24 Movies Like The Last Samurai (2003) On Amazon Prime

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Not only is this multi-award-winning drama seriously star-studded, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf also deliver superb performances. With two Sundance Awards and many other nominations in its pocket, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the eponymous memoir by author, director, and musician, Dito Montiel, who recalls his violent childhood on the mean streets of Queens in the 1980s (LaBeouf plays the young Dito), as he visits his ailing father after 15 years away in Los Angeles (Downey Jr. plays present-day Dito). It is also real-life Dito's directorial debut, recalling the loose, improvisational style of 70s cinema a'la Scorcese. The powerful plot is told through flashbacks and fourth-wall bending monologues, while the eccentric directing style makes for a raw and immediate experience. The energy of this coming-of-age drama is off the charts!

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adam Scarimbolo, Chance Kelly, Channing Tatum, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Eléonore Hendricks, Eric Roberts, Federico Castelluccio, Gilbert Cruz, Jermel Wilson, Laila Liliana Garro, Martin Compston, Melonie Diaz, Olga Merediz, Peter Anthony Tambakis, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Scott Michael Campbell, Shia LaBeouf

Director: Dito Montiel

Rating: R

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi, Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono

Director: David Gelb

Rating: PG

, 2020

Mystery, domestic horror, and urgent true crime investigation rolled into one, Rewind sees filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger revisiting his own abuse at the hands of a family member while remembering to let his case amplify into a call to action to protect children everywhere. His personal testimony would have been powerful enough, but he dares to put numerous members of his family in front of the camera, too, who begin to unravel a history of neglect and trauma rotting the core of this family over generations. Innocent home video footage turns sinister and seemingly inconsequential memories become warning signs that every adult should be on the lookout for, no excuses.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Director: Sasha Joseph Neulinger

This small-scale but incredibly fun 88-minute drama from 2003 is about a group of Latino teenagers who grow up in New York’s Lower East Side.

Victor lives with his eccentric grandmother, which sometimes gets in the way of him pursuing Judy, his dream girl.

The actor who plays Victor is called Victor Rasuk, the one who plays Judy is called Judy Marte. This is a film so personal that both main characters needed to be named after the actors who play them.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Donna Maldonado, Jeff Knite, Joe Rosario, Judy Marte, Kevin Rivera, Melonie Diaz, Silvestre Rasuk, Victor Rasuk, Wilfree Vasquez

Director: Peter Sollett

Rating: R

A nostalgic look at '90s Belarus brings to bear a sharp generational divide. Evalina is a young DJ living in Minsk with her mother, but dreaming of Chicago, the birthplace of House music. Her attempts to gain a US visa land her in a small factory town, where the tensions between her modern lifestyle and old-time traditions boil over.

This promising debut from director Darya Zhuk features a mesmerizing palette of saturated colors and some striking shots calling to mind the work of Douglas Sirk, a star-making turn from lead actress Alina Nasibullina, and a dry wit that keeps the film lithe. At times, the somewhat heavy-handed script gets in the way, but Zhuk’s vivacious filmmaking is a pleasure.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alina Nasibullina, Anatasiya Garvey, Artem Kuren, Ivan Mulin, Yuriy Borisov

Director: Darya Zhuk

2005 was a banner year for British period dramas, apparently: first, there was Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (still arguably the genre’s crowning achievement), and then came Under the Greenwood Tree, a delightful made-for-Christmas-TV romance loosely based on the eponymous Thomas Hardy novel. Anyone familiar with the author’s typically tragedy-tinged stories — think Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd — will find themselves surprised by the light, pleasant tone of this one, in which the closest anyone gets to violent revenge is sabotaging a church organ by pouring a flagon of cider into it.

The romance here is threefold: when Keeley Hawes’ spinster schoolteacher Fancy Day (genuinely her name) arrives in an English village, she ignites a rivalry between wealthy farmer Shiner (Steve Pemberton), haughty clergyman Parson Maybold (Ben Miles), and James Murray’s die-hard romantic Dick Dewy (again: the names in this are a choice). The trio’s simultaneous attempted courting of Fancy doubles as both the entertaining will-she-won’t-she stuff of romantic dramas and a conduit through which the movie explores the class dynamics in England during the 19th century. It’s this deft intertwining of satisfying romantic period drama tropes with genuine reflection on the historical period itself — all while remaining lighthearted — that makes this underseen adaptation worth watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance, TV Movie

Actor: Ben Miles, James Murray, Keeley Hawes, Richard Leaf, Steve Pemberton, Terry Mortimer, Tom Georgeson, Tony Haygarth

Director: Nicholas Laughland

Hilarious and sweet, Meet the Patels is a charming collaboration between siblings Geeta and Ravi Patel. While the film is a documentary, it feels more like a real-time romantic comedy - which makes sense, given that it’s about Ravi’s quest for the perfect wife. Standard tropes, such as parental disapproval, are present here, but the film keeps it fresh as it focuses on the intricacies of Indian dating, specifically with traditional matchmaking and modern internet dating. However, like some of the best romcoms, the real heart of the story lies outside of Ravi’s love life. What drives the story is the dynamic between Ravi and his family. Balancing parental expectations with personal hopes is a struggle anyone can relate to, though this film presents this through comedic debates about marriage. At the same time, these debates end up insightful and oftentimes reveal fundamental principles the family believes in. It’s only through resolving familial issues that Ravi finally figures out his love life.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Romance

Actor: Audrey Wauchope, Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel

Director: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel

Rating: PG

For the longest time, American media coverage was skewed to justify the presence of US forces in Arab states. Control Room unveils that bias by following Al Jazeera at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. One of the biggest Arab media outlets at the time, Al Jazeera dared to cover both sides of the war, but by doing so put a target on its back. It was vilified by both the US government, which called it an Osama mouthpiece and the Arab world, which called it a Bush ally. 

Control Room shows the difficulty (if not sheer impossibility) of achieving journalistic balance, objectivity, and integrity. Through interviews with Al Jazeera reporters and US military officers, we witness how lines are blurred, loyalties are tested, and purpose is shifted in a state of war. A seminal work on media bias and press control, Control Room is vital and enlightening, a must-watch to understand the inner workings of the fourth estate. 

Genre: Documentary, War

Actor: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Hassan Ibrahim, Josh Rushing

Director: Jehane Noujaim

When he’s accepted into the prestigious Islamic university Al-Azhar, fisherman’s son Adam (Tawfeek Barhom) gets an eye-opening education — but not the kind he expected. A place associated with notions of purity is imagined as a hotbed of hypocrisy and corruption here, as naive young Adam finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a state plot to seize control of Al-Azhar (because, as one government official puts it, “We can’t accept having two pharaohs in the land”). Cairo Conspiracy's intricate plot confronts monsters in government and strips away religious leaders’ veneer of divinity as a reminder that they’re merely fallible men. What's more, the film grapples with the knotty mess of politics raging inside the institution’s walls in such a way that even its palatial courtyard feels claustrophobic. Rife with paranoia and subterfuge, Cairo Conspiracy feels utterly unique thanks to this skillful transposing of the shadowy machinations of courtly intrigue dramas and '70s paranoid thrillers into a very contemporary Egyptian setting.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Fares Fares, Jalal Altawil, Makram J. Khoury, Mehdi Dehbi, Mohammad Bakri, Sherwan Haji, Tawfeek Barhom

Director: Tarik Saleh

, 2018

Present-day Mexico City—Ariela comes from a Jewish family that insists on getting married only to people of the same religion. This rule is complicated when Ariela falls in love with the non-Jewish Iván. She is then faced with the dilemma of choosing herself or her family, who for all their severity, she still loves deeply.

Leona’s modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet recalls the likes of Crazy Rich Asians and The Big Sick, but unlike those big-budgeted movies, this intimate Spanish-language film exchanges melodrama for restraint, and it’s all the better for it. Leona is a quietly moving story that’s easy to relate to, despite the specificity of its premise.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adriana Llabrés, Carlos Aragón, Carolina Politi, Christian Vazquez, Margarita Sanz, Naian González Norvind, Rodrigo Corea

Director: Isaac Cherem

Rating: R

Silver Dollar Road isn’t a new story– it’s one of many that comes as a consequence of systematic Black land loss that continues to happen to this day. Director Raoul Peck tells it in a new way, completely focusing on the Reels family and hearing their story entirely, from the initial confusion to two of the homeowners’ incarceration, and remembering the good old days when they used to enjoy the land. The land dispute has escalated to years of harassment, imprisonment, and being taken advantage of from opportunistic legal counsel. While it could have benefitted from from detailed legal proceedings, Silver Dollar Road still powerfully depicts an intimate family story that outlines the systemic racism enabling Black land loss today.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Kim Renee Duhon, Mamie Reels Ellison

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: PG

A quiet documentary that was released to celebrate the British Royal Air Force's centenary, Spitfire tells the story of the famous plane that younger audiences might only recognize from movies like Dunkirk or Darkest Hour. It features gorgeous footage of the last remaining planes in service flying over the British coast, testimonies from pilots who are still alive and a reminder of the key role that this plane once served. It feels like an attempt to capture and archive the importance of the plane, but also of its pilots, who for the most part were young kids with little training, but who, with time, learned valuable lessons from warfare. A must for aviation fans and a great option for anyone looking for a quiet movie to watch with their family (grandparents included). 

Genre: Documentary, History, War

Actor: Charles Dance, Mary Ellis

Director: Ant Palmer, David Fairhead

Rating: TV-PG

It may look like a cheap TV movie, but this quietly affecting story of a lonely grandmother looking for kindness and meaning at a retirement hotel is an absolutely charming watch for you, your parents, and your own grandparents. The stakes are refreshingly low, as the title character's quick friendship with a twentysomething writer helps each of them get through their feelings of being out of place. There's lots of effective, British-style comedy from this small cast of instantly likable actors, and an unexpectedly potent emotional core, making you realize only by the end just how invested you've become in their interactions. As Mrs. Palfrey, Joan Plowright is a wonderful, gentle presence, and her easy chemistry with Rupert Friend is exactly as wholesome as the film needs.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Anna Massey, Clare Higgins, David Webber, Georgina Hale, Joan Plowright, Michael Culkin, Robert Lang, Rupert Friend, Timothy Bateson, Zoë Tapper

Director: Dan Ireland

Structured like a series of vignettes based on the titular American writer's works, this stop motion animated film embraces how playful and bizarre the medium of clay can be, showing us everything from whimsical jumping frogs, to Adam and Eve, to Satan himself. But even if The Adventures of Mark Twain might get too weird even and rough around the edges even for a hardcore animation fan, there's an interesting emotional undercurrent here that deals with unanswerable questions on death and the meaning of life. Thanks to a lively and talented cast of voice actors, this fantastic voyage keeps itself grounded to something tangible and heartfelt, and never gets swept up too far into the clouds.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Chris Ritchie, Dal McKennon, Gary Krug, James Whitmore, John Morrison, Michele Mariana, Will Vinton

Director: Will Vinton

This Norwegian documentary in English is about Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion who became a chess grandmaster at age 13. It might be tough to believe but Magnus' ascension was slowed down significantly by many crises in self-confidence and difficulty to cope with the pressure at a young age. With home footage and interviews with everyone from his adversaries to the champion himself, Magnus the movie tries to be a complete portrait of the prodigy. Yet, crucial aspects are missing, such as an explanation for a sudden change in character, and perhaps more importantly, explanations of Magnus' genius in chess. His techniques and approaches are mostly attributed to intuition, but the movie fails to explain how that intuition is reflected in the game.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand

Director: Benjamin Ree