138 Movies Like The Last Samurai (2003)

Staff & contributors

It’s hard to overstate just how lovely — and quietly radical — this largely improvised Canadian docudrama is. The scenario (seven elderly women and their tour bus driver are stranded in the Canadian wilderness for a few days) is contrived, but the rich, lively conversations that feature are all drawn from the women’s real lives. As they hunker down and get on with the business of surviving with meager food — something they manage to do largely thanks to the bushcraft skills of Mohawk elder Alice — the strangers reflect on their long lives and open up to each other about their lingering fears and still-burning hopes.

They’re a diverse bunch — featuring Cockney transplants, lesbian pioneers, and nuns — and the film’s brief cuts to real photos from the women’s earlier years both underscore the rawness of what they’re saying and serve as testaments to the rich fullness of their lives. The Company of Strangers grants these women the kind of serious consideration and space that they’re denied in so many public spaces, but it never feels like a strained exercise in redressing that imbalance. Instead, this is simply a gentle, gorgeous, and profoundly moving portrait of women who aren’t done living yet.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Alice Diabo, Beth Webber, Catherine Roche, Cissy Meddings, Constance Garneau, Michelle Sweeney, Winifred Holden

Director: Cynthia Scott

Between 1967-1975, a group of Swedish filmmakers traveled to America to document the Black Power movement. The resulting archival footage of Black activists and intellectuals, including Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the amazing Angela Davis, was hidden in an archive until it was unearthed and woven together by Göran Olsson, a Swedish director. Angela Davis also supplies some contemporary voice commentary alongside many others, such as Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, and The Roots drummer and rap culture's No. 1 record keeper Questlove, who also co-scored the film. This adds to the mixtape feel of the film as does the raw and unfiltered piecing together of the historic footage, giving the viewer an authentic impression of the movement and the struggles of the time. Being Swedish, the filmmakers dared to go where American mainstream TV might have never gone.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, John Forte, Kathleen Cleaver, Melvin Van Peebles, Sonia Sánchez, Stokely Carmichael, Talib Kweli

Director: Göran Olsson

Rating: Not Rated

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

Not only is this multi-award-winning drama seriously star-studded, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf also deliver superb performances. With two Sundance Awards and many other nominations in its pocket, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the eponymous memoir by author, director, and musician, Dito Montiel, who recalls his violent childhood on the mean streets of Queens in the 1980s (LaBeouf plays the young Dito), as he visits his ailing father after 15 years away in Los Angeles (Downey Jr. plays present-day Dito). It is also real-life Dito's directorial debut, recalling the loose, improvisational style of 70s cinema a'la Scorcese. The powerful plot is told through flashbacks and fourth-wall bending monologues, while the eccentric directing style makes for a raw and immediate experience. The energy of this coming-of-age drama is off the charts!

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adam Scarimbolo, Chance Kelly, Channing Tatum, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Eléonore Hendricks, Eric Roberts, Federico Castelluccio, Gilbert Cruz, Jermel Wilson, Laila Liliana Garro, Martin Compston, Melonie Diaz, Olga Merediz, Peter Anthony Tambakis, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Scott Michael Campbell, Shia LaBeouf

Director: Dito Montiel

Rating: R

, 2023

Made on a clearly lower budget but with enthusiasm and love for the craft overflowing from every frame, Junta Yamaguchi's River gets clean and wholesome comedy—that's still plenty memorable—out of a terrific ensemble of actors, all of whom get to display a full range of expression for their increasingly exasperated characters. It's smart, economical filmmaking that's still dazzlingly put together, as each two-minute loop is done in a single unbroken shot that feels different with every reset. Yamaguchi is highly aware of how quickly this gimmick might overstay its welcome, so he allows the film's emotional landscape to open up considerably with every cycle. As the hell of this situation starts to chip away at the characters, the film also becomes more urgent and more soulful, leading the story down unexpected paths and inviting us to think beyond the pattern it sets up for itself.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa, Manami Honjo, Masashi Suwa, Munenori Nagano, Riko Fujitani, Saori, Shiori Kubo, Takashi Sumita, Yoshifumi Sakai, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Torigoe

Director: Junta Yamaguchi

Clocking in at just over four hours and shot in vivid color, Norte, the End of History stands not only as Filipino auteur Lav Diaz's best work since his earliest films, but as the easiest entry point into his unique filmography. Told on a sweeping yet intimate scale, the film has all the trademarks of Diaz's work: slow, lengthy shots; bursts of dense dialogue and philosophizing; and copious amounts of human despair and systemic corruption. As our three protagonists' souls (who rarely share the screen, if at all) are pushed to the limit after a terrible crime is committed, everything heads toward universal truths—the perseverance of love, and the inevitability of divine justice.

It can be difficult to recommend any film of this length and deliberate pace, but Norte remains a masterful example of how to use time itself to build a monumental story.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Barbie Capacio, Hazel Orencio, Ian Lomongo, Kristine Kintana, Mae Paner, Mailes Kanapi, Moira Lang, Noel Sto. Domingo, Paolo Rodriguez, Perry Dizon, Sheenly Gener, Sid Lucero, Soliman Cruz

Director: Lav Diaz

, 2005

From Steven Spielberg, Munich is the sharp and thrilling depiction of Mossad agents on a mission to avenge the Munich Massacre, the killing of 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Despite being based on real events, it’s a work of fiction. This allows the film to stand on clear yet nuanced grounds, focusing on the moral dilemmas that may rise for the secret agents and the perpetrators, now targets. The ensemble cast including Daniel Craig and Eric Bana allow Spielberg to deliver the film you can tell he wanted to make. A personal and striking effort.

Genre: Action, Drama, History, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Abdelhafid Metalsi, Alexander Beyer, Amani Zain, Ami Weinberg, Amos Lavi, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Andreas Lust, Arturo Arribas, Ayelet Zurer, Baya Belal, Ben Youcef, Bijan Daneshmand, Brian Goodman, Carim Messalti, Charley Gilleran, Ciarán Hinds, Daniel Bess, Daniel Craig, David A. Hamade, Dianne Zaremba, Djemel Barek, Eric Bana, Faruk Pruti, Félicité Du Jeu, Geoffrey Rush, Gila Almagor, Guri Weinberg, Guy Amir, Guy Zo-Aretz, Hagit Dasberg, Hanns Zischler, Hiam Abbass, Hicham Nazzal, Hichem Yacoubi, Hisham Suliman, Igal Naor, Jalil Naciri, Jim McKay, Jonathan Avigdori, Jonathan Uziel, Joram Voelklein, Karim Saidi, Karim Saleh, Kevin Collins, Laurence Février, Lili Bordán, Liron Levo, Lisa Werlinder, Lyes Salem, Lynn Cohen, Mahmoud Zemmouri, Makram J. Khoury, María Casal, Marie-Josée Croze, Marie-Josée Croze, Martin Ontrop, Mathieu Amalric, Mathieu Kassovitz, Mehdi Nebbou, Meret Becker, Merik Tadros, Michael Lonsdale, Michael Schenk, Mihalis Giannatos, Moa Khouas, Moritz Bleibtreu, Moshe Ivgy, Mostefa Djadjam, Mouna Soualem, Mousa Kraish, Nasser Memarzia, Oded Teomi, Ohad Knoller, Omar Metwally, Omar Mostafa, Ori Pfeffer, Ossie Beck, Patrick Kennedy, Rad Lazar, Raffi Tavor, Renana Raz, Richard Brake, Rim Turki, Robert John Burke, Sabi Dorr, Saïda Bekkouche, Sam Feuer, Sami Samir, Samuel Calderon, Sarah Mennell, Sasha Spielberg, Sharon Alexander, Shmuel Edelman, Sonia Hell, Souad Amidou, Stéphane Freiss, Steven Spielberg, Tom Wlaschiha, Ula Tabari, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Valeria Bruni‑Tedeschi, Wojciech Machnicki, Yehuda Levi, Yvan Attal

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rating: R

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi, Jiro Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Yoshikazu Ono

Director: David Gelb

Rating: PG

There’s a universe of hard-hitting emotion hiding in Jafar Panahi’s deceptively simple debut feature, which follows a seven-year-old girl’s attempts to buy a goldfish before Nowruz, the Persian New Year, dawns. From start to finish, her shopping trip only takes 80-something minutes, and all of the action is confined to a couple of Tehran’s streets — but, because we experience The White Balloon in real-time through determined young Raziah’s (Aida Mohammadkhani) perspective, her simple quest is transformed into a perilous and profoundly emotional odyssey for audiences. Every emotion — from fear to wonder — is magnified through Raziah's eyes, so much so that an unfortunately timed gust of wind comes to feel like a punch in the gut, and the sight of a fluttering banknote a euphoric miracle. Co-written by master of the Iranian New Wave Abbas Kiarostami, The White Balloon wrings expansive humanism out of its tiny canvas.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee

Director: Jafar Panahi

This bittersweet little documentary about a Parisian newsstand will change the way you look at a kiosk forever: they’ll no longer seem like transitory stops on the way to somewhere, but a destination themselves. Director Alexandra Pianelli, whose family has run this particular newsstand for four generations, shoots from inside the tiny cabin, from where she and her mother dispense newspapers, magazines, directions, and friendly conversation with anyone who stops by.

Anyone who’s seen Agnès Varda’s Daguerréotypes — her fond portrait of the traditional shopkeepers of Rue Daguerre, the street she lived on — will recognize the same warmth and humane curiosity in The Kiosk, which documents a quickly fading way of life and the community that clings to it. As Pianelli movingly shows us, the kiosk is an invaluable fixture in the lives of an assortment of locals: regular customers (particularly elderly ones, who perhaps visit more for the company than the magazines), a big-hearted homeless man, and fellow vendors like Islam, a Bangladeshi asylum-seeker and fruit-seller who uses the kiosk to hide his merchandise so that French police don’t confiscate it. The decline of printed material that the film documents isn’t just a threat to the family business, then, but the very concept of a truly joined-up society itself.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Aliénor de Nervaux, Damien Fourmeau, Gérard Jacq, Marcel Cierniak, Marie-Laurence Fay

Director: Alexandra Pianelli

One of Shakespeare’s most indelible works is brought roaring to life in this explosive adaptation. The action is transposed from the 1400s to brutalist 1930s England, with the bloody civil war between the houses of Lancaster and York being waged by tanks and planes instead of cavalry. The switch isn’t merely cosmetic, though: in an inspired move, usurper Richard is reimagined here as the fascist head of an army of Nazi-esque Blackshirts (an analog of real militant far-right leader Oswald Mosley). Ian McKellen, who also co-wrote the screenplay, gives an odious but brilliant performance as the titular Machiavellian schemer who will stop at nothing to seize the crown, even betraying his own blood.

McKellen is joined by a gluttony of acting talent: Maggie Smith plays the King's despairing mother, Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. are the unfortunate American queen and her brother, while the likes of Jim Broadbent, Bill Paterson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Jim Carter fill up the royal court. All the richness of Shakespeare’s original writing is retained, charging the performances and the film around them with a grand sense of drama. Peter Biziou’s ostentatious cinematography is a perfect frame for it all, and helps cement this as much, much more than a piece of filmed theater.

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Adrian Dunbar, Andy Rashleigh, Annette Bening, Bill Paterson, Christopher Bowen, Denis Lill, Derek Lyons, Dominic West, Donald Sumpter, Edward Hardwicke, Edward Jewesbury, Ian McKellen, James Dreyfus, Jim Broadbent, Jim Carter, John Wood, Kate Steavenson-Payne, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Marco Williamson, Michael Elphick, Nigel Hawthorne, Robert Downey Jr., Roger Hammond, Tim McInnerny, Tres Hanley

Director: Richard Loncraine

Rating: R

The tragic irony of war — that, if battling soldiers had been born in any other time or place, they may well have been friends with each other — takes center stage in this brilliant drama set in WWII-era Java. It's a theme best encapsulated by Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto in his film debut), the bushido code-following commandant of a Japanese POW camp: “How wonderful it would have been if we could have invited all of you to a gathering under our cherry trees,” he muses to the titular British Lieutenant Lawrence (Tom Conti), one of his prisoners.

Lawrence is the camp’s mediator, and not just because he’s fluent in Japanese; in the culture clash microcosm that is the camp, he is uniquely understanding of his captors’ way of life. That earns him special privileges of sorts from the camp’s often brutal enforcer (Takeshi Kitano), but this pales in comparison to the instant partiality with which the charismatic Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) enjoys, courtesy of a smitten yet deeply repressed and tormented Yonoi. This psychosexual undercurrent bubbles furiously throughout Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, deepening its (already poignant) lamentations about war’s humanity-stripping effect and the self-imposed prisons that are honor and shame.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alistair Browning, Arthur Ranford, Colin Francis, Daisuke Iijima, David Bowie, Grant Bridger, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Mikami, Ian Miller, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Kan Mikami, Rokkō Toura, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryūnosuke Kaneda, Takashi Naito, Takeshi Kitano, Tamio Ishikura, Tom Conti, Yūji Honma, Yūya Uchida

Director: Nagisa Ōshima

Rating: R

Whether graffiti is art or not is the question guiding this fascinating documentary about the spray can-wielding artists of ‘80s New York. Wherever you come down in the debate — though this presents compelling arguments that graffiti is a medium worthy of critical attention — you’ll undoubtedly come away with a reverence for the kids who went hard with the paint on NYC’s walls and subway cars. Candid interviews with these young pioneers (whose cultural contributions are now less in contention) reveal that they’re not simply rebelling for rebellion’s sake: they’re largely motivated by a desire to make their mark on their beloved city — to stand out and have their work seen by the millions riding the subway every day.

The doc largely embeds itself with the artists, but it also interviews the “other side”: then-mayor Ed Koch and police officers, who were ramping up their aggressive “war on graffiti” campaign during filming. It’s clear that these interviewees have little interest in understanding what drives the kids to create their murals — a lack of curiosity that Style Wars blessedly counters. Not just a thoughtful contribution to its period and a fascinating time capsule, but also a thought-provoking reminder that art is art, whether it's made outside of the system or not.

Genre: Documentary, Music, TV Movie

Actor: Cap, Daze, Dondi, Ed Koch, Eric Haze, Gene Anthony Ray, Irene Cara, Kase 2, Rammellzee

Director: Tony Silver

, 2018

1985, a movie from 2018, was made like it was filmed during the year it’s about: it’s shot on gorgeous black-and-white Super 16mm film.

Not that it would be needed, but this minimalist setting puts a spotlight on the ensemble cast of this well-acted drama based on an award-winning short film.

In particular, the central one by Cory Michael Smith (Gotham, Camp X-Ray). He plays Adrian, a man visiting his conservative family in Texas from New York, so gently at times and explosively at others, it’s a sight to behold.

Adrian, estranged from his family for three years, visits them to find a way to tell them that he has AIDS.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aidan Langford, Bill Heck, Bryan Massey, Cory Michael Smith, Jamie Chung, Michael Chiklis, Ryan Piers Williams, Tina Parker, Virginia Madsen

Director: Yen Tan

Rating: Not Rated

Undefeated won an Oscar but since it’s a documentary, few sadly paid attention to it. It tells the story of a football team in a poor area in Tennessee. Kids without a bright future, until the new coach arrives. Yes, that sounds like a very old, cliché tale. But keep in mind it is a documentary, and the story it tells is powerful, gripping, and any familiarity quickly becomes irrelevant. Even if you have no interest in American football, or in sports in general, you will love it and more than likely find yourself reaching for the Kleenex at least a few times before the credits roll.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels, Montrail 'Money' Brown, Montrail 'Money' Brown, O.C. Brown

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T. J. Martin

Rating: PG-13