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

Movies Lists hbo
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 50 Best Movies on HBO and HBO Go (March 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. March has a particularly literary theme with the addition films based on books from Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho), John Irving (The Cider House Rules) and Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees). 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 March 2017:

secret-life-of-bees.jpg 50. The Secret Life of Bees
Year: 2008
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
The big-screen adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s bestseller The Secret Life of Bees is commendable not because of what it is, exactly, but what it refuses to be. It is sentimental, but not overly melodramatic. It is sincere, but not necessarily corny. Bees is a fantastical tale that typifies a time of grim realities, filled with strong performances that (mostly) sidestep theatrics and clichés. Dakota Fanning plays Lily Owens, a young girl who flees from her abusive father (Paul Bettany) alongside her housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) in 1964 Civil Rights-era South Carolina. Lily’s pining to be closer to her deceased mother brings her to the doorsteps of the Pepto-Bismol-colored home of the three beekeeping, honey-harvesting Boatwright sisters: August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). For a movie filled with “big” plot developments, the film thrives on its quieter moments, thanks to the acumen of writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Its emotional climax comes from a straightforward scene where Lily and August thumb through a box of her mother’s possessions: a shiny, whale-shaped pin; a brush with strands of hair still caught in its bristles; a black-and-white photograph of mother and daughter in a warm embrace. Fanning’s expressive, sky-blue eyes well up with gratitude, silently communicating more than an audible “thank you” ever could.—Jeremy Medina

place-beyond-the-pines.jpg 49. The Place Beyond the Pines
Year: 2013
Director: Derek Cianfrance
In a bold follow-up to Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance continues his exploration of family ties with The Place Beyond the Pines. In his previous film, Cianfrance tugged on a frayed marriage, cutting back and forth between its idyllic, if not ideal, beginnings and its nasty, brutish end. In his latest, the writer-director turns his lens on the relationships between fathers and sons in a stubbornly linear narrative that examines the concept of legacy in three distinct acts. With no one to play off of during much of the film, Gosling as the outlaw (and new father) Luke is called upon to convey a lot with little. Opposite him, Avery (Bradley Cooper), is an ambitious rookie cop with a law degree and a wife and baby at home. The son of a powerful local judge, he’s attempting to forge his own path but is stymied by corruption and guilt. Cooper’s role is slicker than Gosling’s but no less deep, as his character also experiences complicated reactions to fatherhood. It’s an emotionally intense, 140-minute viewing experience made all the more intimate with close-up camerawork that positions the audience in the characters’ points-of-view. Cianfrance mines male identity and emotion to stunning effect, due in no small part to Gosling’s layered, electric turn.—Annlee Ellingson

the-visit.jpg 48. The Visit
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 47. 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 46. 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 45. 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 44. 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

cider-house-rules.jpg 43. The Cider House Rules
Year: 1999
Director: Lasse Hallström
Lasse Hallström’s Oscar-winning adaptation of John Irving’s novel won Michael Caine his second Academy Award, for his moving portrayal of a WWII-era abortion doctor and de facto father to an orphanage of unwanted children. Tobey Maguire is among his charges, an apprentice who reluctantly discovers, under the stern but caring Caine, he has a gift for medicine—that is, before he meets Charlize Theron and decides to venture out into the world. As coming-of-age journeys go, Cider House Rules is as faithful to the tropes as it is provocative, thanks to a balanced if still hot-button dramatization of the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate—Irving also wrote the Oscar-winning screen adaptation. The drama’s refusal to shy away from the issue, set in an age when coat-hook procedures were the norm, polarized critics and viewers alike. Hallström gently presents both sides via the film’s characterizations, aided by a terrific supporting cast including Paul Rudd, Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu. Still, the film is largely, and lovingly, about a young man finding his way.—Amanda Schurr

crooklyn.jpg 42. Crooklyn
Year: 1994
Director: Spike Lee 
In this Spike Lee joint about growing up in 1970s Brooklyn, Alfre Woodard plays one hell of a matriarch. Her only daughter Troy (Zelda Harris) is really the protagonist, but their close relationship is what ensures the survival of their family. Troy had quite a bit on her plate: In addition to a severe lack of privacy, a brother who struggled with black eyed pea phobia at the dinner table, and everyday drama on her 1970s Brooklyn block, she suffered from some pretty scary nightmares. In one scene (presented in that classic Spike Lee dolly shot) Snuffy the crackhead (played by Lee) and his one-armed buddy Right Hand Man chase Troy through the streets in the middle of the night and force her to get high. Luckily for Troy, in her waking life, she steered clear of brown paper bags and glue.—Paste Staff

youth-210.jpg 41. 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

mash.jpg 40. M*A*S*H
Year: 1970
Director: Robert Altman
Considering that it became the basis of a beloved (and long-running) CBS sitcom, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary the original M*A*S*H film was at the time of its release. Certainly, more than 40 years after it first scandalized moviegoers, this 1970 black comedy about the exploits of a Korean War-era surgical hospital not only stands as one of the most subversive portraits of war ever put to film but also as one of the flat-out, most hilarious movies ever made. Boasting a script consisting almost entirely of improv, a major comedic set piece centered on a suicide attempt and the first utterance of the word “fuck” in a mainstream film, M*A*S*H redefined the American comedy and promptly secured director Robert Altman’s status as the ultimate actor’s director.—Mark Rozeman

mavis.jpg 39. 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 38. 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 37. 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

mystic-river.jpg 36. Mystic River
Year: 2003
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Based on Dennis Lahane’s novel, Clint Eastwood’s dramatic mystery is packed with great performances from Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins and, especially, Sean Penn, who won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for leading actor. The Boston neighborhood where the characters live feels like a small town, where three childhood friends drift apart and find themselves at odds in the wake of a local murder.—Josh Jackson

hail-caesar.jpg 35. 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

cast-away.jpg 34. Cast Away
Year: 2000
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Man’s solo struggle against nature has produced great literature, movies and, yes, even reality TV. The lonely survival genre has produced some really good recent performances, such as Robert Redford in All Is Lost and James Franco in 127 Hours, but it’s hard to top Tom Hanks, bonding with volleyball and dealing with a severe toothache on his uninhabited island. Told over the course of four years, the film sees Chuck Noland transform after a plane crash from pudgy, clean-cut FedEx systems engineer to a lean, resourceful wild man. Hanks has always managed to evoke empathy from an audience, and that’s possibly never more true than here, as his heartbreak over losing Wilson is ours.—Josh Jackson

nice-guys.jpg 33. The Nice Guys
Year: 2016
Director: Shane Black
Good performances can polish average movies with just enough elbow grease they end up looking like gems. Think Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, or Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Every advance that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys takes toward quality is made on the strengths of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Black is as quick with action scenes as with punchlines. The Nice Guys is funny. It’s exciting. If you find yourself growing tired of wordplay, Black will turn things around and slide in some Three Stooges slapstick. If you get tired of that, he’ll set off a gun or throw a few punches, though it is impossible to imagine anybody finding the clownish sight of Gosling tumbling off of balconies or crashing through plate glass tiresome. Gosling and Crowe are a great pair, so great that their team-up should justify funding for a buddy picture series where Holland and Jackson undertake jobs that spiral out of hand and above their pay grades. Crowe plays it straight and grumpy, and you half expect him to declare that he’s too old for this shit at any given moment. Gosling, on the other hand, shapes Holland through boozy tomfoolery and pratfalls. They’re a standout odd couple, but Black’s films are defined by great odd couples as much as they are by great scripting. In The Nice Guys, he leaves it up to Gosling and Crowe to use the former to fill in the gaps left behind by the lack of the latter.—Andy Crump

sixteen-candles.jpg 32. Sixteen Candles
Year: 1984
Director: John Hughes
It’s the movie that made Molly Ringwald a star, and rightfully so: as Samantha, the everywoman whose parents forgot her birthday and whose crush doesn’t know she exists, she appeals to the angsty high-schooler yearning to be seen in all of us. Samantha’s undeniably middle-of-the-road—she’s not popular, but she’s not a geek; her home life is messy, but it’s not dysfunctional—and that gives her mass appeal, so much so that her story’s become sort of a modern fairy tale, the American Dream of teen romantic comedies. —Bonnie Stiernberg

blues-brothers.jpg 31. 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 30. 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 29. 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 28. 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 27. 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

going-clear.jpg 26. 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