15 Movies Like Emma. (2020)

Staff & contributors
Many things clash in this beautifully layered, semi-autobiographical film of American director Lulu Wang: cultures, morals, and emotions. The result is a type of comedy that is complex and bittersweet⁠—and based on a true lie: this is the story of a Chinese grandma whose family won't tell her that she is fatally ill. Instead, they organize a fake wedding in China, where everyone gets together to bid a farewell to the unwitting matriarch (played by Zhao Shuzhen). The fake wedding is, in fact, a premature funeral for a person unaware that she is going to die. Played by rapper and comedian Awkwafina, Billi, a New-York-based Chinese-American with a complicated relationship to China, embodies the cultural and moral question at the heart of this story: is it right or wrong not tell grandma? It is thanks to Wang's deft writing and Awkwafina's outstanding performance that The Farewell homes in on answers without ever being melodramatic. Warm, honest, and beautiful.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aoi Mizuhara, Awkwafina, Chen Han, Diana Lin, Gil Perez-Abraham, Hong Lu, Ines Laimins, Jiang Yongbo, Jim Liu, Lu Hong, Shuzhen Zhao, Tzi Ma, X Mayo, Yang Xuejian, Zhang Jing, Zhao Shuzhen

Director: Lulu Wang

Rating: PG

Poland's nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2020 Academy Awards may have lost to Parasite, but director Jan Komasa's film is still utterly compelling. The crazy sounding premise is inspired by true events: after having had a transformative experience in jail, an ex-convict, played by the wiry, blue-eyed Bartosz Bielenia, decides he wants to become a priest. When he is told that his criminal history prohibits it, he goes down the path that got him into trouble in the first place and just pretends he is. Apparently, he does so quite convincingly—and serves the community well, which is collectively grieving for the victims of a tragic accident. For all his charisma, there's no way not to root for the crooked clergyman conning his way to the top. The complex character at the heart of Corpus Christi is refreshing and three-dimensional, and the smart writing of the film excels at exploring they grey areas of truth and religion. The ending, too, circumvents the soppy and the melodramatic. Thought-provoking European drama.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Łukasz Simlat, Aleksandra Konieczna, Anna Biernacik, Barbara Jonak, Barbara Kurzaj, Bartosz Bielenia, Eliza Rycembel, Jakub Sierenberg, Juliusz Chrząstowski, Leszek Lichota, Lidia Bogacz, Lidia Bogaczówna, Łukasz Simlat, Tomasz Ziętek, Tomasz Ziętek, Zdzisław Wardejn, Zdzisław Wardejn, Томаш Зитек

Director: Jan Komasa

Georgian dance has cut-throat competition: the art form is dying even within Gerogia, and to make it, dancers compete to join the one duo that represents the country. The chance finally comes and the spot opens up, igniting the hopes of performers from around the country. Mervan is one of them, a young dancer from a poor background who takes food from his restaurant job to feed his family. His main competition is a newcomer, Irakli, who also comes from a difficult background and hopes to secure the spot to provide for his ill father.

When their lives hang on them competing against one another, Mervan and Irakli fall for each other.

And Then We Danced is full of incredible dance sequences that add to the beauty of the romance at its center; but it's also a heartbreaking exploration of unfulfilled ambition.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aleko Begalishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Bachi Valishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli, Mate Khidasheli, Ninutsa Gabisonia, Tamar Bukhnikashvili

Director: Levan Akin

Rating: 12

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović, Dražen Pavlović, Emina Muftić, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Ermin Bravo, Ermin Sijamija, Izudin Bajrović, Jasna Đuričić, Job Raaijmakers, Joes Brauers, Johan Heldenbergh, Juda Goslinga, Micha Hulshof, Raymond Thiry, Reinout Bussemaker, Rijad Gvozden, Sanne den Hartogh, Sol Vinken, Teun Luijkx

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

On their drive back from a Tinder date that was only average, a couple are pulled over by a racist police officer. Things escalate unexpectedly and the couple, one of whom is a lawyer aware of the corruptedness of the system, start a life on the run together. This thrilling set-up mixing social commentary and romance is a movie that's actually many movies in one. And almost as if to cut in-between the different tonalities, there are so many quiet and beautiful shots of the couple: silent, still or dancing - these moments are true cinematic magic. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Andre De'Sean Shanks, Andy Dylan, Benito Martinez, Bokeem Woodbine, Brian Thornton, Bryant Tardy, Chloe Sevigny, Colby Boothman-Shepard, D.A. Obahor, Daniel Kaluuya, Dickson Obahor, Flea, Gayle King, Gralen Bryant Banks, Indya Moore, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Jodie Turner-Smith, Joseph Poliquin, Karen Kaia Livers, Lucky Johnson, Melanie Halfkenny, Reynolds Washam, Robert Walker Branchaud, Soledad O'Brien, Sturgill Simpson, Thom Gossom Jr.

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Rating: R

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, Fernando Ceylão, 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

, 2020

This intimate and personal film is about Sibil Fox Rich, an entrepreneur and mother of six. Fox is driven by an unparalleled, contagious determination to succeed — so present in the mix of video diaries and present-day footage of her in Time.

For the past 20 years, Rich has channeled that tenacity towards the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence.

Through the video diaries and family footage, Time feels almost too personal. It’s like stepping into a person’s most intimate moments for 81 minutes, with all their ups and downs.

It could be seen as a commentary on the deeply flawed American justice system, but at its core Time is an uplifting portrayal of resilience, true, long-lasting love (she and her husband were high-school sweethearts), and boundless hope.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fox Rich, Freedom Rich, Laurence M. Rich, Rob Rich II

Director: Garrett Bradley

Rating: PG-13

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Freeman, Camille Paglia, Cheryl Clarke, Cheryl Dunye, David Rakoff, Guinevere Turner, Irene Dunye, Lisa Marie Bronson, Sarah Schulman

Director: Cheryl Dunye

Florence Pugh broke through with her powerhouse performance here as Katherine, a young woman who is “sold” into a coldly transactional marriage with a cruel and impotent merchant in 1800s Northern England. Lady Macbeth seems to begin as one thing — a gloomy period tale of oppression and feminist rebellion — but, on the strength of Pugh’s performance, pivots into an even bleaker subversion of that initial impression, the kind we haven’t really seen before.

When her disinterested husband takes a long leave of absence to tend to some business affairs, Katherine does more than just defy his command that she stay indoors: she begins an unabashed affair with one of her husband’s gruff groomsmen (Cosmo Jarvis), who ignites in her an obsessive passion that brings out her dark side. She’ll stop at nothing to remove any obstacles in the couple’s way — but, while her initial targets are arguably quite deserving of their fate, her scheme soon implicates the innocent. The creeping revelation that all the cruelty Katherine has been subjected to has brutalized her in turn comes as a shock, but this dramatic overturning of our expectations is made chillingly real by Pugh’s fierce, unfaltering performance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bill Fellows, Christopher Fairbank, Cliff Burnett, Cosmo Jarvis, David Kirkbride, Finn Burridge, Florence Pugh, Golda Rosheuvel, Ian Conningham, Kema Sikazwe, Naomi Ackie, Nicholas Lumley, Paul Hilton, Rebecca Manley

Director: William Oldroyd

Rating: R

A man returns to a town chasing the memory of a woman he loved years ago.

Poet turned filmmaker Bi Gan coats his idiosyncratic filmmaking with a thick layer of neo-noir in this sumptuous follow up to his remarkable debut Kaili Blues. This time around, Kaili City is a neon-drenched dreamscape dripping in style and calling to mind the work of Tarkovsky and Wong Kar-wai. 

He may wear his influences on his sleeve, but Bi Gan keeps his trademark moves like the bravado long takes and a poetic disregard for past and present, reality and dreams. This leads to an explosive and unforgettable sequence in the second half that while originally intended for 3D loses little of its mind-bending power when watched at home.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bi Gan, Bi Yanmin, Chen Yongzhong, Chloe Maayan, Duan Chun-hao, Feiyang Luo, Hong-Chi Lee, Huang Jue, Jue Huang, Lee Hong-chi, Ming Dao, Qi Xi, Sylvia Chang, Tang Wei, Tuan Chun-hao, Zeng Meihuizi, 张艾嘉

Director: Bi Gan

Rating: Not Rated

Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano star in this true story of a big academic corruption case. Hugh Jackman is (of course) excellent as a successful and dedicated superintendent with a complicated personal life. However, when a curious student with the school journal starts digging around in a project he promotes, she uncovers what will become the largest public school embezzlement in the history of the U.S. 

The performances stretch the story to its full potential, as this movie would be nothing without its incredible cast. It should be watched for the acting. Eventually, it suffers from a problem common to all movies based on newspaper articles: the story can be told in a single article.

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, TV Movie

Actor: Alex Wolff, Allison Janney, Annaleigh Ashford, Brent Langdon, Brian Sgambati, Catherine Curtin, Darlene Violette, Dina Pearlman, Doris McCarthy, Finnerty Steeves, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gino Cafarelli, Giuseppe Ardizzone, Halle Curley, Hari Dhillon, Hugh Jackman, Jeremy Shamos, Jimmy Tatro, John Scurti, Jorge Chapa, Justin Swain, Kathrine Narducci, Kayli Carter, Larry Romano, Natasha Goss, Pat Healy, Peter Appel, Rafael Casal, Ray Abruzzo, Ray Romano, Rene Ojeda, Robert 'Toshi' Kar Yuen Chan, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Stephen Spinella, Steve Routman, Victor Verhaeghe, Welker White, Will Meyers

Director: Cory Finley

Rating: TV-MA

Better Days tells the story of Chen Nian, a quiet girl who starts experiencing bullying at her school after her classmate commits suicide for the same reason. But soon, she meets Xiao Bei, a teenage street thug who offers her protection. What starts as a melodramatic story at first becomes a gentle romance. 

Still, Better Days is focused on the psychological aspect of the characters, and how they manage pressure. It's a reminder of the inevitable harshness of reality: dealing with poverty, bullying, and dirty competition. But, in showing the bitter aspects of life, it also shows that there are still those who care and that those who are meant to meet will always find each other.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bozhan Ju, Gao Xuanming, He Jian Yi, Heliao Lüyun, Huang Jue, Jackson Yee, Wu Yue, Xie Xintong, Yin Fang, Zhang Xin Yi, Zhang Xinyi, Zhang Yao, Zhang Yifan, Zhao Runnan, Zhou Dongyu, Zhou Ye, 吴越

Director: Derek Tsang, Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung

Rating: 0

This difficult movie is about a seventeen-year-old from the U.S. underclass who has to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Autumn is creative, reserved, and quiet, but those are not qualities that her environment in rural Pennsylvania seems to value. On the opposite, she is surrounded by threats, including disturbing step-father and boss characters. 

Dangers escalate as Autumn decides to travel to New York to have an abortion. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is about unplanned pregnancies as much as it is about just how dangerous it is to be a teenage girl living in America.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amy Tribbey, Brian Altemus, Carolina Espiro, Christian Clements, David Buneta, Denise Pillott, Drew Seltzer, Eliazar Jimenez, Lizbeth MacKay, Mia Dillon, Ryan Eggold, Salem Murphy, Sam Dugger, Sharon Van Etten, Sidney Flanigan, Sipiwe Moyo, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Théodore Pellerin

Director: Eliza Hittman

Rating: PG-13

Based on the novel of the same name, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is as comforting as the title suggests. It's a pleasure to meet the society—getting to know each character feels like getting to know some welcoming neighbors. Despite their trauma from the German occupation of the British island, these club members remain their bookish albeit secretive selves. Lily James is just doe-eyed and charming enough to make us care about the book club, the same way her character Juliet does. The streamlined plot still keeps the intrigue and comfort of the original novel. And while its romance doesn’t quite take off, the real gem of the film is the earnest assertion that family can be best found in terrible times.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Alexa Povah, Andy Gathergood, Bernice Stegers, Bronagh Gallagher, Clive Merrison, Dilyana Bouklieva, Florence Keen, Glen Powell, Gregory Mann, Jack Morris, Jessica Brown Findlay, Joanna Hole, Katherine Parkinson, Kit Connor, Lily James, Marek Oravec, Matthew Goode, Michiel Huisman, Mike Newell, Nicolo Pasetti, Penelope Wilton, Philip Ridout, Pippa Rathborne, Richard Derrington, Stephanie Schonfield, Steve Morphew, Tom Courtenay, Tom Owen

Director: Mike Newell

Rating: TV-14

The movie follows Martha (Vanessa Kirby), a young wife who loses her baby in a failed home birth. She tries her best to trudge through the aftermath of loss, but her coping attempts prove to be near impossible, not least because her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and mother Liz (Ellen Burstyn) continually domineer every aspect of her life.

Pieces of a Woman is harrowing and heartbreaking, with the actors giving their all in this realistic and revealing drama. But it's Kirby's performance as the unraveled yet apathetic Martha that is the film's immediate standout, rightfully earning her a Best Actress nomination at the 2021 Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alain Dahan, Benny Safdie, Domenic Di Rosa, Ellen Burstyn, Frank Schorpion, Gayle Garfinkle, Harry Standjofski, Harry Strandjofski, Iliza Shlesinger, Jimmie Fails, Leisa Reid, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Sean Tucker, Shia LaBeouf, Steven McCarthy, Tyrone Benskin, Vanessa Kirby, Vanessa Smythe

Director: Kornél Mundruczó, Kornél Mundruczó

Rating: R