Best Movies by Farr: John Sayles’ Best

August 3, 2009 | John Farr

If you enjoyed Lone Star, you might also enjoy these great John Sayles’ films:

Matewan (1987)



United Mine Workers union rep Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper) has his hands full organizing a cohesive group in the small West Virginia town of Matewan, as they comprise white, black, and Italian factions unaccustomed to interacting outside the pit. But when the Stone Mountain Coal Company-which owns the stores and homes of its workers-announces a lowering of wages, Joe’s message to the Appalachian miners is simple: there is strength in numbers. As the strike begins to spread, the iron-fisted owning interest gears up for a violent, full-fledged showdown.


One of the best films of the 1980s, John Sayles’s evocative “Matewan” takes us back to the 1920s, and the primitive, perilous lives of coal miners in West Virginia. Flavorful, meticulous recreation of time and place is enhanced by powerful performances, particularly from Cooper and a majestic James Earl Jones playing a miner called “Few Clothes” Johnson. With legendary lenser Haskell Wexler providing sumptuous visuals, and a cathartic climax involving the bloody, historic shootout that put Matewan on the map, this may well be Sayles’s finest hour.

Eight Men Out (1988)


Re-creation of one of baseball’s darkest moments: the fixing of the 1919 World Series where members of the Chicago White Sox were bribed by gambling interests to throw games.


Writer/Director Sayles creates rich period flavor, and his script does full justice to this tragic story. His cast of rising young actors are uniformly strong, including John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn and D.B Sweeney.

The Secret Of Roan Inish (1994)


After her mother dies, plucky young Fiona (Jeni Courtney) goes to live with her grandparents. They dwell right across from their prior island home, Roan Inish, which the family abandoned a few years earlier, when, at high-tide, Fiona’s baby brother Jamie drifted out to sea in his wooden cradle. Soon Fiona is hearing tales about “selkies”–seals that turn into humans–and rumors that the island is still occupied. Could little Jamie still be alive?


Set on the West Coast of Ireland in the late 1940s, John Sayles’s splendid “Secret” tracks one youngster’s attempt to uncover a mystery that sheds light on her family’s history and the fate of her little brother. This intimate, deliberately paced fable casts its spell gradually, but leaves you feeling snug and satisfied. The film benefits from lush cinematography by Haskell Wexler, and first-rate turns from Courtney as Fiona and Mick Lally as kindly grandfather Hugh. If you love the water and believe in magic, watch this small gem of a movie.

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