The 100 Best Movies on Hulu (2017)

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spinal-tap.jpg 50. This Is Spinal Tap
Year: 1984
Director: Rob Reiner
The only rock documentary worth watching, according to Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl—next to Pennebaker’s Dont Look BackThis Is Spinal Tap isn’t really a documentary at all, though it aspires to so much more truth than any countless, beatific biopic that’s come out in the past couple decades or so. The story of a fictional metal/cock rock band told through talking head interviews that chronicle their iconic ups and downs, Spinal Tap is our best, early glimpse at the team who’d go on to make Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. While it isn’t the first of its kind, it feels like it could be: So deeply does it understand the world it parodies, Spinal Tap knows that a mockumentary is best a biopic of people who never existed, taking the personalities that define this starfucking realm and then, ever so slightly, ever so lovingly, cranking them to 11.—Dom Sinacola


sneakers.jpg 49. Sneakers
Year: 1992
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
A barely post-Cold War conspiracy propels this first-rate heist movie, elevated by a superior ensemble that includes Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn, Ben Kingsley, James Earl Jones and River Phoenix. Redford’s Marty Bishop leads a crack team of blacklisted hackers-turned-U.S. government-enlisted spooks as they attempt to swipe “the” code-breaking device from Soviet baddies. The technology looks charmingly antiquated and the caper cliches are plentiful, but no matter. There’s not a wasted moment, or actor, here—given the talent assembled, that’s a triumph: Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn and River Phoenix toss droll one-liners like a game of catch, while Ben Kingsley and Eddie Jones keep the underlying drama taut. At its heart is a pitch-perfect Robert Redford, whose unforced rapport with Sidney Poitier showcases two masters at their prime. Utterly smart, sophisticated mischief.—Amanda Schurr


ronin.jpg
48. Ronin
Year: 1998
Directors: John Frankenheimer
Ronin boasts two impressive feats: some pretty memorable car chase scenes and the first known example of figure-skating sniper murder in film. Now that’s ice cold…hold your applause, please. Robert De Niro in a spy film is almost a fool-proof cinematic recipe; add the fact that the screenplay is pretty competent and the explosions explode pretty well, and Ronin quickly becomes a beloved example of espionage.—Darren Orf

exit-through-the-gift-shop.jpg 47. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Year: 2010
Director: Banksy 
When renowned graffiti artist Banksy took the camera away from Thierry Guetta, the man shooting his biopic, and decided that the subject would become the documentarian (and the documentarian, the subject), an incomparably zany (and very, very funny) documentary was born. Against all odds, Mr. Brainwash, as Guetta christens himself, puts on the largest and most profitable street art exhibition in history. The film never quite takes a side on the Warholian question of whether Guetta/Mr. Brainwash is actually a legitimate artist or has merely convinced enough people that he is—or whether those are one and the same, or whether it even matters. But the most compelling theme of the film is its cinematic exploration of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: That a phenomenon cannot be observed or measured without simultaneously changing it. Guetta never puts spray can to wood until he’s being documented by Banksy. Does that mean Banksy made him what he is? Destroyed, in some sense, what he was? And is that good or bad, or neither? Banksy’s not saying.—Michael Dunaway


monster.jpg 46. Monster
Year: 2004
Director: Patty Jenkins
If you haven’t watched the difficult but terrific Monster, it would be easy to dismiss Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning performance as a gimmick: pretty actress made to look plain or ugly. We’ve seen that many times, on screens big and small, and we’re usually left wondering why the producers just didn’t get a non-starlet to play the role. But even though Theron’s physical transformation takes the ruse to a new level—it is thorough enough to render the actress unrecognizable and often indistinguishable from the real person she plays—her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos goes well beyond make-up tricks. It’s all encompassing. Theron is completely submerged in her character. Every glance, every hand gesture and every physical tick seem to be those of Wuronos. There’s not a single moment in the film in which the actress peaks out from behind those eyes. Charlize Theron captured something essential and magical (if very disturbing) in a performance that ranks as one of the best of cinematic history.—Tim Regan-Porter


mission-impossible.jpg 45. Mission: Impossible
Year: 1996
Directors: Brian De Palma
Yup—stop for a minute and contemplate that the first M:I film was directed by Brian De Palma. A guy known more for art house thrillers and anti-heroes helms the first in a possible franchise starring an A-list actor (before Hollywood was only interested in franchises), not to mention the first film Cruise ever produced, a risk in and of itself. And yet, it all worked: Mission: Impossible is a plot-heavy, intelligent, patient action film, establishing a cypher of an action star who would go on to perfectly serve every single director to come. By now, it’s expected that with every new film in the franchise, Tom Cruise will step up his stuntman game, and every new director will be given the chance to interpret Ethan Hunt as he (or she, we can only hope) sees fit. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise asserts himself as perhaps the world’s most prominent asexual action hero, but 20 years ago no one had any idea what kind of conceptual framework he was putting into place. Mission: Impossible was a new breed of blockbuster action film, and the franchise’s longevity is clear evidence that, no matter what’s happened since, Tom Cruise is a guy whose risks seem to always pay off.—Dom Sinacola


44.InTheLoop.NetflixList.jpg 44. In the Loop
Year: 2009
Director: Armando Iannucci
If clever verbal humor were easy, we’d have more comedies like In the Loop. But it’s not, and this one stands in a class of its own. It’s the most quotable film of the decade—by miles—and the cynical potty mouths on screen are so articulate and creative that, after the avalanche of witticisms, you’re left with the lingering sense that you’ve seen not just a funny movie but also a wicked political satire of the highest order, the kind where the absurdity speaks for itself.—Robert Davis


tombstone.jpg 43. Tombstone
Year: 1993
Director: George P. Costmatos
Tombstone immediately gains the “Sam Elliot bump,” whereby a film with Sam Elliot appearing in it just got that much better, but it’s really Val Kilmer that makes Tombstone perhaps the best (and most purely entertaining) Western of the ’90s outside perhaps Unforgiven. As the sickly gunfighter Doc Holliday, he got the best role of his entire career, radiating both supreme confidence and extreme vulnerability in every scene, stealing the show from Kurt Russell. His final confrontation with Johnny Ringo is a great character study of two alpha males; a true “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” situation. One of the best popcorn entertainment Westerns of all time.—Jim Vorel


7a.jpg 42. Anomalisa
Year: 2015
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Preciousness and misanthropy have always been the twin hallmarks of Charlie Kaufman’s work, his characters’ misery heightened and sometimes enlivened by the writer-director’s ability to craft clever sci-fi/fantastical scenarios around them. In Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (which won him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar) or his 2008 directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, he has managed to make everyday loneliness and the gnawing sense of futility resonate with an almost ineffable sting. In Kaufman’s hands, life looks heartbreaking, and yet it can often be beautiful at the same time. It’s hard to know yet whether Anomalisa is a new peak for Kaufman, or merely another highlight in a distinguished career. But what is clear at this point is that it’s piercingly poignant—perhaps his most succinct expression of the malaise that’s forever haunting his work. Anomalisa doesn’t resolve the issues that have eaten at his characters since his first published screenplay, 1999’s Being John Malkovich, but the honesty with which he depicts those struggles remain startling, even comforting. This movie is life-affirming, not because of any artificial feel-good sentiment, but because it mirrors one’s own mixed feelings about the wonders and horrors of being alive. Plus, it’s really funny.—Tim Grierson


chocolat.jpg 41. Chocolat
Year: 2000
Director: Lasse Hallström
A year before Amelie, another lovely, quirky French character with an impish streak made us swoon. Juliette Binoche plays a single mother opening up a chocolate shop in a tiny French village. Binoche is at her most charming in a delightful and fantastical romantic comedy of the sort that doesn’t get made anymore. Nomadic chocolatier Vianne causes a scandalous stir in the conservative village when she opens her shop during lent, making an enemy of the village mayor (Alfred Molina). Things only escalate when she befriends a band of “river rats” led by Roux (Johnny Depp, making the other half of the audience swoon). Both Binoche and Judy Dench as Vianne’s landlady and confidante earned their Oscar nominations for this 20th-century fable about embracing life with vigor.—Josh Jackson


pretty-in-pink.jpg 40. Pretty in Pink
Year: 1986
Director: John Hughes
Let’s ignore the fact that she ends up with the wrong guy in the end (Team Duckie for life!) and examine what makes Pretty in Pink’s Andie so impossibly cool: She works in a record store and has killer taste in music. Her outfits are daring and incredible. She brushes off insults from evil richie-rich Steff (James Spader) like they ain’t no thang. She supports her deadbeat dad and essentially serves as head of their household. But most importantly, she’s the picture of courage, staying true to herself the whole way through and never changing to please Blane and his wealthy friends—and if there’s any single movie character teen girls should be modeling themselves after as they attempt to swim the treacherous waters of high school without drowning, she’s the one.—Bonnie Stiernberg


heathers.jpg 39. Heathers
Year: 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
As much an homage to ’80s teen romps—care of stalwarts like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe—as it is an attempt to push that genre to its near tasteless extremes, Heathers is a hilarious glimpse into the festering core of the teenage id, all sunglasses and cigarettes and jail bait and misunderstood kitsch. Like any coming-of-age teen soap opera, much of the film’s appeal is in its vaunting of style over substance—coining whole ways of speaking, dressing and posturing for an impressionable generation brought up on Hollywood tropes—but Heathers embraces its style as an essential keystone to filmmaking, recognizing that even the most bloated melodrama can be sold through a well-manicured image. And some of Heathers’ images are indelible: J.D. (Christian Slater) whipping out a gun on some school bullies in the lunch room, or Veronica (Winona Ryder) passively lighting her cigarette with the flames licking from the explosion of her former boyfriend. It makes sense that writer Daniel Waters originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his script: Heathers is a filmmaker’s (teen) film.—Dom Sinacola


mulan.jpg 38. Mulan
Year: 1998
Director: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
It seems like all of Eddie Murphy’s best comedic performances since Coming to America are animated. His little dragon Mushu is a sharp source of humor in this otherwise touching retelling of a Chinese folktale—a wonderful move by Disney to give its target market a strong heroine, whose bravery and sense of duty and honor is admirable. Gorgeously animated with rich, saturated colors, the 2-D film is populated by three-dimensional characters. And in a story about honor, the studio brings just the right Eastern touches to pay due respect to China’s history.—Josh Jackson


oj-made-america.jpg 37. O.J.: Made in America
Director: Ezra Edelman
This installment in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series is its most ambitious, transcending superficial descriptions such as “entertaining” to get at something deeper, richer, truer. But if you’re conversant with the structure of earlier 30 for 30s, it’s also pleasingly familiar. O.J.: Made in America clocks in at seven-and-three-quarter hours, but it breezes by. The film encapsulates 30 for 30 at its best: It’s endlessly riveting, smartly packaged and exceedingly intelligent. And most important of all, the nearly eight-hour O.J. makes a pretty convincing case to non-sports fans why the rest of us invest so much emotional energy into the exploits of men playing children’s games. Sports are never just sports—they’re an extension of the race and class issues we experience on a daily basis. O.J. Simpson symbolized something powerful in our collective unconscious. And as this movie demonstrates, his fall from grace was partly ours.—Tim Grierson


interstellar.jpg 36. Interstellar
Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan 
Whether he’s making superhero movies or blockbuster puzzle boxes, Christopher Nolan doesn’t usually bandy with emotion. But Interstellar is a nearly three-hour ode to the interconnecting power of love. It’s also his personal attempt at doing in 2014 what Stanley Kubrick did in 1968 with 2001: A Space Odyssey, less of an ode or homage than a challenge to Kubrick’s highly polarizing contribution to cinematic canon. Interstellar wants to uplift us with its visceral strengths, weaving a myth about the great American spirit of invention gone dormant. It’s an ambitious paean to ambition itself. The film begins in a not-too-distant future, where drought, blight and dust storms have battered the world down into a regressively agrarian society. Textbooks cite the Apollo missions as hoaxes, and children are groomed to be farmers rather than engineers. This is a world where hope is dead, where spaceships sit on shelves collecting dust, and which former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) bristles against. He’s long resigned to his fate but still despondent over mankind’s failure to think beyond its galactic borders. But then Cooper falls in with a troop of underground NASA scientists, led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who plan on sending a small team through a wormhole to explore three potentially habitable planets and ostensibly secure the human race’s continued survival. But the film succeeds more as a visual tour of the cosmos than as an actual story. The rah-rah optimism of the film’s pro-NASA stance is stirring, and on some level that tribute to human endeavor keeps the entire yarn afloat. But no amount of scientific positivism can offset the weight of poetic repetition and platitudes about love.—Andy Crump


top-five.jpg 35. Top Five
Year: 2014
Director: Chris Rock 
The chief thing to know about the film is that it’s hilarious, as a comedy made by Rock should be. Almost as important is that it’s heartfelt. Rock uses the opportunity to reflect on his own personal and professional travails; he leans on his biting wit, offering few pleasantries in Allen’s quest for respectability. Top Five has tender times, but the film’s sentiment usually gives way to rawer moments involving, among other things, Brown’s relationship with her boyfriend (Anders Holm), Allen’s misgivings about getting hitched, the family he left behind for Hollywood and, yes, those rare occasions that unintentionally mimic the current events on our televisions today.—Andy Crump

diamonds-are-forever-210.jpg 34. Diamonds Are Forever
Year: 1971
Director: Guy Hamilton
The seventh James Bond movie returns 007’s nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the master of all the villains and the man behind the evil SPECTRE corporation. He was the rich, powerful evil genius who would change his appearance in each film, and his voice in the case of Diamonds are Forever. The best part of the voice changer, which Blofield uses to imitate Willard Whyte, is how Q gives him a dose of his own medicine, building one on the fly with ease, saying he’d made one for “the kids last Christmas.” And the queen of Bond themes, Shirley Bassey, again delivers the drama a Bond song requires. Diamonds may be forever, but so is this iconic theme.—Paste Staff


the-last-crusade.jpg 33. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Directed by:   Steven Spielberg  
After the mindfreak that was Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom left a bad taste in audiences’ mouths (creating the PG-13 rating in the process), Steven Spielberg and his collaborators went back to the drawing board, crafting a film that would retain the simpler tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like a rehash of that Oscar-nominated adventure. After filing through several different pitches and drafts (Spielberg even admitted at one point he felt he was “too old” for some of the stories), Spielberg and producer/writer George Lucas settled on a story about the search for The Holy Grail. Spielberg’s stroke of genius, however, was not only his decision to incorporate Indiana’s Jones estranged father into the plotline but to cast Sean Connery to fill the role. The dramatic dynamic between father and son lends the film an emotional heft that is noticeably absent from the more lightweight Raiders. In this way, one could perhaps even hold up Last Crusade as the superior story (emphasis on “perhaps”). Plus, as an added bonus, the film offers a prologue featuring the late, great River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones.—Mark Rozeman


71.jpg 32. ’71
Year: 2015
Director: Yann Demange
’71 is a claustrophobic experience, as gray and imposing as the film’s muted color palette. Set largely in Belfast during the midst of one of the most violent periods of the Northern Ireland Conflict, the feature directorial debut of Yann Demange doesn’t floor us with fresh insights about war or man’s inhumanity to man. No, ’71 is far too intimately focused on its besieged protagonist for anything so sweeping. How can one worry about poetry when not getting killed is the higher priority? In such a crucible, soldiers are, as one person says in ’71, merely meat, but there’s no teary-eyed revelation in the fact—like everything here, it’s presented as blunt truth.—Tim Grierson


the-piano.jpg 31. The Piano
Year: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Without ever saying a word, Holly Hunter still has one of the great performances of the early ‘90s. The Piano also introduced the rest of the world to New Zealand’s Jane Campion, creator of Top of the Lake, and to actress Anna Paquin (True Blood). Set in 1850s New Zealand, the film tells of a mute, young mother trapped in arranged marriage and the farmworker (Harvey Keitel) who falls for her.—Josh Jackson


stand-by-me.jpg 30. Stand By Me
Year: 1986
Director: Rob Reiner
Stephen King has referred to Stand By Me as one of the best-adapted films from his source material, which is curious, given that the blend of humor, coming-of-age drama and nostalgia hits only some of the horror author’s signature themes. It’s such a sincere film and story, though, one that really captures some of the mythological aspects of childhood—the way the junkyard dog’s fearsome reputation can’t possibly stand up to the reality, for instance. It’s a film about the healing aspect of friendship and how it differs after the loss of innocence. Gordie Lachance’s group of friends are the kinds of pals one has as a child—they come from very different worlds, but haven’t yet learned that they’re not supposed to hang out together. Would that real-life friendships could persist and reflect these ones more often.—Jim Vorel


shakespeare-in-love.jpg 29. Shakespeare in Love
Year: 1998
Director: John Madden
Another film whose reputation has suffered somewhat since its initial reception, largely in this case as a result of an ill-considered Oscar and Gweneth Paltrow’s ill-considered management of her public persona since then. No one is more annoyed with latter-day Goop than me, but even I can admit that Shakespeare in Love gets a bad rap. It’s delightful, especially for those with any experience in the theater whatsoever (the theater world itself is the romantic interest of the film, every bit as much as Gweneth’s Viola de Lesseps). And, it’s now safe to say out loud – Ben Affleck is fantastically charming in this film. If you haven’t seen it in awhile, you’ll be surprised at how much more you like it than you remembered.—Michael Dunaway


rogue-nation.jpg 28. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Thrilling and suspenseful, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation balances a glitzy, glamorous aesthetic with brash action, a frenetic pace and sheer excitement. The latest in the Tom Cruise-starring franchise sets its hooks quickly and hurtles you forward. The continually escalating mayhem propels the film past any of the otherwise glaring plot holes, and the action is chaotic enough to gloss over how ludicrous the plot actually is once you stop and think about what’s happening—which is of relatively little consequence. Almost ten years into the M:I franchise, this installment is a welcome addition to the expert action-filmmaking canon.—Brent McKnight


stories-we-tell.jpg 27. Stories We Tell
Year: 2013
Director: Sarah Polley
With Stories We Tell, actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has proven herself a consummate filmmaker, transforming an incredible personal story into a playful and profound investigation into the nature of storytelling itself. The central mystery of her documentary—that the man she grew up believing to be her dad is not her biological father—is public knowledge and revealed in the film’s trailer. Yet Polley conceals and reveals information—starting with her relationships to her interview subjects—in such a way as to constantly surprise, even shock, her audience. The result is a film that entertains and delights viewers while elevating her investigation to art.—Annlee Ellingson


hoosiers.jpg 26. Hoosiers
Year: 1986
Director: David Anspaugh
The ultimate tribute to Indiana basketball is also a few other things: a morality play, a history, an honest reckoning of the pros and cons of small-town life. If you don’t get emotional while watching the pastoral opening credits, you’ve never lived there—and you’ve never lived.—Nick Marino


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