7 Best Movies to Watch by Alan Arkin

Staff & contributors

Sunshine Cleaning is a great addition to that unidentified genre of grown-up comedies populated by other great entries like Your Sister's Sister and Enough Said. It is however, less of a comedy than it is a heart-warming emotional tale. Powered by outstanding performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it ultimately evolves into a character study of failed potential and validation seeking. Sunshine Cleaning is enjoyable, satisfying to a fault, and provides an interesting peak into the lives of its characters.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Arkin, Amber Midthunder, Amy Adams, Amy Redford, Angelique Midthunder, Clifton Collins Jr., Emily Blunt, Eric Christian Olsen, Ivan Brutsche, Jason Spevack, Judith Jones, Kathy Lamkin, Kevin Chapman, Lois Geary, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Paul Dooley, Steve Zahn, Susie Yip, Vic Browder

Director: Christine Jeffs

Rating: R

“What is happiness?” is one of those philosophical questions that seem destined to go unanswered, one that, when asked, starts a debate that splinters into smaller debates, all of which lead to nowhere. This film is sort of an embodiment of that question, but instead of being vague and pointless, it revels in mystery and multitudes. What is happiness? We follow five different people who attempt to answer that in their own ways. 

It might seem gimmicky to try to link strangers’ lives with the concept of happiness,  but in the hands of a brilliant director and ensemble, it becomes a treat. With its deeply human characters, smartly structured plot, and eloquent dialogue, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is a rare gem of a film, as perceptive as it is poignant. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Alan Arkin, Alex Burns, Allie Woods, Allie Woods Jr., Amy Irving, Avery Glymph, Barbara Andres, Barbara Sukowa, Beth Shane, Brian Smiar, Charlie Schroeder, Clea DuVall, Daryl Edwards, David Connolly, Deirdre Lovejoy, Dion Graham, Eliza Pryor Nagel, Elizabeth Reaser, Fernando López, Frankie Faison, Gammy Singer, James Murtaugh, James Yaegashi, Jeff Robins, Joel Marsh Garland, John Turturro, Joseph Siravo, Leo V. Finnie III, Malcolm Gets, Matthew McConaughey, Melissa Maxwell, Miles Thompson, Paul Austin, Paul Klementowicz, Peggy Gormley, Phyllis Bash, Richard Council, Rob McElhenney, Robert Colston, Robertson Carricart, Shawn Elliott, Sig Libowitz, Tia Texada, Victor Truro, Walt MacPherson, William Severs, William Wise

Director: Jill Sprecher

Rating: R

Of the many violence-inflected black comedies that Pulp Fiction spawned, Grosse Pointe Blank ranks among the best. Though it’s patently inspired by Tarantino’s magnum opus — John Cusack plays a sardonic, amoral hitman, and the film features bursts of stylized violence and a retro soundtrack — it never feels derivative. The film finds its own identity as a quirky romcom when Cusack’s character, Martin Blank, returns to his hometown for a 10-year high-school reunion on the advice of his terrified therapist (Alan Arkin).

Martin is experiencing professional disillusionment as part of the quarter-life crisis that often takes hold when one realizes it’s been a whole decade since high school. His profession puts a darkly comic spin on that convention, but the film doesn’t treat that element entirely flippantly. Unlike Martin — and so many of the film’s Pulp Fiction-inspired brethren — Grosse Pointe Blank isn’t nihilistic, but quite sincerely romantic. Its hybrid nature and surprising heart come to the fore in Martin’s renewed relationship with the girlfriend he jilted at prom: Debi (Minnie Driver), now a ska-loving radio DJ. Cusack and Driver have sparkling chemistry, which makes the sincerity with which their characters grapple with the possibility of a second chance at happiness all the more absorbing to watch.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Alan Arkin, Ann Cusack, Barbara Harris, Belita Moreno, Benny Urquidez, Bill Cusack, Bobby Bass, Carlos Jacott, Dan Aykroyd, David Barrett, Doug Dearth, Hank Azaria, Jenna Elfman, Jeremy Piven, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, K. Todd Freeman, Michael Cudlitz, Minnie Driver, Mitchell Ryan, Steve Pink

Director: George Armitage

, 2022

Robert Downey Sr. was a great asset to American filmmaking. An experimental creative in New York, he made countless movies with his wife and family and didn’t care (as everyone does now) whether it made money or not—only that it made him and the people around him laugh and think and scratch their heads in equal measure.

Sr. is a documentary about this prolific man, as told by his son Robert Downey Jr.

In Sr., we get an intimate look at father and son—their home life, their sometimes-testy relationship, and their different artistic philosophies. It could have delved more into that conflict for some genuinely compelling scenes, but as it is, Sr. stands as an emotionally earnest ode to one of America's most visionary filmmakers. The love is palpable, and at least as a tribute, that's really all that matters.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alan Arkin, Chris Smith, Lawrence Wolf, Norman Lear, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Downey Sr., Sean Hayes

Director: Chris Smith

Starring a sad-sack Steve Carrell and an ensemble cast with brilliant timing and real heart, Little Miss Sunshine is a rare understated comedy that brings laughter and tears. As a dysfunctional family's youngest member gets chosen to be in a pageant in California, the family must come together and support her through her journey. Along the path that they take, they learn and cope with each other. A great movie filled with phenomenal acting and writing with a real heart that will leave you breathless.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Beth Grant, Brenda Canela, Bryan Cranston, Dean Norris, Geoff Meed, Gordon Thomson, Greg Kinnear, Jerry Giles, Jill Talley, Joan Scheckel, John Walcutt, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Justin Shilton, Lauren Shiohama, Marc Turtletaub, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Matt Winston, Mel Rodriguez, Paul Dano, Paula Newsome, Steve Carell, Steven Christopher Parker, Terry Bolo, Toni Collette, Wallace Langham

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Rating: R

Ethan Hawke, Uma Therman and Jude Law star in this film, set in the not-so-distant future, where humans are genetically engineered to be as close to perfect as possible. Any child who is conceived in the traditional fashion is labeled inferior and is discriminated against by the rest of society. The movie follows the life of Hawke's character who, although looked down upon and considered genetically inadequate, attempts to break free from the tethers his peers have placed on him to pursue his lifelong dream of traveling to outer-space.

Genre: Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alan Arkin, Blair Underwood, Carlton Benbry, Chad Christ, Cynthia Martells, Dean Norris, Elias Koteas, Elizabeth Dennehy, Ernest Borgnine, Ethan Hawke, Gabrielle Reece, George Marshall Ruge, Gore Vidal, Greg Sestero, Jayne Brook, Jude Law, Ken Marino, Lindsey Ginter, Loren Dean, Mason Gamble, Maya Rudolph, Russell Milton, Ryan Dorin, Steve Bessen, Susan Jennifer Sullivan, Tony Shalhoub, Uma Thurman, Una Damon, Vincent Nielson, William Lee Scott, Xander Berkeley

Director: Andrew Niccol

Rating: PG-13

City Island is a lighthearted comedy/drama about the Rizzo family, residents of the titular fishing community in The Bronx, New York. Andy Garcia plays the patriarch of the family who works as a corrections officer, and who decides one day to bring home a young ex-con named Tony under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Tony soon becomes entwined in the dysfunctional household as he develops varying relationships with each family member, even as each of them lives their own secret life apart from the rest. This secrecy drives much of the plot, as their personal mysteries play out in an unexpected and often amusing ways. It’s a lively slice-of-life full of boisterous characters, comedic misunderstandings and ultimately a warm embrace of family unity.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Arkin, Andy Garcia, Bettina Bresnan, Carrie Baker Reynolds, Chad Hessler, Chazz Menendez, Curtiss Cook, Damian Achilles, Daniel Maldonado, Dominik Garcia, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Emily Mortimer, Ezra Miller, Hallie Cooper-Novack, Hope Glendon-Ross, Ivy Jones, Jee Young Han, Julianna Margulies, Louis Mustillo, Louise Stratten, Lynn Collins, Marianne Ebert, Marshall Efron, Matthew Arkin, Mike Burke, Paul Diomede, Paul Marini, Paul Romero, Rick Aiello, Sarah Saltzberg, Sharon Angela, Steven Strait, Vernon Campbell, Yevgeniy Dekhtyar

Director: Raymond De Felitta

Rating: PG-13