19 Movies Like Elephant (2003)

Staff & contributors
How far would you go to help a friend? The answer to this question might turn out quite differently after you have lived through the 2-hour squalor of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Set in the bleak late-1980s reality of Communist Romania, under the ironclad rule of Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasilu play Otilia and Gabriela, two small-town students. Otilia volunteers to help Gabriela go through with an illegal abortion, which takes place in a shoddy hotel room with the help of a man named Bebe (played by Vlad Ivanov). When things don't go as planned, they find their situations quickly going from very bad to outright horrible. Powerful performances, a realistic script, and director Cristian Mungiu's technical finesse create an experience that will force you to relive the desperation the two women must endure. Little wonder that it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2007.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adi Carauleanu, Adina Cristescu, Alexandru Potocean, Anamaria Marinca, Cerasela Iosifescu, Constantin Bojog, Doru Ana, Eugenia Bosânceanu, Geo Dobre, Ion Sapdaru, Laura Vasiliu, Liliana Mocanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Mădălina Ghițescu, Mărioara Sterian, Tania Popa, Teodor Corban, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Rating: Not Rated

While the film adapts some of Shakespeare’s histories, you don’t need to know Shakespeare to appreciate My Own Private Idaho. In fact, instead of focusing on the Prince Hal character, Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the film centers on his narcoleptic friend Mike Waters (River Phoenix). Both of them are young street hustlers in Portland. However, unlike Favor, Waters has no reliable family, inheritance, or support system waiting for him to give up his job. Waters only has his body. Writer-director Gus Van Sant doesn’t really focus on the sex or the narcolepsy - these flash by us only as a state-of-mind experience, with time-lapses and freeze-frames to impart to us Waters’ detachment. Instead, Van Sant cares more about Waters’ seeking connection. It’s why the surreal shots speed by us so fast, and why the natural, lived-in scenes remain in our heads. It’s why Waters’ campfire confession, crackling under Phoenix’s earnest voice, feels so powerful. And it’s also why his later rejection feels so painful.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Chiara Caselli, Eric Hull, Flea, Grace Zabriskie, Gus Van Sant, James Russo, Jessica Makinson, Jim Caviezel, Keanu Reeves, Mickey Cottrell, Pao Pei Andreoli, Pat Patterson, River Phoenix, Robert Egon, Rodney Harvey, Scott Patrick Green, Tom Troupe, Udo Kier, Vana O'Brien, William Richert

Director: Gus Van Sant

Rating: R

, 2018

This true story of a white-supremacist and the civil rights unit that tried to stop his group was so gripping. 

You might recognize the title from the Oscars ceremony, as a shorter version of Skin (same director but different actors) won the Academy Award for Best Short Film. 

The longer movie provides much more time for the characters to develop, and room for more of a commentary on the current political situation in the U.S.

Fun fact: see that scary man in the picture? That’s Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell who went through a transformation for the role, including always wearing a device to pull his ears closer to his head because they were “too cute”.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ari Barkan, Bill Camp, Cecil Blutcher, Colbi Gannett, Daniel Henshall, Danielle Macdonald, Jaime Ray Newman, Jamie Bell, Jenna Leigh Green, Joanna Herrington, Justin L. Wilson, Kylie Rogers, Louisa Krause, Maliq Johnson, Mary Stuart Masterson, Michael Villar, Mike Colter, Portia, Rob Figueroa, Rob Giumarra, Russell Posner, Samantha Jones, Seán Cullen, Vera Farmiga, Zoe Colletti

Director: Guy Nattiv

Rating: R

At the risk of being cliché, I'm going to state that only the French could have made a movie about racial issues and the troubles of youngsters in the suburbs and still make it elegant. I've tried looking for other adjectives, but I couldn't find one that better describes those long takes shot in a moody black and white. But despite the elegance of the footage, the power of the narrative and the acting makes the violence and hate realistic as hell, dragging you into the story and empathizing with the characters until you want to raise your arm and fight for your rights. Aside from this unusual combination of fine art and explicit violence, the most shocking thing about La Haine is how much the issues it addresses still make sense right now, even though the movie was released 20 years ago.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdel Ahmed Ghili, Andrée Damant, Anthony Souter, Benoit Magimel, Bernie Bonvoisin, Choukri Gabteni, Christian Moro, Christophe Rossignon, Cut Killer, Edouard Montoute, Félicité Wouassi, Florent Lavandeira, François Levantal, François Toumarkine, Heloise Rauth, Hubert Koundé, Joseph Momo, Julie Mauduech, Karim Belkhadra, Karin Viard, Laurent Labasse, Marc Duret, Mathieu Kassovitz, Mathilde Vitry, Nabil Ben Mhamed, Olga Abrego, Patrick Médioni, Peter Kassovitz, Philippe Nahon, Rywka Wajsbrot, Saïd Taghmaoui, Sandor Weltmann, Sébastien Tavel, Solo, Souleymane Dicko, Thang-Long, Vincent Cassel, Vincent Lindon, Virginie Montel, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Rating: Not Rated

, 2009

An award-winning American independent Fantasy, Ink has become a sleeper hit worldwide. The film portrays a struggle between the forces of good and evil over the soul of a man and a little girl caught in between. The film's deliriously realized dream sequences make clear that no matter what life throws at you, in the end the path you take is yours to choose, leaving the viewer with the simple message that, yes, there is hope.

Genre: Action, Fantasy

Actor: Christopher Soren Kelly, Eme Ikwuakor, Heath C. Heine, Jason Coviello, Jennifer Batter, Jeremy Make, Jessica Duffy, Marty Lindsey, Quinn Hunchar, Shelby Malone, Troy Garner

Director: Jamin Winans

Rating: Unrated

, 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

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer, François Wertheimer

Director: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda

Rating: 0, Not Rated

When Brian was eight years old he lost five hours of his life to a black out. Now ten years later he is searching for the truth. His search leads him to Neil, a boy who was on his little league team the summer of the blackout. Brian has always believed he was abducted by aliens from the dreams he had with Neil in them. Neil however knows the truth. Neil had just left the small town life and moved to New York. When he comes home for Christmas and meets Brian will he finally tell him the answers he has been looking for? This is the story of one boy who can't remember and a boy who can't forget.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bill Sage, Billy Drago, Brady Corbet, Bruno Alexander, Chase Ellison, Chris Mulkey, David Alan Graf, David Lee Smith, Elisabeth Shue, Gwenne Hudson, Jeffrey Licon, Joan Blair, John Ganun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kelly Kruger, Larry Marko, Lisa Long, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Michelle Trachtenberg, Reedy Gibbs, Richard Riehle, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Zane Huett

Director: Gregg Araki

Rating: NC-17

Running on Empty is a movie that covers many timely themes including capitalism, education, and social class. It tells the story of a family who have to go on the run and hide their true identity for the rest of their lives. Director Sidney Lumet’s light touch on heavy topics gives the movie a tender and intimate atmosphere throughout. Aside from the great script, River Phoenix's performance is definitely one of the biggest highlights of this movie, where he successfully delivers a restrained yet fascinating performance. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch also give a top-notch performance that adds to the movie’s thrill. In short, Running on Empty is the kind of movie that shows there is courage in running away when it's the right thing to do.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Drummond, Angela Pietropinto, Augusta Dabney, Bobo Lewis, Burke Pearson, Christine Lahti, Daniel Dassin, David Margulies, Donna Hanover, Ed Crowley, Elżbieta Czyżewska, Herb Lovelle, Jenny Lumet, Jonas Abry, Judd Hirsch, Justine Johnston, L.M. Kit Carson, Leila Danette, Lynne Thigpen, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Martha Plimpton, Michael Boatman, River Phoenix, Ronnie Gilbert, Sloane Shelton, Steven Hill, William Foeller

Director: Sidney Lumet

Rating: PG-13

Clive Owen stars as a struggling writer who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to work as a croupier at a London casino. His characteristic aloofness, hatred of gambling, and sharp observational skills allow him to remain uncompromised and able to catch any attempt at cheating within his field of vision. But when a savvy professional gambler he shares an attraction with asks him to participate in a heist in an uncompromised way, he’s forced to consider playing the angles. Owen’s coolly detached performance is a marvel, and the depiction of the London casino scene is detailed and gritty, both of which make for compelling British noir.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alex Kingston, Alexander Morton, Barnaby Kay, Clive Owen, David Hamilton, Eddie Osei, Gina McKee, Kate Hardie, Nicholas Ball, Nick Reding, Ozzie Yue, Paul Reynolds, Rhona Mitra, Sheila Whitfield

Director: Mike Hodges

Rating: Unrated

13 Tzameti is a unique suspense movie from Georgia and the debut of director Géla Babluani. This film explores the life of a migrant worker from Georgia working in France, who literally gambles his life in a high stakes game of chance organized by powerful criminals.  13 Tzameti won the World Cinema Jury Prize at Sundance in 2008, and of course, a not nearly as good American remake. Do yourself a favor and check out the original!

Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Augustin Legrand, Aurélien Recoing, Bruno Davézé, Christophe Vandevelde, Didier Ferrari, Fred Ulysse, George Babluani, Jo Prestia, Nicolas Pignon, Olga Legrand, Pascal Bongard, Vania Vilers

Director: Géla Babluani

Rating: Not Rated

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Adam Kosh, Alexandre St-Martin, Alexis Lefebvre, Cynthia Wu-Maheux, Dawn Ford, Emmanuelle Girard, Eugénie Beaudry, Ève Duranceau, Eve Gadouas, Evelyne Brochu, Francesca Barcenas, François-Xavier Dufour, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Jonathan Dubsky, Josée Lacombe, Julien Maranda, Karine Vanasse, Larissa Corriveau, Lily Thibeault, Louise Proulx, Manon Lapointe, Marc Gourdeau, Marc-André Brisebois, Marie-Évelyne Baribeau, Martin Watier, Mathieu Ledoux, Maxim Gaudette, Mireille Brullemans, Natalie Hamel-Roy, Nathalie Girard, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Robert Reynaert, Sébastien Huberdeau, Sophie Desmarais, Stéphane Julien, Valerie Cadieux

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: Not Rated

A young Steve Buscemi leads this wry farce about a calamitous film set where nothing goes right. The sardonic script skewers the ins and outs of low budget film production and the various personalities on set from belligerent directors, pretentious cinematographers, and egotistic actors. 

A playful three-act structure and trips into dream sequences keep things light, while a strong supporting cast, including a cheeky appearance by Peter Dinklage and the fantastic Catherine Keener, gives the film the backbone it needs. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Catherine Keener, Danielle von Zerneck, Dermot Mulroney, Hilary Gilford, James Le Gros, Kevin Corrigan, Lori Tan Chinn, Matthew Grace, Norman Fields, Peter Dinklage, Rica Martens, Robert Wightman, Steve Buscemi, Tom Jarmusch

Director: Tom DiCillo

Rating: R

, 2011

This coming-of-age drama is about John McGill, a brilliant student with a promising future who becomes a thug. More specifically, he becomes a Ned: a Non-Educated Delinquent, a derogatory term applied to small-time criminals in Scotland.

His story takes place in 1970s Glasgow. A lot pushes John to make this transition: bad parenting, bullying and an early brush with crime life through his older brother. Directed by and starring Peter Mullan (Trainspotting, Westworld).

Genre: Drama

Actor: Conor McCarron, David McKay, Douglas Russell, Gary Hollywood, Gary Lewis, Greg Forrest, Joe Szula, Marcus Nash, Marianna Palka, Martin Bell, Mhairi Anderson, Peter Mullan, Richard Mack, Stephen McCole, Steven Robertson

Director: Peter Mullan

Rating: TV-MA

An electrifying portrayal of a girl growing up in a poor Paris suburb. This coming-of-age story follows Marieme, a girl struggling in high-school who learns that she will be rerouted out of academia and onto a track where she will learn a trade. Frustrated by the news and fearful of an abusive elder brother, she finds solace in a gang of girls from her neighborhood. Initially she decides against joining them but does so at the prospect of pursuing a crush. Her new friends take her into the center of Paris and to a more violent and crime-driven lifestyle. An undeniably grim movie, Girlhood compensates with an amazing character study - themes of identity and adolescent need for belonging are at the center of a type of a story that rarely ever gets any attention.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Assa Sylla, Cyril Mendy, Damien Chapelle, Djibril Gueye, Idrissa Diabaté, Idrissa Diabaté, Karidja Touré, Lindsay Karamoh, Marietou Toure, Nina Mélo, Rabah Nait Oufella, Simina Soumaré, Tia Diagne

Director: Céline Sciamma

Rating: Unrated