7 Best Movies to Watch by Albert Brooks

Staff & contributors

In the sexy, slick, and sharp-witted Out of Sight, a never-better George Clooney plays Jack Foley, a career bank robber who pulls off heists based on pure charm alone. His charisma is so powerful it even turns the cat-and-mouse game he plays with federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) into a seductive dance. Karen is no easy mark, though: she’s a tough agent who’s used to being underestimated by the men she works with. The sizzling connection that sparks between her and Jack is gripping precisely because it threatens to break the basic logic both live their lives by: he a slippery criminal, she a no-nonsense professional. Clooney and Lopez’s naturally electric chemistry is supercharged by the fact that the film never slips into sentimentality, always keeping their will-they-won’t-they amour at a tantalizing distance until the decisive moment. A crime caper with many strings to its bow — among them sizzling romance and brilliant dialogue brought to life by a dazzling supporting ensemble — this is a masterfully entertaining ride from director Steven Soderbergh.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Betsy Monroe, Brad Martin, Catherine Keener, Chic Daniel, Connie Sawyer, Deborah Smith Ford, Dennis Farina, Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Isaiah Washington, James Black, Jennifer Dorogi, Jennifer Lopez, Joe Chrest, Joe Coyle, Joe Hess, Keith Hudson, Keith Loneker, Luis Guzman, Manny Suárez, Mark Brown, Michael Keaton, Mike Gerzevitz, Mike Malone, Nancy Allen, Paul Calderon, Philip Perlman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Ives, Steve Zahn, Thelma Gutiérrez, Ving Rhames, Viola Davis, Wayne Pére, Wayne V. Johnson

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: R

A marvelous combination of perfect casting and a sizzling script. William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and Holly Hunter are such natural talents they could make reading a dictionary watchable, but seeing them weave through James L Brooks punchy dialogue is a delight to behold. The three form the foundation of this drama that is as much about journalistic ambition as it is about love.

Hunter and Brooks are principled workaholics at a news station juggling a platonic friendship that seems destined for more but lacks a driving spark. Enter Hurt, a charming though self-admittedly stupid news anchor, who Hunter at once resents and yet can’t help falling for. What seems like a ready-built rom-com plot, however, churns into something else entirely. It’s a delicious film crackling with wit and character and is as funny as it is astute. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Amy Brooks, Christian Clemenson, Ed Wheeler, Frank Doubleday, Gennie James, Gerald F. Gough, Gerard Ender, Glen Roven, Holly Hunter, Jack Nicholson, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Kimber Shoop, Leo Burmester, Lois Chiles, Luis Valderrama, Marc Shaiman, Marita Geraghty, Martha Smith, Nat Benchley, Peggy Pridemore, Peter Hackes, Raoul N. Rizik, Richard Thomsen, Robert Katims, Robert Prosky, Robert Walsh, Stephen Mendillo, William Hurt

Director: James L. Brooks

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star in this slow-burning but impeccable crime thriller.

Abel Morales (Isaac) owns a fuel distribution company in 1980s New York. His competitors are violent and corrupt, and the feds are after him. The temptation to resort to unlawful methods is high, especially that his wife (Chastain) is the daughter of a mobster.

A Most Violent Year is about how this temptation of corruption unfolds and whether Abel will surrender to it or not.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Annie Funke, Ashley Williams, Ben Rosenfield, Bill Walters, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Chester Jones III, Chris Cardona, Christopher Abbott, Daisy Tahan, David Margulies, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Marvel, Elyes Gabel, Giselle Eisenberg, Glenn Fleshler, Jason Ralph, Jerry Adler, Jessica Chastain, Jimmy Palumbo, John Dinello, John Douglas Thompson, John Procaccino, Kathleen Doyle, Linda Marie Larson, Lorna Guity Pruce, Lorna Pruce, Matthew Maher, Myrna Cabello, Nat DeWolf, Nick Bailey, Oscar Isaac, Patrick Breen, Peter Gerety, Pico Alexander, Quinn Meyers, Robert Clohessy, Russell G. Jones, Stephen Reich, Susan Blackwell, Suzanne Cerreta, Taylor Richardson, Teddy Coluca, William Hill

Director: J. C. Chandor

Rating: R

, 1996

Only a writer of Albert Brooks’ comedic and perceptive talents could turn the premise of an insecure middle-aged man having romantic trouble into something genuinely funny and poignant. Brooks appears as his signature brand of self-loathing boomer here: he plays John Henderson, a middling novelist who's recently gone through a second divorce. When he finds himself in the unenviable position of having to start afresh in his forties, John first decides he needs to get to the bottom of his recurring failures with women. In keeping with the neurotic preoccupations of his characters, Brooks has John take the psychoanalytic approach by going back to the source: his mother. 

To better get to the root of his hang-ups, John temporarily moves back in with Mrs Henderson, whom Debbie Reynolds plays as a hilariously blithe foil to her manic, insecure son. Brooks and Reynolds’ fractious rapport is tortuously true to life: John finds her petty habits maddening, while she doesn’t seem to understand his life or his work — an obliviousness that, it turns out, might run the other way, too. Cleverly turning the self-obsessions of its lead character on its head, Mother is a wry comedy full of insight and unexpected sweetness.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Albert Brooks, Anne Haney, Billye Ree Wallace, Debbie Reynolds, Ernie Brown, Greg Bronson, Harry Hutchinson, Isabel Glasser, James Gleason, Joey Naber, John C. McGinley, Kimiko Gelman, Laura Weekes, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Nolan, Michael Moertl, Paul Collins, Peter White, Richard Assad, Rob Morrow, Rosalind Allen, Spencer Klein, Vanessa Williams

Director: Albert Brooks

Rating: PG-13

This charming documentary about one of the most brilliant, groundbreaking comedians alive strikes a delicate balance between accessible and deeply appreciative, making it both a great gateway for those yet to be uninitiated into the Albert Brooks fan club and a satisfying retrospective for us confirmed devotees. It’s directed and fronted by Rob Reiner, celebrated director himself and one of Albert Brooks’ oldest friends, and the choice is perfect: his rapport with Brooks is warm and easy, extracting real sincerity from the famously deadpan comedian-writer-actor-director.

Defending My Life features plenty of talking heads gushing about Brooks’ dazzling multi-hyphenate talents (among them Steven Spielberg and Sharon Stone), a standard convention for documentaries of this kind. But what elevates this into a portrait worthy of its subject are the scenes from a dinner shared by Brooks and Reiner, during which the former opens up about his childhood, reflects on his career, and divulges the autobiographical elements that informed his work. Their tete-a-tete flows with all the unforced rhythm of conversation between good friends; Reiner’s presence coaxes illuminating insight from Brooks, which makes watching the documentary feel as close to pulling up a seat at their table as you’d hope for. The 90 minutes just fly by.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alana Haim, Albert Brooks, Anthony Jeselnik, Ben Stiller, Brian Williams, Chris Rock, Conan O'Brien, David Letterman, James L. Brooks, Jon Stewart, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow, Larry David, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nikki Glaser, Rob Reiner, Robert De Niro, Sarah Silverman, Sharon Stone, Steven Spielberg, Tiffany Haddish, Wanda Sykes

Director: Rob Reiner

Rating: PG-13

Written and directed by the film’s star, Albert Brooks, Defending Your Life imagines an afterlife in which purgatory is a courtroom, and whether you’ll be saved or damned is judged based on the life you led on Earth.

Did you live courageously, or did you live fearfully? Were you ashamed, meek, afraid of being vulnerable? Or did you risk some tender part of yourself in order to connect with others, to meaningfully impact another life?

Daniel Miller (Brooks) discovers he may not have lived as boldly as he assumed. In the afterlife and awaiting his day in afterlife court, he meets Julia (Meryl Streep, in what is possibly one of her most captivating roles), who is kind and thoughtful and a capital-G Good person. Of course, it’s only after dying that Daniel tunes in to the great possibility of a life not lived on autopilot. But is he too late to atone for his unexamined life—or is there time yet for a second chance?

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Alex Sheafe, Arell Blanton, Art Frankel, Bob Braun, Buck Henry, Cathleen Chin, Clarke Coleman, Clayton Norcross, Clifford Einstein, David Purdham, Ernie Brown, Ethan Embry, Gary Ballard, Gary Beach, George D. Wallace, George Wallace, Glen Chin, Greg Finley, Hal Landon Jr., Ida Lee, James Eckhouse, James Paradise, Jennifer Barlow, Jennifer Barlow Grodsky, Jerry Prell, Jim McKrell, Joey Miyashima, Julie Cobb, Ken Thorley, Kristopher Kent Hill, Lee Grant, Leonard O. Turner, Lillian Lehman, Marilyn Rockafellow, Mary Pat Gleason, Maxine Elliott Hicks, Meryl Streep, Michael Durrell, Newell Alexander, Noley Thornton, Nurit Koppel, Peter Schuck, Rachel Bard, Raffi Di Blasio, Rip Torn, Roger Behr, Ronald L. Colby, S. Scott Bullock, Sage Allen, Shirley MacLaine, Sidney Chankin, Susan Walters, Time Winters, Wil Albert

Director: Albert Brooks

While painfully accurate, Lost in America is a cutting satire of the white-collar mid-life crisis that’s so hilarious, but in a depressing sort of way. When denied his expected promotion and then fired, David Howard (director Albert Brooks) convinces his wife Linda (Julie Haggerty) that they should “drop out of society”, pursuing a freewheeling lifestyle to travel across the country. Brooks and Haggerty lead the film – their back-and-forth dynamic feels compelling, whether they’re arguing, pouting, or tenderly reconciling. And while the couple stays compatible with each other, the film reveals them (and us) at our most shallow.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Albert Brooks, Art Frankel, Bob Hughes, Candy Ann Brown, Charles Boswell, Donald Gibb, Garry Marshall, Herb Nanas, James L. Brooks, Julie Hagerty, Larry King, Maggie Roswell, Michael Cornelison, Michael Greene, Priscilla Cory, Radu Gavor, Raynold Gideon, Rex Reed, Tom Tarpey

Director: Albert Brooks

Rating: R