9 Best Movies to Watch by Lakeith Stanfield

Staff & contributors

Understated in budget but lavished with praise, this semi-autobiographical drama by Daniel Destin Cretton flings its audience into the chaotic lives and personal crises of at-risk youths and the passionate social workers that aid them. In his first feature film, the young director draws the viewers into the storm of events and the emotional ups-and-downs of social work in America, going from uplifting to depressing and back – and every emotion in-between.

Set in the real-life and eponymous group home Short Term 12, devoted but troubled foster-care worker Grace is played by Brie Larson, whose shining performance in her first leading role was lauded by critics. Fans will also recognize the supporting actors Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek, who broke out in this movie. Short Term 12 is now considered one of the most important movies of 2013 – some say of the decade – owing to its immaculate writing, intimate camerawork, and gripping performances.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Calloway, Angelina Assereto, Brie Larson, Diana Maria Riva, Frantz Turner, Harold Cannon, Joel P. West, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez, Lakeith Stanfield, Lydia Du Veaux, Melora Walters, Michelle Nordahl, Mohammad Shiravi, Rami Malek, Silvia Curiel, Stephanie Beatriz

Director: Destin Cretton, Destin Daniel Cretton

Rating: R

One of the most thrilling biographical films to come out of Hollywood in the 2020s, Shaka King's exhilarating take on a truly remarkable leader within the Black Panther Party—and the young man who would eventually be twisted into betraying him—also provides a respectful, honest space to voice out progressive views that still aren't fully embraced in the United States. Much of the film is made up of beautiful, powerful rhetoric, contrasting in fascinating ways with scenes of violence or deception that only remind us how ahead-of-his-time chairman Fred Hampton was and still is. And in a thunderous, Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Kaluuya brings all of Hampton's words roaring to life while still reminding us of how tragically young this inspirational figure was at the time of his death.

But Judas and the Black Messiah tells an equally powerful second story over this one: that of FBI informant William O'Neal who reluctantly agrees to sell Hampton to the feds, and quickly realizes that he's been scammed too. Rivaling—and, arguably, besting—Kaluuya's performance is LaKeith Stanfield, whose tortured and increasingly despairing performance as O'Neal is the stuff of pure Shakespearean drama. Together, both stories ask us what real freedom looks like, and that we believe we can still fight for it.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Algee Smith, Amari Cheatom, Amber Chardae Robinson, Ashton Sanders, Caleb Eberhardt, Chris Hahn, Daniel Kaluuya, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, Graham Lutes, Ian Duff, James Udom, Jermaine Fowler, Jesse Plemons, Khris Davis, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Velez, Nick Fink, Robert Longstreet, Terayle Hill

Director: Shaka King

In the year of the Netflix TV Show Maniac, another absurdist title stole critics’ hearts. Sorry to Bother You is a movie set in an alternate reality, where capitalism and greed are accentuated. Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) is a guy called Cassius who struggles to pay his bills. However, when at a tele-marketing job an old-timer tells him to use a “white voice”, he starts moving up the ranks of his bizarre society. A really smart movie that will be mostly enjoyed by those who watch it for its entertaining value, and not so much for its commentary. It is like a Black Mirror episode stretched into a movie.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Annie Chen, Armie Hammer, Damion Gallegos, Danny Glover, David Cross, David Fine, Dawayne Jordan, Ed Moy, Eric Jacobus, Forest Whitaker, James D. Weston II, Jermaine Fowler, John Ozuna, Kate Berlant, Lakeith Stanfield, Lily James, Marcella Bragio, Michael X. Sommers, Molly Brady, Omari Hardwick, Patton Oswalt, Robert Longstreet, Rosario Dawson, Safiya Fredericks, Steven Yeun, Terel Gibson, Teresa Navarro, Terry Crews, Tessa Thompson, Thessaly Lerner, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tony Toste, Val Garrahan, W. Kamau Bell, William W. Barbour

Director: Boots Riley

Rating: R

, 2014

The award-winning third feature by director Ava DuVernay, Selma, was released around the 50th anniversary of the historically significant marches (Selma to Montgomery) that aided the civil rights movement's efforts to assure African-American citizens can exercise their constitutional right to vote, harassment-free. The film has been celebrated not only as an artwork, but also as a historiographically accurate one. While it features the role Martin Luther King Jr. played in the marches, it does not reduce the activists' effort and struggle to make it come to fruition. With her uncompromising directorial approach, DuVernay crafts a thrilling period film that has all the markers of a well-done genre feature, but uses its mechanisms to tell an emotionally potent story about both the peaceful marches and the nation-wide outcry resulting from the violence they were met with.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alessandro Nivola, Andre Holland, Carmen Ejogo, Charity Jordan, Charles Black, Colman Domingo, Common, Corey Reynolds, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Dwyer, David Oyelowo, Dylan Baker, E. Roger Mitchell, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Maness, Harry Belafonte, Haviland Stillwell, Henry G. Sanders, Jeremy Strong, Jim France, Jody Thompson, John Lavelle, Kent Faulcon, Lakeith Stanfield, Ledisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Martin Sheen, Michael Papajohn, Montrel Miller, Niecy Nash, Nigel Thatch, Omar J. Dorsey, Oprah Winfrey, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stan Houston, Stephan James, Stephen Root, Tara Ochs, Tessa Thompson, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Tony Bennett, Trai Byers, Wendell Pierce

Director: Ava DuVernay

Rating: PG-13

A crazy, anxiety-inducing thriller that turns Adam Sandler into a thrill-generating machine, which in its own speaks volumes about the rhythm of this movie. It follows a jeweler who gets himself in trouble with what feels like all of New York - a gang, Kevin Garnett (the NBA player), other jewelers, his family, odd twins that appear out of nowhere - everyone. This all happens in the backdrop of him feeling he has “hit big” and is on the verge of receiving a lot of money.

If you watched Good Time, you know what to expect from directors Safdie brothers: excruciating tension that keeps building up when you thought it wasn’t possible. And that might be the only problem with Uncut Gems; the tension doesn't feel that different from Good Time, and having watched one you can guess where the other one is going.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Abel Tesfaye, Adam Sandler, Alexander Gilkes, Andrea Linsky, Anthony Mecca, Ara Daglian, Aren Topian, Arthur Borukhov, Benjy Kleiner, Chad Neves, Damany Eastman, Debbie DeLisi, Eric Bogosian, Glenn 'Doc' Rivers, Greg Yuna, Hailey Gates, Idina Menzel, Jake Ryan, Jennifer Venditti, Jeremy Sample, John Amos, Jonathan Aranbayev, Josh Ostrovsky, Judd Hirsch, Julia Fox, Keith William Richards, Keith Williams Richards, Keren Shemel, Kerwin Frost, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, Larry Sloman, Liang Wei-Hei Duncan, Liang Wei-Hui-Duncan, Louis Anthony Arias, Maksud Agadjani, Marcia DeBonis, Marshall Greenberg, Mesfin Lamengo, Michael A. Sollecito, Mike Francesa, Mitchell Wenig, Natasha Lyonne, Noa Fisher, Paige Neuenschwander, Paloma Elsesser, Pom Klementieff, Ricky Barksdale, Robbie DeRaffele, Roman Persits, Roza Babekova, Sahar Bibiyan, Sean Ringgold, Shemsi Selimaj, Shiv Pai, Suin Zhi Hua-Hilton, Sun Zhi Hua-Hilton, The Weeknd, Thomas Kominik, Tilda Swinton, Todd Vulpio, Tommy Kominik, Trinidad James, Ursula Triplett, Victor Plajas, Wayne Diamond

Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Rating: R

, 2015

At the same time a fun, crazy, and meaningful movie about Malcom and his friends, high school teenagers and proud geeks who suddenly find themselves immersed in the underground LA drug scene. It's a 2015 Superbad meets Boyz in the Hood. But in its essence it mostly resembles another beautiful film, Juno, in the way it evolves around a character played perfectly who you get to know, agree and disagree with, and ultimately learn from and relate to. Above all it's an outright enjoyable film, a smart one too, with a great soundtrack to boot.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: A$AP Rocky, Alex Urbom, Allen Maldonado, Amin Joseph, Ashton Moio, Benjamin Levy Aguilar, Blake Anderson, Bruce Beatty, Chanel Iman, Christopher Glenn, De'Aundre Bonds, Emmanuel Manzanares, Forest Whitaker, Jeremy Marinas, Josh Meyer, Julian Brand, Keith Stanfield, Kiersey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Lakeith Stanfield, Larnell Stovall, Lidia Porto, Michael Flores, Milton T.J. Taylor, Mimi Michaels, Quincy Brown, Rakim Mayers, Rick Famuyiwa, Rick Fox, Ricky Harris, Roger Guenveur Smith, Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Tyga, Vince Staples, Zoe Kravitz

Director: Rick Famuyiwa

Rating: R

A movie based on a theme park ride is always going to be a marketing exercise, but what’s remarkable about Haunted Mansion is how uninterested it is in even pretending to be anything more. Amazon, Yankee Candle, CVS, Baskin Robbins, Burger King: you could fill a mall with the list of brands shamelessly name-dropped in the movie. Gallingly, the cast are even forced to do double duty as brand ambassadors during some of the movie’s most determined efforts at poignancy — oof.

Not even an ensemble featuring the comedic-dramatic chops of LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson, and Chase Dillon (the best of the bunch) can make such naked cash-grabs feel organic. What’s more, though, Haunted Mansion depressingly asks so little of its cast that there aren’t really any opportunities for them to counterbalance these embarrassing moments with anything approaching compelling. Adding to its struggles are the mansion’s sludgy color palette (which renders every scene unremarkable, no matter how moving or spooky it’s supposed to be) and the fact that it somehow feels rushed even at an overlong two hours. Though you can appreciate director Justin Simien’s efforts at elevating the material into something coherent, Haunted Mansion feels as lifeless as the ghosts that fill it.

Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Alisa Harris, Amy Parrish, Andrew Morgado, Anthony Burrell, Arielle Prepetit, Ashley John, Ayane Azevedo, Ben Bladon, Bryan McClure, Chad Crumley, Charity Jordan, Charles Black, Chase W. Dillon, Chenise Johnson, Christopher Winchester, Clarence White III, Creek Wilson, Cruz Abelita, D. Jerome Wells, Dan Levy, Danny DeVito, Derrick James Moss, Don Stallings, Edward Zhu, Elisabeth Lagrande, Erika Coleman, Erion Brandon WIlliams, Fedor Steer, Glendon Ray Hobgood, Gralen Bryant Banks, Hasan Minhaj, Hector Machado, Helene Henry, Ian Covell, J.R. Adduci, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto, Jared Simon, Jo Koy, John Curran, Joseph Miller, Julie Nalibov, Kailie Sanders, Kamran Shaikh, Kat Montes, Kathi Callahan, Kay Galvin, Keiko Bell, Kurt Yue, Lakeith Stanfield, Lindsay Lamb, Lorenzo Beronilla, Lumar Christopher Leblanc III, Manuel Perkins, Marcus Otis Hubbard, Marilu Henner, Mike Benitez, Nico Gomez, Owen Wilson, Paul Michael Robertson, Rachel Pitner, Raianna Brown, Rick Andosca, Rosario Dawson, Rowan Joseph, Sebastien Soudais, Steve Zissis, Terence Mathews, Terence Rosemore, Tiffany Haddish, Tony Paone, Tracy Goode, William Calvert, Winona Ryder

Director: Justin Simien

Rating: PG-13