeatedly turned down from renting an apartment in Jerusalem because she’s Arab — and more obliquely in others, forcing you to recall the movie’s setting to understand his often-understated commentary. A singular film from an utterly unique director, Chronicle of a Disappearance is both a portrait of a country’s erosion and a quietly defiant act of resistance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Fawaz Eilemi, Fuad Suleiman, Iaha Mouhamad, Jamel Daher, Juliet Mazzawi, Leonid Alexeenko, Nazira Suleiman, Ola Tabari, Ula Tabari

Director: Elia Suleiman

In this documentary about John Allen Chau — the American Christian missionary reportedly killed when he tried to preach the Gospel to one of the last uncontacted groups in the world — a participant muses about the “fine line between faith and madness.” The hazy border where one ends and the other begins is the focus of this doc, and it makes for a fascinating challenge of audience’s open-mindedness.

The film presents Chau’s perspective through scattered interviews with friends and readings of the diary he left behind, but it also features interviews with surviving, persistent adherents of the same radical evangelicalism that inspired Chau to preach the Gospel to the North Sentinelese people (something he believed was a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus). The filmmakers treat these highly controversial perspectives with a light touch, never explicitly challenging Chau’s peers, but strong balance is provided via the voices of vehement opponents of this ideology. Providing equal weighting to both sides is an unusually hands-off approach, one that might easily be misread as tacit approval from the filmmakers. Ultimately, though, anyone watching this with an open mind will still come to the same moral conclusion — you’ll just be better informed about it.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dan Davis, Daniel Everett, David Shih, Lawrence Kao, Levi Davis, Pam Arlund

Director: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss

Rating: PG-13

Nakedness has been demonized or at least, has been considered inappropriate outside of certain situations. One such situation is the sauna, as the steam and high heat is considered therapeutic, especially in colder regions. In her directorial debut, Anna Hints documents the Estonian smoke sauna, not just as a cultural tradition, but as a sanctuary for women to bare their bodies and their troubles. The women are, of course, naked, but the sauna’s smoke and darkness obscures and keeps identities hidden, focusing on their stories and allowing a glimpse of women’s bodies at their most natural, without the sexualization often placed with the male gaze. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is a refreshing take, one where plenty of women can finally see themselves in.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Eda Veeroja, Elsa Saks, Eva Kübar, Kadi Kivilo, Maria Meresaar, Marianne Liiv, Merit Kask

Director: Anna Hints

Surprisingly dramatic for a documentary but without exoticizing its central characters for a privileged audience, The Territory is that rare film that rightfully portrays indigenous peoples as living firmly in the present. In their continuing struggle to protect their land and culture, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people of the Amazon may be vulnerable, but they aren't helpless. They're organized, have access to technology, and know exactly how they want to represent themselves—armed with bows and arrows and defending what's theirs in beautiful, thrilling footage. In this way, even as The Territory ultimately touches on issues that have affected all of Brazil, namely the destructive effects of Jair Bolsonaro's presidency, it still feels like a documentary co-authored by these indigenous people themselves.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau

Director: Alex Pritz

, 2023

In 1984, Michael Jordan was a rising star and Nike had yet to make its mark in the basketball industry. With nothing to lose, Nike had to make a choice: settle behind the far more successful Adidas and Converse or shoot its shot and bet everything they have to win Jordan? 

You don’t have to be an NBA fanatic to know what Nike went with. The real-life story of how Air Jordans came to be is compelling in itself, but the dramatized version of it in Air is told with extra verve and charm, with director Ben Affleck and writer Alex Convery successfully turning a business pitch into something funny, moving, and highly watchable, predictable beats and all. 

Air covers the big hits and misses of business (which it buoys with lighthearted jokes and tender backstories), provides an addictive 80s soundtrack (without caricaturing the era), and gives us likable, rootable characters (an impressive feat given that this is, essentially, a Nike ad campaign). Matt Damon and Viola Davis, especially, turn in performances that elevate Air into something quite special. And while this film may be more about the Air than the Jordans, it is still a champion's story—familiar and cheesy at times, sure, but feel good, inspiring, and truly winning. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Al Madrigal, Albert Stroth, Andy Hirsch, Ari Davis, Asanté Deshon, Barack Obama, Barbara Sukowa, Ben Affleck, Billy Smith, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Damian Young, Dan Bucatinsky, Deloris Jordan, Dempsey Gibson, Gabrielle Bourne, Geoffrey Gould, Gustaf Skarsgård, Jackson Damon, Jason Bateman, Jay Mohr, Jerry Plummer, Jessica Green, Joel Gretsch, Joshua Funk, Julius Tennon, Mackenzie Rayne, Marlon Wayans, Matt Damon, Matthew Maher, Michael Jordan, Michael O'Neill, Richard Allan Jones, Tami Jordan, Tom Papa, Ure Egbuho, Viola Davis

Director: Ben Affleck

Rating: R

, 2024

Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican painter, not just because of her outstanding art, but also because of her outlook in life, despite her ill health and tragic accident. Because of this, she has been talked about in multiple books, movies, and exhibitions, but a new documentary has popped up, this time from her own words. Carla Gutierrez’s directorial debut is a revelation, voiced primarily in Frida’s native Spanish and paired with key archival footage, vivid animations of her paintings, and an excellent acoustic score plucked from classical guitar. Being a biographical documentary, fans of the artist would, of course, be familiar with her life events, but Gutierrez’s approach is still worth watching, mostly because it’s Frida’s own words driving the film.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fernanda Echevarría del Rivero, Frida Kahlo

Director: Carla Gutierrez

Rating: R

In Baby J, SNL-writer-turned-stand-up-star John Mulaney brutally embraces his messy past and turns it into relatable material and hilarious anecdotes. Confronting his controversial stint at rehab, his struggle with addiction, and his experiences with fatherhood and the resulting reinvention, Mulaney proves himself to be a compelling storyteller, a master at set-ups and pay-offs. He grabs your attention from start to end, with no time to let your mind wander. Before you know it, it’s been an hour of you watching and laughing at this tiny man commanding a sold-out hall. 

There are many Netflix comedy specials out there, but only a handful are as purely enthralling and unskippable as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: John Mulaney

Director: Alex Timbers

Based on four different books by Colombian author Mario Mendoza, The Initiated (or Los Iniciados) is perhaps too much of a good thing at times, as it struggles to have its many different pieces cohere into one thematic idea. These separate pieces are intriguing on their own, for sure: poisoned water supply, underground activists, the mayor potentially being involved in mysterious disappearances of bodies. But by the end, the film's noir elements seem to be mostly ornamental in nature, with the supposedly twisty narrative arriving at an overly tidy conclusion.

With that said, even just spending time in The Initiated's gloomy city streets and grimy underbelly should be a joy for anyone who already enjoys hardboiled crime dramas. Solid performances and strong technical craft all around keep this world immersive no matter if the central investigation is actually progressing logically or not. It's a film that, impressively, manages to still be suspenseful just on the strength of its mood and atmosphere alone. All the danger feels raw and threatening, and leads us to imagine an even harsher world outside of what we see on screen.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ana Wills, Andrés Parra, Aria Jara, Francisco Denis, Jorge Cao, José Restrepo, Juan Pablo Urrego, Julio Pachón, Patricia Tamayo

Director: Juan Felipe Orozco

When the system messes with you personally, it’s such a powerful fantasy to be able to settle things with your own hands. To be strong enough to retaliate, and once things are settled, to be strong enough to be left alone, not to be messed with. The Black Book depicts this revenge fantasy, reminiscent of Liam Neeson’s Taken, albeit with corrupt police. The Nigerian action thriller isn’t afraid to go hard, with threats of splitting a person in half by a table saw, dramatic shoot-outs, and fight sequences. However, what makes the thriller work is that all these action sequences are intended to be the reckoning of corrupt institutions. There are some messy parts, certain shots that included some bad takes. Despite this, The Black Book still proves to be entertaining enough to forgive these mishaps.

Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ade Laoye, Alex Usifo Omiagbo, Bimbo Akintola, Bimbo Manuel, Femi Branch, Iretiola Doyle, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Sam Dede, Shaffy Bello

Director: Editi Effiong

Rating: R

At first, the Last Call for Istanbul feels like one of those serendipitous travel romances reminiscent of Before Sunrise. As Serin and Mehmet enjoy New York at night, it’s absolutely enchanting, especially with the unique, striking mirrored transitions that shift between the two as they get ready, but this nighttime stroll has already been walked on before, complete with droll dialogue and impulsive choices. However, the film makes a shift to its second half, and it suddenly reconfigures what we know about the two and their romance. While it does employ other familiar romance tropes, it’s still an intriguing shift that explores the concept of possibilities, and the cost in choosing one over the others.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Beren Saat, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Michael Loayza, Senan Kara, Susan Slatin, Zihan Zhao

Director: Gönenç Uyanık

Rating: R

, 2023

Set in the quaint city of Burlington, Vermont, Paint is a cute and folksy comedy that has a Wes Anderson-esque charm to it. The characters are dressed in blocked pastels and wooly sweaters, while the protagonist Carl seems stuck in the ‘70s, and not just sartorially, too. He drives a “Vantastic” custom van, swears off cell phones, and manages to incorporate phrases like “far out” in his daily lingo. It all makes for whimsical viewing, but underneath the flair, there’s very little substance holding this picture up. It tells the tale of an aging narcissist who learns the error of his ways when a younger version of himself is hired to aid and eventually replace him. Narratively, it’s familiar and forgettable, and it becomes immediately clear that style is a crutch that the film leans on. It’s funny, at times, thanks to a very likable Wilson and a strong supporting cast (there are occasional laugh-out-loud moments too, like when Carl does the big reveal about his portrait). But ultimately, it’s just too flat to be as special as the art it admires. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aidan T.K. Baker, Brit McAdams, Ciara Renée, Colin J. Sweeney, Crystal Tweed, Denny Dillon, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, Elizabeth Loyacano, Evander Duck Jr., Jen Smedley, Joel Leffert, Kristin Hensley, Lucy Freyer, Lusia Strus, Lynda Suarez, Michael Pemberton, Michaela Watkins, Noa Graham, Owen Wilson, Paul Kosopod, Rob Figueroa, Ryan Czerwonko, Ryan Gaul, Sarah Baker, Scott Beehner, Stephen Root, Vin Craig, Wendi McLendon-Covey

Director: Brit McAdams

Ijogbon is a straightforward thriller centered on a pouch of uncut diamonds, which bring chaos to the four teenagers that find it. With the film’s young cast, the ensemble, understandably, makes poor decisions when given a stack of cash. The way they and their families handle difficulties, like deciding who to get the gun, or deciding what to do when they find random dead bodies, actually feel humorous – there’s something to be said about how, given the right circumstances, both kids and adults make the same mistakes. Thematically, there’s also something here about how natural resources in Nigeria are made for high end technology they can’t afford. However, the film doesn’t really delve into its themes, or play up the comedic potential it has shown, deciding instead to play out the same way similar stories do.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bimbo Manuel, Fawaz Aina, Ruby Akubueze, Sam Dede, Yemi Solade

Director: Kunle Afolayan

If you love archeology and prehistory, you’ll love that this documentary is packed with mesmerizing footage of the infamous caves, as well as close-ups of the 130,000 year old skeletal remains that are in pristine condition. If you don’t, you might appreciate discoveries like how neanderthals held burials for their dead and things of that nature, but with a cold open that couldn’t pack any less heat if it tried, I wouldn’t blame you if you just dipped. This documentary is de-energizing and plodding, and that pace can make for a soothing portrayal of archeology at times, but other times it makes for a very run-of-the-mill broadcast.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Caroline Colomei, Gabriel Andreu, Ibbi El Hani, Kareem Alexander, Patrick Stewart, Paula Parunov

Director: Ashley Gething

Rating: PG

The latest installment of Ly Hai’s Face Off franchise has an entertaining premise with some terrible plot twists. With this premise, it’s almost expected to see the worst of the worst of people when given a jackpot, and it’s easy to feel distraught when this happens, because the initial dynamic between the six friends feels genuine. However, the fun and wacky hijinks devolve into seriously messed up plot twists. Some of these work, but certain scenes feel like it was just added for shock value at the expense of other characters. The film couldn’t choose between vilifying some characters and celebrating their friendship. Because of this, Face Off 6 feels like it missed its mark.

Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Huy Khánh, Huỳnh Thi, Lý Hải, Quốc Cường, Tiết Cương, Trung Dũng

Director: Lý Hải