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Staff & contributors

Directed by celebrated artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel, who won an award in Cannes for it, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of the Parisian journalist and fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 43. Paralyzed almost completely by what is termed locked-in syndrome, his left eye was the only part of his body that he was still able to move. In a Herculean effort, Bauby learned to blink in an alphabet code that eventually enabled him to communicate. The film alternates between Bauby's interaction with his visitors and caretakers (including painstakingly dictating his memoir, the titular Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) and dream-like fantasies and memories of his life prior to paralysis. The title alludes to this juxtaposition: the diving bell representing his final state of isolation, akin to a deep-sea diver under a bell, and the butterfly as a symbol for his blinking eye and the freedom he has in his mind, dreams, and imagination. Shot from Bauby's perspective, we see what he sees. Be it his divorced but loyal wife and his family visiting him, or his old father, played by Max von Sydow, which is probably the scene in this fascinating movie that will make you lose it and weep like the rest of us.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Agathe de La Fontaine, Anne Alvaro, Anne Consigny, Emma de Caunes, Emmanuelle Seigner, Fiorella Campanella, Françoise Lebrun, Gérard Watkins, Isaach De Bankolé, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Lenny Kravitz, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Mathieu Amalric, Max von Sydow, Michael Wincott, Nicolas Le Riche, Niels Arestrup, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Patrick Chesnais, Talina Boyaci, Zinedine Soualem

Director: Julian Schnabel

Rating: PG-13

Told with grace and maturity without sensationalizing its subject matter, Dead Man Walking expertly walks the line between taking a moral stand and keeping the messy humanity of its characters intact. Though it may seem just like a legal drama or prison film on the surface, writer/director Tim Robbins weaves in commentary on class and the role religion is expected to play in middle class Southern communities—especially in the context of justice and crime. Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon (in the role that won her her Oscar) play every side to this drama with remarkable control, building an unlikely rapport that culminates in a finale that's as moving as any great tear-jerker. It may be tough to watch at times, given the raw emotions that are laid bare, but Dead Man Walking remains relevant even today.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adam Nelson, Adele Robbins, Anthony Michael Frederick, Arthur Bridgers, Barton Heyman, Celia Weston, Clancy Brown, Codie Scott, Cortez Nance Jr., Dennis Neal, Eva Amurri Martino, Jack Black, Jack Henry Robbins, Jenny Krochmal, Jeremy Knaster, Joan Glover, Jon Abrahams, Kevin Cooney, Larry Pine, Lenore Banks, Lois Smith, Marcus Lyle Brown, Margo Martindale, Michael Cullen, Miles Robbins, Missy Yager, Molly Bryant, Nesbitt Blaisdell, Pamela Garmon, Pete Burris, Peter Sarsgaard, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Aranha, Raymond J. Barry, Robert Prosky, Roberta Maxwell, Scott Sowers, Scott Wilson, Sean Penn, Steve Boles, Steve Carlisle, Susan Sarandon, Thomas McGowan

Director: Tim Robbins

There’s a vein of reality running through He Got Game that gives this Spike Lee joint a sense of pulsating immediacy. For one, the young basketball prodigy at its center is played by real-life pro Ray Allen, who shot the movie during the sport’s off-season period in 1997. The film also draws on a host of other ballers and ancillary figures — including coaches and commentators — to fully convince us of the hype around Jesus Shuttlesworth (Allen), a Coney Island high-schooler who’s been crowned America’s top college draft pick.

Lee takes this premise to much more interesting places than sports movies usually go. The plot is a melodrama of sorts, in which Jesus’ incarcerated father Jake (a top-tier Denzel Washington) must convince his son to declare for the governor’s alma mater in exchange for a reduced sentence. The pair are estranged — Jake is in prison for the death of Jesus’ mother — making this as much a tense examination of family and forgiveness as it is a sports movie. And what a sports movie it is: Lee makes his love of basketball not just abundantly clear but also infectious, opening the film on soaring, balletic images of the sport that suggest it’s no mere game, but something unifying, artistic, and ultimately salvatory.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Al Palagonia, Arthur J. Nascarella, Bill Nunn, Bill Walton, Charles Barkley, Chasey Lain, Denzel Washington, Dick Vitale, George Karl, Hill Harper, Jennifer Esposito, Jill Kelly, Jim Boeheim, Jim Brown, John Turturro, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Kim Director, Leonard Roberts, Lonette McKee, Michael Jordan, Milla Jovovich, Ned Beatty, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Rick Fox, Robin Roberts, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ron Cephas Jones, Rosario Dawson, Roy Williams, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Zelda Harris

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R

From the director of Moneyball, Foxcatcher is a true-story-based thriller centered around Olympic wrestlers and brothers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and multimillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell). When the latter invites both brothers to move to his estate and train there, with seemingly patriotic motives, only Mark accepts. As training for the 1988 Olympic Games starts, and Du Pont's motives become clearer, tragedy hits. This film is a slow-burning celebration of the exceptional talent it features, both Ruffalo and Carell received Oscar nominations for their roles.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alan Oppenheimer, Anthony Michael Hall, Brett Rice, Brian Baumgartner, Channing Tatum, Daniel Hilt, Guy Boyd, Jackson Frazer, Jake Herbert, Jane Mowder, Joe Fishel, Lee Perkins, Mark Ruffalo, Mark Schultz, Richard E. Chapla Jr., Roger Callard, Samara Lee, Sienna Miller, Steve Carell, Tiffany Sander McKenzie, Vanessa Redgrave

Director: Bennett Miller

Rating: R

Ever wondered how much your life will change when faced with the reality that death is about to come? That’s normal, and not nearly as life-altering as being told you only have a few more moments to live. Because of a terminal illness, Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is driven to this situation and tries to right his wrongs in the wake of modern Barcelona. This melodrama is supercharged by Bardem’s unearthly performance as the story’s only hero, demonstrating the selfless love of a destroyed and dying father to his children – paired with cinematography unlike any other, this film is exceptionally beautiful. Directed by González Iñárritu' (Babel, Birdman, The Revenant).

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adelfa Calvo, Alain Hernández, Ana Wagener, Cheikh Ndiaye, Cheng Taishen, Diaryatou Daff, Dunia Montenegro, Eduard Fernandez, Félix Cubero, George Chibuikwem Chukwuma, Guillermo Estrella, Hanaa Bouchaib, Isaac Alcayde, Javier Bardem, Jin Luo, Karra Elejalde, Luo Jin, Manolo Solo, Maricel Álvarez, Nasser Saleh, Rubén Ochandiano, Sophie Evans, Taisheng Chen, Tomás del Estal, Violeta Pérez

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Alejandro González Iñárritu

Rating: R

Spike Lee’s adaptation of Richard Price’s novel might appear lesser next to his best work, but it still a gorgeous showcase for all of his talents as a director. Its case is further bolstered by a stacked cast including Delroy Lindo, Harvey Keitel, Mekhi Pfifer, Isaiah Washington, and John Turturro. 

Clockers is set in the world of small-time drug-dealers during the crack epidemic, and much like The Wire (which Price would go on to write for) applies a multifaceted lens to the material. Lee’s uncompromising and emphatic direction lends a gorgeous gravity to the taut drama while top-notch performances fuel the emotional furnace at its core.

 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Arthur J. Nascarella, Bray Poor, Brendan Kelly, Brian Konowal, Carlo Vogel, Christopher Wynkoop, David Batiste, Delroy Lindo, Elvis Nolasco, Frances Foster, Fredro Starr, Ginny Yang, Graham Brown, Hal Sherman, Harry Lennix, Harvey Keitel, Hassan Johnson, Isaiah Washington, J. C. MacKenzie, James Saxenmeyer, Jeff Ward, John Fletcher, John Turturro, Keith David, Ken Garito, Lawrence B. Adisa, Leonard L. Thomas, Lisa Arrindell, Marc Webster, Maurice Sneed, Mekhi Phifer, Michael Badalucco, Michael Cullen, Michael Imperioli, Michael McGruther, Mike Starr, Norman Matlock, Orran Farmer, Patrick Ferraro, Paul Calderon, Paul Schulze, Peewee Love, Regina Taylor, Richard Ziman, Rick Aiello, Ron Brice, Scot Anthony Robinson, Shawn McLean, Skipp Sudduth, Spike Lee, Steve White, Sticky Fingaz, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Tim Kelleher

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: R

This emotionally rich biopic spans Reinaldo Arena’s lifetime, from his childhood and early embrace of the Cuban Revolution to his deportation via the notorious 1980 Mariel boatlift, and subsequent death in the United States. The story of Arenas’ life is told through using his own words, over director Julian Schabel's beautifully crafted images. In his first-ever English-speaking role, Javier Bardem renders a strong dramatic performance for which he deservedly received wide acclaim. Before Night Falls is a finely crafted portrait of a creative yet self-destructive poet who has to face the clash between his identity and the political environment surrounding him.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alfredo Villa, Andrea Di Stefano, Diahnne Abbott, Diego Luna, Francisco Gattorno, Héctor Babenco, Javier Bardem, Jerzy Skolimowski, John Ortiz, Johnny Depp, Marisol Padilla Sánchez, Maurice Compte, Michael Wincott, Najwa Nimri, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Olivier Martinez, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Rene Rivera, Santiago Magill, Sean Penn, Vincent Laresca

Director: Julian Schnabel

When David and his sister Jennifer fight over the TV remote, they are suddenly transported to David’s favorite sitcom, Pleasantville. They’re told by a spirit guide that their best bet at getting out is fitting in, but their modern sensibilities prove to be too much for the genteel ‘50s town. Soon, the residents learn about sex, art, criticism, and politics, and it’s up to the twins to control the ensuing mayhem and guide them to the right path. 

In hindsight, Pleasantville seems ahead of its time, preceding Marvel’s WandaVision as the ultimate, deconstructed homage to 20th-century television. But unlike the series, Pleasantville dives deep into personal and social politics, all while maintaining an impressive balance of wisdom and humor. Equally notable is the film’s transformation from black and white to Technicolor, which, aside from being a symbolic and technical feat, is also a piece of pure, mesmerizing cinema.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrea Baker, Charles C. Stevenson Jr., Danny Strong, David Tom, Dawn Cody, Denise Dowse, Don Knotts, Erik MacArthur, Gerald Emerick, Giuseppe Andrews, J. Patrick Lawlor, J.T. Walsh, James Keane, Jane Kaczmarek, Jason Behr, Jason Maves, Jeanine Jackson, Jeff Daniels, Jenny Lewis, Jim Antonio, Joan Allen, John Ganun, Johnny Moran, Justin Nimmo, Kai Lennox, Kevin Connors, Kristin Rudrüd, Laura Carney, Lela Ivey, Maggie Lawson, Marc Blucas, Marissa Ribisi, Marley Shelton, McNally Sagal, Nancy Lenehan, Natalie Ramsey, Patrick Thomas O'Brien, Paul Morgan Stetler, Paul Walker, Reese Witherspoon, Robin Bissell, Stanton Rutledge, Tobey Maguire, Weston Blakesley, William H. Macy

Director: Gary Ross

Rating: PG-13

This is right up your alley if you have a thing for gangster films. Actually, if you have a thing for stupendous acting and just Robert de Niro in general, then A Bronx Tale might do the job for you. The 1960’s was a tough time for Lorenzo (de Niro), father to conflicted Calogero (Lillo Brancato), who seems to have befriended Bronx’s big man, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Torn between his moral integrity and a few other factors in the mix, the young boy’s leap to the crazed world of mobsters doesn’t get any more real than this. Tragedy and fascination take human form through the eyes of De Niro’s directorial debut and Palminteri’s work of art, leaving you with a gripping feeling long after the credits have stopped rolling.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: A.J. Ekoku, Alfred Sauchelli Jr., Chazz Palminteri, Clem Caserta, Dave Salerno, Derrick Simmons, Domenick Lombardozzi, Dominick Rocchio, Eddie Montanaro, Francis Capra, Frank Pietrangolare, Fred Fischer, Gianna Ranaudo, Joe Pesci, Joseph D'Onofrio, Katherine Narducci, Kathrine Narducci, Lillo Brancato, Louis Vanaria, Max Genovino, Mitch Kolpan, Nicky Blair, Nina von Arx, Patrick Borriello, Phil Foglia, Richard DeDomenico, Robert De Niro, Sobe Bailey, Taral Hicks

Director: Robert De Niro

Rating: R