Movie Suggestions by Released

released: 1994

Long before we became accustomed to oxymorons like “scripted reality” shows, there was a time when viewers could expect to trust what they saw on TV. One of the pivotal events shattering that illusion in the US was the 1950s quiz show scandal, in which producers of popular broadcasts like Twenty-One were revealed to be feeding contestants the answers in advance in order to manipulate audience ratings. 

Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is an engrossing chronicle of the investigation that blew the lid on Twenty-One's fixing, revealed when disgruntled champion Herb Stempel became a whistleblower. Stempel (played with nervous brilliance by John Turturro) was pressured to flunk a no-brainer question to make way for golden boy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a ratings-friendly photogenic academic from a prominent WASP-ish family. What’s so sharp about Quiz Show is that it doesn’t just recreate the scandal for drama’s sake: it needles in on the greed and privilege that drove the fraud, paying particular attention to Van Doren’s angle of the morality play, the influence of his class and ethnicity, and the secret hand the show’s studio and sponsor had in the whole affair. In an era when practically anything goes in the name of entertainment, this interrogation of TV’s corrupt origins feels ever-relevant.

Genre: Drama, History, Mystery

Actor: Allan Rich, Anthony Fusco, Barry Levinson, Barry Snider, Ben Shenkman, Bernie Sheredy, Bill Moor, Bruce Altman, Byron Jennings, Calista Flockhart, Carole Shelley, Christopher McDonald, Chuck Adamson, Dan Wakefield, Dave Wilson, David Paymer, Debra Monk, Douglas McGrath, Eddie Korbich, Elizabeth Wilson, Ernie Sabella, Ethan Hawke, George Martin, Gina Rice, Grace Phillips, Gretchen Egolf, Griffin Dunne, Hank Azaria, Harriet Sansom Harris, Illeana Douglas, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Nordling, Jerry Grayson, Jerry Griffin, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, John Turturro, Joseph Attanasio, Joseph Blaire, Kelly Coffield Park, Le Clanché du Rand, Mario Cantone, Martin Scorsese, Mary Shultz, Matt Keeslar, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Mantell, Mira Sorvino, Nicholas Kepros, Paul Guilfoyle, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes, Richard Council, Richard Seff, Rob Morrow, Robert Caminiti, Scott Lucy, Shawn Batten, Stephen Pearlman, Timothy Britten Parker, Timothy Busfield, Vince O'Brien, Vincent J. Burns, William Fichtner

Director: Robert Redford

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Anthony Ruiz, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

Slow cinema might be an acquired taste for many viewers, but Tsai Ming-liang's gorgeous feature debut about Taiwan's aimless youth should have enough mystery and suspense to draw anybody in. They key, as with many of these films, isn't to demand that things happen or actions get explained, but to surrender to every possibility and suggestion of what might be motivating these characters beneath the surface. And through patient, perceptive observation, Tsai gives us so much to chew on: the sleeplessness of urban life, the unpredictability of relationships, and most importantly the morality that forms when a disillusioned young man fully embraces his being an outcast.

And if nothing else, Tsai provides us with some of the most beautiful and honest images of city life around. It's hard to describe, but just the neon-lit arcade halls and dingy hotel rooms are enough to let you into who these characters are. It's an experience not to be missed.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-Ching, Miao Tien, Yu-Wen Wang

Director: Tsai Ming-liang

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy reflects both the colors and the values of the French republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité. In Trois couleurs : Blanc (Three Colors: White), Kieślowski explores not only the theme of equality, but also the ramifications of defining and “achieving” equality as a European ideal.

After failing to consummate their marriage, Dominique (the ever-bewitching Julie Delpy) divorces Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), leaving him broke and humiliated. Karol plots to exact revenge on his ex-wife, becoming richer and cruller in the process. 

Although this is often regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, White is worth a watch not just for completionists. Kieślowski interrogates what it means to be equal in sex and socioeconomic class—and if when we strive to move upward in society, whether we are really debasing our basic humanity and humility.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Aleksander Bardini, Andrzej Precigs, Barbara Dziekan, Bartłomiej Topa, Cezary Harasimowicz, Cezary Pazura, Grażyna Szapołowska, Grzegorz Warchoł, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Nowak, Jerzy Stuhr, Jerzy Trela, Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, Marzena Trybała, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Piotr Machalica, Piotr Zelt, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Zdzisław Rychter

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

released: 1997

, 1997

Cure is about a mad society, where both cure and sickness might be one and the same. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa subverts the police procedural into an interrogation without definite answers, an abstract study on the evil that resides and is suppressed in every person’s heart. Unlike most horror films, Cure’s scares are left in plain sight, hypnotically mesmerizing as they are gruesome, with a sense of mundanity associated with other Japanese masters like Ozu or Kore-eda. “At the time it just seemed the right thing to do,” a man answers when asked why he killed his wife, and it is this contradictorily calm, nonchalant demeanor that creates a feeling of unease in the film’s horror aesthetic.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Akira Otaka, Anna Nakagawa, Denden, Kōji Yakusho, Makoto Kakeda, Masahiro Toda, Masato Hagiwara, Misayo Haruki, Ren Osugi, Shôgo Suzuki, Shun Nakayama, Takeshi Mikami, Taro Suwa, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yukijiro Hotaru

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

After third-grader Ali loses the only pair of shoes his sister Zahra owns, the siblings agree to share Ali's sneakers for school. Zahra uses the tattered, ill-fitting footwear in the morning, and in the afternoon, she hands them over to Ali, who then races to get into school in time. The siblings wait for things to get better at home before they mention anything to their already-burdened parents, but in the meantime, they persevere, scooping up every bit of silver lining they find, whether it's popping soap bubbles or taking in the city's ultramodern sights. 

In this way, Children of Heaven is neither cynical nor cheesy. It presents the harsh reality of Tehran's poor without robbing them of hope and agency, giving the movie the right amount of self-aware and feel-good that elevates it into a classic. Thanks to this masterful balance, plus many awe-inspiring shots and lines, it should come as no surprise that Children of Heaven is the first Iranian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars.

Genre: Drama, Family, Kids

Actor: Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi, Kamal Mirkarimi, Mohammad Amir Naji, Reza Naji

Director: Majid Majidi

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a chilling psychological thriller and a fantastic next step for those looking to explore anime’s dark side. Kon animates with Hitchcockian flair and is so successful at memorable compositions that Darren Aronofsky even lifted a scene from this into Requiem for a Dream. 

Mima is a pop idol who abandons her singing career to become an actress. Shaken by a series of murders, and a stalker who knows her every move, she begins to lose her grip on reality. The rest is a riveting ride into Mima’s unraveling psyche in the vein of Mulholland Drive or Black Swan. This 1996 film not only anticipates the reality busting thrillers of the early aughts but also presages the way our identities are splintered across the internet.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akio Suyama, Emi Motoi, Emi Shinohara, Emiko Furukawa, Hideyuki Hori, Jin Yamanoi, Junko Iwao, Kishō Taniyama, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Kōichi Tōchika, Masaaki Okura, Masashi Ebara, Megumi Tano, Osamu Hosoi, Rica Matsumoto, Shiho Niiyama, Shin-ichiro Miki, Shin'ichirō Miki, Shinpachi Tsuji, Soichiro Hoshi, Takashi Nagasako, Tōru Furusawa, Yoku Shioya, Yousuke Akimoto

Director: Satoshi Kon

Rating: R

A woman yearns to find her biological mother, another woman struggles with infertility, a third wants to connect with her rebellious daughter. Director Mike Leigh has the prowess to seamlessly weave these stories together, and part of the joy is knowing, that like clockwork, these narratives are set on a spectacular collision course.

As melancholy as it is optimistic and as funny as it is tragic, Secrets & Lies is a perfect example of Leigh’s oeuvre and earned him a Cannes’ Palme d’Or. The film features a full cast of his regulars with the fantastic addition of Marianne Jean Baptiste as Hortense - the woman who sets the wheels of the film in motion.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alison Steadman, Angela Curran, Anthony O'Donnell, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Bovell, Claire Rushbrook, Clare Perkins, David Neilson, Denise Orita, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Frances Ruffelle, Gary McDonald, Grant Masters, Hannah Davis, Janice Acquah, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Jonny Coyne, Keylee Jade Flanders, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Liz Smith, Lucy Sheen, Margery Withers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Mia Soteriou, Michele Austin, Nitin Ganatra, Paul Trussell, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Phyllis Logan, Richard Syms, Ron Cook, Ruth Sheen, Sheila Kelley, Stephen Churchett, Su Eliott, Su Elliott, Terence Harvey, Timothy Spall, Trevor Laird, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

released: 2001

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: 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

Based on the Austrian novel, The Piano Teacher is as brilliant and as disturbed as its protagonist. The film follows Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), the repressed masochist in question, and the trainwreck of a relationship that she develops with her student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Their dynamic is undeniably toxic. Austrian auteur Michael Haneke frames each scene with clinical detachment, but it is absolutely brutal how the two characters try to assert control over each other, engage in sadomasochism, and repeatedly violate each other’s boundaries. Huppert’s heartrending performance fully commits to the merciless treatment Erika receives. But more tragic is the way Erika’s unusual relationship could’ve freed her, could’ve helped her process her abuse, and instead, reinforces her repression. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by admitting your desires, only for them to be used against you.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anna Sigalevitch, Annie Girardot, Benoit Magimel, Eva Green, Georg Friedrich, Gerti Drassl, Isabelle Huppert, Liliana Nelska, Susanne Lothar, Udo Samel, Vivian Bartsch

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: R

The atmosphere in Millennium Mambo is magical. The opening scene alone will leave you enchanted, with long walks through a tunnel-like space and dreamy techno music playing in the background. We are misled into thinking that this will be a movie full of colors and dance, and to some degree, this is true, as it portrays Taipei and its neon colors of green, pink, and blue, featuring dance sequences in a bar that serves flashy drinks. But as the movie develops, a chilling shadow is cast as we become entangled in a brutal relationship that is as full of cruelty as it is of love and lust. Narrated from the future, the story shows how the present-day protagonist, Vicky, grapples with her identity as she looks back upon her past self from ten years ago.

Chaotic, messy, but also peppered with moments of serenity and shot with flawless camerawork and cinematography, Millennium Mambo makes time feel fluid, and serves as a reminder that no matter how rough the journey may be, everything is always okay in the end.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chun-hao Tuan, Doze Niu Cheng-Tse, Duan Chun-hao, Jack Kao, Pauline Chan, Pauline Chan Bo-Lin, Qi Shu, Rio Peng, Shu Qi

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hsiao-Hsien Hou

Rating: R

Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist, whose art is specific to the natural locations he creates them in and made only from the natural materials he finds in them. This is putting it very technically: Goldsworthy is a solitary wanderer, absorbed in the moment, unworried about what comes after him. Using often only his bare hands, he creates fleeting works of art that often looks like nature itself could have created them. The opening has him calmly forming a spiral out of icicles using the heat of his hands to fuse the pieces together. As painstaking as this process is, his art is not meant to live forever. Once completed, it is handed over to the rivers and tides to do with it as they please. Directed, shot, and edited by Thomas Riedelsheimer, a German filmmaker, Rivers and Tides takes an in-depth look at Goldsworthy's ideas and craft, everywhere from upstate New York to his home village in Scotland. A calming and inspiring journey.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Andy Goldsworthy, Anna Goldsworthy, Holly Goldsworthy

Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer

released: 2003

Serene and almost silent, Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a film contemplating an old movie theater in Taipei. In its heyday, this cinema was jam-packed and full of eager eyes watching the 1967 Wuxia classic Dragon Inn, but now it’s nearly empty for its last screening. Despite the lack of attendees, this cinema still has some life. Like the annoying audience members we're all familiar with, the moviegoers still noisily chew on popcorn, put their feet on the headrest in front of them, and refuse to remain silent when walking. Director Tsai Ming-liang affectionately captures moviegoers in their natural element, recreating an experience so nostalgic it makes me want to go back to the theaters. Watching this, post-pandemic in the age of streaming, reminds us of the ways we still try to connect in the cinema in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lee Kang-sheng, Miao Tien, Shih Chun, Yang Kuei-Mei

Director: Tsai Ming-liang

Rating: Not Rated

, 2003

It has become increasingly rare to find films made in Afghanistan, so when a movie like Osama comes along, it becomes nothing short of essential viewing. This is a profoundly depressing but beautifully crafted story of a young girl made to look like a boy so as to go unnoticed by Taliban forces while trying to help her family. It's a simple film wherein this character's budding awareness of her girlhood is set against a terrifying backdrop of violence, abuse, and fundamentalist extremism—all of which director Siddiq Barmak keeps off the screen.

Barmak knows exactly what to point his camera at, covering multiple angles of life in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan without calling attention to himself, and still finding ways to show the smallest shreds of sympathy and support hiding within this society. And in the lead role, a teenage Marina Golbahari delivers a towering, heartbreaking performance that never registers as anything but authentic. The fear that she embodies is almost too real to watch without becoming afraid yourself. Osama is incredibly difficult viewing, but it's a truly valuable work of art that deserves to be preserved.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arif Herati, Malik Akhlaqi, Marina Golbahari, Zabih ullah Frotan, Zubaida Sahar, مالک اخلاقی

Director: Siddiq Barmak

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, Judy Marte, Kevin Rivera, Melonie Diaz, Silvestre Rasuk, Victor Rasuk

Director: Peter Sollett

Rating: R

The Station Agent is about loneliness, change and friendship. Sounds corny right? It’s not. The characters are developed, they have their own reasons for the choices they make and nothing feels forced, neither actions or conversations. It’s a small and wonderful movie about a little man that moves out of the city and his comfort zone when his only friend dies, moves to said friend’s old train station and sets his life there. From there on it follows his social interactions with a slew of people, the relationships he forms with them. Oh, and the little man? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), who pulls off a great performance, albeit a quiet one.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bobby Cannavale, Jase Blankfort, Jayce Bartok, Jeremy Bergman, Joe Lo Truglio, John Slattery, Josh Pais, Lynn Cohen, Maile Flanagan, Marla Sucharetza, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Paul Benjamin, Paula Garces, Peter Dinklage, Raven Goodwin, Richard Kind

Director: Tom McCarthy

Rating: R

released: 2004

Before the late 2010s push for more Asian American and lesbian cinema, there were movies already making strides toward better representation. One of the first to achieve this was Saving Face. Despite this film being the first feature for writer-director Alice Wu and actress Lynn Chen, and the first lead role for Michelle Krusiec, the three women lead the film with ease. Wu’s clear mastery of rom-com and family drama tropes directs us through some predictable moves, but with unpredictable twists. Krusiec and Chen’s Wil and Vivian are easy to root for with their striking chemistry, but at the heart of this film is Wil’s relationship with her mom Hwei-Lan (Joan Chen). Their dynamic—expressed through passive-aggression, bilingual bickering, and their need for the other’s honesty—turns this easygoing rom-com into a light yet cathartic family drama.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ato Essandoh, Brian Yang, Hoon Lee, Jessica Hecht, Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, Michelle Krusiec, Saidah Arrika Ekulona

Director: Alice Wu

Rating: R

A breathtaking and enigmatic masterpiece of Thai cinema, Tropical Maladyis a poetic and deeply philosophical exploration of human desire, spirituality, and the mysteries of nature. It follows the story of two men, a soldier and a farmer, who fall in love and embark on a journey deep into the heart of the jungle, where they encounter a shape-shifting spirit. The film's surreal and dreamlike imagery is mesmerizing, and the performances are outstanding, especially the nuanced and subtle portrayal of the two protagonists. This film is truly a stunning and unforgettable work of art that challenges our perceptions of love, identity, and reality.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Sakda Kaewbuadee

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Mike Leigh’s forthright and compassionate depiction of working-class life extends to his period pieces as well. Imelda Staunton is remarkable as Vera Drake, a housekeeper in 1950’s London who quietly performs abortions on the side.

Leigh’s vigilant portrayal of class highlights the stark divide between abortion access for the poor and what is offered to the rich. The storytelling is simple and straightforward, he doesn’t over-sentimentalize or grandstand, but merely depicts conditions as they were. Meanwhile, Staunton’s Vera oozes so much fullness, warmth, and empathy, that the heartbreak that follows is mercilessly palpable. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Allan Corduner, Angela Curran, Anna Keaveney, Anthony O'Donnell, Billie Cook, Billy Seymour, Chris O'Dowd, Craig Conway, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan, Eileen Davies, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Fenella Woolgar, Gerard Monaco, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, Imelda Staunton, Jake Wood, James Payton, Jane Wood, Jeffry Wickham, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Griffiths, John Warman, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Lesley Sharp, Liz White, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage, Nicholas Jones, Nicky Henson, Paul Jesson, Paul Raffield, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Richard Graham, Robert Putt, Rosie Cavaliero, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Troughton, Sandra Voe, Sid Mitchell, Simon Chandler, Sinéad Matthews, Tilly Vosburgh, Tom Ellis, Vincent Franklin, Vinette Robinson, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Winner of a Golden Bear and a slew of awards at the European Film Awards in the early noughties, Head-on is named after the suicide attempt of Cahit Tomruk (played by the late Birol Ünel), a Turkish-born German in his mid-40s. At the psychiatric clinic where he is treated, he meets the equally damaged Sibel Güner who is also of Turkish descent. (The first ever feature film of famous German actress Sibel Kekilli, who you might know from Game of Thrones.) Sibel persuades him to marry her in an attempt to break away from her traditional-minded parents.

If you think this plot summary was tough stuff, it gets even grimmer from there. Directed by famous German filmmaker Fatih Akın, the intensity with which Kekilli and Ünel perform the character's unhinged self-hatred is as raw as it gets. Head-on is a brutal, gritty, and heart-wrenching story about the violence of love and hedonism – and the struggle of third-generation Turkish immigrants in Germany.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Bousdoukos, Aysel Iscan, Birol Ünel, Catrin Striebeck, Cem Akin, Demir Gökgöl, Feridun Koç, Güven Kiraç, Hermann Lause, İdil Üner, Maceo Parker, Mehmet Kurtuluş, Meltem Cumbul, Mona Mur, Orhan Güner, Philipp Baltus, Ralph Misske, Selim Erdoğan, Sibel Kekilli, Stefan Gebelhoff, Tim Seyfi, Tugay Erverdi, Zarah Jane McKenzie

Director: Fatih Akin

Rating: R

released: 2005

The Dardenne brothers deliver one of their characteristic tests of empathy with this social realist tale centered around an apparently irredeemable soul. Bruno (Jérémie Renier) and his girlfriend Sonia (Déborah François) are childish teenagers who have just welcomed their first baby, a boy named Jimmy. But the fact that he’s now a father and jointly responsible for a new life doesn’t seem to register with Bruno, a small-time criminal whose thoughts don’t extend beyond his next job and what he’ll buy with the takings.

Sickeningly, Jimmy’s birth gives the vacant-headed, impulsive Bruno an idea for a quick buck: he’ll use the black market to sell the baby to a family hoping to adopt. This awful act sets in motion a frantic set of events as Sonia’s horrified reaction signals to Bruno that he might have gone too far this time. Strikingly, though, we’re never sure if Bruno is experiencing a moment of genuine reflection — perhaps the first of his life — even up to the film’s dam-break of a final scene. The ghastliness of Bruno’s actions makes this a challenging watch, but the Dardenne brothers’ restraint and resolute refusal to moralize about their easily condemnable protagonist open it up to being a compelling reflective exercise on the limits of redemption.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Déborah François, Fabrizio Rongione, Jérémie Renier, Olivier Gourmet

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Mr. Lazarescu is a widower living with his cats in a small Bucharest apartment. One night when he begins to feel sick and calls for help, he sets in motion a kafkaesque parade of nurses, doctors, and hospitals as he is ferried through a bureaucratic maze unable to get treatment for his rapidly deteriorating condition. Cristi Puiu’s searing indictment of a failed healthcare system mixes kitchen-sink realism with tinges of gallows humor for a remarkable one-of-a-kind experience.

Beneath its grim demeanor is a clear-eyed portrait of the heart-rending weariness of paramedics and hospital staff that speaks spectacularly to our current mid-pandemic moment of exhausted doctors and overflowing facilities. This focus on the toll of the system on paramedics, in particular, makes this a fantastic pairing with Martin Scorcese’s’ underrated Bringing Out the Dead.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrian Titieni, Alexandru Potocean, Alina Berzunteanu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Cerasela Iosifescu, Clara Vodă, Cristi Puiu, Dan Chiriac, Dana Dogaru, Dorian Boguta, Doru Ana, Dragos Bucur, Florin Zamfirescu, Gabriel Spahiu, Ioan Fiscuteanu, Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Mimi Brănescu, Mimi Branescu, Monica Bârlădeanu, Monica Barladeanu, Rodica Lazăr, Șerban Pavlu, Simona Popescu

Director: Cristi Puiu

Rating: R

This Park Chan-Wook classic is the third part of a trilogy of films around the theme of revenge, following Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy. While ultimately unique, Lady Vengeance is a thriller set in a prison, in the vein of films such as the Japanese action drama Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. After being framed and wrongly convicted for murder, our protagonist seeks out the true perpetrator of the crime –– but more than anything else, she seeks vengeance. 

This film’s run time is 115 minutes and every second is essential. There is often gratuitous violence perpetrated by men against women in film, however Lady Vengeance takes back control and for that reason it remains one of my favorite revenge films.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anne Cordiner, Bu-seon Kim, Byeong-ok Kim, Choi Hee-jin, Choi Jung-woo, Choi Min-sik, Go Su-hee, Ha-kyun Shin, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Jun Sung-ae, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kang-ho Song, Kim Bu-seon, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Jin-goo, Kim Keum-soon, Kim Shi-hoo, Kim Yoo-jung, Kim You-jung, Ko Chang-seok, Ko Su-hee, Koh Soo-hee, Kwon Yea-young, Lee Byung-joon, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Yong-nyeo, Lee Young-ae, Lim Su-gyeong, Min-sik Choi, Nam Il-woo, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Park Myung-shin, Ra Mi-ran, Ryoo Seung-wan, Seo Ji-hee, Seo Young-ju, Seung-Shin Lee, Seung-wan Ryoo, Shi-hoo Kim, Shin Ha-gyun, Shin Ha-kyun, Song Kang-ho, Su-hee Go, Toni Barry, Tony Barry, Won Mi-won, Yea-young Kwon, Yeong-ae Lee, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoon Jin-seo

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

Robert Downey Jr's triumphant return to film, this movie is a satirical take on film noir and detective movies in general. The screen chemistry between Gay Perry the private eye, played by Val Kilmer, and Downey Jr's robber turned actor, Harry Lockhart, is hysterical, and the film's tongue in cheek nature is witty, smart, and delivers. Directed by the man who directed Lethal Weapon, the action is top notch, the laughs are pretty much constant, and the mystery is compelling. It's mind boggling that nobody saw this when it came out.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ali Hillis, Angela Lindvall, Ariel Winter, Ben Hernandez Bray, Bill McAdams Jr., Brian Simpson, Cole S. McKay, Corbin Bernsen, Daniel Browning Smith, Dash Mihok, David Newsom, Evan Parke, Harrison Young, Indio Falconer Downey, Jake McKinnon, Joe Keyes, Josh Richman, Judie Aronson, Kathy Lamkin, Larry Miller, Laurence Fishburne, Lela Edgar, Martha Hackett, Michelle Monaghan, Nancy Fish, Robert Downey Jr., Rockmond Dunbar, Shannyn Sossamon, Stephanie Pearson, Tanja Reichert, Teresa Maria Herrera, Val Kilmer, Vincent Laresca, Wiley M. Pickett

Director: Shane Black

Rating: R

released: 2006

You might expect a movie about the Irish struggle for independence from the British Empire during the 1920s to be a sweeping historical epic a la Braveheart, but The Wind That Shakes The Barley is instead a heartbreaking miniature portrait of the human impact that the brutal occupation has on the residents of a small County Cork village. Cillian Murphy is superb as Damien O’Donovan, a young medical student who is about to up sticks for London when he witnesses first-hand the savagery of British forces on his neighbors. Galvanized into action, he joins the local branch of the IRA, which is led by his brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney).

What makes The Wind That Shakes The Barley so potent isn’t just its depiction of the fierce local rebellion that Damien and his comrades wage against the British forces — it’s also its gutting exploration of the cyclical war that began to rage amongst the freedom fighters once the British left. As Damien puts it, “It's easy to know what you're against, quite another to know what you're for” — a dilemma that wedges the two brothers apart to bitter ends.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Aidan O'Hare, Antony Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Denis Conway, Liam Cunningham, Noel O'Donovan, Orla Fitzgerald, Pádraic Delaney, Roger Allam, Sean McGinley, Siobhan McSweeney, Tom Charnock

Director: Ken Loach

Visually stunning and energetic, Tekkonkinkreet takes you on a wild ride through the gritty streets of a deteriorating metropolis as it follows two orphaned brothers navigating a world of crime and self-discovery. The animation is an absolute marvel, blending vibrant colors with a unique visual style that immerses you in a surreal urban landscape. But it's the heartfelt story and complex characters that truly shine, exploring themes of friendship, resilience, and the struggle between innocence and corruption. Tekkonkinkreet is a visual feast for the eyes and a poignant exploration of the human connection.

Genre: Animation, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Harumi Asai, Kankuro Kudo, Kazuko Kurosawa, Kazunari Ninomiya, Masahiro Motoki, Mayumi Yamaguchi, Min Tanaka, Miyuki Oshima, Mugihito, Nao Ōmori, Rokuro Naya, Tomomichi Nishimura, Tooru Nara, Toru Nara, Yoshinori Okada, Yu Aoi, Yûsuke Iseya

Director: Michael Arias

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

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, 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

released: 2007

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan's life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Angela Galuppo, Arthur Holden, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Bill Croft, Bob Dylan, Brett Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Cate Blanchett, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Danny Blanco Hall, David Cross, Don Francks, Eric Newsome, Gordon Masten, Heath Ledger, Jane Gilchrist, Jane Wheeler, Jason Cavalier, Jodie Resther, Joe Cobden, Julianne Moore, Kathleen Fee, Kris Kristofferson, Kristen Hager, Kyle Gatehouse, Larry Day, Maggie Castle, Marcus Carl Franklin, Mark Camacho, Melantha Blackthorne, Michelle Williams, Pauline Little, Peter Friedman, Richard Gere, Richard Jutras, Richie Havens, Roc LaFortune, Shawn Baichoo, Tim Post, Trevor Hayes, Tyrone Benskin, Vito DeFilippo

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

You don’t have to be a tea drinker to enjoy this warm film from documentary legend Les Blank. The passion and eloquence with which the tea connoisseurs interviewed here talk about the beverage is a delight in itself, a soul-nourishing reminder of what worlds of meaning and experience open up when you really love something. Though a few of these enthusiasts are featured — among them, filmmaker Werner Herzog —  it’s mainly centered around David Lee Hoffman, an American importer who swims against the tide of capitalism, mass production, and environmental damage to champion the hand-crafted teas he’s so passionate about. As the film chronicles, however, his insistence on buying directly from the boutique farmers — sometimes traveling hours into the remote Chinese countryside to do so — often puts him at odds with the economic interests of the big-time exporters he must work with.

Hoffman isn’t persistent in the face of all these hurdles for the sake of a buck, though: the film follows his linked efforts to encourage organic farming practices and a direct-from-the-source marketplace that will give the farmers a fair price for their hard work. That his love for the drink also encompasses the artisans who make it and the ground that grows it makes this an inspiring watch.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Werner Herzog

Director: Gina Leibrecht, Les Blank

Striking, epic, and occasionally gruesome, Sword of the Stranger is an excellent film about ronin redemption. From the title alone, the film promises and delivers thrilling sword-fighting sequences from the titular stranger Nanashi (or “no name” in Japanese). His bouts with Ming Chinese warriors, as well as the Caucasian Luo-Lang, are so graceful, yet at times, so brutal that it ends with wrecked buildings, copious bleeding, and (on occasion) amputated limbs. However, the gore isn’t what makes these fight scenes work. Nanashi’s will to preserve his honor and self-determination drives the film. It’s the reason why his fight against these invaders feels so compelling. It’s the reason why he reluctantly guards the orphan Kotaro and his cute shiba inu. And when the film finally reveals the cause of that will, rooting for him is inevitable.

Genre: Action, Animation, Drama, History

Actor: Ai Orikasa, Akio Otsuka, Cho, Fumie Mizusawa, Hirofumi Nojima, Hiroshi Shirokuma, Jun Hazumi, Junko Minagawa, Katsuhisa Houki, Koichi Yamadera, Maaya Sakamoto, Makoto Yasumura, Mamoru Miyano, Masaki Aizawa, Naoto Takenaka, Noboru Yamaguchi, Tomoya Nagase, Tomoyuki Shimura, Unsho Ishizuka, Yasuhiko Kawazu, Yuki Masuda, Yuri Chinen

Director: Masahiro Ando

Rating: TV-MA

Persepolis is the true story of Marjane Satrapi, the writer and illustrator whose graphic novels of the same name the film is adapted from. It details in vivid animation the trials of growing up in war-torn Iran, but also, crucially, the joys of being raised by a loving family and the significance of forming one’s own ideals and identity. In between revolving dictatorships and tightening restrictions, Marjane comes into her own and discovers what it means to live a meaningful life.

It’s a testament to Satrapi’s many talents that Persepolis never feels too flat or cynical given its 2D style and bleak backdrop. The drawings impressively morph with Marjane’s every thought, as if the ink itself were alive, and her wit persistently comes through in sharp observations and dialogues. Equally impressive is the film’s commitment to portraying war and conflict in a nuanced manner. In an autobiographical tale that is about Marjane’s coming of age as much as it is about her country’s survival, it’s never been more true that the personal is political.

Genre: Animation, Drama, History, War

Actor: Arié Elmaleh, Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, François Jerosme, Gabrielle Lopes Benites, Mathias Mlekuz, Simon Abkarian, Sophie Arthuys, Tilly Mandelbrot

Director: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

Rating: PG-13

released: 2008

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

Known for his horror films, Kiyoshi Kurosawa shifts gears and presents a family drama in Tokyo Sonata. In the film, father Ryuhei, who’s expected to be the breadwinner, loses his prestigious job and chooses to hide his firing from his family. While this premise isn't overtly scary, the film understands the terror of being unable to maintain the current comforts of your family. And the consequences: lose your status (at best) or your life (at worst). Teruyuki Kagawa’s performance crystallizes that sense of losing control, as each expression on his face betrays how secretly afraid Ryuhei feels. The disasters that this family faces threaten to never stop, and Kurosawa executes them perfectly through excellent story structure and performance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Denden, Hajime Inoue, Haruka Igawa, Kai Inowaki, Kanji Tsuda, Kazuki Namioka, Kazuya Kojima, Kenji Kawahara, Kōji Yakusho, Kyoko Koizumi, Takashi Kodama, Tao Tsuchiya, Teruyuki Kagawa, Toshiyuki Kitami, Yū Koyanagi

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Rating: PG-13

Summer Hours centers on three siblings tasked with sorting the valuable pieces their mother left behind. Frédéric (Charles Berling), the eldest, has different ideas about inheritance than his overseas siblings. Will their beloved house stay or go? Will the art? The furniture? Can they afford to keep all these for sentimental reasons or would it be wiser to sell them? They go back and forth on these questions, rarely agreeing but always keeping in mind the life these seemingly inanimate objects occupy, as well as the memories they evoke, which are beyond priceless.  

Summer Hours resists melodrama, opting instead for the simple power of restraint—of unspoken words and charged glances. And the result is a quietly affecting movie that basks in the details to paint a wonderful, overall picture of home and family.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Charles Berling, Dominique Reymond, Edith Scob, Émile Berling, Eric Elmosnino, Gilles Arbona, Isabelle Sadoyan, Jean-Baptiste Malartre, Jérémie Renier, Juliette Binoche, Kyle Eastwood, Sara Martins, Valérie Bonneton

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: Not Rated

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins, Jeanine Jackson, John Breen, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Michelle Williams, Wally Dalton, Will Oldham, Will Patton

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: R

released: 2009

Dogtooth is a bonkers tale about three teenagers who live an isolated life on their family’s estate due to strict rules set by totalitarian parents. Their vocabulary is limited and their perception of the world is strange. They’re taught that cats are bloodthirsty monsters, that disobedience is grounds for horrific punishment, and that the world outside the house will kill them.

Equal parts bizarrely funny and disturbingly terrifying, director Yorgos Lanthimos pulls no punches with this fascinating examination of authoritarianism. As usual with his actors, they are directed to deliver lines in a matter-of-fact, often even deadpan manner, making the escalating lies and deceptions more and more unsettling as the film goes on. Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography also places the twisted tale in a home that has a somewhat dreamlike beauty.

Those who enjoy dark, comical situations told with dry humor will be amused by Dogtooth. Those who enjoy stories that quietly build up to gruesome conclusions will also be amused by Dogtooth. It takes a unique mind to depict nameless children being subjugated and stripped of the fundamentals of conceptualization in an isolated world, and treat it as an absurdist comedy rather than a flat-out horror film. Lanthimos does it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexander Voulgaris, Angeliki Papoulia, Anna Kalaitzidou, Christos Stergioglou, Hristos Passalis, Mary Tsoni, Michele Valley, Sissi Petropoulou, Steve Krikris

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

, 2009

A thirst for love, a thirst for recognition, a thirst for sympathy, a thirst for meaning, a thirst for life, and a thirst for blood. Director Park Chan-wook and actor Song Kang-ho, two of the biggest names in South Korean cinema, join forces for the first time in a modern take on the supernatural. In present day South Korea, Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song) volunteers himself as a human experiment during the formulation of a vaccine against a deadly virus. When the experiment fails and he is thought to be dead, he resurrects as a conflicted vampire, one whose moral code continually goes against his intrinsic desires. Along with Song and long-time collaborator cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, Park creates a riveting atmosphere that is both very scary and sad. By blending elements of horror and drama, he also achieves putting a fresh and unique spin on the time-honored vampire film.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Choi Hee-jin, Choi Jong-ryul, Ériq Ebouaney, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Jo Deok-jae, Kang-ho Song, Kim Hae-sook, Kim Hae-suk, Kim Ok-vin, Lee Hwa-ryong, Mercedes Cabral, Natallia Bulynia, Oh Dal-su, Park In-hwan, Ra Mi-ran, Seo Dong-soo, Shin Ha-gyun, Shin Ha-kyun, Son Jong-hak, Song Kang-ho, Song Young-chang

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

Director Gianni Di Gregorio’s gorgeous debut is an understated masterpiece about a bachelor who is his mother's caregiver. The movie takes place almost entirely in Di Gregorio's family home in central Rome, a beautiful, big, and well-furnished apartment that his character can't afford any longer. 

To catch a break from rent, he agrees to host the landlord’s mother while the landlord goes on holiday. The same for his and his mother’s medical bills, and the doctor shows up with yet another elderly woman.  

Di Gregorio finds himself running an impromptu elderly home, with conflicts rising about who gets to watch TV and whose dietary restrictions should be respected. But his calm demeanor, love for cooking, and a lot of white wine make him the perfect man for the job.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alfonso Santagata, Gianni Di Gregorio, Maria Calì, Marina Cacciotti, Valeria De Franciscis

Director: Gianni Di Gregorio

Rating: Not Rated

We all love Jeff Bridges. We all agree that we shouldn't leave a movie he won an Oscar for unwatched. That's enough reason to watch this movie, but there are so many others. The story is fantastic and based on true events: a country musician living rough and having a shot at happiness after he falls for a journalist who interviews him. The score is composed by T Bone Burnett. The journalist is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and another musician is played by Colin Farrell. So many reasons to watch.

Genre: Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Beth Grant, Brian Gleason, Chad Brummett, Colin Farrell, David Manzanares, Debrianna Mansini, Harry Zinn, J. Michael Oliva, James Keane, Jeff Bridges, Josh Berry, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Herman, Rick Dial, Robert Duvall, Ryan Bingham, Tom Bower, William Marquez, William Sterchi

Director: Scott Cooper

Rating: R

released: 2010

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, War

Actor: Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Ahmad Massad, Allen Altman, Baya Belal, Dominique Briand, Hamed Najem, Hussein Sami, Jackie Sawiris, John Dunn-Hill, Karim Babin, Lara Atalla, Lobna Azabal, Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Majida Hussein, Maxim Gaudette, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Mohamed Majd, Mustafa Kamel, Nabil Sawalha, Nadia Essadiqi, Rémy Girard, Rémy Girard

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: R

Four Lions is as black and as dark as a movie can ever get, mixing cultural relevancy with humor and ridiculousness. It is insensitive to Islam, insensitive to terrorism and insensitive to the viewer. But it is hilarious. The director spent three years talking to Imams, terrorism experts and basically everyone. The result? A legit 97 minutes that will dazzle even extremists with its knowledge of Islam and the accuracy of its lines. Needless to say that it will upset quite a few people, but that is always a good sign for black comedy movies, right?

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Adeel Akhtar, Adil Mohammed Javed, Alex MacQueen, Arsher Ali, Benedict Cumberbatch, Craig Parkinson, Darren Boyd, Julia Davis, Kayvan Novak, Kevin Eldon, Marcus Garvey, Nigel Lindsay, Preeya Kalidas, Riz Ahmed, Waleed Elgadi, Wasim Zakir, Will Adamsdale

Director: Chris Morris, Christopher Morris

Rating: R

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, Catherine McNally, Coca Bloos, Danny John-Jules, David Hewlett, David Strathairn, Dorotheea Petre, Florin Busuioc, Geoffrey Pounsett, 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

This is a very nice movie about a lovely older couple named Tom and Gerri. It follows their lives for an entire year, as they work at their jobs, invite friends over for dinner, and work in their garden. They live modest but fulfilling lives, and they seem mostly happy and very much in love, a rarity in the movies. This probably sounds horribly boring to most people, but since Mike Leigh is the director, the film is instead a touching and realistic portrayal of love and how people spend their time together. We should all be so lucky as to live a life as charmed as the central couple in this film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Badi Uzzaman, Ben Roberts, David Bradley, Edna Doré, Eileen Davies, Gary Powell, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Karina Fernandez, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Mary Jo Randle, Meneka Das, Michele Austin, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Ralph Ineson, Ruth Sheen, Stuart McQuarrie

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: PG-13

released: 2011

The Kid With A Bike is a deceptively simple title for a film this stirring. At 12 years old, Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned to social care by his father (Jérémie Renier) — but what’s really heart-wrenching is that he’s in denial about the finality of their separation. Cyril’s muscles are seemingly always coiled, ready to spring him away from his carers and onto the next bus that’ll take him to his disinterested dad, who has secretly moved away to “start anew.” It’s only through the random force of Cyril’s few words — like the moment he asks the first stranger to show him some kindness (Samantha, played by Cécile de France) if she’ll foster him on the weekends — that we get to sense the depth of his desperation, because neither the film nor Doret is showy in that regard.

The film pulls off transcendency because of these restrained performances and its unfussy realism. In the quietness of the storytelling, emotion hits unexpectedly — and deeply. The everyday tragedy and miraculous hope of Cyril’s life are set off by some enormously moving orchestral Beethoven, the very grandeur of which underscores the effect of the humanist filmmaking: affirming the inherent preciousness of his troubled, oft-rejected child.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cécile de France, Fabrizio Rongione, Jérémie Renier, Myriem Akheddiou, Olivier Gourmet, Thomas Doret

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Quaint and quirky, Le Havre is a beautiful and heartwarming story about the power of compassion and the importance of community. It tells the story of a shoeshiner who tries to save an immigrant child in the French port city of Le Havre. The charming characters are easy to root for as this community of everyday people bands together to help this young boy reunite with his mother. Even as the film rejects the unempathetic responses to the refugee crisis, it utilizes gentle humor and a light cadence to invoke empathy for others that should exist.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: André Wilms, Elina Salo, Evelyne Didi, Ilkka Koivula, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kati Outinen, Patrick Bonnel, Pierre Étaix

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

A recent holiday classic you likely haven't seen, Arthur Christmas uses its premise of the North Pole as a massive spy organization to touch on how commercialization tears people apart. It's a surprisingly smart film with a fascinating dynamic among its family of Santas, with an incredibly funny script full of dry, British wit. And while the animation may already look dated at first glance, Arthur Christmas more than makes up for its looks with truly imaginative art direction and director Sarah Smith's fast-paced set pieces. This is that rare Chirstmas movie that doesn't just surrender to schmaltz; the lessons learned by the characters here are unique, complex, and timeless.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Kids

Actor: Adam Tandy, Alistair McGowan, Andy Serkis, Ashley Jensen, Bill Nighy, Brian Cummings, Bronagh Gallagher, Clint Dyer, Cody Cameron, Danny John-Jules, David Menkin, David Schneider, Deborah Findlay, Dominic West, Emma Kennedy, Eva Longoria, Hugh Laurie, Iain McKee, Ian Ashpitel, Imelda Staunton, James McAvoy, Jane Horrocks, Jerry Lambert, Jim Broadbent, Joan Cusack, Julia Davis, Kerry Shale, Kevin Cecil, Kevin Eldon, Kris Pearn, Laura Linney, Marc Wootton, Michael Palin, Peter Baynham, Ramona Marquez, Rhys Darby, Rich Fulcher, Rich Hall, Robbie Coltrane, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sarah Smith, Seamus Malone, Seeta Indrani, Stewart Lee, Tamsin Greig

Director: Barry Cook, Sarah Smith

Rating: PG

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

released: 2012

This masterpiece from Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a clear-eyed movie that takes place in one day in the life of a 34-year-old. Anders, a recovering drug addict, gets to leave his rehab facility for the first time to take a job interview. He visits friends, tries to meet his ex, and goes to the interview. With every interaction, you get to know him more and understand that what he's going through is shared with everyone he meets. At 34, Anders feels it is too late to turn his life around, and so do his friends. He just happens to be a drug addict.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aksel Thanke, Anders Borchgrevink, Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Malin Crepin, Øystein Røger, Petter Width Kristiansen, Renate Reinsve, Tone Beate Mostraum

Director: Joachim Trier

Rating: Not Rated

This is a gorgeous French-Canadian movie with out-of-this-world sound work.

Laurence is deeply in love with his girlfriend, Fred. On his birthday, he announces to her that he wants to restart his life as a woman, having always hated his male body. Fred doesn't know how to take the news: “everything I love about you is everything you hate about yourself”.

Laurence Anyways is about how their romance continues after this revelation. There are so many reasons to watch this movie: the story, the acting, the cinematography; but trust me, the soundtrack alone is reason enough.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexandre Goyette, Anne Dorval, Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Bronwen Mantel, Catherine Bégin, David Savard, Denise Filiatrault, Emily Hampshire, Emmanuel Schwartz, Éric Bruneau, Jacob Tierney, Magalie Lepine Blondeau, Manuel Tadros, Melvil Poupaud, Monia Chokri, Monique Spaziani, Mylène Jampanoï, Nathalie Baye, Patrice Coquereau, Patricia Tulasne, Perrette Souplex, Sophie Faucher, Susan Almgren, Suzanne Clément, Vincent Davy, Violette Chauveau, Xavier Dolan, Yves Jacques

Director: Xavier Dolan

Rating: Not Rated

This is the type of movie I completely fell in love with but cannot articulate exactly why. Maybe it's the mixture of beauty and pain portrayed, maybe it's the intricate sounds and beautiful imagery, maybe it's the story, maybe it's all of the above. A woman is hit with sudden disability after an accident and calls on an unlikely companion, a night club bouncer by the name of Ali. Together they explore her new predicament and its implications, while forming a special bond. This is a movie that will call upon your internal strength, while portraying how us humans can become strong together. Most of all it provides an immensely powerful, ultimately simple story that is both touching and will stay with you for a very long time. Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet).

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Armand Verdure, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero, Fabien Baïardi, Françoise Michaud, Irina Coito, Jean-Michel Correia, Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mourad Frarema, Yannick Choirat

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: 15, R

, 2012

Goon is funny, violent, and sweet as hell. You’ll be surprised by how nasty it is but at the same time you won’t care. What you will want to do, on the other hand, is rip through the screen, and hug the main character. It is also a great example of a feel-good movie that isn’t solely focused on being a feel-good movie. It’s also great love story, with all its absurdities and highly emotional load. The story shines a light on the players who join hockey teams not for the game but for the fights that may erupt. They are called goons. Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is a new goon and this movie is his journey towards success both on the ice and off.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Ali Hassan, Alison Pill, Amy Groening, Andrew Degryse, Aron Tager, Brandy Jaques, Christian Fraser, Darren Ross, David Paetkau, Don Carmody, Ellen David, Eugene Levy, Gabriel Daniels, George Tchortov, Jacob Klick, Jay Baruchel, Jeff Strome, Jeff Wahl, John Paul Tremblay, Jonathan Cherry, Kalyn Bomback, Karl Graboshas, Ken St. Mars, Kim Coates, Lance Cartwright, Larry Woo, Liev Schreiber, Lorrie Papadopoulos, Marc-André Grondin, Mark Dann, Michael Dowse, Mike Bell, Mitchell Kummen, Nicholas Campbell, Richard Clarkin, Ricky Mabe, Robb Wells, Sarah Scheffer, Sean Skene, Seann William Scott, Sidney Leeder, Terry Ray, Tom Anniko

Director: Michael Dowse

Rating: R

released: 2013

Oscar, his wife Teresa, and their young children move from the rural Philippines to the city, hoping for a better life. Immediately, they struggle to survive in the harsh and unforgiving Metro Manila. Through shaky close-ups, shifting moods, and shots of bustling streets, the film captures the poverty, violence, and desperation in the daily of the city. Actors Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega excellently portray the subtleties of constant suffering, leading the tumultuous journey through a cutthroat metropolis. As the drama shifts to a crime thriller, it never loses its footing highlighting the severe link between poverty and crime. 

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Althea Vega, Ana Abad-Santos, John Arcilla

Director: Sean Ellis

With a premise as insane as this—a high school coming-of-age film adapted from 410 consecutive tweets from a real, random Thai girl under the username @marylony—you would expect Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy to be some sort of incoherent commentary about social media. What director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit gives us instead is a completely original and surprisingly affecting portrait of a young woman in her senior year trying to come to terms with the fact that her life may only ever be a mess of incongruous parts without a definite identity. It's as whimsical as it is bittersweet, with the film flitting back and forth between the absurd and the melancholic.

Thamrongrattanarit structures his film as a series of loosely connected vignettes, with every single one of @marylony's tweets appearing on screen. The effect is one-of-a-kind—as if we're watching different layers of meaning constantly interacting with each other, our understanding of what we're supposed to think of as serious or tongue-in-cheek always changing. And through the film's deliberately lo-fi aesthetics, the experience of watching it is like flipping through a scrapbook of memories mundane and precious.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Awat Ratanapintha, Boonsong Nakphoo, Chonnikan Netjui, Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, Krissada Sukosol Clapp, Patcha Poonpiriya, Thanapob Leeratanakachorn, Wasupol Kriangprapakit

Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Rating: 0

Based on a classic Japanese folktale, Isao Takahata’s last film will break your heart. This adaptation, of course, follows Princess Kaguya from her being discovered in a glowing bamboo stalk to her departure to the moon. However, while faithful to the original tale, Takahata’s direction turns this historical fantasy into a heart-wrenching coming-of-age film as ethereal as the titular character. The film doesn’t focus on the crazy pursuit of her suitors; instead, we’re drawn to the simple experiences Kaguya herself is drawn to and wants more of, as she tries to balance her life with the societal expectations places on women. All of which is rendered through the film's lush watercolored scenes of the blowing wind or the opening of plum blossoms.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Aki Asakura, Atsuko Takahata, Hikaru Ijūin, Isao Hashizume, Kengo Kora, Mirai Uchida, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ryudo Uzaki, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Takaya Kamikawa, Takeo Chii, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tomoko Tabata, Yuji Miyake, Yukiji Asaoka

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

Clocking in at just over four hours and shot in vivid color, Norte, the End of History stands not only as Filipino auteur Lav Diaz's best work since his earliest films, but as the easiest entry point into his unique filmography. Told on a sweeping yet intimate scale, the film has all the trademarks of Diaz's work: slow, lengthy shots; bursts of dense dialogue and philosophizing; and copious amounts of human despair and systemic corruption. As our three protagonists' souls (who rarely share the screen, if at all) are pushed to the limit after a terrible crime is committed, everything heads toward universal truths—the perseverance of love, and the inevitability of divine justice.

It can be difficult to recommend any film of this length and deliberate pace, but Norte remains a masterful example of how to use time itself to build a monumental story.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Mailes Kanapi, Moira Lang, Perry Dizon, Sheenly Gener, Sid Lucero, Soliman Cruz

Director: Lav Diaz

released: 2014

Margarita with a Straw is a bold and unflinching film that offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of disability, sexuality, and identity. The film follows the journey of a young woman with cerebral palsy as she navigates her way through life, love, and self-discovery. The film's honest portrayal of exploring sexuality, its rich and diverse cast of characters, and its raw and emotional story make it a deeply affecting watch. It's a triumph of representation and inclusivity, and a testament to the power of storytelling to challenge and change the way we see the world.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Doug Plaut, Hussain Dalal, Jacob Berger, Kalki Koechlin, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Revathi, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Tenzing Dalha, William Moseley

Director: Nilesh Maniyar, Shonali Bose

Rating: Not Rated

This teenage crime drama contains enough grit to stand on its own, but The Tribe’s real hook is in the way it’s told: entirely in Ukrainian sign language, without subtitles. Set in a boarding school for deaf students, new arrival Sergei must contend with an institution that’s run like a gang. His journey through the ranks is extremely violent and graphic, including unflinching depictions of rape and a back-alley abortion that lingers long in the mind.

Its unpleasantness will be a barrier for some, but for the curious, it’s an oddly balletic film. Among the misery, actors communicate the entire story via body language. Emphatic dialogue delivery conveys the mood of each scene (which often changes for the worse), and the characters’ actions speak loud and clear. Narratively it breaks little ground, and its darkness can’t be overstated, but there’s grace to its reliance on everything but words to tell its story. A film you won’t stop thinking about.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alexander Panivan, Grygoriy Fesenko, Hryhoriy Fesenko, Ivan Tishko, Oleksandr Dsiadevych, Oleksandr Osadchyi, Rosa Babiy, Roza Babiy, Yana Novikova

Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

Rating: Unrated

This incredible documentary is about the elusive Iranian artist Bahman Mohassess, whose work has the uniqueness of a Picasso or a Salvador Dalí.

But unlike his European counterparts, most of Mohassess’ work has been destroyed. Some in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in Iran but most, interestingly, by the artist himself.

After the revolution, he went into exile. For 40 years his whereabouts remained unknown — until an Iranian filmmaker based in Paris tracked him in a hotel in Rome.

Very early in the film, director Mitra Farahani points out that Mohassess died half an hour after one of their filming sessions.

The urgency of their conversations, the genius of Mohassess and his relationship to his art, and the uniqueness of the untold story of his life, all make this more than just another documentary. It’s a work of immeasurable historic value.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Mitra Farahani

Rating: Unrated

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

released: 2015

What’s great about this highly inventive film is that it doesn’t look like it was shot through three iPhone 5s. Instead of using shaky cameras and static shots, Tangerine glides us through saturated, orange-toned scenes that evoke the Los Angeles sunset. Launching director Sean Baker into prominence, Tangerine is an innovative film that, at heart, is a nuanced comedy about the trans sex worker community. Newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor run the show, and their performances create a vivid, electric drive that powers the whole movie. But it’s the quieter moments, the moments after betrayal, the moments of recovery, that make this movie truly special.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ana Foxxx, Chris Bergoch, Clu Gulager, Graham Mackie, Ian Edwards, James Ransone, Jason Stuart, John Gulager, Josh Sussman, Karren Karagulian, Luiza Nersisyan, Mickey O'Hagen, Mya Taylor, Scott Krinsky, Shih-Ching Tsou

Director: Sean Baker

Rating: R

Through positively adorable characters and zero dialogue whatsoever, Shaun the Sheep Movie reminds viewers young and old of the sheer artistry that goes into a truly great children's cartoon. Animated by British stop motion godfathers Aardman Animations, the film delivers one excellent visual joke after another, while still telling a coherent story that arrives at surprisingly tender places touching on the importance of community and home. In an animation industry that's constantly trying to innovate, a movie like Shaun the Sheep stands as a reminder that there are certain fundamentals in storytelling that deserve to be preserved and passed down to every new generation. It's the loveliest thing around.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Andy Nyman, Emma Tate, John Sparkes, Justin Fletcher, Kate Harbour, Mark Burton, Nick Park, Omid Djalili, Richard Starzak, Richard Webber, Simon Greenall, Stanley Unwin

Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Rating: PG

Putting the inherent eeriness of stop motion animation to perfect use, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa create a legitimately disturbing experience of a man's paranoid delusions, as he tries desperately to make a real human connection while perceiving everyone around him as the same person. It's that (unfortunately) rare animated film that understands that this medium can tell complex, even terrifying, stories for grown-ups while respecting their intelligence. And it's still gorgeously put together, with seamless movements from the character puppets and evocative lighting and cinematography that puts the film firmly in the uncanny valley. It's a tougher watch than it looks, but the depth of feeling it captures is nothing short of totally human.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

Director: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

This autobiographical documentary covering the span of Brian DePalma’s 50+ year filmmaking career is taken from the man himself. From budget-less independent films to multi-million dollar box-office projects, he offers a fascinating professional history. But don’t expect critical analysis of his frequently controversial choices (such as the infamous oversized drill used as a murder weapon in Body Double)—he will acknowledge the existence of these issues, if only to grin and shrug them off, at times literally. What you can expect is to feel you are taken by the hand through Hollywood filmmaking experiences over the course of decades: negotiations, rewrites, stolen scripts, scuffling actors; tours of technical points of interest from his movies with commentary on deftly chosen film clips. You don’t have to be a fan to get a wealth of entertainment here. Not to be missed.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Amy Irving, Brian De Palma, Kurt Russell, Mark Hamill, Sissy Spacek, Steven Spielberg

Director: Jake Paltrow, Noah Baumbach

released: 2016

Ordinary People tells the harrowing story of Jane and Aries, two teenage parents struggling to survive the streets of Manila. At the mercy of limited welfare, the two resort to criminal activity to get by. When a woman offers to help them financially (on loan), Jane eventually relents—but is shocked to discover that her baby's been kidnapped. Trying everything from going to the police to contacting the perpetrator's mother, the reality becomes unavoidable: no one truly cares for the poor even if they're children. Interspersed with CCTV footage of the crimes the characters commit or witness, this powerful, heartbreaking portrait of poverty still offers glimmers of hope as they fight the odds to continue their search together. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alora Mae Sasam, Erlinda Villalobos, Gold Aceron, Hasmine Killip, Karl Medina, Maria Isabel Lopez, Moira Lang, Raymond Lee, Ronwaldo Martin, Ruby Ruiz, Sue Prado

Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.

Rating: R

It is hard to be unmoved by how Die Beautiful defies conventions and explores the essence of identity, acceptance, and resilience. Centered around the life of Trisha, a transgender woman with a passion for beauty pageants, the film takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions as we witness Trisha's life unfold, both in joyous moments and in the face of painful degradation and assault. The film seamlessly weaves together humor, tenderness, and raw vulnerability, delivered stunningly by its lead, Paolo Ballesteros. With other films such as Kalel, 15 and Bwakaw under his belt, director Jun Lana continues to meld reality with hope, injecting kindness and heart into much-needed queer stories.  

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrian Alandy, Albie Casiño, Cedrick Juan, Christian Bables, Eugene Domingo, Gladys Reyes, Iza Calzado, Jade Lopez, Joel Torre, Kokoy de Santos, Lou Veloso, Luis Alandy, Paolo Ballesteros

Director: Jun Lana, Jun Robles Lana

Rating: TV-14

My Life as a Zucchini (or Courgette in Europe) is unlike any kids' movie you'll see in America. It isn't afraid to be honest about children's feelings, no matter how dark or sad, nor is it afraid to be frank about things like intimacy and abuse. It understands that kids need these kinds of narratives too, and sometimes they need to hear them without being pandered to. 

There is an openness to it that makes it comforting to adults as well. Lines like “Sometimes, we cry because we’re happy," are so deceptively simple and tender that they'll catch you off guard. Couple this seemingly endless reserve of empathy with adorable, almost melancholic stop-motion animation and you get a film that will have you floored for days, regardless of your age.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Michel Vuillermoz, Monica Budde, Natacha Koutchoumov

Director: Claude Barras

Rating: PG-13

Co-produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a tale about a man shipwrecked on a desert island whose fate is changed upon meeting a giant turtle. Beautiful images are pulled together and combined with the film’s delicate symbolism about humanity and nature, in a story told with remarkable restraint. The only sound in the movie is that of nature and the film’s beautifully relaxing score. Using only simple ingredients, The Red Turtle is an enigmatic, captivating, and highly-recommended gem that, after all, encompasses life itself.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Barbara Beretta, Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

released: 2017

Summer 1993 charts a formative summer in the life of young Frida (Laia Artigas), a brooding six-year-old who, having just been orphaned by AIDS, is sent from her home in Barcelona to live in the countryside with her uncle (David Verdaguer), his wife (Bruna Cusí), and their little girl (Paula Robles). Catalan director Carla Simón drew on her own childhood experiences for the film, making Summer 1993 feel intimately told. It’s shot from the perspective of its young protagonist and is guided by the unpredictable rhythms of memory: we experience Frida’s new life the way she might remember it when she’s older, via snapshots of moments that stand out to a child, like the day she spent amongst the chickens in a neighbor’s farm or the moment another kid asks her why she isn’t more visibly upset about her mother’s recent death.

That emotional enigmaticness is what makes Artigas’s naturalistic performance so absorbing: she never plays Frida in a predictable dramatic register, so much so that it’s easy to forget we’re not watching a documentary. The unexpected little ways her grief manifests itself — along with Simón’s assured, impressionistic directing — make this a profoundly heart-rending watch throughout, and especially so in its gut-punch of a final scene.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer, Fermí Reixach, Isabel Rocatti, Laia Artigas, Quimet Pla

Director: Carla Simón

Fun and whimsical to its core, this animated film takes viewers on a visually captivating, surreal, and enchanting journey through a single night in Kyoto. The movie immerses you in an entertaining and eccentric world with its vibrant animation, characters, and offbeat humor following two unnamed characters only referred to as "The Girl with Black Hair" and "Senpai." The narrative weaves together various quirky encounters, love interests, and strange events, keeping you engaged and curious. Blending romance, comedy, and coming-of-age themes, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a joyous celebration of youth, adventure, and the unpredictable nature of life's unexpected twists and turns.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Aoi Yuki, Chikara Honda, Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Hanazawa, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Kazuya Nakai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mugihito, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Ryuji Akiyama, Seiko Niizuma, Yuhko Kaida

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Rating: PG-13

Proving that children's entertainment can be legitimate art like any other kind of cinema, the sequel to 2014's Paddington displays a stronger love for community and storytelling than many other adult-oriented productions. It may be cutesy and innocent, but Paddington 2 also uses its stunning visual effects and intricate production design to prop up a sophisticated story about discrimination, staying true to one's self, and (most surprisingly) the prison-industrial complex. It's a proper throwback to another era of family movies that offers something far more substantial to young children and genuinely moving moments for the parents and children at heart.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Aaron Neil, Ben Miller, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Cal McCrystal, Catherine Shepherd, Claire Keelan, David Sant, Deepak Anand, Eileen Atkins, Enzo Squillino Jr., Geoffrey Lumb, Gus Brown, Hiten Patel, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Jag Patel, Jamie Demetriou, Jessica Hynes, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Joel Fry, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Kya Garwood, Louis Partridge, Madeleine Harris, Maggie Steed, Marie-France Alvarez, Meera Syal, Michael Gambon, Michael Mears, Nadine Marshall, Nicholas Lumley, Nicholas Woodeson, Noah Taylor, Peter Capaldi, Richard Ayoade, Robbie Gee, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Shola Adewusi, Simon Farnaby, Tom Conti, Tom Davis

Director: Paul King

The Fabella Hospital in the Philippines is clearly overburdened and understaffed, and though it offers some of the lowest pregnancy delivery rates in the country, it remains unaffordable to most of its patients. It has been dubbed the world’s busiest maternity hospital because of this, and its boundless flurry of activity is what Ramona Diaz tries to capture in her cinéma-vérité film Motherland. 

What’s interesting and ultimately heartening about the documentary is that despite the difficulties the subjects face, they are always presented with warmth and humanity. We don’t observe them from a strict or stylized distance, but rather, we move with them when they laugh, befriend each other, worry about their babies, curse their partners, and eventually leave. Indeed, the film is a land of mothers, filled with their authentic stories before anything else.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Anna Maxwell Martin, Diane Morgan, Ellie Haddington, Lucy Punch, Paul Ready, Phillipa Dunne

Director: Ramona S. Diaz

Rating: TV-MA

released: 2018

Director Crystal Moselle based Skate Kitchen on NYC’s eponymous crew of young female skateboarders, who actually play fictionalized versions of themselves here. That real-life casting lends the film a documentary-esque quality: the girls’ bantering chemistry and die-hard loyalty feel warmly authentic, and the movie would be well worth a watch just to bask in this vibe alone.

The Skate Kitchen girls are an eclectic bunch, but what’s so refreshing — and therapeutic — about the film is that they’re also deeply, instinctively empathetic. These misfits don’t just tolerate but celebrate one another’s uniqueness and respect their differing boundaries (the way the girls and the movie treat shyness as a feature rather than a flaw to be resolved is particularly moving). What’s more, in its own low-key way, Skate Kitchen is an inspirational watch for its portrait of young women building the sanctuary they need themselves — not just in a largely male subculture but on a broader canvas, too. Rather than skulk anxiously on the sidelines, the girls use skating to carve out a space of their own in New York, a way to make the big, scary city feel warm and intimate. Amidst all the steezy ollies and clean rail grinds, these might just be the greatest tricks they pull off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ajani Russell, Darlene Violette, Dede Lovelace, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Hisham Tawfiq, Jaden Smith, Kabrina Adams, Nico Hiraga, Nina Moran, Rachelle Vinberg, Samuel Smith, Tashiana Washington, Taylor Gray, Thaddeus Daniels, Tom Bruno

Director: Crystal Moselle

Surreal, strange, yet wondrous, Penguin Highway never takes a straightforward approach to its story. Penguins pop up out of nowhere, leading the nerdy and precocious Aoyama to study them via empirical observation and logical deduction. These studies don’t end up with a feasible explanation– in fact, by the final act, the film abandons all laws of physics. But the journey to that act feels intuitively right. This journey feels like an indescribable formative experience. Aoyama may be obsessed with growing up and committing to the reasonable adult mindset, but he is still a child. From fending off bullies to forming connections with others, his childhood imagination served him better than science could. The film reveres this discovery as well as it should.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kana Kita, Landen Beattie, Mamiko Noto, Megumi Han, Miki Fukui, Misaki Kuno, Naoto Takenaka, Rie Kugimiya, Winston Bromhead, Yu Aoi

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

Rating: Not Rated

Clocking in at just under four hours, Hu Bo's first and last feature film—before his tragic death at the age of 29—is a sprawling indictment of a country that the filmmaker must have viewed as positively hostile and suffocating. Following several characters whose paths intersect as they try to escape their current circumstances, An Elephant Sitting Still creates a truly oppressive atmosphere that may not lead you to the answers you expect, but it should leave you feeling haunted for a long, long time. Beautifully scored, shot, and acted, Hu's film offers practically no hope but it keeps on moving with a sense of freedom and determination all its own. This is as honest a film can get; Hu has left behind a moving legacy.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Peng Yuchang, Wang Yuwen, Zhang Yu, Zhao Tao, Zhu Yan Man Zi, Zhu-Yan Manzi

Director: Hu Bo

, 2018

Director Zhang Yimou, who already has remarkable wuxia films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers under his belt, delivers another exceptional epic. Set during China's Three Kingdoms era (220–280 AD), Shadow revolves around a great king and his people, who are expelled from their homeland but will aspire to reclaim it. The story requires a fair amount of patience at first, as it slowly builds a world consisting of various characters with different motives, before the real action begins. The journey through Shadow is visually pleasing thanks to its stunning cinematography, impressively choreographed combat, and overall brilliant production design. Packed with sequences that will take your breath away, it is an inventive martial arts epic with one amazing scene after another.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: Chao Deng, Deng Chao, Guan Xiaotong, Hu Jun, Leo Wu, Li Sun, Qianyuan Wang, Ryan Cheng, Ryan Zheng, Ryan Zheng Kai, Sun Li, Wang Jingchun, Wang Qian-Yuan, Wang Qianyuan, Zhang Yimou

Director: Yimou Zhang, Zhang Yimou

Rating: Not Rated

released: 2019

Set against the backdrop of the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s, the film follows Nedjma, a young fashion student, as she navigates the challenges of pursuing her dreams while living under strict societal and religious constraints. Gripping and emotionally charged, the film paints a vivid picture of the oppressive climate and the courageous women who refuse to be silenced. The performances are outstanding, particularly Lyna Khoudri's portrayal of Nedjma, who brings a compelling blend of vulnerability and determination to her character. Director Mounia Meddour's storytelling is powerful and thought-provoking, shining a light on the resilience of women in the face of adversity and the importance of artistic expression as a form of resistance. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aida Guechoud, Amira Hilda Douaouda, Khaled Benaissa, Lyna Khoudri, Nadia Kaci, Shirine Boutella, Yasin Houicha

Director: Mounia Meddour

Marona’s Fantastic Tale is a rich story about life and death and everything in between, told entirely through the eyes of a dog. With breathtaking visuals and unmatched empathy, the film implores us to think about what might count as joyous and heartbreaking for our four-legged friends. Told normally and in any other way, we might not care as much, but in a story as artful and compassionate as this, we can't help but listen. 

Unlike other films about pets, Marona’s Fantastic Tale isn’t cutesy—its art is dizzying and demanding, but beautiful nonetheless. And isn't afraid to confront tragedy (in fact, it begins with it). But it buoys reality with dreamy art sequences and even finds humor along the way. All in all, it’s a mature film that poses big existential questions that will intrigue adults as well as kids.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Annie Mercier, Bruno Salomone, Georges Claisse, Isabelle Vitari, Lizzie Brocheré, Maïra Schmitt, Nathalie Boutefeu, Thierry Hancisse

Director: Anca Damian

Following a group of journalists uncovering an entire architecture of institutional corruption in Romania, Collective makes for an inspiring watch—not just because these people are pursuing a story outside their usual wheelhouse, but because their enemy really is so much greater than they can handle. Yet they continue chipping away, never once backing down from speaking truth to power. Director Alexander Nanau understandably might not have much access to the government's side, but he still manages to portray them as an ever-present, omnipotent invisible force, giving the film a thick atmosphere of dread and paranoia. But still, in the face of such overwhelming odds, the best thing to do is refuse to be scared into silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Tedy Ursuleanu

Director: Alexander Nanau

Rating: Not Rated

, 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

released: 2020

“Youth is a state of mind,” a poet once said — but, young in spirit though they are, the elderly artist couple at the center of this fly-on-the-wall documentary must confront the harsh reality that aging isn’t something the body can avoid. Jackie and Don Seiden — a yin-and-yang pair who describe themselves as “a mouse and a crocodile” — still argue and make up with all the fierce vitality of a couple half their age. They haven’t yet lapsed into living life through the rear-view mirror: both still actively make art, Don his sketches and Jackie her slideshows and found-object arrangements. They live in a creaking yet beautiful home, decorated exclusively in pastel colors; as Don puts it, they’ve “made a life that’s really unusual […] a life only [they] could’ve made.”

As his health issues — and the weakening of her ability to care for them — threaten the end of that 50-year-long chapter in their lives, the couple confront mortality and find it brings them holding ever tighter to one another. Their abiding mutual affection makes this documentary a moving portrait of enduring love, while their fiery intellectual verve gives it a sharp honesty that prevents it from ever lapsing into sentimentality.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Daniel Hymanson

Exploring morality, conscience, and the death penalty, There Is No Evil tells four interconnected stories about men tasked with carrying out executions. The film excels at creating a sense of unease and tension as their reality contends with their beliefs about capital punishment and loyalty to the state. Director Mohammad Rasoulof (known for his films that explore social and political issues in Iran) allows each narrative to center both the subject and the institution, maintaining suspense but never straying from its argument. The sum - and its part - are undeniably profound.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Mahtab Servati

Director: Mohammad Rasoulof

Even a straightforward documentary on the New York East Village visual artist David Wonjarowicz (pronounced VOY-nuh-ROH-vitch) would be thrilling, given the energy and the irreverence of his artworks especially during the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to the 1990s. But director Chris McKim goes above and beyond, essentially imagining how Wojnarowicz would have directed his own film. McKim treats the movie like a collage in itself, expertly blending footage and sound together not just to capture the artist's fury, but to remember how deeply he loved, transcending space and sickness. As an account of the underground New York art scene at the time, a profile on a supposed enfant terrible, and a tribute to all those who lost their lives to a disease accelerated by discrimination, Wojnarowicz is a beautiful, complex tapestry.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin

Director: Chris McKim

After Love is a beautifully powerful and quietly moving outing by emerging British filmmaker Aleem Khan. It follows Mary (Joanna Scanlan), a white Muslim convert who discovers a life-changing secret her husband has managed to keep from her all these years.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that After Love is charged with the sort of deep-seated emotion we sometimes don’t know how to express. It’s also a powerful reminder that there’s no one way to love or grieve or celebrate the people around us; sometimes, there’s just feeling. And Scanlan does a wonderful job of restraining then conveying all of that in devastating and commanding moments throughout the film, a feat that earned her the much-deserved best actress award at the 2021 BAFTAs. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adam Karim, Jeff Mirza, Joanna Scanlan, Narayan David Hecter, Nasser Memarzia, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss

Director: Aleem Khan

released: 2021

There’s much to despair at in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's drama set in Chad, where abortion is illegal, female genital mutilation isn't, and single mothers are ostracised. Amina's (Achouackh Abakar) 15-year-old daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) has just been expelled from school because she’s pregnant. Like Amina, Maria has been abandoned by the child’s father — but, having witnessed first-hand the stigma that comes with being an unmarried mother, she refuses to let history continue repeating itself, and declares she wants an abortion.

But underground abortions are expensive, and the duo are barely scraping by as it is, in spite of Amina’s backbreaking manual work. Their situation is dire — and there are more disturbing revelations to be had — but, despite the bleakness of Lingui’s plot on paper, the film isn’t miserabilist. As Amina searches desperately for a safe abortion provider, she takes us with her into a furtive underground network of solidarity, one that offers the mother and daughter all the compassion and aid that the government and their imam should be providing. This is a film in which acts of kindness are quietly delivered on the understanding that that’s what we owe each other, and one where sisterhood is alive — making this, paradoxically, a simultaneously enraging and heartening watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Briya Gomdigue, Rihane Khalil Alio, Saleh Sambo, Youssouf Djaoro

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

This bittersweet little documentary about a Parisian newsstand will change the way you look at a kiosk forever: they’ll no longer seem like transitory stops on the way to somewhere, but a destination themselves. Director Alexandra Pianelli, whose family has run this particular newsstand for four generations, shoots from inside the tiny cabin, from where she and her mother dispense newspapers, magazines, directions, and friendly conversation with anyone who stops by.

Anyone who’s seen Agnès Varda’s Daguerréotypes — her fond portrait of the traditional shopkeepers of Rue Daguerre, the street she lived on — will recognize the same warmth and humane curiosity in The Kiosk, which documents a quickly fading way of life and the community that clings to it. As Pianelli movingly shows us, the kiosk is an invaluable fixture in the lives of an assortment of locals: regular customers (particularly elderly ones, who perhaps visit more for the company than the magazines), a big-hearted homeless man, and fellow vendors like Islam, a Bangladeshi asylum-seeker and fruit-seller who uses the kiosk to hide his merchandise so that French police don’t confiscate it. The decline of printed material that the film documents isn’t just a threat to the family business, then, but the very concept of a truly joined-up society itself.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Aliénor de Nervaux, Damien Fourmeau, Gérard Jacq, Marcel Cierniak, Marie-Laurence Fay

Director: Alexandra Pianelli

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

Director: Matthew Heineman

, 2022

Inu-oh is a visually stunning and thought-provoking anime that reimagines a Japanese folk tale as it explores themes of artistic freedom, individuality, and the consequences of challenging societal norms. The movie's striking imagery, original music, and captivating story make it a memorable viewing experience, delving into issues of identity and the prejudices faced by disabled individuals with sensitivity. While the catchy music may not appeal to everyone, the film's unique blend of ancient and contemporary storytelling creates a creative triumph that anime fans will appreciate, offering social commentary and a reflection on the power of staying true to oneself.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Music

Actor: Avu-chan, Chikara Honda, Kenjiro Tsuda, Mirai Moriyama, Tasuku Emoto, Yutaka Matsushige

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

released: 2022

In The Beasts, the idyllic semi-retirement that a French couple seeks in the Galician countryside — growing organic vegetables, fixing up abandoned farmhouses — devolves into a terrifying slow-burn nightmare. This beautifully shot yet spiritually ugly thriller plunges us straight into an atmosphere of crackling social tension that never abates. We begin after the event that turns local farmer Xan (Luis Zahera) and his brother Loren (Diego Anido) against French transplants Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs): the latter two have vetoed the sale of land to a wind turbine company in favor of preserving the village’s rustic character. Incensed by what he sees as the theft of his birthright by an outsider, Xan orchestrates a steadily intensifying campaign of terror against the couple.

Though much slighter than the physically imposing Ménochet, Zahera makes for a profoundly menacing presence, and Xan’s seemingly endless appetite for hostility and vindictiveness charges the film with a deeply unsettling sense of inevitability. His performance alone would mark The Beasts as a standout, but an unexpected switch in character focus late on in the film wrests it out of Xan’s grasp and reorients the movie as a study of grim resolve — making it a film of two equally remarkable halves.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Denis Ménochet, Federico Pérez Rey, Luis Zahera, Luisa Merelas, Marie Colomb, Marina Fois

Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

Spanning over decades and continents, The Eight Mountains depicts the kind of childhood friendship that remains central to one’s whole world. While city boy Pietro (Luca Marinelli) treks from the Alps to the Himalayas, the mountain pasture of Grana remains special as his father’s old refuge and as the hometown of childhood best friend Bruno (Alessandro Borghi). When they were younger, the two struck a summer friendship as the only two boys in the small town. However, their friendship isn’t the kind formed through day-to-day, routine interactions. Instead, each moment they share is fleeting, cut short by circumstances, but therefore, all the more precious. Co-directors Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch slowly and patiently craft intermittent moments that form a lifelong friendship. And at the end, when they last bring us back to Grana, these moments are all we have left of this profound, meaningful connection.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alessandro Borghi, Filippo Timi, Gualtiero Burzi, Luca Marinelli

Director: Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen

In both documentaries and films, adoptees meeting their biological parents for the first time is an event often painted in a sweet light. Never mind the child’s mixed feelings about it or the tragic reality that caused the split in the first place—it’s a reunion between family members, so it must be unequivocally special. In Return to Seoul, director Davy Chou doesn’t just debunk that myth, he subverts it by making the adoptee, Freddie, as unapologetically complex and emotionally enigmatic as possible. She resists affection but wallows in loneliness. She craves reinvention but stays in the same place for years. She’s in constant motion while being absolutely stuck in life. In other words, she’s a realistic embodiment of a person struggling to find some semblance of home. Chou displays an intimate understanding of the foreign experience, and he couples it with captivating cinematography, a rousing soundtrack, and fantastic performances across the board to make a daring, inventive, and thoroughly exciting film. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Hur Jin, Kim Sun-young, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Oh Gwang-rok, Yoann Zimmer

Director: Davy Chou

Rating: R

Joyland is groundbreaking on nearly all accounts. It’s the first Pakistani film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and to be shortlisted for an Oscar. Its forthright depiction of trans life and gender identity provoked the ire of local authorities, but it also inspired a nationwide movement (#ReleaseJoyland) that fought against censorship. It’s understandable, then, if the film is remembered for these disruptive achievements alone, but it should be noted that Joyland, as it is, is simply a stunning piece of cinema. 

Every scene is beautifully blocked and vibrantly lit, like a painting come to life, and every one of them is rich with meaning; there’s not a second we’re not diving deeper into the wonderfully complex lives of these people, all of whom are exploring sexuality and independence as best they can in a restricted environment. And sure, Biba and Haider’s relationship takes center stage as it reveals the nuances of queer love, but Joyland just as deftly tackles toxic masculinity (and how it’s a specter that haunts Haider’s household), domestic labor (and how it largely goes unnoticed), and female solidarity (and how it can literally save a girl’s life). Heartbreaking and lovely, this a family saga in that it’s as much about Haider’s family as it is about him, and it’s a shame if it weren’t remembered as such. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Rasti Farooq, Salmaan Peerzada, Sania Saeed, Sohail Sameer

Director: Saim Sadiq

released: 2023

As an adaptation of a story written to commemorate the Louvre’s comics-focused exhibit, Rohan at the Louvre expands the short story into a riveting, nearly two-hour supernatural mystery film that contemplates Japanese art in context with the world. The original story is a spin-off of the popular manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so this film adaptation may shock fans expecting the same plot points and the vibrant, colorful style of the manga. However, the shadow-heavy cinematography, alongside Issey Takahashi’s performance, casts the eeriness needed to make this story work on film. It’s a change that fits a story all about art as a depiction of pain and desire, severing the self from the past, and escapism through stories.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Fumino Kimura, Issey Takahashi, Kayoko Shiraishi, Kento Nagao, Kou Maehara, Marie Iitoyo, Masanobu Ando, Minami, Ryo Ikeda

Director: Kazutaka Watanabe

You don’t need to know a lot about baseball to appreciate The Saint of Second Chances. It has enough going on to keep you hooked from start to end, beginning with Jeff Daniels’ inimitable voice as the narrator and Charlie Day’s inspired casting as the younger Veeck, all the way down to the Veecks’ fascinating ties with American sports history and Mike’s inspiring and heartwarming second-chance philosophy. It all gets a bit too much at times, as if the filmmakers themselves were overwhelmed with their abundant material and creative decisions, but it’s executed with so much care and love that it seems as if this is the only way it could’ve come out: a wonderful mess. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Veeck, Charlie Day, Howard M. Lockie, Jeff Daniels, Lamar Johnson, Tom Billett, Tony LaRussa

Director: Jeff Malmberg, Morgan Neville

Rating: PG-13

You don’t have to be a theater kid to enjoy this feel-good mockumentary set in a summer camp for junior thespians. While there are plenty of in-jokes here for those who might have spent a summer or two somewhere like AdirondACTS, Theater Camp also good-naturedly lampoons every instantly recognizable stereotype of theater kids and the classic failed-performer-turned-teacher. 

Amongst the note-perfect ensemble, particularly hilarious standouts include co-writer Ben Platt and co-director Molly Gordon as camp instructors and best friends Amos and Rebecca-Diane. Both are Juilliard rejects with codependency issues and a classic case of actorly self-indulgence — as encapsulated in the moment they accuse a young attendee of “doping” for using artificial tears during a performance (“Do you want to be the Lance Armstrong of theater?”). But even seasoned performers like Platt and Gordon can’t pull the spotlight away from the film’s absurdly talented young ensemble, who are just as game for poking fun at their passion: standouts include Luke Islam, Alexander Bello, and Minari’s Alan Kim as a pint-sized “aspiring agent” who skips dance class to make business calls. All this self-satirising never obscures the movie’s heart, though; what begins as a self-deprecating ribbing of theater-heads ultimately becomes a rousing love letter to those very same misfits.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Amy Sedaris, Ayo Edebiri, Ben Platt, Caroline Aaron, David Rasche, Dean Scott Vazquez, Donovan Colan, Jimmy Tatro, Kyndra Sanchez, Luke Islam, Max Sheldon, Molly Gordon, Nathan Lee Graham, Noah Galvin, Owen Thiele, Patti Harrison, Priscilla Lopez, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson

Director: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman

Rating: PG-13

Huesera: The Bone Woman might not be the scariest film horror fans would see, but it does strike at the heart of the scary experience of motherhood. Through eerie sounds of breaking bones and weirdly contorted hands at the edge of beds, the film depicts new mother Valeria being haunted by the titular spirit, despite her prayer to the Virgin Mary. Valeria pleads for her husband and family to listen, though each time she does becomes proof of her faults as a mother. The terror in newcomer Natalia Solián’s face makes it all feel believable, but it’s the folk-inspired imagery of first-time feature director Michelle Garza Cervera that turns this film into a feminist masterpiece.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Aida López, Alfonso Dosal, Mayra Batalla, Mercedes Hernández, Natalia Solián, Sonia Couoh

Director: Michelle Garza Cervera

Rating: NR