22 Movies Like Under the Skin (2014)

Staff & contributors
The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

Everything about This Is Not a Film revolves around state censorship. Documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb records Iranian cinema giant Jafar Panahi’s life under house arrest, maneuvering through the legal loopholes on Panahi’s 20-year ban on filmmaking and screenwriting. Here Panahi describes one of his unmade films that was rejected by the Iranian ministry, creating makeshift sets out of tape and his apartment’s living room, further emphasizing the ridiculousness of the state-imposed limitations on his artistic freedom. The result is a quasi-documentary that functions paradoxically, its un-cinematic quality essential for aesthetics as well as narrative. That this film had to be smuggled from Iran to Cannes on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake is a testament to political cinema’s power to be a vessel of pro-democracy sentiments, a fist raised proudly against state censors.

Blue Ruin is a superbly acted, visually striking drama about a man's poignant and brutally violent journey for revenge when the culprit responsible for the murder of his father is released from prison. While it might seem like any other revenge tale, it is so well-told and smart that any other similarities with its crowded genre gently fade away. The first 15-20 minutes are pretty slow, but the pay-off is hot fire.

A unique movie about a near-future society obsessed with couples; viewing couples as the norm, as opposed to single people who are viewed as unproductive and undesirable. In that way, the film shows David (Colin Farrell), a newly single person who is transferred to the Hotel, a place where single people have just 45 days to find a suitable mate, and if they fail, they would be transformed into animals of their choice. While the film’s original premise may not be everyone’s cup of tea, The Lobster will prove a goldmine for people who are into a Kafkaesque, absurdist mentality, or anyone looking for an idea-driven experience.

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.

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.

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

A Danish cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The pirates demand millions of dollars in ransom and from there on, a psychological drama between the pirates and the ship owner develops, as they negotiate the price for the ship and its crew. A really great thing about this film is the fact that it doesn't get tangled up in the weepy feelings of the families back home - but instead focuses on the shrinking hope of the ship's crew and the psychological consequences of the brutal negotiation, that drives the ship owner to the edge of madness. Inspired by a true story. Brilliantly acted.

Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman star in this brilliant small-scale drama by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before trilogy). Hawke plays Vince, a volatile drug dealer who rekindles with his high school friend, Jon (Robert Sean Leonard).

And that’s it: there are only three characters in this movie, and it’s all set within a Michigan motel room.

But boy is it tense in that room, and man is this film so brilliantly written and well-acted. Vince, Jon, and Amy (Thurman’s character) discuss an event 10 years prior involving rape.

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.

Jim Jarmusch’s latest film is the story of a pair of vampires, Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), married for thousand of years and living thousands of miles apart, subsequently reunited in modern-day Detroit to find Hiddleston in state of disrepair and depression. Their lives are shaken up by the sudden appearance of Swinton’s wayward young vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) that sets their lives into tumult. It's the type of evenly-paced and wryly amusing dramedy that only Jarmusch could craft. I loved the atmosphere and sensibility of this film, not to mention the various literary allusions along with the dark, somber soundtrack. Less of a narrative and more of a modern-day-vampire-slice-of-life, this is one of those films that gets under skin and stays awhile (and not in a bad way).

Inside Llewyn Davis tells the interesting and captivating story of a young, struggling singer navigating through the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961. The movie conveys all sorts of emotions, thanks to Coen brothers’ stroke of genius: it is strange, funny, dramatic and satisfying at the same time. Not to mention, the ensemble cast is superb, and the music is absolutely great. It is the kind of movie that will put an unfamiliar yet wondrous feeling into you as you live through Llewyn Davis' eyes and feel his pain.

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.

Elisabeth Moss is in it. Calling The One I Love a romantic-comedy, looking it up, or trusting anyone else about it -- especially my review, will ruin this film for you. Just watch it. If one's penchant is typically opposed to titles with 'love' in them, then it's for you. Just hit 'play', or 'start', or whatever. The initial wtf-ness that attracted me to it is compelled further by excellent acting. And Elisabeth Moss is in it.

Equal parts touching and comical, this portrait of a working-class family in a suburb just north of London features twin daughters who couldn’t be more different—the brainy and good-natured Natalie, and her sneering, layabout sister Nicola. Written and directed by Mike Leigh (Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky) expect the slow, dreamy representation of British society from one of the country's best and most renowned directors.