9 Best Movies to Watch by Emma Thompson

Staff & contributors

With Howards End, the magic trio of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala converted yet another turn-of-the-19th-century EM Forster novel into exquisite cinematic form. Ravishingly shot and performed to career-best heights by many of its cast, Howards End loses nothing of the elegance we expect from a period drama, and yet it also feels thoroughly modern. The film charts the tragic entwining of three families: the progressive and intellectual middle-class Schlegel sisters, the much more traditionally minded and wealthier Wilcox family, and the Basts, a down-on-their-luck working-class couple. It’s the liberally minded Schlegels who cross the class divide of 1910 London to bring these two distant social circles so close to each other, but it’s the old-world values of the Wilcoxes that make that meeting a tragic one. Simmering with rich emotion and crackling with class politics, Howards End is the crowning glory of the Merchant Ivory powerhouse and the rare perfect period drama.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Ross Magenty, Allie Byrne, Anne Lambton, Anthony Hopkins, Barbara Hicks, Brian Lipson, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Emma Thompson, Gerald Paris, Helena Bonham Carter, James Ivory, James Wilby, Jemma Redgrave, Jo Kendall, Joseph Bennett, Margery Mason, Mark Payton, Mark Tandy, Mary McWilliams, Nicola Duffett, Patricia Lawrence, Peter Cellier, Prunella Scales, Sally Geoghegan, Samuel West, Simon Callow, Susie Lindeman, Vanessa Redgrave

Director: James Ivory

Rating: PG

The visceral pain at the center of this adaptation from period drama powerhouse Merchant-Ivory comes not from fading or unrequited love but unrealized affection. Try as he might to repress his feelings, devoted butler Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) can’t stifle the blossoming attachment he shares with housemaid Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). And yet, at every opportunity she gives him to do something about it, he balks, squandering the potential for something truly beautiful — something that actually belongs to them, not their aristocratic employer.

The Remains is partly told in flashbacks to the period leading up to the Second World War. From his stately home, Stevens’ master Lord Darlington and his peers play at international relations and try to avoid another war by pandering to the Nazis, but find they’re woefully under-equipped to decide the fate of Europe in this changing world. One of the many brilliant things about The Remains is the way this political drama doubles the devastation of Stevens’ die-hard commitment to his job — because now, he’s sacrificing his one chance at love for something that won’t even survive the decade. Sublime filmmaking and performances turn Stevens’ every minute choice into a pillar of profound tragedy, giving us a maddeningly heartwrenching life lesson for the ages.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Abigail Hopkins, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Chaplin, Brigitte Kahn, Caroline Hunt, Christopher Brown, Christopher Reeve, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Ian Redford, James Fox, Jeffry Wickham, Jo Kendall, John Haycraft, John Savident, Lena Headey, Michael Lonsdale, Miles Richardson, Patrick Godfrey, Paul Copley, Paula Jacobs, Peter Cellier, Peter Eyre, Peter Halliday, Peter Vaughan, Pip Torrens, Rupert Vansittart, Steven Beard, Terence Bayler, Tim Pigott-Smith, Tony Aitken, Wolf Kahler

Director: James Ivory

Rating: PG

Will Ferrell plays a well organized IRS agent named Harold Crick who seems to have figured out everything in his life to the dot. Little does he know his life is being run by someone else, a nervous and morbid novelist, famous for ending her works with the death of the main character. As the nature of his life and eventual doom, he decides to lay back and enjoy the ride, breaking all his ingrained and boring habits. While this film is recommended for everyone, Will Ferrel fans, especially, need to watch this to see Will's acting variety.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Andrew Rothenberg, Bob Papenbrook, Bradley Mott, Bruce Jarchow, Celeste Pechous, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Christian Stolte, Danny McCarthy, Danny Rhodes, Denise Hughes, Dustin Hoffman, Eli Goodman, Emma Thompson, Frank Caeti, Guy Massey, Jarrett Sleeper, John M. Watson Sr., John Mohrlein, Julia Heron, Keith Kupferer, Kristin Chenoweth, Larry Neumann Jr., Linara Washington, Linda Hunt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marc Forster, Martha Espinoza, Mike McColl, Nadirah Bost, Nathan Adloff, Ora Jones, Peggy Roeder, Peter Grosz, Queen Latifah, Ray Kurut, Ricardo Gutierrez, Ricky Adams, Sandra Marquez, Sia A. Moody, T.J. Jagodowski, Tab Baker, Tim Krueger, Tom Hulce, Tonray Ho, Tony Hale, Will Clinger, Will Ferrell, William Dick

Director: Marc Forster

Rating: PG-13

There are only two main characters in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Nancy, a retired teacher who was recently widowed, and Leo, an adept sex worker with a mysterious past. They're almost always in one place and work on a single goal: pleasure. But despite the seeming monotony, the movie is crackling with wit and sensuality every step of the way. It doesn't waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Nancy and Leo go back and forth about their past, with Nancy divulging much about the stigma of aging and Leo about the stigma of sex work. They also dive into the shame attached to pleasure, ultimately revealing more than just their naked bodies to each other and to the audience.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson, Isabella Laughland, Lennie Beare, Les Mabaleka

Director: Sophie Hyde

Rating: R

Don’t worry.

Adam Sandler doesn’t suck here.

This is a beautiful family comedy directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale). 

Sandler plays a recently divorced man (as he tends to do) called Danny (as he’s usually called). Danny moves in with his father, played by Dustin Hoffman, who himself is dealing with feelings of failure.

Both of them are joined by other members of the family, including Danny’s half-brother, played by Ben Stiller. Their family dynamics are portrayed in a beautiful and sometimes moving way. Director Baumbach proves he’s so good, he can make even Adam Sandler sound and look genuine.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam David Thompson, Adam Driver, Adam Sandler, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Barbara Danicka, Ben Stiller, Benjamin Thys, Candice Bergen, Carlos Jacott, Cindy Cheung, Danny Flaherty, David Cromer, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Gayle Rankin, Germar Terrell Gardner, Gibson Frazier, Grace Van Patten, Greta Gerwig, Jake Perlin, James Hamilton, Jared Sandler, Jarrett Winters Morley, Jerry Matz, Joel Bernstein, Jordan Carlos, Josh Hamilton, Judd Hirsch, Justin Winley, Lyne Renee, Mandy Siegfried, Marquis Rodriguez, Matthew Shear, McManus Woodend, Michael Chernus, Mickey Sumner, Nico Baumbach, Rebecca Miller, Ronald Peet, Sakina Jaffrey, Sigourney Weaver, Teniel Humeston, Victor Cruz

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rating: TV-MA

Far from feeling like English literature homework, this version of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of errors fizzes with vitality and wit. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in his own sumptuous adaptation, which also features a banquet of dashing talent in their prime, including Emma Thompson and a winning Denzel Washington.

Even amongst the film’s superlative ensemble (which also features a melodramatically villainous Keanu Reeves and Michael Keaton as a farcically inept policeman), Thompson stands out for her instinctive grasp of Shakespeare’s genius and easy ability to lift it off the page and give it sparkling life. As Beatrice, she deals out wry cut-downs of Branagh’s vain Benedick, all while trying to suppress the roiling romantic tension that nevertheless persists between them. It might not be set to the music of ABBA, but with Patrick Doyle’s radiant score, an intoxicatingly beautiful Tuscan setting, and an infectious, non-stop party vibe, the joyous Much Ado About Nothing feels more akin to Mamma Mia than any of cinema’s other Shakespeare adaptations.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Lowe, Andy Hockley, Ben Elton, Brian Blessed, Chris Barnes, Conrad Nelson, Denzel Washington, Edward Jewesbury, Emma Thompson, Gerard Horan, Imelda Staunton, Jimmy Yuill, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Patrick Doyle, Phyllida Law, Richard Briers, Richard Clifford, Robert Sean Leonard

Director: Kenneth Branagh

A movie about a 16 year old girl who gets involved with an older more sophisticated man and how the relationship changes her life. Carey Mulligan's performance is nothing short of perfect, inevitably making herself the center of the movie. The coming-of-age story is also quite exceptional, and conveys  impressive load and variety of emotions. An Education is one of those movies that make you live an experience you haven't lived yourself, but because it is so exquisitely and realistically done, the character's problems and joys will feel like your own.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alfred Molina, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Bel Parker, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, Connor Catchpole, Dominic Cooper, Ellie Kendrick, Emma Thompson, James Norton, Kate Duchêne, Matthew Beard, Nick Sampson, Olivia Williams, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosamund Pike, Sally Hawkins, William Melling

Director: Lone Scherfig

Rating: PG-13

It’s very likely you already know about the fictional character Matilda, a clever but neglected child who discovers she has telekinesis and uses it for good. You may have even grown up watching the 1996 film multiple times, as I have, and secretly tried to move a random object with your mind to see if you somehow shared Matilda’s powers…as I have.

If so, I can assure you that you’ll enjoy the latest Matilda adaptation, aptly called Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical on Netflix. It’s pure energy, all bright colors and high-pitched emotions, but not overwhelmingly so. It is also funny and tender, and the techniques it uses to transition and transpose are eye-poppingly inventive. It stars Emma Thompson, once again prosthetic-ed to perfection; Lashana Lynch, a grounding and heartwarming presence; and Alisha Weir, a revelation of a child actor.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Music

Actor: Alisha Weir, Amanda Lawrence, Andrea Riseborough, Ann Firbank, Bebe Massey, Charlie Hodson-Prior, Emma Thompson, James Dryden, James Laurenson, Katherine Kingsley, Lashana Lynch, Leon Ung, Matt Henry, Meesha Garbett, Noah Leggott, Serrana Su-Ling Bliss, Sindhu Vee, Stephen Graham, Thomas Arnold, Tim Bentinck

Director: Matthew Warchus

Rating: PG

 As glad as I am to see a film celebrating the complex joys of interracial love and debunking the stigma of arranged marriages, I can’t help but wonder how and why a film about love got to be so dry and passionless. Is dating really this painfully awkward? Is marriage really this burdensome? Realistically, yes, but when you’re trying to make a point about true love supposedly trumping it all, including cultural differences and age-old traditions, then you should at least make it seem like the winner. The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too by serving us heaps of realism and fantasy on one plate, failing to understand that you only have to pick one to be palatable. “Love Contractually” is the title of Zoe’s documentary, but it’s also the name this movie should’ve gone with, seeing as how everyone acts like they’re obligated to be here. 

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Alexander Owen, Alice Orr-Ewing, Asim Chaudhry, Ben Ashenden, Emma Thompson, Haqi Ali, Jamal Andreas, Jeff Mirza, Lily James, Michael Marcus, Mim Shaikh, Munir Khairdin, Nikkita Chadha, Nosheen Phoenix, Oliver Chris, Peter Sandys-Clarke, Ravi Aujla, Sajal Ali, Shabana Azmi, Shaheen Khan, Shazad Latif, Sindhu Vee, Taj Atwal, Wasim Zakir

Director: Shekhar Kapur

Rating: PG-13