3 Best Movies to Watch by Philip Baker Hall

Staff & contributors

, 2011

It might seem like a no-brainer that trying to make a comedy movie featuring a character with cancer is not a great idea. And while there may be a good share of failed attempts in that category, 50/50 is not one of them. And then it might come as a surprise that this subtle attempt at cancer comedy comes courtesy of Superbad creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. It also stars indie cutie Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the young and fit Adam Lerner, who works as a writer for public radio before learning that he has malignant tumors all along his spine. Between his overbearing mum (Anjelica Huston), slightly obnoxious but good-hearted bestie (Seth Rogen), self-help groups, and his therapist (played by Anna Kendrick), he struggles to find a way of acquiescing to his 50/50 chance of survival. Similarly, 50/50 strikes a delicate balance between the bromance gags, the date-movie elements, and the grave subject matter at its heart. It manages to mine humor, pathos, and simple honesty from a dark situation, and is not afraid to “go there”. The result is truly compassionate comedy.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amitai Marmorstein, Andrea Brooks, Andrew Airlie, Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick, Beatrice King, Brent Sheppard, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chilton Crane, Christopher De-Schuster, D.C. Douglas, Daniel Bacon, Donna Yamamoto, Jason Vaisvila, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Jonathan Levine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Laura Bertram, Lauren Miller, Luisa D'Oliveira, Marie Avgeropoulos, Matt Frewer, Matty Finochio, P. Lynn Johnson, Peter Kelamis, Philip Baker Hall, Sarah Smyth, Serge Houde, Seth Rogen, Stephanie Belding, Stephen Colbert, Sugar Lyn Beard, Tom MacNeill, Veena Sood, Will Reiser, William 'Big Sleeps' Stewart, Yee Jee Tso

Director: Jonathan Levine

Rating: R

The '80s saw an influx of coming-of-age dramas, with John Hughes’ “Brat Pack” films reigning supreme. For better or worse, their most iconic scenes are embedded in pop culture, like students dancing in detention in The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles’ belated birthday cake. Perhaps the most iconic '80s movie moment comes not from Hughes, but from Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…: Lloyd Dobler (John Cusak) in a trenchcoat, blue Malibu parked behind him, boombox raised over his head in defiant loyalty.

On their last day of high school, Lloyd Dobler resolves to ask out the class valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye). Their summer-long relationship is awkward, intense, tender—and familiar to anyone who has ever opened themselves up to falling in love. Say Anything… emotionally outclasses its contemporaries, as Crowe’s writing lends itself to two authentic characters fleshed out beyond caricatures. And as Lloyd crushes hard on Diane, it’s hard not to feel like you’re falling in love with each of them, too.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Brooks, Bebe Neuwirth, Bill Stevenson, Chynna Phillips, Dan Castellaneta, Don Wilson, Eric Stoltz, Glenn Walker Harris Jr., Gloria Cromwell, Gregory Sporleder, Ione Skye, Jason Gould, Jeremy Piven, Jerry Ziesmer, Joan Cusack, Joanna Frank, John Cusack, John Mahoney, Johnny Green, Jonathan Chapin, Judy Prescott, Kim Walker, Lili Taylor, Lisanne Falk, Lois Chiles, Loren Dean, Montrose Hagins, Pamela Adlon, Philip Baker Hall, Polly Platt, Richard Portnow, Stephen Shortridge, Stone Gossard

Director: Cameron Crowe

Already featuring some of the desperation and melancholy that would go on to characterize most of his work, Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight manages to draw palpable suspense and drama out of, essentially, three characters and a couple of seedy locations. We learn perhaps too little about these characters and why this veteran gambler is drawn to a young homeless man, but there's also something intriguing about how Anderson suggests much larger and much crueler stories going on just out of sight. It truly feels like these people are just trying to hold on to the smallest things that ease their pain—which works because of incredibly compelling work from Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, and a young Gwyneth Paltrow already at the top of her game.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: F. William Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Gross, Robert Ridgely, Samuel L. Jackson, Wendy Weidman

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson