5 Best Movies to Watch by Lois Smith

Staff & contributors

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, Helen Prejean, 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, Thomas McGowan

Director: Tim Robbins

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer, Christopher Speed, Cole Doman, Colton Ryan, Hannah Black, Jane McNeill, Judy Greer, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, Michael Banks Repeta, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Steve Zahn, Voltaire Colin Council

Director: Alan Ball

Rating: R

British director Adrian Lyne (9 1/2 Weeks) is famous for his uncompromising treatment of seedy eroticism and charged stories. Fatal Attraction is a staple of the erotic thriller genre and with good reason, it's steamy and very 1980s in the best possible way. Like a good vintage, it has the whiff of old times, but with the pleasure of a spectacle that belongs to the past. That's the lens through which you can view the story of a deranged mistress who won't stop at anything to ruin your life and marriage, and still savour some sanity in the 21st century. Seen from a slightly removed perspective, the film becomes a stylized variation on conservative AIDS panic and a provocation to conservative heteronormativity. It has to be said that not all of the film has aged well, especially the gender politics at play. But if you can soothe yourself with a revisionist reading, it pairs well with Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct: the things Michael Douglas's characters do for (extramarital) thrills...

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anna Thomson, Anne Archer, Barbara Harris, Carol Schneider, Christine Farrell, Christopher Rubin, David McCharen, Ellen Foley, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Faith Geer, Fred Gwynne, Glenn Close, Greg Rhodes, J.D. Hall, J.J. Johnston, James Eckhouse, Jan Rabson, Jane Krakowski, Judi M. Durand, Justine Johnston, Larry Moss, Lois Smith, Lynnanne Zager, Marilyn Schreffler, Mary Joy, Meg Mundy, Michael Arkin, Michael Douglas, Mike Nussbaum, Rocky Krakoff, Sam Coppola, Stuart Pankin, Tom Brennan, Vladimir Skomarovsky

Director: Adrian Lyne

Rating: R

As southern movies go, Fried Green Tomatoes is inoffensively sweet and realistic—it’s not afraid to touch on the genuine issues that plagued America in the 1930s while also cushioning some blows, as feel-good movies are wont to do. But the film seems less interested in presenting a clear picture of the past than it is in telling a specific tale: that of outsiders forming bonds and making it together in an unforgiving society. 

The main narrator is Ninny, an 83-year-old woman seemingly forgotten by everyone except Evelyn, an unhappy housewife who is “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Ninny recalls the stories of Sipsey and Big George, Black laborers who dared to succeed in their deeply racist community; of Smokey, the town outcast, who still helped people even if he was denied it himself; of Ruth, the domestic abuse victim; and of Idgie, the tomboy who spat on the face of all decorum. Then, of course, there’s the unspoken relationship between Ruth and Idgie, which hint at something quite radical for its time. 

These are all the people conventionally denied happy endings, and in period films, you’d expect to be abandoned in tragedy. But here they sing; they win and lose in equal measure, and even though it might seem like light and familiar fare to some, it still goes down heartily and unforgettably—funnily enough, like a plate of fried green tomatoes.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Afton Smith, Bob Hannah, Carol Mitchell-Leon, Chris O'Donnell, Chris O'Donnell, Cicely Tyson, Constance Shulman, Danny Nelson, David Dwyer, Evan Lockwood, Fannie Flagg, Gailard Sartain, Gary Basaraba, Grace Zabriskie, Grayson Fricke, Haynes Brooke, Jessica Tandy, Jo Harvey Allen, Kathy Bates, Kathy Larson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Lois Smith, Macon McCalman, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Nancy Moore Atchison, Nick Searcy, Raynor Scheine, Reid Binion, Richard Riehle, Stan Shaw, Suzi Bass, Ted Manson, Tim Scott, Timothy Scott, Tom Even, Wallace Merck

Director: Jon Avnet

Rating: PG-13

A beautiful coming-of-age story that is mixed with one of the best depictions of a mother character in movie history both make Lady Bird an absolutely exquisite film. Its slice-of-life story taps into the universal issues, dreams, and frustrations that almost every small-town kid has faced; and it manages to do all of this without feeling forced or cliché. This is because of the attention and care that were given to it but also because of how tightly it's based on the life of its writer / director Greta Gerwig. A wonderful movie.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abhimanyu Katyal, Andy Buckley, Anita Kalathara, Bayne Gibby, Beanie Feldstein, Ben Konigsberg, Bob Stephenson, Carla Valentine, Chris Witaske, Christina Offley, Connor Mickiewicz, Daniel Zovatto, Danielle Macdonald, Georgia Leva, Ithamar Enriquez, Jake McDorman, Janet Song, John Karna, Jordan Rodrigues, Kathryn Newton, Kristen Cloke, Laura Marano, Laurie Metcalf, Lois Smith, London Thor, Lucas Hedges, Luisa Lee, Marielle Scott, Marietta DePrima, Matthew Maher, Monique Edwards, Myra Turley, Odeya Rush, Rebecca Light, Richard Jin Namkung, Roman Arabia, Saoirse Ronan, Shaelan O'Connor, Stephen Henderson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts

Director: Greta Gerwig

Rating: 15, R