3 Best Movies to Watch by Jason Bayle

Staff & contributors

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, David Alexander, David Maldonado, David Shae, Donna DuPlantier, Dorian Missick, Doug Spearman, Eric Mendenhall, Erika Robel, 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

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck star in this comedy-drama as a small-town couple, one of whom gets diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their best friend (Jason Segel) puts his life on hold and moves in with them, picking up the husband when he faints at the hospital, shaving his head in solidarity with the wife, and even taking care of the dog who also gets sick.

It might seem like just another terminal illness drama, but Our Friend is based on a true story, and it’s as much about the illness as it is about how to be there for people, and reversely, the power of people being there for you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ahna O'Reilly, Azita Ghanizada, Casey Affleck, Chandler Head, Cherry Jones, Dakota Johnson, Denée Benton, Gerald Brodin, Gwendoline Christie, Hali Everette, Isabella Kai, Jacinte Blankenship, Jake Owen, Jason Bayle, Jason Segel, Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Jeronimo Spinx, John McConnell, Lindsey Reimann, Marielle Scott, Mark Costello, Michael Papajohn, Mike Lutz, Paige King, Reed Diamond, Richard Speight Jr., Ritchie Montgomery, Sampley Barinaga, Susan Williams, T.C. Matherne, Violet McGraw

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

It's smart that If You Were the Last takes what's usually an overused romcom/fan-fiction scenario (two attractive people stuck in one place), acknowledges it, and uses it to fuel an entire a story. Unfortunately, the film also doesn't quite know where to go with it, insisting on having its cake and eating it too: that is, it wants to be annoyingly quirky and dead-serious about the consequences of infidelity at once, without the tonal balance to sell these contrasting sides. It's hard to feel for the central characters and their respective spouses still living on Earth because the film does so little to sketch out any of these people beyond surface-level feelings of desire and guilt. As much as it tries to convince us that big changes are happening within these protagonists, the film doesn't seem to be willing to enter any truly messy territory.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Anthony Mackie, Bernard Hocke, Geoff Stults, Jason Bayle, Kaleka, Langston Fishburne, Missi Pyle, Natalie Morales, Sarah Voigt, Taylor Shurte, Zoë Chao

Director: Kristian Mercado Figueroa

Rating: R