12 Best Movies to Watch by Sally Hawkins

Staff & contributors

Proving that children's entertainment can be legitimate art like any other kind of cinema, the sequel to 2014's Paddington displays a stronger love for community and storytelling than many other adult-oriented productions. It may be cutesy and innocent, but Paddington 2 also uses its stunning visual effects and intricate production design to prop up a sophisticated story about discrimination, staying true to one's self, and (most surprisingly) the prison-industrial complex. It's a proper throwback to another era of family movies that offers something far more substantial to young children and genuinely moving moments for the parents and children at heart.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Aaron Neil, Alex Jordan, Ben Miller, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Cal McCrystal, Catherine Shepherd, Claire Keelan, Dan Antopolski, David J Biscoe, David Sant, Deepak Anand, Eileen Atkins, Enzo Squillino Jr., Geoffrey Lumb, Gus Brown, Hiten Patel, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Jag Patel, Jamie Demetriou, Jessica Hynes, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Joel Fry, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Kya Garwood, Louis Partridge, Madeleine Harris, Maggie Steed, Marie-France Alvarez, Meera Syal, Michael Gambon, Michael Mears, Nadine Marshall, Nicholas Lumley, Nicholas Woodeson, Noah Taylor, Peter Capaldi, Richard Ayoade, Robbie Gee, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Shola Adewusi, Simon Farnaby, Stephen McDade, Tim Fitzhigham, Tom Conti, Tom Davis

Director: Paul King

Mike Leigh’s forthright and compassionate depiction of working-class life extends to his period pieces as well. Imelda Staunton is remarkable as Vera Drake, a housekeeper in 1950’s London who quietly performs abortions on the side.

Leigh’s vigilant portrayal of class highlights the stark divide between abortion access for the poor and what is offered to the rich. The storytelling is simple and straightforward, he doesn’t over-sentimentalize or grandstand, but merely depicts conditions as they were. Meanwhile, Staunton’s Vera oozes so much fullness, warmth, and empathy, that the heartbreak that follows is mercilessly palpable. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Allan Corduner, Angela Curran, Anna Keaveney, Anthony O'Donnell, Billie Cook, Billy Seymour, Chris O'Dowd, Craig Conway, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan, Eileen Davies, Elizabeth Berrington, Emma Amos, Fenella Woolgar, Gerard Monaco, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, Imelda Staunton, Jake Wood, James Payton, Jane Wood, Jeffry Wickham, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Griffiths, John Warman, Judith Scott, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Lesley Sharp, Liz White, Marion Bailey, Martin Savage, Nicholas Jones, Nicky Henson, Nina Fry, Paul Jesson, Paul Raffield, Peter Wight, Phil Davis, Richard Graham, Robert Putt, Rosie Cavaliero, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Troughton, Sandra Voe, Sid Mitchell, Simon Chandler, Sinéad Matthews, Tilly Vosburgh, Tom Ellis, Vincent Franklin, Vinette Robinson, Wendy Nottingham

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Awkward. That is how Oliver Tate can be described, and generally the whole movie. But it is professionally and scrutinizingly awkward. Submarine is a realistic teen comedy, one that makes sense and in which not everyone looks gorgeous and pretends to have a tough time. It is hilarious and sad, dark and touching. It is awesome and it's embarrassing, and it's the kind of movie that gets nearly everything about being a teen right, no matter where you grew up.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrienne O'Sullivan, Ben Stiller, Claire Cage, Craig Roberts, Darren Evans, Elinor Crawley, Gemma Chan, Lydia Fox, Lynn Hunter, Melanie Walters, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Sarah Pasquali, Sion Tudor Owen, Steffan Rhodri, Yasmin Paige

Director: Richard Ayoade

Rating: R

Featuring a Pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Layer cake can be described as a mix between Lock Stock, Two Smoking Barrels and Scarface—a darkly funny and incredibly violent film. It features great acting from Craig and the rest of the cast, action that will keep you on the edge of your seat once it gets moving and a complex and deep theme that can make you reconsider your worldview. This is a true action movie for the thinking man (or woman).

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ben Brazier, Ben Whishaw, Brinley Green, Burn Gorman, Colm Meaney, Daniel Craig, Daniel Moorehead, Darren Healy, Darren Sean Enright, Dexter Fletcher, Dimitri Andreas, Don McCorkindale, Dragan Mićanović, Francis Magee, George Harris, Ivan Kaye, James Dodd, Jamie Foreman, Jason Flemyng, Kelly-Marie Kerr, Kenneth Cranham, Kerri Kravin, Louis Emerick, Marcel Iures, Matt Ryan, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Gambon, Nathalie Lunghi, Neil Finnighan, Nick Thomas-Webster, Peter Rnic, Rab Affleck, Sally Hawkins, Sienna Miller, Stephen Walters, Steve John Shepherd, Tamer Hassan, Tom Hardy

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Rating: R

In a global movie industry of children's entertainment that often feels like it isn't even trying, this little Peruvian bear coming to England is a wonderful reminder that films aimed at younger audiences aren't inherently limited. If anything, Paddington challenges itself to come up with a far more creative (and effective) way to talk about the lingering scars of colonialism manifesting as discrimination in everyday "civil" society. It sounds like heavy stuff, but Paddington approaches its fish-out-of-water story with the exact counterbalance of silliness, and a riotous cast that's far funnier than anyone would have expected them to be.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Alexander Bracq, Alice Lowe, Ancuta Breaban, Asim Chaudhry, Ben Whishaw, Catherine Shepherd, Cleo Sylvestre, David McKail, Denis Khoroshko, Dominic Coleman, Faith Elizabeth, Geoffrey Palmer, George Newton, Gus Brown, Hamish McColl, Hugh Bonneville, Iain Mitchell, Imelda Staunton, James Bachman, Javier Marzan, Jim Broadbent, Jude Wright, Julie Vollono, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kayvan Novak, Kenneth Hadley, Llewella Gideon, Lottie Steer, Madeleine Harris, Madeleine Worrall, Mary Roscoe, Matt King, Matt Lucas, Michael Bond, Michael Gambon, Nicole Kidman, Nigel Genis, Peter Capaldi, Ross Boatman, Rufus Jones, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Simon Farnaby, Steve Edge, Steve Oram, Stuart Matthews, Tarik Blake, Theresa Watson, Tim Downie, Toby Williams, Tom Meeten, Vic Waghorn, Will Smith

Director: Paul King

Rating: PG

Grounded by Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall’s powerhouse performances, this gut-wrenching family drama from Mike Leigh is an acting juggernaut. Penny and Phil are a working-class couple whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating and pushed to the brink when their son, played by a young James Corden, is hospitalized. 

While Manville and Spall are centered as the leads, Leigh draws a staggering amount of depth from Corden as well as a young Sally Hawkins who plays a neighbor. Despite being one of Leigh’s grimmest films, there is still a profound sweetness lingering at the edges as the story teeters between despondency and hope.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Williams, Alex Kelly, Alison Garland, Badi Uzzaman, Ben Crompton, Brian Bovell, Daniel Mays, Daniel Ryan, Di Botcher, Diveen Henry, Dorothy Atkinson, Edna Doré, Emma Lowndes, Gary McDonald, Heather Craney, Helen Coker, James Corden, Jean Ainslie, Joe Tucker, Kathryn Hunter, Leo Bill, Lesley Manville, Marion Bailey, Mark Benton, Martin Savage, Matt Bardock, Maxine Peake, Michele Austin, Oliver Golding, Parvez Qadir, Paul Jesson, Peter Stockbridge, Robert Wilfort, Russell Mabey, Ruth Sheen, Sally Hawkins, Sam Kelly, Timothy Bateson, Timothy Spall, Tracy O'Flaherty

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

Happy-Go-Lucky is a Mike Leigh feel-good movie tells the story of Poppy, a North London teacher, whose story we follow through a number of different situations: driving lessons, solving work issues, having fun with friends, all while trying not to lose her optimism. The acting is superb, Sally Hawkins is a gem as Poppy, and one cannot describe it, one simply has to see it and enjoy it, because it leaves you smiling :)

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Caroline Martin, Eddie Marsan, Elliot Cowan, Joseph Kloska, Karina Fernandez, Kate OFlynn, Nonso Anozie, Oliver Maltman, Philip Arditti, Rebekah Staton, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Roukin, Sarah Niles, Sinéad Matthews, Stanley Townsend, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Trevor Cooper, Viss Elliot Safavi

Director: Mike Leigh

Rating: R

A dark and sophisticated slow-burning drama, Never Let Me Go is adapted from the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield as boarding school raised teenagers eager to explore the outside world when they learn a secret that will threaten their very existence. Anything more is a spoiler, watch it.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Amy Lennox, Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Garfield, Anna Maria Everett, Carey Mulligan, Charles Cork, Charlie Rowe, Charlotte Rampling, Chidi Chickwe, Damien Thomas, David Sterne, Domhnall Gleeson, Ella Purnell, Fidelis Morgan, Hannah Sharp, Huggy Leaver, Isobel Meikle-Small, Izzy Meikle-Small, John Gillespie, Kate Bowes Renna, Kate Sissons, Keira Knightley, Luke Bryant, Lydia Wilson, Monica Dolan, Nathalie Richard, Sally Hawkins

Director: Mark Romanek

Rating: R

A sleek revision of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel, the 2011 version of Jane Eyre features Mia Wasikowska as the titular governess and Michael Fassbender as her employer-and-lover-with-a-secret, Rochester — both lending stunningly aggrieved performances to the tale of their burgeoning love affair. The film is somber yet wonderfully polished as it plays out their individual complexities and growing passions. This film is also notable as the sophomore directorial effort of Cary Fukunaga, who would go on to great acclaim for his work on the first season of True Detective as well as Beasts of No Nation. Fans of Fukunaga’s work are just a likely to enjoy this one as are devotees of well-crated adaptations of classic literature.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amelia Clarkson, Angela Curran, Ben Roberts, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Craig Roberts, Edwina Elek, Eglantine Rembauville-Nicolle, Emily Haigh, Ewart James Walters, Freya Parks, Freya Wilson, Georgia Bourke, Harry Lloyd, Holliday Grainger, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Jayne Wisener, Joe Van Moyland, Joseph Kloska, Judi Dench, Lizzie Hopley, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Ned Dennehy, Romy Settbon Moore, Rosie Cavaliero, Sally Hawkins, Sally Reeve, Sandy McDade, Simon McBurney, Sophie Ward, Su Eliott, Su Elliot, Su Elliott, Tamzin Merchant, Valentina Cervi

Director: Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Rating: PG-13

This moving biopic is about Maud Lewis, the legendary Canadian painter who suffered from arthritis. In the film, Maud gets away from her controlling family by finding a job as a live-in housekeeper for a local fish peddler. It is there where she begins to paint, before marrying the fish peddler in spite of their different personalities. Sally Hawkins, who plays Lewis, brings undeniable spark and soul to the role, for which she had to undergo an astonishing physical transformation.

Maudie is a beautiful and uncomplicated film that challenges the conventions of marriage and relationship roles, while at the same time celebrating Maud Lewis’ paintings and life’s simple pleasures.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Billy MacLellan, Brian Marler, David Feehan, Denise Sinnott, Erin Mick, Ethan Hawke, Gabrielle Rose, Greg Malone, Kari Matchett, Kate Ross, Lawrence Barry, Lisa Machin, Marthe Bernard, Mike Daly, Nik Sexton, Sally Hawkins, Zachary Bennett

Director: Aisling Walsh

Rating: PG-13

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

, 2014

A Brilliant Young Mind or X+Y is the story of a teenage English mathematics prodigy named Nathan (Asa Butterfield) who has difficulty understanding people, but finds comfort in numbers. When he is chosen to represent the United Kingdom at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), Nathan embarks on a journey in which he faces unexpected challenges, such as understanding the nature of love. This movie its so heart-warming, as you see this shy and socially awkward boy dealing with the world and unraveling his feelings.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alex Lawther, Alexa Davies, Asa Butterfield, Christina Low, Clare Burt, Eddie Marsan, Edward Baker-Close, Jake Davies, Jamie Ballard, Jo Yang, Martin McCann, Orion Lee, Percelle Ascott, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Shannon Beer, Suraj Rattu, Tasha Connor

Director: Morgan Matthews

Rating: PG-13