11 Best Movies to Watch by Steve Zahn

Staff & contributors

Former activists Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie drop out from modern consumerist society to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, to survive in nature through boot-camp-like workouts, and homeschool them in literature, music, and left-wing philosophy. Instead of Christmas, they celebrate Noam Chomsky's birthday. Then, one day, this unusual family life is shaken by a phone call and they are forced to leave their life of adventure to reintegrate into American life.

Directed by Matt Ross, who also brought you Good Night, and Good Luck, the film offers a poignant look at alternative living, the effects of modern technology, and the nature of good parenting. Viggo Mortensen is indeed fantastic as the grizzled father and was rightly nominated for a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actor. George MacKay and the entire cast of “children” also deliver terrific performances. As emotionally raw and thought-provoking as it is funny, Captain Fantastic will have the viewer decide if Ben Cash is the best father in the world or the worst.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Humphrey, Ann Dowd, Annalise Basso, Charlie Shotwell, Elena Stecca, Elijah Stevenson, Erin Moriarty, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Greg Crooks, Hannah Horton, Kathryn Hahn, Matt Ross, Mike Miller, Missi Pyle, Nicholas Hamilton, Rex Young, Richard Beal, Samantha Isler, Shree Crooks, Steve Zahn, Teddy Van Ee, Trin Miller, Viggo Mortensen

Director: Matt Ross

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

Sunshine Cleaning is a great addition to that unidentified genre of grown-up comedies populated by other great entries like Your Sister's Sister and Enough Said. It is however, less of a comedy than it is a heart-warming emotional tale. Powered by outstanding performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it ultimately evolves into a character study of failed potential and validation seeking. Sunshine Cleaning is enjoyable, satisfying to a fault, and provides an interesting peak into the lives of its characters.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Arkin, Amber Midthunder, Amy Adams, Amy Redford, Angelique Midthunder, Clifton Collins Jr., Emily Blunt, Eric Christian Olsen, Ivan Brutsche, Jason Spevack, Judith Jones, Kathy Lamkin, Kevin Chapman, Lois Geary, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Paul Dooley, Steve Zahn, Susie Yip, Vic Browder

Director: Christine Jeffs

Rating: R

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer, Christopher Speed, Cole Doman, Colton Ryan, Hannah Black, Jane McNeill, Judy Greer, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, Michael Banks Repeta, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Steve Zahn, Voltaire Colin Council

Director: Alan Ball

Rating: R

, 2004

Kristen Stewart stars as Melinda, a girl entering the gauntlet of freshman year in high school who is also carrying a heavy secret: after suffering an assault over the summer at a party, she has become determined to speak as little as possible. Melinda’s subjective experience is presented without mediation, melodrama nor moralism, but rather as life through her eyes: teachers are puff-chested bullies; parents are mumbling, ephemeral strangers; whispering girls are talking about her, all the time. It is a realistic portrait of the inner life and experience of a young woman whose sudden introversion, academic decline, and loss of social connections appear to go completely unnoticed, while she struggles to process and unburden herself of the weight of trauma. It’s an empathetic story well-served by Stewart’s understated performance and the film’s quiet pace.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allison Siko, Arron Kinser, Caitlyn Folley, Christina Hardebeck, D. B. Sweeney, Elizabeth Perkins, Eric Lively, Hallee Hirsh, Kristen Stewart, Leslie Lyles, Michael Angarano, Richard Hagerman, Robert John Burke, Steve Zahn, Susan Gardner

Director: Jessica Sharzer

A24 + Steve Buscemi = ?. 

In “Lean on Pete,” Buscemi plays a guy called Del Montgomery (of course), who is a racetrack horse owner in Portland, Oregon. He befriends a kid, Charley (Charlie Plummer in an amazing performance), who had been abandoned by his family and is new to Portland. 

Together they take care of Montgomery’s only horse, until the kid discovers that the horse is set to be slaughtered. He embarks on an impossible journey across the U.S. to try to save the horse while also looking for his family. 

This movie flew under most peoples’ radars. It is truly amazing. If you like “Lean on Pete” you should watch other A24 gems like “Lady Bird” or “The Florida Project.”

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Alison Elliott, Amy Seimetz, Ayanna Berkshire, Bob Olin, Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Chloe Sevigny, Chris Ihlenfeldt, Dana Millican, Dennis Fitzpatrick, Frank Gallegos, Heath Lourwood, Jason Rouse, Joseph Bertót, Julia Prud'homme, Justin Rain, Kurt Conroyd, Kyle Stoltz, Lewis Pullman, P.E. Ingraham, Rachael Perrell Fosket, Robert J. Olin, Rusty Tennant, Steve Buscemi, Steve Zahn, Teyah Hartley, Travis Fimmel

Director: Andrew Haigh

Rating: 15, R

Plenty of films have been made about the grueling climb to rock-and-roll fame, but few carry the effortless charm that That Thing You Do! has. Written and directed by Tom Hanks, the film is as cookie-cutter as it gets, dodging the dark depths that typically haunt rock biopics. But that isn’t to say That Thing You Do! is boring—just the opposite, its simplicity and nostalgia make it wholly enjoyable. It’s a confection of a film that goes down easy, and it will have you smiling and bopping your head from start to end.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Alex Rocco, Barry Sobel, Benjamin John Parrillo, Bill Cobbs, Brittney Powell, Bryan Cranston, Charlize Theron, Chris Ellis, Chris Isaak, Claudia Stedelin, Clint Howard, Clive Rosengren, Colin Hanks, Dawn Maxey, Elizabeth Hanks, Erika Greene, Ethan Embry, Gedde Watanabe, Gina Aponte, Giovanni Ribisi, Heather Hewitt, Holmes Osborne, Johnathon Schaech, Jonathan Demme, Kathleen Kinmont, Keith Neubert, Kevin Pollak, Lee Everett, Liv Tyler, Marc McClure, Mars Callahan, Michael P. Byrne, Obba Babatundé, Paul Feig, Paulie DiCocco, Peter Scolari, Renée Lippin, Rita Wilson, Robert Ridgely, Robert Torti, Robert Wisdom, Sarah Koskoff, Sean Whalen, Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott, Tom Hanks, Tracy Reiner, Warren Berlinger

Director: Tom Hanks

Rating: PG

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, Owen Roth, Pauline Little, Peter Sarsgaard, Pierre Leblanc, Rosario Dawson, Russell Yuen, Simone-Elise Girard, Steve Zahn, Ted Kotcheff, Terry Simpson

Director: Billy Ray

Rating: PG-13

Sometimes, especially when you’ve gone without it for so long, you would do anything for a shred of respect. LaRoy, Texas depicts exactly that, with a store owner Ray being so unwilling to stand up for himself that his wife cheats on him with his brother, who steals from the family business. It's a terrible situation to be in, of course, but it's played out in a dry, comedic way, as detective-wannabe Skip pokes on the wound when trying his best to solve the case, and as each surprise reveals how terribly incompetent the small town deals with things. While it doesn't quite compare to the neo-Westerns of Coen brothers it’s inspired by, LaRoy, Texas is both fun and tragic, and a promising debut for writer-director Shane Atkinson.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Actor: A.J. Buckley, Alex Knight, Bob Clendenin, Brad Leland, Brannon Cross, Darcy Shean, Dylan Baker, Emily Pendergast, Galadriel Stineman, Ian A. Hudson, John Magaro, Matthew Del Negro, Megan Stevenson, Mimi Fletcher, Rio Alexander, Steve Zahn, Teagan Ireland, Vic Browder

Director: Shane Atkinson