47 Movies Like The Portable Door (2023)

Staff & contributors
After you've watched a few films by Hong Sang-soo, you should know the general outline of what to expect: long, unbroken shots of long, unbroken conversations between characters (who are probably drinking alcohol), with very minimal movement on screen, a few recurring character types, and probably actress Kim Min-hee. But where a number of Hong's films tend to make excuses for its burdened, self-righteous artist characters, The Novelist's Film expresses not just a self-awareness of Hong's usual perspective but a sincere willingness to imagine something beyond himself. With one of the strongest screenplays he's had in a long time, unexpected new touches to his usual style, and a powerful lead performance by Lee Hye-young, the film manages to infuse a newfound sense of vitality and vulnerable emotion into tis familiar beats. There's plenty of humor and light tension to be found in the film's many conversations about the purpose of art—boiling things down to the most foundational reasons for why we make and respond to creative works in the first place. Whether you're a longterm fan or longterm skeptic of Hong's work, The Novelist's Film adds something undeniably new to his oeuvre.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Gi Ju-bong, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Hye-young, Park Mi-so, Seo Young-hwa

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Rating: NR

When reminiscing about the film industry, most period films focus on the big names – the stars, the directors, and the producers that back them – as they’re more likely to have plenty of source material. Once Upon a Star is interested in the little people, the small town distributors that bring the movie magic to the locals. Centered on a cinema projection troupe, the film celebrates the old way of distribution, who, unlike today’s streaming, travel from place to place to set up outdoor cinemas with live dubbing. And through each projection of classic Thai masterpieces, the connection they have with each other, between both the troupe and the audience, recalls the intimate nostalgia of watching a movie together. It’s a unique take from director Nonzee Nimibutr, one that’s a stunning love letter to the film industry he hails from.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jirayu La-ongmani, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Nat Sakdatorn, Nuengthida Sophon, Samart Payakaroon, Sornchai Chatwiriyachai, Sukollawat Kanarot, Waratta Watcharatorn, Yothin Mapobphun

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr

Understandably, Mimmi, Rönkkö, and Emma, the teenage girls who lead this Finnish coming-of-age drama, are bursting with emotional urgency. On the cusp of adulthood, they plunge into house parties and romantic affairs in the hope that exploring love, sex, and adventure leads them closer to being self-aware adults. 

Of course, that’s a lifelong process, but they don’t need to know that just yet. For now, they’re explosive and ecstatic and awkward and angry. They’re at a point in their lives where falling head over heels is still an endearingly fresh experience and not a frustratingly repeated mistake. 

The film is intense in this way, but it’s leavened by a beautiful naturalism that’s seen in the young cast’s performances, the setting’s soft lighting, and the camera’s boxy ratio and grainy finish, the latter of which recall a disposable camera capturing the indiscriminate moments shared between teens. Girl Picture is an intimate and authentic portrait of girlhood—see it if you can.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aamu Milonoff, Amos Brotherus, Bruno Baer, Cécile Orblin, Elias Westerberg, Fathi Ahmed, Henrikki Haavisto, Linnea Leino, Mikko Kauppila, Oona Airola, Pietu Wikström, Yasmin Najjar

Director: Alli Haapasalo

Third World Romance is what it says in the tin– it’s a love story that blooms in the rundown side of the capital of a developing country. The plot is familiar, especially for people familiar with Filipino rom coms, but writer-director Dwein Baltazar approaches this with a grounded approach. With fancy dinner dates substituted with shared packed rice meals and emotional apologies interrupted by their shifts in the grocery, Bree and Alvin carve out a love that still feels passionate, perhaps made even more so, as they navigate a city where they are disenfranchised. Charlie Dizon and Carlo Aquino’s excellent performances keep their characters’ struggles real, but also make their love feel joyful in spite of that.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Ana Abad-Santos, Archie Adamos, Carlo Aquino, Charlie Dizon, Donna Cariaga, Gardo Versoza, Iyah Mina, Jun Jun Quintana

Director: Dwein Ruedas Baltazar

Whether or not you're a fan of Nick Cave's contemplative, idiosyncratic style of music, This Much I Know to Be True still works on a purely experiential level. There's confusion, then a rush of euphoria, then an overwhelming sense of peace when listening to Cave's (and musical collaborator Warren Ellis's) cryptic lyrics and delicate compositions—shot with breathtaking use of studio lights by director Andrew Dominik and cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

And things only get more emotional when you consider how far Cave has come, that these performances are happening several rough years from the untimely death of his son. And suddenly even all the unrelated B-roll footage included in the film—of Cave talking about his sculptures, talking to Ellis, answering profound fan emails—takes on a greater urgency. This sounds like music for mourning, but in its own way it's music for celebration, too, and gratitude despite everything.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Andrew Dominik, Earl Cave, Marianne Faithfull, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis

Director: Andrew Dominik

Many comedians use humor as a way to ease into more serious subject matter, though there always exists a risk that a comedy special can skew too far down the silly or the self-reflective route. Mike Birbiglia has come about as close to the perfect balance as possible, in this recording of his one-man Broadway show at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Key to this is the fact that Birbiglia tells one very cohesive story throughout these 77 minutes, frequently branching off to other humorous anecdotes but always returning with a pensive self-consciousness to the real possibility of him dying sooner than he'd want.

This filmed version of Birbiglia's show doesn't give a full idea of its multimedia qualities (Birbiglia occasionally has words and images projected onto the curved screen behind him, which he also physically interacts with), but the comedian's sincere style of storytelling more than makes up for the lack of audiovisual tricks we're permitted to see. And don't get it confused: this is a very funny stand-up special, whose jokes always come from the most unexpected places—it also just happens to contain some truly moving moments that come out of nowhere, but make total sense alongside all the laughter.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Mike Birbiglia

Director: Seth Barrish

Rating: PG-13

The agonizing tug of war between dogma and desire is sharply illustrated in writer-director Laurel Parmet’s feature debut, set inside the claustrophobic confines of a conservative Christian community in Kentucky. Seventeen-year-old Jem (Eliza Scanlen) is at the age her elders believe is the right time to start thinking about a lifelong partner — a choice they’ve pretty much already made for her by setting her up with the pastor’s youngest son. But it's his brooding older brother, married youth leader Owen (Lewis Pullman), who catches Jem’s eye.

The attraction is returned — but, while The Starling Girl does subtly indicate the toxicity of their relationship, it never lets this point eclipse either the more interesting coming-of-age story at its heart or its keen exploration of the wholesale damage that the cult-like church has done to all of its congregants (including Owen). While some of those threads threaten to distract the film’s focus away from its greatest strengths at times, the anguish of that central tussle between Jem's burgeoning sexuality and her otherwise rigidly controlled existence is brought to aching life by sensitive writing and direction and a brilliantly complex lead performance — qualities that ultimately win out to let The Starling Girl fly.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Austin Abrams, Claire Elizabeth Green, Eliza Scanlen, Jessamine Burgum, Jimmi Simpson, K.J. Baker, Kieran Sitawi, Kyle Secor, Lewis Pullman, Wrenn Schmidt

Director: Laurel Parmet

Focusing squarely on two families and a select few health workers, The First Wave gets intimate access to the fears and anxieties of individuals trying to contend with the effects of the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in New York. That these characters also tend to belong to already vulnerable sectors in the United States isn't a superfluous detail—as director Matthew Heineman illustrates (without the use of detached talking heads interviews) how proper responses to a global pandemic like this one are still hampered by capitalist interests, and racist and xenophobic institutions built into American society. All of these obstacles make every setback and every moment of progress in these characters' lives feel absolutely crucial, making for an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Al Sharpton, Andrew Cuomo

Director: Matthew Heineman

With the nostalgia and the twin love triangle, at first glance, You & Me & Me seems like nothing new. However, this Thai coming-of-age drama is done so well that it feels entirely unique. Taking inspiration from the childhood of twin writer-directors, You & Me & Me brings us to a summer vacation in Isan, north Thailand, where the twins, distinguishable only by a mole and by dual-sided acting of Thitiya Jirapornsilp, encounter a boy named Mark. Amidst test taking, phin lute playing, and rowing in lotus filled lakes, their summer evokes some nostalgia, but also some drama, as their first forays into love threaten their bond. While the pacing is slow, and it does focus on the love triangle, You & Me & Me cares about each twin as they start to delve into new experiences outside of their duo. The film is a sweet and nuanced tale of twin sisterhood, but also a love letter to the Hongvivatanas’ childhood summer home.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anthony Buisseret, Karuna Looktumthong, Natee Ngamneawprom, Supakson Chaimongkol, Thitiya Jirapornsilp, Yasaka Chaisorn

Director: Wanweaw Hongvivatana, Weawwan Hongvivatana

Somewhere near the border between Russia and Ukraine lies a shelter for kids coming from unstable homes. Their parents, either alcoholics or abusers, have nine months to prove that they’re fit to look after their children; otherwise, the kids are sent straight to the orphanage, with no chance of a goodbye. A House Made of Splinters is a documentary that quietly and closely follows the shelter’s occupants amid growing joys and pains, not to mention the ever-present danger of war.

Perhaps one of the most striking things about A House Made of Splinters is how attuned it is to the kids. It serves as a reminder of their immense sensitivity and observational skills (more than once, you’ll hear a child assess their home situation in the calmest of manners), as well as their clever ingenuity (there’s a lot of playing going on despite everything, which is heartwarming to watch.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont

Who knew that behind the puzzle Tetris lies a political thriller of a backstory that is just as fun and challenging as the game itself? Tetris, the film, is a playful telling of the game behind the game, a surprising account of the otherwise unbelievable events that had to happen in making Tetris available to the masses. 

Between the 8-bit editing, the immensely likable lead, and the cat-and-mouse chase between heroes and villains, there is much to like about the movie. You put it on out of curiosity (how the hell does a brick game have this much back story?) but you stay for the intrigue, the playfulness, and the irresistible urge to see who wins the race.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Vodovoz, Anthony Boyle, Ayane Nagabuchi, Ayano Yamamoto, Ben Miles, Bhav Joshi, Dmitriy Sharakois, Greg Kolpakchi, Ieva Andrejevaitė, Igor Grabuzov, Irina Kara, Jenni Keenan-Green, Ken Yamamura, Len Blavatnik, Matthew Marsh, Miles Barrow, Moyo Akandé, Niino Furuhata, Nikita Efremov, Nino Furuhata, Oleg Shtefanko, Rick Yune, Rob Locke, Roger Allam, Sofia Lebedeva, Taron Egerton, Toby Jones, Togo Igawa

Director: Jon S. Baird

When your dad is single, and he isn’t in a relationship with someone else, naturally, a kid would wonder about their real biological mother. Hi Nanna is a take on this familiar tale, though Shouryuv’s directorial debut makes it feel brand new by telling the love story in a way a father would tell his daughter– mindful of the audience, so slightly embellished, but no less sweet. By doing so, it makes the viewers yearn for the lost love before raising our hopes and revealing the possibility of getting it back, especially with the natural chemistry of Nani and the striking Mrunal Thakur.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Angad Bedi, Baby Kiara Khanna, Jayaram, Mrunal Thakur, Nani, Nassar, Neha Sharma, Priyadarshi Pullikonda, Shilpa Tulaskar, Shruti Haasan

Director: Shouryuv

This documentary follows eight men whose convictions were recently overturned based on exonerating evidence. Proven innocent after many years in the US prison system, they are suddenly free to return to the communities they had been expelled from, without any of the usual obligations (or resources) associated with parole or probation.

The exonerations featured in the film are largely thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that works to free the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing and criminal justice system reform. While their work is central to the documentary, it's also clear that these failings of the system represent only the tip of the iceberg. What makes the movie unforgettable, though, is the exonerees' struggle to make sense of what remains possible in their lives, to embrace hope and reconcile with profound loss. All in all, it is as much a study of the deep costs of injustice as it is one of buoyant resilience.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Director: Jessica Sanders

, 2022

Before anything else, Utama will knock you off your feet with its breathtaking beauty. Set in the Bolivian highlands, it captures the arid landscape both in gorgeous wide shots and in unique detail. Then, after you take it all in and remember the vastness of the world and the smallness of humanity, the film ushers you into the lives of Virginio and Sisa, an elderly couple who get by with llama grazing. 

Theirs is a small but peaceful life, but it is endangered when a drought in the area makes it harder for everyone—especially a sickly Virginio—to live. Underlying conflicts start to emerge, such as old vs. new and country vs. city, when everyone but Virginio considers leaving the mountains. It's a simple story told at a purposefully slow pace, but it's one worth viewing for the tender performances, the urgent themes, and of course, the stunning cinematography.

Genre: Drama

Director: Alejandro Loayza Grisi

You may not know the name of Errol Morris, but you must have seen either Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The Night Manager, as films and TV have offered ripe adaptations of 20th century espionage novels under the disguise of simple entertainment. What you may not know is that the author of the books they are based on has been a spy himself, for most of his life. David John Moore Cornwell, better known as John le Carré (his pen name), is the subject of the latest work of detective-turned-filmmaker Errol Morris whose penchant for exploring the limits between fact and fiction has propelled the documentary form numerous times over the last decades. The film is a quasi-biographical doc with some exceptional reenactments that color Le Carré's own tales to try and outmanoeuvre the viewer's ceaseless desire to fix what one sees into either category: fact or fiction. With an ex-spy and a documentarian, you never know. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Charlotte Hamblin, Garry Cooper, John le Carré, Mike Noble, Simon Harrison

Director: Errol Morris

Rating: PG-13