6 Movies Like Awareness (2023)

Staff & contributors

, 2023

Jules’ wacky premise — an extra-terrestrial crash-lands in eccentric widower Milton’s (Ben Kingsley) flowerbeds — is a bit of a misdirection. While the movie is technically a sci-fi (featuring, as it does, some very out-there alien engineering), it’s really a charming, mostly-human drama about the isolation and surreality of aging. 

Though the mute presence of the alien (nicknamed Jules and played brilliantly by a totally silent Jade Quon) is a constant reminder of the expansiveness of the universe and strange wonders yet to be discovered, the movie keeps its feet firmly on the ground with a sensitive exploration of just how small the worlds of lonely, dementia-struck Milton and two other isolated elderly townspeople (Jane Curtin and Harriet Sansom Harris) are. Rather than expand outwards into a story about the extra-terrestrial itself, Jules focuses on the painful disorientation felt by its lonely trio of protagonists, who all find therapeutic relief and connection by way of the alien and its “understanding eyes.” Though the movie's zany forays into sci-fi territory do sometimes boggle the mind, they never undermine the genuine emotion in Jules’ raw grappling with the experience of aging, as well as give the movie a quirky charm that ensures you won't see anything like this again soon — an increasingly rare experience in itself.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Andy Daly, Anna George, Ben Kingsley, Cody Kostro, Donald Paul, Edward James Hyland, Eric T. Miller, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jade Quon, Jane Curtin, Lee Sellars, Patrick Noonan, Teddy Cañez, Zoe Winters

Director: Marc Turtletaub

Rating: PG-13

Stoic, unflinching, and almost near silent, Ballerina takes a fitting approach to enact its protagonist’s revenge. Within its lean 90 minute runtime, ex-bodyguard Ok-ju single-mindedly searches for answers, through following the lead from her friend’s suicide note. The film shares nothing personal, no doubts, worries, or fears from Ok-ju – except for her affection for best friend Min-hee. Instead of capitalizing on Ok-ju’s tears, or on the violence inflicted on Min-hee, writer-director Lee Chung-hyun relies on action, on stunning cinematography, and on Jeon Jong-seo’s performance to create a spectacle that doesn’t hold back from the gruesomeness, but somehow still incredibly restrained. Jeon Jong-seo delivers Ok-ju’s bloody revenge, a fitting retribution to all perpetrators of sexual violence.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Jang Yoon-ju, Joo Hyun, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Ji-hun, Kim Moo-yul, Kim Yeong-ok, Kim Young-ok, Kwak Jae-min, Lee Jae-joon, Park Hyeong-su, Park Hyoung-soo, Park Yu-rim, Shin Se-hwi

Director: Lee Chung-hyun

Rating: R

Many people lament the decline of the mid-budget drama with Hollywood A-listers in the lead roles, and for good reason: when the charms of an inspirational, feel-good true story work, they really work. The Burial seems to have been made with this same, unabashedly sentimental attitude, and it makes for an endlessly watchable courtroom underdog tale. The film moves with real energy between its more comedic asides and its more urgent themes of underprivileged people being taken advantage of by wealthy companies. And while it still would've probably been effective as just a straightforward legal drama, the movie makes the effort to seek out a bigger picture—deepening its own title by grounding all its characters against complicated race relations in Mississippi.

Director and co-writer Maggie Betts doesn't stray too far from the template that these kinds of films operate with (perhaps to a fault, especially during its climactic moments), but the cast she's assembled is unimpeachable. Jamie Foxx turns in the kind of funny, energetic, deeply felt star performance that earned him an Oscar almost 20 years ago, while Tommy Lee Jones brings a powerful sense of modesty and centeredness to a role that could've easily taken a back seat to his flashier co-lead. Supporting turns from Jurnee Smollett and Alan Ruck round out a uniformly great ensemble that gives this small movie a commanding air of prestige.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Alan Ruck, Amanda Warren, Andrea Frankle, B.J. Clinkscales, Bill Camp, Billy Slaughter, Christopher Winchester, David Alexander, David Maldonado, David Shae, Donna DuPlantier, Dorian Missick, Doug Spearman, Eric Mendenhall, Erika Robel, Evan Brinkman, Fracaswell Hyman, George Ketsios, Gralen Bryant Banks, Jalene Mack, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bayle, Jim Klock, Jurnee Smollett, Keith Jefferson, Lance E. Nichols, Logan Macrae, Lorna Street Dopson, Mamoudou Athie, Mike Harkins, Olivia Brody, Pamela Reed, Sam Malone, Summer Selby, Teisha Speight, Tommy Lee Jones, Tywayne Wheatt, Vince Pisani

Director: Margaret Betts

Rating: R

The filmmakers behind this direct sequel to the Indigenous action thriller Sayen clearly learned from the mistakes of that first film: all the emotion that was missing then finds a new home here, as the titular protagonist finally gets to grieve what she's lost, in a way that's touchingly close to her cultural beliefs. Desert Road also ups the action considerably, this time borrowing liberally from desert-set films like Mad Max—the sun-drenched expanses of sand are somehow much more beautiful than the forests of the first movie. And Rallen Montenegro continues to refine this character's emotional depth.

Still, partially as a result of the fact that the first installment gave this sequel little to work with, Desert Road can't help but feel more ordinary and more distant from real-world struggles touched upon previously. The actual thrills in this thriller plot aren't particularly intriguing, as several subplots mash together without as much effect on the main plot as intended. At the end of the day, this still seems like it's been made with the action movie template in mind first, rather than having the story and characters lead the style of the storytelling.

Genre: Action, Thriller

Actor: Alfredo Castro, Claudio Riveros, Enrique Arce, Eyal Meyer, Francisca Gavilán, Jorge López, Katalina Sanchez, Rallén Montenegro, Roberto García Ruiz

Director: Alexander Witt

Beat for beat, word for word, Love is in the Air moves just like any other romantic comedy. Within that genre, it slots easily into the category of romcoms that follow a city guy who falls in love with a country girl, eventually learning and preferring the ways of small-town living. But Love in Air is even more improbable than usual because of how eerily perfect the two leads are. Goodrem, in particular, is always manicured to perfection, which makes her role as a down-to-earth no-nonsense go-getter very hard to believe. Still, the movie isn’t entirely unwatchable. There are pockets of humor to be found, and the stunning visuals almost make it worth the watch. Almost.  

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Craig Walker, Delta Goodrem, Hugh Parker, Joshua Sasse, Mia Grunwald, Roy Billing, Simon McLachlan, Steph Tisdell

Director: Adrian Powers

Rating: PG-13

Horror likes to take a human fear and personify it. It's a winning move, materializing our worst nightmares, but what does a woman's self-doubt look like? In this case, extremely ugly and somewhat laughable, but surely not scary. The special effects team dropped the ball on this one, and the appendage's physical presence is more distracting than anything. Its concept and its aura, though, go a long way, and there are a few admirable twists and turns that make a curious point about female psychology and social expectations. Their interdependency then translates into the film's sparse backstory, tracing a journey of trauma that's surprisingly relatable. Interestingly enough, director Anna Zlokovic made a short of the same name in 2021 which teased the idea of a monster sucking your confidence in secret, but her latest feature film lacks that punch. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Annie Pisapia, Brandon Mychal Smith, Daniel Chioco, Deborah Rennard, Desmin Borges, Emily Hampshire, Hadley Robinson, Kausar Mohammed

Director: Anna Zlokovic

Rating: R