9 Movies Like Man on Fire (2004)

Staff & contributors

There’s a vein of reality running through He Got Game that gives this Spike Lee joint a sense of pulsating immediacy. For one, the young basketball prodigy at its center is played by real-life pro Ray Allen, who shot the movie during the sport’s off-season period in 1997. The film also draws on a host of other ballers and ancillary figures — including coaches and commentators — to fully convince us of the hype around Jesus Shuttlesworth (Allen), a Coney Island high-schooler who’s been crowned America’s top college draft pick.

Lee takes this premise to much more interesting places than sports movies usually go. The plot is a melodrama of sorts, in which Jesus’ incarcerated father Jake (a top-tier Denzel Washington) must convince his son to declare for the governor’s alma mater in exchange for a reduced sentence. The pair are estranged — Jake is in prison for the death of Jesus’ mother — making this as much a tense examination of family and forgiveness as it is a sports movie. And what a sports movie it is: Lee makes his love of basketball not just abundantly clear but also infectious, opening the film on soaring, balletic images of the sport that suggest it’s no mere game, but something unifying, artistic, and ultimately salvatory.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Al Palagonia, Arthur J. Nascarella, Bill Nunn, Bill Walton, Charles Barkley, Chasey Lain, Denzel Washington, Dick Vitale, George Karl, Hill Harper, Jennifer Esposito, Jill Kelly, Jim Boeheim, Jim Brown, John Turturro, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Kim Director, Leonard Roberts, Lonette McKee, Michael Jordan, Milla Jovovich, Ned Beatty, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Rick Fox, Robin Roberts, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ron Cephas Jones, Rosario Dawson, Roy Williams, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Zelda Harris

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R

This is a hard movie to describe, but I’ll do my best without giving too much away. The movie takes place in three separate segments that eventually come together. Half of the story takes place in Germany, half in Turkey, with almost all of the central six characters spending time in both countries while either searching for each other or trying to redeem themselves. Daughters search for their mothers (and vice versa) and one character’s actions will eventually bring everything more-or-less full circle. The film is as much about the characters though as it is about the cultural exchange happening between the two countries. If you have even a passing interest in films from this part of the world, I recommend giving this one a try.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ali Akdeniz, Annette Uhlen, Baki Davrak, Cengiz Daner, Erkan Can, Feridun Koç, Gökhan Kıraç, Gürsoy Gemec, Güven Kiraç, Hanna Schygulla, İdil Üner, Lars Rudolph, Nejat İşler, Nurgül Yeşilçay, Nursel Köse, Önder Çakar, Öznur Kula, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Tuncel Kurtiz, Turgay Tanülkü, Yelda Reynaud

Director: Fatih Akin

Rating: Unrated

The story of Antwone Fisher as told by Denzel Washington (in his directorial debut) may be a bit too straightforward for its own good, but it only proves the strength of his eye and ear for performance. In addition to turning in his own understated yet authoritative performance, Washington gets a powerhouse turn out of Derek Luke, who allows every new revelation about Fisher to strengthen every aspect of his work. What the film gets right about talking about mental health (that other movies get so wrong) is that it knows that providing an explanation for why someone is the way they are shouldn't be a dramatic climax. What Antwone Fisher emphasizes is healing, community, and the dignity of the person working through these issues.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Charles Robinson, Cory Hodges, De'Angelo Wilson, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Earl Billings, Gary A. Jones, James Brolin, Joy Bryant, Kente Scott, Kevin Connolly, Kim Johnson, Leonard Earl Howze, Malcolm David Kelley, Novella Nelson, Rainoldo Gooding, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Stephen Snedden, Sung Kang, Vernee Watson-Johnson, Viola Davis, Yolonda Ross

Director: Denzel Washington

There's an elephant lurking in the room from the outset of Biosphere, in which two men are the last survivors of an apocalypse: how will humanity live on? Best friends Billy (Mark Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown) have only survived thanks to the ingenuity of Ray, who built the glass dome in which they live, insulated from whatever it is that’s keeping the sky perpetually black outside. But the dome’s protective glass increasingly needs patching up, and their last female fish (responsible for the continuation of their food supplies) has just died, setting their clocks ticking.

What happens next — to the remaining male fish and humans — is an astonishing evolution that speaks to the strangeness of nature, which will break its most rigid laws in pursuit of its ultimate goal: furthering the species. Biosphere undergoes a similar metamorphosis: while its zany twist (which we won’t spoil) seems to direct it towards gross-out bro-comedy territory, it transforms, surprisingly, into something more profoundly philosophical. Like the dome, Biosphere’s structure isn’t as solid as it could be — it often meanders — but, with its thoughtful meditations on gender, sexuality, and evolution in all its forms, it’s easy to forgive this quirky indie gem that flaw.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Mark Duplass, Sterling K. Brown

Director: Mel Eslyn

, 1993

Based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Rettinger, this biographical movie follows young Rudy as he pursues his childhood dream of playing football for Notre Dame, despite significant obstacles and copious discouragement from those around him. The movie works not by hitching the action to any major sequences of ball play, but rather to the most remarkable feature of the story: the sheer determination of the title protagonist. The film’s success also largely comes down to a fantastically consistent and earnest performance by Sean Astin, who outshines a very talented supporting cast to the legendary, crowd-stirring end.

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Amy Pietz, Charles S. Dutton, Chelcie Ross, Christopher Erwin, Christopher Reed, David Anspaugh, Deborah Wittenberg, Forest Whitaker, Gerry Becker, Greta Lind, Jason Miller, Jim Broadbent, John Beasley, Jon Favreau, Kevin Duda, Lauren Katz, Lili Taylor, Luke Massery, Mary Ann Thebus, Miranda Richardson, Mitch Rouse, Ned Beatty, Ralph Brown, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Robert Prosky, Ron Dean, Scott Benjaminson, Sean Astin, Stephen Rea, Vince Vaughn

Director: David Anspaugh, Neil Jordan

Rating: PG

A story about inspectors on the Hungarian subway and their struggle to get travelers to pay up. Skinheads with attack dogs, drunks and freaks are the harsh reality of these working-class heroes, who themselves of course are quite the weird bunch. Dark post-soviet humor, refreshingly politically incorrect characters and an abstract parallel love story which barely makes sense even at the end. Kontroll is a movie you will regret having waited 10 years to see.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Balla Eszter, Bence Mátyássy, Csaba Pindroch, Enikő Eszenyi, Eszter Balla, György Cserhalmi, Győző Szabó, János Derzsi, János Kulka, Lajos Kovács, Péter Scherer, Sándor Badár, Sándor Csányi, Szabó Győző, Zoltán Mucsi, Zsolt Nagy

Director: Nimród Antal

Rating: R

Do you know those movies where you just look at the poster and you go "damn this will be good"? This is absolutely not one of those, but I promise, it's still great. Warrior is surprisingly sophisticated for its genre, awesomely executed and what about the acting you say? Hardy and Edgerton are strong together (pun intended). Warrior is a movie filled with authentic emotions designed to give you hope that something unconventional can still come out of the genre.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: Aaron Kleiber, Amir Perets, Anthony Johnson, Anthony N., Anthony Nanakornpanom, Anthony Tambakis, Armon York Williams, Bryan Callen, Carlos Miranda, Dan Caldwell, Daniel Stevens, Denzel Whitaker, Etta Cox, Fernando Chien, Frank Grillo, Gavin O'Connor, Hans Marrero, Jace Jeanes, Jake McLaughlin, Jeff Hochendoner, Jennifer Morrison, Joel Edgerton, Jonathan Matthew Anik, Josh Rosenthal, Julia Stockstad, Kevin Dunn, Kurt Angle, Laura Chinn, Lexi Cowan, Maximiliano Hernandez, Nate Marquardt, Nick Lehane, Nick Nolte, Noah Emmerich, Panuvat Anthony Nanakornpanom, Rashad Evans, Raymond Rowe, Richard Fike, Sam Sheridan, Stephan Bonnar, Tammy Townsend, Tom Hardy, Tracy Campbell, Vanessa Martinez, Yves Edwards

Director: Gavin O'Connor, Gavin O'Connor

Rating: PG-13

Inspired by her own mother, director Hilda Hidalgo tells the story of Violeta, a 72-year-old woman with an enviable appetite for life. After divorcing her husband of more than forty years, Violeta now lives alone in the beautiful home in which she grew up. When she discovers that the bank is threatening to repossess her beloved house, she is determined to hold on to it against her children's wishes, and no matter the cost.

Violeta at Last is, above all, a movie about a woman determined to face the future on her own terms.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alejandra Portillo, Álvaro Marenco, Arnoldo Ramos, Eugenia Chaverri, Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Ivette Guier, Olger González

Director: Hilda Hidalgo

Straight to the point and without any overly elaborate set-ups or personal anecdotes, Shane Gillis' Beautiful Dogs is a sort of back-to-basics approach to stand-up comedy that proves surprisingly effective. Over the course of about 50 minutes, Gillis' jokes move smoothly and freely—loose in structure but still clearly centering around very American notions of authority and masculinity (revolving around the military and U.S. history), which the comedian is quick to poke holes in. Gillis' humor is definitely of the lowbrow variety though, and while this in itself isn't a bad thing, a number of his jokes begin to repeat their point to no additional effect, usually relying on low-hanging fruit. Gillis skirts and occasionally dips into offensive territory, which he fully acknowledges. And while some of the stuff in this special is a little tasteless, at least Gillis is sheepishly honest about it.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Shane Gillis

Director: John McKeever