28 Movies Like Citizen Kane (1941)

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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

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, Amanda Crossley, Angela Curran, Annie Hayes, Anthony O'Donnell, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Bovell, Claire Rushbrook, Clare Perkins, David Neilson, Denise Orita, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Frances Ruffelle, Gary McDonald, Gordon Winter, Grant Masters, Hannah Davis, Jane Mitchell, Janice Acquah, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Jonny Coyne, Kate O'Malley, Keylee Jade Flanders, Lee Ross, Lesley Manville, Linda Beckett, Liz Smith, Lucy Sheen, Margery Withers, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Metin Marlow, Mia Soteriou, Michele Austin, Nitin Ganatra, Paul Trussell, Peter Stockbridge, Peter Waddington, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Phyllis Logan, Rachel Lewis, Richard Syms, Ron Cook, Ruth Sheen, Sheila Kelley, Stephen Churchett, Su Eliott, Su Elliot, Su Elliott, Terence Harvey, Theresa Watson, Timothy Spall, Trevor Laird, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

This movie is gentle and utterly chaotic, intimate and massive, beautiful and ugly... it tries to be so many things and somehow pulls it off. It tells two stories parallel in time, based on the real-life diaries of two European scientists who traveled through the Amazon in the early and mid-twentieth century. Their stories are some of the only of accounts of Amazonian tribes in written history. The main character and guide in the movie is a shaman who met them both. At times delicate to the point of almost being able to feel the water, at times utterly apocalyptic and grand... to watch this movie is to take a journey through belief systems, through film... and to be brought along by cinematography that is at times unbelievably and absurdly beautiful. Meditative, violent, jarring, peaceful, luminous, ambitious, artful, heavy handed, graceful... it's really an incredible film.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Jan Bijvoet, José Sabogal, Nicolás Cancino, Nilbio Torres, Yauenkü Miguee

Director: Ciro Guerra

Two angels wander the streets of a monochrome Berlin, invisible to the colorful world that bustles around them. When one of them falls in love, he begins to question his place and yearns to give up immortality to join the ranks of the living. Wim Wender’s exceptional film is a poetic meditation on faith, cinema, and a mournful tour of a city in the grip of the Cold War. 

Wings of Desire is bursting with poetry and heartbreaking humanism emphasized by the tender performances by Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, while serving as a beautiful love letter to a city yearning for change. If you’ve only seen City of Angels, the loose American remake, then you owe it to yourself to experience the raw poetic power of the real deal.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Annelinde Gerstl, Beartice Manowski, Beatrice Manowski, Bernard Eisenschitz, Blixa Bargeld, Bruno Ganz, Chick Ortega, Christoph Merg, Curt Bois, Didier Flamand, Elmar Wilms, Erika Rabau, Hans Marquardt, Hans Martin Stier, Harry Howard, Johanna Penski, Jürgen Heinrich, Kid Congo Powers, Laurent Petitgand, Lina Otto, Matthias Maaß, Mick Harvey, Nick Cave, Olivier Picot, Otto Kuhnle, Otto Sander, Patric Kreuzer, Paul Busch, Peter Falk, Roland Wolf, Rowland S. Howard, Scott Kirby, Sigurd Rachman, Simon Bonney, Solveig Dommartin, Teresa Harder, Thomas Wydler, Ulrike Schirm, Wolf-Dirk Vogeley

Director: Wim Wenders

Rating: PG-13

IRA terrorists kidnap a British soldier to negotiate an exchange for one of their own imprisoned members. Among them is Fergus (Stephen Rea), whose ambivalence is amplified by his interactions with the hostage soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) while guarding him. After the terrorists' plan goes awry, Fergus tracks down a woman Jody spoke of during his captivity, only to become confronted with even more complications.

The film, its cast and crew won a slew of awards and nominations in 1993, including the Academy award for Best Original Screenplay. It's a knockout. Each act presents an increasingly challenging psychological and emotional conflict for Fergus: conflicts that require him to question the choices he makes and his beliefs, even about himself. It’s a dark but deeply touching thriller that is ultimately unforgettable.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Dunbar, Andrée Bernard, Birdy Sweeney, Breffni McKenna, Bryan Coleman, Forest Whitaker, Jack Carr, Jaye Davidson, Jim Broadbent, Joe Savino, Miranda Richardson, Ralph Brown, Ray De-Haan, Stephen Rea, Tony Slattery

Director: Neil Jordan

Director Ziad Doueiri is one of the first filmmakers to successfully break through to the global stage out of Lebanon, and West Beirut, which was selected as the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 1999 Academy Awards, is one of his most accomplished films.

The film stars the director's son Rami Doueiri as Tarek, a young Lebanese boy who loves to shoot with his Super 8 camera and go on small adventures with his friends Omar and May in the streets of Beirut. But one day, he is faced with the ugly truth of the Lebanese civil war. As he learns more and more about the divided state of his country, he sets out on a mission in search of any lingering hope to help keep the beautiful idea he has of his country locked safe and sound in his brain. “Whoever asks about your religion, you tell them I’m Lebanese.”

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Carmen Lebbos, Liliane Nemri, Mohamad Chamas, Rami Doueiri, Rola Al Amin

Director: Ziad Doueiri

The Sweet Hereafter is the kind of movie that feels very different from the one you might imagine when reading the plot synopsis. The tragic accident at its center doesn’t form a dramatic crescendo as you might be primed to expect — and, despite revolving around a lawsuit, this is no courtroom drama. Instead, the ironically titled The Sweet Hereafter deals with the messy, difficult emotions that come with grief, survival, and blame in the aftermath of a bus crash, with the film largely taking place in a snowy Canadian town rent apart by the loss of nearly all its children in the accident. Ian Holm plays the out-of-town lawyer battling to unite the bereft parents behind a class action lawsuit, all while struggling to deal with the quasi-loss of his own drug-dependent daughter. Non-linear chronology means the before-the-crash and the after intermingle, scene after scene; it’s an unorthodox remix of the way we’re used to seeing this kind of story unfold, but it allows the movie to home in on the complexity of the community’s pain. Unsparing performances, haunting music, and meditative cinematography plunge us into it all, recreating the terrible iciness of grief in a way that is difficult to shake off.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alberta Watson, Allegra Denton, Arsinée Khanjian, Brooke Johnson, Bruce Greenwood, David Hemblen, Devon Finn, Earl Pastko, Gabrielle Rose, Ian Holm, Kirsten Kieferle, Marc Donato, Maury Chaykin, Mychael Danna, Peter Donaldson, Sarah Polley, Sarah Rosen Fruitman, Simon Baker, Stephanie Morgenstern, Tom McCamus

Director: Atom Egoyan

Rating: R

, 1985

An attempt to articulate just how vast and magnificent the scope of Akira Kurosawa’s 乱 (Ran) is will inevitably fall short. Recognized as a master of epics, including his 七人の侍 (Seven Samurai, 1954), Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear set in medieval Japan. Each shot is labored and precise, as sublime landscapes overwhelm the screen, dwarfing the armies of men fighting below. 

At the center of the ensuing wars is Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging warlord. Ichimonji divides his conquered land between his three sons, Taro, Jiro, Saburo. The Ichimonji clan, however, will not settle for less than everything. Father and sons scheme against one another, leading to violent plots for control over the kingdom. Greed poisons the Ichimonji’s bloodline, pervasive and all-consuming. The tragedy that unfolds is indeed as poignant as any great Shakespeare work. 

The road ahead is lined with bodies, blood, jealousy, paranoia—and it’s a long way to the bottom from the throne. Kurosawa, confronting his own mortality and legacy, achieves a titanic masterpiece with Ran. Few films so deeply grasp the tragedy of war at this visceral level. While Ran is not an easy watch, it’s a must-watch for all.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Akira Terao, Daisuke Ryû, Haruko Tôgô, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Ueki, Jinpachi Nezu, Jun Tazaki, Kazuo Katô, Kenji Kodama, Kumeko Otowa, Mansai Nomura, Masayuki Yui, Mieko Harada, Norio Matsui, Pîtâ, Reiko Nanjo, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Susumu Terajima, Takeshi Katō, Tatsuya Nakadai, Tetsuo Yamashita, Tokie Kanda, Toshiya Ito, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Zushi, 井川比佐志

Director: Akira Kurosawa

, 1985

In the movie Brazil, our hero Sam Lowery (Jonathan Pryce) lives in a dystopian world that relies on the cold productivity grind of machines. He’s in a constant battle between the high-level dominating powers that be and the low-level beatdown scums of society. Saving him from complete misery is a recurring dream he has of a beautiful woman. There, nothing else matters but love, which fills his draining soul and makes his life seem worthwhile. 

The way director Terry Gilliam handles a serious matter in such a comedic way is fantastic, and the amount of thought and effort he puts into creating every single bit of existence in this film is mind-boggling. With Brazil, he succeeds in establishing his own style, making a mark for himself in an age when plenty of auteurs compete for mere recognition.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Ann Way, Barbara Hicks, Bill Wallis, Bob Hoskins, Brian Miller, Bryan Pringle, Charles McKeown, David Gant, Derek Deadman, Derrick O'Connor, Don Henderson, Gorden Kaye, Harold Innocent, Howard Lew Lewis, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Jack Purvis, James Coyle, Jim Broadbent, John Flanagan, John Grillo, John Pierce Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Katherine Helmond, Kathryn Pogson, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Myrtle Devenish, Nigel Planer, Oscar Quitak, Patrick Connor, Peter Vaughan, Ralph Nossek, Ray Cooper, Robert De Niro, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Sheila Reid, Simon Jones, Terence Bayler, Terry Gilliam

Director: Terry Gilliam

Rating: R

“It is better to live miserable than to die happy,” or so says one of the characters in Jia Zhangke’s anthology film A Touch of Sin. On its surface, the “sin” referenced in the title might pertain to the acts of murder that the four protagonists commit, but in the context of China’s rapidly changing capitalist landscape (a theme explored in the director’s other pictures), it reveals itself as a malady shared by Chinese laborers treated as dispensable resources by the powers-that-be. Murder, then, is explored as an extremity, the effectual breaking point of people no longer able to contain the injustice within themselves. Beneath the splatters of blood is a plea for empathy and understanding, at once remorseful and full of conviction.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Actor: Baoqiang Wang, Han Dong, Jiang Wu, Jin Zhang, Li Meng, Lu Liu, Luo Lanshan, Qiang Wang, Wang Baoqiang, Wang Hongwei, Wang Qiang, Zhang Jiayi, Zhang Jin, Zhao Tao

Director: Jia Zhangke

This 140-minute Brazilian drama is an epic and touching tale of two sisters torn apart. In 1950s Rio de Janeiro, Eurídice, 18, and Guida, 20, are inseparable, but their dreams soon take them away from each other, from their conservative family, and from Brazil.

After they are separated, each one of them believes the other is achieving her dreams when often the opposite was happening. Family betrayal, silence, and a suffocating social climate shatter the aspiration of the sisters but also highlight their strength.

Genre: Drama

Actor: António Fonseca, Carol Duarte, Cláudio Gabriel, Cristina Pereira, Eduardo Tornaghi, Fernanda Montenegro, Flávia Gusmão, Flávio Bauraqui, Gillray Coutinho, Gregório Duvivier, Izak Dahora, Julia Stockler, Luana Xavier, Márcio Vito, Maria Manoella, Nikolas Antunes

Director: Karim Aïnouz

Rating: R

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting, and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you till the very end.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Annie Allix, David Forman, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Mark Lewis, Philippe Petit

Director: James Marsh

Rating: PG-13

Anyone who's seen All That Heaven Allows will naturally be skeptical that a movie claiming to be an homage to Douglas Sirk’s sumptuous masterpiece will live up to the heights of its inspiration. It’s a ballsy move, molding your film so closely to a peerless classic, but Todd Haynes transcends thin pastiche to be a genuinely great film of its own. Where Sirk’s movie charts the social scandal caused by an upper-class widow (Jane Wyman) falling in love with her gardener (Rock Hudson), Haynes sharpens the conflict by recasting the couple as an interracial one (played by Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert). What’s more, Haynes brings her husband back from the dead and into the closet to give Far From Heaven another angle through which to tackle the repression and stigma and explore the characters' rocky pursuit of happiness. If that sounds like the stuff of melodrama, it is — Far From Heaven is proudly of that genre, cracking through the veneer of suburban perfection to find roiling tension and repressed desire underneath.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Barbara Garrick, Betsy Aidem, Bette Henritze, Brian Delate, C.C. Loveheart, Celia Weston, Chance Kelly, Declan Baldwin, Dennis Haysbert, Dennis Quaid, Duane McLaughlin, Ernest Rayford, Geraldine Bartlett, J.B. Adams, James Rebhorn, Joe Holt, Johnathan McClain, Jordan Nia Elizabeth, Julianne Moore, June Squibb, Kevin Carrigan, Lindsay Andretta, Michael Gaston, Mylika Davis, Olivia Birkelund, Patricia Clarkson, Ryan Ward, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Susan Willis, Ted Neustadt, Viola Davis, Virl Andrick

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: PG-13

Finnish director and megastar Aki Kaurismäki hits with yet another absurd but poignant movie. The Other Side of Hope is about a Syrian refugee and his journey across Finland, both the country and the culture, in hopes for a fresh start. It's a genuine and simple movie, played masterfully by a cast of newcomers. But in its simplicity, it elicits empathy on a subject that most of us choose not to dwell on nowadays. Aki Kaurismäki has the unbelievable skill of distilling tragic events into their humane component. A movie to give credit to, and to watch without any prior expectations - unless you're familiar with Aki Kaurismäki's previous work.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Antti Virmavirta, Atte Blom, Clas-Ove Bruun, Dome Karukoski, Elias Westerberg, Elina Knihtilä, Esa Pulliainen, Hannu Kivioja, Hannu Lauri, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Harri Marstio, Ilkka Koivula, Janne Hyytiäinen, Jörn Donner, Juhani Niemelä, Juho Kuosmanen, Jukka Virtanen, Juuso Hirvikangas, Kaija Pakarinen, Kati Outinen, Lauri Untamo, Maria Järvenhelmi, Marko Haavisto, Matti Onnismaa, Milka Ahlroth, Mirja Oksanen, Niroz Haji, Nuppu Koivu, Olli Varja, Panu Vauhkonen, Puntti Valtonen, Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji, Simon Al-Bazoon, Sulevi Peltola, Taneli Mäkelä, Timo Torikka, Tommi Eronen, Tommi Korpela, Tuomari Nurmio, Ville Virtanen

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Rating: Not Rated

In Waltz with Bashir, director Ari Folman grapples with the trauma and dehumanization of war by examining the role he played in the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon. But his memories are fractured, so in an attempt to piece them back together, he visits his comrades and has them recall the events for him. The result is both poignant and painful, a horrific tell-all of what happens on both sides of the battleground. The film is a documentary, chillingly honest and straightforward, but it's also an animation gem that continues the legacy that Persepolis started and Flee continues. By combining the harshness of war with the lightness of animation, all three films effectively deliver their anti-war message with a much-needed human and personal touch. 

Genre: Animation, Documentary, Drama, War

Actor: Ari Folman, Mickey Leon, Ori Sivan, Ron Ben-Yishai, Yehezkel Lazarov

Director: Ari Folman

Rating: R