21 Movies Like Irreversible (2002)

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Danish films somehow have a unique approach to emotions that are rarely matched and this Susanne Bier-directed drama is no exception. Its protagonist is Jacob Peterson, a driven idealist played by Mads Mikkelsen, who runs a fledgling orphanage in India. Close to giving up, Peterson returns to Copenhagen to meet a billionaire, who is offering to fund his charity project. However, there is a dark secret at the heart of this relationship, throwing Peterson into disarray. This elegant and Academy-Award-nominated Danish film has it all: fantastic cast, great direction, and a few special ingredients that turn a good drama into a thrilling one!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne Fletting, Christian Tafdrup, Claus Flygare, Erni Arneson, Henning Jensen, Henrik Larsen, Ida Dwinger, Jonatan Spang, Julie R. Olgaard, Mads Mikkelsen, Marie-Louise Coninck, Mona Malm, Neel Rønholt, Neeral Mulchandani, Niels Anders Thorn, Rita Angela, Rolf Lassgård, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen, Swini Khara, Tanya Sharma, Thomas Voss, Troels II Munk

Director: Susanne Bier

Rating: R

The atmosphere in Millennium Mambo is magical. The opening scene alone will leave you enchanted, with long walks through a tunnel-like space and dreamy techno music playing in the background. We are misled into thinking that this will be a movie full of colors and dance, and to some degree, this is true, as it portrays Taipei and its neon colors of green, pink, and blue, featuring dance sequences in a bar that serves flashy drinks. But as the movie develops, a chilling shadow is cast as we become entangled in a brutal relationship that is as full of cruelty as it is of love and lust. Narrated from the future, the story shows how the present-day protagonist, Vicky, grapples with her identity as she looks back upon her past self from ten years ago.

Chaotic, messy, but also peppered with moments of serenity and shot with flawless camerawork and cinematography, Millennium Mambo makes time feel fluid, and serves as a reminder that no matter how rough the journey may be, everything is always okay in the end.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chun-hao Tuan, Doze Niu Cheng-Tse, Duan Chun-hao, Jack Kao, Pauline Chan, Pauline Chan Bo-Lin, Qi Shu, Rio Peng, Shu Qi

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hsiao-Hsien Hou

Rating: R

Fasten your seatbelts because this nasty little chase film will jerk the wheel when you least expect it, featuring balls-to-the-wall action and lots of Norwegian humor – dark humor that is. Based on a novel from the country's most famous crime writer, Jo Nesbø, Headhunters is brutal, insane, and incredibly good. This twisting, turning thriller tells the story of a corporate recruiter (Aksel Hennie), who has a secret side hustle as a nightly art thief. He ends up being pursued by the charismatic Clas Greve, a Dutch businessman played by none other than GoT-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. And this plot summary is as far as you will get without the whole thing swerving into another direction. Headhunters does not slow down unless it wants to destabilise you further with simmering suspense. Like a Lars von Trier on speed, expect all the raw colors, emotion, and slightly off-kilter characters you want from a Norwegian production – and brilliant entertainment!

Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aksel Hennie, Baard Owe, Camilla Augusta Hallan, Eivind Sander, Gunnar Skramstad Johnsen, Irina Eidsvold Tøien, Joachim Rafaelsen, Julie R. Ølgaard, Julie R. Olgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Mats Mogeland, Mattis Herman Nyquist, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Nils Jørgen Kaalstad, Nils Jorgen Kaalstad, Reidar Sørensen, Reidar Sorensen, Signe Tynning, Sondre Abel, Synnøve Macody Lund, Synnøve Macody Lund, Valentina Alexeeva

Director: Morten Tyldum

Rating: R

This is an amazing documentary but be warned, the main character has some weird characteristics.

By coincidence, an art collector stumbles upon an undiscovered collection of sculptures and paintings that can only be described as the work of a genius. There was almost no reference to the artist, but upon research the collector finds that they are by a man called Stanislav Szukalski. He traces him down and finally locates him living anonymously in a California suburb. 

The documentary, Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski, is a collection of tapes from numerous interviews in the 1980s between the collector and Szukalski. He was helped by George DiCaprio, who would later produce this movie with his son Leonardo (!). 

In these interviews it becomes clear that Szukalski is pure genius. The funny thing is that he seemed to be well aware of this fact himself. 

Remember the weird characteristics I mentioned in that first sentence? Here we go. Szukalski’s past is full of a lot of antisemitism, sexism and bigotry. 

The question that lingers is how exactly can this forgotten-genius story be reshaped by the discovery of his twisted opinions. Can the artist be separated from the art? It’s a personal matter for the people who found Szukalski and later made this movie. It might never get as personal for you, but this movie will sure try to provoke an answer.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adam Jones, Charles Schneider, Gabriel Bartalos, George DiCaprio, Glenn Bray, James Kagel, Nick Tate, Rebecca Forstadt, Robert Williams, Stanislav Szukalski, Suzanne Williams, Timothy Snyder

Director: Irek Dobrowolski, Ireneusz Dobrowolski

Rating: TV-MA

, 2021

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Michelle N. Carter, Reed Birney

Director: Fran Kranz

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins, Greg Schmitt, Jeanine Jackson, John Breen, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, M. Blash, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Michelle Williams, Roger D. Faires, Tanya Smith, Wally Dalton, Will Oldham, Will Patton

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: R

Dogtooth is a bonkers tale about three teenagers who live an isolated life on their family’s estate due to strict rules set by totalitarian parents. Their vocabulary is limited and their perception of the world is strange. They’re taught that cats are bloodthirsty monsters, that disobedience is grounds for horrific punishment, and that the world outside the house will kill them.

Equal parts bizarrely funny and disturbingly terrifying, director Yorgos Lanthimos pulls no punches with this fascinating examination of authoritarianism. As usual with his actors, they are directed to deliver lines in a matter-of-fact, often even deadpan manner, making the escalating lies and deceptions more and more unsettling as the film goes on. Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography also places the twisted tale in a home that has a somewhat dreamlike beauty.

Those who enjoy dark, comical situations told with dry humor will be amused by Dogtooth. Those who enjoy stories that quietly build up to gruesome conclusions will also be amused by Dogtooth. It takes a unique mind to depict nameless children being subjugated and stripped of the fundamentals of conceptualization in an isolated world, and treat it as an absurdist comedy rather than a flat-out horror film. Lanthimos does it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexander Voulgaris, Angeliki Papoulia, Anna Kalaitzidou, Christos Stergioglou, Hristos Passalis, Mary Tsoni, Michele Valley, Sissi Petropoulou, Steve Krikris

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

A nostalgic look at '90s Belarus brings to bear a sharp generational divide. Evalina is a young DJ living in Minsk with her mother, but dreaming of Chicago, the birthplace of House music. Her attempts to gain a US visa land her in a small factory town, where the tensions between her modern lifestyle and old-time traditions boil over.

This promising debut from director Darya Zhuk features a mesmerizing palette of saturated colors and some striking shots calling to mind the work of Douglas Sirk, a star-making turn from lead actress Alina Nasibullina, and a dry wit that keeps the film lithe. At times, the somewhat heavy-handed script gets in the way, but Zhuk’s vivacious filmmaking is a pleasure.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alina Nasibullina, Anatasiya Garvey, Artem Kuren, Ivan Mulin, Yuriy Borisov

Director: Darya Zhuk

, 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

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

Filmed in Paul Greengrass' signature documentary style, Bloody Sunday captures one of the worst tragedies in Northern Ireland's recent history with stunning attention to detail and a single-minded focus that most thrillers only dream of having. But this film doesn't dress up its violence with Hollywood flashiness or contrived suspense. Everything is presented in a matter-of-fact way (and over the course of just one day), emphasizing how unjust the balance of power was between the Irish citizens and the British Army. It's a remarkably realistic reenactment that should inspire plenty of angry tears, having already made a mark by winning the prestigious Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Allan Gildea, Carmel McCallion, Christopher Villiers, David Clayton Rogers, David Pearse, Gerard Crossan, Gerard McSorley, James Hewitt, James Nesbitt, Kathy Kiera Clarke, Mary Moulds, Nicholas Farrell, Tim Pigott-Smith

Director: Paul Greengrass

It would be understandable if it only occurs to you midway through that Little Girl isn't actually a narrative feature but a gorgeously made documentary. Director Sébastien Lifshitz approaches his main character of Sasha not just with respect and empathy for her identity, but with a dedication to bring out the euphoria of feeling comfortable in one's skin. As a result, Lifshitz seems to intentionally avoid any and all scenes where Sasha may face discrimination (especially at school), but even if this choice occasionally make the material feel thin, getting to see Sasha gradually learning to express herself more—or even just just seeing her enjoy a quiet moment on her own—is more precious than anything.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Sébastien Lifshitz

This Mexican movie set between Queens, New York, and Monterrey, Mexico is a stunning and profound work of art.

Ulises is the leader of a street dancing group that loves Cumbia, an Afro-Colombian style of music. Dancing is an alternative to being sucked in into gang life, which Ulises and his bandmates have ties to.

Ulises is good, and his town starts noticing. But just when his community is flourishing and his dancing is becoming famous, a wrong-time/wrong-place situation has a gang force him to leave everything behind and immigrate to the U.S. He suddenly finds himself lonely and living a life of undocumented existence.

But that is not the progression of I’m no Longer Here, which intertwines scenes of Ulises thriving in Monterrey and alone in New York. The difference is stark and depressing, but the camerawork and great performances are a constant source of cinematic brilliance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Fanny Tovar, Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño, Luis Leonardo Zapata, Xueming Angelina Chen

Director: Fernando Frias, Luis Fernando Frías de la Parra

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, Fred Ulysse, George Babluani, Jo Prestia, Olga Legrand, Pascal Bongard, Vania Vilers

Director: Géla Babluani

Rating: Not Rated