6 Best Movies to Watch by Michael Kenneth Williams

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

A Cormac McCarthy novel adaptation (like No Country for Old Men), The Road is an apocalypse movie set in a 'scorched Earth' rendition of the world. It follows a father (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his son as they battle to survive everyday life. Throughout the movie, the son's trust in his father grows and shrinks depending on choices the father makes, as he attempts to protect his son from cannibals, bandits, and the threat of starvation. The gritty realism this movie presents sets it apart from many other more theatrical releases, with the setting of a charred world illustrating a rather depressing new reality. A very down to earth and heartfelt story. Definitely worth the watch if you're willing to feel like you've been punched in the gut.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Agnes Herrmann, Bob Jennings, Buddy Sosthand, Charlize Theron, Garret Dillahunt, Guy Pearce, Jack Erdie, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Mark Tierno, Michael Kenneth Williams, Molly Parker, Robert Duvall, Viggo Mortensen, Wilson Moore

Director: John Hillcoat

Rating: R

Beastie Boys Story, a live documentary that runs for two hours and consists entirely of two speakers presenting a PowerPoint onstage, shouldn't be as enjoyable and enthralling as it is, but with the help of director Spike Jonze, remaining band members Mike D and Adam Horovitz pull off the impossible and draw in a rapt crowd by chronicling how the iconic hip-hop group came to be.

Told with intimate detail and blithe humor, Beastie Boys Story has the easygoing charm of a dear friend recounting the good old days with you. Mike D and Adam Horovitz are skilled storytellers, and with Jonze operating the technicals to a tee backstage, everything comes together in a satisfyingly smooth and utterly watchable take. You don't have to know much (if anything at all) about the Beastie Boys to enjoy this documentary, and whatever your opinion is of them beforehand, you'll leave this film knowing a bit more about the creative process, necessary growth, and unbelievable luck all artists go through.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch, Afrika Bambaataa, Ben Stiller, Bill Hader, David Cross, Dick Clark, Don Cornelius, Joan Rivers, Karen Duffy, Kurt Loder, Kurtis Blow, Madonna, Michael Diamond, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Stipe, Money Mark, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Spike Jonze, Steve Buscemi, Tenzin Gyatso

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: TV-MA

Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town, Arrival) plays Gary Webb, a journalist in investigating the American government’s possible involvement in cocaine trafficking in Latin America. Based on a true story, it’s in the same vein as other recent movies on investigative journalism. Jeremy Renner’s performance is the main reason to watch this movie. Even as the story spins into deeper levels of complexity, he remains a coherent, steady point of reference. It was his chance to prove to directors that he can carry a big-budget movie and he nailed it.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Andy Garcia, Barry Pepper, Dan Futterman, David Alessi, David de Vries, David Lee Garver, Gil Bellows, Jen Harper, Jena Sims, Jeremy Renner, Joshua Close, Lucas Hedges, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matt Lintz, Matthew Lintz, Michael Cuesta, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen, Nancy Davis Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Ray Liotta, Rhoda Griffis, Richard Schiff, Robert Patrick, Robert Pralgo, Rosemarie DeWitt, Shaira Barton, Steve Coulter, Susan Walters, Tim Blake Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Michael Cuesta

Rating: R

Surrounded has the bones of a revenge-style Western. It turns the table on the white cowboy hero and gives us (on paper, at least) complex leads in Mo and Tommy. Mo is a young Black woman whose experience as a Buffalo Solider lends her not only the skills of an expert gunslinger but also the anger and motivation to push through any obstacle, while Tommy is the enigmatic thief who Mo reluctantly relies on in her quest for freedom. With all this pent-up tension, the film should work, and it does occasionally thanks to Wright and Bell’s deft performances (Bell is especially exceptional), the stunning mountainous terrains, and the worthy attempts at race and class commentary. But for the most part, the film's ambitions fall flat. The monologues are overlong and too evocative of modern speech to be historically believable. The action scenes, while exciting, only sputter here and there and never gain the momentum the film needs to genuinely thrill. And the thin backstories of Mo and Tommy raise more questions than answers. More often than not, Surrounded looks like a couple of good scenes strewn together on a lousy string; the foundations are off but there’s some enjoyment to be found.

Genre: Action, Drama, Western

Actor: Austin Rising, Brett Gelman, David Manzanares, Jamie Bell, Jeffrey Donovan, Keith Jardine, Kevin Wiggins, Letitia Wright, Luce Rains, Lyle Sandoval, Mark Dalton, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nathaniel Augustson, Peter Diseth, Tatanka Means

Director: Anthony Mandler

Rating: R