5 Best Movies to Watch by Jared Harris

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 1845, two huge and aptly named ships, the HMS Terror and Erebus, were sent on an expedition to the Arctic to find the Northwest Passage, a century-old dream of connecting Asia and Europe through North America. Now, even when all went well, an Arctic expedition in the mid-19th-century was a pretty horrific affair by today's standards, and, as you can imagine, all does not go well. In addition to the bitter cold, the cannibalism, and the malnutrition, The Terror throws in some hideous creatures from Inuit folk tales into the mix that hunt and maim the poor sailors. At its core, however, this is not fantasy horror. Co-produced by Ridley Scott and starring Jared Harris from Chernobyl, The Terror is unrelenting in the depiction of the hopelessness on board the two ships. Great timing and a pervasive sense of dread make this a must-watch for every fan of period-piece horror movies.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Ciarán Hinds, Cristina Rodlo, Derek Mio, George Takei, Jared Harris, Kiki Sukezane, Miki Ishikawa, Tobias Menzies

Rating: TV-MA

The Sea Beast tells the story of Jacob, a legendary sea monster hunter, and Maisie, a wannabe monster hunter herself. When a dangerous encounter isolates them from the rest of the crew, they’re forced to team up and reconcile their opposing beliefs—Maisie believes there’s good in the beasts, but Jacob has yet to be convinced.

Action-packed, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining, The Sea Beast is a perfect weekend watch. The part-Moana, part-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean tale also has the added bonus of being age-appropriate (rated PG), making it suitable for those spending their precious movie time with kids.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Kids

Actor: Alex Wyndham, Brian T. Delaney, Dan Stevens, David S. Lee, Doon Mackichan, Emily O'Brien, Helen Sadler, Ian Mercer, Jared Harris, Jim Carter, Karl Urban, Kathy Burke, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Max Mittelman, Paul Chowdhry, Rajia Baroudi, Shannon Chan-Kent, Somali Rose, Xana Tang, Zaris-Angel Hator

Director: Chris Williams

Rating: PG

Happiness is a difficult, disturbing watch. Unlike films that claim to be brave, Happiness actually goes there and shows us just how deep, dark, and perverse our urges can get. But far from being controversial for the sake of it, this fearless film has important things to say about the facade of happiness, the urgency of loneliness, and the futility of feigning ignorance about both. And it does so with an impressively wry humor delivered by a talented cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Dylan Baker. They play their complicated characters so well, they'll have you thinking about the strange ways you can, in fact, relate to them on some level, long after the credits roll. 

This isn't a film you'll want to revisit often, but you will have to see it at least once in a lifetime—if anything, for the kind of painful honesty you’ll rarely find anywhere else.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ann Harada, Anne Bobby, Arthur J. Nascarella, Ben Gazzara, Camryn Manheim, Cynthia Stevenson, Dan Moran, Douglas McGrath, Dylan Baker, Elizabeth Ashley, Gerry Becker, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, Jon Lovitz, José Rabelo, Justin Elvin, Lara Flynn Boyle, Louise Lasser, Marla Maples, Matt Malloy, Molly Shannon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Socorro Santiago, Todd Solondz, Wai Ching Ho

Director: Todd Solondz

Rating: NC-17