3 Best Movies to Watch by James Spader

Staff & contributors

Remarkably, Steven Soderbergh was only 26 years old when he directed this coolly assured debut, the searingly candid script of which he also wrote in just eight days. Despite the pornographic implications of its title, this is more concerned with exploring whether honesty — not sex — is the means to real intimacy. In fact, the only nakedness glimpsed here is of the emotional kind, as twenty-something drifter Graham’s (James Spader) total aversion to lying has an infectious influence on everyone around him.

The primary recipient of that disarming effect is Ann (Andie MacDowell), the wife of Graham’s old college buddy who is blasé about sex and neurotic about everything else. Talking to Graham has a therapeutic effect on her, but he takes something else away from conversation: chronically impotent, he simulates the sexual experience by conducting erotically themed interviews with women on videotape. Preferring to sublimate his desires through his camcorder, Spader’s physically aloof character is a disturbingly prescient one for what it suggested then about technology’s future impact on human relationships. That Soderbergh managed to conduct such a complex psychosexual drama all through dialogue — on his first feature, no less — makes him exceedingly worthy of the record this earned him of the youngest solo Palme d’Or-winning director ever.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexandra Root, Andie MacDowell, David Foil, Earl T. Taylor, James Spader, Laura San Giacomo, Peter Gallagher, Ron Vawter, Steve Brill, Steven Brill

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: R

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alison Tatlock, Amy Locane, Christina Gray, David Wiater, Diane McGee, Erin Cressida Wilson, Ezra Buzzington, Herbert Russell, James Spader, Jeremy Davies, Jessica Tuck, Julene Renee, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Lacey Kohl, Lauren Cohn, Lesley Ann Warren, Lily Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary Joy, Michael Mantell, Osgood Perkins, Oz Perkins, Patrick Bauchau, Sabrina Grdevich, Shannon Convery, Stephen McHattie, Steven Fierberg, Steven Shainberg

Director: Steven Shainberg

Rating: R

, 2024

If you’re coming into this expecting to relive your favorite ‘80s coming-of-age moments from The Breakfast Club to St. Elmo’s Fire, then you’ll get a taste of that, but don’t expect to be fully satisfied. Instead, the reunion that happens in Brats resembles group therapy more than anything. Here, director Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire) seems to be on a journey to heal from his troubled past, which he believes was caused, in part, by a defamatory article that called him and a crop of young actors in the ‘80s “The Brat Pack.” The film follows McCarthy as he travels across the country to discuss the label with fellow Brat Packers, who funnily enough, don’t share his contempt for it. Sure, they’re annoyed, but they’ve moved on for the most part. McCarthy on the other hand doesn’t possess the self-awareness to know this, which is perhaps why he’s fallen trap to the Streisand Effect. “The Brat Pack” isn’t nearly as negative as he thinks it to be, but because he keeps ranting about it, I’m starting to think the accusations might be true--he just might be the vain and entitled celebrity, the brat, he claims he’s not. That said, the documentary has its moments. The way it’s modestly filmed is charming and inventive, the artful blend of old footage and 80s music hits the nostalgic spot, and the conversations can be interesting. Who would’ve thought Demi Moore would be the wisest person in the room?

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Eric Stoltz, Howard Deutch, Jacqueline Bisset, James Spader, Joel Schumacher, John Ashton, John Cusack, John Hughes, Jon Cryer, Judd Nelson, Lea Thompson, Marci Liroff, Molly Ringwald, Phil Donahue, Richard Schickel, Rob Lowe, Sammy Davis Jr., Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise

Director: Andrew McCarthy