11 Movies Like Sisu (2022)

Staff & contributors

Despite the amusing specificity of its title, this lovely documentary from director Les Blank is really for all of us. Through the example of gap teeth — a physical feature many of the participants here report being made to feel self-conscious about — the film makes a rallying call to embrace ourselves and all of our physical “flaws.”

A big part of what makes this film so heartening is that so many of the women featured here (including model Lauren Hutton) have come out on the other side of loathing their gap teeth, giving us a tangible example of what it looks like to love yourself in spite of other people’s opinions about your body. What’s more, even within a limited runtime, Blank finds space to devote to exploring other aspects of the featured women’s lives — their art, professions, religious practices — and thereby quietly expands the film’s focus from physical beauty and onto the myriad beauties of life itself. It’s an ironic pleasure that Gap-Toothed Women ultimately refuses to define its subjects by the very feature described in its title, and instead gives us this life-affirming shot of wisdom for the ages.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Lauren Hutton, Lauren Moore, Sandra Day O'Connor

Director: Les Blank

Nakedness has been demonized or at least, has been considered inappropriate outside of certain situations. One such situation is the sauna, as the steam and high heat is considered therapeutic, especially in colder regions. In her directorial debut, Anna Hints documents the Estonian smoke sauna, not just as a cultural tradition, but as a sanctuary for women to bare their bodies and their troubles. The women are, of course, naked, but the sauna’s smoke and darkness obscures and keeps identities hidden, focusing on their stories and allowing a glimpse of women’s bodies at their most natural, without the sexualization often placed with the male gaze. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is a refreshing take, one where plenty of women can finally see themselves in.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Eda Veeroja, Elsa Saks, Eva Kübar, Kadi Kivilo, Maria Meresaar, Marianne Liiv, Merit Kask

Director: Anna Hints

Surprisingly dramatic for a documentary but without exoticizing its central characters for a privileged audience, The Territory is that rare film that rightfully portrays indigenous peoples as living firmly in the present. In their continuing struggle to protect their land and culture, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people of the Amazon may be vulnerable, but they aren't helpless. They're organized, have access to technology, and know exactly how they want to represent themselves—armed with bows and arrows and defending what's theirs in beautiful, thrilling footage. In this way, even as The Territory ultimately touches on issues that have affected all of Brazil, namely the destructive effects of Jair Bolsonaro's presidency, it still feels like a documentary co-authored by these indigenous people themselves.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau

Director: Alex Pritz

, 2024

Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican painter, not just because of her outstanding art, but also because of her outlook in life, despite her ill health and tragic accident. Because of this, she has been talked about in multiple books, movies, and exhibitions, but a new documentary has popped up, this time from her own words. Carla Gutierrez’s directorial debut is a revelation, voiced primarily in Frida’s native Spanish and paired with key archival footage, vivid animations of her paintings, and an excellent acoustic score plucked from classical guitar. Being a biographical documentary, fans of the artist would, of course, be familiar with her life events, but Gutierrez’s approach is still worth watching, mostly because it’s Frida’s own words driving the film.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fernanda Echevarría del Rivero, Frida Kahlo

Director: Carla Gutierrez

Rating: R

In Baby J, SNL-writer-turned-stand-up-star John Mulaney brutally embraces his messy past and turns it into relatable material and hilarious anecdotes. Confronting his controversial stint at rehab, his struggle with addiction, and his experiences with fatherhood and the resulting reinvention, Mulaney proves himself to be a compelling storyteller, a master at set-ups and pay-offs. He grabs your attention from start to end, with no time to let your mind wander. Before you know it, it’s been an hour of you watching and laughing at this tiny man commanding a sold-out hall. 

There are many Netflix comedy specials out there, but only a handful are as purely enthralling and unskippable as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: John Mulaney

Director: Alex Timbers

Based on four different books by Colombian author Mario Mendoza, The Initiated (or Los Iniciados) is perhaps too much of a good thing at times, as it struggles to have its many different pieces cohere into one thematic idea. These separate pieces are intriguing on their own, for sure: poisoned water supply, underground activists, the mayor potentially being involved in mysterious disappearances of bodies. But by the end, the film's noir elements seem to be mostly ornamental in nature, with the supposedly twisty narrative arriving at an overly tidy conclusion.

With that said, even just spending time in The Initiated's gloomy city streets and grimy underbelly should be a joy for anyone who already enjoys hardboiled crime dramas. Solid performances and strong technical craft all around keep this world immersive no matter if the central investigation is actually progressing logically or not. It's a film that, impressively, manages to still be suspenseful just on the strength of its mood and atmosphere alone. All the danger feels raw and threatening, and leads us to imagine an even harsher world outside of what we see on screen.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ana Wills, Andrés Parra, Aria Jara, Francisco Denis, Jorge Cao, José Restrepo, Juan Pablo Urrego, Julio Pachón, Patricia Tamayo

Director: Juan Felipe Orozco

When the system messes with you personally, it’s such a powerful fantasy to be able to settle things with your own hands. To be strong enough to retaliate, and once things are settled, to be strong enough to be left alone, not to be messed with. The Black Book depicts this revenge fantasy, reminiscent of Liam Neeson’s Taken, albeit with corrupt police. The Nigerian action thriller isn’t afraid to go hard, with threats of splitting a person in half by a table saw, dramatic shoot-outs, and fight sequences. However, what makes the thriller work is that all these action sequences are intended to be the reckoning of corrupt institutions. There are some messy parts, certain shots that included some bad takes. Despite this, The Black Book still proves to be entertaining enough to forgive these mishaps.

Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ade Laoye, Alex Usifo Omiagbo, Bimbo Akintola, Bimbo Manuel, Femi Branch, Iretiola Doyle, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Sam Dede, Shaffy Bello

Director: Editi Effiong

Rating: R

At first, the Last Call for Istanbul feels like one of those serendipitous travel romances reminiscent of Before Sunrise. As Serin and Mehmet enjoy New York at night, it’s absolutely enchanting, especially with the unique, striking mirrored transitions that shift between the two as they get ready, but this nighttime stroll has already been walked on before, complete with droll dialogue and impulsive choices. However, the film makes a shift to its second half, and it suddenly reconfigures what we know about the two and their romance. While it does employ other familiar romance tropes, it’s still an intriguing shift that explores the concept of possibilities, and the cost in choosing one over the others.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Beren Saat, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Michael Loayza, Senan Kara, Susan Slatin, Zihan Zhao

Director: Gönenç Uyanık

Rating: R

, 2023

Set in the quaint city of Burlington, Vermont, Paint is a cute and folksy comedy that has a Wes Anderson-esque charm to it. The characters are dressed in blocked pastels and wooly sweaters, while the protagonist Carl seems stuck in the ‘70s, and not just sartorially, too. He drives a “Vantastic” custom van, swears off cell phones, and manages to incorporate phrases like “far out” in his daily lingo. It all makes for whimsical viewing, but underneath the flair, there’s very little substance holding this picture up. It tells the tale of an aging narcissist who learns the error of his ways when a younger version of himself is hired to aid and eventually replace him. Narratively, it’s familiar and forgettable, and it becomes immediately clear that style is a crutch that the film leans on. It’s funny, at times, thanks to a very likable Wilson and a strong supporting cast (there are occasional laugh-out-loud moments too, like when Carl does the big reveal about his portrait). But ultimately, it’s just too flat to be as special as the art it admires. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aidan T.K. Baker, Brit McAdams, Ciara Renée, Colin J. Sweeney, Crystal Tweed, Denny Dillon, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, Elizabeth Loyacano, Evander Duck Jr., Jen Smedley, Joel Leffert, Kristin Hensley, Lucy Freyer, Lusia Strus, Lynda Suarez, Michael Pemberton, Michaela Watkins, Noa Graham, Owen Wilson, Paul Kosopod, Rob Figueroa, Ryan Czerwonko, Ryan Gaul, Sarah Baker, Scott Beehner, Stephen Root, Vin Craig, Wendi McLendon-Covey

Director: Brit McAdams

If you love archeology and prehistory, you’ll love that this documentary is packed with mesmerizing footage of the infamous caves, as well as close-ups of the 130,000 year old skeletal remains that are in pristine condition. If you don’t, you might appreciate discoveries like how neanderthals held burials for their dead and things of that nature, but with a cold open that couldn’t pack any less heat if it tried, I wouldn’t blame you if you just dipped. This documentary is de-energizing and plodding, and that pace can make for a soothing portrayal of archeology at times, but other times it makes for a very run-of-the-mill broadcast.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Caroline Colomei, Gabriel Andreu, Ibbi El Hani, Kareem Alexander, Patrick Stewart, Paula Parunov

Director: Ashley Gething

Rating: PG

While investigating a gold heist in Johannesburg, Chili (S'dumo Mtshali) is jaded after an undercover operation fails spectacularly. With one chance left, he must choose between following the law and protecting the wealth of higher-ups or going against it and helping a heist crew dole out the riches to those in need. Wealth redistribution is at the heart of the film, with greed on all sides thwarting any prospects of prosperity for the city. The action-crime-thriller examines economic inequality via the lead cops trying to effect change, all while leaning into a warm visual style that shifts cameras to mirror the tensions. It's a nice touch to the average Robin Hood and "for the people" narrative, but the CGI choices and generic action scenes can get distracting at times.

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Brenda Ngxoli, Deon Lotz, Presley Chweneyagae, S'Dumo Mtshali

Director: Donovan Marsh