The 50 Best Movies on HBO and HBO Go (January 2017)

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The 50 Best Movies on HBO and HBO Go (January 2017)

HBO’s movie lineup continues to refresh with as many great films getting added as those that are expiring. We’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO, ranging from Oscar-buzzed dramas to classic comedies and insightful documentaries. No matter your tastes, there’s a great movie waiting for you on HBO or HBO Now.

You can also check out our guides to the best movies on other platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and The Best Movies in Theaters. Visit the Paste Movie Guides for all our recommendations.

Here are the 50 best movies on HBO in January 2017:

the-visit.jpg 50. The Visit
Available: Jan. 13
Year: 2015
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
The Visit, Shyamalan’s latest, may in some ways be the entertaining return to form those audience members were waiting for, although it comes in an unexpected and fairly misleading package. Marketed as a straight horror film in an attempt to play on whatever Sixth Sense fondness still remains in the American public, the film is really more of a horror comedy, and a surprisingly able one. At its heart, this movie captures a new side of M. Night Shyamalan—an older, wiser, more playful, less somber, and thankfully more humble director who seems to have tamped down his urge to spew pseudo-profundities long enough to make a movie that is, for the most part, amusingly silly. Our characters are 15-year-old Rebecca and 13-year-old Tyler, siblings who have been shipped away by Mom to spend a week with the grandparents they’ve never met before. Thanks to Mom’s painful falling out with her parents 15 years prior, the grandkids’ visit represents a chance for the family to possibly be healed. Sensing this opportunity, budding filmmaker Rebecca decides to create a documentary out of the experience, which gives us all the flimsy reasoning we need to make a found-footage feature. All is far from well, however, as grandparents John and Doris grow increasingly unstable, bizarre and potentially violent. And that’s really all you need to know of the plot. As the two kids, Olivia De Jonge and Ed Oxenbould are the two most likable presences in an M. Night Shyamalan movie in years. This is the least serious film M. Night Shyamalan has ever turned in, lacking his usual deathly seriousness and pretension, and it’s much better for it.—Jim Vorel

danish-girl-210.jpg 49. The Danish Girl
Year: 2015
Director: Tom Hooper
Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name, Tom Hooper’s latest concerns the real-life ordeal of landscape artist Einar Wegener (Redmayne), who in 1920s Copenhagen finds his universe irrevocably upended when his portrait-painter wife Gerda (Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander) asks him to stand in for one of her female subjects. A gentle, soft-spoken man who, it’s later revealed, was the one asked out by (and first kissed by) Gerda—a subtle nod to his embrace of a more traditionally “feminine” role—Einar gets an immediate rush from the feel of women’s stockings on his legs, and of the hem of a dress on his fingertips. It’s a small, seemingly off-hand incident treated for laughs by Gerda and her friend Oola (Amber Heard), but it’s anything but trivial to Einar, who’s soon wearing negligees beneath his suits, and embracing a female persona he dubs “Lilly.” As a couple caught between two worlds, and forced to co-exist in a space that’s incompatible with traditional marriage and frowned-upon by mainstream society, Redmayne and Vikander are equally compelling, treating their characters’ arduous attempts to transform themselves—and, also, to reconfigure their ideas about each other, and the future—with graceful precision. In the less overtly showy role, Vikander in particular proves magnetic, beautifully expressing Gerda’s difficult task of losing her husband and altering her entire worldview, all while remaining true to a person that she did, and still does, love. Unfortunately, The Danish Girl doesn’t give her enough unexpected or pointed material with which to work, the result being that she comes across like the film itself: a pretty, kindhearted, awards-baiting facsimile of a tumultuous real life.—Nick Schager


aviator.jpg 48. The Aviator
Year: 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese 
With Howard Hughes’ larger than life personality and those action-packed scenes of him flying (and crashing) planes, it’s hard not to first think of the famous businessman and aviator as a sort of superhero: a man capable of almost any feat, of withstanding any sort of struggle. But a movie that only captures that side of Hughes’ life would be an incomplete one. A hollow one. What makes The Aviator one of the greatest biopics of all time is that it shows Hughes’ vulnerabilities as well, most notably of which was his battle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hughes at his lowest, during Hughes’ anxiety-ridden spirals is far more compelling and suspenseful than the Beverly Hills plane crash scene itself.—Anita George


Batman.jpeg 47. Batman
Year: 1989
Director: Tim Burton 
Christopher Nolan might have perfected Batman on-screen with his Dark Knight Trilogy, but Burton first introduced a darker side of Bruce Wayne in 1989 with Batman. The film sees an over-the-top Joker in Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton doing justice to the role of Dark Knight. It’s got action, a compelling story and plenty of comic relief with Nicholson—not bad for a first swing at the darker side of Batman.—Tyler Kane


amazing-grace.jpg 46. Amazing Grace
Year: 2007
Director: Michael Apted
William Wilberforce is hardly a household name in the U.S. But the 18th century British member of Parliament led the fight against slavery in England. The film poignantly captures Wilberforce’s life of struggle—with relationships, illness, personal doubts and national unease—against a backdrop of political opposition. He’s a champion of the oppressed; a natural fit for actor Ioan Gruffudd. Wilberforce constantly entertained vagrants and wild animals as houseguests, stuffed books in his pockets, and harbored a complete inability to fire anyone. Despite his helter-skelter personal life, Wilberforce maintained a single-minded commitment to the abolishment of slavery. His dedication was motivated by his conversion to Christianity, a fact that the filmmakers neither mask nor overemphasize. With Amazing Grace, Wilberforce is ultimately a maverick reformer whom filmgoers won’t easily forget.—Alissa Wilkinson


youth-210.jpg 45. Youth
Year: 2015
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
The impermanence of life, the fragility of love, the persistence of desire: These are the issues that swirl around a Swiss spa and its luxuriating inhabitants in Youth, Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to his 2013 Oscar-winner The Great Beauty. Like that acclaimed predecessor, Sorrentino’s latest is awash in tuxedo blacks and golden hues while people lounging about outdoor seating areas conversing on issues both big and small. At the center of its wide-ranging portrait is a Tony Servillo-like grey fox, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), a conductor who never managed to live up to his own Stravinsky-level ambitions, but whose renowned “Simple Songs” compositions attracted a worldwide following. Youth segues between its various points of interest with a light, melodious touch, so that transitions occur as if in tune with the inner fluctuations of its character’s hearts. Evocatively shot by Luca Bigazzi with an eye for sumptuous widescreen dynamics, Sorrentino’s film loses some of its steam during its second half but recovers its potent melancholic spirit during a final concert performance that expresses the material’s overarching mood of disappointment, hopeless resignation and insatiable hunger for just a little bit more.—Nick Schager


mavis.jpg 44. Mavis!
Year: 2016
Director: Jessica Edwards
Mavis! celebrates the remarkable career of Mavis Staples, one that started when the woodsy-throated Chicagoan was only 16, backed on guitar by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and belting out the religious standard “Uncloudy Day.” Just as Greg Kot’s biography avoided the temptation to focus on scandal fodder, Jessica Edwards’ movie avoids the easy path of relying on celebrities to deliver on-camera testimonials about how terrific Mavis is. The filmmaker trusted that the audience could figure that out from the plentiful performance clips, so she only used talking-head interviews if the subjects had worked directly with Mavis and could advance the narrative. The result is one of the best music documentaries of this decade. The film includes the scene of Mavis receiving her first Grammy Award in 2011; she looked up overhead and said, “It’s all because of you, Pop, that I am here. You built the foundation, and I’m still working on the building.” The picture ends with Mavis and her recent producer Jeff Tweedy fleshing out Pops’ final recordings, which he left unfinished when he died in 2000.—Geoffrey Himes


the-green-mile.jpg 43. The Green Mile
Year: 1999
Director: Frank Darabont
John Coffey is a hulking, deep-voiced man who was wrongfully convicted of the murder and rape of two girls. But while Coffey was intimidating in size and build, Michael Clarke Duncan had no trouble shining an enviable understanding of the physical world across the silver screen in his lengthy conversations with Tom Hanks’ character, Paul Edgecomb. For Coffey, prison wasn’t necessarily a place that held him back. The concrete walls and iron bars instead blocked out all the hurt and evil going on outside for this tragic, Christ-like figure.—Tyler Kane


the-normal-heart.jpg 42. The Normal Heart
Year: 2014
Director: Ryan Murphy 
Among HBO’s most prestigious—and star-studded—recent efforts is this 2014 adaptation of Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 stage play about the earliest, darkest days of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City. It’s also among the most necessary. Kramer adapted the teleplay, directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), which casts a brilliant Mark Ruffalo as Kramer’s onscreen alter ego, a gay writer who consults with a local doctor (Julia Roberts) about this mysterious, fatal new “cancer” that’s devastating the community and his inner circle of friends (portrayed by Jonathan Groff, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, all excellent). Just as devastating is the ignorance and inhumanity shrouding what was then viewed as a death sentence and, worse, a deserved retribution. Some 35 years after the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit critical mass, and in light of a generational complacency accompanying new medical breakthroughs like PrEP, The Normal Heart is a timely reminder of the physical, emotional and psychological ravages of the disease. Murphy and co. revisit a not-too-far-away era of fear, in which the basic function of breathing the same air—let alone holding someone’s hand—was a gesture of dangerous courage, and compassion. Though it obviously plays much differently four decades vs. four years after Kramer’s original play, the relevance is undeniable, as is his still-coursing anger at the systemic and individual indifference to those affected. Murphy dials down his own flourishes for a harrowing document that needs to be seen.—Amanda Schurr


hail-caesar.jpg 41. Hail, Caesar!
Year: 2016
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
The period zaniness of Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest is an ode to old Hollywood—and much more—as only they can do, tracing the efforts of James Brolin’s studio scandal fixer through a parade of 1950s soundstages, back lots and actors. His latest potential headline concerns the abduction of a Biblically epic movie star—George Clooney having a helluva good time doing his best Chuck Heston/Kirk Douglas amalgam—by what turns out to be a tea sandwich-serving think-tank of communists. Other subplots have Scarlett Johansson’s starlet plotting out her unwed motherhood in the public eye and the screen makeover of an unsophisticated cowboy by Ralph Fiennes’ debonairly enunciating director, Laurence Laurentz. There are dueling gossip columnist twins (Tilda Swinton pulling double duty), a hapless film editor (Frances McDormand) and scattered movies-within-the-movie, which even pauses midway through for a thoroughly enchanting—and cheeky—Gene Kelly-styled song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum as a heavily made-up matinee star with controversial extracurricular activities. Most of the main characters/performances take blatant inspiration from Hollywood legends of yore, and the cast seems to have as much fun as the Coens. Hail, Caesar! is by no means their best work, but it’s characteristically gorgeous, spiritedly acted and rife with political, religious and creative (sub)text for moviegoers as thoughtful and dorky as Joel and Ethan themselves. —Amanda Schurr


blues-brothers.jpg 40. The Blues Brothers
Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
They don’t call him “Joliet Jake” for nothing: when we first meet John Belushi’s character in The Blues Brothers, he’s being released from Joliet Prison and picked up in an old cop car by his brother Elwood, who promptly informs him of his plans to get the band back together. A mission from God, one of the best chase scenes in movie history, and a final performance of “Jailhouse Rock”—with a little help from James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and Ray Charles—makes this one of our favorite fictional bands of all time.—Bonnie Stiernberg


unbreakable.jpg 39. Unbreakable
Year: 2000
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Unbreakable is probably Shyamalan’s best overall script, and I can’t help but think that’s linked to the fact that for once, the story isn’t completely tied to his typical themes of faith or his own personal experience. Rather, it’s more like a genre meditation, and the thing he’s considering is “the superhero film.” It’s ultimately a drama, and a good one, if somewhat morose. It never gets the chance to fully explore the ideas of what Bruce Willis’ character is capable of, but the way it handles the slow realization of his “powers” is both unsettling and mesmerizing, as is the casting of Sam L. Jackson. It’s a type of pseudo-superhero film that no one had ever made before, which earned Shyamalan points for having originality on his side—what would you do if you’d essentially drifted through your whole life, unaware of the depths of your potential? That’s the question Unbreakable asked, and it’s probably the only other “objectively good” film besides The Sixth Sense in the director’s filmography.—Jim Vorel


brooklyn.jpg 38. Brooklyn
Year: 2015
Director: John Crowley
The U.S. is an immigrant nation, built by foreigners who left their homes to land upon her shores and share in the wealth of opportunity. That’s the myth of America, anyways—but held under harsh light, it starts to wither. Maybe all we need is a reminder of how much richer we are for our history of receiving outsiders and honoring them as we would honor our neighbors. And if so, let that reminder be John Crowley’s Brooklyn. The film is based on the book of the same name by Colm Toíbín, an Irish writer whose prose suggests a man who’s missing an appointment. Crowley, in contrast, prefers to take his time, but by using both Toíbín’s novel and Nick Hornby’s screenplay as his blueprint, he can’t help but be guided by purpose. Eilis is from a small town in Ireland, where work is either scarce or miserable. Her older sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), has made arrangements for Eilis to go abroad and relocate to Brooklyn. Brooklyn wraps itself both around the wonders of exploring Eilis’s new world and the separation anxiety she feels for her old. Everything that’s so commonplace to her fellow Americans is completely alien to her. Brooklyn sees the good and the bad, the light and the dark, in immigrant experiences. Crowley doesn’t whet Brooklyn to give it an edge. It’s soft and gentle. But beneath the surface of the film’s polished poise there is more forceful subtext about the rich, myriad threads of America’s cultural tapestry. Eilis’s tale is just one of many like it, each as integral to its foundation as the last. Brooklyn is a tender romance and a gorgeous picture to behold, but more than that, it’s a document of struggle—and a celebration of American life.—Andy Crump


deadpool.jpg 37. Deadpool
Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Years in the making, Deadpool has long presented a marketing conundrum for the studio. It’s a superhero movie set in the family-friendly-ish X-Men universe, starring a foul-mouthed, ruthless and self-referential antihero. Get it wrong, and Deadpool could be a spectacular failure, but get it right and it could begin a whole new chapter for superhero movies. They got it right, at least as far as the studio is concerned. The film introduces its title character with a wedgie, as he and a car full of bloody corpses fly through the air above a New York highway. From there the movie jumps in and out of flashback to tell how Wade Wilson (Reynolds) met love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and got turned into a disfigured mutant by Ed Skrein’s sneering Ajax, putting the Merc With a Mouth on a super-powered collision course with his maker. Per the Deadpool comics, the movie is, atypically for superhero cinema, gory, profane and loaded with sex jokes. Our superhero often breaks the fourth wall, stopping occasionally to chat to the audience or “cue the music.” Reynolds, after years spent searching for a franchise to call his own, has finally struck gold. A motormouth frequently hired to play characters both charming and irritating, he’s perfectly cast as Wade Wilson, but props must ultimately go to screenwriters Paul Whernick and Rhett Reese for successfully bringing the Looney Tunes anarchy of the Deadpool comic to life. Loud, scrappy and intentionally provocative, if it were a regular R-rated comedy, Deadpool’s “taboo” ingredients—sex montages, f-bombs, TJ Miller riffing obscenely, so much flagrant murder—wouldn’t be considered boundary-breaking at all. But in a superhero movie, this stuff feels revolutionary.—Brogan Morris


a-serious-man.jpg 36. A Serious Man
Year: 2009
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Working with few recognizable stars, the Coens have made a funny but odd and inquisitive film about guilt. It’s also their most Jewish film to date, a film about physics professor Larry Gopnik and the Jewish subculture of a medium-sized late-’60s American town. Larry’s life begins to fall apart when his wife says she wants a divorce, and in the great unraveling that follows, the Coens have made Kafka’s implications explicit. The K word is often slapped onto any old symbolic nightmare, but Kafka’s own work was actually very funny, even though he could slip into gray areas without much warning. The Coens can, too. A Serious Man is one of the most fascinating, maybe even heartfelt, renderings of a Kafkaesque sensibility that I’ve seen.—Robert Davis


spy.jpg 35. Spy
Year: 2015
Director: Paul Feig 
Rose Byrne’s comedic talent has always been criminally under-appreciated, as evidenced by Melissa McCarthy’s much broader Bridesmaids performance garnering an Oscar nomination while Byrne’s complex, nuanced, hilarious turn as Helen. This woman can do no wrong, which is proven even more thoroughly by her performance in Paul Feig’s Spy. As Rayna Boyanov, an international fugitive with a mouth like a sailor and a penchant for feeding men poison until their throats dissolve, Byrne’s villainess is the perfect counterpoint for Melissa McCarthy’s titular hero. Spy marks Melissa McCarthy’s third effort with director Paul Feig, following Bridesmaids and The Heat, and the two keep their streak a winning one: Spy manages to be funny, thrilling and empowering all at once. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a skilled CIA analyst who finds herself spending her days behind a desk rather than out on missions. It’s a violent action-comedy that never once is able to take itself too seriously, and yet has a lot of serious commentary to lace throughout all of its whimsy about just how powerful any woman can be when given the same resources and consideration as any other male. Spy’s surprise may not be that Susan turns out to be an unassuming hero, but that she is matter of factly a deserved one, the only thing standing between her and unmitigated success being yet another upstanding performance by Byrne.—Andy Herren


wall-street.jpg 34. Wall Street
Year: 1987
Director: Oliver Stone 
Like many fine actors before and after him, Douglas will be remembered for taking home an Oscar for a role that’s probably not his best work. Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko may be too showy, too much of a representation of 1980s greed to be a flesh-and-blood person. (And on a nit-picky level, he’s not even the lead character: That’s Charlie Sheen’s impressionable Bud Fox.) But it’s the kind of strapping, swaggering bit of gusto that Douglas could execute with that slightly oily charm of his. If his other performances from the time suggested that such strutting men had weaknesses, Gekko threw cold water on our hopes: Even when the character finally gets his comeuppance, there was a sense that he remained master of the universe. It’s an iconic performance that unfortunately still feels all too relevant.—Tim Grierson


ghost-world.jpg 33. Ghost World
Year: 1987
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of Daniel Clowes graphic novel focuses on Enid and Rebecca, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, respectively, as they navigate post-high school existence in suburbia. When Enid meets Seymour, portrayed by a great Steve Buscemi, she finds a kindred soul in a town she feels out of place in. The movie stays relatively true to its source material, while providing a depth and intelligence not often associated with either comic book adaptations or teen comedy/dramas at the time.


going-clear.jpg 32. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Year: 2015
Director: Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney’s up-close examination of Scientology, its practices and the controversies that surround the religion founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard is also a stirring portrait of eight former adherents, who tell their stories of how they came to practice Scientology and their reasons for leaving the church. While much of the ideological content in Gibney’s film has circulated on the Internet for years, there were still a number of items to be learned from watching the film and hearing from the men who made it. While Going Clear is part exposé and part condemnation of a controversial religion, director Gibney has said that he was most interested in “the journey of the key characters in the film … and how people got lost in the ‘prison of belief.’”—Christine N. Ziemba


project-nim.jpg 31. Project Nim
Year: 2011
Director: James Marsh
In Man on Wire, director James Marsh recounted French tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s exploits, most notably his unauthorized 1974 walk between the Twin Towers that held most of the city of New York breathless for an entire morning. In Project Nim, a team of researchers (only one year earlier, in 1973) sets out to accomplish an even more audacious and thrilling goal—to teach a chimpanzee human sign language and initiate meaningful dialogue. Technically the film is flawless. But the really compelling angle for the film is the very idea of inter-species communication.—Michael Dunaway


11-best-so-far-2015-Cobain-Montage-of-Heck.jpg 30. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Year: 2015
Director: Brett Morgan
Despite its limitations, the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is an honorable attempt to restore the gunk, anger and volume to Nirvana’s legacy—and to Cobain’s as well. Dead at 27—the same age when Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison died—the songwriter-guitarist is remembered as a talented, troubled stalwart, but The Kid Stays in the Picture director Brett Morgen wants us to look closer at Cobain, and what Montage of Heck reveals isn’t all that pretty. A junkie, a pain in the ass, an inveterate malcontent: This is the Cobain we see in Morgen’s documentary. Yet, by emphasizing the messy, ugly humanness of his subject, Morgen manages to make him heroic and tragic, too. Though Montage of Heck is undoubtedly geared to fans, it gives fans reason to be grateful for this guy and this band all over again. (Read the full review here.) —Tim Grierson


independence-day.jpg 29. Independence Day
Year: 1996
Director: Roland Emmerich
Independence Day is basically a compilation of the best explosions ever. Treasured monuments and government buildings get decimated, and then the alien mother ship follows suit. This movie is a pyrotechnician’s dream, which makes the title that much more fitting. Starring Will Smith as the earth’s savior, the film also gave us one of the better Jeff Goldblum characters, an MIT-graduate character discovers the countdown to a possible alien attack hidden in satellite transmissions. The brain to Will Smith’s brawn, Goldblum played an unlikely hero protecting the world from an impending alien invasion, among an all-star cast including Mary McDonnell who would later go on to lead a team against an invasion of another kind, the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica and the President Bill Pullman.—Staff


minority-report.jpg 28. Minority Report
Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg 
The entire point of Minority Report is to reinforce the idea of free will being necessary and malleable, which makes this short story/film’s recent revival on TV as a police procedural all the more ridiculous—but I digress. The injustice of “pre-crime” is of course the fact that the government is targeting and arresting people for crimes they haven’t yet committed, or in some cases haven’t even yet conceived. It’s a question of “fairness,” and of predestination—if you reveal someone’s crimes beforehand, is it also possible to change their outcome and future actions? Regardless, it’s an interesting exercise in the extent of the law meddling with free will. It also has some of the scariest robotic creatures in film. One of the best set pieces in the film centers on police-issue spider drones being released into the apartment building where incapacitated fugitive John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is recovering from a black market eye transplant. Should the spiders end up scanning his retinas, he will be permanently blinded. In the grand tradition of Spielberg characters narrowly escaping detection from dangerous creatures, audiences are left chewing their collective fingernails as the creatures move closer and closer towards our hero. In a film filled with nightmarish future tech, the spider robots are probably the ones most likely to actively give you nightmares. Jim Vorel and Mark Rozeman


spider-man.jpg 27. Spider-Man
Year: 2002
Director: Sam Raimi 
Yes, it was bested by its sequel and then ruined by the third chapter. But the 2002 film captured the transformation of the shy, awkward Peter Parker into a web-spinning superhero with aplomb. With a cast that includes Willem Defoe, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco, it’s Tobey Maguire’s time to shine as the titular superhero. Sam Raimi did right by long-time fans of the comic, while still helping usher in the era of the Superhero Movie, attracting a broad swath of moviegoers.—Josh Jackson


spider-man-2.jpg 26. Spider-Man 2
Year: 2004
Director: Sam Raimi 
While the original Spider-Man was an excellent origin story, its sequel jumped right into the action, fully fleshing out its characters and creating a troubled and sympathetic villain. Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man made a dual character that was as interesting in the costume as he was out of it. Unfortunately, that momentum didn’t carry through the final chapter of the trilogy.—Ross Bonaime


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