The 30 Best Movies On Demand (2017)

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The 30 Best Movies On Demand (2017)

The competition for on-demand movies has grown in recent years beyond cable companies like Time-Warner, Charter, Cox Fios and Xfinity to online video-on-demand companies like FandangoNow and internet giants Amazon, Apple and Google. We searched through the offerings of all of the above to bring you the Best Movies On Demand, though no one service offers them all. We limited it to new VOD movies available to rent for less than $10 (not buy).

Many of the cable companies have branded their Movies on Demand service, so Time-Warner and Charter customers will be looking for Spectrum, Comcast on-demand is branded Xfinity, Verizon goes by Fios and AT&T calls its program U-verse. The selections are up to date as of March 14, 2017, but cable providers change their film on demand offerings regularly.

You can also check out our guides to the best movies on Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu, iTunes, Showtime, Cinemax, in theaters and Redbox.

Here are the 30 Best Movies on Demand:

christine.jpg 30. Christine
Available On: Amazon, Cox, FandangoNow
Year: 2016
Directors: Antonio Campos
Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness.—Tim Grierson


julieta.jpg 29. Julieta
Available On: Cox
Year: 2016
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Rebounding from the disastrous I’m So Excited, writer-director Pedro Almodóvar is relatively subdued by his boisterous standards with Julieta, an absorbing melodrama that could almost be called All About Your Mother. The tale of a matriarch trying to explain to her long-lost daughter how she was conceived and why a chasm grew between them, Julieta weaves together sex, intrigue and regret with typical Almodóvar-ian flair. But there’s also a gentleness to the proceedings that’s especially tender. It’s a minor work from a major filmmaker that’s properly scaled in its modest heartbreak and insights. As the story begins, middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suárez) is preparing to leave Madrid for Portugal so she can be with her new boyfriend Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti), happy to start a new life. But while finishing up packing her place, she encounters Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), who was best friends with her daughter Antía when they were girls. Julieta is the story of why mother and daughter stopped speaking, and it’s told through a long letter that Julieta writes to Antía in a journal. Based on three interconnected short stories from Alice Munro’s 2004 collection Runaway, Julieta doesn’t have much new to say about intergenerational tensions and how tragedies can reroute lives. But as Julieta narrates her life, in which a happy marriage gives way to unrest, Almodóvar begins to examine the very exercise of telling one’s own story.—Tim Grierson


hokusai.jpg 28. Miss Hokusai
Available On: DirecTV, Microsoft, Spectrum
Year: 2016
Director: Keiichi Hara
Keiichi Hara’s follow-up to his 2013 breakthrough Colorful is a fantastical period piece situated around one of the most prolific artists in Japanese history. Set in 1814 in the city of Edo, Miss Hokusai is the story of O-Ei Katsushika, a talented Ukiyo-e painter whose talents and accomplishments are otherwise dwarfed in the shadow of her father, the legendary Ukiyo-e master Hokusai. Hara’s film follows O-Ei’s struggle to come into her own as an artist while wrestling with the resentment she feels towards her father, whose itinerant and emotionally absent lifestyle have caused him to neglect O-Nao, Hokusai’s blind and sickly daughter. A far cry from the sci-fi action and fantasy plots that typify most impressions of anime, Miss Hokusai is a beautifully animated coming-of-age story filled with uncanny visual references to Hokusai’s most famous compositions and a memorable score by Harumi Fuuki and Yo Tsuji. A cinematic portrait of the artist as a young woman growing to know herself and shape her own life. —Toussaint Egan


Snowden232x345.jpg 27. Snowden
Available On: Amazon, Cox, Fios, Google Play, Optimum, U-verse
Year: 2016
Director: Oliver Stone 
Gordon-Levitt’s performance is key to Snowden’s place in Stone’s oeuvre as another exceptional take on the nature of heroism. It’s every bit as complicated and ambiguous as Stone’s previous films on the subject, but the complexity is all internal—from Stone’s point of view, there’s no real questioning the fact that Snowden is a patriot and a hero. The questioning comes from within, as Snowden becomes less a film about heroism than about the physical and psychic costs of heroism—and whether or not they’re worth it. Stone and his actors (not just Gordon-Levitt, but Shailene Woodley, superb in an essential role as the woman Snowden loves) mine this material so thoroughly that when Snowden does allow itself moments of triumph they’re completely earned. This may be Stone’s most genuinely inspiring film since Born on the Fourth of July and his most poignant and romantic next to World Trade Center. Yet it’s also, at times, his bleakest work, a chilling horror film about the surveillance state under which we all live. That all of these tones—and a wide array in between—can exist coherently in the same film is indicative of Snowden’s success. It’s one of the best movies Stone has ever made—and easily one of the best of the year. —Jim Hemphill


hail-caesar.jpg 26. Hail, Caesar!
Available On: Amazon, Fios, Xfinity
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


zootopia.jpg 25. Zootopia
Available On: Amazon, U-verse, Xfinity
Year: 2016
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
It says a lot about the state of America’s cultural dialogues on acceptance and discrimination that a Disney movie feels this urgent, but maybe a movie about animals living under the impression of harmony is a long-term solution for our short-term failures. Then again, we’re talking about a cartoon where TV’s Snow White teams up with Michael Bluth in a sort-of riff on 48 Hours that expands to include references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad. Zootopia is smart in the way it approaches race relations, if unsophisticated and childish. But there are worse things a children’s movie can be than childish, and in Zootopia that word sheds its pejorative implications and instead feels befitting in its innocence. The story takes place in the sprawling zoological metropolis of the title, a place where beasts of all makes and models—large and small, meek and ferocious—somehow manage to coexist in an approximation of civilized society. This is a movie that’s all about big, heartfelt honesty between its principals and its audience. Simple though its politics may be, the film is effective—and coming from a mainstream studio, it is even just daring enough to make a difference.—Andy Crump


20th-century-women.jpg 24. 20th Century Women
Available On: Cox, Xfinity
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Mills
The feeling of watching writer-director Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is akin to that of witnessing a mind working through the twisted byways of his characters’ psyches and his themes as if digesting his thoughts right in front of us. He’s unafraid of breaking away from the film’s major arcs for the sake of digressions that fill us in on both historical context and characters’ backstories. And that embrace of irresolution extends to the characters themselves, all of whom show many different sides to us, with Mills showing no interest in neatly explaining away their contradictions. 20th Century Women almost feels like a dialectical essay disguised as a comedy-drama—a late-period Jean-Luc Godard movie except with actual flesh-and-blood human beings instead of glorified mouthpieces for his philosophical aphorisms. The patchwork narrative style vividly expresses the confusion at the heart of these characters and of the time period in U.S. history it evokes: a country hinging on the precipice between the relative selfless idealism of the 1970s and the rampant materialistic self-interest of the 1980s. It’s a large subject for any movie to tackle, but the beauty of 20th Century Women is that the warmly empathetic Mills never loses track of the characters’ anguished beating hearts.—Kenji Fujishima


doctor-strange.jpg 23. Doctor Strange
Available On: Cox, Dish, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Optimum, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
When the folks at Marvel Studios truly realized, likely via The Avengers in 2012, that these films were comedies just as much as they were action-adventure stories, it crystallized the format in ways both positive and somewhat limiting. The result is that one can never quite take seriously claims that a new film is going to “break the mold” of the MCU, but at the same time it’s hardly something to complain about, when that mold is fundamentally solid and entertaining. To that end, Doctor Strange is crowd-pleasing and exciting—funny when it should be, sober when it has to be and crackling with a magical mystique that adds a veiled layer of depth to the inner workings of the Marvel universe. Even without too many overt references to the rest of the MCU, everything in Doctor Strange makes one wonder how the revelation of the Marvel Multiverse will affect the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and others.—Jim Vorel


fences.jpg 22. Fences
Available On: Cox, FandangoNow, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Optimum, U-verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Director: Denzel Washington 
Fences is a movie with a somewhat contradictory dichotomy at its core. On one hand, the film is a masterwork, a labor of love adapted from the late, great August Wilson’s award-winning 1983 play and engineered for the screen by Denzel Washington. Yet it’s also a somewhat pedestrian cinematic achievement. As a showcase for acting, it’s a marvel. As cinema, it’s less impressive, a picture that’s too devoted to its theatrical roots to fully translate the language of the theater into the language of the movies. It’s the definition of a filmed play, with Washington attempting to capture the heightened reality and immediacy felt in a live environment sans the live component of the theatrical equation. If Fences adheres to a basic visual scheme, though, Washington and his supporting cast lend it dazzling, urgent life. (In a film like Fences, even actors as immensely talented as Viola Davis and Stephen Henderson will be thought of as “supporting.”) One may wish for more from Washington stylistically considering his history behind the lens (Fences marks his third time directing, following Antwone Fisher in 2002 and The Great Debaters in 2007), but he’s so busy giving his all in front of it that it is easy to look past the streamlined imagery. His talent as an actor benefits him most here, allowing him to foster an easy, palpable chemistry between his cast in their every scene. Maybe we don’t see movies like this for bravura direction. Maybe we see them for bravura acting, and for the poetically frank ways in which they express their core themes and ideas.—Andy Crump


DontThinkTwice232x345.jpg 21. Don’t Think Twice
Available On: Amazon, FandangoNow, Optimum
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Birbiglia 
“Despite its miscalculations, Don’t Think Twice does leave a bitter, lingering aftertaste. Though the members of the Commune might have finally made peace with their lots in life, a sense of dashed hopes and dreams still hangs in the air, even as an acoustic solo-piano version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” over the end credits tries to end the film on a conciliatory note.” —Kenji Fujishima


midnight-jpg 20. Midnight Special
Available On: Fios
Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols’ fourth film continues a streak of smart, idiosyncratic genre tales that focus on family matters. But in Midnight Special, he gets a little more cosmic, telling a very human sci-fi story about a concerned father (Michael Shannon) trying to keep his boy (Jaeden Lieberher) away from the Feds, who believe (correctly) that he has special powers. Midnight Special is the sort of personal, ambitious mainstream film that seems to have all but evaporated from studios’ release schedules, which makes the fact that it was a commercial dud even more upsetting and dispiriting. Maybe on home video people will have a chance to catch up with this emotional drama, whose intimate contours and precise character work make it just as transporting on the small screen.—Tim Grierson


hunt-for-wilderpeople.jpg 19. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Available On: Amazon
Year: 2016
Director: Taika Waititi
Bella’s (Rima Te Wiata) first encounter with Ricky (Julian Dennison), the new foster child she’s agreed to take on, doesn’t inspire confidence, especially with her clumsy jokes at the expense of his weight. In turn, with child-services representative Paula (Rachel House) painting Ricky as an unruly wild child, one dreads the prospect of seeing the kid walk all over this possibly in-over-her-head mother. But Bella wears him down with kindness. And Ricky ends up less of a tough cookie than he—with his fondness for gangsta rap and all that implies—initially tried to project. An adaptation of Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople thrives on upending preconceived notions. The director shows sympathy for Ricky’s innocence, which is reflected in the film’s grand-adventure style. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne’s sweeping, colorful panoramas and a chapter-based narrative structure gives Hunt for the Wilderpeople the feel of a storybook fable, but thanks to the warm-hearted dynamic between Ricky and Hec (Sam Neill), even the film’s most whimsical moments carry a sense of real underlying pain: Both of these characters are outsiders ultimately looking for a home to call their own.—Kenji Fujishima


jungle-book.jpg 18. The Jungle Book
Available On: Amazon, U-verse, Xfinity
Year: 2016
Directors: Jon Favreau 
Jon Favreau’s new real-world re-imagining of the classic Disney animated film melds two cornerstones of the diretor’s career: venturing into the digital frontier, and having the courage to be warm. The curtain rises on the computer-generated animal kingdom as the camera pans across one of The Jungle Book’s many breathtaking virtual sets, which were built after recording the raw footage in an empty Los Angeles warehouse. Essentially, on set, actors in motion-capture suits ran around with Neel Sethi, who makes his movie debut as Mowgli, in front of blue and green screens. Where the level of technology in The Jungle Book has historically been used for maximizing the wow factor in Michael Bay explosion-packed action flicks, Favreau makes the case for special effects that actually affect. The Jungle Book hits the ground running as Mowgli darts through the grass and up trees, sharpening his survival skills through various flight techniques (fighting obviously not available to him). Sethi, 12, is the only truly live-action element of the movie, and carries the physically demanding role with both childlike charisma and the saucy attitude of an adolescent.—Melissa Weller


finding-dory.jpg 17. Finding Dory
Available On: Amazon, DirecTV, FandangoNow
Year: 2016
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of the 2003 Disney-Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo. The adorably bumbling blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is still best friends and the third wheel to clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), testing their patience on a daily basis. But this is fully Dory’s tale, as she searches for her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and finds herself in the process. Finding Dory is the rare sequel that repurposes the original as a character foundation rather than as a cheap form of fan service. What could have been an easy cash-in becomes something surprising—a follow-up that reaches new emotional depths. —Michael Snydel


nocturnal-animals.jpg 16. Nocturnal Animals
Available On: “Amazon”:, “Cox”:, Dish, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Fios, Microsoft, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Director: Tom Ford
After A Single Man was (unjustly) criticized in some quarters for its preoccupation with surface beauty, fashion designer-cum-filmmaker Tom Ford has returned with something ugly. Aesthetically, Nocturnal Animals is still deliberately gorgeous, with its model-handsome actors, designer costumes and career-high lensing by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. It’s also a film that presents two worlds—one real, one fictitious—in which people are compulsively, perhaps inevitably, driven to do horrible things to one another. A revenge movie that features only imagined violence, Nocturnal Animals is all the more uneasy for having a male “hero” who seeks to mentally brutalize its heroine. This one feels personal for the filmmaker, a bundle of ways to explore multiple anxieties: creative stagnation and infidelity; familial responsibilities and loss of control; fear of failure and rejection. Each story thread comes with a different kind of dread—though all of them are unified in their investigation of toxic masculinity. Male anger and resentment drive this savage tale, a thriller as gripping as it is stomach-churningly frank. —Brogan Morris


Kubo232x345.jpg 15. Kubo and the Two Strings
Available On: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Optimum, U-verse, Xfinity
Year: 2016
Director: Travis Knight
Most parents give their kids a curfew, but most kids aren’t related to kabuki-masked wraiths and heartless lunar gods who want to murder them, either. Seems like good incentive for Kubo (Art Parkinson) to listen to his mother, which he does until he doesn’t. The minute he breaks mom’s number one rule, Kubo endures the world’s most unfortunate family reunion and undertakes the quest for his birthright, guarded along the way by an ill-tempered monkey and a flaky man-beetle-warrior, named, respectively, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Yes, fine, Kubo and the Two Strings doesn’t go deep in the tank for character names. Big deal. The film funnels imagination into an Erlenmeyer flask where narrative reacts with aesthetic. It’s a stunningly rendered adventure that treats style and substance as one and the same.—Andy Crump


captain-fantastic.jpg 14. Captain Fantastic
Available On: FandangoNow, Fios, U-verse
Year: 2016
Director: Matt Ross
In the opening scene of Captain Fantastic, we’re introduced to what looks like a feral clan headed by Ben (Viggo Mortensen). But even the youngest of Ben’s six children can quote the nation’s founding documents and opine on the views of “Uncle” Noam Chomsky, as well as defend themselves from an armed attacker. Ben and Leslie have taken their kids to live in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, part of an experiment to raise philosopher kings. But his wife is manic depressive and commits suicide before we ever meet her character. In the wake of her death, Ben must confront the world he’s left behind and decide what kind of life is really best for his family. Writer-director Matt Ross (who plays Gavin Belson on Silicon Valley) has created an original story that is sweet, sad, funny and full of openhearted joy—the kind of Sundance movie that will play well with a wider audience. Even if the lifestyle and views are unfamiliar to some, parents will recognize the honest look at the positive and negative effects we have on our children and the pressures to conform to others’ expectations.—Josh Jackson


moana.jpg 13. Moana
Available On: Cox, Dish, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Google Play, Optimum, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
During the initial meeting between the title character of Disney’s latest animated effort and the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) protests that she is not a princess. His response? “If you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” By the time the closing credits roll, the audience has the answer to this particular dispute—they are both right. Moana both embraces and transcends the traditional—and by that, I mean, Disney-fied—“princess film.” After all, dress and sidekick aside, as the daughter and heir of a tribal chief, Moana is, inescapably, a princess. But that does not mean she’s a “Disney princess.” Moana may not be the first film from the House of Mouse to celebrate the grit, will and perseverance of a female lead, but it is the first to fully shed the less inspiring baggage of the traditional princess crew. This particular Hero’s Journey comes refreshingly free of male love interest, and Moana’s success or failure rests squarely on her shoulders. The visual rendering is as lush and rich as its subtext, and the music is everything one hopes from Lin-Manuel Miranda. But ultimately, it’s the blend of character and quest—infused throughout with an overriding warmth—that makes Moana impossible to resist.—Andy Crump


captain-america-cw.jpg 12. Captain America: Civil War
Available On: Amazon
Year: 2016
Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo
In my review of the first Avengers movie, I said Joss Whedon’s blockbuster represented “the most complete manifestation of the superhero team aesthetic yet seen on film.” Four years later, we have a new champion in the category of “best team film.” The way in which Captain America: Civil War brings together a dozen or so heroes, sorts them into not one but two teams and then flings them at each other is its own special delight for comic book fans long accustomed to such things on the printed or digital page. Civil War maintains the same balance of action and significant (if brief) character development/interaction that made Winter Soldier so enjoyable. The fight and chase scenes are frenetic without being confusing, while the comic relief, mostly supplied by our bug-themed heroes, provides a Whedon-flavored lightening of the otherwise dark proceedings. If one thinks of the each MCU film as a juggling act—and each hero’s origin, “flavor” and power set as its own subset of items that must be kept in motion and in proper relation with each other—then as a series both Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War can be seen as an escalation of the routine that’s as impressive as it is necessary. After all, with each additional hero added, with each additional demand placed on the script in both action and dialogue, Kevin Feige and company are building toward Infinity.—Michael Burgin


hacksaw-ridge.jpg 11. Hacksaw Ridge
Available On: Amazon, Cox, Dish, DirecTV, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Optimum, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Director: Mel Gibson 
“There’s little reason to doubt that Gibson and screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight respect Doss’ thou-shalt-not-kill position. One key line finds Captain Oliver (Sam Worthington) explaining to Doss that while his compatriots don’t believe what he believes, they respect him for it. There’s enough to figuring out the nature of that belief that it warrants a deeper exploration. We know fear of punishment isn’t guiding Doss. And it’s unlikely that he believes in the relativity of his approach. But we wonder to what extent his refusal to kill is rooted in the fear of living with guilt or if it’s simply a matter of believing that it’s immoral by God’s will. If it’s the latter, it’s tough to reconcile his position with his willingness to fight alongside those who are taking lives.”—Anthony Salveggi


nice-guys.jpg 10. The Nice Guys
Available On: Fios
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


HellHighWater232x345.jpg 9. Hell or High Water
Available On: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, FandangoNow, U-verse, Xfinity
Year: 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
The film builds up to a finale that thankfully goes not for a mindlessly violent showdown, but for a tension-filled dialogue-based confrontation which plays like a meeting of minds between characters who have more sympathy toward each other than they perhaps realized. Even as two of the main characters reach a kind of truce, however, Mackenzie comes up with an even more devastating image with which to end his film: He simply moves the camera from high in the air down to a batch of grass. It’s as if Mackenzie wanted to contextualize these human dramas for us—we all end up in the ground, ultimately. Here, in Hell or High Water, is a sterling example of genre craftsmanship at its intelligent and unexpectedly affecting best. —Kenji Fujishima


jackie.jpg 8. Jackie
Available On: “Amazon”:, “Cox”:, Dish, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Google Play, Microsoft, Optimum, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Director: Pablo Larraín
It’s difficult to remember where Jackie begins, and where it ends. Even minutes after leaving it, the moments that open the film and the moments that close it exist as diffuse notions rather than solid, plot-shrouded happenings. We understand that, barely a week after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, a conversation between Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) and Life journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup, smugly zombified) frames the film, tacks it to some semblance of spacetime—but the rest of Pablo Larraín’s biopic operates liminally. This, most of all, the Chilean director understands: If the film is about grief, then the film must act as grief acts. Unmoored and aimless, Jackie acts like a bad dream. Of course, the black hole at the core of Jackie is the assassination, rendered in one graphic image Larraín treats fairly. Throughout, the film hovers around the rim of this moment, and for much of Jackie’s running time, that moment seems like it will never come. When it does, though, it’s a relief we never realized we needed. Portman as Jackie pushes against the film’s reveal of that tragic split-second, and the film pushes too, and at times you want the film to stop pushing so much. This is grief, Larraín beautifully says—it is exhausting and relentless and dull, and, most of all, selfish. Sorry the movie is that way too.—Dominic Sinacola


love-friendship.jpg 7. Love & Friendship
Available On: Amazon
Year: 2016
Director: Whit Stillman
The title of Whit Stillman’s latest comedy may be Love & Friendship, but while both are certainly present in the film, other, more negative qualities also abound: deception, manipulation, even outright hatred. Underneath its elegant period-picture surface—most obviously evident in Benjamin Esdraffo’s Baroque-style orchestral score and Louise Matthew’s ornate art direction—lies a darker vision of humanity that gives the film more of an ironic kick than one might have anticipated from the outset. Still, the humor in Love & Friendship is hardly of the misanthropic sort. As always with Stillman, his view of the foibles of the bourgeois is unsparing yet ultimately empathetic. Which means that, even as Stillman works his way toward a happy ending of sorts, the film leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste—which is probably as it should be. Such honesty has always been a hallmark of Stillman’s cinema, and even if Love & Friendship feels like more of a confection than his other films, that frankness, thankfully, still remains.—Kenji Fujishima


arrival.jpg 6. Arrival
Available On: Amazon, Cox, Dish, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Optimum, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity
Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
“You can engage with Arrival for its text, which is powerful, striking, emotive and, most of all, abidingly compassionate. You can also engage with it for its subtext, should you actually look for it. This is, perhaps, the best-made movie in Villeneuve’s filmography to date, a robust but delicate work captured in stunning, calculated detail by cinematographer Bradford Young, and guided by Adams’ stellar work as Louise. Adams is a chameleonic actress of immense talent, and Arrival lets her wear each of her various camouflages over the course of its duration. She sweats, she cries, she bleeds, she struggles, and so much more that can’t be said here without giving away the film’s most awesome treasures. She also represents humankind with more dignity and grace than any other modern actor possibly could. If aliens do ever land on Earth, maybe we should just send her to greet them.”—Andy Crump


silence.jpg 5. Silence
Available On: Cox
Year: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese 
The title of Martin Scorsese’s latest is loaded, at once a reference to God’s tendency not to reply to the pleas and appeals of followers, a nod to the culture of secrecy maintained by Japanese Christians during Japan’s Edo period and an acknowledgment of the state you’ll be left in after watching. Silence isn’t an easy moviegoing experience—it isn’t an easy conversation point, either, but that’s because it shouldn’t be. Scorsese knows it. Most likely Shusaku Endo, the author of the text from which Scorsese adapted his film (and had sought to adapt since the 1990s), knew it too. Who is innocent in Silence? Who is guilty? If we can rule out Japanese villagers put to death for their beliefs, and we certainly can, then that leaves culpability at the feet of their spiritual and bureaucratic leaders, both at odds with one another while the faithful remain suffering between them as priests and politicos treat them as fodder for proving the illegitimacy of their opponents’ belief structures. The film’s complexity is expected from Scorsese, one of the greatest living filmmakers of our time, but it’s also a reinvention in style, a picture that both feels totally unlike anything he’s shot before and cannot be mistaken as anyone’s but his.—Andy Crump


loving.jpg 4. Loving
Available On: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fios, FandangoNow, Google Play, Optimum, Spectrum, Xfinity
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


manchester-by-the-sea.jpg 3. Manchester by the Sea
Available On: Amazon, Cox, Dish, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Fios, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
“If TIFF 2016 provided one of the most purely joyous cinematic experiences in recent memory in La La Land, it was in Manchester by the Sea that it provided one of the most emotionally devastating. Casey Affleck, one of our most underrated actors, gives perhaps the performance of his life, and Michelle Williams is affecting enough even in this tiny role that there are award whispers for her as well. I think it was Blue Valentine that last left me feeling so despondent at the end of a film. But in Kenneth Lonergan’s unflinching, sympathetic gaze, there’s a nobility as well.”—Michael Dunaway


AmericanHoney232x345.jpg 2. American Honey
Available On: Optimum, Spectrum
Year: 2016
Director: Andrea Arnold
Utterly absorbing and intensely moving, writer-director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is one of those big, bold, swing-for-the-fences societal portraits that few filmmakers dare attempt. There’s good reason: Try for a definitive snapshot of a country or a generation, and you risk overreaching or succumbing to pretension. Running nearly three hours, American Honey doesn’t let those concerns get in its way, and the result is the sort of electric audacity that paves over the movie’s occasional wobbles. With Red Road and Fish Tank, Arnold has looked closely at poverty, youth and desperation in her native England. With American Honey, she turns her attention to the United States, and what she finds is a vibrant, troubled, mesmerizing land.—Tim Grierson


moonlight.jpg 1. Moonlight
Available On: Amazon, Cox, Dish, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Fios, Microsoft, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse, Xfinity, YouTube
Year: 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
“Told in three segments, Moonlight is a devastating and moving portrait of a young life that asks us to engage in the nature-versus-nurture debate all over again. Played by three actors, Chiron is an African American growing up in Tampa as a child, a teenager and then in his 20s, and writer-director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) charts the different ages to see how questions of sexuality, racism and masculinity influence him at each stage. Naomie Harris astonishes as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother, and Mahershala Ali is a marvel as a local dealer who decides to take Chiron under his wing. Moonlight slowly becomes a love story, but not before it encompasses a very different kind of Boyhood: one in which a black child’s upbringing can be threatened by external and internal forces that others are privileged enough to ignore.”—Tim Grierson

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