66 Best Smart Movies to Watch (Page 4)

Staff & contributors

Find the best smart movies to watch, from our mood category. Like everything on agoodmovietowatch, these smart movies are highly-rated by both viewers and critics.

Argentina, 1985 is a legal drama about how a prosecutor and his young team were able to mount evidence—despite all threats and odds—against the officials behind a brutal military dictatorship. The public trial is supposedly the first of its kind in Latin America, a marker of true democracy that made a hero out of Julio Strassera and Moreno Ocampo, who both led the case.

Despite the presence of very serious themes, there are moments of lighthearted humor here that work to stress the film’s underlying message of goodwill and perseverance. Argentina, 1985 competed at major festivals this 2022, and it’s Argentina’s official entry at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Palm Springs, the latter of which also stars Cristin Milioti in a twisty vacation adventure. Milioti of course steals the show as a woman who would rather drown herself in a police-level investigation than deal with her own existential problems, but the show’s strong cast, which includes The Good Place’s William Jackson Harper and Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman solidifies The Resort as one of the most intriguing and exciting shows today. 

Director Wong Kar-Wai made this loose sequel to one of the best films ever made, his 2000 classic In the Mood for Love. Much of the story is set around Christmas eve.

In the far future, people take a train to the world of 2046, where no sadness or sorrow can be experienced. No one has ever returned from that world except for a lonely Japanese writer, who narrates the first part of the film.

There are four acts to the story and as is common to Wong Kar-Wai, they are listed in non-chronological order. Not that you will care but 2046 is far from confusing. Instead, it functions as a dazzling visual poem on unreciprocated love.

Like a Wes Anderson movie, The Last Black Man in San Francisco takes artistic risks and nails every one of them. There are many quirky, aesthetically well-studied, and even funny aspects to this moving story.

Jimmie has been maintaining a typical San Francisco Victorian house, regularly painting the windows and watering the plants. One small problem: other people live there and they don’t want him around. It turns out this was once Jimmie’s family house, having been built by his grandfather in 1948, and he misses it deeply.

This story is based on writer Jimmie Fails’ life, as he tried to reclaim his family home in SF. However, it’s not a movie that limits itself to gentrification. It transcends that to being about the universal yearning to find a place to call home.

Inside Llewyn Davis tells the interesting and captivating story of a young, struggling singer navigating through the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961. The movie conveys all sorts of emotions, thanks to Coen brothers’ stroke of genius: it is strange, funny, dramatic and satisfying at the same time. Not to mention, the ensemble cast is superb, and the music is absolutely great. It is the kind of movie that will put an unfamiliar yet wondrous feeling into you as you live through Llewyn Davis' eyes and feel his pain.

This is a hard movie to describe, but I’ll do my best without giving too much away. The movie takes place in three separate segments that eventually come together. Half of the story takes place in Germany, half in Turkey, with almost all of the central six characters spending time in both countries while either searching for each other or trying to redeem themselves. Daughters search for their mothers (and vice versa) and one character’s actions will eventually bring everything more-or-less full circle. The film is as much about the characters though as it is about the cultural exchange happening between the two countries. If you have even a passing interest in films from this part of the world, I recommend giving this one a try.

Mike Mills has always had an obsession with childhood and parenthood, often honing in on the beautiful, frustrating, and inevitable mess that comes with them. C’mon C’mon is no exception, but here, Mills blurs the lines between the two even more. Sometimes the kid acts more like an adult, and the adult more like a kid; sometimes the uncle acts as a surrogate mother, and the mother (unsurprisingly) takes on the role of an everywoman, attempting to be breadwinner, caretaker, and friend all at once. 

C’mon C’mon has no allegiances; it simply shows us the dynamics between one family and mirrors what we already know about ours. Shot in black and white, grounded in simple conversations, and interwoven with moving essay excerpts and real interviews, C’mon C’mon feels at once personal and universal; a moving feat of a film.

It looks like something you’ve already seen before: a student genius turns a simple high school cheating scheme into a full-blown, high-stakes heist. But layered with great acting, taut writing, and sharp observations about the ways in which education (and society in general) fails its students, Bad Genius turns a familiar premise into something genuinely exciting and impressively affecting. It’s everything you want a caper movie to be: smart and thrilling, with almost no moment to breathe, and of course, peppered with characters you can’t help but root and be nervous and excited for. 

Unlike the many courtroom films of its time, My Cousin Vinny forgoes theatrics and drama for true-blue comedy. It stars Joe Pesci as the titular Vinny, a newly minted New York attorney who's taking on a murder trial in Alabama as his first case, while Marisa Tomei plays Vinny's fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito, in an Oscar-winning turn. The loudmouthed couple are decidedly out of place in Alabama, supplying the film with many comedic gems, but they're also unexpectedly clever. Along with its humor and memorable characters, My Cousin Vinny has come to be known for its legal accuracy and flair.

Jia Zhangke (who NPR critic John Powers once called “perhaps the most important filmmaker working in the world today"), directed this movie based on the story of a gangster he knew while growing up.

And he is far from being the only noticeable talent here. Actress Tao Zhao shines as a character called Qiao, a dancer who infiltrates the crime scene in Northern China by way of her boyfriend (the gangster). When a boss leader is assassinated, Qiao finds herself in jail after she refuses to incriminate her boyfriend. 

This is a gangster movie but it’s also about how Qiao processes her time in jail and what she does once she gets out. It serves more as a character study and a picture of modern-day China.

It’s virtually impossible to capture the complexity of a person’s life in just a few short hours, which is why many biopics are so unsatisfying. François Girard avoids this problem by ditching the usual format altogether, creating a rich tapestry of evocative vignettes that gives us a real sense of who the famous concert pianist actually was. 

The short films never show Gould playing the piano, although we do have one short sequence filmed inside the instrument during a concert, and another eccentric moment of him shot in X-ray while in full flow. These internal moments give us the sense that music was part of his very being. 

Colm Feore delivers a generous performance, playing Gould as a verbose eccentric who is constantly amused by the normal rhythms of human life while being forever detached from it by his genius.

In my own wished-for parallel universe, French actors Vincent Cassell and Emanuelle Devos are voted the sexiest actors alive. I find them both transfixing and appealing in every role they’ve performed, and they are quite the pair here. Devos plays Carla, a put-upon assistant at a property management company. While good at her job, there is little room for her to advance her career, as she is one of the only women at her company and also has a hearing deficiency. Into her humdrum life walks ex-convict Paul (Cassell), who Carla hires as a personal assistant. It turns out that what Paul lacks in secretarial skills he makes up for in other ways. The first half of the film plays almost like a dark workplace comedy, before taking a dangerous turn towards psychological crime thriller. Overall, it’s a dark and sexy character study of two mismatched outsiders who turn out to complement each other perfectly.

It’s very interesting, if not startling, to see an earnest movie made about the white upper class these days. Metropolitan is one such film, and even though it was released in the ’90s, it still stands the test of time precisely because it neither judges nor defends the group of WASPs it follows. It simply shows them in all their elegance and sophistication, as well as their insulation and irony. 

Metropolitan takes place in the upper crust of New York debutante society, during Christmas vacation, where soirees are rampant and afterparties even more so. The young-adult leads who navigate the scene in their expensive clothes and self-important aura recall a Scott Fitzgerald novel, or if you like, Gossip Girl episode. But instead of falling into tragedies, these characters just end up in silly but relatable mishaps and misunderstandings: they’re just kids after all. And as high and mighty as they may seem, whiling away in tall Park Avenue apartments, they’re still prone to the universal pains that haunt and shape teenagers. Expect to see heartbreak, jealousy, and longing even among the brightest and wealthiest of New York.