5 Best Movies to Watch by Michael Mantell

Staff & contributors
A slow-burning US political drama, The Ides of March is a character-driven film with great performances from Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney (who is also the director and in part the writer) among many others. Taking place during the last days of the primaries, Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is an aspiring campaign staffer who uncovers a dirty truth about his candidate (Clooney). When Meyers confronts his boss (Hoffman), moral issues arise that collide with the political profession but which are not only limited to it. A smart film, The Ides of March is less of a political thriller and more of a really well made drama that delivers.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alvin Chea, Amy Keys, Carmen Carter, Charlie Rose, Chris Matthews, Danny Mooney, David McConnell, Evan Rachel Wood, George Clooney, Gregory Itzin, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle, Josef Powell, Loretta Higgins, Lori Perry, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Maya Sayre, Michael Ellison, Michael Mantell, Neal Anthony Rubin, Nita Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel Maddow, Robert Mervak, Rohn Thomas, Ryan Gosling, Tiffany Sander McKenzie, Yuriy Sardarov

Director: George Clooney

Rating: R

As black a comedy as they come. Nick Naylor (superbly portrayed by Aaron Eckhart) is the chief spokesperson for tobacco and shows the world why smoking is as key to protect as any other liberal value. This movie is funny, smart, thoughtful and raises some good questions about the ego, the morale and what we leave behind, from unexpected sides.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Eckhart, Aaron Lustig, Adam Brody, Aloma Wright, Brian Palermo, Bruce French, Cameron Bright, Catherine Reitman, Christopher Buckley, Connie Ray, Courtney Taylor Burness, Dana E. Glauberman, Daniel Travis, David Koechner, David O. Sacks, Dennis Miller, Earl Billings, Elon Musk, Eric Haberman, Eva La Dare, J.K. Simmons, Jeff Witzke, Joan Lunden, Jordan Garrett, Katie Holmes, Kim Dickens, Marc Scizak, Maria Bello, Marianne Muellerleile, Mary Jo Smith, Melora Hardin, Michael Mantell, Nancy O'Dell, Rachel Thorp, Renée Graham, Richard Speight Jr., Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall, Robert Malina, Roy Jenkins, Sam Elliott, Sean Patrick Murphy, Spencer Garrett, Terry James, Timothy Dowling, Todd Louiso, William H. Macy

Director: Jason Reitman

Rating: R

Long before we became accustomed to oxymorons like “scripted reality” shows, there was a time when viewers could expect to trust what they saw on TV. One of the pivotal events shattering that illusion in the US was the 1950s quiz show scandal, in which producers of popular broadcasts like Twenty-One were revealed to be feeding contestants the answers in advance in order to manipulate audience ratings. 

Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is an engrossing chronicle of the investigation that blew the lid on Twenty-One's fixing, revealed when disgruntled champion Herb Stempel became a whistleblower. Stempel (played with nervous brilliance by John Turturro) was pressured to flunk a no-brainer question to make way for golden boy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a ratings-friendly photogenic academic from a prominent WASP-ish family. What’s so sharp about Quiz Show is that it doesn’t just recreate the scandal for drama’s sake: it needles in on the greed and privilege that drove the fraud, paying particular attention to Van Doren’s angle of the morality play, the influence of his class and ethnicity, and the secret hand the show’s studio and sponsor had in the whole affair. In an era when practically anything goes in the name of entertainment, this interrogation of TV’s corrupt origins feels ever-relevant.

Genre: Drama, History, Mystery

Actor: Allan Rich, Anthony Fusco, Barry Levinson, Barry Snider, Ben Shenkman, Bernie Sheredy, Bill Moor, Bruce Altman, Byron Jennings, Calista Flockhart, Carole Shelley, Christopher McDonald, Chuck Adamson, Cornelia Ryan, Dan Wakefield, Dave Wilson, David Paymer, David Stepkin, Debra Monk, Douglas McGrath, Eddie Korbich, Elizabeth Wilson, Ernie Sabella, Ethan Hawke, George Martin, Gina Rice, Grace Phillips, Gretchen Egolf, Griffin Dunne, Hank Azaria, Harriet Sansom Harris, Illeana Douglas, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Nordling, Jerry Grayson, Jerry Griffin, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, John Turturro, Joseph Attanasio, Joseph Blaire, Katherine Borowitz, Kelly Coffield Park, Le Clanché du Rand, Mario Cantone, Martin Scorsese, Mary Shultz, Matt Keeslar, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Mantell, Mira Sorvino, Nicholas Kepros, Paul Guilfoyle, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes, Reno, Richard Council, Richard Seff, Rob Morrow, Robert Caminiti, Scott Lucy, Shawn Batten, Stephen Pearlman, Timothy Britten Parker, Timothy Busfield, Vince O'Brien, Vincent J. Burns, William Fichtner

Director: Robert Redford

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alison Tatlock, Amy Locane, Christina Gray, David Wiater, Diane McGee, Erin Cressida Wilson, Ezra Buzzington, Herbert Russell, James Spader, Jeremy Davies, Jessica Tuck, Julene Renee, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Lacey Kohl, Lauren Cohn, Lesley Ann Warren, Lily Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary Joy, Michael Mantell, Osgood Perkins, Oz Perkins, Patrick Bauchau, Sabrina Grdevich, Shannon Convery, Stephen McHattie, Steven Fierberg, Steven Shainberg

Director: Steven Shainberg

Rating: R

You know Anthony Hopkins as the evil Hannibal Lecter, but in this film he gives a warm and heartfelt performance portraying real life New Zealand motorcycle legend Burt Munro who set a land speed record in 1967 on a hand-built 1920 Indian. It's a story of never giving up on your dream even in the face of ridicule and opposition. Hopkins' performance turns what could have been just another schmaltzy formulaic story line into true gold. You'll be cheering for Burt/Anthony by the end!

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History

Actor: Aaron Murphy, Alison Bruce, Annie Whittle, Anthony Hopkins, Antony Starr, Bruce Greenwood, Campbell Cooley, Charles Halford, Charles Pierard, Chris Bruno, Chris Williams, Christopher Lawford, Craig Hall, Daniel Sing, Diane Ladd, Eric Pierpoint, Gavin Grazer, Greg Johnson, Iain Rea, James Gaylyn, Jessica Cauffiel, Joe Howard, Juliana Bellinger, Latham Gaines, Mark Ruka, Michael Mantell, Mick Rose, Morgan Lund, Patrick John Flueger, Paul Rodríguez, Saginaw Grant, Tessa Mitchell, Tim Shadbolt, Todd Emerson, Walton Goggins, Wesley Dowdell, William Lucking

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rating: PG-13