20 Movies Like Transcendence (2014)

Staff & contributors
Joshua Oppenheimer's daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer's efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer's favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they're doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adi Zulkadry, Anwar Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto, Ibrahim Sinik, Safit Pardede, Syamsul Arifin

Director: Christine Cynn, Joshua Oppenheimer

Rating: Not Rated

There are two auteur directors that we recommend more than anyone else on this site. One is Hirokazu Koreeda, the Japanese master of intricate drama, the other is Asghar Farhadi. Mr. Farhadi is an Oscar-winning, Iranian filmmaker and one of the most recognisable directors out there. His third film, Fireworks Wednesdays, paved the way for him to become one of the hidden champions of international cinema. As is often the case with the stories he tells, the film portrays the life of a couple in turmoil, Mozhdeh and Morteza Samiei, played by Hedye Tehrani and Hamid Farokhnezhad. She suspects him of cheating on her with their neighbor, a beautician, and sends the maid, a soon-to-be bride named Roohi, to the salon to spy on her. When Roohi takes matters in her own hands, the couple can't help but watch things spiraling out of control. This happens against the backdrop of Chaharshanbe Suri, an Iranian holiday celebrated with fireworks on the Wednesday before the Iranian New Year, hence the title. Will it make for an explosive ending? From what you have heard so far, this could easily be melodramatic, but Fahradi is too good. He's very, very good.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Behshad Sharifian, Hamid Farokhnezhad, Hamid Farrokhnejad, Hedie Tehrani, Hediyeh Tehrani, Houman Seyyedi, Pantea Bahram, Sahar Dolatshahi, Tarane Alidousti, Taraneh Alidoosti

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Rating: Not Rated

The last work by legendary American director John Huston is this exquisitely rendered adaptation of a James Joyce short story. The Dead is nestled inside an intimate festive dinner shared by the family and close friends of the Morkan sisters, two well-to-do elderly spinsters living in Dublin in 1904. The film is a family affair in more ways than just that, too: for Huston’s final feature, son Tony wrote the script and daughter Anjelica (as Gretta) was its star.

As with so many end-of-year gatherings, the prevailing mood of the dinner is one of sentimental nostalgia, as the hosts and their guests swap memories, toast each other, and tearily reminisce about the way things were. Anjelica Huston’s performance is also a quiet architect of that atmosphere, as Gretta slips in and out of dreamy reveries throughout the evening to the puzzlement of her husband Gabriel (Donal McCann) — something that surges to the fore in an astonishingly moving final revelation. Huston directed the film on his proverbial deathbed, which infuses it with significance — but, even if it wasn’t the capstone to his illustrious career, The Dead would still stand as one of the finest treatments of mortality and longing ever committed to the screen.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Bairbre Dowling, Brendan Dillon, Cathleen Delany, Colm Meaney, Dan O'Herlihy, Donal Donnelly, Donal McCann, Helena Carroll, Ingrid Craigie, Kate O'Toole, Maria McDermottroe, Marie Kean, Paul Grant, Rachael Dowling, Sean McClory

Director: John Huston

Like so many pictures about the pictures, The Player is a biting satire of the biz. Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a Hollywood executive who gives dinner speeches about movies being art but works at a studio where endings are unceremoniously tweaked for maximum audience approval ratings — and therefore maximum profits. The greedy corporate Tinseltown of The Player feels very close to the franchise-pumping Tinseltown of today, but there’s enough wit and irony here to keep it from feeling too depressing.

Legendary New Hollywood director Robert Altman packages his critique in familiar clothing: that of a film noir. After receiving threatening postcards from a disgruntled writer he never called back, Griffin takes matters into his own hands and soon finds himself living out the plot of a taut thriller. The Player gets even more deliciously meta than this: nearly every scene contains a winking reference to the movies, and it’d probably be easier to count which stars of past and present don’t show up for a cameo here. What’s more, Altman gives The Player the kind of “happy ending” that Griffin’s studio is always demanding from writers — only here, it’s spun into a bitter commentary on the whole industry. Simply masterful.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Simon, Alan Rudolph, Alexandra Powers, Althea Gibson, Andie MacDowell, Angela Hall, Anjelica Huston, Annie Ross, Bert Remsen, Brad Davis, Brian Brophy, Brian Tochi, Brion James, Bruce Willis, Buck Henry, Burt Reynolds, Cathy Lee Crosby, Charles Champlin, Cher, Cynthia Stevenson, David Alan Grier, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Franz, Derek Raser, Dina Merrill, Elliott Gould, Felicia Farr, Frank Barhydt, Fred Ward, Gary Busey, Gina Gershon, Greta Scacchi, Harry Belafonte, Jack Jason, Jack Kney, Jack Lemmon, Jack Riley, James Coburn, Jayne Meadows, Jeff Celentano, Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Piven, Jill St. John, Joan Tewkesbury, Joel Grey, John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Karen Black, Katarzyna Figura, Kathy Ireland, Kevin Scannell, Leah Ayres, Leeza Gibbons, Lily Tomlin, Louise Fletcher, Lyle Lovett, Malcolm McDowell, Marina Zenovich, Marlee Matlin, Martin Mull, Michael Bowen, Michael Tolkin, Mike Kaplan, Mimi Rogers, Natalie Strong, Ned Bellamy, Nick Nolte, Pamela Bowen, Patricia Resnick, Patrick Swayze, Paul Dooley, Paul Hewitt, Peter Falk, Peter Gallagher, Peter Koch, Randall Batinkoff, Ray Walston, Rene Auberjonois, Richard Anderson, Richard E. Grant, Ritchie Montgomery, Robert Carradine, Robert Wagner, Rod Steiger, Sally Kellerman, Sally Kirkland, Scott Glenn, Scott Shaw, Shari Belafonte, Stephen Tolkin, Steve Allen, Steve James, Susan Emshwiller, Susan Sarandon, Sydney Pollack, Ted Hartley, Teri Garr, Tim Robbins, Vincent D'Onofrio, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Robert Altman

Based on a true story, The Whistleblower is the biography of a once Nebraskan police officer who volunteers for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in post-war Bosnia. Once there, she uncovers a human trafficking scandal involving peacekeeping officials, and finds herself alone against a hostile system in a devastated country. Rachel Weisz plays the whistleblower in a powerful lead role, but the true star of the movie is its director, Larysa Kondracki, who thanks to near documentary-style film-making delivers a perfectly executed political thriller with utmost authenticity.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adriana Butoi, Alexandru Potocean, Alin Panc, Anca Androne, Anna Schafer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bryan Jardine, Catherine McNally, Coca Bloos, Danny John-Jules, David Hewlett, David Strathairn, Dorotheea Petre, Florin Busuioc, Geoffrey Pounsett, Ionut Grama, Jeanette Hain, Liam Cunningham, Luke Treadaway, Monica Bellucci, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Paul Jerricho, Paula Schramm, Pilou Asbæk, Rachel Weisz, Radu Bânzaru, Rayisa Kondracki, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, Roxana Condurache, Roxana Guttman, Sergej Trifunović, Stuart Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Victoria Raileanu, Vlad Ivanov, William Hope

Director: Larysa Kondracki

Rating: R

, 2014

A popular chef loses his job and respect after a bad review. He ends up with a food truck and tries to show the world he still has his creative side, while at the same time trying to fix his broken family. Chef is a heartwarming feel-good movie, after you finish it you will want to cook, love your family, travel, and spread the love. One of my favorite movies, I see myself happily watching it again numerous times.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Franklin, Amy Sedaris, Bobby Cannavale, Charles Lao, Chris Nunez, Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine, Daniel Palacio, Dustin Hoffman, Emjay Anthony, Gary Clark Jr., Gary Teague, Gloria Sandoval, Jay Pennington, Jenna Saab, John Leguizamo, Jon Favreau, Jose C. Hernandez, Josh Gutiérrez, Julian Graham, Miguel Izaguirre, Mike Rylander, Minn Vo, Nili Fuller, Oliver Platt, Priyom Haider, Rachel Acuna, Rachel Faulkner, Rigo Obezo, Robert Downey Jr., Roy Choi, Russell Peters, Safi El Masri, Sam Stinson, Santos Caraballo, Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, Teebone Mitchell, Will Schutze

Director: Jon Favreau

Rating: R

This is Kristen Stewart’s proof that she is more than a lip-biting, vampire-loving teenager. Reactive and emotive, she will not disappoint you here. Rather, expect an electrifying and exceptional performance. Paired with Payman Moaadi, they both make of this work an emotionally poignant movie that questions the notion of freedom in the unlikeliest of places: Guantanamo Bay.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cory Michael Smith, Daniel Leavitt, J. J. Soria, John Carroll Lynch, Joseph Julian Soria, Julia Duffy, Kristen Stewart, Kyle Bornheimer, Ladell Preston, Lane Garrison, Marco Khan, Nawal Bengholam, Payman Maadi, Peyman Maadi, Peyman Moaadi, SerDarius Blain, Tara Holt, Yousuf Azami

Director: Peter Sattler

Rating: R

One of the most original time-travel thrillers since 12 Monkeys. A brilliant subversion of the Time Paradox trope, with enough plot twists to keep you entertained until well after the movie is finished. Predestination is an amazing movie with great performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. It's a movie that will feel like Inception, when it comes to messing with your mind and barely anyone has heard of it. It is highly underrated and unknown, sadly.

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alicia Pavlis, Annabelle Norman, Arielle O'Neill, Ben Prendergast, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Cate Wolfe, Christopher Bunworth, Christopher Kirby, Christopher Sommers, Christopher Stollery, Dennis Coard, Dick York, Elise Jansen, Eliza D'Souza, Eliza Matengu, Ethan Hawke, Felicity Steel, Finegan Sampson, Freya Stafford, Giordano Gangl, Grant Piro, Hayley Butcher, Jim Knobeloch, Katie Avram, Kristie Jandric, Kuni Hashimoto, Lucinda Armstrong Hall, Madeleine West, Maja Sarosiek, Marky Lee Campbell, Milla Simmonds, Monique Heath, Noah Taylor, Noel Herriman, Olivia Sprague, Paul Moder, Raj Sidhu, Rebecca Cullinan, Rob Jenkins, Sara El-Yafi, Sarah Snook, Sharon Kershaw, Sophie Cusworth, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Tyler Coppin, Vanessa Crouch

Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig, The Spierig Brothers

Rating: R

Based on the book by John Le Carre, this slow-burning thriller tells the story of a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant suspected of terrorism, who is suddenly spotted in a big German city trying to get his hands on money that was left to him. Gunter (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the head of an international counter-terrorism unit created after 9/11 to spot threats like these early on. Whether this man is a terrorist or not, what he is doing in Germany, how he fits in the grand scheme of things, and whether Gunter will succeed in his efforts - all of these are questions you will be begging to find answers for. Witty, supremely acted, and with a very provocative story line, A Most Wanted Man is perfect if you're in the mood for a sharp thriller.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bernhard Schütz, Corinna Kropiunig, Daniel Brühl, Derya Alabora, Franz Hartwig, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Herbert Gronemeyer, Homayoun Ershadi, Imke Büchel, Kostja Ullmann, Martin Wuttke, Max Volkert Martens, Mehdi Dehbi, Neil Malik Abdullah, Nina Hoss, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Rainer Bock, Robin Wright, Tamer Yiğit, Ursina Lardi, Uwe Dag Berlin, Vedat Erincin, Vicky Krieps, Willem Dafoe

Director: Anton Corbijn

Rating: R

, 2004

Kristen Stewart stars as Melinda, a girl entering the gauntlet of freshman year in high school who is also carrying a heavy secret: after suffering an assault over the summer at a party, she has become determined to speak as little as possible. Melinda’s subjective experience is presented without mediation, melodrama nor moralism, but rather as life through her eyes: teachers are puff-chested bullies; parents are mumbling, ephemeral strangers; whispering girls are talking about her, all the time. It is a realistic portrait of the inner life and experience of a young woman whose sudden introversion, academic decline, and loss of social connections appear to go completely unnoticed, while she struggles to process and unburden herself of the weight of trauma. It’s an empathetic story well-served by Stewart’s understated performance and the film’s quiet pace.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allison Siko, Arron Kinser, Caitlyn Folley, Christina Hardebeck, D. B. Sweeney, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Lively, Hallee Hirsh, Kristen Stewart, Leslie Lyles, Michael Angarano, Richard Hagerman, Robert John Burke, Steve Zahn, Susan Gardner

Director: Jessica Sharzer

Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction

Actor: Adnan Haskovic, Alison Pill, Chris Evans, Clark Middleton, Dana Green, Ed Harris, Emma Levie, Ewen Bremner, Go A-sung, Go Ah-sung, Griffin Seymour, Jamie Bell, Jim High, John Hurt, Joseph Bertót, Kendrick Roger Ong, Kenny Doughty, Ko A-sung, Ko Asung, Luke Pasqualino, Luna Sophia Bar-Cohen, Magda Weigertová, Marcanthonee Reis, Octavia Spencer, Parry Shen, Paul Lazar, Peter Hallin, Robert Russell, Sean Connor Renwick, Seisuke Tsukahara, Song Kang-ho, Stephen Park, Steve Park, Tilda Swinton, Tomáš Dianiška, Tómas Lemarquis, Tyler John Williams, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Rating: R

, 2013

Tom Hardy channels (and transcends) his inner Colin Farrell with this film which takes place inside of a BMW SUV in its entirety. A mature drama that pays homage to anyone battling internal demons, Locke is an 85 minute road trip in which the viewer acts as the passenger. Intricately constructed with a series of intense phone calls and conversations, the film will reward you with an immersive experience with palpable anxiety that has moments that at times feel all too real.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alice Lowe, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Bill Milner, Danny Webb, Kirsty Dillon, Lee Ross, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Silas Carson, Tom Hardy, Tom Holland

Director: Steven Knight

Rating: R

, 2014

A really weird and also heartwarming movie about Frank, the leader and singer/songwriter of a crazy band. He really grows on you with his big head. If you like movies with that funky edge (like Scott Pilgrim) this is especially something for you! Either way and regardless of your preferences, you'll find Frank to be a sweet, sincere, likable and clever comedy.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Abe Martell, Alex Knight, Bruce McIntosh, Carla Azar, Chris McHallem, Domhnall Gleeson, François Civil, François Civil, Hayley Derryberry, Jordyn Aurora Aquino, Katie Anne Mitchell, Kevin Wiggins, Lauren Poole, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mark Huberman, Matthew Page, Michael Fassbender, Michael James Ford, Moira Brooker, Morse Bicknell, Paul Butterworth, Phil Kingston, Scoot McNairy, Tess Harper, Travis Hammer

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Rating: R

Vivian Maier was a French-American photographer whose art, like many of the greats, only gained widespread success after her death. Most of her life was spent working as a maid for families in Chicago. Her masterpieces were only introduced to the world when the director of this documentary purchased a box of her negatives. This movie is about him trying to put together the pieces and retrace her life by interviewing the people that knew her. Right from the beginning of this documentary her photos will have you in awe. They gave me chills and made me feel exactly what I needed to feel to understand each photo. Cue Vivian’s unexpected dark side along with really messed up backstory, I was completely absorbed. Interviews, along with Vivian’s own photos and home videos show the complexity and mystery of the artist.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daniel Arnaud, John Maloof, Mary Ellen Mark, Phil Donahue, Sarah Matthews-Ludington, Simon Amede, Tim Roth, Vivian Maier

Director: Charlie Siskel, John Maloof

Rating: Not Rated

A Ken Loach type of vibe drives The Selfish Giant  to be an interesting mix between anger,  desperation, and the beauty and humor often found in tough circumstances (think I, Daniel Blake but with kids as main characters). This sort of contemporary fable tells the story of two friends who skip school and hustle for work from a local scrap-dealer.  As they get more and more involved with him and his entourage, the grim realities of what once seemed a way out start to cast a shadow over their lives. The script is based on a short story by Oscar Wilde, it's a beautiful, ultimately sad portrayal of the British underclass.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Conner Chapman, Elliott Tittensor, Ian Burfield, Joseph Priestly, Lorraine Ashbourne, Macy Shackleton, Ralph Ineson, Rebecca Manley, Robert Emms, Sean Gilder, Shaun Thomas, Siobhan Finneran, Steve Evets

Director: Clio Barnard

Rating: Not Rated