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Staff & contributors

Of the many violence-inflected black comedies that Pulp Fiction spawned, Grosse Pointe Blank ranks among the best. Though it’s patently inspired by Tarantino’s magnum opus — John Cusack plays a sardonic, amoral hitman, and the film features bursts of stylized violence and a retro soundtrack — it never feels derivative. The film finds its own identity as a quirky romcom when Cusack’s character, Martin Blank, returns to his hometown for a 10-year high-school reunion on the advice of his terrified therapist (Alan Arkin).

Martin is experiencing professional disillusionment as part of the quarter-life crisis that often takes hold when one realizes it’s been a whole decade since high school. His profession puts a darkly comic spin on that convention, but the film doesn’t treat that element entirely flippantly. Unlike Martin — and so many of the film’s Pulp Fiction-inspired brethren — Grosse Pointe Blank isn’t nihilistic, but quite sincerely romantic. Its hybrid nature and surprising heart come to the fore in Martin’s renewed relationship with the girlfriend he jilted at prom: Debi (Minnie Driver), now a ska-loving radio DJ. Cusack and Driver have sparkling chemistry, which makes the sincerity with which their characters grapple with the possibility of a second chance at happiness all the more absorbing to watch.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Alan Arkin, Ann Cusack, Barbara Harris, Belita Moreno, Benny Urquidez, Bill Cusack, Bobby Bass, Carlos Jacott, Dan Aykroyd, David Barrett, Doug Dearth, Hank Azaria, Jenna Elfman, Jeremy Piven, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, K. Todd Freeman, Michael Cudlitz, Minnie Driver, Mitchell Ryan, Steve Pink

Director: George Armitage

Fans of Netflix's The Queen's Gambit might be curious about its writer/director Scott Frank's first feature, this small, suspenseful thriller about a young man with anterograde amnesia and the eccentric cast of characters he encounters leading up to a bank heist. These people are brought to life by a number of high-profile actors doing relatively unusual work outside their wheelhouses: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, and an almost unrecognizable Matthew Goode as a scheming robber. It might be a little unclear what The Lookout is trying to say, exactly, but it works as a brief look into a fractured mind trying to hold on to something good in his life.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Berg, Alberta Watson, Alex Borstein, Brian Edward Roach, Bruce McGill, Carla Gugino, Charles Crossin, Chuck Robinson, Courtney-Jane White, David Huband, Greg Dunham, Harry Nelken, Isla Fisher, Janaya Stephens, Jeff Daniels, John Bluethner, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kalyn Bomback, Laura Vandervoort, Leslie Bais, Marc Devigne, Martin Roach, Matthew Goode, Morgan Kelly, Sergio Di Zio, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Suzanne Kelly, Thanya Romero, Tinsel Korey, Toni Reimer

Director: Scott Frank