10 Best Movies to Watch by Giancarlo Esposito

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

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Ali A. Wahhab, Anthony Ruiz, Anthony Thomas, Belinda Becker, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Danielia L. Cotton, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elsie Hilario, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Iraida Polanco, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Luis Lantigua, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, N'Bushe Wright, Natima Bradley, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vasquez, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

Rating: R

, 2017

Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But man, is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experiment that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (Okja). When the company who originally ran the experiment want their pig back (performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) – the two find an ally in an animal advocacy group led by Jay (Paul Dano). This is a straightforward movie, but nevertheless it is entertaining and full of thought-provoking themes and performances from an excellent cast.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Adam Auslander, Ahn Seo-hyun, Ahn Seong-bong, Amber Snow, An Seo Hyun, Andreas Fronk, Ann Evans, Barbara Wallace, Bettina Skye, Boyd Ferguson, Byun Hee-bong, Byun Heebong, Carl Montoya, Cho Wan-ki, Choi Hee-seo, Choi Woo-shik, Colm Hill, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Daniel Henshall, David Bloom, Devon Bostick, Eha Urbsalu, Erik De Boer, Faith Logan, Giancarlo Esposito, Han Yi-jin, J. C. Williams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamar Greene, Jason Scott Nelson, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Kim Chul-moo, Kim Moon-hak, Kim Woo-hyeon, Kristoffe Brodeur, Kwak Jin-seok, Kyul Hwi, Lee Bong-ryeon, Lee Jung-eun, Lena Avgust, Lily Collins, Luis Javier, Lynn Marocola, Martin Lo Rimorin, Michael D. Joseph, Michael Mitton, Milo Shandel, Myles Humphus, Nancy Amelia Bell, Niall Cunningham, Park Jeong-gi, Park Ji-hoon, Park Keun-rok, Paul Dano, Pavla Tan, Phillip Garcia, Rebecca Husain, Rickland Powell, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Sheena Kamal, Shirley Henderson, Steven Garr, Steven Yeun, Tilda Swinton, Waris Ahluwalia, Woo Shik Choi, Yoon Je Moon, Yoon Kyung-ho

Director: Bong Joon-ho, Joon-ho Bong

Rating: TV-MA

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch's best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It's really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I've rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Gena Rowlands, Giancarlo Esposito, Gianni Schettini, Isaach De Bankolé, Jaakko Talaskivi, Kari Väänänen, Klaus Heydemann, Lisanne Falk, Matti Pellonpää, Paolo Bonacelli, Pascal N'Zonzi, Richard Boes, Roberto Benigni, Romolo Di Biasi, Rosie Perez, Sakari Kuosmanen, Stéphane Boucher, Tomi Salmela, Winona Ryder

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Watch out for Ezekiel in this show, he will steal your heart. And also please sit through the first episode. Yes, it's long, but if you get The Get Down, it is one of the best shows on Netflix. Created by Baz Luhrmann and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, it narrates the rise of hip-hop in a broken 1970’s New York. The impressive credentials don’t stop there, as the series is narrated by Nas, features work by four-time Academy Award winner Catherine Martin as well as hip-hop historian Nelson George. It is perhaps for this reason that the word “narration” takes its full meaning here. Every episode, every scene, every character are made with extreme care, resulting in sometimes longer than necessary sequences. A sacrifice that will make some viewers very happy, but which many might have a hard time adjusting to.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Eric Bogosian, Giancarlo Esposito, Herizen F. Guardiola, Herizen Guardiola, Jaden Smith, Jimmy Smits, JR, Justice Smith, Kevin Corrigan, Mamoudou Athie, Michel Gill, Shameik Moore, Shyrley Rodriguez, Skylan Brooks, Stefanee Martin, TJ Brown, Tremaine Brown, Tremaine Brown, Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Zabryna Guevara

Director: Baz Luhrmann, Ed Bianchi, Stephen Adly Guirgis

Rating: TV-MA

Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Miles Teller star in this subtle drama about the state of a couple eight months into dealing with the sudden loss of their son.

The movie is based on a David Lindsay-Abaire play by the same name which won a Pulitzer Prize. It deals with the timeline of grief, and whether such a thing even exists: can the couple attempt to move on after 8 months? What about 8 years, like another couple they meet in a counseling group?

It’s also about how the differences in grief create tensions: the mother wants to donate the clothes and sell the house because she doesn’t want to be reminded of the event. The father wants to hold on the memory instead.

Rabbit Hole, like its source material, is sad, but its realistic approach and excellent performances make it nothing more than a perfect reflection of how complicated life can be.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Eckhart, Ali Marsh, Colin Mitchell, Deidre Goodwin, Derek Blakeney, Dianne Wiest, Giancarlo Esposito, Jay Wilkison, Jennifer Roszell, Jon Tenney, Julie Lauren, Marylouise Burke, Mike Doyle, Miles Teller, Nicole Kidman, Patricia Kalember, Rob Campbell, Roberta Wallach, Salli Saffioti, Sandi Carroll, Sandra Oh, Sara Jane Blazo, Stephen Mailer, Tammy Blanchard, Teresa Kelsey, Ursula Parker, Yetta Gottesman

Director: David Lindsay-Abaire, John Cameron Mitchell

Rating: PG-13