10 Best Movies to Watch by Stephen Root

Staff & contributors

To Leslie follows the eponymous Leslie (Andrea Riseborough), a Southern woman who finds herself at the bottom of the barrel after finally using up every penny of her $190k lottery win. Out of work, friends, and family, she drowns herself in alcohol—that is until a kind soul in the form of motel owner Sweeney (Marc Maron) takes her in and gives her a shot.

To Leslie starts off a bit slow, and its premise may seem like it’ll give way to weepiness, but it’s worth sticking by till the end. The film only gets better, especially with the arrival of Maron, whose presence lends the film a much-needed buoyancy. It's also worth noting that unlike many of its kind, To Leslie avoids the poverty porn trap by depicting issues like addiction and indigence with nuance, honesty, and humanity.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alan Trong, Alan Wells, Allison Janney, Andre Royo, Andrea Riseborough, Arabella Grant, Blake Robbins, Brandee Steger, Catfish Jean, Chris Coy, Derek Phillips, Drew Youngblood, Jack O'Connor, James Landry Hébert, Jeanette O'Connor, John Gilbert, Juan Carlos Cantu, Lauren Letherer, Mac Brandt, Maggie Carney, Marc Maron, Matt Lauria, Micah Fitzgerald, Owen Teague, Paula Rhodes, Pramod Kumar, Scott Peat, Scott Subiono, Sewell Whitney, Stephanie Wong, Stephen Root, Tom Virtue

Director: Michael Morris

Rating: R

, 2014

The award-winning third feature by director Ava DuVernay, Selma, was released around the 50th anniversary of the historically significant marches (Selma to Montgomery) that aided the civil rights movement's efforts to assure African-American citizens can exercise their constitutional right to vote, harassment-free. The film has been celebrated not only as an artwork, but also as a historiographically accurate one. While it features the role Martin Luther King Jr. played in the marches, it does not reduce the activists' effort and struggle to make it come to fruition. With her uncompromising directorial approach, DuVernay crafts a thrilling period film that has all the markers of a well-done genre feature, but uses its mechanisms to tell an emotionally potent story about both the peaceful marches and the nation-wide outcry resulting from the violence they were met with.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alessandro Nivola, Andre Holland, Carmen Ejogo, Charity Jordan, Charles Black, Colman Domingo, Common, Corey Reynolds, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Dwyer, David Oyelowo, Dylan Baker, E. Roger Mitchell, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Maness, Harry Belafonte, Haviland Stillwell, Henry G. Sanders, Jeremy Strong, Jim France, Jody Thompson, John Lavelle, Kent Faulcon, Lakeith Stanfield, Ledisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Martin Sheen, Michael Papajohn, Montrel Miller, Niecy Nash, Nigel Thatch, Omar J. Dorsey, Oprah Winfrey, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stan Houston, Stephan James, Stephen Root, Tara Ochs, Tessa Thompson, Tim Roth, Tom Wilkinson, Tony Bennett, Trai Byers, Wendell Pierce

Director: Ava DuVernay

Rating: PG-13

Doris Miller is an unassuming sixty-something office worker whose life takes an unusual turn after her mother passes away. We find out over the course of the film that Doris' life was put on hold early when she had to give up her dreams and ambitions to take care of her mother. Something is awakened in Doris though when she falls head over heels for John, a much younger co-worker, and Doris dives head first into the world of social media, electro-pop, and Brooklyn hipsterdom. Sally Field is an absolute delight here -- her Doris is sweet, lovable, and tragic in equal measures. And the chemistry between her and John is palpable; you can see why they eventually strike up a friendship. In many ways this is a late in life coming-of-age story, and while there are moments of uncomfortable humor, you will find yourself rooting for Doris to come out of her shell and embrace her new life to the fullest.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Abraham Lim, Amy Okuda, Anna Akana, Beth Behrs, Caroline Aaron, Catherine Kresge, Don Stark, Edmund Lupinski, Elizabeth Reaser, Emilie Germain, Eric Pumphrey, Guilherme Scarabelot, Isabella Acres, Jack Antonoff, Kale Clauson, Kate Comer, Kumail Nanjiani, Kyle Mooney, Lee Chen, Max Greenfield, Michael Terra, Natasha Lyonne, Nnamdi Asomugha, Norma Michaels, Peter Gallagher, Rebecca Wisocky, Rich Sommer, Roz Ryan, Sally Field, Sofia Hasmik, Stephen Root, Susan Ziegler, Tyne Daly, Wendi McLendon-Covey

Director: Michael Showalter

Rating: R

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer, Christopher Speed, Cole Doman, Colton Ryan, Hannah Black, Jane McNeill, Judy Greer, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, Michael Banks Repeta, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Steve Zahn, Voltaire Colin Council

Director: Alan Ball

Rating: R

Joel Coen's minimalist vision of the Scottish play emphasizes that these monstrous acts of hubris and violence are carried out not because of madness or magical prophecy, but out of the rational yet selfish decisions made by grown adults. It's a distinctly character-focused interpretation of Shakespeare that should be insightful for students and fans alike, as Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand lend more sedate performances to what have become two of the grandest characters in theater history. The Tragedy of Macbeth weaken the impact of some of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies due to the film's more hurried runtime, but it makes for a great tribute nonetheless. Come for the stunningly lit black-and-white sets, stay for the gleefully creepy performance by Kathryn Hunter as the three witches.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, War

Actor: Alex Hassell, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Thompson, Corey Hawkins, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hutchison, Frances McDormand, Harry Melling, Jacob McCarthy, James Udom, Jefferson Mays, Kathryn Hunter, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Lucas Barker, Matt Helm, Max Baker, Miles Anderson, Moses Ingram, Nancy Daly, Olivia Washington, Peter Janov, Ralph Ineson, Richard Short, Robert Gilbert, Scott Subiono, Sean Patrick Thomas, Stephen Root, Susan James Berger, Wayne T. Carr

Director: Joel Coen

Before “burnout,” “bullshit jobs,” and “quiet quitting” became part of our everyday lexicon, there was a film in the ‘90s that prophesied the rise of these workplace problems. Office Space follows three co-workers who, having had enough of their dreary low-paying jobs, fight back against their company via an embezzlement scheme. 

Office Space makes the most out of its indie budget as it mostly takes place in the cramped quarters of a company, effectively bottling us into the cubicled windowless world of the characters. But the real beauty of the film is in the details, from its quick zingers and thoughtful takes on the essence of work down to its elaborate “planning to plan” scheme in the background and the employees’ forced politeness singing happy birthday to their boss. Modern viewers will notice that Office Space sits right in between the dystopian thriller Severance and the beloved sitcom The Office—a dark comedy that highlights the necessity of humanity in everyday work. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ajay Naidu, Alexandra Wentworth, Ali Wentworth, Barbara George-Reiss, Charissa Allen, David Herman, Diedrich Bader, Gabriel Folse, Gary Cole, Greg Pitts, Jack Betts, Jackie Belvin, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Jane Emerson, Jesse De Luna, Joe Bays, John C. McGinley, Kinna McInroe, Kyle Scott Jackson, Michael McShane, Mike Judge, Orlando Jones, Paul Willson, Richard Riehle, Ron Livingston, Rupert Reyes, Spencer Kayden, Stephen Root, Todd Duffey, Tom Schuster

Director: Mike Judge

Rating: R

An uplifting and inspiring movie with Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. Jones stars as Supreme Court Justice Associate Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this biopic centered around her hallmark case against sex-based discrimination. While it doesn't feel like it truly conveys the power of Ginsburg's story, her determination, or all the odds that were stacked against her, it serves as a mellowed-down preview of her remarkable story. Watch this if you're in need of a good dose of inspiration.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Amanda MacDonald, Angela Galuppo, Armie Hammer, Arthur Holden, Ben Carlson, Cailee Spaeny, Callum Shoniker, Chris Mulkey, Dawn Ford, Felicity Jones, Francis X. McCarthy, Gabrielle Graham, Gary Werntz, Holly Gauthier-Frankel, Jack Reynor, Jeff Lillico, Joe Cobden, Justin Theroux, Karl Graboshas, Kathy Bates, Michael Dickson, Ronald Guttman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sam Waterston, Stephen Root, Wendy Crewson

Director: Mimi Leder

Rating: PG-13

, 2023

Set in the quaint city of Burlington, Vermont, Paint is a cute and folksy comedy that has a Wes Anderson-esque charm to it. The characters are dressed in blocked pastels and wooly sweaters, while the protagonist Carl seems stuck in the ‘70s, and not just sartorially, too. He drives a “Vantastic” custom van, swears off cell phones, and manages to incorporate phrases like “far out” in his daily lingo. It all makes for whimsical viewing, but underneath the flair, there’s very little substance holding this picture up. It tells the tale of an aging narcissist who learns the error of his ways when a younger version of himself is hired to aid and eventually replace him. Narratively, it’s familiar and forgettable, and it becomes immediately clear that style is a crutch that the film leans on. It’s funny, at times, thanks to a very likable Wilson and a strong supporting cast (there are occasional laugh-out-loud moments too, like when Carl does the big reveal about his portrait). But ultimately, it’s just too flat to be as special as the art it admires. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aidan T.K. Baker, Ciara Renée, Colin J. Sweeney, Crystal Tweed, Denny Dillon, Elizabeth Loyacano, Evander Duck Jr., Jen Smedley, Joel Leffert, Kristin Hensley, Lusia Strus, Michael Pemberton, Michaela Watkins, Owen Wilson, Rob Figueroa, Ryan Czerwonko, Ryan Gaul, Sarah Baker, Scott Beehner, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey

Director: Brit McAdams