3 Best Movies to Watch by José Zúñiga

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

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Ali A. Wahhab, Anthony Ruiz, Anthony Thomas, Belinda Becker, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Danielia L. Cotton, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elsie Hilario, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Iraida Polanco, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Luis Lantigua, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, Natima Bradley, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

Spike Lee’s semi-autobiographical film is a loving and nostalgic ode to the Brooklyn of his childhood. It also happens to be his sweetest work and while overshadowed by the explosive Do The Right Thing, remains an easy contender for one of his very best. The world of Crooklyn is told through the eyes of Troy, a young girl growing up with her four brothers, and her mother and father in a cramped brownstone. 

Lee’s Brooklyn is a colorful delight set aloft by a swooning soul soundtrack. His ability to capture the vibrant magical tones and textures of the city feels as complete as ever, and marvelous performances from Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo as Troy’s parents help create a touching and all-encompassing experience. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfre Woodard, Arthur French, Bokeem Woodbine, Carlton Williams, Carmen Tillery, Christopher Knowings, Christopher Wynkoop, Dan Grimaldi, Danielle K. Thomas, David Patrick Kelly, Delroy Lindo, Emelise Aleandri, Frances Foster, Gary Perez, Harvey Williams, Hector M. Ricci Jr., Isaiah Washington, Ivelka Reyes, Joie Lee, José Zúñiga, Keith Johnson, Kewanna Bonaparte, Manny Perez, Maurie A. Chandler, Michele Shay, Mildred Clinton, Norman Matlock, Omar Scroggins, Patriece Nelson, Peewee Love, Raymond Reliford, Rene Ojeda, Richard Whiten, RuPaul, Sharif Rashed, Spike Lee, Taneal Royal, Tiasha Reyes, Tracy Vilar, Tse-Mach Washington, Ulysses Terrero, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Zelda Harris

Director: Spike Lee