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The Florida Project (2017) R

Featuring a cast of mostly amateur actors, and a powerful performance from Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project tells an affectingly real and heartbreaking story.

Taking its title from the original name for Walt Disney World, the film focuses on a six-year-old girl named Moonee and her mother Halley, who live just outside the confines of the amusement park. Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, the manager of the run-down motel that Moonee and her mother call home (a role that earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards).

While there are moments of levity and humor throughout The Florida Project, the film is, at times, an uncomfortable watch. Not because of any poor directing, acting, or writing; in fact, it is uncomfortable for the exact opposite reasons. The Florida Project presents an unfiltered and amazingly true-to-life look into the effect poverty and dysfunctional family situations can have on young children. Audiences looking for realism, heart, and drama need look no further than The Florida Project, one of the best films of 2017.
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Whale Rider (2002) PG-13

whaleriderShot on location in New Zealand, Whale Rider is a beautiful film about a young girl and the deep love and commitment she has for her family, heritage, and community. Paikea, as it turns out, is prophetically named after the mythical whale rider in one of the legends of her people, the Maori.

In her small village, Pai is being raised by her grandparents, and she has an especially strong bond with her grandad, her beloved Paka. She admires him greatly, and wants to make him proud. Sadly, her Paka, who is also the village chief, desperately wanted a grandson he could train to become chief—someone who will carry on tradition. In the absence of a grandson, he settles for a boy from the village, setting out to find one he can groom. Paka is very reluctant to see that the next chief can be his own granddaughter—until she becomes a whale rider.
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Spotlight: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper

jennifer-lawrence-bradley-cooperAward winning actors Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have costarred in four movies: Silver Linings Playbook, Serena, American Hustle, and Joy. The interaction between these talented stars is amazing.

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering from bipolar disorder and has an obsession with his ex-wife, Nikki, who has a restraining order against him. Through a friend, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an unbalanced widow. He latches onto her when he learns that she knows Nikki. This poignant and sometimes comedic film has a colorful cast of characters, including Robert De Niro as Pat’s father, who is fanatical about the Philadelphia Eagles.

Browse Best On-Screen Couples for other couples you might enjoy watching.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) PG-13

murder_on_the_orient_express_teaser_poster5 out of 5 stars for me. Not knowing the story kept me engaged and absorbed. The ending took me by surprise--a very good surprise--and totally unexpected. The actors were top notch, intense and mysterious, but still believable. The scenery was spectacular. The photography, especially the close-ups of the characters' faces, helped the mystery develop.

Check out the most recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express. Looking for a review of the book? Check out Jennifer’s take on Current Picks from December.

Signs (2002) PG-13

220px-the_signs_movieGraham—formerly Reverend Hess—is a grieving husband, who has lost not only his wife but his faith too. He hasn’t by any means fallen apart, though, or stopped caring about the people around him. Graham is a good dad to his two young kids, and the people in his small town can’t help still calling him “Father.” When crop circles appear on his farm and then around the world, Graham reasons that there must be a logical explanation, and he struggles to hold on to this—even as his kids and his younger brother, who lives with them, jump on the alien-theory bandwagon.

Signs is one of those quiet films that rings true to life, often feeling more like a family drama than a supernatural thriller. And yet true to form, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan injects just enough oddity and suspense into the film to make you feel that things are not quite right—and that there’s something creepy lurking just around the corner.

My Man Godfrey (1936)

225px-my_man_godfreyIn this farce masterpiece, William Powell plays Godfrey, the enigmatic butler whose sophistication and commanding presence hint at his true identity. Godfrey is discovered living in the city dump, and recruited to work for the Bullocks—a family described by one of their longtime staffers as being more “nutty” than “exacting.” The cast of characters includes the shrill-voiced Mrs. Bullock, usually hung over and in a pixie-seeing haze in the morning; Cornelia, Godfrey’s nemesis; and her sister Irene, hopelessly in love with Godfrey from the start. Then there’s poor Mr. Bullock, the sole voice of reason in the family. Oh and Carlo, Mrs. Bullock’s “protégé,” really a freeloading artist who becomes melodramatically upset as soon as Mr. Bullock starts talking belt-tightening.

It is hard to believe that in the midst of all this chaos and frivolity, My Man Godfrey has a deeper aim than to make the audience laugh. But at the heart of the story is Godfrey—the butler who’s really a high-minded aristocrat—and who really makes the audience think.

Spotlight: Lady Gaga

lady_gaga_-_joanne_official_album_coverOnce you’ve listened to Lady Gaga’s album Joanne, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll listen to it during your morning shower, in the car on your way to and from work, and before it’s time to sleep at night. Joanne may be a clear departure from the usual Gaga style of her previous albums, but it’s no less powerful. Songs such as the titular “Joanne” and “Come to Mama” will keep you coming back again and again.

The stylistic change also especially makes far more sense and has far more meaning after watching the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. Experience a year in the life of not Lady Gaga, but Stefani Germonatta. It follows the year in which she was releasing Joanne up until her performance at the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show. You will live, love, laugh, and cry with her up until the very end. Don't have a Netflix subscription? Watch for free using our roku.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Adults and children alike will delight in this charming classic Christmas movie about a man named Kris Kringle who is recruited at the last minute to play Santa Claus in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and in the store during the Christmas season. Can he convince Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), Macy’s special events coordinator, and her fairytale-deprived daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), that he is the real Santa?

I prefer the original black and white version of Miracle on 34th Street, but there is a colorized version as well. We’ve got a list of other family Christmas movies.
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The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) R

Mickey “Mick” Haller is a top defense lawyer in L A. He is slick and famous as an attorney who works out of his Lincoln Town Car. He takes on cases that might seem impossible or a long shot to win. The legal system is almost always stacked against his clients and you will get a look at how the system works. The wealthy young man he has agreed to defend is no prize and he sees his life and family threatened.

Fans of Michael Connelly will like that The Lincoln Lawyer is a good adaptation of his book and the cast is outstanding. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, and William H. Macy.

You’ll find The Lincoln Lawyer on our list of Lawyers in the Movies.
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Rick Steves’ European Christmas (2005)

Is there a better tour guide than the affable and erudite Rick Steves? I look forward to watching this PBS special every year, and I’m never disappointed with the vicarious tour of Christmas traditions across Europe. But you too can experience the history, music, and food of the season: there’s the Santa Lucia festival in Norway, traditional English carols sung in Bath Abbey, and in the French countryside, the Christmas Eve meal consists of foie gras, and waaaaait for it…filet of beef tenderloin in brioche with truffles. Need I say more? Check out Rick Steves' European Christmas this holiday season!

Lone Star (1996) R 

This is a powerful movie, and it is very relevant today. Texas law and immigration are two of the many themes played out by Matthew McConaughey and Kris Kristofferson in Lone Star. An unsolved murder in a Texas border town leads to a sheriff that once controlled a town and family secrets.

Writer and director John Sayles (Eight Men Out) gives us a story with flashbacks that are incredibly moving. Many will see a film noir movie with several plot twists that will haunt you.

Big Eyes (2014) PG-13

Amy Adams portrays Margaret Keane, creator of the Big Eyed Waifs, whose talent was unrecognized for years, while her husband Walter (played by Christoph Waltz) took all the credit. Big Eyes follows their romance and the eventual deterioration of their marriage as Walter's drinking, mental health, and the lie they lived became more than Margaret could bear. After reading The Muse by Jessie Burton about a fictitious couple who hide behind the same type of artistic ruse, one wonders how often this has occurred throughout art history. How many great women artists have had to hide their talent with a man's signature?
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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.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (2016) PG-13

The film acts as a prologue to the video game Final Fantasy XV but also stands as a full-length film all on its own. The story centers around Nyx Ulric, a member of the king’s personal guard (also known as the Kingsglaive) defending the kingdom of Lucis from incoming invaders from Niflheim. Whether or not you have played a Final Fantasy game in your life, the story in Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is excellent and moving. Can Nyx save the kingdom? The people of Lucis sure hope so.