14 Movies Like Monster's Ball (2001)

Staff & contributors
You might have to wipe some sweat from your forehead once you've finished watching this blistering political thriller. It doesn't make any sense to us that this 2006 movie by documentary director Kevin Macdonald made less than 20 million in box office revenue when it came out, but that makes it even more A Good Movie to Watch material. In addition to being thrilling entertainment, it offers insight into an easily overlooked chapter of recent world history and taut moral dilemmas. The dramatization of Giles Foden's novel features two intense performances: James McAvoy plays the sometimes naive (and maybe a bit too enthralled by power) Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, who becomes the personal physician of none other than Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Uganda”, Amin is played by Academy Award-winning character actor Forest Whitaker, who perfectly captures his mood-swinging, crazy brutality. He also completely nails his Ugandan-English accent. An amazing watch!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abby Mukiibi Nkaaga, Adam Kotz, Barbara Rafferty, David Ashton, David Oyelowo, Devon Diep, Dick Stockley, Forest Whitaker, Giles Foden, Gillian Anderson, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Martina Amati, Sam Okelo, Simon McBurney, Stephen Rwangyezi

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Rating: R

A relevant and deeply entertaining movie that only has the appearance of being about politics. In reality, it is about television, and one brilliant journalist’s pursuit of the perfect interview.  Richard Nixon stepped away from the public eye after the Watergate scandal, and was counting on a series of interviews three years later to redeem himself. His team assigns an unlikely reporter to sit in front of him, a British reality TV host named David Frost. Both men have everything to gain from this interview by going against each other, as Frost tries to extract a confession of wrongdoing in Watergate that Nixon never gave.  Who will win? The master manipulator or the up-and-coming journalist? Frost / Nixon was originally a play, and this adaptation is full of drama and boosts great dialogue.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Andy Milder, Clint Howard, Eloy Casados, Frank Langella, Gabriel Jarret, Gavin Grazer, Geoffrey Blake, Jenn Gotzon Chandler, Jim Meskimen, Kate Jennings Grant, Keith MacKechnie, Kevin Bacon, Mark Simich, Matthew Macfadyen, Max Elliott Slade, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Patty McCormack, Penny L. Moore, Rance Howard, Rebecca Hall, Sam Rockwell, Simon James, Toby Jones, Wil Albert, Yvette Rachelle

Director: Ron Howard

Rating: R

Mike Leigh’s forthright and compassionate depiction of working-class life extends to his period pieces as well. Imelda Staunton is remarkable as Vera Drake, a housekeeper in 1950’s London who quietly performs abortions on the side.

Leigh’s vigilant portrayal of class highlights the stark divide between abortion access for the poor and what is offered to the rich. The storytelling is simple and straightforward, he doesn’t over-sentimentalize or grandstand, but merely depicts conditions as they were. Meanwhile, Staunton’s Vera oozes so much fullness, warmth, and empathy, that the heartbreak that follows is mercilessly palpable. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Allan Corduner, Angela Curran, Anna Keaveney, Anthony O'Donnell, Billie Cook, Billy Seymour, Chris O'Dowd, Craig Conway, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan, Eileen Davies, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Fenella Woolgar, Gerard Monaco, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, Imelda Staunton, Jake Wood, James Payton, Jane Wood, Jeffry Wickham, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Griffiths, John Warman, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Lesley Sharp, Liz White, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage, Nicholas Jones, Nicky Henson, Paul Jesson, Paul Raffield, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Richard Graham, Robert Putt, Rosie Cavaliero, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Troughton, Sandra Voe, Sid Mitchell, Simon Chandler, Sinéad Matthews, Tilly Vosburgh, Tom Ellis, Vincent Franklin, Vinette Robinson, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, Chuck Ardezzone, David Bailey, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Elizabeth Reaser, Garret Dillahunt, Glenn Fitzgerald, Heather Goldenhersh, Henry Bean, Joel Garland, Joel Marsh Garland, Jordan Lage, Joshua Harto, Kris Eivers, Lucille Patton, Michael Port, Peter Meadows, Ronald Guttman, Ryan Gosling, Sascha Knopf, Sig Libowitz, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Tibor Feldman, Tommy Nohilly

Director: Henry Bean

Rating: R

We all love Jeff Bridges. We all agree that we shouldn't leave a movie he won an Oscar for unwatched. That's enough reason to watch this movie, but there are so many others. The story is fantastic and based on true events: a country musician living rough and having a shot at happiness after he falls for a journalist who interviews him. The score is composed by T Bone Burnett. The journalist is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and another musician is played by Colin Farrell. So many reasons to watch.

Genre: Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Beth Grant, Brian Gleason, Chad Brummett, Colin Farrell, David Manzanares, Debrianna Mansini, Harry Zinn, J. Michael Oliva, James Keane, Jeff Bridges, Josh Berry, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Herman, Rick Dial, Robert Duvall, Ryan Bingham, Tom Bower, William Marquez, William Sterchi

Director: Scott Cooper

Rating: R

A young girl is looking for her father while struggling to care for her family. The film is bleak and slow but great performances from the cast, especially the lead, will keep you engaged throughout. The story has a very real, raw, and natural feeling to it, so natural in fact that at times, you will forget it is a movie. And in many ways, it feels that Winter's Bone is to Jennifer Lawrence what The Believer was to Ryan Gosling, as her performance is nothing short of perfect.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Ashlee Thompson, Casey MacLaren, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Isaiah Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Lauren Sweetser, Ronnie Hall, Shelley Waggener, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor

Director: Debra Granik

Rating: R

This is a touching saga based on the plight of the women labelled as "fallen" that the Magdalene Laundries housed in Ireland. The movie grips you by the throat right from the first minute and the sense of injustice to women that characterizes the entire length of the film only rarely eases up to give you room to appreciate the emotional complexities that each individual character represents. The stories of Margaret, Bernadette and Rose and the people they meet inside the Magdalene Laundry will force you to ask time and again during the movie, "Why?" and "Who are they to?". You will share in Bernadette's sense of outrage, in Rose's compassion and Margaret's acute fear of the church, of speaking up and asking for justice. So much so, that you may even find yourself identifying with (or at least understanding) Crispina's questionable grasp on reality. Worst of all, the devout Catholic establishment that this was, hypocrisy and corruption ran through its every vein, adding to the shock and resentment that builds towards the, for the lack of a better word, captors of our protagonists. The Magdalene Sisters is a tribute to one of the forgotten chapters in a long history of injustice to women and an absolutely moving one at that. It does not fail to utterly horrify while it also warms your heart.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anne-Marie Duff, Britta Smith, Chris Patrick-Simpson, Daniel Costello, Dorothy Duffy, Eamonn Owens, Eileen Walsh, Eithne McGuinness, Frances Healy, Geraldine McEwan, Mary Murray, Nora-Jane Noone, Peter Mullan, Phyllis MacMahon, Stephen McCole

Director: Peter Mullan

Rating: R

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

Things We Lost in the Fire is a touching drama about Audrey (Hall Berry), a married mother-of-two, whose husband Brian (David Duchovny) is killed tragically in a random act of violence. Amidst her grief she comes to connect with Jerry (Benicio Del Toro), Brian’s childhood friend who is living an isolated life as a junkie, and ultimately invites him to live with her and her children. What may sound like a formulaic set-up, with broken souls coming together to find mutual reconciliation, is elevated immeasurably by Susanne Bier’s deft directorial hand. The celebrated director of After the Wedding and In A Better World weaves a poignant narrative about loss and human connectivity, featuring stunningly good performances by both Berry and Del Toro. It’s a film that’s likely to surprise you with its heartfelt tenderness and compassion.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexis Llewellyn, Alison Lohman, Benicio Del Toro, David Duchovny, Halle Berry, John Carroll Lynch, Liam James, Micah Berry, Omar Benson Miller, Paula Newsome, Quinn Lord, Robin Weigert, Sarah Dubrovsky, 宝拉·纽瑟姆

Director: Susanne Bier

Rating: R

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Locane, Ezra Buzzington, James Spader, Jeremy Davies, Jessica Tuck, Julene Renee, Lacey Kohl, Lauren Cohn, Lesley Ann Warren, Lily Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary Joy, Michael Mantell, Osgood Perkins, Oz Perkins, Patrick Bauchau, Sabrina Grdevich, Stephen McHattie

Director: Steven Shainberg

Rating: R

A dramatic recreation of the last 10 years in the life of famed pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas), told primarily from the perspective of his young lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film follows from naive young Thorson’s early introduction to Liberace through his 6-year romance and live-in relationship with the celebrated luminary. Coming from a broken home and multiple foster families, Thorson finds newfound comfort in the fawning adoration and financial protection that Liberace provides to him, as they quickly become lovers and confidants. Much of the story re-enacts their often stormy, behind-the-scenes affairs in candid fashion—including the lengths to which Thorson alters himself physically to conform to Liberace’s standards. Both Douglas and Damon are excellent in their roles, with Douglas in particular providing a striking recreation of Liberace in both appearance and mannerism. He truly embodies the role, and provides the viewer with a genuine glimpse into the personal life of “Mr. Showmanship"—replete with all of his passions, concerns and insecurities. It’s an intimate depiction of a real-life May-December relationship, told with striking honesty, and ending with a remarkably touching tribute to Liberace in all of his campy yet sincere glory.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amber Lee Ettinger, Anna Wendt, Anthony Crivello, Aussie Guevara, Austin Stowell, Ayesha Orange, Barbara Brownell, Becca Sweitzer, Boyd Holbrook, Brandon Henschel, Brian Blu, Brittany Perry-Russell, Bruce Ramsay, C.J. Stussi, Casey Kramer, Cassandra M. Bellantoni, Charlotte Crossley, Cheyenne Jackson, Corey Eid, Dan Aykroyd, David Dustin Kenyon, David Koechner, Debbie Reynolds, Deborah Lacey, Dominique Kelley, Eddie Jemison, Eric Zuckerman, Ferly Prado, Fielding Edlow, Francisco San Martin, Garrett M. Brown, Gregory Niebel, Harvey J. Alperin, Hugo Pierre Martin, Jane Morris, Jerry Clarke, Jimmy Scanlon, Joe Filippone, Johnny Carson, Josh Meyers, Kass Connors, Kc Monnie, Kelli Erdmann, Kelly Allen, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Kristin Lindquist, Krystal Ellsworth, Lance Patrick, Lenny Jacobson, Lisa Frantz, Matt Damon, Meredith Ostrowsky, Michael Douglas, Mike Jerome Putnam, Mike O'Malley, Natacha Bachour, Nellie Sciutto, Nicky Katt, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Pat Asanti, Patty Chong, Paul Borst, Paul Reiser, Paul Witten, Peggy King, Rachael Markarian, Randy Lowell, Richard Allan Jones, Rick L. Dean, Rob Lowe, Roby Schinasi, Ryan Novak, Scott Bakula, Shaun T. Benjamin, Stephanie Maura Sanchez, Thure Riefenstein, Timothy Skyler Dunigan, Tom Papa

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: TV-MA

Tsotsi, a delinquent from Johannesburg, South Africa, realizes after shooting a woman and stealing her car, that her baby is on the back seat. A movie with very few words but which manages to be extremely touching. As you witness the transformation of Tsotsi, through his increasing affection for the baby, you will be astonished by the amazing actor, who manages to communicate so many feelings through his sight. This film won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Ian Roberts, Israel Makoe, Jerry Mofokeng, Kenneth Nkosi, Mothusi Magano, Nambitha Mpumlwana, Owen Sejake, Percy Matsemela, Presley Chweneyagae, Rapulana Seiphemo, Terry Pheto, Zenzo Ngqobe, Zola

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

Finding Forrester is the rainy afternoon type, or a summer night film -- it's a traditional American movie so to speak, with all the components to make your traditional need for a traditional movie more than satisfied. It tells the story of two writers, a young black kid living in a ghetto and struggling to admit his passion for writing over his passion for Basketball (played by Rob Brown), and a Pulitzer Prize winning writer who has renounced his success for unknown reasons (played by Sean Connery). The plot is predictable, and in that traditional sense, very enjoyable. Directed by Gus Van Sant, it will feel almost as a sequel to Good Will Hunting but trust me, this ends up being a great thing too.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Trebek, Alison Folland, Anna Paquin, April Grace, Busta Rhymes, F. Murray Abraham, Glenn Fitzgerald, Gus Van Sant, Jim Titus, Lil' Zane, Matt Damon, Matt Malloy, Michael Nouri, Michael Pitt, Richard Easton, Rob Brown, Sean Connery, Stephanie Berry, Vince Giordano

Director: Gus Van Sant

Rating: PG-13

Chances are good you missed this movie the first time around due to the studio's big mishandling of it's promotion. The posters and trailers were squarely aimed at the lowbrow audience, ironically turning off the kind of viewers that would have appreciated the film. They promised an exploitation flick about an old black man keeping a sexy half-naked young white girl chained up in his shack. Which is, to be fair, exactly what you get - minus the exploitation. Samuel L. Jackson absolutely nails the role of Lazarus, a retired bluesman. He finds and rescues Rae (Christina Ricci) after she's left for dead in the road, and yeah, there's a chain, but.. well, you'll just have to see. Black Snake Moan is funny, sexy, tense, and (surprisingly) heartwarming. And oh hey by they way, its a helluva music-lovers' film in the bargain. Sporting a tremendous soundtrack full of that lowdown dirty blues (some performed by Jackson himself), you owe it to your ears to watch this someplace you have a decent sound system.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adriane Lenox, Amy Lavere, Christina Ricci, Clare Grant, Claude Phillips, Cody Block, David Banner, David Chapman, Dhonna Harris Goodale, Jeff Pope, John Cothran, John Cothran, Jr., Justin Timberlake, Kim Richards, Leonard L. Thomas, Michael Raymond-James, Neimus K. Williams, S. Epatha Merkerson, Samuel L. Jackson, Willie Hall

Director: Craig Brewer

Rating: R