9 Best Movies to Watch by Peter Sarsgaard

Staff & contributors

Kimberly Peirce's first–out of only three—film was a smashing success, mostly due to her dedication to the subject matter. Peirce spent years researching the life and tragic death of Brandon Teena after reading an article about him in The Village Voice. She felt a particular kind of kinship as a queer person herself, and wanted to construct a story out of real facts that would put the spotlight on love and the desire for connection, and not that much on the violence which dominated the public discourse. In Falls City, Nebraska, the director conducted interviews with Lana Tisdale (Brandon's girlfriend) and her mother, while attending the ongoing trial. She took years to cast the lead and from hundreds of cis women, lesbians, and trans people, she chose the unknown actress Hilary Swank, who went on to win the Best Actress Academy Award (and the irony of that is not lost on us). The film features fantastic performances aplenty and very raw storytelling, visualized by neorealist style and low lighting. Direct references were the films of Martin Scorcese and John Cassavetes, but Boys Don't Cry has its own blend of beauty and cruelty to take pride in.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alicia Goranson, Alison Folland, Brendan Sexton III, Caitlin Wehrle, Cheyenne Rushing, Chloe Sevigny, Gabriel Horn, Gail Cronauer, Guilford Adams, Hilary Swank, Jeannetta Arnette, Jerry Haynes, Libby Villari, Lou Perryman, Matt McGrath, Peter Sarsgaard, Rob Campbell, Robert Prentiss

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Rating: R

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, 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

Director: Tim Robbins

A movie about a 16 year old girl who gets involved with an older more sophisticated man and how the relationship changes her life. Carey Mulligan's performance is nothing short of perfect, inevitably making herself the center of the movie. The coming-of-age story is also quite exceptional, and conveys  impressive load and variety of emotions. An Education is one of those movies that make you live an experience you haven't lived yourself, but because it is so exquisitely and realistically done, the character's problems and joys will feel like your own.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alfred Molina, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Bel Parker, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, Connor Catchpole, Dominic Cooper, Ellie Kendrick, Emma Thompson, James Norton, Kate Duchêne, Matthew Beard, Nick Sampson, Olivia Williams, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosamund Pike, Sally Hawkins, William Melling

Director: Lone Scherfig

Rating: PG-13

The secret weapon to this charming story of a cranky, aging father and his new robot companion is the near-total dryness of its humor. On paper, this might sound like a depressing movie, but thanks to director Jake Schreier's sensitive touch, its protagonist's fading memory and family drama takes on the spark of youth once more. It's sweet and low-stakes, with most of the tension not coming from any fear that Frank might get caught in his hijinks, but in the curiosity of seeing if he can get back to his thieving roots. A great cast including Frank Langella, James Marsden, and Jeremy Strong keep every emotion coming consistently.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Ana Gasteyer, Bonnie Bentley, Dario Barosso, Frank Langella, James Marsden, Jeremy Sisto, Jeremy Strong, Katherine Waterston, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard, Rachael Ma, Susan Sarandon

Director: Jake Schreier

Shattered Glass tells the unbelievably true story of Stephen Glass, a popular and promising young journalist at The New Republic. Stephen's storytelling skills are sought out not just by his admiring colleagues but by other publications as well, so when a rival journalist from Forbes finds holes in one of Stephen's stories, no one takes the accusation seriously at first—except perhaps for Charles Lane, Stephen's editor. Immune to Stephen's charms, Charles digs for the truth and tries, despite an alarming lack of support, to pursue what's right.

Set in the '90s, Shattered Glass may be a throwback to old-school journalism, but its ideas about the integrity of facts still hold water, especially in an age fraught with rampant disinformation.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Andrew Airlie, Bill Rowat, Brett Watson, Brittany Drisdelle, Caroline Goodall, Cas Anvar, Chad Donella, Chloe Sevigny, Christian Tessier, Hank Azaria, Hayden Christensen, Howard Rosenstein, Isabelle Champeau, Jamie Elman, Linda E. Smith, Louis-Philippe Dandenault, Luke Kirby, Lynne Adams, Mark Blum, Mark Camacho, Melanie Lynskey, Michele Scarabelli, Morgan Kelly, Pauline Little, Peter Sarsgaard, Pierre Leblanc, Rosario Dawson, Russell Yuen, Simone-Elise Girard, Steve Zahn, Ted Kotcheff

Director: Billy Ray

Rating: PG-13

Pawn Sacrifice is a period drama about famed chess player Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), following Fischer’s rise from his childhood in Brooklyn through to his famed matchup with Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) at the 1972 World Chess Championship. The film captures Fischer’s adolescence as a time of burgeoning mastery of the game, while struggling in a fatherless home and beset by early signs of mental illness. Set during the height of the Cold War, tensions between the United States and Russia play a critical role in the story, as they fuel many of Fischer’s fears and anxieties over perceived Russian spying and surveillance. His paranoia reaches a fever pitch in Reykjavik, Iceland, the site of his famous duel with Spassky for the world championship, leading to a remarkably compelling finale. Writer director Steven Knight and director Edward Zwick have crafted a striking depiction of a real-life genius grappling with fraying sanity, and Maguire is stunningly evocative as the abrasive and acerbic Fischer. For the viewer, no advanced knowledge of chess is necessary to enjoy this vivid depiction of one man’s historical achievement in the face of profound mental disturbance.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aiden Lovekamp, Al Vandecruys, Alain Goulem, Aleksandr Gorchilin, André Sogliuzzo, Andreas Apergis, Arthur Holden, Benoit Priest, Bobo Vian, Brent Skagford, Brett Watson, Carlo Mestroni, Conrad Pla, Dennis Staroselsky, Edward Yankie, Edward Zinoviev, Ellen David, Eric Lee Huffman, Eugene Nomura, Evelyne Brochu, François Ducharme, Glen Bowser, Igor Ovadis, Ilia Volok, Joe Cobden, John Maclaren, Jonathan Dubsky, Katie Bird Nolan, Liev Schreiber, Lily Rabe, Lydia Zadel, Mark Slacke, Matt Keyes, Michael Stuhlbarg, Natalija Ugrina, Nathaly Thibault, Norman Lehnert, Peter Janov, Peter Sarsgaard, Raphael Grosz-Harvey, Richard Jutras, Robin Weigert, Roc LaFortune, Sam Stone, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Shawn Campbell, Sophie Nélisse, Spiro Malandrakis, Tobey Maguire, Vitali Makarov, Vito DeFilippo, Zach Fraser

Director: Edward Zwick

Rating: PG-13

Directed by Sam Mendes Jarhead is based on the best-selling 2003 memoir of the same title. In the film, Swofford is a 20-year-old soldier in the US Marine Corps during the 1991 Gulf War who is trained to be a sniper. But as the days go by, he doesn’t fire a single shot, given there is no one left to wage a battle after the US air attacks on the Iraqi army. Unlike most war movies, Jarhead stands out for its singular focus on the personal experience of a lost young soldier.  

Genre: Drama

Actor: Brian Geraghty, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert, Evan Jones, Iván Fenyö, Iván Fenyö, Jacob Vargas, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Laz Alonso, Lucas Black, Peter Sarsgaard, Sam Mendes, Scott MacDonald

Director: Sam Mendes

Rating: R