18 Movies Like Lightyear (2022)

Staff & contributors
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

, 2022

Vortex, Gaspar Noé’s haunting exploration of death and dementia, begins with a dedication: “to all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts.” The statement sets the heartwrenching tone of the film, which follows an elderly couple—one with dementia and the other with a heart ailment—during their last days together. Noé cleverly depicts all this in a split-screen design, which evokes the fractured pattern of old-age thought. 

Noé’s mother struggled with dementia, and Noé’ himself suffered from a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him, so Vortex is clearly a personal film. But even without knowing this, Vortex feels effortlessly dear and deeply intimate, like it could've only been done by a person with a first-hand experience of this tragedy. At once personal and universal, Vortex is a haunting and inventive ode to love, death, and everything in between.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Lutz, Corinne Bruand, Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun, Jean-Baptiste Thoret, Nathalie Roubaud, Stephane Derderian

Director: Gaspar Noé

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Herbie Mann, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Tony Lawrence, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

This slow-burning drama is set in an Indigenous reservation in South Dakota, where Johnny is a teenager who dreams of moving to L.A. with his girlfriend. He would have to leave behind his little sister, who is just grappling with the recent loss of their father. 

Director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland) worked with amateur actors whose lives mirror the characters, often adapting the script to the actors' stories. She filmed 100 hours of footage that she then distilled into an hour and a half. 

The result is a film shot from the outside but which is grounded in local stories. And these stories are rough, sad, complex - but so important to listen to and understand. It's an incredible feat to make an observational film that's so grounded in reality - only a genius could: that's Chloé Zhao, and this mature work is -somehow- her first feature film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Derrick Janis, Eléonore Hendricks, Irene Bedard, Jashaun St. John

Director: Chloé Zhao

Rating: Not Rated

As a crime thriller, Holy Spider is taut and terrifying, a modern noir that manages to unnerve despite the familiar moves it employs. The cat and mouse chase between serial killer and investigative reporter, for instance, is a classic tale, but that doesn’t make Holy Spider any less gripping. The film benefits from artful camerawork, considered acting (as the daring journalist Rahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi nabbed the Best Actress award at Cannes), and most of all a nuanced take on the situation in Iran. 

Despite having a clear stance against violence and corruption, nothing in Holy Spider is black and white. Contradictions abound, and even when presented with brief moments of justice, we’re left scratching our heads looking for more. Such is the case when the system, and not just an individual, is the true pest. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Ariane Naziri, Majd Eid, Mehdi Bajestani, Nima Akbarpour, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Zar Amir Ebrahimi

Director: Ali Abbasi

, 2017

With its detailed portraits of seven of Istanbul’s most adored felines, Kedi affirms what anyone who’s spent some time with a cat will know: they really do all have fully-fledged, complex personalities of their own. More than just a celebration of some supremely cute kitties, though, this documentary about the city’s teeming street cat population also presents a moving example of a way of living that embraces — rather than tramples over — our animal neighbors.

Immersive cinematography from the cats’ eye levels is weaved with interviews with the people who care for them, whether voluntarily or because the cats simply demand it. That independence emerges as a much-admired characteristic in the documentary; as one interviewee puts it, “Dogs think people are God, but cats don’t. They’re not ungrateful, they just know better.” It’s impossible not to read a wistful note in the interviewees’ odes — indeed, for many of the people featured here, cats are a point of spiritual and personal reconnection, a reminder of what life is really about underneath all the mind-numbing dross we’ve made up. The magic of Kedi is that it not only perceptively recognizes the healing effect that cats have on humans, but recreates it so that these 70-something minutes feel like therapy.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bülent Üstün

Director: Ceyda Torun

Rating: NR

In 1961, Francisco de Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen from London’s National Gallery, but the theft was no slick heist pulled off by international art thieves. No, the improbable culprit was (the improbably named) Kempton Bunton, a retired bus driver and aspiring playwright who pinched the painting — which the gallery had recently acquired for £140,000 of UK taxpayers’ money — as a Robin Hood-esque “attempt to pick the pockets of those who love art more than charity.” The principled Bunton (played here by Jim Broadbent) was, at the time, waging a one-man campaign to convince the government to grant pensioners and veterans free TV licenses, and the Goya theft was his way of publicizing those efforts. It was an eccentric plan, but Broadbent leans fully into his status as a UK national treasure here, making oddball Bunton a deeply sympathetic and warm figure because of (not despite) those quirks. Thanks to his performance — and the note-perfect direction of the late, great Roger Michell — a quirky footnote of history becomes a sweet, unexpectedly moving story about solidarity and the power of the underdog.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Aimee Kelly, Andrew Havill, Anna Maxwell Martin, Charlotte Spencer, Cliff Burnett, Craig Conway, Darren Charman, Dorian Lough, Fionn Whitehead, Heather Craney, Helen Mirren, Jack Bandeira, James Wilby, Jim Broadbent, John Heffernan, Joshua McGuire, Matthew Goode, Michael Hodgson, Richard McCabe, Sam Swainsbury, Sarah Beck Mather, Sian Clifford, Stephen Rashbrook, Val McLane, Will Graham

Director: Roger Michell

Rating: R

Spike Lee’s semi-autobiographical film is a loving and nostalgic ode to the Brooklyn of his childhood. It also happens to be his sweetest work and while overshadowed by the explosive Do The Right Thing, remains an easy contender for one of his very best. The world of Crooklyn is told through the eyes of Troy, a young girl growing up with her four brothers, and her mother and father in a cramped brownstone. 

Lee’s Brooklyn is a colorful delight set aloft by a swooning soul soundtrack. His ability to capture the vibrant magical tones and textures of the city feels as complete as ever, and marvelous performances from Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo as Troy’s parents help create a touching and all-encompassing experience. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfre Woodard, Arthur French, Bokeem Woodbine, Carlton Williams, Carmen Tillery, Christopher Knowings, Christopher Wynkoop, Dan Grimaldi, Danielle K. Thomas, David Patrick Kelly, Delroy Lindo, Frances Foster, Gary Perez, Hector M. Ricci Jr., Isaiah Washington, Ivelka Reyes, Joie Lee, José Zúñiga, Keith Johnson, Manny Perez, Maurie A. Chandler, Michele Shay, Mildred Clinton, Norman Matlock, Omar Scroggins, Peewee Love, Rene Ojeda, Richard Whiten, RuPaul, Sharif Rashed, Spike Lee, Tracy Vilar, Tse-Mach Washington, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Zelda Harris

Director: Spike Lee

A 40 minute, often jaw-dropping movie about an innocent man accused of killing a teenage girl and the attempt to clear him from the murder. The man in question is Juan Catalan, a young father of two who had had a fair share of interactions with the law. His brother had recently been convicted for another murder case, and the witness to his brother's trial was the girl that Juan Catalan would be accused of killing. The fight to prove that he is innocent goes through different phases, one of which amazingly includes Curb Your Enthusiasm and Larry David himself. It's a crazy story told in a very straightforward manner. Don't expect the impact of Making a Murder or anything like that - but if you're in it for the story, you will not be disappointed.

Genre: Crime, Documentary

Actor: Jacob LaMendola, Juan Catalan, Juan Rodríguez, Kym Whitley, Larry David, Melissa Catalan, Miguel Catalan, Tasha Boggs, Tim Gibbons, Todd Melnik

Director: Jacob LaMendola

Rating: TV-14

Written and directed by the film’s star, Albert Brooks, Defending Your Life imagines an afterlife in which purgatory is a courtroom, and whether you’ll be saved or damned is judged based on the life you led on Earth.

Did you live courageously, or did you live fearfully? Were you ashamed, meek, afraid of being vulnerable? Or did you risk some tender part of yourself in order to connect with others, to meaningfully impact another life?

Daniel Miller (Brooks) discovers he may not have lived as boldly as he assumed. In the afterlife and awaiting his day in afterlife court, he meets Julia (Meryl Streep, in what is possibly one of her most captivating roles), who is kind and thoughtful and a capital-G Good person. Of course, it’s only after dying that Daniel tunes in to the great possibility of a life not lived on autopilot. But is he too late to atone for his unexamined life—or is there time yet for a second chance?

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Alex Sheafe, Arell Blanton, Art Frankel, Bob Braun, Buck Henry, Cathleen Chin, Clarke Coleman, Clayton Norcross, Clifford Einstein, David Purdham, Ernie Brown, Ethan Embry, Gary Ballard, Gary Beach, George D. Wallace, George Wallace, Glen Chin, Greg Finley, Hal Landon Jr., Ida Lee, James Eckhouse, James Paradise, Jennifer Barlow, Jennifer Barlow Grodsky, Jerry Prell, Jim McKrell, Joey Miyashima, Julie Cobb, Ken Thorley, Kristopher Kent Hill, Lee Grant, Leonard O. Turner, Lillian Lehman, Marilyn Rockafellow, Mary Pat Gleason, Maxine Elliott Hicks, Meryl Streep, Michael Durrell, Newell Alexander, Noley Thornton, Nurit Koppel, Peter Schuck, Rachel Bard, Raffi Di Blasio, Rip Torn, Roger Behr, Ronald L. Colby, S. Scott Bullock, Sage Allen, Shirley MacLaine, Sidney Chankin, Susan Walters, Time Winters, Wil Albert

Director: Albert Brooks

Romantically pairing up AI with humans is hardly new, and I'm Your Man is aware of that. Instead of spending way too much time explaining the advanced tech that makes the perfect mate possible, the movie zeroes in on its charismatic leads Tom the robot (Dan Stevens) and Alma the indifferent academic (Maren Eggert). Tom is the curious, humanoid automaton who is designed to worship Alma, and Alma is the disillusioned human who is conflicted with the authenticity of her growing feelings for Tom. I'm Your Man is smart and empathetic enough to stay afloat amidst its swirling genres and ethical dilemmas, but it is mostly the chemistry between Tom and Alma that anchors it to the love story that it actually is. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Annika Meier, Christoph Glaubacker, Dan Stevens, Falilou Seck, Hans Löw, Henriette Richter-Röhl, Inga Busch, Jürgen Tarrach, Karolin Oesterling, Maren Eggert, Mignon Remé, Monika Oschek, Sandra Hüller, Sebastian Schwarz, Victor Pape-Thies, Wolfgang Hübsch

Director: Maria Schrader

Rating: R

Adam Sandler rarely plays a role straight, but when he does, you know it’s good. In Hustle, Sandler is Stanley Sugarman, a basketball scout stuck in the long game, waiting for his chance to finally coach an NBA team. On a recruitment trip to Spain, Stan discovers a talented but unknown player named Bo Cruz. They fly to the US, where Stan and Bo fight against all odds and hustle for a spot in the NBA draft. 

Inspiring without being too cheesy and informative without being bogged down by too many details, Hustle is a slam dunk of a film; a gritty crowd-pleaser that’s sure to draw anyone in.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Sandler, Ainhoa Pillet, Allen Iverson, Andrea Sooch, Anthony Edwards, Beanie Sigel, Ben Foster, Boban Marjanović, Charles Barkley, Dan Patrick, Dirk Nowitzki, Evan Rosado, Fat Joe, Freeway, Gina Jun, Glenn 'Doc' Rivers, Grayson Boucher, Heidi Gardner, Ivica Marc, Jaleel White, James Goldstein, Jon Collin Barclay, Jordan Hull, Joseph Vecsey, Juancho Hernangómez, Julius Erving, Kenny Smith, Lyman Chen, María Botto, Mark Cuban, Mark Jackson, Moritz Wagner, Oliver Morton, Olivia Daniels, Oscar Pavlo, Pat Croce, Peter Linari, Peter Vecsey, Queen Latifah, Raúl Castillo, Robert Duvall, Samuel Muriithi, Shaquille O'Neal, Sunny Sandler, Thaddeus Daniels, Tierra Whack, Toonyun, William Franke

Director: Jeremiah Zagar

Rating: R

Narrated by the familiar voice of Jack Black, Apollo 10 ½ is a throwback story told with admirable specificity and imagination. Black plays a grown-up Stan, who looks back on his younger years with a mix of fondness and wonder: how did they get away with the things they did then? American suburbia in the 1960s was both loose and conservative, caught between a generation holding on to the reins of the earlier century and one eager to launch into the next. 

Stan, as the youngest child of a big, rowdy family, gives us a charming look into the times, as well as a projection of his own fascination: Apollo 11 and the space age. He inserts himself in this monumental narrative and generously brings us along in his fantasy. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Stan’s recruitment by NASA is actually fact or fiction, but that’s part of the fun, especially since Stan himself doesn’t seem to mind at all.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, History, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Bill Wise, Brent A. Riggs, Brian Villalobos, Buzz Aldrin, Christian Moran, David DeLao, Glen Powell, Holt Boggs, Jack Black, Janis Joplin, Jennifer Griffin, Jessica Brynn Cohen, John F. Kennedy, John Kaler, Josh Wiggins, Keslee Blalock, Larry Jack Dotson, Lee Eddy, Milo Coy, Mona Lee Fultz, Natalie L'Amoreaux, Neil Armstrong, Nick Stevenson, Richard Nixon, Samuel Davis, Walter Cronkite, Zachary Levi

Director: Richard Linklater

Rating: PG-13

The Sea Beast tells the story of Jacob, a legendary sea monster hunter, and Maisie, a wannabe monster hunter herself. When a dangerous encounter isolates them from the rest of the crew, they’re forced to team up and reconcile their opposing beliefs—Maisie believes there’s good in the beasts, but Jacob has yet to be convinced.

Action-packed, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining, The Sea Beast is a perfect weekend watch. The part-Moana, part-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean tale also has the added bonus of being age-appropriate (rated PG), making it suitable for those spending their precious movie time with kids.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Kids

Actor: Alex Wyndham, Benjamin Plessala, Brian T. Delaney, Dan Stevens, David S. Lee, Davis Pak, Doon Mackichan, Emily O'Brien, Helen Sadler, Ian Mercer, Jared Harris, Jim Carter, Karl Urban, Kathy Burke, Kaya McLean, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Max Mittelman, Paul Chowdhry, Rajia Baroudi, Shannon Chan-Kent, Somali Rose, Xana Tang, Zaris-Angel Hator

Director: Chris Williams

Rating: PG

With a forest home destroyed, leaving an adorable cat spirit child displaced, The Legend of Hei seemed like a Studio Ghibli-esque tale, at least in themes, child protagonist, and fantasy flying. There’s charming moments where Hei appreciates the day-to-day– moments where he diligently learns his powers, enjoys the simple human pleasures present in the modern world, and of course, feels at home in the stunning natural spirit places. However, it’s not quite Ghibli as there are plenty of wuxia-inspired fight scenes, with as many flying kicks involved. That being said, there is a pro-peace message here, that at face value, is probably a good message for children, but this film’s peace comes without clear details about Hei’s displacement, or the general condition of the spirit world at large. The Legend of Hei’s charming animation is lovely, but this push for peace could have been more meaningful if it also considered justice.

Genre: Action, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Ding Dang, Hao Xianghai, Li Lu, Liu Mingyue, Shan Xin, Sheng Feng, Wang Youji, Yang Ning, Yeqiao Yan, Yuntu Cao

Director: MTJJ, Mtjj Mutou

Rating: PG