9 Movies Like Cartel Land (2015)

Staff & contributors
A follow-up/companion piece to the award-winning The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is another compelling documentary from Director Joshua Oppenheimer. Both films aim attention at the Indonesian Genocide of 1965-66, when the military government systematically purged up to one million communists. While the first film's focus was on the culprits and on providing facts, the second one lets us meet the victims. One victim in particular: a soft-spoken optician named Adi Rukun, who meets with various members of the death squad who murdered his elder brother Ramli, under the guise of giving them an eye test. As he questions them about the killings, the murderers, again, show little remorse and eagerly provide the lurid details to the many executions. It's a stunning and provocative look at the legacy of historical mass killings, along with the insidious propaganda that provokes them, and continues to justify them to younger generations. A testament to the power of cinema to remember the forgotten.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Adi Rukun, Amir Hasan, Inong, Joshua Oppenheimer, M.Y. Basrun

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

Rating: PG-13

Do today's political talk shows often feel like meek, scripted, and predictable affairs to you? Would you rather have that euphoric feeling you get when watching someone smart and eloquent talk about important ideas? Multiply that by two and you get Best of Enemies. In 1968, ABC covered the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the historic Democratic National Convention in Chicago by airing a 10-part series of nationally televised debates between two ideologically opposed and sharp-minded public intellectuals: Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. The former was an ardent and openly bisexual liberal and progressive. The latter an elitist cultural conservative, whose magazine, National Review, vowed to always support the most far-right candidate viable for office. This confrontational set-up is not only credited with ushering in an era of pundit politics, but also with producing some of the most entertaining intellectual debate ever to be seen on TV. When's the last time you saw anybody unironically being called a “crypto-Nazi” on national television?

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Christopher Hitchens, Dick Cavett, Gore Vidal, John Lithgow, Kelsey Grammer, Noam Chomsky, William F. Buckley, William F. Buckley Jr.

Director: Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon

Rating: R

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi, Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono

Director: David Gelb

Rating: PG

Andrew Garfield is a single father living with his own single mother in their family home. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, they find themselves evicted from their home by a businessman - Michael Shannon in a role as intriguing as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, if not more. Desperate for work, Garfield’s character starts working for the same businessman, ultimately evicting other people. A star-packed, gritty and sobering tale on capitalism and our the lengths to which we’re ready to go to save face - while at the same time risking our most important relationships.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Albert C. Bates, Andrew Garfield, Ann Mahoney, Carl Palmer, Clancy Brown, Cullen Moss, Cynthia LeBlanc, David Maldonado, Deneen Tyler, Don Brady, Donna DuPlantier, Elton LeBlanc, Garrett Kruithof, Gretchen Koerner, Gus Rhodes, J.D. Evermore, Jayson Warner Smith, Jeff Pope, John L. Armijo, Jonathan Tabler, Joni Bovill, Juan Gaspard, Judd Lormand, Kerry Sims, Laura Dern, Liann Pattison, Luke Sexton, Manu Narayan, Michael Shannon, Michelle DeVito, Nicole Barré, Noah Lomax, Patrick Kearns, Randy Austin, Richard Holden, Robert Larriviere, Tim Guinee, Tom Bui, Wayne Pére, Yvonne Landry

Director: Ramin Bahrani

“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will surprise you no matter how much you thought you knew about the soul singer - not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Dick Gregory, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, James Baldwin, Lisa Simone, Liz Garbus, Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite

Director: Liz Garbus

Rating: Not Rated

Vivian Maier was a French-American photographer whose art, like many of the greats, only gained widespread success after her death. Most of her life was spent working as a maid for families in Chicago. Her masterpieces were only introduced to the world when the director of this documentary purchased a box of her negatives. This movie is about him trying to put together the pieces and retrace her life by interviewing the people that knew her. Right from the beginning of this documentary her photos will have you in awe. They gave me chills and made me feel exactly what I needed to feel to understand each photo. Cue Vivian’s unexpected dark side along with really messed up backstory, I was completely absorbed. Interviews, along with Vivian’s own photos and home videos show the complexity and mystery of the artist.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daniel Arnaud, John Maloof, Mary Ellen Mark, Phil Donahue, Sarah Matthews-Ludington, Simon Amede, Tim Roth, Vivian Maier

Director: Charlie Siskel, John Maloof

Rating: Not Rated

An instant classic, Beast of No Nation is a unique and uniquely-paced war drama which ranges in patterns from explosive visual storytelling to calm character studies. A child joins a rebel group consisting almost entirely of children and led by a charismatic leader credited as Commandant. As you get to witness the conflict through the child’s eyes, his own development and his commander’s, the film unfolds as an exploration of the never ending state of war in Africa. It takes you to varying conclusions, most of which you will have trouble admitting you’ve reached. As Commandant, Idris Elba is transfixing, and the whole cast of almost entirely non-actors, as well as the deeply authentic staging by True Detective and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga, are enthralling.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Abraham Attah, Ama K. Abebrese, Andrew Adote, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Cornelius Keagon, David Dontoh, Emmanuel 'King Kong' Nii Adom Quaye, Emmanuel Affadzi, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Francis Weddey, Fred Nii Amugi, Grace Nortey, Idris Elba, John Arthur, Jude Akuwudike, Kobina Amissah Sam, Kurt Egyiawan, Nana Mensah, Nataliah Andoh, Opeyemi Fagbohungbe, Richard Pepple, Ricky Adelayitor

Director: Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rating: Not Rated

Is an innocent child’s life worth millions of other civilian casualties? In a modern-day drone warfare led by Colonel Katherine Powell, played by the very versatile Helen Mirren, she is conflicted to order the target of the Somali terrorist organization when she spots Alia, a young girl who just happens to be selling bread within the premises of the Kill Zone. Her icy exterior, however, is a far cry from Lieutenant General Frank Benson’s profound sympathy, the portrayal of the late Alan Rickman in his last onscreen role being one of his most remarkable ones to date. Eye in the Sky is a thriller that will have you questioning your morals while gripping your seats in what appears to be a battle of the best choice and the only one. Do the ends always justify the means?

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, War

Actor: Aaron Paul, Aisha Takow, Alan Rickman, Armaan Haggio, Arman Haggio, Babou Ceesay, Barkhad Abdi, Carl Beukes, Daniel Fox, Ebby Weyime, Francis Chouler, Gavin Hood, Graham Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Iain Glen, James Alexander, Jeremy Northam, John Heffernan, Kate Liquorish, Kenneth Fok, Kim Engelbrecht, Kim Suzanne Engelbrecht, Laila Robins, Lemogang Tsipa, Lex King, Michael OKeefe, Monica Dolan, Phoebe Fox, Richard McCabe, Roberto Meyer, Sabrina Hassan Abdulle, Vusi Kunene, Warren Masemola, Zak Rowlands

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

In 2013, following the Ukrainian government’s termination of an EU agreement (in blatant disregard of what its citizens have been calling for), a wave of peaceful protests start to crop up at the country’s capital. Things escalate when the police violently disperse the protestors, but the people of Ukraine are not so easily held down. They fight back, growing in number and conviction each time they do, until an all-out war finally breaks out. 

Winter on Fire documents this series of events, staying close to the ground and allowing bits of humanity to shine through its subjects. In between chilling clips of the clashes, we're shown intimate interviews with people of all walks of life. They're doctors, actors, students, bankers, lawyers, and clergymen, from various classes, races, religions, and genders. Despite their many differences, all of them share one hope: to secure a better future for the people of Ukraine. 

Genre: Documentary, War & Politics

Actor: Bishop Agapit, Catherine Ashton, Cissy Jones, Kristina Berdinskikh, Natan Hazin, Serhii Averchenko

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

Rating: Unrated