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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.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) PG-13

savingmrbanksSaving Mr. Banks is an engaging drama about Walt Disney's quest to win the movie rights to the classic children's fantasy Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Inspired by his daughters' love of the series and motivated by his determined personality, Disney will not relent. Travers (portrayed by Emma Thompson), just as stubborn as Disney, refuses to let her masterpiece succumb to the big screen and most of all, transform into a musical with animated figures. She ignores her grim financial outlook and the encouragement of her agent and remains in seclusion for years.

Finally, she agrees to a short trip to the Disney studio offices in California. Once there, Walt Disney tries everything in his business arsenal to win her over, including a trip to Disneyland. It is finally a very personal insight into both characters that seals the deal. Tom Hanks does an excellent job portraying the many sides of American icon Walt Disney.

Story of G. I. Joe (1945)

storygijoeBased on the columns of popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith), Story of G. I. Joe was released in 1945 at the very end of WWII. The movie follows “C” Company of the 18th Infantry as it fights across North Africa and up through Italy, focusing on a handful of ordinary soldiers and the well-liked Lieutenant Walker (Robert Mitchum). Actual veterans of the Italian campaign, waiting on the west coast for deployment to the Pacific, played extras in the movie.

Check out our spotlight of director William Wellman for reviews of his other war movies. You’ll notice his war films avoid unrealistic heroics in favor of poignant stories of ordinary men under hellish circumstances.

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The Book Thief (2013) PG-13

bookthiefA wonderful story of a young girl living in Germany during World War II. The Book Thief is a story of how her adoptive family teaches her to read and also teaches her the meaning of what is truly important in life.

Also check out the Markus Zusak novel of the same name, which provided the basis for the movie.

And if you enjoy movies set during WWII, we’ve got you covered: find foreign films, the home front, spy movies, and more.

 
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