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Spotlight: Johnny Depp

johnnydeppI have a theory that Johnny Depp does some of his best work in films with titles that include the names of people. This extraordinary actor has done wonderful work in such movies as Benny and Joon (goofy), Edward Scissorhands (heartbreaking), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (sensitive), Don Juan DeMarco (playful), Ed Wood (endearing), Donnie Brasco (subtle and gritty).

Even if you don’t care for the movie, you can appreciate the performance. Whether funny, animated, chewing the scenery, or quietly effective, he rarely disappoints. Take a look at his full filmography.

The Straight Story (1999) G

straightstoryBased on the true story of Alvin Straight, The Straight Story is a beautiful homage to America’s heartland—its landscape and its people. Alvin, a World War II vet, has a childlike spirit and nerves of steel. To visit his brother who just had a stroke, he bravely embarks on a journey across Iowa and Wisconsin despite the fact that he can’t drive and that he has to use two canes to walk. His mode of transportation? An old John Deere lawn mower. Sleeping arrangements? In the makeshift trailer he’s hauling. Meals? Taken in the cornfields he pulls into--and cooked in the campfires he builds!

Despite experiencing setbacks throughout his journey, Alvin’s faith and resolve are unshakable. After all, he has a great purpose: to see the brother he hasn’t spoken to in ten years. He is also lucky to find people along the way who are willing to lend a helping hand. But this story’s real charm is that Alvin gives as much as he receives, leaving all the strangers he encounters better off for having met him.
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Pirate Radio (2009) R

pirateradioThis insanely hilarious movie tells the story of the swinging 60s in London. The music was the rage for every kid who had a transistor radio to his ear or under his pillow at night. The BBC was only playing less than an hour a day. Pirate radio stations on ships anchored off the coast of England played 24/7. Of course, you need a “bad guy” to keep the story interesting, and he appears in the form of Kenneth Branagh as an uptight politician vowing to shut down pirate radio stations. Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and more star in Pirate Radio, which is an amusing tale – but the real treat is the music!

The Judge (2014) R

judgeOne of the best movies of 2014!

Great acting from all, especially Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall, in a very compelling story from beginning to end about the messiness of life and the complexity of family relations. Downey, a young, cocky, but successful Chicago lawyer goes home to small town Indiana to attend his mother's funeral. Reconnecting with his estranged father (Duvall), the town's judge, proves a challenge.

The aging judge is accused of murder in a hit-and-run of a biker on a dark, rainy night and Downey ends up representing his cantankerous father. One surprise after another unfolds and we are drawn into the drama hook, line, and sinker. Well written, excellent acting, The Judge is a winner you should see.
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The Wind Rises (2013) PG-13

windrisesI thoroughly enjoyed The Wind Rises, an Academy Award nominee for Best Animated Feature Film of 2013 and another exceptional film by the talented director and animator, Hayao Miyazaki.

Jiro, a nearsighted Japanese boy, is fascinated by flying and in his dreams meets Gianni Caproni, an Italian aeronautical designer. The determined and perfectionist Jiro goes on to design military airplanes.

The film is visually stunning with vivid colors. Through hand-drawn scenes, Miyazaki is able to subtly express the emotions of wonder, anger, sadness, and love.

Well-known actors dubbed the English version of the film. The original Japanese version with English subtitles is also available. Miyazaki is one of the last hand-drawn animators and allows no more than 10% of footage to be computer generated.

Words and Pictures (2013) PG-13

wordsnpicsClive Owen and Juliette Binoche play an art teacher (Binoche) and an English teacher (Owen) who work at a Maine prep school.

They both are battling their own demons when they meet. They soon begin an open debate whether words or pictures have the greater power. It is the battle of right brain versus left brain dominance. The war between the teachers becomes a school-wide event.

Words and Pictures is a unique movie. Owen and Binoche are wonderfully matched in a Hepburn/Tracy kind of relationship. This is a movie not to be missed. It is intelligent, witty, and presents a “no frills” relationship between two adults.

A Beautiful Mind (2001) PG-13

beautifulmindThis Oscar-winning film directed by Ron Howard is based on the life of the brilliant mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe). It follows Nash’s career, starting with his years at Princeton in the late 1940s and ends in the early 90s when he wins the Nobel Prize in Economics. There is a little bit of everything in this drama: mystery, romance, and—surprisingly—humor. There are even aspects of a thriller is this film, with Cold War intrigue intruding upon the math professor’s quiet life. Are Russian spies out to get him?

Ultimately though, what makes A Beautiful Mind special is that despite all the competing elements in it, there is a tender and inspiring love story at its core. Nash is a flawed hero who, like all geniuses, loses himself in his work. But then along comes Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). She is a grounding force for him, his saving grace.
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What If (2014) PG-13

whatifIn this offbeat comedy, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chandry (Zoe Kazan) meet at a party, strike an instant connection, and become best friends. She has a boyfriend and he’s been burned too many times. Can the pair really be just friends? What If is a sweet and smart romantic comedy set in Toronto with both funny and dramatic touches.
- Jennifer

What if your best friend was a girl? What if you liked her for more than just a friend? What if you don't know how to tell her?

This charming film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace, a med school dropout rebounding from recent heartbreak, who finds himself questioning all of these things.

Enter his roommate's cousin Chantry, an animator living with her long term boyfriend Ben. The two hit it off immediately and continually enjoy each other’s witty banter and humorous dialog. In a disastrous attempt to tell Chantry his true feelings, Wallace finally answers the question What If...- Chris

Nero Wolfe. Seasons 1 & 2 (2001-2002)

nerowolfeWith Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe (the brilliant detective) and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin (his leg man), this A&E television series is one of the best.

The TV series is based on the original stories by Rex Stout written between 1934 and 1958. It is beautifully shot with set design and costuming that reflects the time period of each story.

All of the episodes of Nero Wolfe include a climactic meeting of the suspects in Wolfe's office at his luxurious brownstone as he discloses the identity of the murderer, a classic mystery story devise; however in this series, it becomes a scene full of color, wit, and charm.

An unusual aspect of these Nero Wolfe shows is its reuse of supporting actors and actresses for different roles in the tradition of a repertory theater.

Heaven is for Real (2014) PG

heavenisforrealGreg Kinnear is excellent in this lovely and thought-provoking movie based on a true story. He plays a minister in Nebraska whose young son has a near-death experience during emergency surgery. When his son starts talking about the people and the things he saw, at first no one believes him, not even his own family.

Connor Corum, who plays Colton, is absolutely adorable and you can’t help but fall in love with him. Heaven is for Real is beautiful and inspirational! Also check out the book.
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Crime Story (1986-1988)

crimestoryCrime Story ran two seasons in the mid-1980s, but was set in the early sixties in Chicago, where it was filmed. Dennis Farina played tough cop Mike Torello, head of the police's major crimes unit. Each episode had a specific crime to solve, but always there was Torello's ongoing pursuit of gangland punk Ray Luca (played by Tony Denison of The Closer). The early sixties setting is marvelous from the skinny ties, sharkskin suits, brylcreamed hair, and narrow brimmed fedoras to the pre-Beatles pop soundtrack and the snazzy two toned cars.

With its Joe Fridayish opening narration and its film noir stylings and sensibility, the show was a throwback to an earlier time, but the violence and the story arc that lasted across the entire season made Crime Story ahead of its time.

Look for appearances (before they made it big) by David Caruso, Gary Sinise, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Christian Slater, Stanley Tucci, and many others.

Seven Pounds (2008) PG-13

7poundsWhy does IRS agent Ben Thomas, portrayed by the versatile actor Will Smith, contact seven people primarily struggling with health issues? Ben is a tormented soul with sadness about him, but is driven to see his plan through. This is a riveting, touching, and mysterious film. It has great writing and a unique plot. Rosario Dawson plays Emily Posa, a woman Ben develops a special bond with.

You might also like The Pursuit of Happyness, which stars Will Smith and has the same production team and director as Seven Pounds.
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Claudia (1943) and Claudia and David (1946)

claudiaClaudia is a very young bride living in the country with David, her architect husband. She is very dependent on her mother and plots for a way to return to the city and live closer to her. However, when tragedy strikes, Claudia has to decide whether to allow herself to be treated like a child or a woman. Dorothy Maguire and Robert Young star in Claudia as well as the continuation Claudia and David.

Nebraska (2013) R

nebraskaThis acclaimed black and white road trip dramedy will warm your heart. An aging father (Bruce Dern) thinks he’s won a magazine sweepstakes. His son (Will Forte from Saturday Night Live) agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his prize. Don’t let the “R” language rating scare you off from the Academy Award nominated Nebraska.
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Prisoners (2013) R

prisonersWhat would you do if your daughter was kidnapped? This is the question one father had to ask himself when his daughter and her friend are kidnapped by a serial killer. The movie makes you wonder how far you would go if you knew the kidnapper and took him prisoner. At the end of Prisoners, there is a twist. The ones you think are guilty may not be the only ones.