5 Best Movies to Watch by John Heffernan

Staff & contributors

Martin Scorsese — plus screenwriter Paul Schrader, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and cinematographer Robert Richardson — reimagine nocturnal New York City as an eternally flaming circle of hell in this darkly funny fever dream. Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) is an insomniac paramedic who’s haunted by the ghosts of all the lives he couldn’t save and is on a nightmarish run of losing every patient he tries to help. There’s no respite for him anywhere; he’s so burnt out he begs to be fired, but the city is so desperate they won’t let him leave their tired ranks of medics, who are mostly jaded, sometimes sadistic, and yet still addicted to the euphoric high of saving a life.

As Frank is pushed ever closer to breaking point, the film takes on the hallucinatory qualities of his perspective, the cinematography growing feverish and the editing powered by a wild, manic energy. What stops the movie from feeling like a spiral into actual hell is the strange light that keeps Frank returning to work — the perpetual need for redemption and grace that prevents him from becoming cold to his job but makes his sanity fragile. In typical Scorsese-Schrader style, this is a raw, visceral, and very human search for grace in an unsparing urban hellscape.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Afemo Omilami, Aida Turturro, Aleks Shaklin, Andy Davoli, Antone Pagán, Arthur J. Nascarella, Bernie Friedman, Betty Miller, Brian Smyj, Bronson Dudley, Catrina Ganey, Charis Michelsen, Cliff Curtis, Craig muMs Grant, Cullen O. Johnson, David Zayas, Ed Jupp Jr., Floyd Resnick, Frank Ciornei, Fuschia!, Graciela Lecube, Jack O'Connell, James Hanlon, Jesse Malin, John Goodman, John Heffernan, Jon Abrahams, Joseph P. Reidy, Judy Reyes, Julyana Soelistyo, Larry Fessenden, Leonid Citer, Lia Yang, Marc Anthony, Mark Giordano, Martin Scorsese, Mary Beth Hurt, Mary Diveny, Marylouise Burke, Matthew Maher, Melissa Marsala, Michael Carbonaro, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Mulheren, Mtume Gant, Nestor Serrano, Nicolas Cage, Omar Scroggins, Patricia Arquette, Phyllis Somerville, Queen Latifah, Raymond Cassar, Richard Spore, Sonja Sohn, Sylva Kelegian, Terry Serpico, Theo Kogan, Tom Cappadona, Tom Riis Farrell, Tom Sizemore, Ving Rhames

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, David Maybrick, Fiona Skinner, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Janie Dee, Jeremy Northam, Jessica Fostekew, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Michael James, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Duval, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair, Vinta Morgan, Will Barton

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

In 1961, Francisco de Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen from London’s National Gallery, but the theft was no slick heist pulled off by international art thieves. No, the improbable culprit was (the improbably named) Kempton Bunton, a retired bus driver and aspiring playwright who pinched the painting — which the gallery had recently acquired for £140,000 of UK taxpayers’ money — as a Robin Hood-esque “attempt to pick the pockets of those who love art more than charity.” The principled Bunton (played here by Jim Broadbent) was, at the time, waging a one-man campaign to convince the government to grant pensioners and veterans free TV licenses, and the Goya theft was his way of publicizing those efforts. It was an eccentric plan, but Broadbent leans fully into his status as a UK national treasure here, making oddball Bunton a deeply sympathetic and warm figure because of (not despite) those quirks. Thanks to his performance — and the note-perfect direction of the late, great Roger Michell — a quirky footnote of history becomes a sweet, unexpectedly moving story about solidarity and the power of the underdog.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Aimee Kelly, Andrew Havill, Anna Maxwell Martin, Charlotte Spencer, Cliff Burnett, Craig Conway, Darren Charman, Dorian Lough, Fionn Whitehead, Heather Craney, Helen Mirren, Jack Bandeira, James Wilby, Jim Broadbent, John Heffernan, Joshua McGuire, Matthew Goode, Michael Hodgson, Richard McCabe, Sam Swainsbury, Sarah Beck Mather, Sian Clifford, Stephen Rashbrook, Val McLane, Will Graham

Director: Roger Michell

Rating: R

Is an innocent child’s life worth millions of other civilian casualties? In a modern-day drone warfare led by Colonel Katherine Powell, played by the very versatile Helen Mirren, she is conflicted to order the target of the Somali terrorist organization when she spots Alia, a young girl who just happens to be selling bread within the premises of the Kill Zone. Her icy exterior, however, is a far cry from Lieutenant General Frank Benson’s profound sympathy, the portrayal of the late Alan Rickman in his last onscreen role being one of his most remarkable ones to date. Eye in the Sky is a thriller that will have you questioning your morals while gripping your seats in what appears to be a battle of the best choice and the only one. Do the ends always justify the means?

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, War

Actor: Aaron Paul, Aisha Takow, Alan Rickman, Armaan Haggio, Arman Haggio, Babou Ceesay, Barkhad Abdi, Carl Beukes, Daniel Fox, Ebby Weyime, Francis Chouler, Gavin Hood, Graham Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Iain Glen, James Alexander, Jeremy Northam, John Heffernan, Kate Liquorish, Kenneth Fok, Kim Engelbrecht, Kim Suzanne Engelbrecht, Laila Robins, Lemogang Tsipa, Lex King, Michael OKeefe, Monica Dolan, Phoebe Fox, Richard McCabe, Roberto Kyle, Roberto Meyer, Sabrina Hassan Abdulle, Vusi Kunene, Warren Masemola, Zak Rowlands

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R