11 Movies Like Son of Saul (2015)

Staff & contributors

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.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adolfo Assor, Andre Hennicke, Anna Lena Klenke, Burak Yigit, Daniel Fripan, Eike Frederick Schulz, Eike Frederik Schulz, Franz Rogowski, Frederick Lau, Hans-Ulrich Laux, Laia Costa, Lena Klenke, Martin Goeres, Max Mauff, Philipp Kubitza

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Rating: Not Rated, R

This movie is gentle and utterly chaotic, intimate and massive, beautiful and ugly... it tries to be so many things and somehow pulls it off. It tells two stories parallel in time, based on the real-life diaries of two European scientists who traveled through the Amazon in the early and mid-twentieth century. Their stories are some of the only of accounts of Amazonian tribes in written history. The main character and guide in the movie is a shaman who met them both. At times delicate to the point of almost being able to feel the water, at times utterly apocalyptic and grand... to watch this movie is to take a journey through belief systems, through film... and to be brought along by cinematography that is at times unbelievably and absurdly beautiful. Meditative, violent, jarring, peaceful, luminous, ambitious, artful, heavy handed, graceful... it's really an incredible film.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Jan Bijvoet, José Sabogal, Nicolás Cancino, Nilbio Torres, Yauenkü Miguee

Director: Ciro Guerra

This slow-burning drama is set in an Indigenous reservation in South Dakota, where Johnny is a teenager who dreams of moving to L.A. with his girlfriend. He would have to leave behind his little sister, who is just grappling with the recent loss of their father. 

Director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland) worked with amateur actors whose lives mirror the characters, often adapting the script to the actors' stories. She filmed 100 hours of footage that she then distilled into an hour and a half. 

The result is a film shot from the outside but which is grounded in local stories. And these stories are rough, sad, complex - but so important to listen to and understand. It's an incredible feat to make an observational film that's so grounded in reality - only a genius could: that's Chloé Zhao, and this mature work is -somehow- her first feature film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Derrick Janis, Eléonore Hendricks, Irene Bedard, Jashaun St. John

Director: Chloé Zhao

Rating: Not Rated

This is a very nice movie about a lovely older couple named Tom and Gerri. It follows their lives for an entire year, as they work at their jobs, invite friends over for dinner, and work in their garden. They live modest but fulfilling lives, and they seem mostly happy and very much in love, a rarity in the movies. This probably sounds horribly boring to most people, but since Mike Leigh is the director, the film is instead a touching and realistic portrayal of love and how people spend their time together. We should all be so lucky as to live a life as charmed as the central couple in this film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Badi Uzzaman, Ben Roberts, David Bradley, Edna Doré, Eileen Davies, Gary Powell, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Karina Fernandez, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Mary Jo Randle, Meneka Das, Michele Austin, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Ralph Ineson, Ruth Sheen, Stuart McQuarrie

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: PG-13

Nelly is a concentration camp survivor who undergoes reconstructive facial surgery, and comes back to question whether her husband (unable to recognize her) was the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Heavy, heavy stuff. But in Phoenix you will also see something else, as the story takes you beyond the subject matter to become almost a celebration of film: elements of Hitchcockian cinema intertwine with the realism of the likes of David Ayer are added to perfect performances to create a stunning, compelling, and exceptional film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Claudia Geisler, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Daniela Holtz, Eva Bay, Felix Romer, Imogen Kogge, Jeff Burrell, Kathrin Wehlisch, Kirsten Block, Max Hopp, Megan Gay, Michael Maertens, Nikola Kastner, Nina Hoss, Nina Kunzendorf, Ronald Zehrfeld, Trystan Pütter, Trystan Putter, Uwe Preuss, Valerie Koch

Director: Christian Petzold

Rating: PG-13

Taking place entirely on beachside farmlands in Denmark, Land of Mine takes a particularly intimate—and visually distinct—approach to war. The fighting may be over, but the film remains a tense and emotionally distressing, with all the pain and violence being carried over onto these German boys being forced to clear the beaches of live explosives with their bare hands. The relationship between these young men and their vengeful Danish commanding officer may progress a little quickly for some, but their volatile bond only emphasizes that rage isn't meant to be felt forever, and that war is a destructive cycle that eventually needs to come to an end.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: August Carter, Emil Belton, Joel Basman, Johnny Melville, Karl Alexander Seidel, Laura Bro, Leon Seidel, Levin Henning, Louis Hofmann, Mads Riisom, Magnus Bruun, Maximilian Beck, Mette Lysdahl, Michael Asmussen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Oskar Belton, Oskar Bökelmann, Roland Møller, Roland Moller

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Rating: R

, 2014

I always seek out Icelandic films; something about the quality of light and quirky sensibility that appeal to me. Having developed a fondness for sheep on a recent Welsh trek, "Rams" had a double attraction. A tale of brothers divided by life but ultimately united in and by their deep, tender, inspiring love of their rams. Close to perfection. Sigurdur Sigurdurjonsson is luminous in the lead role.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Þorleifur Einarsson, Charlotte Bøving, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Jonsson, Ingrid Jonsdottir, Jon Benonysson, Jorundur Ragnarsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, Theodór Júlíusson, Thorleifur Einarsson, Þorsteinn Gunnar Bjarnason

Director: Grímur Hákonarson

Rating: R

, 2015

Krisha opens with the image you see above, a bright yet stark portrait of the lead of the movie, staring with defiance at the camera. You are invited into the world of an unpredictable 65-year-old who returns home for Thanksgiving after a long disappearance. Her family greets her with mixed emotion, and her nephew (played by the director of the movie), doesn’t even want to be near her. In fact, Krisha is played by the director’s real-life aunt. His mother and grandmother also star in the movie. And the story is inspired by real-life pain: a member of his family who was a recovering addict and who fell back into drugs after a family reunion. This is a low-budget but high-dedication movie. The director, Trey Edward Shults, is a disciple of Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, Knight of Cups), whose style will be easily recognizable to those familiar with it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Dobrenko, Atheena Frizzell, Augustine Frizzell, Bill Wise, Billie Fairchild, Bryan Casserly, Chase Joliet, Chris Doubek, Krisha Fairchild, Olivia Grace Applegate, Robyn Fairchild, Trey Edward Shults, Victoria Fairchild

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Rating: R

, 2015

A War (Krigen) is a Danish war drama that focuses on Commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) as he leads a company of soldiers in modern day Afghanistan, while his wife at home in Denmark struggles to care for their three children. During a mission to rescue a family from Taliban threat, Claus’ unit is overcome by enemy fire, forcing him to make a dramatic decision that has a complicated effect upon himself, his fellow soldiers, and his family back home. A War is a tense yet thoroughly involving drama that offers a profound example of moral ambiguity and the repercussions of warfare. The acting and direction are utterly superb across the board—another enthralling and superbly humanistic affair from Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking).

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Alex Høgh Andersen, Charlotte Munck, Dar Salim, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Petrine Agger, Pilou Asbæk, Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Søren Malling, Tuva Novotny

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Rating: R

In 2013, following the Ukrainian government’s termination of an EU agreement (in blatant disregard of what its citizens have been calling for), a wave of peaceful protests start to crop up at the country’s capital. Things escalate when the police violently disperse the protestors, but the people of Ukraine are not so easily held down. They fight back, growing in number and conviction each time they do, until an all-out war finally breaks out. 

Winter on Fire documents this series of events, staying close to the ground and allowing bits of humanity to shine through its subjects. In between chilling clips of the clashes, we're shown intimate interviews with people of all walks of life. They're doctors, actors, students, bankers, lawyers, and clergymen, from various classes, races, religions, and genders. Despite their many differences, all of them share one hope: to secure a better future for the people of Ukraine. 

Genre: Documentary, War & Politics

Actor: Bishop Agapit, Catherine Ashton, Cissy Jones, Kristina Berdinskikh, Kurganskyi Eduard, Natan Hazin, Serhii Averchenko, Valery Dovgiy

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

Rating: Unrated

, 2013

Ida, the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, is a stark black & white drama set in the early 60’s about a young Polish nun-to-be and her bawdy Aunt Wanda searching for the truth behind her family’s demise at the hands of the Nazis. What initially comes off as a painfully slow sleep-inducer pretty quickly evolves into a touching and lively contrast between the two lead characters; one virtuous and pure, the other boorish and hedonistic. Their journey is equal parts amusing, insightful and heartbreaking, with Ida’s personal exploration of self playing out as a remarkably humanistic affair. The cinematography by Lukasz Za and Ryszard Lenczewski is particularly striking, each shot a work of art in it’s own right. Logging in at just 82 minutes, the entire story whizzes by in a flash. The kind of film that will stay with you long after you’ve watched it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adam Szyszkowski, Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Artur Janusiak, Dawid Ogrodnik, Dorota Kuduk, Halina Skoczynska, Izabela Dąbrowska, Jerzy Trela, Joanna Kulig, Marek Kasprzyk, Mariusz Jakus, Paweł Burczyk

Director: Paweł Pawlikowski

Rating: PG-13