4 Best Movies to Watch by Gralen Bryant Banks

Staff & contributors

On their drive back from a Tinder date that was only average, a couple are pulled over by a racist police officer. Things escalate unexpectedly and the couple, one of whom is a lawyer aware of the corruptedness of the system, start a life on the run together. This thrilling set-up mixing social commentary and romance is a movie that's actually many movies in one. And almost as if to cut in-between the different tonalities, there are so many quiet and beautiful shots of the couple: silent, still or dancing - these moments are true cinematic magic. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Andre De'Sean Shanks, Andy Dylan, Benito Martinez, Bokeem Woodbine, Brian Thornton, Bryant Tardy, Chloe Sevigny, Colby Boothman-Shepard, Daniel Kaluuya, Dickson Obahor, Flea, Gayle King, Gralen Bryant Banks, Indya Moore, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Jodie Turner-Smith, Joseph Poliquin, Karen Kaia Livers, Lucky Johnson, Melanie Halfkenny, Robert Walker Branchaud, Soledad O'Brien, Sturgill Simpson, Thom Gossom Jr.

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Rating: R

Many people lament the decline of the mid-budget drama with Hollywood A-listers in the lead roles, and for good reason: when the charms of an inspirational, feel-good true story work, they really work. The Burial seems to have been made with this same, unabashedly sentimental attitude, and it makes for an endlessly watchable courtroom underdog tale. The film moves with real energy between its more comedic asides and its more urgent themes of underprivileged people being taken advantage of by wealthy companies. And while it still would've probably been effective as just a straightforward legal drama, the movie makes the effort to seek out a bigger picture—deepening its own title by grounding all its characters against complicated race relations in Mississippi.

Director and co-writer Maggie Betts doesn't stray too far from the template that these kinds of films operate with (perhaps to a fault, especially during its climactic moments), but the cast she's assembled is unimpeachable. Jamie Foxx turns in the kind of funny, energetic, deeply felt star performance that earned him an Oscar almost 20 years ago, while Tommy Lee Jones brings a powerful sense of modesty and centeredness to a role that could've easily taken a back seat to his flashier co-lead. Supporting turns from Jurnee Smollett and Alan Ruck round out a uniformly great ensemble that gives this small movie a commanding air of prestige.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Alan Ruck, Amanda Warren, Andrea Frankle, B.J. Clinkscales, Bill Camp, Billy Slaughter, Christopher Winchester, David Alexander, David Maldonado, David Shae, Donna DuPlantier, Dorian Missick, Doug Spearman, Eric Mendenhall, Erika Robel, Evan Brinkman, Fracaswell Hyman, George Ketsios, Gralen Bryant Banks, Jalene Mack, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bayle, Jim Klock, Jurnee Smollett, Keith Jefferson, Lance E. Nichols, Logan Macrae, Lorna Street Dopson, Mamoudou Athie, Mike Harkins, Olivia Brody, Pamela Reed, Sam Malone, Summer Selby, Teisha Speight, Tommy Lee Jones, Tywayne Wheatt, Vince Pisani

Director: Margaret Betts

Rating: R

Hit Man is many things—a romance, neo-noir, comedy, and thriller. And though it sometimes feels like it doesn’t quite reach its full potential in all those areas, it’s hard not to be blown away by Powell’s Rolodex of characters and his palpable chemistry with Arjona. The story itself isn’t as sturdy as I hoped it would be, but it’s supported by a strong, funny script co-written by the ever-reliable Linklater (who I suspect is behind the deep existential ruminations) and Powell (who must’ve supplied the cache of modern jokes), ultimately making Hit Man a smart, funny, and deeply pleasurable watch.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Romance

Actor: Adria Arjona, Anthony Michael Frederick, Austin Amelio, Bryant Carroll, Eleanor Threatt, Evan Holtzman, Glen Powell, Gralen Bryant Banks, Jo-Ann Robinson, Jordan Salloum, Julia Holt, Kate Adair, Kim Baptiste, Mike Markoff, Molly Bernard, Morgana Shaw, Retta, Richard Robichaux, Ritchie Montgomery, Roxy Rivera, Sanjay Rao, Sara Osi Scott, Stephanie Hong

Director: Richard Linklater

Rating: R

A movie based on a theme park ride is always going to be a marketing exercise, but what’s remarkable about Haunted Mansion is how uninterested it is in even pretending to be anything more. Amazon, Yankee Candle, CVS, Baskin Robbins, Burger King: you could fill a mall with the list of brands shamelessly name-dropped in the movie. Gallingly, the cast are even forced to do double duty as brand ambassadors during some of the movie’s most determined efforts at poignancy — oof.

Not even an ensemble featuring the comedic-dramatic chops of LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson, and Chase Dillon (the best of the bunch) can make such naked cash-grabs feel organic. What’s more, though, Haunted Mansion depressingly asks so little of its cast that there aren’t really any opportunities for them to counterbalance these embarrassing moments with anything approaching compelling. Adding to its struggles are the mansion’s sludgy color palette (which renders every scene unremarkable, no matter how moving or spooky it’s supposed to be) and the fact that it somehow feels rushed even at an overlong two hours. Though you can appreciate director Justin Simien’s efforts at elevating the material into something coherent, Haunted Mansion feels as lifeless as the ghosts that fill it.

Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Alisa Harris, Amy Parrish, Andrew Morgado, Anthony Burrell, Arielle Prepetit, Ashley John, Ayane Azevedo, Ben Bladon, Bryan McClure, Chad Crumley, Charity Jordan, Charles Black, Chase W. Dillon, Chenise Johnson, Christopher Winchester, Clarence White III, Creek Wilson, Cruz Abelita, D. Jerome Wells, Dan Levy, Danny DeVito, Derrick James Moss, Don Stallings, Edward Zhu, Elisabeth Lagrande, Erika Coleman, Erion Brandon WIlliams, Fedor Steer, Glendon Ray Hobgood, Gralen Bryant Banks, Hasan Minhaj, Hector Machado, Helene Henry, Ian Covell, J.R. Adduci, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto, Jared Simon, Jo Koy, John Curran, Joseph Miller, Julie Nalibov, Kailie Sanders, Kamran Shaikh, Kat Montes, Kathi Callahan, Kay Galvin, Keiko Bell, Kurt Yue, Lakeith Stanfield, Lindsay Lamb, Lorenzo Beronilla, Lumar Christopher Leblanc III, Manuel Perkins, Marcus Otis Hubbard, Marilu Henner, Mike Benitez, Nico Gomez, Owen Wilson, Paul Michael Robertson, Rachel Pitner, Raianna Brown, Rick Andosca, Rosario Dawson, Rowan Joseph, Sebastien Soudais, Steve Zissis, Terence Mathews, Terence Rosemore, Tiffany Haddish, Tony Paone, Tracy Goode, William Calvert, Winona Ryder

Director: Justin Simien

Rating: PG-13