10 Movies Like Vanilla Sky (2001)

Staff & contributors

A very poetic film by Tony Kaye (American History X) about an English Literature teacher (Adrien Brody - "The Pianist") who only works as a substitute in schools which are located in very poor urban areas. The reason behind his choice is that he doesn't want to bond too much with his students and colleagues because he is trying to control his dark emotions about life and the triviality of our existences (although it sounds depressing it is absolutely not). He also takes care of his last family connection, his grandfather, to whom he is very close and who lives in an elderly home. Unsurprisingly, their relationship is very emotional and deep. Every time you think about your existence, your place in the world, your interactions with other people; watch Detachment.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrien Brody, Betty Kaye, Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston, Celia Au, Chris Papavasiliou, Christina Hendricks, Isiah Whitlock Jr., James Caan, Josh Pais, Louis Zorich, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Joy, Patricia Rae, Ralph Rodriguez, Reagan Leonard, Ronen Rubinstein, Samantha Logan, Sami Gaye, Sami Gayle, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen

Director: Tony Kaye

Rating: Not Rated

Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a craggy, lovable English professor struggling to finish the follow-up to a very successful first novel. It has taken him 7 years, and it's an obvious metaphor for his ridiculous life. The character navigates various tragicomic dilemmas with a stellar supporting cast including Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, and Katie Holmes. His editor is Robert Downey Jr. and his nemesis is Rip Torn. Bob Dylan wrote the theme song. How do you not love this movie? It's one of those films that feels like a warm, cozy house (despite the fact that it takes place in a Pittsburgh winter), and it's a great blend of humor and drama.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Tudyk, Bingo O'Malley, Charis Michelsen, Elisabeth Granli, Frances McDormand, George Grizzard, James Ellroy, James Kisicki, Jane Adams, John W. Iwanonkiw, Katie Holmes, Kelly Bishop, Michael Cavadias, Michael Douglas, Philip Bosco, Richard Knox, Richard Thomas, Rip Torn, Rob McElhenney, Robert Downey Jr., Sean King, Tobey Maguire, Victor Quinaz, Yusuf Gatewood

Director: Curtis Hanson

Rating: R

The story that Whale Rider tells is a familiar one: that of a young girl challenging the expectations of a patriarchal community in order to claim her rightful place in a position of authority. But this isn't a superficial girl-power movie; writer/director Niki Caro maintains the utmost reverence for this Māori community, even if its customs might not appear fair to an outsider's point of view. It's a film full of realistically flawed people, whose struggles are all borne from a common love for their culture in their little corner of the world. What could have been generic and simplistic is made beautiful—especially thanks to a truly moving performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes, who at the time became the youngest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House, Rawiri Paratene, Tahei Simpson, Tammy Davis, Taungaroa Emile, Vicky Haughton

Director: Niki Caro

Mike Mills has always had an obsession with childhood and parenthood, often honing in on the beautiful, frustrating, and inevitable mess that comes with them. C’mon C’mon is no exception, but here, Mills blurs the lines between the two even more. Sometimes the kid acts more like an adult, and the adult more like a kid; sometimes the uncle acts as a surrogate mother, and the mother (unsurprisingly) takes on the role of an everywoman, attempting to be breadwinner, caretaker, and friend all at once. 

C’mon C’mon has no allegiances; it simply shows us the dynamics between one family and mirrors what we already know about ours. Shot in black and white, grounded in simple conversations, and interwoven with moving essay excerpts and real interviews, C’mon C’mon feels at once personal and universal; a moving feat of a film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Artrial Clark, Brandon Rush, Callan Farris, Cooper Jack Rubin, Deborah Strang, Elaine Kagan, Gabby Hoffman, Gaby Hoffmann, Gita Reddy, Jaboukie Young-White, Jenny Eliscu, Joaquin Phoenix, Joseph Bishop, Kate Adams, Keisuke Hoashi, Mahfuzul Islam, Mary Passeri, Molly Webster, Scoot McNairy, Sunni Patterson, Todd D'Amour, Woody Norman

Director: Mike Mills

Rating: R

Film direction—at least in the traditional sense—is all about establishing control. In Even the Rain, however, the crew led by director Sebastian faces a problem larger than what they can manage when they become embroiled in a local conflict over water supply while shooting a period film in Bolivia. The situation escalates into a violent uprising between the residents and the Bolivian state forces, which then endangers the completion of Sebastian’s film.

Even the Rain exposes the hypocrisy of urban filmmaking, questioning its exploitative and selfish tendencies. “Some things are more important than your film,” the actor Daniel bluntly tells Sebastian in one scene. This meta-commentary extends to the audience and encourages us to reevaluate the importance we put into films, especially with regards to the current socio-political context.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Antonio Mora, Carlos Santos, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Dani Curras, Daniel Currás, Daniel Currás, Ezequiel Díaz, Gael García Bernal, Juan Carlos Aduviri, Karra Elejalde, Leónidas Chiri, Leónidas Chiri, Luis Bredow, Luis Tosar, Milena Soliz, Najwa Nimri, Pau Colera, Raúl Arévalo, Sonia Ovando, Vicente Romero, Vicente Romero Sánchez

Director: Icíar Bollaín

Rating: Not Rated

Welcome to the Dollhouse tells the story of Dawn, an unpopular seventh-grader mercilessly bullied at school and ignored at home. Her day-to-day is painful to watch; her classmates make fun of her, her teachers never believe her, and her parents punish her, blatantly favoring her other siblings over her. But all this she puts up with, as if going through the murky in-between stage that is adolescence isn't confusing enough. Dawn finds no respite elsewhere, except perhaps in her friend Ralphy (another target of bullying) and her crush, the high schooler Steve.  

A Sundance jury winner back in '96, Welcome to the Dollhouse is as darkly funny as it is grim. It takes on a deadpan approach in handling its more serious topics; it doesn't make fun of them so much as it shines them in a new and blinding light. It's difficult to look away from this frank and well-balanced film; a sure good watch for anyone curious to know what it's really like to be a teenage loner.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Angela Pietropinto, Bill Buell, Brendan Sexton III, Christina Brucato, Christina Vidal, Daria Kalinina, Elizabeth Martin, Eric Mabius, Heather Matarazzo, Ken Leung, Matthew Faber, Molly Howe, Rica Martens, Richard Gould, Siri Howard, Stacey Moseley, Teddy Coluca, Telly Pontidis, Victoria Davis, Will Lyman

Director: Todd Solondz

Rating: R

This easy French rom-com from 2006 is about Jean, a poor barman played Gad Elmaleh, who lies about his profession to date Irène, played by Audrey Tautou.

Irène has the habit of dating wealthy men to fund her lifestyle, she quickly realizes that Jean does not fit that description. Determined to do everything he can to win her over, Jean himself starts dating wealthy women.

Priceless, or Hors de prix, is a fun and light romcom with excellent lead performances.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Annelise Hesme, Audrey Tautou, Blandine Pélissier, Charlotte Vermeil, Claudine Baschet, Didier Brice, Gad Elmaleh, Guillaume Verdier, Jacques Spiesser, Jean de Coninck, Jean-Michel Lahmi, Laurent Claret, Marie-Christine Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff

Director: Pierre Salvadori

Rating: PG-13

A residential dispute spirals out of control into full, xenophobia-fueled tragedy in this straightforward and elegantly made film that comes from a now-bygone era of mid-budget dramas for adults. House of Sand and Fog may come off as excessively bleak to viewers today, but it manages to capture a very particular mood of paranoia and distrust common in post-9/11 American cinema. And if nothing else, the film is worth watching for a trio of powerful performances that never resort to overacting: from Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, English screen legend Ben Kingsley, and an always compelling Jennifer Connelly, who was arguably at the peak of her career in the early 2000s.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Frazier, Aki Aleong, Al Rodrigo, Ashley Edner, Ben Kingsley, Bonita Friedericy, Brian Reed Garvin, Carlos Gómez, Cooper Thornton, David Carrera, Dennison Samaroo, Frances Fisher, Frank Gallegos, Izabella St. James, Jennifer Connelly, Joe Howard, Jonathan Ahdout, Joyce Kurtz, Karl Makinen, Ken Kerman, Kia Jam, Kim Dickens, Marco Rodriguez, Mark Chaet, Max Jansen Weinstein, Michael Papajohn, Nasser Faris, Navi Rawat, Pamela Shaddock, Ray Abruzzo, Ron Eldard, Scott Kinworthy, Scott N. Stevens, Shani Rigsbee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Spencer Garrett, Tom Reynolds, Zoran Radanovich

Director: Vadim Perelman

Shattered Glass tells the unbelievably true story of Stephen Glass, a popular and promising young journalist at The New Republic. Stephen's storytelling skills are sought out not just by his admiring colleagues but by other publications as well, so when a rival journalist from Forbes finds holes in one of Stephen's stories, no one takes the accusation seriously at first—except perhaps for Charles Lane, Stephen's editor. Immune to Stephen's charms, Charles digs for the truth and tries, despite an alarming lack of support, to pursue what's right.

Set in the '90s, Shattered Glass may be a throwback to old-school journalism, but its ideas about the integrity of facts still hold water, especially in an age fraught with rampant disinformation.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Andrew Airlie, Bill Rowat, Brett Watson, Brittany Drisdelle, Caroline Goodall, Cas Anvar, Chad Donella, Chloe Sevigny, Christian Tessier, Hank Azaria, Hayden Christensen, Howard Rosenstein, Isabelle Champeau, Jamie Elman, Linda E. Smith, Louis-Philippe Dandenault, Luke Kirby, Lynne Adams, Mark Blum, Mark Camacho, Melanie Lynskey, Michele Scarabelli, Morgan Kelly, Owen Roth, Pauline Little, Peter Sarsgaard, Pierre Leblanc, Rosario Dawson, Russell Yuen, Simone-Elise Girard, Steve Zahn, Ted Kotcheff, Terry Simpson

Director: Billy Ray

Rating: PG-13

Widely considered as the dawn of Chinese animation, Big Fish & Begonia frankly isn’t as outstanding as Japan’s Spirited Away, but it does share some of its charms. The awe-inspiring natural spirit world looks something akin to the worlds of Studio Ghibli, as well as the cute creatures, this time in dolphin-fish form. Even those unfamiliar with Chinese mythology can recognize the folklorish elements in the story, particularly the magic that feels reminiscent of Little Mermaid, and as each of the teen protagonists makes a sacrifice, it still tugs at the heartstrings. It’s not perfect, and the third act does get a tad convoluted, but Big Fish & Begonia still works emotionally as an homage to Chinese folklore.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Ji Guanlin, Jie Zhang, King Shih-Chieh, Pan Shulan, Su Shangqing, Timmy Xu, Xue Lifang

Director: Liang Xuan, Zhang Chun

Rating: PG-13