9 Best Movies to Watch by Samuel L. Jackson

Staff & contributors
In a stunning and vivid (re-) introduction to the Black intellectual, author, and social critic, James Baldwin, this movie digs very deep into the American subconscious and racial history. It tells the story of America by telling the story of “the negro” in America, based on a book Baldwin started to write, which would have studied the famous assassinations of three of Baldwin's friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote about 30 pages before he passed away in 1987. Haitian director and activist Raoul Peck picked up the project and made it into a movie, earning him an Academy Award nomination. Narrated by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro highlights, at the same time, Baldwin's genius, his unique eloquence, and the beauty of his soul as a human being. It is a sad truth that Baldwin's denouncements feel as relevant today as they did 50 years ago. As such, this movie serves as a sobering reminder of how far America still has to go. A mesmerizing experience!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bob Dylan, Dick Cavett, H. Rap Brown, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Joey Starr, Malcolm X, Marlon Brando, Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Paul Weiss, Ray Charles, Robert F. Kennedy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sidney Poitier

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: PG-13

Eve’s Bayou is a Southern Gothic tale of spirituality, family, secrets, and the ties that bind them together. The story follows the awakening, both spiritual and emotional, of young Eve Baptiste. The middle sibling of the Baptiste family, 10-year-old Eve, navigates childhood while enduring the tumultuous relationship between her mother and father. 

What lurks beneath a seemingly ordinary marital conflict is an insidious betrayal that could tear her entire family apart. Eve’s Bayou should be considered one of the greatest Black American epics of the past 25 years. I adore this film because it is unflinchingly real - and honest about the sometimes rocky reality of familial bonds. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allen Toussaint, Billie Neal, Branford Marsalis, Carol Sutton, Debbi Morgan, Diahann Carroll, Ethel Ayler, Jake Smollett, Jurnee Smollett, Leonard L. Thomas, Lisa Nicole Carson, Lynn Whitfield, Marcus Lyle Brown, Meagan Good, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ron Flagge, Samuel L. Jackson, Tamara Tunie, Victoria Rowell, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Rating: R

In the sexy, slick, and sharp-witted Out of Sight, a never-better George Clooney plays Jack Foley, a career bank robber who pulls off heists based on pure charm alone. His charisma is so powerful it even turns the cat-and-mouse game he plays with federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) into a seductive dance. Karen is no easy mark, though: she’s a tough agent who’s used to being underestimated by the men she works with. The sizzling connection that sparks between her and Jack is gripping precisely because it threatens to break the basic logic both live their lives by: he a slippery criminal, she a no-nonsense professional. Clooney and Lopez’s naturally electric chemistry is supercharged by the fact that the film never slips into sentimentality, always keeping their will-they-won’t-they amour at a tantalizing distance until the decisive moment. A crime caper with many strings to its bow — among them sizzling romance and brilliant dialogue brought to life by a dazzling supporting ensemble — this is a masterfully entertaining ride from director Steven Soderbergh.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Betsy Monroe, Brad Martin, Catherine Keener, Chic Daniel, Connie Sawyer, Deborah Smith Ford, Dennis Farina, Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Isaiah Washington, James Black, Jennifer Dorogi, Jennifer Lopez, Joe Chrest, Joe Coyle, Joe Hess, Keith Hudson, Keith Loneker, Luis Guzman, Manny Suárez, Mark Brown, Michael Keaton, Mike Gerzevitz, Mike Malone, Nancy Allen, Paul Calderon, Philip Perlman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Ives, Steve Zahn, Thelma Gutiérrez, Ving Rhames, Viola Davis, Wayne Pére, Wayne V. Johnson

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: R

True Romance is a wildly entertaining and twistedly enjoyable crime film, directed by Tony Scott (Top Gun) and written by a young Quentin Tarantino. It stars Christian Slater as a young nebbish comic book store employee named Clarence who falls in love with a prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette), and sets his mind to rid her of her indebtedness to a volatile pimp named Drexel (Gary Oldman). The story eventually finds them absconding to California with a suitcase full of cocaine, with the intention of selling off their illicit cache to a Hollywood bigwig in order to pursue their dreams of freedom and opportunity. Replete with a remarkable cast of famous names and familiar faces (including Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken and even Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis), True Romance is a true 90’s-era classic. It showcases Tarantino’s trademark witty dialogue throughout, enmeshed with the savage humor and jarring violence that he has become so well known for. It’s very much an homage to Hollywood classics such as Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands (including a rousing score by Hans Zimmer inspired by George Tipton’s score for Badlands), and ultimately serves as one of Tarantino’s most underrated career accomplishments.

Genre: Action, Crime, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Anna Levine, Anna Levine Thomson, Anna Thomson, April Freeman, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Chris Penn, Christian Slater, Christopher Walken, Conchata Ferrell, Dennis Garber, Dennis Hopper, Ed Lauter, Enzo Rossi, Eric Allan Kramer, Frank Adonis, Gary Oldman, Gregory Sporleder, Hilary Klym, Jack Black, James Gandolfini, Joe D'Angerio, John Bower, John Cenatiempo, Kevin Corrigan, Laurence Mason, Maria Pitillo, Michael Beach, Michael Rapaport, Nancy Young, Patricia Arquette, Patrick John Hurley, Paul Bates, Paul Ben-Victor, Said Faraj, Samuel L. Jackson, Saul Rubinek, Steve Gonzales, Tom Sizemore, Tony Scott, Val Kilmer, Victor Argo

Director: Tony Scott

Rating: R

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Ali A. Wahhab, Anthony Ruiz, Anthony Thomas, Belinda Becker, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Danielia L. Cotton, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elsie Hilario, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Iraida Polanco, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Luis Lantigua, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, Natima Bradley, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

Already featuring some of the desperation and melancholy that would go on to characterize most of his work, Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight manages to draw palpable suspense and drama out of, essentially, three characters and a couple of seedy locations. We learn perhaps too little about these characters and why this veteran gambler is drawn to a young homeless man, but there's also something intriguing about how Anderson suggests much larger and much crueler stories going on just out of sight. It truly feels like these people are just trying to hold on to the smallest things that ease their pain—which works because of incredibly compelling work from Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, and a young Gwyneth Paltrow already at the top of her game.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Ernie Anderson, F. William Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Cross, John C. Reilly, Kathleen Campbell, Melora Walters, Nathanael Cooper, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Renee Breen, Richard Gross, Robert Ridgely, Samuel L. Jackson, Wendy Weidman, Wynn White

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Revolutionaries come in many forms. Some prefer to rally in the streets, while others, like the businessman Bernard Garrett, championed race equality in his field of finance. Discreetly and rather dangerously, he purchased buildings and offered loans to his fellow Black men at a time when they were denied these rights and more. It was an ingenious plan hatched at a precarious time, and the film captures how Garrett (Anthony Mackie) managed to pull it off (for the most part). 

The Banker doesn't get as thrilling as it could be, but it is fueled by a smart script that unapologetically gets to the nitty-gritty math of it all, as well as engaging performances by Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicholas Hoult. The film effectively revives Garrett's inspiring story for a modern audience, turning it into an important piece of American history that won't soon be forgotten. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anthony Mackie, Bill Kelly, Chris Gann, Colm Meaney, Craig Welzbacher, Daniel Johnson, David Maldonado, Gregory Alan Williams, James DuMont, Jaylon Gordon, Jessie T. Usher, Michael Harney, Nia Long, Nicholas Hoult, Paul Ben-Victor, Samuel L. Jackson, Taylor Black

Director: George Nolfi

Rating: PG-13

A deep dive into African-American cinema in the 1970s, Is That Black Enough for You?!? may at times feel like an extended audiovisual Wikipedia article, but it convincingly sets up its ideas in breezy, entertaining fashion. And it successfully argues that Hollywood today just hasn't cashed in on the wealth of innovative Black art that already existed 50 years ago. At the center of this talking heads documentary is director and narrator Elvis Mitchell, who elevates the assembled footage with frank commentary that isn't afraid to make things personal or to throw shade at other filmmakers who've made a career out of appropriating Black film traditions.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Antonio Fargas, Billy Dee Williams, Charles Burnett, Elvis Mitchell, Glynn Turman, Harry Belafonte, James Signorelli, Laurence Fishburne, Louise Archambault, Margaret Avery, Mario Van Peebles, Roscoe Orman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sheila Frazier, Stan Lathan, Suzanne de Passe, Whoopi Goldberg, Zendaya

Director: Elvis Mitchell

Chances are good you missed this movie the first time around due to the studio's big mishandling of it's promotion. The posters and trailers were squarely aimed at the lowbrow audience, ironically turning off the kind of viewers that would have appreciated the film. They promised an exploitation flick about an old black man keeping a sexy half-naked young white girl chained up in his shack. Which is, to be fair, exactly what you get - minus the exploitation. Samuel L. Jackson absolutely nails the role of Lazarus, a retired bluesman. He finds and rescues Rae (Christina Ricci) after she's left for dead in the road, and yeah, there's a chain, but.. well, you'll just have to see. Black Snake Moan is funny, sexy, tense, and (surprisingly) heartwarming. And oh hey by they way, its a helluva music-lovers' film in the bargain. Sporting a tremendous soundtrack full of that lowdown dirty blues (some performed by Jackson himself), you owe it to your ears to watch this someplace you have a decent sound system.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adriane Lenox, Amy Lavere, Christina Ricci, Clare Grant, Claude Phillips, Cody Block, David Banner, David Chapman, Dhonna Harris Goodale, Jeff Pope, John Cothran, John Cothran, Jr., John Pickles, Justin Timberlake, Kim Richards, Leonard L. Thomas, Michael Raymond-James, Neimus K. Williams, S. Epatha Merkerson, Samuel L. Jackson, Willie Hall

Director: Craig Brewer

Rating: R