16 Best Movies to Watch From Oscilloscope

Staff & contributors

Get ready to cry your eyes out, scream in anger, but also rejoice at the powerful love that exists in our world. We will not spoiler the premise of this documentary and urge you not to do so yourself. Instead, we recommend watching it and prepare to be changed forever. Call it true crime if you will, but this documentary is much more. Hailed as one of the most important documentaries of the 2000s, it is a testament to friendship and love, a real-life thriller, and a political denouncement all in one.

Genre: Crime, Documentary

Actor: Andrew Bagby, Bob Bagby, David Bagby, Dr. Andrew Bagby, Dr. Shirley Turner, Heather Arnold, John Barnard, Jon Atkinson, Kathleen Bagby, Kurt Kuenne, Pat Bagby, Paul Barnard, Zachary Andrew Turner

Director: Kurt Kuenne

Rating: Not Rated

Summer 1993 charts a formative summer in the life of young Frida (Laia Artigas), a brooding six-year-old who, having just been orphaned by AIDS, is sent from her home in Barcelona to live in the countryside with her uncle (David Verdaguer), his wife (Bruna Cusí), and their little girl (Paula Robles). Catalan director Carla Simón drew on her own childhood experiences for the film, making Summer 1993 feel intimately told. It’s shot from the perspective of its young protagonist and is guided by the unpredictable rhythms of memory: we experience Frida’s new life the way she might remember it when she’s older, via snapshots of moments that stand out to a child, like the day she spent amongst the chickens in a neighbor’s farm or the moment another kid asks her why she isn’t more visibly upset about her mother’s recent death.

That emotional enigmaticness is what makes Artigas’s naturalistic performance so absorbing: she never plays Frida in a predictable dramatic register, so much so that it’s easy to forget we’re not watching a documentary. The unexpected little ways her grief manifests itself — along with Simón’s assured, impressionistic directing — make this a profoundly heart-rending watch throughout, and especially so in its gut-punch of a final scene.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer, Fermí Reixach, Isabel Rocatti, Laia Artigas, Quimet Pla

Director: Carla Simón

The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

What happens when Banksy, one of the most famous ambassadors of street art, meets Mr. Brainwash, an egocentric aspiring French artist? Well, one of the funniest, interesting and exciting documentaries ever made about art, commercialism and the apparent gulf between them. But is it really a documentary? This confident and zany film will leave you guessing.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: André, Banksy, Debora Guetta, Mr. Brainwash, Rhys Ifans, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader, Thierry Guetta

Director: Banksy

Rating: R

Joyland is groundbreaking on nearly all accounts. It’s the first Pakistani film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and to be shortlisted for an Oscar. Its forthright depiction of trans life and gender identity provoked the ire of local authorities, but it also inspired a nationwide movement (#ReleaseJoyland) that fought against censorship. It’s understandable, then, if the film is remembered for these disruptive achievements alone, but it should be noted that Joyland, as it is, is simply a stunning piece of cinema. 

Every scene is beautifully blocked and vibrantly lit, like a painting come to life, and every one of them is rich with meaning; there’s not a second we’re not diving deeper into the wonderfully complex lives of these people, all of whom are exploring sexuality and independence as best they can in a restricted environment. And sure, Biba and Haider’s relationship takes center stage as it reveals the nuances of queer love, but Joyland just as deftly tackles toxic masculinity (and how it’s a specter that haunts Haider’s household), domestic labor (and how it largely goes unnoticed), and female solidarity (and how it can literally save a girl’s life). Heartbreaking and lovely, this a family saga in that it’s as much about Haider’s family as it is about him, and it’s a shame if it weren’t remembered as such. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ramiz Law, Rasti Farooq, Salmaan Peerzada, Sania Saeed, Sarwat Gilani, Sohail Sameer

Director: Saim Sadiq

This movie is gentle and utterly chaotic, intimate and massive, beautiful and ugly... it tries to be so many things and somehow pulls it off. It tells two stories parallel in time, based on the real-life diaries of two European scientists who traveled through the Amazon in the early and mid-twentieth century. Their stories are some of the only of accounts of Amazonian tribes in written history. The main character and guide in the movie is a shaman who met them both. At times delicate to the point of almost being able to feel the water, at times utterly apocalyptic and grand... to watch this movie is to take a journey through belief systems, through film... and to be brought along by cinematography that is at times unbelievably and absurdly beautiful. Meditative, violent, jarring, peaceful, luminous, ambitious, artful, heavy handed, graceful... it's really an incredible film.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Jan Bijvoet, José Sabogal, Nicolás Cancino, Nilbio Torres, Yauenkü Miguee

Director: Ciro Guerra

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins, Greg Schmitt, Jeanine Jackson, John Breen, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, M. Blash, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Michelle Williams, Roger D. Faires, Tanya Smith, Wally Dalton, Will Oldham, Will Patton

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: R

“Youth is a state of mind,” a poet once said — but, young in spirit though they are, the elderly artist couple at the center of this fly-on-the-wall documentary must confront the harsh reality that aging isn’t something the body can avoid. Jackie and Don Seiden — a yin-and-yang pair who describe themselves as “a mouse and a crocodile” — still argue and make up with all the fierce vitality of a couple half their age. They haven’t yet lapsed into living life through the rear-view mirror: both still actively make art, Don his sketches and Jackie her slideshows and found-object arrangements. They live in a creaking yet beautiful home, decorated exclusively in pastel colors; as Don puts it, they’ve “made a life that’s really unusual […] a life only [they] could’ve made.”

As his health issues — and the weakening of her ability to care for them — threaten the end of that 50-year-long chapter in their lives, the couple confront mortality and find it brings them holding ever tighter to one another. Their abiding mutual affection makes this documentary a moving portrait of enduring love, while their fiery intellectual verve gives it a sharp honesty that prevents it from ever lapsing into sentimentality.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Daniel Hymanson

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

Val is a housekeeper for a wealthy family in São Paulo. She is close with every family member, and acts as the title would suggest - as a second mother, but there are clear reminders of her status. One is the sheer amount of work she has to do, from cooking to cleaning and responding to random demands.

Val’s estranged daughter visits her, a bright kid who is on her way to university. This brings out more of the maid/employer dynamics: if Val is “family”, why would she and her daughter have to sleep in a small cramped room when the guest room is empty?

Questions like these threaten the family’s balance and the uneasy existence that millions around the world have as housekeepers.

It’s a great and well-thought-out drama, one that would make the perfect centerpiece for a movie night or a movie club pick.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Camila Márdila, Helena Albergaria, Hugo Villavicenzio, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli, Luci Pereira, Luis Miranda, Michel Joelsas, Regina Casé, Theo Werneck

Director: Anna Muylaert

Beastie Boys Story, a live documentary that runs for two hours and consists entirely of two speakers presenting a PowerPoint onstage, shouldn't be as enjoyable and enthralling as it is, but with the help of director Spike Jonze, remaining band members Mike D and Adam Horovitz pull off the impossible and draw in a rapt crowd by chronicling how the iconic hip-hop group came to be.

Told with intimate detail and blithe humor, Beastie Boys Story has the easygoing charm of a dear friend recounting the good old days with you. Mike D and Adam Horovitz are skilled storytellers, and with Jonze operating the technicals to a tee backstage, everything comes together in a satisfyingly smooth and utterly watchable take. You don't have to know much (if anything at all) about the Beastie Boys to enjoy this documentary, and whatever your opinion is of them beforehand, you'll leave this film knowing a bit more about the creative process, necessary growth, and unbelievable luck all artists go through.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Adam Curry, Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch, Afrika Bambaataa, Ben Stiller, Bill Hader, David Cross, Dick Clark, Don Cornelius, Joan Rivers, Karen Duffy, Kurt Loder, Kurtis Blow, Madonna, Michael Diamond, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Stipe, Money Mark, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Spike Jonze, Steve Buscemi, Tenzin Gyatso

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: TV-MA

This fun comedy-drama is about Bridget, a 34-year-old who hasn't quite got it all figured out, but at least she’s trying: after terminating an accidental pregnancy, she gets herself a summer gig as a nanny for a fearless six-year-old by the name of Frances. 

Tackling a myriad of "taboo" topics including abortion, menstruation, and depression, the movie visually normalizes human experiences that remain underrepresented in mainstream cinema. And writer Kelly O’Sullivan, who also plays Bridget, has a screenplay that manages to do it all without feeling didactic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bradley Grant Smith, Charin Alvarez, Chris Coats, Courtney Rioux, Danny Catlow, Francis Guinan, H.B. Ward, Hanna Dworkin, Jackson Evans, Jim True-Frost, Kelly O'Sullivan, Lily Mojekwu, Mary Beth Fisher, Max Lipchitz, Meighan Gerachis, Noah Williams, Ramona Edith Williams, Rebecca Buller, Rebecca Spence, Rebekah Ward, Roger Welp, Sophia Rubin

Director: Alex Thompson

Rating: N/A

A portrait of an Alabama high school wrestling team springboards from a sports documentary into an encompassing exploration of the American working class and institutional racism. The film operates on both levels as it zooms in on the lives of four students and their friendly yet overbearing coach. From the opening moments, Coach Sribner makes it clear that the State Championship is about much more than sport. A failing and underfunded school system all but ensures that a sports scholarship is one of the few chances for these youth to have access to higher education and a path out of poverty. 

This is further exacerbated by the racial dynamics at play, as we watch these mostly Black youth experience casual racism as well as institutional harassment from the police. Even their well-meaning coach is not exempt, he at once can acknowledge his white privilege but is not above baselessly accusing one of the boys of stealing his sunglasses. Herbert’s up close and personal style is immersive and passionate and builds to an exciting sports film climax while maintaining a piercing awareness of the severe economic realities that hollow out any victory on the mat.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Chris Scribner, Jailen Young, Jaquan Rhodes, Teague Berres

Director: Suzannah Herbert

Hassan Fazili and Nargis Fazili are two filmmakers who, faced with death threats, escape their home in Afghanistan and start a journey to Europe that millions of others have taken over the past few years. But unlike most others, the Fazilis filmed everything on their way.

The result is not only a portrayal of the dangers they go through but it's also about less obvious and possibly more common aspects of the refugee experience. It's about the wait in refugee centers (that can last many years), the anticipation and also what it means to do all of this with children. Because watch out for the little Fazilis, who travel with their parents, for they will steal your heart.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Hassan Fazili

Rating: Not Rated

Coherence is a film that captivates you to the point of questioning the reality that surrounds you. It's a Quantum physics based sci-fi thriller that keeps your eyes sealed to the screen - not with unrealistically beautiful actors or special effects, but with an original screenplay and unexpected twists. Very refreshing.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alex Manugian, Alexis Boozer Sterling, Aqueela Zoll, Elizabeth Gracen, Emily Baldoni, Hugo Armstrong, Kelly Donovan, Lauren Maher, Lorene Scafaria, Mark Ballou, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon

Director: James Ward Byrkit

Rating: Not Rated