The 50 Best Movies on HBO Go and HBO Now (July 2017)

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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Go and HBO Now (July 2017)

HBO’s lineup continues to refresh with as many great films continuously added as those that are expiring—including a few on this list, like Hail, Caesar!, Evil Dead 2 and The Color of Money, all gone at the end of July. So, to help make sure you get the most out of your subscription this month, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO in July, ranging from Oscar-buzzed dramas to classic comedies and insightful documentaries, from genre epics of the ‘80s (They Live) and iconic indies from the ‘90s (Rushmore), to more recent and underseen gems like Sully,
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and Loving, which was one of our favorite movies from 2016. No matter your tastes, there’s a great movie waiting for you on HBO GO or HBO Now.

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

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

hard-to-kill-poster.jpg 50. Hard to Kill
Year: 1990
Director: Bruce Malmuth
Apparently 1990 was the year big puffy guys practicing karate won over the hearts of America. A massive box office success, but an equally massive critical failure, Hard To Kill introduced Steven Seagal as an inexplicable Hollywood goldmine. How this came about is perhaps one of cinema’s greatest modern mysteries, because watching Steven Seagal slowly fight bad guys, pretend he’s in a coma, pretend he’s waking from a coma, pretend he’s training through two separate montages, pretend he’s a buff, sexy Lothario through two separate love scenes (two uncomfortably handsy love scenes), and then, in a legitimately disturbing final sequence, wherein Mega Creep Seagal derives sinister pleasure out of hunting down the Senator who murdered his wife, pretends that he is literally hard to kill, a specter of a man haunting evildoers’ dreams. There is absolutely nothing impressive about Steven Seagal as an actor, let alone as a martial artist—there is only weirdness. Relentless, excessive weirdness. And yet—watchability. And the closest we’ll ever get to seeing Seagal without a shirt. And one-liners. So many one-liners. —Dom Sinacola


secret-life-of-bees.jpg 49. 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


the-normal-heart.jpg 48. 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


be-kind-rewind.jpg 47. Be Kind Rewind
Year: 2008
Director: Michel Gondry
When film critics snicker at directors who cut their teeth on music videos, the most convincing counterexample is the ever-inventive Michel Gondry, who uses visual flair not to tickle our lizard brains but to explore our dreams, whether romantic, melancholy or comic. Although filmmaker Gondry is best known for lush, dreamlike visual effects, he’s long indulged a fascination with low-tech effects in his short films, music videos and television commercials. He animated the White Stripes in Lego blocks, and even in The Science of Sleep, he accented the melancholy mood with construction paper and cotton balls. In that light, Be Kind Rewind may be the truest distillation of his fascination, because it hangs everything on an ephemeral love of do-it-yourself video making. The story is beyond ridiculous: Jerry (played by Jack Black at his silliest) lives in a trailer under a power plant. When the plant is struck by lightning he becomes magnetized and thereafter erases videotapes that come near him, which is pretty bad news for the VHS video store where he hangs out. To cover for the disaster of a store full of blank tapes, Jerry and store clerk Mike (Mos Def) hastily recreate popular movies like Ghostbusters with their own ancient video camera. Much to their surprise, the no-budget remakes become neighborhood favorites. But Gondry seems to stumble like a fox from this paper-thin plot into a precious little ode to community that seems both touching and sincere. —Robert Davis


sully-poster.jpg 46. Sully
Year: 2016
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Clint Eastwood’s film is a meticulous recounting of the actions of Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), best known as the pilot who saved the lives of an entire passenger plane on January 15, 2009 when he miraculously landed in the Hudson. An unambiguously heroic story starring one of the most likable movie stars in the world, Sully could easily be viewed as a preemptive career move on Eastwood’s part after the controversies around American Sniper’s biographical whitewashing. Yet, the most radical thing about Sully is its apparent disinterest in presenting this story as a thriller. Beginning with a throttling dream sequence, Sully’s opening belies its intentions. A better encapsulation comes minutes later as Sully corrects an official who calls the incident a “crash.” “It was a forced water landing,” he says assertively in a line of dialogue that would be arrogant coming from any other actor, but feels ingratiating from Hanks. In other words, by mimicking the harmony of the real-life events, this is an anti-disaster film. Sully is foremost about control, harkening back to Howard Hawks films like Only Angels Have Wings in its exploration and admiration of the complexities of duty. Compared to Robert Zemeckis with Flight, Eastwood has no interest in telling a morality play; no missing clues or secret motives emerge in its final act. He lays out everything from the beginning. Part character study, primarily a courtroom drama, Sully is invested in the working gears of professionalism in extraordinary situations. —Michael Snydel


popstar-never-stop-poster.jpg 45. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Year: 2016
Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Is pop stardom fascism? Is the glitzy parade of egocentric personality-worship a distant cousin to dictatorship? Maybe not, but for one moment of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’s 80-minute duration we’re gulled into thinking these questions matter to a madcap, joke-a-second takedown of pop music and its overprivileged stewards: We glimpse the cover of the fictitious album that drives the film’s action by dint of sheer awfulness, and we see its star, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), positioned at its center, his hand held straight and aloft in an unwitting evocation of history’s greatest tyrant. It’s impossible to mistake the reference for anything other than what it is, but the gag is just one in Popstar’s comic artillery. Popstar marks the second time The Lonely Island has spun a feature out of whole cloth together, but it might be the film that they’ve been brewing in their minds since they began. Think of it as the culmination of their love for pop culture excess and slick, bumping production—as much as their love for the willfully absurd and the endlessly stupid, too. —Andy Crump


batman-returns-poster.jpg 44. Batman Returns
Year: 1992
Director: Tim Burton 
There’s still healthy debate as to which of the original Tim Burton Batman films is actually superior, but Batman Returns has plenty of evidence to support it as one of the most entertaining takes on the Caped Crusader, Burton-led or not. Michelle Pfeiffer certainly is responsible for the definitive representation of the Catwoman mythos, although that’s certainly not saying much when the alternatives are the disastrous Halle Berry feature or the disappointing mundanity of Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises. Still, Burton’s casting is so strong all around—a wild-eyed Christopher Walken as the bizarre-looking corporate villain, a more comfortable Michael Keaton who has settled into the Batman role—that everyone here can stand up to the impeccable Danny DeVito, the real star of the film as the hideously makeup’d Penguin. Oswald Cobblepot is a character of significant pathos and audience empathy, alternately shrewd and pathetic, fascinating and revolting in equal measure. Yeah, the movie dives into Bruckheimer-esque absurdity when it revolves around penguin soldiers with missiles strapped to their backs—but you can’t argue that doesn’t jibe with the tone of classic Batman series of the ’60s either. —Jim Vorel


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


forgetting-sarah.jpg 42. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Year: 2008
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Paul Rudd is a national treasure. In the grand scheme of things, he ranks somewhere above Andrew Jackson and below the guy who figured out the exact temperature of vegetable oil you need to make McDonald’s fries so crispy and yet so fluffy at the same time. Andy is also the best character in other iconic comedy Wet Hot American Summer (“My butt itches.”), which holds true to the maxim that Paul Rudd is the best thing about any movie he’s in, including Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the best romantic comedy of its decade. (Okay, Jason Segal’s puppet musical number and his surprise penis are the best things about Forgetting Sarah Marshall—but Paul Rudd is hysterical.) Bests upon bests: Who else can manage to be so good looking, such a talented comic and dramatic actor and still remain utterly un-hateable? In fact, Forgetting Sarah Marshall would be perfect if Jason Segal and Mila Kunis didn’t end up together in the end, and the film was actually about how you can love yourself and be content without romance if you work at it—but that doesn’t happen, so it’s actually about a regular dude finding love with a woman so beautiful she is almost definitely an alien. Still, we should all watch it again. Right now. —Corey Beasley


straight-outta-compton.jpg 41. Straight Outta Compton
Year: 2015
Director: F. Gary Gray
Originally, the idea of Hollywood turning the story of N.W.A.’s culture-shifting influence into a summertime biopic raised red flags. How can an industry with such a massive race gap tell N.W.A.’s history with the integrity and urgency it demands in 2015? How can a business that’s largely curated by whites do proper justice to a seminal rap album designed around critique of systemic injustice against black Americans? The message matters, and in Straight Outta Compton, the message remains surprisingly intact. The film has as many heroes and villains as it does human beings, with Ice Cube (portrayed by his son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) fulfilling the former parts, and Suge Knight (a wild-eyed R. Marcus Taylor) and Jerry Heller (an out-of-his-depth Paul Giamatti) the latter. In the middle, there’s Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), who spends the film fighting for his soul. When the movie revolves around the conception and birth of the album of the same name, it benefits enormously from the reduction in scope. Any time Gray’s principals get together in the same room, they engage with us effortlessly, sharing a relaxed, familiar chemistry with each other. All of them embody their respective roles so well they transcend playing parts and fully slip into their characters’ skins. But for all Straight Outta Compton’s better merits—notably performance and craftsmanship—biopic expectations flatten it into an altogether conventional work. If Gray’s efforts fall prey to genre formalities, at least he’s able to remind us of what N.W.A. accomplished by letting their accomplishments speak for themselves. —Andy Crump


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


my-big-fat-greek-wedding.jpg 38. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Year: 2002
Director: Joel Zwick
The little indie rom-com that could, Joel Zwick’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the surprise hit of 2002 thanks to a hilarious, loving portrayal of Greek-American culture that hadn’t been seen much on the big screen. Nia Vardalos plays Toula Portokalos, who to the consternation of her family, is engaged to a decidedly non-Greek man. The clash of cultures is at the center of this funny, sweet and original film based on Vardalos’ Oscar-nominated screenplay. —Josh Jackson


they-live-poster.jpg 37. They Live
Year: 1988
Director: John Carpenter 
Like most of John Carpenter’s movies, They Live can be read however one pleases—they are, after all, mostly about pleasing you. A sharp commentary on consumerism carved gleefully with a dull knife, or maybe something closer to a concerned embrace of the bourgeois joys inherent in dumb violence, or maybe just a weird-ass sci-fi action movie with a weird-ass leading man: They Live is a joy to watch almost inherently. It’s as if Carpenter’s tapped into some sort of primordially aligned pleasure axis along your spine, giving you the tingles as he balances insight and idiocy throughout his tale about a drifter (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who, with the help of magic sunglasses, discovers that the rich and powerful are just as grotesque as he’d always assumed. Every one of Carpenter’s odd plot choices click into place as if preordained, so that when Piper’s in a completely pointless, six-minute fight scene with Keith David, one can’t help but love that Carpenter’s in on the punchline with all of us, which just happens to be that there is no punchline. The fight scene exists for its own sake—as maybe much of They Live does. Carpenter’s a goddamn genius. —Dom Sinacola


evil-dead-2-poster.jpg 36. Evil Dead II
Year: 1987
Director: Sam Raimi 
On the surface, Evil Dead 2 is essentially a remake of the first, 1981’s Evil Dead: Sam Raimi going back to an idea he clearly enjoyed, six years later with a bigger budget and more experience to “get it right” by upping the ante of the original. But Raimi also offers up some tweaks that fundamentally alter the nature and tone of the first film, changing the recipe from “horror with occasional moments of black comedy” to a more even mix of both that still doesn’t skimp on scares or guts. Bruce Campbell as Ash goes from being almost a passive “final girl” character in the first film to a much more capable, wisecracking hero right from the get-go, a tour-de-force solo performance, which helps make Evil Dead 2 one of the most tightly paced horror films ever. It wastes no time, veering straight into its comic violence within the first 10 minutes and never letting up. It’s a film indicative of the changing attitude toward zombies—at this point in the late ’80s it’s becoming rare that zombies are ever treated as simply “scary.” More and more frequently, they’re incorporated into madcap comedies and action films à la Evil Dead, and this is a trend that continued through the ’90s. —Jim Vorel


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


english-patient.jpg 34. The English Patient
Year: 1996
Director: Anthony Minghella
It wasn’t just Elaine Benes who thought that The English Patient was overrated and boring: Even at the time of its Oscar win, this period romantic epic was being criticized in some quarters for its self-consciously old-school sweep. To which its fans say, “Yeah, so?” A stellar “They don’t make ’em like this anymore” movie, filmmaker Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel starred Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas as the most poignantly star-crossed big-screen lovers since Ilsa walked backed into Rick’s life. Beautifully shot, sensitively acted, romantically overpowering, The English Patient is way, way better than Sack Lunch. —Tim Grierson


ridgemont-high-210.jpg 33. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Year: 1982
Director: Amy Heckerling
Ridgemont is what 1980s high school dreams are made of, and also taught us that history class always goes down better with a slice of pizza. The ultimate disciplinarian, the brilliantly named Mr. Hand runs his history class at Ridgemont High on “his” time. This doesn’t sit well with the perma-stoned Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn, who shows up late, orders pizza and doesn’t understand Hand’s stern demeanor. But not only does hand throw Spicoli out after he’s late and give his pizza out to the rest of the class, he shows up at his house and force-teaches him until he’s made up for all the time Spicoli wasted. And what better way to set the stage for some ’80s teenage hedonism than to lure us in with The Go-Gos blasting as our main characters troll the mall? —Ryan Bort


nice-guys.jpg 32. 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 31. 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 30. The Blues Brothers
Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
For an intensely absurd, farcical comedy, The Blues Brothers is so much more sincere than one would ever expect it to be, both in its adoration of classic blues and R&B and the way it captured a moment in the life of the city of Chicago. Indeed, this John Landis classic lovingly shows off a Chicago that no longer exists in several instances, most notably the Maxwell Street Market, Chicago’s great open-air flea market where one could buy just about anything, legal or illegal, and also gave birth to both Chicago blues and the famed Maxwell Street Polish sausage before the city forcibly moved the market to make room for university housing among other things. It doesn’t try to put a shine on the city, showing both the high-rent (the Richard J. Daley Center) and the low (Elwood’s flophouse, numerous low-income neighborhoods) right alongside one another. This is just one of those films that completely changes the popular conception of a cityscape—if you go to Chicago, you will start picking out things from The Blues Brothers. Trying driving on Lower Wacker Drive without thinking about the Bluesmobile rocketing along and police cars smashing into one another in absurdly spectacular pile-ups. It can’t be done. It might be Chicago’s single most beloved cinematic representation. —Jim Vorel


unbreakable.jpg 29. 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


loving-poster.jpg 28. Loving
Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
How well you like Jeff Nichols’ Loving, his second motion picture on 2016’s release slate, will partially depend on what you look for in courtroom dramas. If you prefer judicial sagas made with potboiling slickness and little else, you’ll probably like Loving less than Nichols likes filming landmark legal proceedings. His film isn’t about the case of Loving v. Virginia as much as its two plaintiffs, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter Loving (Ruth Negga), the married couple at the center of the 1967 civil rights victory over the United States’ anti-miscegenation laws. As an effect of Nichols’ focal point, the movie speaks little to no lawyer jargon and takes place almost entirely outside of the court rather than within. So if you’re sick to death of courtroom dramas that insist on pantomime, and if you think those kinds of stories demand more restraint, then you’ll probably dig on Loving. It so studiously avoids the clichés of its genre that it feels fresh, original, a completely new idea based on a very old, very formulaic one. It’s a disciplined, handsome, unfailingly serious screen reproduction of an important real-life moment in the nation’s ongoing fight for civil rights; it’s hitting theaters at a time when we’re still having cultural arguments about who gets to marry; and it’s directed by one of the critical darlings of contemporary cinema. This is the kind of anti-prestige movie critics yearn for, a product stripped away of non-artistic pretensions and ambitions, leaving only the art. —Andy Crump


going-clear.jpg 27. 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 was 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


brothers-bloom-210.jpg 26. The Brothers Bloom
Year: 2009
Director: Rian Johnson
“He writes his cons the way dead Russians write novels”—this line from The Brothers Bloom not only illustrates the skills of schemer Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), but it also perfectly describes director Rian Johnson’s gift for constructing neo-noir masterpieces that manipulate the emotions of his audiences with enthralling grift. Featuring a cast that can do no wrong, Brothers Bloom stars Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as a pair of fraternal conmen who mark an eccentric heiress—the magnetic Rachel Weisz—for her fortune. After crafting an entire language of hard-boiled vernacular in his jarring debut, Brick, Johnson makes a more approachable film along a syncopated rhythm of saturated camera pans and clever plot beats. But Ruffalo, Brody and Weisz don’t rest on plot twists and double crosses alone; their melancholic and moving characterization dominates the film as much as the sleight-of-hand on the main stage. A near-perfect symphony of intellect and entertainment, The Brothers Bloom forms one the most memorable cinematic families this side of the Tenenbaums. —Sean Edgar


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