2 Best Movies to Watch by Jon Abrahams

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, Betty Miller, Brian Smyj, Catrina Ganey, Charis Michelsen, Cliff Curtis, Craig muMs Grant, David Zayas, 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, Richard Spore, Sonja Sohn, Sylva Kelegian, Terry Serpico, Theo Kogan, Tom Cappadona, Tom Riis Farrell, Tom Sizemore, Ving Rhames

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

Told with grace and maturity without sensationalizing its subject matter, Dead Man Walking expertly walks the line between taking a moral stand and keeping the messy humanity of its characters intact. Though it may seem just like a legal drama or prison film on the surface, writer/director Tim Robbins weaves in commentary on class and the role religion is expected to play in middle class Southern communities—especially in the context of justice and crime. Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon (in the role that won her her Oscar) play every side to this drama with remarkable control, building an unlikely rapport that culminates in a finale that's as moving as any great tear-jerker. It may be tough to watch at times, given the raw emotions that are laid bare, but Dead Man Walking remains relevant even today.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adam Nelson, Adele Robbins, Anthony Michael Frederick, Arthur Bridgers, Barton Heyman, Celia Weston, Clancy Brown, Codie Scott, Cortez Nance Jr., Dennis Neal, Eva Amurri Martino, Jack Black, Jack Henry Robbins, Jenny Krochmal, Jeremy Knaster, Joan Glover, Jon Abrahams, Kevin Cooney, Larry Pine, Lenore Banks, Lois Smith, Marcus Lyle Brown, Margo Martindale, Michael Cullen, Miles Robbins, Missy Yager, Molly Bryant, Nesbitt Blaisdell, Pamela Garmon, Pete Burris, Peter Sarsgaard, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Aranha, Raymond J. Barry, Robert Prosky, Roberta Maxwell, Scott Sowers, Scott Wilson, Sean Penn, Steve Boles, Steve Carlisle, Susan Sarandon

Director: Tim Robbins