25 Movies Like Synecdoche New York (2008)

Staff & contributors

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Robert De Niro, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

After his first serious role in The Truman Show in 1998, Jim Carrey got a shot at playing his idol, the late comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufmann, in Man on the Moon in 1999. When he got the role, a role of a lifetime, Carrey decided to honor Kaufmann's legacy by transforming into him (and his alter ego Tony Clifton) and, in true method-acting fashion, never to leave character. Jim & Andy is the result of 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot at the Man on the Moon set, which was withheld for 20 years over fears of Universal Studios that people would think Carrey was an a**hole. While Carrey was a complete and utter imposition to the film's director, Miloš Forman, and everybody else on set, including Danny DeVito, his transformation (or obsession) was a unique, transformative experience for Carrey, who had been sick of fame and acting before he took on this gig. Whether you buy into this view or see it as a vanity piece of a complete maniac, this is one of the most unique and insane documentaries on Netflix. A mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Andy Dick, Andy Kaufman, Bob Zmuda, Carol Kane, Chris Smith, Courtney Love, Danny DeVito, David Letterman, Elton John, George Shapiro, Hugh Hefner, Jerry Lawler, Jim Carrey, Jon Lovitz, Judd Hirsch, Michael Stipe, Milos Forman, Paul Giamatti, Peter Bonerz, Randall Carver

Director: Chris Smith

Rating: TV-MA

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler's hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson's incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adam Sandler, David H. Stevens, Don McManus, Emily Watson, Hazel Mailloux, Jason Andrews, Joji Yoshida, Jonathan Loughran, Karen Kilgariff, Larry Ring, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Nathan Stevens, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rico Bueno, Robert Smigel, Shelley Waggener

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: R

Following a group of journalists uncovering an entire architecture of institutional corruption in Romania, Collective makes for an inspiring watch—not just because these people are pursuing a story outside their usual wheelhouse, but because their enemy really is so much greater than they can handle. Yet they continue chipping away, never once backing down from speaking truth to power. Director Alexander Nanau understandably might not have much access to the government's side, but he still manages to portray them as an ever-present, omnipotent invisible force, giving the film a thick atmosphere of dread and paranoia. But still, in the face of such overwhelming odds, the best thing to do is refuse to be scared into silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Camelia Roiu, Cătălin Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Narcis Hogea, Razvan Lutac, Tedy Ursuleanu, Vlad Voiculescu

Director: Alexander Nanau

Rating: Not Rated

Putting the inherent eeriness of stop motion animation to perfect use, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa create a legitimately disturbing experience of a man's paranoid delusions, as he tries desperately to make a real human connection while perceiving everyone around him as the same person. It's that (unfortunately) rare animated film that understands that this medium can tell complex, even terrifying, stories for grown-ups while respecting their intelligence. And it's still gorgeously put together, with seamless movements from the character puppets and evocative lighting and cinematography that puts the film firmly in the uncanny valley. It's a tougher watch than it looks, but the depth of feeling it captures is nothing short of totally human.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

Director: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Rating: R

Grounded by Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall’s powerhouse performances, this gut-wrenching family drama from Mike Leigh is an acting juggernaut. Penny and Phil are a working-class couple whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating and pushed to the brink when their son, played by a young James Corden, is hospitalized. 

While Manville and Spall are centered as the leads, Leigh draws a staggering amount of depth from Corden as well as a young Sally Hawkins who plays a neighbor. Despite being one of Leigh’s grimmest films, there is still a profound sweetness lingering at the edges as the story teeters between despondency and hope.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Alison Garland, Badi Uzzaman, Ben Crompton, Brian Bovell, Daniel Mays, Daniel Ryan, Di Botcher, Diveen Henry, Dorothy Atkinson, Edna Doré, Emma Lowndes, Gary McDonald, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, James Corden, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Kathryn Hunter, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Marion Bailey, Mark Benton, Martin Savage, Matt Bardock, Maxine Peake, Michele Austin, Oliver Golding, Parvez Qadir, Paul Jesson, Peter Stockbridge, Robert Wilfort, Russell Mabey, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Kelly, Timothy Bateson, Timothy Spall, Tracy O'Flaherty

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bob Stephenson, Bob Yerkes, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour, Caron Colvett, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Curt Clendenin, Curtis Hanson, David O. Russell, Donald Dowd, Doug Jones, Gary Farmer, Gregory Itzin, Jay Tavare, Jim Beaver, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Judy Greer, Larry Krask, Lisa Love, Litefoot, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Peter Jason, Roger E. Fanter, Roger Willie, Ron Livingston, Sandra Lee Gimpel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tilda Swinton

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: R

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Blakely, Alex Manette, Andy Gershenzon, Annie O'Sullivan, Ashley Gerasimovich, Blake DeLong, Caitlin Kinnunen, Daniel Farcher, Erin Darke, Ezra Miller, Francesca Murdoch, Georgia X. Lifsher, J. Mallory McCree, J.J. Kandel, James Chen, Jason Shelton, Jasper Newell, Jeffrey Mowery, Jennifer Kim, John C. Reilly, Jose Joaquin Perez, Joseph Basile, Joseph Melendez, Kenneth Franklin, Kimberley Drummond, Lauren Fox, Leland Alexander Wheeler, Leslie Lyles, Louie Rinaldi, Mark Elliot Wilson, Maryann Urbano, Paul Diomede, Paul Marra, Polly Adams, Rebecca Dealy, Rock Duer, Rocky Duer, Simon MacLean, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Suzette Gunn, Tilda Swinton, Ursula Parker

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Rating: R

Good movies usually aren't lengthy movies, unless we're talking about cases like Toni Erdmann. It's a supremely smart German-Austrian comedy that depicts the story of a Father-Daughter tandem in light of life’s weirdest, most inconvenient moments. Deciding to visit his daughter on a whim after his dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek)—a man known for his outrageous pranks and many a disguise—flies to Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Huller), the daughter, buzzing with work to the brim in a very challenging job, to say the least, isn’t impressed. This leads to even more uncomfortable encounters as the estranged father poses as the title character, life coach to the disapproving daughter’s boss. On top of being a shrewdly observed and relevant movie, the brilliant writing by Maren Ade crafts something thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt here, highlighting the importance of family bond in an oddly sweet way, and criticizing modern-day work ethic and the toll its taking on us. The beginning is a bit slow, but if you're a bit patient you will be surprised how much this movie will reward you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandru Papadopol, Andrei Mateiu, Bryan Jardine, Cezara Dafinescu, Cosmin Pădureanu, Dana Marineci, Daniel Filipescu, Hadewych Minis, Hans Löw, Hartmut Stanke, Ingrid Bisu, Ingrid Burkhard, Irene Rindje, John Keogh, Julischka Eichel, Jürg Löw, Klara Höfels, Luana Stoica, Lucy Russell, Manu Sabo, Manuela Ciucur, Michael Wittenborn, Miriam Rizea, Nicolas Wackerbarth, Niels Bormann, Ozana Oancea, Peter Simonischek, Radu Bânzaru, Ruth Reinecke, Sandra Hüller, Sava Lolov, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter, Ursula Renneke, Valentin Popescu, Victoria Cocias, Victoria Malektorovych, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Maren Ade

Rating: R

Director Noah Baumbach’s autobiographical film is a strikingly realistic take on divorce and the turmoil it sets on an already-dysfunctional family. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a selfish decadent writer who’s splitting with his unfaithful wife Joan (Laura Linney). Their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline), are taking different sides that reflect their personality. This separation only reinforces their insecurities as they quickly fall into depression and grow away from their friends. The parents, however, find unconventional lovers just as quickly, Bernard with a student of his, and Jane with her son’s tennis coach. The Squid and the Whale is a funny, emotional, and gripping story that finds a perfect balance in tone despite dealing with bitter divorce and troubled adolescence.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Rose, Alexandra Daddario, Andrew Kaempfer, Anna Paquin, Bobby Shue, Britta Phillips, David Benger, Dean Wareham, Eli Gelb, Elizabeth Meriwether, Emma Straub, Greta Kline, Halley Feiffer, Henry Glovinsky, James Hamilton, Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Jo Yang, Ken Leung, Laura Linney, Maryann Plunkett, Michael Countryman, Michael Santiago, Molly Barton, Nico Baumbach, Owen Kline, Peggy Gormley, Peter Newman, Simon Kaplan, William Baldwin

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rating: R

An instant essential film in the Jim Jarmusch catalog. In his traditional directing fashion, Paterson disregards plot and instead finds inspiration in deconstructing the seemingly mundane aspects of life. Adam Driver stars as a bus driver and amateur poet who leads a content life staying away from change as much as possible. His girlfriend, Laura (played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), is the complete opposite: eager to be creative, to explore new paths, and to decorate and design every object in her life. Jarmusch takes these two characters, adds only a few others, and makes a movie that celebrates similar so-called simple lives, reaching surprising levels of beauty. Again, not much happens in terms of plot, and the pace is slow. But if you are interested in the kind of movie that will let you into people's lives, you will love Paterson.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Driver, Barry Shabaka Henley, Brian McCarthy, Chasten Harmon, Frank Harts, Golshifteh Farahani, Helen-Jean Arthur, Jaden Michael, James Van Treuren, Jared Gilman, Johnnie Mae, Jorge Vega, Kara Hayward, Luis Da Silva Jr., Martin Van Treuren, Masatoshi Nagase, Method Man, Nellie, Owen Asztalos, Rizwan Manji, Sophia Muller, Sterling Jerins, William Jackson Harper

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York – but not the glamorous NYC of Woody Allen movies. Taking place primarily in the gritty and rapidly gentrifying North Brooklyn, the black and white film paints a picture of an extended adolescence. Focusing on the goofy and carefree Frances, who loses her boyfriend, her best friend and her dream of being a dancer. She moves in with two guys, both of whom are more successful than her, and becomes even more determined to fulfil her goals, impractical as they may be. Fans of HBO’s Girls and other odes to not being a “real person” yet will love this film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Driver, Britta Phillips, Charlotte d'Amboise, Christine Gerwig, Cindy Katz, Daiva Deupree, Dean Wareham, Eleanor Smith, Finnerty Steeves, Gibson Frazier, Gordon Gerwig, Grace Gummer, Greta Gerwig, Hannah Dunne, Isabelle McNally, Josh Hamilton, Juliet Rylance, Justine Lupe, Laura Parker, Lindsay Burdge, Marina Squerciati, Maya Kazan, Michael Esper, Michael Zegen, Michelle Hurst, Mickey Sumner, Noah Baumbach, Patrick Heusinger, Peter Scanavino, Ryann Shane, Teddy Cañez, Vanessa Ray

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rating: R

Inside Llewyn Davis tells the interesting and captivating story of a young, struggling singer navigating through the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961. The movie conveys all sorts of emotions, thanks to Coen brothers’ stroke of genius: it is strange, funny, dramatic and satisfying at the same time. Not to mention, the ensemble cast is superb, and the music is absolutely great. It is the kind of movie that will put an unfamiliar yet wondrous feeling into you as you live through Llewyn Davis' eyes and feel his pain.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky, Benjamin Pike, Bonnie Rose, Bradley Mott, Carey Mulligan, Charlotte Booker, Declan Bennett, Ethan Phillips, F. Murray Abraham, Frank Ridley, Garrett Hedlund, Helen Hong, Ian Blackman, Ian Jarvis, Jack O'Connell, Jake Ryan, James Colby, Jeanine Serralles, Jerry Grayson, John Ahlin, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Marcus Mumford, Max Casella, Mike Houston, Oscar Isaac, Ricardo Cordero, Roberto Lopez, Robin Bartlett, Sam Haft, Stark Sands, Stephen Payne, Steve Routman, Susan Blommaert, Sylvia Kauders

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Rating: R

This is an inexplicably and philosophically dark comedy.

Its protagonist, Larry, is a lackluster professor at a dull university. Then his life starts to unravel: his wife decides to leave him for one of his more successful colleagues; his unemployed brother moves in to stay on his couch.

So Larry ventures on a quest for meaning and clarity within his Jewish community.

All Cohen Brothers fans will appreciate the movie's aesthetics and comedic strength. The protagonist’s struggle will resonate with anyone who has had a religious upbringing: guilt is a big theme here.

I felt like I had to rewatch it to understand it. But I also enjoyed that weird sense of not understanding everything that's going on. Much like life itself.

The film rightfully earned itself two nominations for the Oscars, including Best Picture.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Wolff, Adam Arkin, Alan Mandell, Allen Lewis Rickman, Amanda Day, Amy Landecker, Brent Braunschweig, Claudia Wilkens, Fred Melamed, Fyvush Finkel, George Wyner, James Cada, Jessica McManus, Joel Thingvall, Katherine Borowitz, Landyn Banx, Michael Lerner, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Breitmayer, Punnavith Koy, Raye Birk, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, Scott Thompson Baker, Simon Helberg, Stephen Park, Steve Park, Tim Russell, Tyson Bidner, Yelena Shmulenson

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Rating: R

Stories We Tell got on everyone’s radar when, back in 2015, it made the list of the all-time top ten list of Canadian films. That speaks to both the caliber of this movie and its relevance to North America. It’s in fact a first-person account about (and made by) actress Sarah Polley (Mr. Nobody, Exotica, Away from Her, Take This Waltz). In the film, she investigates the rumor that she was the product of an affair, and that her father might not be her biological father. Her family and suspected fathers are all storytellers, and many of them Academy Award winners. Ultimately, the movie becomes about her family’s remembrance of her now-deceased mother (the famous actress Diane Polley). It’s an examination of how the same story can be told so differently by different people and across time. Lies get added and truths are hidden, and all of that enriches Polley’s pursuit.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alex Hatz, Alexandra "Allie" MacDonald, Allie MacDonald, Anne Tait, Cathy Gulkin, Christine Horne, Dave Kiner, Deirdre Bowen, Geoffrey Bowes, Harry Gulkin, Jeanie Calleja, Jeff Mallory, Joanna Polley, John Buchan, Lani Billard, Mairtin O'Carrigan, Marie Murphy, Mark Polley, Michael Polley, Mort Ransen, Pixie Bigelow, Rebecca Jenkins, Robert MacMillan, Sarah Polley, Susy Buchan, Thomas Hauff, Tom Butler, Tracey Ferencz, Wayne Curnew

Director: Sarah Polley

Rating: PG-13