Have you ever watched a movie that was so good that you just had to recommend it to everyone? But when they ask you what the movie is about, you're at a loss for words?
"Um... It's about this guy and girl who... well, they just go around and do stuff and talk about stuff... Trust me, it's good. You'll know what I mean after you see it!"You, probably
Not exactly a great sell, is it?
There are actually lots of great movies that don't have strong hooks or premises. No flashy explosions, no mysterious murders. These are the types of films you have to watch yourself to understand.
So-called slice-of-life movies are exactly what they sound like: intricate and intimate glimpses into a character's life. They immerse you in their worlds, not through flashy visuals but a realistic presence. They're wandering, hazy, witty, and totally watchable.
You'd be surprised how good a movie like this can be despite the fact that "nothing really happens." Here are my picks for the best slice-of-life movies to check out if you haven't already!
15. Boyhood (2014)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Drama (2h 45m)
Boyhood is literally a slice-of-life movie, as it was filmed across 12 years and captured the cast growing up in real-time. There wasn't really a script—more like a few guiding plot points that were organically developed with the actors.
In Boyhood, Ellar Coltrane plays the boy in question. Named Mason, we meet him at age six and follow him through childhood and into his college days. He lives a fairly standard life that's filled with the usual trials, like divorced parents and awkward teen years.
Boyhood is director Richard Linklater's baby. He conceived the idea, then wrote, directed, and produced it to critical acclaim. Richard Linklater also directed two other movies on this list, so he appears to be a master of slice-of-life movies!
14. Drive (2011)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
Action, Drama (1h 40m)
To say that Drive is "style over substance" would only be half true and definitely unfair. Whatever it lacks in plot, this film makes up for in depth, structure, development, and emotion.
Drive is more of an experience than a traditional cinematic story. I don't just mean an aesthetic experience—the whole thing is a vibe.
Ryan Gosling stars as a brooding man of few words, who has a good heart and even better style. Known only as "Driver," Gosling splits his time between building cars and driving them for getaways.
Driver is used to living on the the down-low, hence his sparse dialogue, but he ends up falling for his neighbor (played by Carey Mulligan). That—and the occasional bursts of bloody violence—is the entire premise.
It's rare for an action movie to get eaten up so enthusiastically by the festival and indie circuits, but Drive proved an incredible exception as an "arthouse action" slice of stylized life.
13. Nomadland (2020)
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May
Drama (1h 47m)
The poster of Nomadland speaks for itself. Frances McDormand as Fern sits on a field, living out of her van, chilling in nature. That's the whole plot. It sounds boring, but it won the three big Oscars—Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress—so you know it's good!
Chloé Zhao adapted Jessica Bruder's life story into this fictionalized drama that's sure to lift your soul. The pastel sunsets and open plains are enough to make anyone ponder the van life.
That said, not all is easy in Nomadland. We witness Fern toil through manual labor while getting by on scarce means as she waves goodbye to her friends and family. It's inconvenient but worth it for the connections she makes—with people, nature, and herself.
12. American Graffiti (1973)
Directed by George Lucas
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat
Comedy, Drama (1h 50m)
American Graffiti is a movie that takes place over summer vacation—lazy dog days that dwindle away with beer and friends. It's the last evening of freedom in 1962, and a bunch of high school grads are cruising the streets of California.
And... that's it. That's the movie. But don't be fooled, because this movie by George Lucas—yes, that George Lucas—is a comedy-drama classic for good reason!
This New Hollywood indie flick was Lucas's second feature-length movie directed, and it was based on his own years as a teenager. It's a nostalgic celebration of old-school rock-and-roll and easy pre-tech adolescence.
American Graffiti solidified his director status, preparing Lucas for his next movie, Star Wars: A New Hope.
11. Tokyo Story (1953)
Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Starring Chishū Ryū, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara
Drama (2h 16m)
This early example of slice-of-life filmmaking comes from director Yasujirō Ozu and is very authentic to his style. It's slow-paced, dialogue-heavy, and barely has any camera movement.
The story follows an elderly couple as they journey to Tokyo to visit their children, who are much changed from them. Thematically astute and strikingly minimalist, this classic black-and-white drama is a must-watch for cinephiles.
Tokyo Story is pretty much the opposite of the usual Hollywood blockbuster, and that's partly why it's so good! Indeed, Tokyo Story is smart, steady, and confident enough to take its time with the narrative.
10. Before Sunrise (1995)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Andrea Eckert
Drama, Romance (1h 41m)
Before Sunrise is the first installment of an extremely casual and unconventional movie trilogy directed by Richard Linklater. The film trails one romantic evening spent in Vienna, where two strangers cross paths during their travels.
It was filmed in an in-the-moment style: a loose script reworked every weekend, a teeny budget, and reliance on train timetables. Linklater got his inspiration from a one-night fling with a girl in Philadelphia.
"I want to make a film about this. Just this feeling," he said in an interview. And lucky for us, he was successful.
9. 20th Century Women (2016)
Directed by Mike Mills
Starring Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig
Comedy, Drama (1h 59m)
Romance, comedy, adolescence, and family: the four core themes of the slice-of-life movie genre. 20th Century Women is a fabulous example of all four as it depicts the life of a middle-aged woman bringing up her teenage son in 1970s California.
Mike Mills's comedy-drama is a witty and honest exploration of different generations within one household, who need to harmonize and learn from each others' conflicting natures.
Themes of identity, feminism, and art make for an interesting watch... despite very little of anything that actually happens.
8. Lady Bird (2017)
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Comedy, Drama (1h 34m)
Greta Gerwig, who coincidentally starred in the aforementioned 20th Century Women, made her stunning directional debut with Lady Bird. Loosely based on her own experiences growing up in Sacramento, Lady Bird is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale.
"Lady Bird" (played by Saoirse Ronan) is a feisty high school student who's facing the familiar woes of first love, college applications, and prom night. She spends most of the movie unsatisfied as she argues with her mother and dreams of New York.
Lady Bird may not be as thrilling as being kidnapped or flung into deep space, but it still won multiple Academy Awards in 2018.
7. Mid90s (2018)
Directed by Jonah Hill
Starring Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges
Comedy, Drama (1h 25m)
It's summer, it's California, and it's young teens living in the past. We sense a pattern coming on here... and we're here for it!
A 12-year-old boy who's already full of angst navigates life between his abusive home and his new older friends at the skate park. This retro coming-of-age story boasts unique flair and honesty. It's essentially a nostalgic mood board for a life lost in the modern day rush.
Long-established actor Jonah Hill made his directional debut with Mid90s, and, like many of the movies on this list, he found inspiration for this movie in his own past growing up in Los Angeles.
6. Annie Hall (1977)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts
Comedy, Romance (1h 33m)
Woody Allen is known for his minimal, purposefully lazy style of storytelling. Long conversations (that are often improvised) and meandering plots make him one of the more distinctive directors.
And one of his most famous films is Annie Hall, a classic romantic comedy movie that takes place in New York.
Allen plays a sort of fictionalized version of himself, reminiscing over his fleeting romance with an aspiring nightclub singer. They discuss sophisticated topics like cinema and marriage, they slow-walk the city streets, and they even smoke a joint.
There's also a marked air of French New Wave that flows through this movie. While Allen himself wasn't pleased with the end result of his satire flick, everybody else was!
5. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Starring Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Billy Green Bush
Drama (1h 38m)
Another New Hollywood movie, Five Easy Pieces takes place in California and follows an oil rig worker who goes back to his privileged roots to reunite with his ill father. Bob Rafelson's road movie is a familiar portrait of lost identity, class separation, and alienation.
Five Easy Pieces is the grittiest movie on this list, but still drifts with self-conscious ambiguity. It's a fine example of turn-of-the-century filmmaking that changed the face of independent cinema forever.
4. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Directed by John Hughes
Starring Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald
Comedy, Drama (1h 37m)
The Breakfast Club is the epitome of teen movies, a cultural icon that's still going strong almost four decades later. And what happens? Nothing! John Hughes's classic movie takes place in pretty much one room over the span of a single day.
Five high school students are held for detention one Saturday morning, and each one is from a different clique. Their personalities clash at first, but when boredom forces them into conversation, they all form an unlikely bond during their time together.
Between deep conversations and dance-offs, they secretly smoke weed and run from the snotty headmaster. It's fun, it's sad, it's earnest—a true slice of 1980s teen nostalgia.
3. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey
Comedy (1h 43m)
Set during the summer of 1976, Dazed and Confused feels a lot like California but is actually set in Texas.
It's the last day of high school, which means lots of weed and beer for this group of teens who are about to cruise the summer evening streets. (Director Richard Linklater clearly harbors a knack for these kinds of ambling storylines!)
While this fun and freaky stoner flick was a commercial flop, it quickly became a cultural landmark. All Linklater asks you to do is sit back, enjoy the laughs, and groove to the funky 70s soundtrack.
2. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Drama, Romance (2h 12m)
Based on André Aciman's 2007 novel, Call Me By Your Name is a bittersweet love story set in the slow summer days of Italy in 1983.
A 17-year-old boy lounges by the pool and reads the days away, occasionally taking strolls into town with a 24-year-old archaeologist who's staying with the family on their holidays.
A sweeping, tentative romance ensues and blisters in the summer heat. It's as uplifting as it is devastating. Vividly directed by Luca Guadagnino, the picturesque cinematography wraps us up in the forbidden couple's leisurely secret world.
1. Lost in Translation (2003)
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi
Comedy, Drama (1h 42m)
California and New York may be popular settings for quiet slice-of-life movies, but Tokyo is a close third.
Sofia Coppola directs this atypical romance drama, in which a bored young woman (played by Scarlett Johansson) has a chance meeting with a disillusioned actor (played by Bill Murray).
As both are lonely visitors in this bustling Japanese city, the two explore new horizons in a hushed and intimate portrayal of friendship.
Lost in Translation is a true masterpiece that eloquently captures the feeling of idle loneliness within a big neon-lit city.