¡Three Amigos! (1986)

Being famous has its perks but at some point the novelty wears off. Still, it’s best to give the people what they want. After all, without fans you’re nobody, which is exactly the position in which three near-broke actors find themselves. Real-life legends are perfectly cast as they bring their natural chemistry and impeccable comedic timing to the roles of former legends of the silver screen, who misunderstood a plea for help from a fan in rural Mexico, who believes they’re the iconic heroes they play in the movies. Desperate for a gig, The Three Amigos arrive in character to a Western-style showdown to face a violent bully, who’s been threatening to take over the tiny village.

Dark River (2017)

Respectfully and effectively capturing the process of healing from childhood trauma is no simple endeavor. This depiction of a sexual abuse survivor is equal parts bitter and sweet and The Moors provide the perfect backdrop for a brooding woman to return to the scene of many painful memories. Her brother is reluctant to surrender control of their late father’s farm, especially to someone he never understood. But their differing approaches– modern clashing with traditional– leaves precious little breathing room; eventually, unexpressed questions and insightful explanations bubble to the surface.

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story (2019)

Contributions from professional talent spanning 5 continents produced a stunning work of art in tribute to the legacy of an Australian who moved his family to India to tend to lepers there. Every effort was made to maintain authenticity, including casting real-life sufferers for a scene shot at an original setting. Regardless of your religious affiliation, this is a genuinely compelling story about humanity, forgiveness, truth, faith, hope and ultimately love filmed with breathtaking cinematography.

The Way Way Back (2013)

No matter how old you are, it can be hard to fit in. That’s why a sleepy vacation town can provide a safe space to explore who you want to be. In fact, the same setting in which adults shed their inhibitions for the summer can allow an awkward teenager to lose his insecurities and feel independent.

Part of growing up is learning life lessons you didn’t want to know, such as how to convince yourself that what you end up with is what you wanted, anyway. No adult likes to admit their disappointment; sometimes it’s easier just to keep going. But at least there will always be a sullen dorky teenager around, who’s eager for encouragement. He won’t judge you for being a loser; to him you’re living the dream.

The Little Stranger (2018)

A fast- fading mansion with seemingly temperamental qualities is as much a character as the moody people that pass through its rooms. Both lend a consistently brooding tone without resorting to typical genre tropes (e.g. explanatory soliloquies or intrusive graphic flashbacks). The few instances of blood are preceded by obvious horror to the characters, who see it before the audience; the lack of shock value in such a familiar element serves to heighten the film’s uneasy tone. Periodic disclosure of important details keeps the story engaging, despite being enigmatic, and by the end manages to deliver a satisfying revelation.

Mortal Engines (2018)

How to describe such a unique fantastical premise…

Entire societies are mobile; each hierarchical city functions within its own feat of engineering (think interlocking collapsable compartments). These giant robotic apparatuses roam the globe vying for power, forcibly assimilating anyone who gets in their way. The plucky young heroes could’ve been in The Maze Runner!

Until now, such an imaginative book series couldn’t have been adapted for the screen. Fortunately, The Peter Jackson specializes in bringing fictional worlds to life via intricately detailed sets and props enhanced by state-of-the-art computer animation.

Swing Kids (1993)

Pit any character against a Nazi and the audience will automatically know who to root for. It’s much harder to show how a reasonable person can become a cold-hearted monster. The zeal with which teenagers approach any popular interest makes them ideal recruits; it only takes a charismatic mentor to offer all the things the War has taken away, which no amount of Big Jazz, Swing dancing, and jive slang could provide. Friendships are strained as loyalties are tested. Could anyone/thing escape the grasp of the Reich?

Incidentally, (and thankfully) no one attempts a fake accent. They all speak American or British English and you don’t even notice.

The Foreigner (2017)

The depth of the story drew me in and made me want to follow the main character further. Too bad this wasn’t a TV pilot! To cast a movie that could so easily have been yet another formulaic action flick was no small feat; actors we’ve seem before were wisely utilized for their specialty while being given enough room to break out of their characatures. Moreover, their experience and professionalism allowed the seamless fusion of cultures to tell a story that’s a genuinely fresh perspective on the balance between Justice and Revenge.

Short Term 12 (2013)

There are few angles of American foster care left to explore so this movie explores them all simultaneously. Each situation is unique and the entire system itself is complex; even a counselor might be trying to leave her own dark past behind.

There are new arrivals and seasoned veterans, new staff members and old pros, procedures to be followed and rules to be broken but ultimately, the reason it exists is because Human beings aren’t always valued. Yet whatever its flaws, there will never be a truly perfect system so long as it needs to exist in the first place.

What makes this movie impressive is its skillful handling of such a delicate subject; the bittersweet story is in more than capable hands, which lend their skills to retain the humanity of the types of people each character represents, especially those we rarely– if ever– see depicted outside of a stereotype. It’s a relief to think we’ve moved past the naive rich White saviors of the 1990s into sympathy for the plight of the mistreated, rather than pity for the tragically pathetic.

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer (2018)

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” –John Adams (‘Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,’ 1770)

This film is not simply based on a true story; there are documents, video footage, court transcripts, etc. from which the filmmakers drew. In fact, one of the leads mistakenly thought actual photos were pictures taken of the movie set. That is not to say it’s gory; on the contrary, the focus is the process of bringing the medical practice of a seemingly professional physician to trial.

“I didn’t help. I’m a reporter; I’m just interested in the truth. If the truth doesn’t match what I believe, I don’t change the truth.” –blogger, Molly Mullaney

While the situation is reenacted by Hollywood professionals, it is real. It is factually accurate. It is historic. May God have mercy on us for our complicity– whether through ignorance or ambivalence– in mass murder.