5 Movies Like The Gift (2000)

Staff & contributors

Acerbic diary excerpts provide the narration for this taut psychological thriller, but don’t be fooled: as Notes on a Scandal teases, single schoolteacher Barbara (Judi Dench) might not be filling these pages with the truth — at least, not intentionally. There are early tells that she might not be as reliable a narrator as we expect, given her reputation as a no-nonsense battleaxe: for one, her characteristic surliness dissolves alarmingly quickly upon meeting Sheba (Cate Blanchett), an idealistic young art teacher. Notes on a Scandal doesn’t overplay this hand, though: until its explosive climax, the psychological drama is mostly read between the lines, as we watch Barbara enthusiastically pursue a “friendship” with her younger colleague. 

What makes Notes doubly gripping is that Barbara isn’t the only one hiding dark secrets: as she soon discovers, the married Sheba has begun a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student. That disturbing revelation gives Barbara an upper hand, a means of manipulating Sheba into validating her delusions about their relationship. What follows is a gripping twin character study, one that plays out in the heightened realm of a melodrama as their sordid secrets become entwined. Darkly camp and spanning just 92 perfectly paced minutes, this is an intense immersion into two very ugly psyches.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Andrew Simpson, Anne-Marie Duff, Barry McCarthy, Benedict Taylor, Bill Nighy, Cate Blanchett, Debra Gillett, Derbhle Crotty, Emma Kennedy, Gabrielle Brooks, Jill Baker, Joanna Scanlan, Judi Dench, Julia McKenzie, Juno Temple, Kevin Hudson, Michael Maloney, Miranda Pleasence, Phil Davis, Shaun Parkes, Stephen Kennedy, Tameka Empson, Tom Georgeson, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Richard Eyre

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, Cannonball, 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

When it comes to films depicting America’s history of racism, many white produced films tend to be centered on a white savior. At best, this is just patting each other on the back for actions done a generation or two ago. At worst, it tends to be outright historical revisionism. The difference between these and The Long Walk is that, while clearly made for a white audience, the film doesn’t crown Sissy Spacek’s character as a messiah, but her choice to help the boycott anyway is a message worth depicting, even if it’s small, even if it isn’t the typical, single-handed salvation Hollywood is used to doling out. While the white narrator adds unnecessary distance, and while it would have been better to see more of Whoopi Goldberg in the non-comic role of Odessa Cotter, The Long Walk cares about the everyday, and that’s what makes it mostly work.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Afemo Omilami, Chelcie Ross, Cherene Snow, Dan Butler, Dwight Schultz, Dylan Baker, Erika Alexander, Graham Timbes, Haynes Brooke, Jason Weaver, Kevin Thigpen, Lexi Randall, Mary Steenburgen, Nancy Moore Atchison, Norman Matlock, Philip Sterling, Rebecca Wackler, Richard Habersham, Schuyler Fisk, Sissy Spacek, Ving Rhames, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Richard Pearce

Rating: PG

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel invites us to an earnest meditation on old age and change. The film centers on a group of British retirees traveling to the titular hotel in India, in hopes of a good retirement. The group cast is an excellent choice: prominent names from British movies and television line the cast, and it’s a pleasure to see them act alongside each other with equal screen time and their own detailed plotlines. Their plotlines inspire empathy towards different struggles that the elderly face: finding love again, dealing with accumulated debt, and handling loss. All of these are tough, but especially when you feel your time has run out. The best of these plotlines are the ones that acknowledge loss but still persist through accepting changing circumstances and actively going for one's desires.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Diana Hardcastle, Glen Davies, Honey Chhaya, Jay Villiers, Judi Dench, Lillete Dubey, Liza Tarbuck, Louise Brealey, Lucy Robinson, Maggie Smith, Nina Kulkarni, Patrick Pearson, Paul Bentall, Paul Bhattacharjee, Penelope Wilton, Rajendra Gupta, Ramona Marquez, Richard Cubison, Ronald Pickup, Sara Stewart, Siddharth Makkar, Simon Wilson, Tina Desai, Tom Wilkinson, Vishnu Sharma

Director: John Madden

Rating: PG-13

The Gift is Joel Edgerton's directoral debut, a twisted and smart thriller that sneaks up on you where you least expect it. He also stars in it as Gordo, a friend from the past that enters a new couple's life (played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) and brings a secret that has been hidden for decades. A very "movie" movie, it has enough in it that's original and enough that's not to make for a very enjoyable 100 minutes.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adam Lazarre-White, Allison Tolman, Beau Knapp, Busy Philipps, Darren P. Leis, David Denman, David Joseph Craig, Felicity Price, Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, Katie Aselton, Laura Drake Mancini, Melinda Allen, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, P. J. Byrne, Rebecca Hall, Susan May Pratt, Tim Griffin, Wendell Pierce

Director: Joel Edgerton

Rating: R