7 Best Movies to Watch by Michael Papajohn

Staff & contributors

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an impromptu freelance videographer who begins covering the crime world in LA for a local TV station. Almost as dark as a mystery can get, it is disturbing, and plays out as a combination of "Drive" and "The Network". The film is visually stunning as well as immensely suspenseful. It then becomes almost impossible to look away, even when you're the most horrified by just how far Bloom is willing to go to reach success. Gyllenhaal's performance is widely compared to that of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, which should give you an idea of its caliber.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Ortiz, Ann Cusack, Bill Blair, Bill Paxton, Bill Seward, Carolyn Gilroy, Chris Wolfe, Christina De Leon, Dale Shane, Dan Gilroy, Dig Wayne, Eric Lange, Holly Hannula, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Huang, Jamie McShane, Jonny Coyne, Kathleen York, Kent Shocknek, Kevin Dunigan, Kevin Rahm, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Leah Fredkin, Marco Rodriguez, Merritt Bailey, Michael Hyatt, Michael Papajohn, Myra Turley, Pat Harvey, Price Carson, Rene Russo, Rick Chambers, Rick Garcia, Riz Ahmed, Sharon Tay, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Viviana Chavez

Director: Dan Gilroy

Rating: R

The story of the Von Erich family is excruciatingly sad, but Iron Claw doesn’t dive right into the tragedy. Instead, it takes care to paint a picture of a close-knit family that’s filled with just as much warmth, jealousy, affection, and resentment as the next bunch. Durkin masterfully draws you into their circle so that everything that happens next is sure to cut deep. The choreography, chemistry, color—everything is carefully and beautifully set up, but the casting is what stands out the most. This wouldn’t have worked as well if it weren’t for the inspired move to pair Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Stanley Simons as brothers and partners. On the internet, people have been dubbing The Iron Claw as “Little Women and The Virgin Suicides for men” and it’s not hard to see why. Apart from the sibling bond over glory and growing pains, all these films are also powerful explorations of gender. Iron Claw is a vicious takedown of toxic masculinity, while also being a searing family drama and an incredible showcase for Efron and company.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Aaron Dean Eisenberg, Brian Hite, Cazzey Louis Cereghino, Chad Governale, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Chelsea Edmundson, Christina Michelle Williams, Garrett Hammond, Harris Dickinson, Holt McCallany, Jeremy Allen White, Jim Gleason, Jullian Dulce Vida, Kevin Anton, Kristina Kingston, Lily James, Maura Tierney, Maxwell Friedman, Michael Harney, Michael Papajohn, Mike Dell, Ryan Nemeth, Scott Innes, Stanley Simons, Zac Efron

Director: Sean Durkin

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 Luther King Jr., Martin Sheen, Michael Papajohn, Montrel Miller, Niecy Nash, Niecy Nash-Betts, 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

When citizenship and rights can only be achieved through federal service, you have no choice but to militarize. Johnny Rico is young, impressionable, but noble; in other words, he is an archetypal hero even if he initially enlists just to be close to his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards). From then on, Starship Troopers unfolds as a high-strung high school drama, but in the middle of a space colonization. During one such mission, a highly evolved insectoid race, Arachnids, proves to be the most dangerous enemy to human supremacy and the fight is on. What's interesting about Starship Troopers is that it shows how a well-oiled propaganda machine works and for that reason, it was accused of indoctrination and army endorsement. Even more, it was dubbed fascist, instead of the fascist satire it claimed to be. But today, it's indisputably a cult film and a great introduction to the Paul Verhoeven's work in Hollywood.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Stielstra, Amy Smart, Anthony Ruivivar, Armand Darrius, Betty Hankins, Blake Lindsley, Brad Kane, Brenda Strong, Brooke Morales, Bruce Gray, Bruce Holman, Cari Vega, Casper Van Dien, Christopher Curry, Clancy Brown, Claude Stuart, Curnal Achilles Aulisio, Dale Dye, Dan Olivo, David Rey, Dean Norris, Denise Dowse, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Edward Neumeier, Eric Bruskotter, Eric DaRe, Farnaz Samiinia, Greg Travis, Hunter Bodine, Jake Busey, John Cunningham, Jon Davison, Julia Self, Julianna McCarthy, Julie Pinson, Kai Lennox, Kaius Harrison, Lenore Kasdorf, Mara Duronslet, Marshall Bell, Mary Ann Schmidt, Matt Duggan, Matt Entriken, Matt Levin, Michael Ironside, Michael Papajohn, Mike Stokey, Mylin Brooks, Nathaniel Marshall, Neil Patrick Harris, Parry Shen, Patrick Bishop, Patrick Muldoon, Patrick Wolff, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Quiroga, Robert David Hall, Rue McClanahan, Seth Gilliam, Stephanie Erb, Steven Ford, Tami-Adrian George, Timothy McNeil, Timothy Omundson, Tyrone Tann, Ungela Brockman, Walter Adrian, Whitney Hall, Zoë Poledouris

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: R

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck star in this comedy-drama as a small-town couple, one of whom gets diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their best friend (Jason Segel) puts his life on hold and moves in with them, picking up the husband when he faints at the hospital, shaving his head in solidarity with the wife, and even taking care of the dog who also gets sick.

It might seem like just another terminal illness drama, but Our Friend is based on a true story, and it’s as much about the illness as it is about how to be there for people, and reversely, the power of people being there for you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ahna O'Reilly, Azita Ghanizada, Casey Affleck, Chandler Head, Cherry Jones, Dakota Johnson, Denée Benton, Gerald Brodin, Gwendoline Christie, Hali Everette, Isabella Kai, Jacinte Blankenship, Jake Owen, Jason Bayle, Jason Segel, Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Jeronimo Spinx, John McConnell, Lindsey Reimann, Marielle Scott, Mark Costello, Michael Papajohn, Mike Lutz, Paige King, Reed Diamond, Richard Speight Jr., Ritchie Montgomery, Sampley Barinaga, Susan Williams, T.C. Matherne, Violet McGraw

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

A residential dispute spirals out of control into full, xenophobia-fueled tragedy in this straightforward and elegantly made film that comes from a now-bygone era of mid-budget dramas for adults. House of Sand and Fog may come off as excessively bleak to viewers today, but it manages to capture a very particular mood of paranoia and distrust common in post-9/11 American cinema. And if nothing else, the film is worth watching for a trio of powerful performances that never resort to overacting: from Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, English screen legend Ben Kingsley, and an always compelling Jennifer Connelly, who was arguably at the peak of her career in the early 2000s.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Frazier, Aki Aleong, Al Rodrigo, Andre Dubus III, Ashley Edner, Ben Kingsley, Bonita Friedericy, Brian Reed Garvin, Carlos Gómez, Cooper Thornton, Dan Brinkle, David Carrera, Dennison Samaroo, Elton Ahi, Frances Fisher, Frank Gallegos, Izabella St. James, Jennifer Connelly, Joe Howard, Jonathan Ahdout, Joyce Kurtz, Karl Makinen, Ken Kerman, Kia Jam, Kim Dickens, Marco Rodriguez, Mark Chaet, Matthew Waite, Max Jansen Weinstein, Michael Papajohn, Namrata Singh Gujral, Nasser Faris, Navi Rawat, Pamela Shaddock, Ray Abruzzo, Ron Eldard, Scott Kinworthy, Scott N. Stevens, Shani Rigsbee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Spencer Garrett, Tom Reynolds, Zoran Radanovich

Director: Vadim Perelman

Big George Foreman ticks all the boxes of what a biopic should be. It shows us his troubled childhood, his bumpy rise to the top, and his eventual reconciliation with fame and boxing. It’s also nicely shot and polished, an accurately dressed period piece that looks and feels the part. But nothing about the film hits you as particularly new or exciting. Prickly topics like faith and infidelity aren’t so much explored as they are simply covered, and the dialogue sounds like something you’ve heard a thousand times. There’s also a sense that the filmmakers noticed this problem because halfway through, the movie switches into a more lighthearted tone, as if it were suddenly bored of itself. Sure, Big George Foreman is easy to follow and nice to look at, but its formulaic structure fails to distinguish itself from a long and ever-growing line of sports biopics.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Al Bernstein, Al Sapienza, Anthony Marble, Austin David Jones, Azaria Carter, Barry Hanley, Bill Martin Williams, Billy Slaughter, Brian Ibsen, Deion Smith, Deneen Tyler, Dwayne L. Barnes, Eric Hanson, Erica Tazel, Forest Whitaker, Greg Wattkis, Jasmine Mathews, John Magaro, Jonathan Mercedes, Joshua Wade, Judd Lormand, Julia Lashae, K. Steele, Kei, Khris Davis, Lara Grice, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Madison Dirks, Martin Bats Bradford, Matthew Glave, Matthew Rimmer, Michael Harrity, Michael Papajohn, Philip Fornah, Raion Hill, Robert Cicchini, Robert Larriviere, Sam Trammell, Samantha Beaulieu, Shein Mompremier, Sonja Sohn, Sullivan Jones, T.C. Matherne, Tom Virtue

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Rating: PG-13