Great Films for Realism

by thecamillocienfuegos | created - 21 Jan 2014 | updated - 21 Jan 2014 | Public

Realistic dialogue, characterization and decisions are rare and precious thing in cinema. Here are a few films that pull it off, even if only (in some cases) for a few moments.

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1. Shifty (2008)

Unrated | 85 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

Shifty, a young crack cocaine dealer in London, sees his life quickly spiral out of control when his best friend returns home. Stalked by a customer desperate to score at all costs, and ... See full summary »

Director: Eran Creevy | Stars: Riz Ahmed, Daniel Mays, Jason Flemyng, Nitin Ganatra

Votes: 2,758

Far from perfect, but some of the dialogue captures the way working-class Londoners talk, and the characters are at least semi-credible.

2. Harsh Times (2005)

R | 116 min | Action, Crime, Drama

56 Metascore

A tough-minded drama about two friends in South Central Los Angeles and the violence that comes between them.

Director: David Ayer | Stars: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodríguez, Eva Longoria, Chaka Forman

Votes: 60,904 | Gross: $3.34M

Well-researched and evocative, if melodramatic and stylized, portrayal of the potentially dangerous effects of violent trauma on an already unstable man.

3. Schindler's List (1993)

R | 195 min | Biography, Drama, History

94 Metascore

In German-occupied Poland during World War II, industrialist Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall

Votes: 1,124,379 | Gross: $96.90M

A lot of scenes and characters based on real accounts, and played very believably, indeed brilliantly, especially Ralph Feinnes as the terrifying but emotionally vulnerable nazi commandant.

4. Trainspotting (1996)

R | 93 min | Drama

83 Metascore

Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.

Director: Danny Boyle | Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd

Votes: 602,909 | Gross: $16.50M

Highly stylized, but with quite a few bits of very realistic dialogue and characterization, which evokes the working class Scottish culture.

5. Human Traffic (1999)

R | 99 min | Comedy, Music

53 Metascore

Five friends spend one lost weekend in a mix of music, love and club culture.

Director: Justin Kerrigan | Stars: John Simm, Lorraine Pilkington, Shaun Parkes, Nicola Reynolds

Votes: 22,105 | Gross: $0.10M

The best available representation of 90s rave culture in England. Over the top characters and stylized scenes, but still truer to life than any comparable film.

6. The Deer Hunter (1978)

R | 183 min | Drama, War

86 Metascore

An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.

Director: Michael Cimino | Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, John Savage

Votes: 291,556 | Gross: $48.98M

No other film makes even nearly the same effort to illustrate the changes that war can bring about in the lives of participants. Action is sometimes a bit unbelievable, but the characters - with their different reactions to traumatic experiences - are superbly conceived and acted.

7. The Class (2008)

PG-13 | 128 min | Drama

92 Metascore

Teacher and novelist François Bégaudeau plays a version of himself as he negotiates a year with his racially mixed students from a tough Parisian neighborhood.

Director: Laurent Cantet | Stars: François Bégaudeau, Agame Malembo-Emene, Angélica Sancio, Arthur Fogel

Votes: 32,720 | Gross: $3.77M

Everything that 'Dangerous Minds' should have been but wasn't. The portrayal of an inner city classroom, with its chaotic atmosphere and complex power dynamics, is uniquely naturalistic and credible.

8. City of God (2002)

R | 130 min | Crime, Drama

79 Metascore

In the slums of Rio, two kids' paths diverge as one struggles to become a photographer and the other a kingpin.

Directors: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund | Stars: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Matheus Nachtergaele, Phellipe Haagensen

Votes: 661,015 | Gross: $7.56M

Based on real events, this evokes life in the favelas and offers characters who are highly credible if a little sketchy.

9. Raging Bull (1980)

R | 129 min | Biography, Drama, Sport

89 Metascore

The life of boxer Jake LaMotta, whose violence and temper that led him to the top in the ring destroyed his life outside of it.

Director: Martin Scorsese | Stars: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent

Votes: 298,307 | Gross: $23.38M

Fights are stylized, but the scenes at home feel like a very authentic representation of the family life of a troubled and aggressive man.

10. Spartacus (1960)

PG-13 | 197 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

87 Metascore

The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman Republic.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton

Votes: 116,165 | Gross: $30.00M

Stylized and stiff as with all such films, Spartacus nevertheless manages to give us a nice combination of characters with depth and humanity, and pays much attention to real contemporary culture.

11. White Men Can't Jump (1992)

R | 115 min | Comedy, Drama, Sport

65 Metascore

Black and white basketball hustlers join forces to double their chances of winning money on the street courts and in a basketball tournament.

Director: Ron Shelton | Stars: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez, Tyra Ferrell

Votes: 70,731 | Gross: $76.25M

Not exactly super-realistic, but the characters and their struggle with poverty are sympathetically and humanely represented, and the basketball is bloody decent too!

12. Timecrimes (2007)

R | 92 min | Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi

68 Metascore

A man accidentally gets into a time machine and travels back in time nearly an hour. Finding himself will be the first of a series of disasters of unforeseeable consequences.

Director: Nacho Vigalondo | Stars: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo

Votes: 53,654 | Gross: $0.04M

Quite simply the most realistic representation of time travel ever, as silly as that may sound. The decisions of the characters are also mostly believable given the complexity of the plot.

13. Rocky (1976)

PG | 120 min | Drama, Sport

70 Metascore

A small-time boxer gets a supremely rare chance to fight a heavy-weight champion in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect.

Director: John G. Avildsen | Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers

Votes: 485,957 | Gross: $117.24M

Forget about the boxing. Actually a really gritty and humane representation of the life of a poor guy in 1970s Philadelphia.

14. In the Name of the Father (1993)

R | 133 min | Biography, Drama

84 Metascore

A man's coerced confession to an IRA bombing he did not commit results in the imprisonment of his father as well. An English lawyer fights to free them.

Director: Jim Sheridan | Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Alison Crosbie, Philip King

Votes: 145,395 | Gross: $25.01M

Pretty down-to-earth and accurate account of an ordinary man thrown into a real-life Kafkaesque nightmare, exposing the hypocrisy and cruelty of the contemporary British media and judicial system.

15. Thank You for Smoking (2005)

R | 92 min | Comedy, Drama

71 Metascore

Satirical comedy follows the machinations of Big Tobacco's chief spokesman, Nick Naylor, who spins on behalf of cigarettes while trying to remain a role model for his twelve-year-old son.

Director: Jason Reitman | Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, Maria Bello, Joan Lunden

Votes: 207,922 | Gross: $24.79M

Not a particularly realistic film overall, but a very credible portrayal of a very common syndrome in the modern economy, a man who does an evil job but is actually a nice guy in his personal life.

16. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

R | 169 min | Drama, War

91 Metascore

Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns

Votes: 1,147,861 | Gross: $216.54M

A lot of realistic touches, if not entirely convincing.

17. Johnny Mad Dog (2008)

98 min | Drama, War

45 Metascore

A cast of unknown performers are used in this drama about child soldiers fighting a war in an African country.

Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire | Stars: Christophe Minie, Daisy Victoria Vandy, Joseph Duo, Dagbeth Tweh

Votes: 3,135

A rare credible representation of the civil wars of modern sub-Saharan Africa, which uses real ex-child soldiers and feels like a realistic portrayal of deeply troubled young men with almost no 'ordinary' life experience.

18. Before Sunrise (1995)

R | 101 min | Drama, Romance

77 Metascore

A young man and woman meet on a train in Europe, and wind up spending one evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together.

Director: Richard Linklater | Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckert, Hanno Pöschl

Votes: 246,266 | Gross: $5.54M

Pretty good portrayal of two mutually attracted people getting know each other, with some good naturalistic dialogue.

19. My Dinner with Andre (1981)

PG | 110 min | Biography, Comedy, Drama

83 Metascore

Two old friends meet for dinner; as one tells anecdotes detailing his experiences, the other notices their differing worldviews.

Director: Louis Malle | Stars: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn, Jean Lenauer, Roy Butler

Votes: 16,072 | Gross: $5.25M

A very naturalistic portrayal of a very weird (but very thought-provoking) conversation between a fairly normal intelligent guy and an eccentric spiritualist. Dinner by name dinner by nature!

20. Chopper (2000)

R | 94 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

65 Metascore

Chopper tells the intense story of Mark "Chopper" Read, a legendary criminal who wrote his autobiography while serving a jail sentence in prison. His book, "From the Inside", upon which the film is based, was a best-seller.

Director: Andrew Dominik | Stars: Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, Vince Colosimo, Renée Brack

Votes: 35,018 | Gross: $0.23M

Carefully researched and totally believable, despite being stylized and ridiculous. Eric Bana really captures the combination of charm and aggressive insanity and characterizes the eponymous violent psychopath.

21. Alien (1979)

R | 117 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

89 Metascore

After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as a distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious lifeform, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.

Director: Ridley Scott | Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright

Votes: 735,844 | Gross: $78.90M

As realistic as an outrageous sci-fi can be. Characters are believable and sympathetic, and the evocation of atmosphere corporate protocol and power feels very credible.

22. 28 Days Later... (2002)

R | 113 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

73 Metascore

Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.

Director: Danny Boyle | Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Alex Palmer

Votes: 353,247 | Gross: $45.06M

Not exactly realistic, but has some nice realistic touches about life after zombie meltdown which other films of the kind lack, making it much more convincing and compelling than the usual zombie flicks.

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