The Guys (2002)

Based on a stage play written in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, The Guys is a small, intimate meditation on ‘ grief and loss built around an encounter between a New York fire captain named Nick (Anthony LaPaglia) and a writer named Joan (Sigourney Weaver), who meet to discuss the eulogies Nick has been called on to deliver for a number of his fallen brothers. Some may find the film difficult to watch, either because of its painful subject matter or because of its stark, conversational format. But those who aren't put off by its austerity will find it more than capable of rewarding them.

At one point Joan speaks of trying to bargain with God but wonders, “How can you cut deals with God under these conditions?” She knows what she would want to bargain for: “I want them back, all of them. That's the only thing I'll settle for.”

Yet she realizes she has “nothing to bring to the table.” The Guys doesn't go beyond these observations to deeper issues of faith, trust and redemption, yet it does take false options off the table.

Realizing that neither “cutting deals” with God nor “settling for” horror is a viable possibility can be a first step toward faith — or at least away from superstition and despair.

Content advisory: A few crass expressions; reflections on death and grief.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

A haunting, harrowing war movie, an emotionally devastating character study and an extraordinarily restrained work of animé or Japanese animation, Grave of the Fireflies is a unique and unforgettable masterpiece.

Set in a Japanese coastal village during the waning days of World War II, the simple story follows a young teen-aged boy named Seita and his kid sister Setsuko as they try to survive the air raids and napalm firestorms that have become routine. The film depicts the horror of wartime bombing of civilian targets but avoids portraying its characters as idealized victims.

From the outset we know that both Seita and Setsuko will die; in the film's lone nonrealistic conceit, the opening scene shows their spirits reunited outside a train station and riding a train to the next world, and the rest of the story is seen in flashback from Seita's point of view. Despite this inevitability, the film draws the viewer into the children's story, evoking the experiences of childhood grief, small moments of ordinary life and happiness amid tragedy and fear, and the overwhelming confusion of adult responsibilities in desperate circumstances falling on teen-aged shoulders as powerfully as any film I've seen.

Content advisory: Images of wartime menace, suffering and death; some immoral behavior including telling comforting lies to a child and looting; undefined, allegorical spirituality. Teens and up.

The Big Sleep (1946)

The dialogue is hard-boiled and crackles with wit, the plot is fast-paced and nearly impenetrable and Humphrey Bogart ‘ is coolly unflappable in Howard Hawkes' stylish noir classic The Big Sleep, based on the Raymond Chandler novel. Bogart plays Chandler hero Philip Marlowe, a tough gumshoe who admits that he's not very tall (” I try to be” ) and says he likes his brandy “in a glass.”

The case begins with Marlowe hired by an elderly, well-to-do widower who is being blackmailed over the wayward behavior of the younger of his two lovely daughters. The elder, more responsible daughter (Lauren Bacall in her second film with Bogey, after To Have and Have Not) is clearly trying to protect her sister and father, and isn't sure whether Marlowe is part of the problem or part of the solution.

The labyrinthine plot contains so many shady characters, twists, double-crosses and shootings that even with a score card it's almost impossible to keep straight. But The Big Sleep is less about plot than about style, atmosphere, classic repartee — and Bogey and Bacall's onscreen chemistry.

Note that the film exists in an earlier, even more muddled form as well as the official 1946 edition, which clarifies some of the first version's obscurities.

Content advisory: Menace, gunplay and brief stylized violence; innuendo; oblique depiction of illicit drug use and other sordid goings-on.