3 Best Movies to Watch by Douglas McGrath

Staff & contributors

Long before we became accustomed to oxymorons like “scripted reality” shows, there was a time when viewers could expect to trust what they saw on TV. One of the pivotal events shattering that illusion in the US was the 1950s quiz show scandal, in which producers of popular broadcasts like Twenty-One were revealed to be feeding contestants the answers in advance in order to manipulate audience ratings. 

Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is an engrossing chronicle of the investigation that blew the lid on Twenty-One's fixing, revealed when disgruntled champion Herb Stempel became a whistleblower. Stempel (played with nervous brilliance by John Turturro) was pressured to flunk a no-brainer question to make way for golden boy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a ratings-friendly photogenic academic from a prominent WASP-ish family. What’s so sharp about Quiz Show is that it doesn’t just recreate the scandal for drama’s sake: it needles in on the greed and privilege that drove the fraud, paying particular attention to Van Doren’s angle of the morality play, the influence of his class and ethnicity, and the secret hand the show’s studio and sponsor had in the whole affair. In an era when practically anything goes in the name of entertainment, this interrogation of TV’s corrupt origins feels ever-relevant.

Genre: Drama, History, Mystery

Actor: Allan Rich, Anthony Fusco, Barry Levinson, Barry Snider, Ben Shenkman, Bernie Sheredy, Bill Moor, Bruce Altman, Byron Jennings, Calista Flockhart, Carole Shelley, Christopher McDonald, Chuck Adamson, Cornelia Ryan, Dan Wakefield, Dave Wilson, David Paymer, David Stepkin, Debra Monk, Douglas McGrath, Eddie Korbich, Elizabeth Wilson, Ernie Sabella, Ethan Hawke, George Martin, Gina Rice, Grace Phillips, Gretchen Egolf, Griffin Dunne, Hank Azaria, Harriet Sansom Harris, Illeana Douglas, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Nordling, Jerry Grayson, Jerry Griffin, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, John Turturro, Joseph Attanasio, Joseph Blaire, Katherine Borowitz, Kelly Coffield Park, Le Clanché du Rand, Mario Cantone, Martin Scorsese, Mary Shultz, Matt Keeslar, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Mantell, Mira Sorvino, Nicholas Kepros, Paul Guilfoyle, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes, Reno, Richard Council, Richard Seff, Rob Morrow, Robert Caminiti, Scott Lucy, Shawn Batten, Stephen Pearlman, Timothy Britten Parker, Timothy Busfield, Vince O'Brien, Vincent J. Burns, William Fichtner

Director: Robert Redford

By all appearances, Eliza and Louis have a charming marriage. They’re casual and good-humored in the morning and full of passion in the evening. So when Eliza finds a love note addressed to her husband one day, naturally, she freaks out. She enlists the help of her eccentric family and sets off to Manhattan, where they all try to get to the bottom of the affair; what follows is an endearingly awkward adventure around town.

Though the film often meanders both in plot and dialogue, the expert ensemble keeps things compelling with their convincing chemistry and wry, visual humor. Coupled with lush images of ‘90s New York and brilliantly droll writing, The Daytrippers is a joyride of a film, as unassuming as it is enthralling. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family, Mystery

Actor: Adam Davidson, Amy Stiller, Anne Meara, Campbell Scott, Carol Locatell, Douglas McGrath, Hope Davis, Liev Schreiber, Marc Grapey, Marcia Gay Harden, Marcia Haufrecht, Parker Posey, Pat McNamara, Paul Herman, Peter Askin, Stanley Tucci, Stephanie Venditto

Director: Greg Mottola

Rating: R

Happiness is a difficult, disturbing watch. Unlike films that claim to be brave, Happiness actually goes there and shows us just how deep, dark, and perverse our urges can get. But far from being controversial for the sake of it, this fearless film has important things to say about the facade of happiness, the urgency of loneliness, and the futility of feigning ignorance about both. And it does so with an impressively wry humor delivered by a talented cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Dylan Baker. They play their complicated characters so well, they'll have you thinking about the strange ways you can, in fact, relate to them on some level, long after the credits roll. 

This isn't a film you'll want to revisit often, but you will have to see it at least once in a lifetime—if anything, for the kind of painful honesty you’ll rarely find anywhere else.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ann Harada, Anne Bobby, Arthur J. Nascarella, Ben Gazzara, Camryn Manheim, Cynthia Stevenson, Dan Moran, Douglas McGrath, Dylan Baker, Elizabeth Ashley, Gerry Becker, Jane Adams, Jared Harris, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, Jon Lovitz, José Rabelo, Justin Elvin, Lara Flynn Boyle, Louise Lasser, Marla Maples, Matt Malloy, Molly Shannon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Socorro Santiago, Todd Solondz, Wai Ching Ho

Director: Todd Solondz

Rating: NC-17