6 Movies Like The Big Lebowski (1998) On Criterionchannel

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There’s a universe of hard-hitting emotion hiding in Jafar Panahi’s deceptively simple debut feature, which follows a seven-year-old girl’s attempts to buy a goldfish before Nowruz, the Persian New Year, dawns. From start to finish, her shopping trip only takes 80-something minutes, and all of the action is confined to a couple of Tehran’s streets — but, because we experience The White Balloon in real-time through determined young Raziah’s (Aida Mohammadkhani) perspective, her simple quest is transformed into a perilous and profoundly emotional odyssey for audiences. Every emotion — from fear to wonder — is magnified through Raziah's eyes, so much so that an unfortunately timed gust of wind comes to feel like a punch in the gut, and the sight of a fluttering banknote a euphoric miracle. Co-written by master of the Iranian New Wave Abbas Kiarostami, The White Balloon wrings expansive humanism out of its tiny canvas.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee

Director: Jafar Panahi

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, Christophe Rossignon, Cut Killer, Edouard Montoute, 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

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Freeman, Camille Paglia, Cheryl Clarke, Cheryl Dunye, David Rakoff, Guinevere Turner, Irene Dunye, Lisa Marie Bronson, Sarah Schulman

Director: Cheryl Dunye

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch's best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It's really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I've rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Gianni Schettini, Isaach De Bankolé, Jaakko Talaskivi, Kari Väänänen, Klaus Heydemann, Lisanne Falk, Matti Pellonpää, Paolo Bonacelli, Pascal N'Zonzi, Richard Boes, Roberto Benigni, Romolo Di Biasi, Rosie Perez, Sakari Kuosmanen, Stéphane Boucher, Tomi Salmela, Winona Ryder

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Shattering the rules for how a biographical drama can look and be told, Paul Schrader's Mishima rejects the usual character study template in favor of a much more abstract attempt to understand a person through their art. Told in fragments that flit between Mishima's early life, dramatizations of his fiction novels, and the final day of his life, the film pieces together what it believes was the core of this person's life. Schrader's script (co-written with his brother Leonard Schrader) traces within Mishima's history a lifelong struggle with perceptions of his own masculinity and authority—as if he spent his every waking moment trying to compensate for a lack that he could hardly articulate. The character's eventual turn towards reactionary beliefs makes logical sense in the film, but remains baffling all the same.

With all of its talk about beauty—enhanced by Philip Glass' opulent musical score, and Eiko Ishioka's breathtaking production design that transforms Mishima's novels into tactile stage productions—the film conceals an incredibly dark heart. Mishima doesn't inspire sympathy so much as he inspires morbid fascination, and it's both a daring and frustrating choice to focus entirely on the character's harmful delusions without room for much else. Still, Schrader has constructed an unforgettable audiovisual experience that lingers long after it's over.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alan Poul, Bandō Mitsugorō X, Chishū Ryū, Eimei Esumi, Go Riju, Haruko Kato, Hideo Fukuhara, Hiroshi Katsuno, Hiroshi Mikami, Hisako Manda, Jun Negami, Junkichi Orimoto, Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Koichi Sato, Kunihiko Ida, Masahiko Sakata, Masato Aizawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Miki Takakura, Minoru Hodaka, Mitsuru Hirata, Naoko Ohtani, Naomi Oki, Naoya Makoto, Reisen Ri, Roy Scheider, Ryō Ikebe, Sachiko Hidari, Setsuko Karasuma, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yasuaki Kurata, Yasuhiro Arai, Yuki Kitazume

Director: Paul Schrader

Rating: R