4 Best Movies to Watch by Sterling K. Brown

Staff & contributors

, 2019

A beautifully shot movie about a high-schooler who's pushed by his father to always work and exercise the hardest. He aces his exams and always wins at wrestling, but nothing is ever good enough for the father and there is no margin for error. When things with both his body and his relationship start going wrong, his existence comes crashing down. This movie has two parts, and it takes a lot of narrative risks, but the beautiful camera work and believable characters land every single risk. It's an incredible achievement and a movie that should have gotten much more attention than it did.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexa Demie, Avis-Marie Barnes, Bill Wise, Carter Harcek, Clifton Collins Jr., David Garelik, David Payton, Ellen Marguerite Cullivan, Harlan Drum, Harmony Korine, Joshua Brockington, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Krisha Fairchild, Kristin Wollett, Lucas Hedges, Neal Huff, Nicholas Ryan Hernandez, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Vivi Pineda

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Rating: R

On the one hand, American Fiction is a razor-sharp satire that pokes fun at the hypocrisy of the literary and entertainment industry. It's only when Monk (Wright), a genius but esoteric writer, decides to pander and give in to what publishers have come to expect from Black authors (that is: trauma porn) that he is finally celebrated for his work. But on the other hand, the film is also a tender family drama. Monk sells out, as it were, partly because he’s fascinated by the stupidity of decision-makers and supposed intellectuals, but mostly because he needs to pay for his ailing mother’s care. His relationship with his siblings and deceased father likewise informs much of his character, and they complicate what could’ve been just an intellectual approach to a social issue. This is an educational and entertaining film, yes, one that looks at the complex intersection between identity, craft, and profit. But it’s also an empathetic film, told with a big heart and a surprisingly light touch.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Brody, Alexander Pobutsky, Bates Wilder, Celeste Oliva, David De Beck, Dustin Tucker, Erika Alexander, Greta Quispe, Issa Rae, J. C. MacKenzie, Jeffrey Wright, Jenn Harris, John Ales, John Ortiz, Kate Avallone, Keith David, Leslie Uggams, Michael Cyril Creighton, Michael Jibrin, Michael Malvesti, Miriam Shor, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Neal Lerner, Okieriete Onaodowan, Patrick Fischler, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Skyler Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross

Director: Cord Jefferson

Rating: R

There's an elephant lurking in the room from the outset of Biosphere, in which two men are the last survivors of an apocalypse: how will humanity live on? Best friends Billy (Mark Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown) have only survived thanks to the ingenuity of Ray, who built the glass dome in which they live, insulated from whatever it is that’s keeping the sky perpetually black outside. But the dome’s protective glass increasingly needs patching up, and their last female fish (responsible for the continuation of their food supplies) has just died, setting their clocks ticking.

What happens next — to the remaining male fish and humans — is an astonishing evolution that speaks to the strangeness of nature, which will break its most rigid laws in pursuit of its ultimate goal: furthering the species. Biosphere undergoes a similar metamorphosis: while its zany twist (which we won’t spoil) seems to direct it towards gross-out bro-comedy territory, it transforms, surprisingly, into something more profoundly philosophical. Like the dome, Biosphere’s structure isn’t as solid as it could be — it often meanders — but, with its thoughtful meditations on gender, sexuality, and evolution in all its forms, it’s easy to forgive this quirky indie gem that flaw.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Mark Duplass, Sterling K. Brown

Director: Mel Eslyn

, 2024

Atlas is bad on every conceivable level. The writing is hackneyed, the cinematography is soulless, and the acting (save for a few) is one-dimensional. Only Jennifer Lopez and Sterling K. Brown are turning in serious performances, but somehow that makes the film worse, not better, because of how mismatched the energy is. If the acting wasn’t so serious, then Atlas could probably pass as camp—so bad and corny that it actually becomes fun to watch. If that’s the kind of film you’re looking for, then by all means, put on this Netflix film. But if you’re looking for genuine sci-fi fare, films with something meaningful and enlightening to say about the scary future of AI, then I suggest you look elsewhere.

Genre: Action, Science Fiction

Actor: Abraham Popoola, Briella Guiza, Gloria Cole, Gregory James Cohan, Howland Wilson, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Walker White, Lana Parrilla, Lesley Fera, Logan Hunt, Mark Strong, Michelangelo Hyeon, Paul Ganus, Samantha Hanratty, Simu Liu, Sterling K. Brown, Vaughn Johseph, Zoe Boyle

Director: Brad Peyton

Rating: PG-13