The Shawshank Redemption – The highest rated movie on imdb.com ever, this prison story is both intelligent and clever. Starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, the adaptation of the Stephen King short story has become an absolute classic.
Whiplash – One the lowest grossing ($13 million) Best Picture nominees in history, this exceptional film from the youngest director to win an Oscar (Damien Chazelle for La La Land) tells the story of a verbally abusive music teacher at an elite school in New York. Lifelong character actor J. K. Simmons won Best Supporting Actor as the teacher who drives a talented drummer (Miles Teller) into submission in a film that won a total of three Oscars. Fun fact: Chazelle produced this as a short film first. Its success at Sundance led to a deal to produce the feature-length film.
A Few Good Men – “You can’t handle the truth.” Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollack in a courtroom drama for the ages. Directed by Rob Reiner, this 1992 film featured an exceptional script by Aaron Sorkin.
Broadcast News – Legendary director James L. Brooks crafted a perfect look into the world of TV network news. Holly Hunter is the neurotic producer; Albert Brooks plays the brilliant and obnoxious reporter; and William Hurt plays the well-meaning airhead anchor. Add a supporting cast that includes Joan Cusack and Robert Prosky with a cameo by Jack Nicholson and you have a wonderfully luscious film.
All the President’s Men – A stunning adaptation of the book about Watergate by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, this is the definitive piece on investigative journalism. Two young reporters keep chipping away on a story nobody knows until they bust it open, only to blow it in their quest to get Richard Nixon. The leads are played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman but the lasting performances are provided by Jason Robards (Oscar winner as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee) and Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat.
State and Main – You either love David Mamet films or you don’t. I do. State and Main tells the story of shooting a movie in a small New England town on a shoestring budget. There isn’t a stereotype about moviemakers that isn’t played to the hilt by an ensemble cast that includes William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Charles Durning, Patti LuPone, Julia Stiles and David Paymer. Crisp Mamet dialogue punctuates this funny, sarcastic film.
Heist – David Mamet wrote and directed this tremendously entertaining tale of a master thief (Gene Hackman) whose expert crew hatches a plan to steal gold ingots. With twists and turns you won’t see coming, Mamet’s film introduces us to fascinating characters that include his scheming wife (Rebecca Pidgeon), a smart-ass upstart (Sam Rockwell), a loyal consigliere (Delroy Lindo), and more. There’s a great cameo from Danny DeVito, too.
Doubt – Do I need to say more than Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams? This adaptation of the play by the same name is an electric character study. It focuses on a priest (Hoffman) who takes a special interest in the only black student in a Catholic school run by a strict, uncompromising disciplinarian (Streep). Adams plays an impressionable, naïve teacher while Davis portrays the mother of the boy. Every actor got nominated for an Academy Award and so did the writer/director John Patrick Shanley for his adapted screenplay.
Absence of Malice – Another journalism movie, Sally Field plays an enterprising newspaper reporter who is duped into running a story about an investigation into a relative of a crime boss. Her subject is played by Paul Newman, who portrays the streetwise owner of a construction company whose life is made miserable by the revelation of the investigation. Sydney Pollack directed, and Newman was nominated for Best Actor.
(500) Days of Summer – A cute little film about love found and lost over 500 days, it stars Zooey Deschanel (of New Girl) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as two people working in a company that creates greeting cards. She’s a free spirit; he believes in fate. The film jumps around the 500 days and includes some hysterical and some heartbreaking scenes. You’ll love it.
Notting Hill – Along with When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, Notting Hill is the definition of a romantic comedy (aka “chick flick”). Julia Roberts plays a movie star (not a big stretch) who, by happenstance, meets the owner of a travel book shop (Hugh Grant at his stumbling best) in the Notting Hill section of London. He’s a nice guy coming off a divorce; she’s a mercurial star with a cheating boyfriend actor (Alec Baldwin in a cameo). The supporting cast is hilarious.
About a Boy – Hugh Grant shines in this adaptation of the Nick Hornby book about a solitary man-child who never worked a day in his life because he lives off the royalties of a popular Christmas song written by his deceased father. Through misunderstandings and lies, he meets a kid who just keeps on coming to his house and exposes the fact that he doesn’t have the kid he professes to have. But this isn’t a true comedy. It’s a story about loneliness, depression, and misfits. Co-starring Toni Collette and a young Nicholas Hoult.
Django Unchained – Among Quentin Tarantino’s best films, Django Unchained pairs Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz in a Western like you have never seen before. Add Leo DiCaprio as an obnoxious plantation owner plus Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington and you have a delicious, sometimes violent and funny antebellum story that is as implausible as it is funny.
Fences – Denzel Washington and Viola Davis starred on Broadway as Troy and Rose Maxon in one of August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” of plays. Set in the Hill District of my hometown, Fences was Washington’s passion project. Troy is a garbage man who had dreams of being a baseball star. Now he is coming to terms with life’s reality and a life unfulfilled. His wife had dreams of her own but sublimated them for the family. It is in Act II that Rose finally asserts herself. Nominated for four Oscars, Davis won for Best Supporting Actress.
Remember the Titans – Denzel Washington plays the first football coach of a forced integrated high school in Virginia displacing its previous popular coach (Will Patton). He faces a hostile community, a team torn apart by racial tensions, and unreasonable expectations. It’s a great football movie but also a still-relevant story of reconciliation and hope. Based on a true story.
Jerry McGuire – Speaking of football movies, this is the film that introduced both Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding, Jr. to general audiences. Tom Cruise plays Jerry, a super-agent who, in a fit of morality, writes a “mission statement” about the need to serve the interests of his clients, not his agency. He gets fired, outmaneuvered, and struggles to stay afloat. Only Dorothy Boyd (Zellweger) goes with him when he starts his own firm. And only cocky wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Gooding) stays with him as a client. The rest is fun and soulful. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and writing (for director Cameron Crowe), Gooding won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Forrest Gump – Robert Zemeckis directed Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Wright, Mykelti Williamson and Gary Sinise in this acclaimed film that won six Oscars from 13 nominations. It follows the life of dimwitted, well-meaning, physically challenged Forrest, who has a penchant for being at almost all of the most important events of the mid-1960s and on. He is befriended by Jenny; runs like the wind; gets a football scholarship at Alabama; wins the Heisman Trophy; is drafted in the Army; becomes a war hero; meets Bubba and Captain Dan; and starts the “Bubba Gump” shrimping company. It’s as heartwarming as it gets.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – This period Western about two amazingly adept bank robbers and their schoolteacher lover won the hearts of moviegoers and the Academy. Director George Roy Hill teamed Paul Newman and Robert Redford along with Katherine Ross (nominated for an Oscar for The Graduate) as the trio with the easy banter, warm hearts, and thirst for larceny. Featuring an Oscar-nominated song about “Raindrops” by Burt Bacharach, the film won four Academy Awards from seven nominations.
Dog Day Afternoon – Al Pacino plays Sonny, one of his most memorable characters, who robs a bank with his friend Sal (John Cazale) in New York. (Pacino and Cazale played brothers in The Godfather). These are lovable losers who become cult heroes in a stand-off with the police. Sonny isn’t very smart; he’s married to both a man (Chris Sarandon) and a woman (Susan Peretz); and he has no idea about robbing a bank. As the stand-off becomes more tense, Sonny hatches a plan destined for failure. Sidney Lumet directed this six-time Oscar-nominated film that won for best original screenplay.
Crimes & Misdemeanors – Woody Allen may be the most controversial director this side of Roman Polanski. Crimes and Misdemeanors is probably my favorite Woody film because it is not formulaic in any sense of the word. It’s a real murder mystery except we know who the killer is. Starring a fantastic cast that includes Martin Landau (Oscar nominated for this), Anjelica Huston (whose dad was a pretty good director, too), Woody (nominated for best director and for original screenplay), Alan Alda and Sam Waterston, this is not about neuroses; it’s about guilt and murder.
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen was still at his best in 2011 when he wrote this very clever tale about a would-be writer (Owen Wilson) who, while on a trip with his fiancée’s family in Paris, is transported back to 1920s Paris where he meets some of the most famous artists and writers of that glorious time. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, and Ernest Hemingway are among the legends he meets, and it is just a hoot. As with most Woody movies, it was nominated for multiple Oscars and won Woody an Academy Award for original screenplay.
School Ties – This is the film that launched Matt Damon to stardom. Set at a haughty New England prep school in the 1950s, this story of prejudice and privilege features a bevy of soon-to-be stars, including Brendan Fraser, Ben Affleck, Chris O’Donnell, Anthony Rapp, and Cole Hauser. Damon, Affleck and Hauser make up three-quarters of the Good Will Hunting best friends (along with Affleck’s brother Casey) five years later.
Good Will Hunting – Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won an Oscar for original screenplay for this story of a working-class kid who is a math savant. Surrounded by his lifelong best friends from South Boston, Will (Damon) is discovered by a renowned professor (Stellan Skarsgård) after being jailed for hitting a policeman. He proves to be a genius and has his first love affair with a Harvard co-ed (Minnie Driver). But Will is deeply troubled. As part of his probation, he is introduced to an underachieving therapist (Robin Williams), who probes the depths of his wounded psyche. Williams won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and the film was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Titanic.
Saving Private Ryan – The third Matt Damon movie in a row on my list, this extraordinary Steven Spielberg film follows a band of soldiers, led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) searching for the last surviving son of a family who has lost their other boys almost simultaneously during World War II. From the opening scenes of the carnage of D-Day through the invasion of France, Miller & Company find Private Ryan (Damon) and try to hold off the Nazis. The final words: “Earn this.” The final scene brings tears.
The Post – The film that brought Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep together, The Post tells the story of the publishing of The Pentagon Papers, the unvarnished history of the Vietnam War and the deception of multiple Administrations to hide it. Hanks plays legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee while Streep portrays Katherine Graham, the Post’s publisher who inherited the paper when her husband died. While the New York Times revealed the existence of the Papers, it is The Post that defied the court order to keep them secret. Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress, Streep’s most recent of her 21 nominations (with three wins).
Moneyball – Moneyball is an adaptation of the Michael Lewis book about the reluctant acceptance of “advanced metrics” into the deeply tradition-laden game of baseball. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the cash-strapped Oakland As, whose team just can’t compete with the large-market juggernauts. He meets a young Yale economics major working for the Cleveland Indians (Jonah Hill in a serious role) whose theories of using statistics rather than scouts to grade players is both revolutionary and radical. Together, they go “all in” and change America’s pastime forever. Nominated for six Oscars, including for Pitt and Hill, there is also a delicious performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s manager Art Howe.
The Firm – Yes, they changed the ending from the best-selling book by John Grisham, but The Firm is still a gripping story about a recent Harvard-educated law school graduate who takes his first job with a law firm in Memphis. The offer is too good to believe. Soon, the dark secrets are revealed, and he finds himself in too deep. The FBI is after the firm, and he is the bait. With a cast led by Tom Cruise and including Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Paul Sorvino and Wilford Brimley, The Firm is wall-to-wall tension directed expertly by Sydney Pollack.
The Last Castle – Your basic prison film, Robert Redford plays disgraced General Irwin, who disobeyed a presidential order during his last assignment, resulting in the deaths of eight soldiers. Now he is in a military prison under the command of Colonel Winter, a wannabe played by James Gandolfini. All he wants to do is live out his sentence and go home. But upon seeing the abuses of Winter and his guards, Irwin leads an insurrection of mythic proportions.
Philadelphia – Tom Hanks won consecutive Oscars for Forrest Gump and Philadelphia. The two films couldn’t have been more different. In this, he plays an up-and-coming lawyer in a prestigious firm who hides his homosexuality because the senior partners he admires often tell homophobic jokes. But when he starts getting lesions and is diagnosed with AIDS, suddenly the wunderkind is persona non grata and is fired. As his condition deteriorates, he hires an ambitious lawyer, played by Denzel Washington, to prosecute a wrongful termination suit and get his reputation back. One of the most heart-wrenching movies you will ever see, Hanks and Washington eat the scenery in Jonathan Demme’s five-time Academy Award-nominated film that also won Bruce Springsteen an Oscar for original song.
The Great Escape – This 1963 film about prisoners in a World War II German prison camp was an all-star extravaganza. Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence, and David McCallum plot to build a tunnel out of the camp and disperse throughout Europe. It’s a chilling tale with suspense throughout. McQueen is clearly the star of stars as the cocky Hilts, the “Cooler King,” who is cool in so many ways. At almost three hours, it is a character study and a chase film all in one.
The Cincinnati Kid – The best poker movie ever, The Cincinnati Kid pits a cocky up-and-comer (Steve McQueen) against “The Man,” Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), in a New Orleans showdown for king of the poker world. With a cast that includes Karl Malden, Ann-Margret, Rip Torn (you won’t recognize him), Tuesday Weld, Joan Blondell, and Jack Weston, it all comes down to one fateful hand. It is riveting!
Spotlight – A deserved Best Picture, Spotlight is another journalism story about the relentless pursuit of truth about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. A team of investigative reporters from the Boston Globe dug deep to uncover the misdeeds and the cover-up in a city overwhelmingly Catholic. Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Brian d’Arcy James and directed by Tom McCarthy. It also won an Oscar for screenplay for McCarthy and Josh Singer.
The Big Chill – The soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission. The Big Chill almost defined the ensemble cast. Reunited by the death of their college friend, Alex (who was supposed to be played by Kevin Costner in flashbacks but who got cut out except for serving as the corpse), a group of old college friends from the University of Michigan grieve, reminisce, fight, love, and re-bond over a weekend in South Carolina. Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Mary Kay Place, Tom Berenger, JoBeth Williams, and Meg Tilly star in a film directed by one of the best, Lawrence Kasdan. My favorite line: “I was just trying to keep the conversation lively.”
Awakenings – Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams play patient and doctor in this true story of about catatonic patients in a hospital in New York. Williams, donning the beard he wears in almost all of his serious movies, plays the anti-social physician who never gives up on these patients and discovers a drug that might bring them out of the stupor. DeNiro plays the first patient to “come alive.” Both are amazing. Penny Marshall directed this film about hope, second chances, love, and the fragility of life. Nominated for three Oscars, including Best Actor for DeNiro.
Scent of a Woman – Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell co-star (as they did in School Ties) in this character study of a blind, proud, scared, obnoxious former Army colonel, Frank Slade, out to have one hell of a weekend in New York before killing himself. With a high school senior from preppy Bard College as his less-than-willing escort, he checks into The Plaza, dances the tango with a beautiful woman, drives a Ferrari, and buys a new suit while the kid suddenly realizes the plan. Pacino won his only Oscar out of nine nominations for truly one of the best performances ever.
Seabiscuit – It may be hard to believe that a horse could be the most popular athlete in America, but it is arguably true about Seabiscuit. This little, unheralded horse rivaled Babe Ruth in popularity during the Depression. Slow to develop and trained by an unknown, Seabiscuit overcame the odds to win races across the country, including a match race with Kentucky Derby winner War Admiral. Owned by Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), a car dealer; trained by Tom Smith (Chris Cooper); and ridden by temperamental jockey Red Pollard (Tobey McGuire), Seabiscuit rivals Man of War, Secretariat, and (now) American Pharoah as the most popular racehorses in history. The film, directed by Gary Ross from the popular Laura Hillebrand novel, was nominated for seven Oscars.
Sideways – A wine-tasting and golf trip for two college buddies on the eve of one of their weddings turns into a hilarious romp through the California vineyards near Solvang. Paul Giamatti as Miles and Thomas Haden Church as Jack are an odd couple. Miles is a middle school teacher who can’t get his latest book published. Jack is an actor whose most famous part was on a soap opera. Jack wants to get laid before his wedding; Miles just wants to drink pinot and golf. They meet Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), fall in love, and get into all kinds of trouble. Totally delightful.
The Truman Show – A comedy. A drama. A cautionary tale. A heartbreaker. The Truman Show was declared by Time magazine as the movie of the decade in the ‘90s. It tells the story of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), who was born to be a TV character living in a fantasy town, living a fantasy life for the benefit of a worldwide TV audience. The Svengali is Christof (Ed Harris), who created and direct the show from his control room outside this all-too-real make-believe world. If you look deep, you will see the hands of the manipulative media and its impact on the lives of millions of people as the audience roots for Truman to escape while providing out-of-this-world ratings. Co-starring Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Paul Giamatti, Natascha McElhone and Holland Taylor, it won Carrey a Golden Globe in the Drama category and was nominated for three Oscars.
Field of Dreams – “Is this heaven. It’s Iowa. Maybe this is Heaven.” Having lived in Iowa for 41 years and having married an Iowa girl, it is hard not to love this mystical film about Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and one man’s quest for redemption. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) follows the voice he hears and builds a major league-sized ballpark in his cornfield. Then, he travels to Boston to find his favorite author, Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) to “ease his pain.” And, finally, the two men travel to Minnesota to meet up with Doc Graham (Burt Lancaster). It all culminates on the field near Dyersville, Iowa, where Ray realizes that “if he builds it, He will come.” Three Oscar nominations and still a destination for baseball fans everywhere. (And the outside of my old office at the University of Dubuque is shown; so is Julie’s dorm; the University library; and my friend, Paul Hemmer, who plays “Beulah’s” husband.)
Shakespeare in Love – The most clever Elizabethan period piece I have ever seen, Shakespeare in Love won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow, Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench and on and on. With a script that is hilarious, the film follows Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) as he struggles to write a love story about Ethel (this becomes Juliet) under a deadline. Meanwhile Viola loves the theater, but women are not allowed to act. Desperate, she disguises herself as a boy, lower her voice and gets cast, only to be outed when she and Will fall in love. It is all great fun and overwrought … as Romeo and Juliet must be. Even Ben Affleck isn’t terrible.
Lincoln – Forever, the mental picture many of us will have of Abraham Lincoln is Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg’s epic Lincoln. This film is massive in scope yet feels like an intimate portrait of a complex man who, by all accounts, was our greatest president. Committed to passing the Constitutional amendment that would outlaw slavery, Lincoln risked the fate of the country over a social and moral issue that still rips at the heart of the union. Sally Field practically begged for the part of Mary Todd Lincoln and wouldn’t give up until she was cast. She was perfect and nominated for an Oscar. But the film belongs to Day-Lewis, who won Best Actor for the third time in six nominations. Overall, it got 12 Academy Award nods.
Heat – Never before had Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro appeared in a scene together before Heat, Michael Mann’s film about a gang of thieves and the cops out to get them. DeNiro heads the bad guys; Pacino the cops. They are the same – relentless hunters. Their compatriots are the same – out to win at all costs. Who will win the epic battle? The grand scheme meets the immovable objects on the streets of L.A. in a shootout for the ages. Does DeNiro escape? With or without the girl (Amy Brenneman)? Does Pacino lose his wife (Diane Venora)? Does his step-daughter (Rachel Portman) commit suicide? Who betrays the bad guys? Does DeNiro get revenge on Waingro? The questions never end before the final scene at the airport.
Trumbo – Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was blackballed by Hollywood in the McCarthy era. He was also one of the greatest screenwriter of his time. Director Jay Roach tells the story of the man who, despite being shunned, simply had to write. He never compromised and never gave in to McCarthy but, instead, he wrote for peanuts under various aliases to keep working. He even won two Oscars, for The Brave One and Roman Holiday, under other names. And afterwards, he resumed his career, writing Exodus, Spartacus, Papillon and more. Trumbo is one of the best character studies in recent years made joyously sublime by Cranston’s performance.
Sophie’s Choice – Alan J. Pakula, who directed All the President’s Men, Klute, Presumed Innocent, The Devil’s Own and more, helmed Sophie’s Choice, a complex tale of two damaged people. Sophie (Meryl Streep) is a Holocaust survivor with a haunting backstory. Nathan (Kevin Kline) is a dazzling show-off with a compulsion about the Holocaust. They share nothing … and everything. They befriend Stingo (Peter MacNichol), an aspiring writer, who essentially tells the story of these people, who avoid reality to escape their pain. Haunting, painful, playful and sobering, this film won Streep the second of her three Oscars (she would have to wait another 28 years to win again).
Rounders – Matt Damon and Edward Norton portray “rounders,” guys who make their living playing poker, grinding from game to game. In the story, Damon is Mike McDermott, a law student who, having lost his entire bankroll on a single hand, decides to give up the game and dedicates himself to the law. Norton plays Worm, his childhood buddy who went to jail instead of giving up his friend. Worm gets out of jail and resumes his habitual lying, cheating, and scamming rather than just playing at a game he is good at. Mike vouches for him and goes deep in debt. To get out, he has to face Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), the ruthless Russian who runs the biggest game in town. As in The Cincinnati Kid, it all comes down to one hand.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They – Director Sidney Pollack got his first Oscar nomination for this agonizing, slow-moving, character-rich story of dance marathons during the Depression. Hard as it is to believe, people were so desperate during that era that dance marathon contests were held with prize money attached. There is nothing glorious about those contests. But there is glorious acting and storytelling in this film. With nine Academy Award nominations, this 1969 film stars Jane Fonda, Red Buttons, Gig Young, Michael Sarrazin (who won for Best Supporting Actor), Bruce Dern, Bonnie Bedalia, and Susannah York.
While You Were Sleeping – As implausible as it is, While You Were Sleeping is the ultimate guilty pleasure. Sandra Bullock, the working man’s Meg Ryan, stars as Lucy, the token taker in the Chicago train station where Peter (Peter Gallagher) boards the train every day. She dreams of Florence, Italy, while he leads his upscale life oblivious to Lucy. When he falls onto the tracks, Lucy saves him, goes with him to the hospital, and is mistaken for his fiancé. The family arrives, falls in love with Lucy, and the mix-ups just keep happening. Eventually, Lucy falls for Peter’s brother, Jack (Bill Pullman). It’s just your basic, extraordinary chick flick with a happy ending. And who doesn’t love that?
Shattered Glass – In a true story, Stephen Glass was a journalist for The New Republic, an influential magazine sometimes referred to as the official magazine of Air Force One. In his early ‘20s and enrolled in law school, Glass was popular with his workmates and his editors while managing to land some of the most interesting and offbeat stories. But the truth is, most of them were fabricated. Shattered Glass is a fascinating pseudo-documentary telling the story of the man who later wrote The Fabulist, a great word to describe what he did. Starring Hayden Christenson (who played young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars II & III) as Glass, it boasts a wonderful supporting cast of Hank Azaria, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Steve Zahn, Melanie Lynskey, Caroline Goodall, and Rosario Dawson, this independent film, which barely registered at the box office, is a sleeper.
Transsiberian – On a train ride from China to Russia, two couples meet and ignite a thrilling adventure of murder, intrigue, and politics. Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) head east following a volunteer stint in China. Roy loves trains and always wanted to ride on Trans-Siberian Express. There is much bubbling underneath their relationship when they meet Carlos (Eduardo Noriega), a handsome, young Spaniard and his beautiful American girlfriend, Abby (Kate Mara), a seemingly happy-go-lucky couple traversing across Eurasia. Carlos invites Jessie on an excursion to see a beautiful church while Roy stays back to explore the trains. The rest is all intrigue with a little passion thrown in. And when a Russian detective (Ben Kingsley) arrives, you just know something is amiss.
Kramer vs. Kramer – Two of the best actors of their generation, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, were still relatively early in their careers when they starred in this family drama about a couple torn apart by divorce. She leaves him, determined to find herself and believing she is incapable of caring for their son. He is a career-driven advertising executive who has neglected his son but suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of father and breadwinner. He is coping when suddenly she decides to return and seek custody. The court battle threatens to shatter everyone, especially their son, Billy (Justin Henry, who became the youngest actor to date to be nominated for an Academy Award). Gut-wrenching and poignant, this film won five Oscars (from nine nominations) and swept most of the major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director (for Robert Benton) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Benton).