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!
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 just have to watch 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 some of the best slice-of-life movies that are really worth watching.
12. American Graffiti (1973)
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 cruise 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 a reason!
This New Hollywood indie flick was Lucas’ 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)
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)
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)
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 Millis’ 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)
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.
“Ladybird” 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 City.
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)
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 past growing up in Los Angeles.
6. Annie Hall (1977)
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)
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)
The Breakfast Club is the epitome of teen movies, a cultural icon that’s still going strong after four decades. And what happens? Nothing! John Hughes’ 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.
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)
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)
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 archeologist 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)
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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, where a bored young woman has a chance meeting with a disillusioned actor. As both are lonely visitors of 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.