5 Best Movies to Watch by Jeremy Piven

Staff & contributors

Like so many pictures about the pictures, The Player is a biting satire of the biz. Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a Hollywood executive who gives dinner speeches about movies being art but works at a studio where endings are unceremoniously tweaked for maximum audience approval ratings — and therefore maximum profits. The greedy corporate Tinseltown of The Player feels very close to the franchise-pumping Tinseltown of today, but there’s enough wit and irony here to keep it from feeling too depressing.

Legendary New Hollywood director Robert Altman packages his critique in familiar clothing: that of a film noir. After receiving threatening postcards from a disgruntled writer he never called back, Griffin takes matters into his own hands and soon finds himself living out the plot of a taut thriller. The Player gets even more deliciously meta than this: nearly every scene contains a winking reference to the movies, and it’d probably be easier to count which stars of past and present don’t show up for a cameo here. What’s more, Altman gives The Player the kind of “happy ending” that Griffin’s studio is always demanding from writers — only here, it’s spun into a bitter commentary on the whole industry. Simply masterful.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Simon, Alan Rudolph, Alexandra Powers, Althea Gibson, Andie MacDowell, Angela Hall, Anjelica Huston, Annie Ross, Bert Remsen, Brad Davis, Brian Brophy, Brian Tochi, Brion James, Bruce Willis, Buck Henry, Burt Reynolds, Cathy Lee Crosby, Charles Champlin, Cher, Cynthia Stevenson, David Alan Grier, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Franz, Derek Raser, Dina Merrill, Elliott Gould, Felicia Farr, Frank Barhydt, Fred Ward, Gary Busey, Gina Gershon, Greta Scacchi, Harry Belafonte, Jack Jason, Jack Kney, Jack Lemmon, Jack Riley, James Coburn, Jayne Meadows, Jeff Celentano, Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Piven, Jill St. John, Joan Tewkesbury, Joel Grey, John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Karen Black, Katarzyna Figura, Kathy Ireland, Kevin Scannell, Leah Ayres, Leeza Gibbons, Lily Tomlin, Louise Fletcher, Lyle Lovett, Malcolm McDowell, Marina Zenovich, Marlee Matlin, Martin Mull, Michael Bowen, Michael Tolkin, Mike Kaplan, Mimi Rogers, Natalie Strong, Ned Bellamy, Nick Nolte, Pamela Bowen, Patricia Resnick, Patrick Swayze, Paul Dooley, Paul Hewitt, Peter Falk, Peter Gallagher, Peter Koch, Randall Batinkoff, Ray Walston, Rene Auberjonois, Richard Anderson, Richard E. Grant, Ritchie Montgomery, Robert Carradine, Robert Wagner, Rod Steiger, Sally Kellerman, Sally Kirkland, Scott Glenn, Scott Shaw, Shari Belafonte, Stephen Tolkin, Steve Allen, Steve James, Susan Emshwiller, Susan Sarandon, Sydney Pollack, Ted Hartley, Teri Garr, Tim Robbins, Vincent D'Onofrio, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Robert Altman

The '80s saw an influx of coming-of-age dramas, with John Hughes’ “Brat Pack” films reigning supreme. For better or worse, their most iconic scenes are embedded in pop culture, like students dancing in detention in The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles’ belated birthday cake. Perhaps the most iconic '80s movie moment comes not from Hughes, but from Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…: Lloyd Dobler (John Cusak) in a trenchcoat, blue Malibu parked behind him, boombox raised over his head in defiant loyalty.

On their last day of high school, Lloyd Dobler resolves to ask out the class valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye). Their summer-long relationship is awkward, intense, tender—and familiar to anyone who has ever opened themselves up to falling in love. Say Anything… emotionally outclasses its contemporaries, as Crowe’s writing lends itself to two authentic characters fleshed out beyond caricatures. And as Lloyd crushes hard on Diane, it’s hard not to feel like you’re falling in love with each of them, too.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Brooks, Bebe Neuwirth, Bill Stevenson, Chynna Phillips, Dan Castellaneta, Don Wilson, Eric Stoltz, Glenn Walker Harris Jr., Gloria Cromwell, Gregory Sporleder, Ione Skye, Jason Gould, Jeremy Piven, Jerry Ziesmer, Jim Ladd, Joan Cusack, Joanna Frank, John Cusack, John Hillner, John Mahoney, Johnny Green, Jonathan Chapin, Judy Prescott, Kim Walker, Lili Taylor, Lisanne Falk, Lois Chiles, Loren Dean, Montrose Hagins, Pamela Adlon, Patrick O'Neill, Philip Baker Hall, Polly Platt, Richard Portnow, Stephen Shortridge, Stone Gossard

Director: Cameron Crowe

Of the many violence-inflected black comedies that Pulp Fiction spawned, Grosse Pointe Blank ranks among the best. Though it’s patently inspired by Tarantino’s magnum opus — John Cusack plays a sardonic, amoral hitman, and the film features bursts of stylized violence and a retro soundtrack — it never feels derivative. The film finds its own identity as a quirky romcom when Cusack’s character, Martin Blank, returns to his hometown for a 10-year high-school reunion on the advice of his terrified therapist (Alan Arkin).

Martin is experiencing professional disillusionment as part of the quarter-life crisis that often takes hold when one realizes it’s been a whole decade since high school. His profession puts a darkly comic spin on that convention, but the film doesn’t treat that element entirely flippantly. Unlike Martin — and so many of the film’s Pulp Fiction-inspired brethren — Grosse Pointe Blank isn’t nihilistic, but quite sincerely romantic. Its hybrid nature and surprising heart come to the fore in Martin’s renewed relationship with the girlfriend he jilted at prom: Debi (Minnie Driver), now a ska-loving radio DJ. Cusack and Driver have sparkling chemistry, which makes the sincerity with which their characters grapple with the possibility of a second chance at happiness all the more absorbing to watch.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Alan Arkin, Ann Cusack, Barbara Harris, Belita Moreno, Benny Urquidez, Bill Cusack, Bobby Bass, Carlos Jacott, Dan Aykroyd, David Barrett, Doug Dearth, Hank Azaria, Jenna Elfman, Jeremy Piven, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, K. Todd Freeman, Michael Cudlitz, Minnie Driver, Mitchell Ryan, Steve Pink

Director: George Armitage

In this neo-noir crime drama, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play a trio of con-artists in modern day (1990) California. Roy (Cusack) is a small-stakes hustler prone to swindling bartenders and drunken sailors for pocket money, while Lilly (Huston) plays his estranged mother who reappears in his life while working a series of horse track bluffs. Myra (Bening) notches in between the two of them as Cusack’s boisterous yet conniving girlfriend, and the instant mutual dislike between her and Lilly sets the film’s course of action in motion. It’s a fun, edgy thriller that will leave you guessing up until it's shocking finale. Elevated immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein’s old-fashioned, hard boiled music score, The Grifters is a real feather in the hat for both director Stephen Frears and producer Martin Scorsese.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, Billy Ray Sharkey, Charles Napier, David Sinaiko, Eddie Jones, Frances Bay, Gailard Sartain, Gregory Sporleder, Henry Jones, Ivette Soler, J.T. Walsh, Jan Munroe, Jeff Perry, Jeremy Piven, Jimmy Noonan, John Cusack, Jon Gries, Juliet Landau, Lou Hancock, Martin Scorsese, Michael Laskin, Micole Mercurio, Noelle Harling, Pat Hingle, Paul Adelstein, Richard Holden, Robert Weems, Sandy Baron, Stephen Tobolowsky, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Teresa Gilmore, Xander Berkeley

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: R

Sweetwater has a precious story in its hands, along with a sparkling cast of tried-and-true actors and a generous budget that allows them to go all in with the movie’s 1950s setting. But the parts are far greater than the sum here, because all together, Sweetwater is a mess. It promises to be a biopic about Clifton but fractures into many other things. During its duller parts, it’s a white savior story about basketball owners, and during its more vibrant parts, it’s a snapshot of the Harlem Globetrotters during their humble beginnings. The basketball matches themselves are playful and exciting to watch, but for every game, there is an overdramatic scene that cranks up the notch on sappy music and predictable dialogues. Often, it also feels like director Martin Guigui went to the Green Book School of Anti-prejudice, given his extremely elementary portrayal of racism and his preference for the white characters over the Black characters. Sweetwater isn’t watchable, but it’s a shame that the star of the film had to share the spotlight with less interesting personalities. 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Ashani Roberts, Billy Malone, Ca'Ron Jaden Coleman, Cary Elwes, Dahlia Waingort, Delijah McAlpin, Eric Etebari, Eric Roberts, Ernest Harden Jr., Everett Osborne, Gary Clark Jr., Jason Sklar, Jeremy Piven, Jim Caviezel, Jim Meskimen, Kevin Pollak, Mike Starr, Paul Hipp, Preston Galli, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Ri'chard, Wayne Federman

Director: Martin Guigui