28 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!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

Directed and co-written by Craig Johnson (who made The Adolescents with Mark Duplass), The Skeleton Twins is a beautiful piece of drama, dealing with some dark themes. It does so with surprising success, given that the two main actors are seasoned comedians with little to no experience in the genre. And yet, it is precisely the two leads that turn this bleak comedy-drama into a somber, haunting, but beautiful watch. Bill Hader is amazing as the depressed and suicidal gay man, Milo, who is reunited with his estranged twin Maggie (Kristen Wiig) after a series of unfortunate events. Their attempts at repairing their fractured relationship also forces them to confront the trajectory of their own lives, while they rediscover their erstwhile childhood friendship and long-lost camaraderie. Again, don't expect a traditional comedy, but an honest display of the complexities of sibling relationships, mental health, and how conflict, compassion, and understanding fit into it all.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adriane Lenox, Bill Hader, Boyd Holbrook, Cliff Moylan, David Garelik, Eddie Schweighardt, Genevieve Adams, Ian Hyland, Jennifer Lafleur, Joanna Gleason, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Paul Castro Jr., Sydney Lucas, Ty Burrell

Director: Craig Johnson

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Jafar Panahi

Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

In his debut feature, Jonathan Glazer masterfully subverts our expectations of heist movies to thrilling effect: what should be a perfunctory moment — the classic recruitment scene — is stretched out into nearly an entire film of its own here, and we’re not off the edge of our seat for even a second of it.

All retired Cockney gangster Gal (Ray Winstone) wants to do is lounge around the pool of his Spanish villa with beloved wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). But now there’s a spanner in the works: an unhinged old acquaintance, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley, never better), has unexpectedly rocked up at Gal's hacienda to enlist him for a big job on behalf of the London underworld’s top brass. Don is the type of man you just don’t say “no” to, but the pull of Gal’s idyllic retirement is so powerful that he does just that, a narrative swerve that spins this film off the well-worn (but still enjoyable) track we expected it to follow. Directed with cool assurance, full of unforgettable set-pieces, overflowing with style, and even further distinguished by some surreal touches that really get under the skin, this is one of the slickest, funniest, and most exhilarating crime movies ever.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Álvaro Monje, Amanda Redman, Andy Lucas, Ben Kingsley, Cavan Kendall, Chris Webb, Desirée Erasmus, Eddie O'Connell, Gérard Barray, Ian McShane, James Fox, Julianne White, Ray Winstone, Rocky Taylor, Terence Plummer

Director: Jonathan Glazer

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.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Amy Hargreaves, Bonnie Johnson, Brent Werzner, David W. Thompson, Devin Ratray, Eve Plumb, Jeremy Saulnier, Kevin Kolack, Macon Blair, Sandy Barnett, Sidné Anderson, Sidné Anderson, Stacy Rock, Ydaiber Orozco

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aggeliki Papoulia, Angeliki Papoulia, Anthony Dougall, Ariane Labed, Ashley Jensen, Ben Whishaw, Colin Farrell, Degnan Geraghty, Emma O'Shea, Ewen MacIntosh, Garry Mountaine, Jacqueline Abrahams, Jessica Barden, John C. Reilly, Laoise Murphy, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Rosanna Hoult, Sean Duggan

Director: Giorgos Lanthimos, Yorgos Lanthimos

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, Rob Jenkins, Sara El-Yafi, Sarah Snook, Sophie Cusworth, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Tyler Coppin, Vanessa Crouch

Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig, The Spierig Brothers

Rating: R

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star in this slow-burning but impeccable crime thriller.

Abel Morales (Isaac) owns a fuel distribution company in 1980s New York. His competitors are violent and corrupt, and the feds are after him. The temptation to resort to unlawful methods is high, especially that his wife (Chastain) is the daughter of a mobster.

A Most Violent Year is about how this temptation of corruption unfolds and whether Abel will surrender to it or not.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Annie Funke, Ashley Williams, Ben Rosenfield, Bill Walters, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Chester Jones III, Chris Cardona, Christopher Abbott, Daisy Tahan, David Margulies, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Marvel, Elyes Gabel, Giselle Eisenberg, Glenn Fleshler, Jason Ralph, Jerry Adler, Jessica Chastain, Jimmy Palumbo, John Douglas Thompson, John Procaccino, Kathleen Doyle, Linda Marie Larson, Lorna Guity Pruce, Lorna Pruce, Matthew Maher, Myrna Cabello, Nat DeWolf, Nick Bailey, Oscar Isaac, Patrick Breen, Peter Gerety, Pico Alexander, Quinn Meyers, Robert Clohessy, Russell G. Jones, Stephen Reich, Susan Blackwell, Taylor Richardson, Teddy Coluca, William Hill

Director: J. C. Chandor

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Claudia Geisler, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Daniela Holtz, Eva Bay, Felix Romer, Imogen Kogge, Jeff Burrell, Kathrin Wehlisch, Kirsten Block, Max Hopp, Megan Gay, Michael Maertens, Nikola Kastner, Nina Hoss, Nina Kunzendorf, Ronald Zehrfeld, Trystan Pütter, Trystan Putter, Uwe Preuss, Valerie Koch

Director: Christian Petzold

Rating: PG-13

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. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Dan Herzberg, Denis Lavant, Gianfranco Poddighe, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor, Mickael Ravovski, Nicolas Duvauchelle

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

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.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Abdihakin Asgar, Amalie Ihle Alstrup, Andre Royo, Carsten Eigil Hedegaard, Clancy Brown, Dar Salim, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Keith Pearson, Linda Laursen, Michael Christensen, Ole Dupont, Pilou Asbæk, Pilou Asbæk, Roland Møller, Roland Moller, Søren Malling, Søren Malling, Stephen Gevedon

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Rating: R

, 2001

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.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman

Director: Richard Linklater

, 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, Lee Ross, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Silas Carson, Tom Hardy, Tom Holland

Director: Steven Knight

Rating: R

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).

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ali Amine, Anton Yelchin, Aurélie Thépaut, Carter Logan, Ego Sensation, Jeffrey Wright, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Slimane Dazi, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Wayne Brinston, Yasmine Hamdan

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky, Bonnie Rose, Carey Mulligan, Declan Bennett, Ethan Phillips, F. Murray Abraham, Garrett Hedlund, Helen Hong, Jack O'Connell, Jake Ryan, Jeanine Serralles, Jerry Grayson, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Max Casella, Oscar Isaac, Ricardo Cordero, Robin Bartlett, Stark Sands, Sylvia Kauders

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Rating: R