21 Movies Like Before Midnight (2013)

Staff & contributors

Legend has it that director Derek Cianfrance had the co-stars and co-executive producers Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling live together in the same house for a month in preparation of their roles. The fictional couple they play in Blue Valentine lived in the same house. True or not, this created the harsh proximity, intensity, and claustrophobia that is a hallmark of this production. Blue Valentine brings us painfully close to the couple's attraction as well as their agony.

In this way, Blue Valentine is a heart-breaking examination of the decaying shell of a once-bright marriage. As sad as it is sexy, it mixes intense flashbacks of past desire with the grim reality of married life's monotony. It boasts an electrifying performance from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, who seamlessly combine tenderness and lust, rage and sadness. This is a guaranteed tear-jerker, so make sure you've brought your Kleenexes!

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alan Malkin, Ashley Gurnari, Barbara Troy, Ben Shenkman, Carey Westbrook, Enid Graham, Faith Wladyka, Ian Bonner, James Benatti, Jen Jones, John Doman, Joseph Basile, Mark Benginia, Marshall Johnson, Maryann Plunkett, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, Robert Russell, Ryan Gosling, Tamara Torres

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Rating: R

Joshua Oppenheimer's daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer's efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer's favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they're doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adi Zulkadry, Anwar Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto, Ibrahim Sinik, Safit Pardede, Syamsul Arifin

Director: Christine Cynn, Joshua Oppenheimer

Rating: Not Rated

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

Genre: Documentary

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

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

In 2009, Departures surprised everybody by winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, instead of everyone's favourite, Ari Folman's Waltz of Bashir. This is even more surprising since this Japanese comedy almost never saw the light of day because many distributors refused to release it at first for its humorous treatment of a very human, but weirdly taboo subject: what happens when you die. Daigo Kobayashi (played by former boyband member Masahiro Motoki) just bought an expensive cello when he learns that his Tokyo-based symphony orchestra is going bankrupt. Daigo and his wife Mika, played by Ryôko Hirosue, decide to move back to his hometown, where he applies for an opening at what he thinks is a travel agency, hence the departures. You might have guessed by now that what he was applying for was, in fact, the job of an undertaker—a profession considered unclean in Japan. It's one of those rare movies that will make you laugh, to making you cry, and laugh again. It's dead-on!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Justin Lukach, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Kimiko Yo, Maisie Williams, Masahiro Motoki, Nina Dobrev, Ryoko Hirosue, Ryosuke Otani, Sanae Miyata, Scott Wilson, Takashi Sasano, Taro Ishida, Tatsuo Yamada, Tetta Sugimoto, Tōru Minegishi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Tyler Hoechlin, Yukari Tachibana

Director: Yōjirō Takita

Rating: PG-13

More simply called La Vie d'Adèle in its native language, this French coming-of-age movie was hugely successful when it came out and was probably one of the most talked-about films of the time. On the one hand, the usual puritans came to the fore, criticizing the lengthy and graphic sex scenes. On the other hand, Julie Maroh, who wrote the source material that inspired the script, denounced Franco-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche for directing with his d*ck, if you don't mind me saying so, while also being an on-set tyrant. Whatever you make of this in hindsight, the only way to know is to watch this powerfully acted drama about the titular Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and her infatuation with Emma, a free-spirited girl with blue hair, played by Léa Seydoux. The film beautifully and realistically portrays Adele's evolution from a teenage high-school girl to a grown, confident woman. As their relationship matures, so does Adèle, and she slowly begins to outgrow her sexual and philosophical mentor. Whatever your final verdict on the controversial sex scene, Blue Is the Warmest Color is without doubt an outstanding film as are the performances from Exarchopoulos and Séydoux.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Alain Duclos, Alika Del Sol, Alma Jodorowsky, Anne Loiret, Aurélien Recoing, Aurelie Lemanceau, Aurélien Recoing, Baya Rehaz, Benjamin Siksou, Benoît Pilot, Benoît Pilot, Bouraouïa Marzouk, Camille Rutherford, Catherine Salée, Catherine Salée, Éric Paul, Fanny Maurin, Halima Slimani, Jérémie Laheurte, Jérémie Laheurte, Judith Hoersch, Justine Nissart, Karim Saidi, Klaim Nivaux, Léa Seydoux, Maelys Cabezon, Maud Wyler, Mona Walravens, Quentin Médrinal, Salim Kechiouche, Samir Bella, Sandor Funtek

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Rating: NC-17

, 2013

If you thought Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar, or True Detective was already the pinnacle of what Mathew McConaughey could do, wait until you see this film! Created by writer-director Jeff Nichols and set in the American South, Mud is a beautiful tale of love, loss, and personal growth. Two children, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), come across the elusive Mud (who is played by McConaughey), a man on the run wanted for murder. Initially scared of his mysterious character, the kids end up wanting to help and protect him from his those pursuing him. Ultimately a story of love, the film deals with a very human crisis seen through the eyes of children, drawing from American adventure tales and the humidity of the South. Mud is exciting, uneasy, sad, and quite beautiful. All at once.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Bonnie Sturdivant, Jacob Lofland, Joe Don Baker, Kristy Barrington, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Abbott Jr., Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks, Ray McKinnon, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Stuart Greer, Tye Sheridan

Director: Jeff Nichols

Rating: PG-13

A 100-minute highlight reel of the audacious 24-hour performance staged by artist Taylor Mac in 2016, this concert film succeeds not only in capturing the show's eclectic mix of songs, drag costumes, and interactive audience segments, but in capturing the emotional atmosphere conjured up in that Brooklyn warehouse. The very premise of the performance is ripe for analysis: a history of America starting from 1776, progressing one decade every hour, represented by selections of popular music of the time—which Mac questions at every turn, reinterpreting and reclaiming them for a contemporary queer audience. It begins as a creatively educational exercise, but gradually becomes more and more personal, until the audience is fully involved in the performances themselves.

Even the 24-hour format transcends its gimmick. That the show becomes an endurance test is deliberate, with bonds forming in real time and the exhaustion of this ever-changing drag performance conveying the weight of all this history on the most vulnerable and misrepresented sectors—who've already endured continuous losses decade after decade. And still there is cause for celebration, and genuine warmth among the people slowly becoming more vulnerable with each other over 24 hours. It's a beautiful, intelligent, frequently funny, and ultimately moving experience in a class all its own.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Anastasia Durasova, Heather Christian, Machine Dazzle Flower, Matt Ray, Niegel Smith, Taylor Mac

Director: Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein

Rating: PG-13

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, Bozena Szymanska, Cezary Harasimowicz, Cezary Pazura, Florence Pernel, Francis Coffinet, Grażyna Szapołowska, Grzegorz Warchoł, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Nowak, Jerzy Stuhr, Jerzy Trela, Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, Krystyna Bigelmajer, Małgorzata Prażmowska, Marzena Trybała, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Piotr Machalica, Piotr Zelt, Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska, Wanda Wróblewska, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Zdzisław Rychter

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Long Strange Trip was originally a four-hour movie before Amazon cut it to a six-part TV show. Produced by Martin Scorcese, it tells the full story of the band The Grateful Dead. It’s an account so detailed that it will satisfy the biggest Deadheads, but it also can be appreciated by anyone. The focus is the band, but it’s also the band’s significant impact on Rock history, and by extension, on American culture. I didn’t know much about the band and I couldn’t stop watching.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Al Franken, Bill Kreutzmann, Bob Weir, Brent Mydland, Donna Godchaux, Jerry Garcia, Keith Godchaux, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh, Ron McKernan

Director: Amir Bar-Lev

Rating: R

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

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

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

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Rating: R

, 2001

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

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

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

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman

Director: Richard Linklater

You know that the people you choose to follow for a documentary are great characters when the film itself can survive as straightforward coverage of their actions, no fancy directorial flourishes needed. But this is not to downplay what director Meg Switzgable does. In fact, her dedication to sticking by Frank Kaler and the other citizens of South Brunswick on the ground—and therefore capturing them as three-dimensional, inspirational human beings—is arguably the core value that all documentarians should possess. This also means that the access Switzgable has to this issue of government negligence is obstructed by the same red tape Kaler encounters, making the film (already just an hour long) feel too short. Still, a modest documentary like this shouldn't feel this thrilling. And by the end, all these New Jersey residents look like rock stars.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Meg Switzgable

Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York – but not the glamorous NYC of Woody Allen movies. Taking place primarily in the gritty and rapidly gentrifying North Brooklyn, the black and white film paints a picture of an extended adolescence. Focusing on the goofy and carefree Frances, who loses her boyfriend, her best friend and her dream of being a dancer. She moves in with two guys, both of whom are more successful than her, and becomes even more determined to fulfil her goals, impractical as they may be. Fans of HBO’s Girls and other odes to not being a “real person” yet will love this film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Driver, Britta Phillips, Charlotte d'Amboise, Christine Gerwig, Cindy Katz, Daiva Deupree, Dean Wareham, Eleanor Smith, Finnerty Steeves, Gibson Frazier, Gordon Gerwig, Grace Gummer, Greta Gerwig, Hannah Dunne, Isabelle McNally, Josh Hamilton, Juliet Rylance, Justine Lupe, Laura Parker, Lindsay Burdge, Marina Squerciati, Maya Kazan, Michael Esper, Michael Zegen, Michelle Hurst, Mickey Sumner, Noah Baumbach, Patrick Heusinger, Peter Scanavino, Ryann Shane, Teddy Cañez, Vanessa Ray

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rating: R

Just like with his mentor and contemporary, Fred Rogers, there are no dark secrets to Ernest Coombs' earnest belief in giving children the space to be gentle and creative. Even with relatively little "drama" throughout the life of the man called Mr. Dressup, it's still profoundly moving to see him put in the work to make the world a kinder place. Director Robert McCallum keeps this documentary exactly as straightforward as it needs to be, moving through Coombs's life with total reverence but plenty of modesty—making sure not to inflate the idea of Mr. Dressup into something Coombs himself would have disagreed with.

In its act of honoring this person with an everyman personality and a trunk full of quaint costumes, the film also serves as a tribute to low budget educational television. Working within a very small studio, with simple puppets and no strict script to follow, Coombs and his friends found any way possible to stick to their original idea of teaching very young kids that being kind and communicating one's feelings clearly were the best things one could achieve. Behind Mr. Dressup's softness is a remarkable work ethic, a deep respect for children, and a commitment to thoughtful, universal values.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Andrew Phung, Bif Naked, Bruce McCulloch, Catherine Tait, Ed Robertson, Eric McCormack, Ernie Coombs, Fred Penner, Fred Rogers, Graham Greene, Jim Creeggan, Jim Parker, Jonathan Torrens, Judith Lawrence, Kevin Hearn, Lynn Coombs, Michael J. Fox, Nina Keogh, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Peter Mansbridge, Scott Thompson, Terry McManus, Trina McQueen, Tyler Stewart, Yannick Bisson

Director: Robert McCallum

A hilarious comedy about politics in the UK and US. The secretary of State for Internal Development Simon Foster accidentally backs the plans for a war in the Middle East and suddenly finds he has a lot of friends in Washington. What follows is a difficult to follow maneuvering of pro- and antiwar factions in both governments. The harder it gets to follow what's going on in the movie the more it resembles our present day politics and the funnier it becomes.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alex MacQueen, Anna Chlumsky, Chipo Chung, Chris Addison, David Rasche, Del Pentecost, Enzo Cilenti, Eve Matheson, Gina McKee, Harry Hadden-Paton, James Doherty, James Gandolfini, James Smith, Janelle Schmidt, Joanna Brookes, Joanna Scanlan, Johnny Pemberton, Lucinda Raikes, Mimi Kennedy, Natasha Sattler, Olivia Poulet, Paul Higgins, Peter Capaldi, Rita May, Samantha Harrington, Steve Coogan, Tom Hollander, Will Smith, Zach Woods

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rating: Not Rated