8 Best Movies to Watch by Emily Watson

Staff & contributors

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler's hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson's incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adam Sandler, David H. Stevens, Don McManus, Emily Watson, Hazel Mailloux, Jason Andrews, Joji Yoshida, Jonathan Loughran, Karen Kilgariff, Larry Ring, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Nathan Stevens, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rico Bueno, Robert Smigel, Shelley Waggener

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Rating: R

Gosford Park inspired screenwriter Julian Fellowes to create Downton Abbey — but don’t let that association fool you, because this is no quaint, sentimental period drama but a scalding satire of 1930s England class relations (even though Maggie Smith does play a withering dowager countess here, too). Robert Altman, master orchestrator of ensembles, assembled a banquet of performers here, including Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Charles Dance as the well-to-do attendees of a hunting party on a grand estate. Working furiously to meet their every whim is the house’s domestic staff, played by such talents as Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Kelly Macdonald, and Clive Owen.

The murder comes over an hour into the film, which ought to tell you about its real focus (Altman actually called Gosford Park a “who cares whodunnit”). In place of Agatha Christie-style intrigue is brilliant characterization and storytelling. Even at 137 minutes, 30-plus characters mean time is of the essence, but Altman and his actors miraculously find a way to convey a deep sense of each person — especially those downstairs. This tangle of rich lives never gets overwhelming, though, because Gosford Park is expertly paced. It’s nothing less than a joy to sit back and experience the masterful unraveling of its many threads, each more revelatory than the last.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Bates, Bob Balaban, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Dance, Claudie Blakley, Clive Owen, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Emma Buckley, Finty Williams, Frances Low, Frank Thornton, Geraldine Somerville, Gregor Henderson-Begg, Helen Mirren, James Wilby, Jeremy Northam, Jeremy Swift, Joanna Maude, John Atterbury, Kelly Macdonald, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laura Harling, Laurence Fox, Leo Bill, Lucy Cohu, Maggie Smith, Meg Wynn Owen, Michael Gambon, Natalie Danks-Smith, Natasha Wightman, Richard E. Grant, Ron Webster, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Flind, Sophie Thompson, Stephen Fry, Teresa Churcher, Tom Hollander, Trent Ford

Director: Robert Altman

Rating: R

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson, Finlay Welsh, Gavin Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, John Wark, Jonathan Hackett, Katrin Cartlidge, Mikkel Gaup, Phil McCall, Robert Robertson, Roef Ragas, Sandra Voe, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

Comparisons are easy between friends and within peer groups, but the comparison that is most immediate is that between you and your sibling, especially when they wound up more successful than you are. Hilary and Jackie captures that experience between two real-life musical sisters, but the comparison is so much more difficult as Jackie shot to cellist superstardom, even with under the same musical beginnings as her less known sister Hilary. It’s flawed, but it’s deeply personal, diving into their shared anxieties from two different lives, and it’s surprisingly well-rounded, perfectly halved between the sisters’ perspectives led excellently by Rachel Griffiths and Emily Watson. Hilary and Jackie is not comfortable to watch, especially during Jackie’s later years, but it’s a daring portrait of a difficult, but still loving, sibling relationship.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Anthony Smee, Bill Paterson, Carla Mendonça, Celia Imrie, Charles Dance, David Morrissey, David Shimwell, Delia Lindsay, Emily Watson, Grace Chatto, James Frain, Jon Rumney, Keylee Jade Flanders, Kika Mirylees, Linda Spurrier, Maggie McCarthy, Nick Haverson, Nyree Dawn Porter, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Rietti, Rupert Penry-Jones, Vernon Dobtcheff

Director: Anand Tucker

, 2013

When it comes to British period dramas, aristocrats are rarely portrayed as Black until relatively recently, with colorblind casting tending to focus more on acting talent rather than how race would affect and shape a character. That being said, while rarely acknowledged, Black descendants of British aristocracy actually did exist, and one of whom has been depicted in Belle. With the excellent Gugu Mbatha-Raw making her film breakthrough here, Belle reckons with the difficult questions of race and sex in 18th century Britain, contemplating the real woman’s options in a world determined entirely by blood and inheritance, a discussion brushed aside in other period dramas, but one that should be examined. While director Amma Asante does take plenty of liberties in the actual facts, she also excellently balances both the fictional romance and the historical realities Dido Elizabeth Belle had faced, making both parts as compelling and as essential as each other.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Emily Watson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Reid, Sarah Gadon, Tom Wilkinson

Director: Amma Asante

Rating: PG

Testament of Youth isn’t totally unique. Plenty of period dramas, even those that are true to life, have a similar approach of capturing the loveliness of a teenage summer vacation to better juxtapose the ugliness of war and how terrible it is to put young adults through it at a time when they should be exploring their lives. But it’s not terribly made– the film gets better as it goes, Max Richter’s excellent score is captivating, and there’s a certain novelty of watching the fresh faces of some of Britain’s biggest actors, even if their better known works have eclipsed this film. Testament of Youth may not be as devastating as war films like Atonement, but it’s a fairly decent watch, if you’re specifically craving for a period drama you haven’t watched before.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alexandra Roach, Alicia Vikander, Anna Chancellor, Charlotte Hope, Colin Morgan, Daisy Waterstone, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Heather Nicol, Henry Garrett, Jenn Murray, Joanna Scanlan, Jonathan Bailey, Josh Taylor, Kit Harington, Laura Elsworthy, Miranda Richardson, Naomi Everson, Niamh Cusack, Nicholas Farrell, Nicholas Le Prevost, Taron Egerton, Teresa Churcher, Xavier Atkins

Director: James Kent

Rating: PG-13

With a great cast, a relevant story, and a stirring romance, The Boxer is all set to be a great film, but the resulting feature feels like a letdown. Irish director Jim Sheridan has teamed up with English actor Daniel Day Lewis for a feature depicting the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and for the most part, it’s decently made, but the film struggles to balance the romance and the politics of its story, with Day Lewis’ boxing lagging behind. There are plenty of interesting threads here– the right to self-determination, on both the individual and national level, the loss of youth, and the way war makes cities turn on themselves– which are all emotionally carried by the performances, but the structure fails to organize these ideas into a daring and cohesive statement. The Boxer isn’t a terrible watch, but it just feels like it could have delved more deeply into the conflict, or better yet, could have been at least two separate movies.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Cox, Brian Milligan, Britta Smith, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Daniel Day-Lewis, David Hayman, Des Braiden, Don Foley, Eleanor Methven, Emily Watson, Frances Tomelty, Gerard McSorley, Ian McElhinney, Jer O'Leary, Joan Sheehy, John Cowley, John Wall, Ken Stott, Kenneth Cranham, Liam Carney, Lorraine Pilkington, Maria McDermottroe, Mark Mulholland, Mick Tohill, Niall Shanahan, Nye Heron, Paul Ronan, Peter Sheridan, Tom Bell, Tom Maguire, Veronica Duffy, Vinny Murphy

Director: Jim Sheridan

Rating: R