4 Best Movies to Watch by Deirdre OConnell

Staff & contributors

, 1995

Like a long, slow drag of a cigar, Smoke is a patient pleasure. Adam Holender’s leisurely lingering camera and the film’s relaxed editing allow us to savor the actors’ performances and the thoughtful script uninterrupted, trusting in their ability to captivate us. And captivate us is exactly what novelist Paul Auster’s screenplay and the film’s superlative ensemble do.

The film kicks off in Auggie Wren’s (Harvey Keitel) Brooklyn smoke shop, where myriad customers linger to chat and unexpected friendships form. The serendipitous network around which Smoke revolves unfurls gradually, like a curling wisp of smoke: Auggie’s patron Paul (William Hurt), a writer's block-struck novelist grieving the violent death of his pregnant wife some years ago, has his life saved by Harold Perrineau’s Rashid, the estranged 17-year-old son of a struggling mechanic (Forest Whitaker). Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing also feature in Auggie’s portion of the film, one of its five loose vignettes (although the film flows much more fluidly than a chapterized structure suggests). Auster’s contemplative, dialogue-driven screenplay — along with the film’s unhurried editing and luxuriating cinematography — make Smoke a gorgeous example of the art of savoring, which is exactly what you want to do with this wonderful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ashley Judd, Baxter Harris, Clarice Taylor, Deirdre OConnell, Erica Gimpel, Forest Whitaker, Giancarlo Esposito, Harold Perrineau, Harvey Keitel, Jared Harris, José Zúñiga, Malik Yoba, Mary B. Ward, Mel Gorham, Michelle Hurst, Murray Moston, Stephen Gevedon, Stockard Channing, Victor Argo, William Hurt

Director: Wayne Wang

Rating: R

In this comedy/drama, Bill Murray plays an aged, dispirited war veteran named Vincent who openly disdains most people and gives little attention to anything beyond alcohol and horse racing. Living a life of solitude in Brooklyn, everything takes a turn when a young single mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver move in next door. Vincent eventually takes on the responsibility of watching over Oliver when Maggie is at work. Murray is perfectly unpleasant in his darkly comedic role, as his relationship with Oliver evolves despite his own misgivings, providing young Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) with the fatherly/grandfatherly presence he desperately needs. Though somewhat formulaic, St. Vincent rises above expectations by way of great dialogue, favourable performances from all of the leads, and an unbelievably touching finale that will melt your heart. Much better than you probably expect—definitely check this one out.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandra Fong, Amber Clayton, Ann Dowd, Bill Murray, Brenda Wehle, Brian Berrebbi, Chris O'Dowd, Chris O'Dowd, Dario Barosso, David Iacono, Deirdre OConnell, Donna Mitchell, Elliot Santiago, Frank Wood, Greta Lee, J. Elaine Marcos, Jaeden Lieberher, Jaeden Martell, James Andrew O'Connor, Jeff Bowser, Josh Elliott Pickel, Katharina Damm, Kerry Flanagan, Kimberly Quinn, Lenny Venito, Maria Elena Ramirez, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Melanie Nicholls-King, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Nate Corddry, Niles Fitch, Orlagh Cassidy, Portia, Ray Iannicelli, Reg E. Cathey, Ron Bush, Ron McLarty, Scott Adsit, Terrence Howard, Tim Wilson

Director: Theodore Melfi

Rating: PG-13

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins, Greg Schmitt, Jeanine Jackson, John Breen, John Robinson, Larry Fessenden, M. Blash, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Michelle Williams, Roger D. Faires, Tanya Smith, Wally Dalton, Will Oldham, Will Patton

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: R

This forgotten gem is the perfect family movie. It stars Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as the two eccentric uncles of Walter, a shy city kid (played by Haley Joel Osment). When Walter moves in with his uncles in rural Texas, he first has a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings. However his routine is changed after he starts hearing local gossip about his uncles, and reminiscence spurs in all three an incredible eagerness for adventure. Secondhand Lions has gathered impressive cult following in the past few years, and rightfully so. Its fast-paced, entertaining yet substantial storyline shines a light on the amazing performances by the cast, and offers a surprising mix of funny, heartwarming and sad. Look out for the flashback scenes.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Adam Ozturk, Adrian Pasdar, Billy Joe Shaver, Brian Stanton, Christian Kane, Dameon Clarke, Deirdre O'Connell, Deirdre OConnell, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Eric Balfour, Eugene Osment, Haley Joel Osment, Jason Douglas, Jennifer Stone, Jo Harvey Allen, Joe Stevens, Josh Lucas, Kanin Howell, Kevin Haberer, Kyra Sedgwick, Marc Musso, Michael Caine, Michael O'Neill, Mitchel Musso, Morgana Shaw, Nick Price, Nicky Katt, Rick Dial, Robert Duvall, Rory Thost, Travis Willingham

Director: Tim McCanlies

Rating: PG