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Serpico (1973) R

This is Al Pacino at his best. As a New York City cop, he sees corruption all around him. When he refuses to extort money from criminals, his fellow officers turn against him. When he tries to do his job, he experiences vengeance in the worst form. A grand jury inquiry only makes things worse.

Based on a true story, Serpico helped to bring corruption into the headlines. The gritty realism of the film shows the versatile actor in a character that will stay with you long after the film ends.

Directed by Sidney Lumet. Based on the Peter Maas book of the same name.
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The Edge of Seventeen (2016) R

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) finds growing up in today's modern world challenging, especially in the shadow of her next-to-perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). This coming of age tale in the vein of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles is candid and honest with humorous moments of what it's like to be a teenager who just wants to have a real conversation with another human being in person and not through social media and their phone.

Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is busy with her own problems and oblivious to her daughter's obvious struggles with school, friends, and social life. To make matters worse, her brother and her best friend find a romantic connection—which sends Nadine over the edge. Her one and only confidant, her history teacher (Woody Harrelson), seems to be the only constant in her life who actually pays her any real attention until one day the unexpected friendship of a thoughtful boy gives her a glimmer of hope.

If you enjoyed Juno, watch The Edge of Seventeen.

The Rookie (2002) G

Dennis Quaid portrays Jimmy Morris, The Rookie’s title character, who is a middle-aged high school coach, married with kids, and living in a small Texas town. His pro baseball aspirations have long been forgotten, and yet, he has this amazing pitch. Jimmy’s players take notice and challenge him to try out for the major leagues. Based on a true story, this is one of those movies that reminds us that strange and wonderful things happen in real life.

We’ve also got other baseball movies and sports documentaries.

 

Swiss Army Man (2016)

The film opens with Hank Thompson (Paul Dano) being stranded on a deserted island, literally at the end of his rope, ready to give up hope of ever being rescued. He is startled when he sees another man (Daniel Radcliffe) wash up on the shore. Hank goes to rescue the man, but finds that he is already deceased. Despite this fact, this man’s body is able to perform an assortment of magical abilities that help Hank find freedom from the island. As they journey home, the body slowly comes to life as Hank begins to teach it about the world and what there is to live for.

Swiss Army Man is as unique of a story that can possibly be told, which is what makes it so attractive in an industry filled with cliché stories and reboots. It’s a beautiful story about friendship and how important it is to share and communicate with the people around us. This movie has a fair amount of adult humor, but this humor is complemented by the story’s beautiful views and lessons about life.

Radcliffe’s performance is particularly worth noting, as he plays a dead man who is slowly coming back to life and remembering what it means to truly live. The beautiful friendship that blossoms between these two characters is transcended to another level with a film score that uplifts the viewer with feelings of happiness toward the success of their travels back to civilization. With this being the directorial debut by the co-directors and co-writers simply known as Daniels, it begs the question, “What will these two come up with next, and how can they possibly top what they’ve already accomplished?”

A Hologram for the King (2016) R

hologramA funny and quirky story about a man and the experiences that change his life while on a business trip in the Middle East. There, he ultimately finds peace and harmony where he least expects it!

A Hologram for the King stars Tom Hanks and is based on a Dave Eggers novel of the same name.
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The Big Heat (1953)

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star as an honest police detective who goes after the gangsters who killed his wife and the gangster’s girlfriend who switches her allegiance. Police corruption and a conspiracy drive the plot. I consider The Big Heat to be one of the best noir movies of the 1950s. If you like classic film noir, add this tense, dark, and gritty film to your must-see list.

Check out our list of other 1950s Noir films.

The Good Lie (2014) PG-13

goodlieInspired by the Sudanese civil war that began in the 1980s and the Lost Boys of Sudan, The Good Lie is a beautiful movie. The story begins in Africa, focusing on three noble children—the sons and daughter of the village chief. When Northern Sudanese soldiers kill most of the people in their village, only a small group of children survives. It is then up to their new chief, himself a child, to lead them hundreds of miles across Sub-Saharan Africa to the safety of a refugee camp in Kenya.

Thirteen years later, four young people from this group are happily sent to the U. S. as refugees. They soon discover though that this country is a totally alien place, with its strange customs and mystifying technology. The film then centers on their struggle to adjust, while still maintaining their sense of dignity and humor, their unity and faith. Reese Witherspoon is brilliant here as the put-upon job agency rep, who is assigned to find this odd and skill-less group gainful employment. A bittersweet treat.
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Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

anatomymurderSet in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this classic courtroom drama features a winning cast of small town characters. Jimmy Stewart plays Paul, the ex-District Attorney who would much rather be fishing or playing jazz piano than practicing law. He is perfectly content with getting by on the odd legal job, but his perpetually tipsy (yet surprisingly astute) sidekick, Parnell, has other ideas. At Parnell’s urging, Paul takes on a local murder case that brings them both out of their semi-retirement.

Other engaging characters abound, including a visiting judge, Paul’s secretary, and of course, the defendant and his wife. These characters along with a well-placed plot, the almost light-and-breezy tone—despite its dark subject matter—and the hip music of Duke Ellington make Anatomy of a Murder just plain fun.

Check out our list of Lawyers in the Movies for other films.

Joyeux Noel = Merry Christmas (2005) PG-13

noelBased on the true series of unofficial ceasefires that occurred along the western front during World War I, Joyeux Noel portrays a truce by Scottish, French, and German troops on Christmas Eve 1914 in the midst of a bloody battle. This is a poignant human interest tale of men at war with each other coming out of the trenches to exchange greetings, sing Christmas songs, and play soccer.

Depending on the nationality of the soldiers, they are speaking in French, German, or English. English subtitles are available.

For other World War I movies see our list of recommended titles.  If you like Christmas movies, see our lists of Christmas Movies and Family Christmas Movies.

Lucifer. Season 1 (2016)

luciferThe Devil has gotten tired of being the big bad in charge of Hell, so what does he do? Go to L.A, of course! Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) and his number one demon, Maze, are living it up in their own nightclub, Lux, when the unthinkable happens. Lucifer’s friend gets caught up in a murder and he is determined that the killer be punished. On his journey for justice, he crosses paths with detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German), and realizes he likes helping criminals get locked up on Earth. Season 1 of Lucifer looks to be the start of a beautiful cop-devil partnership.
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Love Actually (2003) R

loveactuallyAlthough this is a movie you can watch any time of year, I always seem to revisit Love Actually in December. Set in London, the film follows eight loosely related couples in the month leading up to Christmas. It’s not all happy endings in this romantic dramedy, but I’d still call this one a feel good movie. One of my favorite moments is Hugh Grant’s dance scene through 10 Downing Street (he plays the prime minister). You’ll see lots of other familiar faces including Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, and Martin Freeman.

In the mood for a Christmas movie? We’ve got a whole list.

Atonement (2007) R

atonementIn 1935 England, 13-year-old Briony witnesses her sister and a young man interact and misinterprets it. Later she tells a lie about a rape and Robbie, the son of a family servant, is sent to prison. Her older sister Cecelia loves Robbie, but the lie changes their lives forever and the consequences are devastating. Three years later, England is at war and the two lovers try to reunite.

Atonement has an excellent cast. Kiera Knightley (Cecelia) has never been better, and James McAvoy (Robbie) is perfect as the wronged lover and soldier. Saoirse Ronan plays Briony. The war scenes are realistic, and the story based on the novel by Ian McEwan is superb.

I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015) PG-13

seeyouinmydreamsBlythe Danner portrays widow Carol Petersen, who is grieving multiple losses. She survives her daily struggles with a little help from her friends (played by Martin Starr, Mary Kay Place, June Squibb, and Rhea Perlman). In I’ll See You in My Dreams, 70ish Danner creates a very warm and realistic character in this first leading role of her career. She proves "tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

There Will Be Blood (2007) R

therewillbebloodWritten and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood was inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Oscar for his leading role) is a self-made oil baron in the booming California oil industry of the early 1900s. Daniel is a cold man with morals that only serve his best interest, success and money being the only two things he cares about.

When Daniel discovers a large oil deposit underground in the small town of Little Boston, conflicts arise, both with his family and the citizens of the town, including a very devout and self-serving preacher boy named Eli (Paul Dano).

There Will Be Blood is a very dark film, as Daniel Plainview’s road to the top of his industry is littered with immorality and dishonesty. Despite the darker tones of the movie, the film itself is gorgeous. It’s no surprise that it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, as the beautiful shots and sequences in the barren desert landscapes help to tell the story just as much as the wonderful writing.
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New Tricks. Seasons 1-12 (2003-2015)

newtricksIf you enjoy British mysteries with a bit of humor, try New Tricks. Follow the quirky team of retired policemen lead by a female superintendent as they help solve cold cases.

Each of the cast of characters is unique, and you will find yourself getting involved in their lives and rooting for them in their crime solving. I especially loved the actors who were in the first seven seasons.

If you enjoy this show, also check out the series Death in Paradise.