600 Best Movies to Watch From United States of America (Page 5)

Staff & contributors
Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman, an ambitious young jazz drummer striving for greatness, who is edged towards breaking point by the sadism of his teacher and conductor, Terence Fletcher, played expertly by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher insults him, pressures him, and makes him cry in front of all his peers. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who was one of the youngest people to receive a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for the powerful La La Land, the aptly titled Whiplash poses some intense questions about artistry and ambition. Will Andrew survive? Will it lift him to a higher artistic level? Can his tormentor be appeased through accomplishment? It's almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Cherishing the existential artist without giving easy answers, Whiplash is an inspiring watch.
Written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, this 2003 French film is, in the strictest sense, an animated comedy film. It's the one that introduced Chomet's name to an international audience. Triplets' visual style, however, it is unlike anything you have ever seen. Focusing on ugliness and imperfection, the characters are deliciously exaggerated, while the animation steers clear of the naturalist hyperrealism, cutesiness, or porcelain perfection of other animated movies. That doesn't mean it's not incredibly detailed. Without much of a dialogue, it tells the story of a young orphan boy, who loves to watch the vivacious jazz of the The Triplets of Belleville trio, and grows up to become a Tour de France racer. He gets kidnapped by sinister characters (the French mafia?) and the beloved jazz trio of his childhood and others come to his rescue. While this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is a fiercely original piece of hand-drawn animation and a strange, surreal experience.
Everybody loves a good coming-of-age movie, but they have their trappings. Their youthful characters are often cartoonish, or perfect, or insanely inept. This is where The Spectacular Now achieves something that is indeed spectacular: it feels incredibly real. The film features Miles Teller (from Whiplash) as a charming, but slightly lost, heavily partying high-school senior named Sutter Keely. After waking up on a strange lawn after a long night, he is awoken by Aimee, played by Shailene Woodley, whose performance is as spectacular as the depth of this movie's characters. What starts as a rebound fling for Keely eventually goes deeper and deeper, while his problems become more and more apparent to us, the viewers, to Aimee, and to his caring teacher, played by the incredible Andre Royo, who some of you might recognize as the iconic Bubbles from The Wire. If this premise sounds corny to you, think again, because this film has a deep respect for its characters and the journeys they must take. A sensitive drama with incredibly life-like performances.
Directed and co-written by Craig Johnson (who made The Adolescents with Mark Duplass), The Skeleton Twins is a beautiful piece of drama, dealing with some dark themes. It does so with surprising success, given that the two main actors are seasoned comedians with little to no experience in the genre. And yet, it is precisely the two leads that turn this bleak comedy-drama into a somber, haunting, but beautiful watch. Bill Hader is amazing as the depressed and suicidal gay man, Milo, who is reunited with his estranged twin Maggie (Kristen Wiig) after a series of unfortunate events. Their attempts at repairing their fractured relationship also forces them to confront the trajectory of their own lives, while they rediscover their erstwhile childhood friendship and long-lost camaraderie. Again, don't expect a traditional comedy, but an honest display of the complexities of sibling relationships, mental health, and how conflict, compassion, and understanding fit into it all.
"Sometimes even the wrong train takes you to the right destination". In this thoughtful feature film debut by Ritesh Batra, we follow a lonely Indian housewife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), as she tries to come to terms with a cheating husband, a stale relationship, and a dying father, while seeking love, attention, and appreciation through her cooking. One day, she sends out a special lunch to her husband, but her delivery goes to the wrong address. Spicy food is complemented with a spicy note and thus begins an unlikely and unique romance through the letters she packs in the lunchbox day after day. The man on the receiving end is Saajan, a middle-aged office worker, played by Bollywood star Irrfan Khan. With its delightful characters and beautiful acting, this was a huge success in India, but there is no reason to believe that this bittersweet, Mumbai-based story couldn't be a hit anywhere in the world.
You might have to wipe some sweat from your forehead once you've finished watching this blistering political thriller. It doesn't make any sense to us that this 2006 movie by documentary director Kevin Macdonald made less than 20 million in box office revenue when it came out, but that makes it even more A Good Movie to Watch material. In addition to being thrilling entertainment, it offers insight into an easily overlooked chapter of recent world history and taut moral dilemmas. The dramatization of Giles Foden's novel features two intense performances: James McAvoy plays the sometimes naive (and maybe a bit too enthralled by power) Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, who becomes the personal physician of none other than Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Nicknamed “The Butcher of Uganda”, Amin is played by Academy Award-winning character actor Forest Whitaker, who perfectly captures his mood-swinging, crazy brutality. He also completely nails his Ugandan-English accent. An amazing watch!
Sit back, relax, and wait for the feels. With amazing performances from an ensemble cast, including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Annette Bening, as well as excellent directing; The Kids Are Alright is a highly realistic yet entertaining take on families, growing up as children, and growing as parents. Moore and Bening play a gay LA couple, whose two kids meet their biological father, a goofy, laid-back sperm donor, portrayed perfectly by Ruffalo. Nominated for four Oscars and awarded with two Golden Globes, The Kids Are Alright is an arresting, authentic, and astute indie comedy-drama, and a pleasure to watch. Director Lisa Cholodenko and her talented cast have really created something special here!

Persepolis is the true story of Marjane Satrapi, the writer and illustrator whose graphic novels of the same name the film is adapted from. It details in vivid animation the trials of growing up in war-torn Iran, but also, crucially, the joys of being raised by a loving family and the significance of forming one’s own ideals and identity. In between revolving dictatorships and tightening restrictions, Marjane comes into her own and discovers what it means to live a meaningful life.

It’s a testament to Satrapi’s many talents that Persepolis never feels too flat or cynical given its 2D style and bleak backdrop. The drawings impressively morph with Marjane’s every thought, as if the ink itself were alive, and her wit persistently comes through in sharp observations and dialogues. Equally impressive is the film’s commitment to portraying war and conflict in a nuanced manner. In an autobiographical tale that is about Marjane’s coming of age as much as it is about her country’s survival, it’s never been more true that the personal is political.

The movie opens with a guy called Tarzan, saying in a Russian accent: “I called my friend Michel, and I said can I buy a submarine, a used one?” Apparently, two days later he called him back asking: “With, or without missiles?” This should give you a decent idea of how the protagonists of this Tiller-Russell-directed documentary roll. Operation Odessa is the crazy true story of how the FBI, Pablo Escobar, and the Russian Mafia were played by three criminal outsiders in a $35 million submarine deal. Strictly speaking, it belongs in the true crime documentary genre, but it can also be treated as a real-life black comedy. The protagonists are so audacious, it is hard to believe that most of this story is true. The submarine deal story is only the tip of the iceberg here. Crazy, funny, and just really well done!
If you thought Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar, or True Detective was already the pinnacle of what Mathew McConaughey could do, wait until you see this film! Created by writer-director Jeff Nichols and set in the American South, Mud is a beautiful tale of love, loss, and personal growth. Two children, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), come across the elusive Mud (who is played by McConaughey), a man on the run wanted for murder. Initially scared of his mysterious character, the kids end up wanting to help and protect him from his those pursuing him. Ultimately a story of love, the film deals with a very human crisis seen through the eyes of children, drawing from American adventure tales and the humidity of the South. Mud is exciting, uneasy, sad, and quite beautiful. All at once.
In a stunning and vivid (re-) introduction to the Black intellectual, author, and social critic, James Baldwin, this movie digs very deep into the American subconscious and racial history. It tells the story of America by telling the story of “the negro” in America, based on a book Baldwin started to write, which would have studied the famous assassinations of three of Baldwin's friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote about 30 pages before he passed away in 1987. Haitian director and activist Raoul Peck picked up the project and made it into a movie, earning him an Academy Award nomination. Narrated by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro highlights, at the same time, Baldwin's genius, his unique eloquence, and the beauty of his soul as a human being. It is a sad truth that Baldwin's denouncements feel as relevant today as they did 50 years ago. As such, this movie serves as a sobering reminder of how far America still has to go. A mesmerizing experience!

Led by visionary salesman Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), skilled engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), and punk prodigy Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), Halt and Catch Fire trails the risky dawn of the tech revolution—beginning with the invention of the personal computer in the 80s and winding through the dark corners of the primitive internet in the 90s. 

Its exciting premise is anchored by top-notch performances, but despite having all the makings of a prestige show, it never took off in the same way Mad Men, Silicon Valley, or even Succession did.  

Hailed as "the best show that nobody watched,” critical darling Halt and Catch Fire struggled to secure wide viewership throughout its four-season run. But what it lacked in ratings it certainly made up for in storytelling. The series continued to one-up itself each season as it centered on its characters and their believably bumpy journeys to self-discovery, all while consistently scoring where it mattered most: quality and ingenuity. 

Not only is this multi-award-winning drama seriously star-studded, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf also deliver superb performances. With two Sundance Awards and many other nominations in its pocket, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the eponymous memoir by author, director, and musician, Dito Montiel, who recalls his violent childhood on the mean streets of Queens in the 1980s (LaBeouf plays the young Dito), as he visits his ailing father after 15 years away in Los Angeles (Downey Jr. plays present-day Dito). It is also real-life Dito's directorial debut, recalling the loose, improvisational style of 70s cinema a'la Scorcese. The powerful plot is told through flashbacks and fourth-wall bending monologues, while the eccentric directing style makes for a raw and immediate experience. The energy of this coming-of-age drama is off the charts!