13 Movies Like Awakenings (1990)

Staff & contributors
Mary and Max is the tale of an overlooked 8-year-old girl from Australia starting an unlikely friendship via mail with a middle-aged Jewish man from New York. Shot completely in monocromatic claymotion, it is the first feature film by Australian stop-motion animation writer, Adam Elliot, and the first ever animated film to score the opening slot at Sundance Festival. In all its playful absurdity, Mary and Max is an emotional and wise gem of a film that examines the human condition through the eyes of a troubled child and an autistic American. In contrast to its clay-based animation, it deals with some pretty dark and adult themes, but succeeds in balancing those with happiness and absurd humor. Moreover, Elliott gathered an ensemble cast to do the voice-overs, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana. We recommend it 8 condensed milks out of 10.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Elliot, Barry Humphries, Bethany Whitmore, Carolyn Shakespeare-Allen, Christopher Massey, Eric Bana, Henry Karjalainen, Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, Ian Meldrum, John Flaus, Julie Forsyth, Michael Ienna, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Renée Geyer, Renée Geyer, Toni Collette

Director: Adam Elliot

Rating: Not Rated

Even before any blood is inevitably shed during A Short Film About Killing (which serves as the expansion of another episode from director Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog miniseries, alongside A Short Film About Love), there's something positively oppressive and sinister even just in the way the movie is shot. Kieślowski and cinematographer Witold Adamek use color filters to make the film deliberately ugly—as if the image is degrading right in front of us. Oftentimes shadows obscure the edges of the frame, shining a sickly yellow spotlight on the characters on screen. It's the perfect way to get right into the heads of these people existing in a lawless land driven by primal instinct.

When crime and punishment finally occur, they're equally difficult to watch unfold, but in different ways. Kieślowski lingers on the details—the tools and processes that we tell ourselves will make the act of killing easier. And what he's ultimately able to expose is how capital punishment has been made to seem humane, just, or necessary, when it's often even more barbaric, cruel, and unproductive than a crime borne of desperation. The very government that does nothing to address the roots of crime is the same one most eager to kill criminals instead.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Aleksander Bednarz, Andrzej Gawroński, Artur Barciś, Barbara Dziekan, Jan Tesarz, Jerzy Zass, Krystyna Janda, Krzysztof Globisz, Leonard Andrzejewski, Małgorzata Pieczyńska, Mirosław Baka, Olgierd Łukaszewicz, Władysław Byrdy, Zbigniew Borek, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Zdzisław Rychter, Zdzisław Tobiasz

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

This gorgeous Scandinavian movie is based on a true story and stars the ever-reliable Stellan Skarsgard.

He plays the governor of a strict youth correctional facility in Norway in 1915. The arrival of a feared kid kickstarts events that are very famous in Norway but little-known elsewhere: an uprising within the facility that will eventually require the army to get involved. A strong movie with stellar (Stellan) performances.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: Benjamin Helstad, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Frank-Thomas Andersen, Kimmo Rajala, Kristoffer Joner, Magnar Botten, Martin Slaatto, Per Gørvell, Stellan Skarsgård, Trond Nilssen

Director: Marius Holst

Rating: Not Rated

, 2013

Remember the name Rufus Norris. "Broken" is his directorial debut and he handles it like a seasoned pro. Also keep an eye out in the future for its young star, Eloise Laurence, who shows all the natural ability of a young Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster. Laurence plays "Skunk", a twelve year old trying to make sense of life - and whose task isn't made any easier by her own family's internal struggles, or the other families living in the peaceful-looking cul-de-sac where much of the action takes place. We're informed from the get-go that some sort of tragedy will befall the girl, but we don't know what shape it will take, or what the outcome of it will be. The tension builds from there, with a little relief along the way, thanks to her often-amusing performance as she witnesses the confusing actions of her elders. Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy are also in good form, both of whom seem happy to complement Laurence's presence rather than try to upstage her. "Broken" is equal parts cute, frightening, and brutally tense. It's well worth checking out.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alicia Woodhouse, Andrew Frame, Bill Milner, Charlie Booty, Cillian Murphy, Clare Burt, David Webber, Denis Lawson, Eloise Laurence, Faye Daveney, George Sargeant, Lily James, Lino Facioli, Martha Bryant, Michael Shaeffer, Nell Tiger Free, Nick Holder, Nicola Sloane, Paul Thornley, Penny Layden, Robert Emms, Rory Kinnear, Rosalie Kosky, Seeta Indrani, Tim Roth, Zana Marjanovic

Director: Rufus Norris

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

Twinsters is a documentary about a young Asian American actress, Samantha Futerman (also co-director), who is contacted over the internet by a young French-Asian woman, Anaïs Bordier, who has been shown a video of Samantha on the internet — and cannot believe their remarkably similar physical appearance. After initial perplexity and uncertainty, Samantha and Anaïs are soon embroiled in excited correspondence and travel to meet one another in their respective countries — eventually confirming via DNA testing that they are in fact long-lost twin sisters given up for adoption 25 years earlier in South Korea. A remarkable true story with a wonderfully beating heart, Twinsters does a lovely job of not just spelling out the amazing story of the sisters’ unlikely connection, but also finding and exploring the growing love and affection between both the two girls, as well as their extended families and groups of friends. A truly touching and humanistic film-viewing experience.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Anaïs Bordier, Kanoa Goo, Samantha Futerman

Director: Ryan Miyamoto, Samantha Futerman

Rating: PG-13

This is a hard movie to describe, but I’ll do my best without giving too much away. The movie takes place in three separate segments that eventually come together. Half of the story takes place in Germany, half in Turkey, with almost all of the central six characters spending time in both countries while either searching for each other or trying to redeem themselves. Daughters search for their mothers (and vice versa) and one character’s actions will eventually bring everything more-or-less full circle. The film is as much about the characters though as it is about the cultural exchange happening between the two countries. If you have even a passing interest in films from this part of the world, I recommend giving this one a try.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali Akdeniz, Annette Uhlen, Baki Davrak, Cengiz Daner, Erkan Can, Feridun Koç, Gökhan Kıraç, Gürsoy Gemec, Güven Kiraç, Hanna Schygulla, İdil Üner, Lars Rudolph, Nejat İşler, Nurgül Yeşilçay, Nursel Köse, Önder Çakar, Öznur Kula, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Tuncel Kurtiz, Turgay Tanülkü, Yelda Reynaud

Director: Fatih Akin

Rating: Unrated

This gripping legal drama is based on a case we still don’t know the truth of — which might make it seem like a pointless exercise, were it not for the fact that it’s infectiously fascinated by greater questions than whether wealthy socialite Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons) really did attempt to kill wife Sunny (Glenn Close), who was left comatose by the mysterious event. After being convicted, Claus recruited for his appeal then-hotshot lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), now better known for personal allegations and his defense of men even more nefarious than Claus. Reversal follows the tricky legal argument-crafting process, embedding us with Dershowitz’s elite team as they meticulously comb through the prosecution’s theory to find the hairline crack they need to break the case open.

But why go to all this effort to exonerate an unlikeable and frustratingly enigmatic man like Claus, whom Dershowitz apparently doesn’t even believe himself? While we’re morbidly fascinated by unknowable cases like this, it’s the passion of the defense that’s really puzzling — something Reversal shrewdly gets as it wrestles with the ethical arguments for and against Dershowitz’s involvement, making for a pre-courtroom drama whose power extends beyond that of the particular case it documents.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alan Pottinger, Annabella Sciorra, Bill Camp, Brian Delate, Bruno Eyron, Christine Baranski, Christine Dunford, Constance Shulman, Edwin McDonough, Ericka Klein, Felicity Huffman, Fisher Stevens, Frank Stellato, Frederick Neumann, Glenn Close, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Jack Gilpin, Jad Mager, JD Cullum, Jeremy Irons, Jessika Cardinahl, Johann Carlo, Julie Hagerty, Keith Reddin, Larry Sherman, Leo Leyden, LisaGay Hamilton, Malachy McCourt, Mitchell Whitfield, Redman Maxfield, Ron Silver, Stephen Mailer, Tom Wright, Uta Hagen

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Peter Jackson made the transition from splattery gross-out movies like Braindead to more respectable fare with Heavenly Creatures, the true story of an intense relationship between two teenage girls that culminates in the murder of one of their mothers.

As the girls’ friendship becomes unhealthier, they invent a secret world for themselves, amusingly including a heart-throb Orson Welles. This gives Jackson the opportunity to indulge in his love of fantasy, creating some dazzling hallucinatory sequences.

The fantasy element contrasts beautifully with the humdrum setting of ‘50s New Zealand, and the final tragedy is heart-breaking. The film also provided an auspicious debut for Kate Winslet, who is terrific as one of the misguided fantasists.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Barry Thomson, Ben Fransham, Clive Merrison, Darien Takle, Diana Kent, Elizabeth Moody, Geoffrey Heath, Gilbert Goldie, Glen Drake, Glenys Lloyd-Smith, Jed Brophy, Jesse Griffin, Kate Winslet, Liz Mullane, Lou Dobson, Melanie Lynskey, Moreen Eason, Peter Elliott, Peter Jackson, Ray Henwood, Sarah Peirse

Director: Peter Jackson

Leave it to a master filmmaker like Krzysztof Kieślowski—known for the Three Colours Trilogy, The Double Life of Veronique, and the miniseries Dekalog (whose sixth episode was expanded into this film)—to take a premise as banal as that of a peeping tom and to turn it into something mysterious and poignant. There are definitely still parts to this story that may not hold up to scrutiny, like its belief in a romantic/spiritual connection that rewards the immature man for barging into a woman's life. In different hands, this subject matter would just be creepy. In Kieślowski's, the loneliness of these characters takes full shape.

As young postal clerk Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) quickly admits his spying to the older and more jaded Magda (Grażyna Szapołowska), the two are drawn to each other with a combination of fear, pity, and lust. And what Kieślowski does—with the help of cinematographer Witold Adamek's stunning, intimate frames; and his cast's subdued sorrow—is move the film away from concerns about consent and control, and to tell a story about what it means to truly be seen and acknowledged by another person. In an existence made up of meaningless routine and temporary relationships, seeing someone else at their most vulnerable feels like lightning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Artur Barciś, Grażyna Szapołowska, Olaf Lubaszenko, Piotr Machalica, Stanisław Gawlik, Stefania Iwińska

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

This quirky 1988 adventure drama is newly available on Amazon Prime. It’s the classic that never was, the story of a rundown gas station motel in the Southern US where a lonely West German lady called Jasmin Munchgstettner ends up by accident.

The owner of the operation, a short-tempered woman by the name of Brenda, doesn’t really take to Jasmin. However, the longer the West German guest stays at the motel, the more a friendship forms between the two.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan S. Craig, Apesanahkwat, CCH Pounder, Christine Kaufmann, Darron Flagg, G. Smokey Campbell, Gary Lee Davis, George Aguilar, Hans Stadlbauer, Jack Palance, Marianne Sägebrecht, Mark Daneri, Monica Calhoun, Ray Young, Ronald Lee Jarvis

Director: Percy Adlon

Rating: PG

Robert Downey Jr. and James Woods star in this movie about a Lawyer who, along with his staff, attempt to get an Asian man out of jail after their office is visited by the convicted man's mother. In my opinion, this is one of the best performances by James Woods in his entire career. This film went unnoticed by many, however it stands among some of the best films I have seen over the years.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Charles Hallahan, Deborah Offner, Gerry Bamman, Graham Beckel, James Woods, Joel Polis, John Snyder, Kurt Fuller, Kurtwood Smith, Luis Guzman, Margaret Colin, Miguel Fernandes, Richard Fancy, Robert Downey Jr., Sully Díaz, Thomas Wagner, Tom Bower, Woody Harrelson, Yuji Okumoto, 柯特伍德·史密斯

Director: Joseph Ruben

In this neo-noir crime drama, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play a trio of con-artists in modern day (1990) California. Roy (Cusack) is a small-stakes hustler prone to swindling bartenders and drunken sailors for pocket money, while Lilly (Huston) plays his estranged mother who reappears in his life while working a series of horse track bluffs. Myra (Bening) notches in between the two of them as Cusack’s boisterous yet conniving girlfriend, and the instant mutual dislike between her and Lilly sets the film’s course of action in motion. It’s a fun, edgy thriller that will leave you guessing up until it's shocking finale. Elevated immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein’s old-fashioned, hard boiled music score, The Grifters is a real feather in the hat for both director Stephen Frears and producer Martin Scorsese.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, Billy Ray Sharkey, Charles Napier, David Sinaiko, Eddie Jones, Frances Bay, Gailard Sartain, Gregory Sporleder, Henry Jones, Ivette Soler, J.T. Walsh, Jan Munroe, Jeff Perry, Jeremy Piven, Jimmy Noonan, John Cusack, Jon Gries, Juliet Landau, Lou Hancock, Martin Scorsese, Michael Laskin, Micole Mercurio, Noelle Harling, Pat Hingle, Paul Adelstein, Richard Holden, Robert Weems, Sandy Baron, Stephen Tobolowsky, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Teresa Gilmore, Xander Berkeley

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: R

This is right up your alley if you have a thing for gangster films. Actually, if you have a thing for stupendous acting and just Robert de Niro in general, then A Bronx Tale might do the job for you. The 1960’s was a tough time for Lorenzo (de Niro), father to conflicted Calogero (Lillo Brancato), who seems to have befriended Bronx’s big man, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Torn between his moral integrity and a few other factors in the mix, the young boy’s leap to the crazed world of mobsters doesn’t get any more real than this. Tragedy and fascination take human form through the eyes of De Niro’s directorial debut and Palminteri’s work of art, leaving you with a gripping feeling long after the credits have stopped rolling.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: A.J. Ekoku, Alfred Sauchelli Jr., Chazz Palminteri, Clem Caserta, Dave Salerno, Derrick Simmons, Domenick Lombardozzi, Dominick Rocchio, Eddie Montanaro, Francis Capra, Frank Pietrangolare, Fred Fischer, Gianna Ranaudo, Joe Pesci, Joseph D'Onofrio, Katherine Narducci, Kathrine Narducci, Lillo Brancato, Louis Vanaria, Max Genovino, Mitch Kolpan, Nicky Blair, Nina von Arx, Patrick Borriello, Phil Foglia, Richard DeDomenico, Robert De Niro, Sobe Bailey, Taral Hicks

Director: Robert De Niro

Rating: R