5 Best Movies to Watch by Yul Vazquez

Staff & contributors

, 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

Nadia is a game developer and proud aging hipster living in New York. Her story starts at her thirty-sixth birthday party looking at herself in the bathroom mirror. On her way out, she finds a friend who hands her a joint laced with cocaine, “that’s how the Israelis do it” her friend says.

Nadia hooks up with a guy and they stop at a bodega on the way back to her place. So far everything seems normal (in a New York-hipster kind of way). But on her way out of the bodega, she is hit by a car and dies. The story restarts, at the same birthday party, staring at herself in the mirror.

Russian Doll can be summarized in what Nadia screams later that night: “the universe is trying to f*ck with me, and I refuse to engage”. Her strong personality and the events that happen to her allow the show to explore themes of vulnerability, trauma, and even life and death. Russian Doll repeats almost every episode, but its originality and plot twists make it more refreshing with every repeat.

This rhythm takes some quick getting used to, but the moment you do you will not be able to look away. Natasha Lyonne from Orange is the New Black is masterful at playing Nadia. She co-created the show with Amy Poehler and Sleeping With Other People director, Leslye Headland. She packs a lot of the originality and character that possibly makes Russian Doll the most fun and original show you will watch in 2019.

Genre: Comedy, Mystery

Actor: Brendan Sexton III, Brooke Timber, Charlie Barnett, Chloe Sevigny, Dascha Polanco, Elizabeth Ashley, George Aloi, Greta Lee, Jeremy Bobb, Jes Davis, Natasha Lyonne, Rebecca Henderson, Whitney Devlin, Yul Vazquez

Rating: TV-MA

Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town, Arrival) plays Gary Webb, a journalist in investigating the American government’s possible involvement in cocaine trafficking in Latin America. Based on a true story, it’s in the same vein as other recent movies on investigative journalism. Jeremy Renner’s performance is the main reason to watch this movie. Even as the story spins into deeper levels of complexity, he remains a coherent, steady point of reference. It was his chance to prove to directors that he can carry a big-budget movie and he nailed it.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Andy Garcia, Barry Pepper, Dan Futterman, David Alessi, David de Vries, David Lee Garver, Gil Bellows, Jen Harper, Jena Sims, Jeremy Renner, Joshua Close, Lucas Hedges, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matt Lintz, Matthew Lintz, Michael Cuesta, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Sheen, Nancy Davis Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Ray Liotta, Rhoda Griffis, Richard Schiff, Robert Patrick, Robert Pralgo, Rosemarie DeWitt, Shaira Barton, Steve Coulter, Susan Walters, Tim Blake Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Michael Cuesta

Rating: R

Bryan Cranston, best known for his role as Walter White in the Breaking Bad series, stars as Robert Mazur, a federal agent, who goes undercover to infiltrate the trafficking network of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. With the film based on Mazur’s memoir, Bryan Cranston gives an impressive lead performance that captures the intense distress that deep cover can bring. Besides Cranston, co-stars Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, and an exceptional John Leguizamo are entirely persuasive and make the film experience enjoyable and intense. The Infiltrator is entertaining and maintains a good pace, with a great cast that makes it a true joy to watch, especially for those who enjoy stories based on real criminals. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Amy Ryan, Andy Beckwith, Art Malik, Benjamin Bratt, Brad Furman, Bryan Cranston, Carsten Hayes, Daniel Mays, David Horovitch, Diane Kruger, Dinita Gohil, Ekaterina Zalitko, Elena Anaya, Gino Picciano, Jasmine Jardot, Jason Isaacs, John Leguizamo, Jordan Loughran, Joseph Gilgun, Juliet Aubrey, Lara Decaro, Leanne Best, Matthew Stirling, Michael Pare, Niall Hayes, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Katz, Rubén Ochandiano, Saïd Taghmaoui, Tim Dutton, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Yul Vazquez

Director: Brad Furman

Rating: R