20 Movies Like On the Rocks (2020)

Staff & contributors

Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer, who plays in a band and lives in a tour bus with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Quickly after meeting the couple, we witness the touring musician drastically losing his hearing. As recovering addicts with little financial means, they soon run out of options. Lou desperately wants to prevent Ruben's relapse into addiction and so she helps him retreat to a deaf community group home, run by the illustrious Joe, a truly amazing character played by the equally amazing Paul Raci, himself the hearing son of deaf parents. There is something deeper going on though: the question of what disability is, and how, despite how it drastically changes Ruben's life, it might not be his biggest problem. In addition to the stellar acting and delicate writing, we experience his condition through the incredible sound design used by director Darius Marder, complete with muffled conversations, garbled noises, and piercing silence. This is a movie to be taken in completely. Above all, it's about Riz Ahmed's performance. He learned to play drums, sign language, and studied deafness ahead of the shooting, and he does not strike a wrong note.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alan Resnic, Bill Thorpe, Chelsea Lee, Chris Perfetti, Domenico Toledo, Ezra Marder, Hillary Baack, Jamie Ghazarian, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric, Michael Tow, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Rena Maliszewski, Riz Ahmed, Sean Powell, Shaheem Sanchez, Tom Kemp, William Xifaras

Director: Darius Marder

Rating: R

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they're not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron D. Alexander, Alan Wells, Aldis Hodge, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Beau Bridges, Chris Game, Christian Magby, Christopher Gorham, Dave Pileggi, Derek Roberts, Dustin Lewis, Eli Goree, Emily Bridges, Hunter Burke, Jason Ament, Jeremy Anderson, Jeremy Pope, Joaquina Kalukango, John Curran, Kevin Reid, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lance Reddick, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Leslie Odom Jr., Mark Allan Stewart, Matt Fowler, Michael Imperioli, Nathan Siebring, Nicolette Robinson, Nola Epps, Pierce Lackey, Randall Newsome, Robert Stevens Wayne

Director: Regina King

Rating: R

It's impossible to describe this incredible movie as one thing or the other. It's an epic three-hour saga that takes you through the Nazi era, the communist era, the rise of capitalism, and the East and West German divide. But more than its historic value, it's a coming-of-age story, one that is based on the experiences of famed German artist Gerhard Richter. It's also a romance, following his experiences finding love and being hit with loss (in no particular order). If you liked the director's other work, the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, you're sure to love this too.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Andreas Nickl, Anton Rubtsov, Bastian Trost, Ben Becker, Bruno F. Apitz, Cai Cohrs, Chris Theisinger, David Schütter, Evgeniy Sidikhin, Florian Bartholomäi, Franz Pätzold, Hannes Hellmann, Hanno Koffler, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Hinnerk Schönemann, Ina Weisse, Jörg Schüttauf, Jacob Matschenz, Jeanette Hain, Johanna Gastdorf, Johannes Allmayer, Jonas Dassler, Jorg Schuttauf, Lars Eidinger, Luc Feit, Lutz Blochberger, Manfred Möck, Mark Zak, Martin Bruchman, Martin Bruchmann, Michaela Caspar, Oliver Masucci, Paula Beer, Pit Bukowski, Rainer Bock, Rainer Reiners, Saskia Rosendahl, Sebastian Koch, Stefan Mehren, Tom Schilling, Ulrike C. Tscharre

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rating: R

In what is only his second feature, Greek director Christos Nikou crafts a singular universe that is orderly and enticing. The dystopian premise that you can now scientifically test for love may be bizarre, but it answers to one of the biggest anxieties humans share. That said,  this particular world feels so close to ours today, that you want to dive right in it, weirdness and all. Even the topos of the love clinic, where couples get evaluated and take on exercises before they take the test is framed as a space for hope. There's no underlying cynicism in Nikou's film, which is perhaps the most surprising fact about it; on the contrary, longing—however painful it may be—abounds and seeps through the carefully composed images of shared doubt and suspect intimacy. Last, but not least, the chemistry shared by Buckley-Ahmed-White is nothing short of explosive.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Albert Chung, Amanda Arcuri, Annie Murphy, Ashleigh Rains, Avaah Blackwell, Christian Meer, Clare McConnell, Heather Dicke, Iain Reid, Jeremy Allen White, Jessie Buckley, Jim Armstrong, Jim Watson, Juno Rinaldi, Katy Breier, Luke Wilson, Mish Tam, Nina Kiri, Riz Ahmed, Tameka Griffiths, Tanchay Redvers, Varun Saranga

Director: Christos Nikou

Rating: R

Be prepared to have the expectations you form after reading Scrapper’s synopsis shattered: though it is about a 12-year-old dealing with grief following her mother's death, it’s remarkably upbeat. It gets that quality by positioning itself in the buoyant headspace of young Georgie, a resilient, cheeky youngster who retains much of her whimsical childlike spirit in spite of her profound bereavement. Director Charlotte Regan’s debut feature is bursting with imagination: there are surreal stylized touches all over the movie, from talking video-game-style spiders to magical realist metaphors of Georgie's grief. 

That’s not to say that Scrapper is flippant about the inherent tragedy of its story, though. As in The Florida Project, you can feel the escapist motivations of Georgie's colorful imagination, which only deepens the poignancy of her situation and the precarious relationship she forms with her father, a barely-old-enough manchild who only makes an effort to meet Georgie after her mother’s death. Amidst all the intentional artificiality of the filmmaking, their largely improvised interactions never ring false — a dynamic that’s also crucial to making the movie feel genuinely touching and real rather than saccharine and shallow. A very impressive debut, and a much-deserved recipient of Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Jury prize and a whopping 14 nominations at the BIFAs.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Asheq Akhtar, Aylin Tezel, Daniel Burt, Harris Dickinson, Laura Aikman, Lola Campbell, Matt Brewer, Olivia Brady, Sam Buchanan

Director: Charlotte Regan

Rating: NR

Forget everything you know about the music biopic. One-on-one interviews, chronological storytelling, silent moments with the subjects—Moonage Daydream isn’t that kind of movie. Just as David Bowie isn’t your typical pop star, this documentary about him, directed by Brett Morgen, forgoes the usual beats for something extraordinary and fun.

Moonage Daydream is a concert, a light show, and a masterclass in collage editing. It's a feast for the senses, a fantastic neon fever dream that paints a picture of Bowie in his own words, drawn from archival footage, interviews, and concerts past.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Bing Crosby, Brian Eno, Catherine Deneuve, Charlie Chaplin, David Bowie, Dick Cavett, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Iman, Jeff Beck, Keanu Reeves, Lou Reed, Maria Falconetti, Max Schreck, Max von Sydow, Mick Ronson, Mick Woodmansey, Mike Garson, Russell Harty, Tina Turner, Trevor Bolder

Director: Brett Morgen

Rating: PG-13

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Andrew Glaszek, Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Doris McCarthy, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Irene Blackman, Jacob Ming-Trent, Kit Flanagan, Michael Izquierdo, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Qaasim Middleton, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, Styles P, T.J. Atoms, Tracy Wilder, Welker White, William Oliver Watkins, Young M.A

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

From Aaron Sorkin, the creator of every liberal's favorite 2000s political drama, The West Wing, The Social Network, and the master of the “walk and talk”, comes the dramatization of a sadly true American story from the mid-last century. In 1968, different groups from all over the country travelled to Chicago to protest the Vietnam War at the Democratic National Convention. The Chicago police greeted them in full riot gear, purposely attacking the peaceful protesters. Five months later, eight of them (charges against Black Panther leader Bobby Seale were dismissed) were arrested for inciting riot. As the title suggests, the film details the trials that followed, which highlight the still ongoing battles within American society and politics: racism, ineptness, corruption, complacency, you name it. On a lighter note, while you wouldn't necessarily call this an ensemble cast, the number of unlikely familiar faces in this film is off the charts: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sascha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne. It also features some of the greatest supporting actors in American TV history like John Carrol Lynch, Frank Langella, and the amazing John Doman aka Bill Rawls from The Wire.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Alan Metoskie, Alex Henderson, Alex Sharp, Alice Kremelberg, Ben Kass, Ben Shenkman, Blair Lewin, Brady Jenness, Brandon Fierro, Brendan Burke, C.J. Wilson, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Christian Litke, Damian Young, Danny Flaherty, David Fierro, Ed Flynn, Eddie Redmayne, Edward Fletcher, Frank Langella, Gavin Haag, J. C. MacKenzie, James Pravasilis, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, John Doman, John F. Carpenter, John Quilty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Juliette Angelo, Kate Miller, Kathleen Garrett, Keeley Morris, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Kevin O'Donnell, Larry Mitchell, Lex Elle, Mark Rylance, Max Adler, Meghan Rafferty, Michael A. Dean, Michael Keaton, Michelle Hurst, Mike Brunlieb, Noah Robbins, Sacha Baron Cohen, Shawn Parsons, Steve Routman, Tah von Allmen, Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Wayne Duvall, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Rating: R

Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti (Modern Love, Black Mirror), and J.K. Simmons star in this easy but original rom-com that takes place in a wedding time loop. Nyles (Samberg) finds himself living the same day over and over again, so he gives in to the monotony and the fact that there is no way to escape it. 

When he is about to hook up with one of the guests, Sarah (Milioti), he is attacked by a mysterious character. The routine of his time-loop is broken. 

Palm Springs is often surreal and philosophical, which are not adjectives usually used to describe rom-coms. It offers just enough twists to be original without jeopardizing the things that make it a good rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Andy Samberg, Brian Duffy, Camila Mendes, Chris Pang, Conner O'Malley, Cristin Milioti, Dale Dickey, David Hutchison, Erin Flannery, J.K. Simmons, Jacqueline Obradors, Jena Friedman, June Squibb, Lilli Birdsell, Mark Kubr, Martin Kildare, Meredith Hagner, Michelle Johnston, Peter Gallagher, Rocky Bonifield, Tongayi Chirisa, Tyler Hoechlin

Director: Max Barbakow

Rating: R

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Brett Eidman, Fredi Bernstein, Ira Sachs, Kevin Loreque, Kirsten Johnson, Mary Page Nance, Michael Hilow, Vasthy Mompoint

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: PG-13

Legendary Talking Heads frontman David Byrne returns with this enigmatic stage show, and with Spike Lee in tow, the film reaches for the heights of the iconic concert doc Stop Making Sense. For those unfamiliar, Stop Making Sense directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the Talking Heads’ invigorating live show in their early eighties prime, and is often considered one of the best concert films of all time.

Now nearly forty years later Byrne attempts a resurrection of that spirit or a form of it given his former bandmates notably absent from the project. His propellant energy is on full display as he goes through the ‘Heads catalog with a backing band that dances in intricately choreographed sequences around him. Most notable, however, is the sparseness of the stage production which brings to mind a dirge-like atmosphere. Byrne’s righteous thrashings against Reagan’s America carry renewed weight in the despondency of the Trump-era. So despite his attempts at optimism, aching futility runs through the heart of the show; most pointed when Byrne sings the famous lines from in Once In A Lifetime: “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Angie Swan, Bobby Wooten Iii, David Byrne, Jacqueline Acevedo, Mauro Refosco, Tendayi Kuumba

Director: Spike Lee

Two misfits, an immigrant and a traveling cook, team up to start an unlikely enterprise in this slow but captivating drama. The story, set in 19th century Pacific Northwest, evolves around the arrival of the first cow to that part of the world. This presents a unique opportunity that the two main characters try to benefit from. 

First Cow is a mix between a Western and a modern-day plot-less indie drama.  It has likable characters, stunning scenery, and a fascinating look into how social outcasts lived back then.

Genre: Drama, History, Western

Actor: Alia Shawkat, Don MacEllis, Dylan Smith, Eric Martin Reid, Ewen Bremner, Gary Farmer, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Jeb Berrier, John Keating, John Magaro, Kevin-Michael Moore, Lily Gladstone, Mary Ann Perreira, Mike Wood, Mitchell Saddleback, Orion Lee, Patrick D. Green, Phelan Davis, Rene Auberjonois, Scott Shepherd, T. Dan Hopkins, Ted Rooney, Toby Jones, Todd A. Robinson

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: PG-13

Beastie Boys Story, a live documentary that runs for two hours and consists entirely of two speakers presenting a PowerPoint onstage, shouldn't be as enjoyable and enthralling as it is, but with the help of director Spike Jonze, remaining band members Mike D and Adam Horovitz pull off the impossible and draw in a rapt crowd by chronicling how the iconic hip-hop group came to be.

Told with intimate detail and blithe humor, Beastie Boys Story has the easygoing charm of a dear friend recounting the good old days with you. Mike D and Adam Horovitz are skilled storytellers, and with Jonze operating the technicals to a tee backstage, everything comes together in a satisfyingly smooth and utterly watchable take. You don't have to know much (if anything at all) about the Beastie Boys to enjoy this documentary, and whatever your opinion is of them beforehand, you'll leave this film knowing a bit more about the creative process, necessary growth, and unbelievable luck all artists go through.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Adam Curry, Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch, Afrika Bambaataa, Ben Stiller, Bill Hader, David Cross, Dick Clark, Don Cornelius, Joan Rivers, Karen Duffy, Kurt Loder, Kurtis Blow, Madonna, Michael Diamond, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Stipe, Money Mark, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Spike Jonze, Steve Buscemi, Tenzin Gyatso

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: TV-MA

Before she captivated the film world with her performance in Scorcese’s crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon, Lily Gladstone starred in Erica Tremblay’s feature film debut Fancy Dance, earlier in 2023. It’s a tragic drama, wherein Gladstone portrays Jax, a lesbian woman dealing with the government that failed to find her sister, and that currently seeks to transfer her niece’s custody to her white father. But it’s also an uplifting drama, one that celebrates the connection between Jax and her niece Roki, the Cayuga culture and language, and the connection with their community and tribe that continues to persist despite state disenfranchisement. Pacing issues do make the film a tad rushed, but nevertheless, Fancy Dance is a subtle and poignant debut, made much more grounded with the excellent lead performances.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Audrey Wasilewski, Cory Hart, Crystle Lightning, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Jason Alan Smith, Lily Gladstone, Patrice Fisher, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Tamara Podemski

Director: Erica Tremblay

Rating: R

You may not know the name of Errol Morris, but you must have seen either Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The Night Manager, as films and TV have offered ripe adaptations of 20th century espionage novels under the disguise of simple entertainment. What you may not know is that the author of the books they are based on has been a spy himself, for most of his life. David John Moore Cornwell, better known as John le Carré (his pen name), is the subject of the latest work of detective-turned-filmmaker Errol Morris whose penchant for exploring the limits between fact and fiction has propelled the documentary form numerous times over the last decades. The film is a quasi-biographical doc with some exceptional reenactments that color Le Carré's own tales to try and outmanoeuvre the viewer's ceaseless desire to fix what one sees into either category: fact or fiction. With an ex-spy and a documentarian, you never know. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Charlotte Hamblin, Garry Cooper, John le Carré, Mike Noble, Simon Harrison

Director: Errol Morris

Rating: PG-13