Movie Recommendations for Puzzle-Lovers Like Me [Live Post]


It’s hard to find a curated list of movies that I or my friends would like. I’ve tried to get my movies from the Cannes Film Festival winners, or the A24 trailers, or from the IMDb top movies, or from the Oscar nominees, or my friends – even then, it’s hard to isolate why people like specific movies and stick to spoiler-free reviews. Personal recommendations are rare and treasured, and I wish there was a place that all my friends put their favorite movies up so I could steal from that list instead. I like indie and international movies especially – classic Hollywood eschews controversy in favor of tropes and standard storytelling methods to maximize profit and agreeability at the box office; indie films tend to be a lot more unique and interesting. See my similar TV doc for TV recs, or my Goodreads for book recs.

Puzzle making is pretty lossy and inaccurate representation of this list. I generally love any movies that are more sci-fi themed (like Dune), or have a complex plot that takes focus to fully understand (ahem Tenet), or make you feel a ton of emotions (damn, Better Days), or have you sniff out lots of little clues that the filmmaker plants, each one changing the implications of the movie (see: Us). I think this list is pretty broadly recommendable, but specifically I think more technical folks or people who love puzzles will particularly love this list. I don’t include any spoilers, but more of a broadstrokes review. For reviews with spoilers, I usually search for blog post analyses, which has been far better than Google or ChatGPT. This list is largely inspired by Nick Sweeting’s similar list and Max Langenkamp. If you have any recs for me having looked at this list, I’d love to hear them – you can dm me on Twitter! To calibrate, anything 8 or above means I highly recommend that others watch it, and 10 is a must-watch. ⭐ My top movie of the year is marked in stars ⭐.

This alive doc will be updated every time I watch a movie, and is in reverse chronological order. Maybe one day I will also reflect these on Letterboxd.



  • Spirited Away: 9/10. It’s incredible that the greatest animated film of all time is so surreal and fantastical, but also grounded in very human themes like anti-capitalism, pro-environmentalism, anti-greed, pro-kindness etc throughout. A few blog posts helped me really understand all of the symbolism – the best ones were these: social commentary analysis, character analysis, and prostitution theory breakdown.

  • Jujutsu Kaisen 0: 9/10. This is a prequel to the first season, and OK watching standalone (unlike Made in Abyss). This is my favorite anime for a reason – the story is both deeply emotional and hilarious, and the cast of characters is memorable and immediately lovable. Docked a point for a few scenes with unclear and unmotivated dialogue, meaning I had to rewatch those to understand.

  • Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul: 7/10. I hesitate even mentioning this in the movie section, because it’s the third in a sequence of movies where the first two are better-laid out versions of the first season of the show. With that context though, I found it much more action packed and compelling – there are a few missing details from the manga that would have clarified a lot of my confusions about the movie, but the main villain is surprisingly complex and consistent despite acting in what initially seems like inconsistent ways.

  • Black Panther 2: 5/10. I wanted to watch this due to the 5 minutes that takes place at MIT. Without Chadwick Boseman, I’ll admit they started with a pretty tough hand. To be honest, the first 45 minutes or so was really compelling. I was really sad that they then villianized the really interesting Mexico-inspired country they set up – I would have loved a more nuanced take here, or more empathy created for them throughout, instead of just in bits and pieces. The main character didn’t even try to do the right thing for most of the movie, and the character arc felt pretty unmotivated and sometimes contradictory. The plot itself was also super formulaic and not really compelling or surprising; the last hour was predictable enough to not be interesting. A steep decline from Black Panther 1.

  • Your Name ⭐: 10/10. This movie had the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen (here’s a 10 second tiktok preview) – and it tells a beautiful story that is so deeply emotional, that you hardly give a passing glace to the reason time and identity work so strangely. It is the top 5 grossing anime films of all time, for good reason – the beautiful music was from a Japanese rock band that yet achieves an incredibly soft and alluring soundtrack, the scenery is depicted so vividly unlike any animation I have ever seen, and the characters tug on your heartstrings. It imbues a sense that you can love a kind of person without knowing their identity yet, and you feel a sense of something you are yearning for – an alluringly romantic take in today’s app swiping era. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite-ever sci fi anthology, Axiomatic by Greg Egan, had a direct influence on the director (the “The Safe-Deposit Box” story specifically).

  • Akira: 7/10. This movie is weird – but insanely influential for all the sci-fi to come after it. At the time, it was the highest budget Japanese animation ever – they were able to create things no previous animation had created. They created the first cyberpunk cityscape and the iconic motorcycle slide replicated literally hundreds or thousands of times in media since then. Just to name a few, their depiction of child experimentation directly inspired Stranger Things, and the neo-Tokyo visuals and red puffer fashion directly inspired Kanye. While I think that it’s interesting and provoking, it was almost so shocking and unpredictable that I was caught off-guard (that’s probably what made it so genre-defining though). Because of that, you can’t really stop thinking about it though, and I’d bet that my rating would be higher on a rewatch or having seen a bunch more anime first.

  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: 9/10. This movie seems to be about forgetting and regret and breakups, but it’s really about love. About how it’s the genuine feeling and not the words themselves that make you love someone, and about how you choose someone again and again both with incomplete and with complete information. It might sound cheesy, but I think the movie did a great job not falling into that trap, mostly because of the sci-fi element (but what do I know, I’ve seen like 3 total romance movies). I think movies about repeating relationships fall flat for me since I feel like people change so much that repeating a relationship is a completely different journey, but also most people probably whiplash their personality less than I do.

  • The Prestige: 8/10. This had been on my list ever since watching ‘Now You See Me’. This movie about two vengeful magicians is a magic trick itself, filled with clever misdirections. The portrayal of obsession was well motivated and captivating.

  • Fight Club: 9/10. Not at all what I thought it would be about from the name. It has the vibes of a cult classic – zany characters do very strange but surprisingly understandable things, and it explores more complex themes than just pointless testosterone-fueled fighting. Has one of my favorite scenes of all time (the one with Raymond).


This was an excellent year for movies. I spent a significant amount of time combing through trailers, award shows, and off-the-beaten path recommendations, and it heavily paid off. I hope that others can benefit from it!

  • Triangle of Sadness: 5/10. This felt like a pretty overdone, trope-y cross of Lord of the Flies and “ugh rich people are so stupid and hierarchical”. The absurdism was funny and well-placed, but it didn’t explore any surprising or interesting themes. The director scene breakdowns were also pretty mediocre compared to others I’ve seen.

  • Minions: The Rise of Gru: 8/10. Love these little guys, who more than make up for the lack of story. Degenerate childhood nostalgia.

  • Better Days ⭐: 10/10. Wholesome coming of age romance story. Starts with bullying, but evolves into a way more complex and emotional story. Was censored by the CCP, so there are a few scenes that don’t make 100% sense, but a few articles quickly cleared it up. Some trailers have previews of some of the cut scenes too. First Academy Award nominated film from a Hong Kong director. Had me thinking about the film for like a whole day after. On Netflix.

  • 3 Idiots: 10/10. Rewatched this after 10 years. This is my favorite Bollywood film of all time; a touching story told through an educational satire. Has some legendary songs and probably shaped a good amount of my young identity.

  • Clue: 9/10. Really incredible adaptation (of the board game!). Probably my favorite movie pre-1990, they did a great job making murder lighthearted and keeping the audience guessing.

  • Aaron Swartz: The Internet’s Own Boy: 10/10. Aaron’s death was an abhorrent tragedy, but his life and values were incredibly uplifting and inspiring. This documentary is incredibly personal for me: nearly all the values that I try to uphold are either directly inspired by or were deeply held by Aaron. My life has been significantly impacted by both his story and the projects he worked on: my entire life right now is focused on improving trust in governance and open access education, things Aaron deeply cared about. I cried probably 5 times in this documentary, even though I already knew the entire story.

  • Howl’s Moving Castle: 10/10. My first Studio Ghibli film. I absolutely loved Calcifer’s character design, the animation was really well executed and heart warming, and even through the almost absurd story, you couldn’t help but root for the odd band of characters.

  • MIT: Regressions: 10/10. This is simply the most mindblowing documentary I’ve ever seen, and it’s available for free online. There is a ton of batshit crazy footage from the last 60 years of MIT-related history: unreleased moon landing footage, Nixon tapes where he says some insanely stupid things about education, students fighting admin and police en masse, and incredibly thoughtful and unique commentary on the MIT’s political and social evolution and the impact on the world. I think this meaningfully changed the way I look at both MIT and myself, and in my opinion is an absolute must watch.

  • Nope: 6/10. I had high hopes for a Jordan Peele film after Us topped my 2020 list, but was let down. This film explored spectacle and animal treatment, themes that I think made for less complex plots. It was cool though how two seemingly disparate plots connected in ways that implied non-obvious subtexts about each one. The movie theatre itself was absolutely sick though – Nitehawk Cinema in NYC; they serve you food and drinks in your seat!

  • Hadestown: 10/10. Broadway musical, so not technically a movie (though they usually movie-ify these things a few years out). Best play I’ve seen since Hamilton – the music, the story, the acting, the characters, the set: everything really stood out and made you tear up at the end.

  • jeen-yuhs: 9/10. (rated before Kanye got cancelled) This man was such a lunatic that before his first album, he got a documentary videogapher to follow him around. As a result, there’s a ton of crazy primary source footage, and a really compelling narrative that colors in a lot of what did and didn’t change with Donda around. Only really recommended for Kanye fans.

  • Look at Me: 8/10. Another documentary that fills in the troubled story of the most-streamed hip hop artist of our generation. It’s crazy to see this mans electric stage presence from the very first show. He was a complex person, and the documentary managed to both give a fair portrayal of his crimes and explain the circumstances that led to it. I wish we could have seen him live out the redemption arc that the movie painted, but maybe he never would have. Again, only highly recommended for fans of his music.

  • Summer Wars: 6/10. A comical anime about a fake boyfriend who’s taken to meet his fake girlfriend’s family, where he uses his computer, videogame, and math skills to save 2009 Japan’s conception of the metaverse. A fun story for the family and an interesting conception of the “metaverse”, but nothing particularly standout artistically.

  • 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri: 10/10. It has an excellent unique plot from the get-go, and sets up a really unique protagonist/antagonist arc. Standout indie film.

  • Arrival: 7/10. While the visuals put it a notch above the book, I thought the movie editorialization from the book to add a “reason” for the events hurt the story. It gets rid of my favorite part – the romantic idealism of the completely selfless. Perhaps if I’d watched this independently of the short story, I’d like it more.

  • Everything Everywhere All at Once: 9/10. A24’s standout movie; absurdist comedy. Excellent indie filmmaking and reflection on themes of parental empathy and nihilism. Am pretty happy I watched it with my family, we had a lot to talk about afterwards (though the hot dog scenes were not particularly comfortable lol). I think this is the only absurdist film I’ve really liked: they did a great job on keeping a compelling narrative that conveyed the emotional punches they wanted to convey.

  • Badla: 9/10. This is a more recent Hindi film about a surprisingly well-told mystery — I won’t spoil it, but I found the story more refreshing than any other previous mystery movie I’ve watched (it was way better than Knives Out). It’s the fourth foreign language remake of a similar Spanish mystery movie, The Innocent Guest, so you can rewatch in different languages!

  • Ek Tha Tiger: 4/10. Classic feel-good action/romance Hindi film about the spy that falls in love. I thought the message was pretty standard and some of the reveals were fairly predictable so wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s a nice feeling to be able to recognize and predict tropes sometimes!

  • Tick Tick Boom: 9/10. This year’s Lin Manuel Miranda release. The relationship dialogue felt really authentic, and it’s really fun to see the maturation of the character’s vision throughout time. Confused how 30/90 is the most popular song from the album, I put it dead last on my ranking. Alexandra Shipp is my newest celeb crush for sure.

  • Tenet: 10/10. On the first watch, I was unfortunately too sleep-deprived to understand even half of what was going on. This is one of the few films I’ve ever rewatched immediately, since the plot was so complex and addicting to puzzle out. After spending a long night analyzing it, I think it’s self-consistent and I finally was able to wrap my head around all the story lines and questions. I think I really enjoy these cerebral multi-layered plots; it reminds me a bit of unwrapping the onion plots of ‘Us’ or ‘Interstellar’, but this one is like 5x as complex and does a surprisingly excellent, non-tropey job with its take on time travel.


Watched a lot of weirder movies this year due to my film class.

  • Dune: 9/10 if you’ve read the book, 8/10 if you haven’t. Really incredible seeing the amount of thought gone into this, and how similar the feelings were when reading the book. There’s a ton of context that is covered extensively in the book but barely scratched in the movie, so I do think that reading the book will fill in a lot of the small plot questions (though the film does stand quite well on its own). Incredible visuals and music. I wish I could see director breakdowns like this for every single scene.

  • Shang-Chi: 8/10. Pretty high for a Marvel movie, good family vibes and really nice to see Marvel giving representation.

  • Churchill: 5/10. Good acting, but that doesn’t really make up for the overly simplictic plot. The movie kind of overplays Chuchill’s role and the movie takes too many factual liberties.

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: 7/10. Iranian cinema, very unique.

  • Invictus: 6/10. Interesting, and portrayed parts of his leadership that were particularly surprising that I think any leader can learn from. I feel other movies about Mandela will do a better job depicting the harder battles he fought for his country.

  • Kamikaze Girls: 8/10. I did not expect to like this as much as I did. Was assigned by a film class, but this is just told in such a fresh style that I’ve never seen any American cinema ever have the creativity for. The only Japanese non-anime film that I’ve seen so far probably.

  • His Girl Friday: 8/10. Also surprise how much I enjoyed this. I think this movie set the record for fastest words per minute, and is a hilarious story about yellow journalism in the 1900s.

  • Amelie: 8/10. This is a classic – from the color palette to the strange character, to the feeling of clever retribution. Made me fall in love with Yann Tiersen’s song Comptine d’un Autre été: L’Après-Midi.

  • Rashômon: 7/10. One of Kurosawa’s finest films. Deals with truth and interpretation in a pretty interesting way, although the ending is a bit abstract.

  • Cleo from 5 to 7: 2/10. I don’t like French new wave style that much – very few interesting things happened in this movie.

  • The Conversation: 3/10. Ugly, brutalist aesthetic. Very boring and simple storyline.

  • Pulp Fiction: 6/10. I didn’t like it that much, but the style of interconnected plot lines seemed pretty novel for the time. There’s also a ridiculous number of memes that refer to this movie.

  • Citizen Kane: 6/10. Funny how much this says about the powerful today.

  • In the Heights: 8/10. Love me some Lin Manuel Miranda.

  • We Are As Gods ⭐: 10/10. Absolutely incredible, underrated documentary about Steward Brand, “the person that all the people you look up to, look up to.” I think hearing his story gave me the freedom to pursue what I want, how I want to. Online for like $5, or you can dm me for a copy. Probably favorite of the year.

  • Taxi Driver: 6/10. Psychologically disturbing. Scorsese told a creative story in a style I’ve never seen a movie follow, but I just found it a little unnerving for my taste.

  • Malcolm and Marie: 5/10. As much as I love Zendaya, I feel like the film was a pretty surface-level argument between a couple that the movie tried to deepen via cool black and white shots.


Many of these movies were chosen jointly with my family during COVID, so I didn’t get as much of a chance to explore deeply.

  • Gully Boy: 9/10. Fun movie about upcoming rapper from Indian slums. Better depiction of poverty than Slumdog Millionaire, and more inspiring.

  • The Lighthouse: 3/10. Some sea shanties portray a fall into insanity, abstract black and white movie.

  • Us ⭐: 10/10. Favorite movie of the year. One of those movies with a massive retcon, and spent like 4 hours afterwards analyzing how all the little symbols and scenes actually fit together insanely well and imply super crazy things. The feeling of revalation I got from analyzing this is the feeling I wish English class had been able to convey.

  • Dead Poet’s Society: 9/10. I love stories about education and miseducation, and Robin Williams here is incredible.

  • Kal Ho Na Ho: 10/10. Starts slow, but becomes very emotional. A classic Shah Rukh Khan drama with all the Bollywood movie tropes. Would recommend starting here for Bollywood movies.

  • Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara: 9/10. Another classic about three friends adventuring and exploring love on a bachelor trip; moving, hilarious, and filled with mischief and adventure. Not particularly deep but has some iconic scenes that most Bollywood fans will recognize – the tomato scene especially. This is the kind of movie that will addict you to Bollywood films and has a hit-filled soundtrack.

  • Into the Woods: 7/10. Mishmash family friendly fairytale musical, themes of morality, perception of evil, and supporting even through mistakes.

  • The Last Airbender : 3/10. A terrible movie with lots of potholes and not very good acting and mediocre special effects and just everything was little bit sad. I haven’t even watched the show and I thought it was bad.

  • Hamilton: 10/10. Lin Manuel Miranda classic.

  • Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: 9/10. Classic romance Bollywood movie with forbidden marriage.

  • Little Women: 3/10. Couldn’t fully tell the main characters apart, wasn’t invested in any characters, and poorly depicted present/past jumps.

  • August Rush: 5/10. Annoyed by the classic boy genius perception that ignores all the hard work in favor of miracles. Family feels good tale, but one-dimensional love story.

  • Soul: 10/10. Great character design, message, and feelings. Really loved it, and it came at a particularly well timed point in my life.

  • Jumanji 2: 6/10.

  • 21: 8/10. Love me some MIT.

  • Frozen 2: 8/10. Honestly mostly nostalgia from Frozen 1.

  • Catch Me If You Can: 10/10. I love how this is based off a true story, and shows about mischevious male leads are always fun to me.

  • The Inventor (Theranos): 7/10. There are like a million adaptations of Holmes’ story now, this one was more like a documentary instead of a drama which I preferred.

  • Enola Holmes: 4/10. Standard, nothing particularly interesting about it.

  • Ratatouille: 10/10. Second time watching this after 5ish years! Classic. Great thoughts on being the chef vs the cook, mentorship, and balancing the value of family and becoming independent.


At this point and before, I watched mostly just mainstream movies.

  • Parasite ⭐: 10/10. Incredible story, cinematography, music, characters, symbolism, everything. This was the movie that got me interested in international cinema.

  • Spiderman Far From Home: 10/10. I loved the leads and relatability.

  • Aladdin Live-Action: 9/10. Great family movie.

  • The Hate You Give: 6/10. I wish the character had showcased her strength and growth better in the end, it was pretty unsatisfying to see the final external outcome of the internal growth of her confidence and voice.

  • Avengers: 6/10. As a kid there’s some feeling of closure you want after having seen so many Marvel movies; so I keep watching. Nothing particularly interesting about the plot or storytelling, classic superhero stories.


  • Psych: The Movie: 10/10. Anything Psych I will give a 10/10 gauranteed.

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: 10/10. I probably don’t need to sell you on this, but this was an incredible story with an insane animated comic book art style.

  • The Big Sick: 8/10. Just completely insane that this was a real story. Was a 9 when I watched it.

  • Bird Box: 8/10. Haven’t watched an apocalyptic movie in a while, was fun.

  • Baby Driver: 8/10. Pretty fun heist movie.

  • Crazy Rich Asians: 7/10. Classic; I think I wasn’t as interested or intrigued by the plot.

  • Inside Out ⭐: 10/10. If you can’t tell yet, I’m a Disney simp. This is probably my favorite Disney animation.

  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?: 9/10. Has an absolutely banger song and is a pretty fun modern take on the Odyssey.

  • Ready Player One: 7/10. I liked this more than the sci-fi critics, plus it came out before metaverse was memed out of relevance. Had pretty one dimensional characters with overly simplistic motivations, which didn’t feel authentic.

  • Slumdog Millionaire: 7/10. A film about India made by a non-Bollywood studio. Wouldn’t recommend starting here, it’s a pretty white take on Indian poverty. Is told in an interesting way though, and is moving.


  • Straight Outta Compton: 10/10. An incredible story about the start of mainstream hip-hop with NWA.

  • A Brilliant Young Mind (X+Y): 10/10. This is a story about the IMO, about romance, about the beauty of math. It reflects a lot of my own experience, and felt really deeply relatable: the male lead went on to much bigger stardom, and I had a massive crush on the main female who unfortunately seems to have not acted for the last 10 years.

  • deadpool: 10/10. Ryan Renolds is an absolutely lovable clown.

  • Da Vinci Code: 10/10. God the allure of a worldwide puzzle with a dizzying reward is so beautiful: part of the reason I love geocachine is that I get the slightest glimpse into such a double layer on reality.

  • It: 6/10. Classic horror movie.

  • Interstellar: 10/10. Beautiful Christopher Nolan masterpiece.

  • The Greatest Showman: 8/10.

Want To Watch

The notes for these movies are just summaries of what friends have told me about. Approximately ranked with most-want-to-watch at the top.

  • Shoplifters: Director is very good, and this one won a number of international film festivals. Usually recommended for people who liked Parasite.
  • The Secret and Their Eyes (original Argentinian version): Action thriller with plot intricacies to endlessly discuss. Personally recommended to me due to plot.
  • Drive my Car: A Murukami classic.
  • Handmaiden: Korean, sexual mystery, gripping and edgy themes, strange straightforward romantic movie
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire: Well made, 2x recommended to me
  • Suzume: November 2022 film by the same director and similar animation style as ‘Your Name’
  • Tar: One filmmaker I met said that this was one of the most interesting and culturally relevant films she’s ever seen, and that the director was directly mentored by Kubrick – surprisingly high praise for such a recent film.
  • City of God: IMDb darling. Seems to have an interesting premise, portraying two communities of youth in a violent neighborhood.
  • Amores Perros: A car crash from three different storylines that affect each other in really interesting ways.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Movie: Juvenile humor, funny plot.
  • Primer: “Primer is on the Most Complicated Films IMDb list, thanks to Time Travel, Second Hand Storytelling, and a case of The Ending Changes Everything. There is an explanation for almost everything that happens, but you have to watch the movie at least twice to put all the clues together.”
  • Weathering with You: Movie by the same director and similar animation style as ‘Your Name’
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service: Another Studio Ghibli classic. Supposed to be an uplifting coming of age.
  • Ghost in the Shell: A classic sci-fi film, recommended alongside Akira.
  • Children of Heaven: Iranian film about lost pair of shoes that was nominated for Academy Awards. This was my film teacher’s favorite movie of all time.
  • Grave of the Fireflies: Studio Ghibli classic. Supposed to be very sad.
  • PK: Bollywood movie that seems to be about an alien but is really about being human.
  • Song of the Sea: Scottish film with Anime vibes.
  • Enemy: Denis Villeneuve psychological thriller with scary ending, exploring themes of the subconscious and mistakes.
  • Birdman: 2014 film with enough magical realism that it takes a while to decipher what the ending actually meant. From here.
  • Kahaani: Hindi film.
  • Petit Mamam: French movie, more about feelings than dialogue
  • Farewell My Concubine: About two people growing up in opera during China’s change.
  • Yi Yi: 2000 Taiwanese classic
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: 60s sci-fi classic.
  • Silent Voice: Anime with mute girl, touching movie with themes of forgiveness
  • Mindf*ck Movies: Nick Sweeting’s Movies doc > Mindf*ck section