The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (September 2018)

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boy-world.jpg 25. Boy & the World
Year: 2013
Director: Alê Abreu
Boy & the World, like any should-be classic of kids’ cinema, is laced with images of pure, incomprehensible terror. Nearly wordless, it’s also a subcutaneous wonder: heartbreaking and sumptuous and sometimes so gorgeous you feel like you should weep in appreciation, at near microscopic levels Boy & the World excels. As Cuca, our eponymous boy—defined mostly by his Charlie Brown head and infectious giggle—is literally swept up on a hallucinogenic journey, political iconography and economic devastation gradually devour the vibrant, weird colors that define his idyllic home. Your kids probably won’t recognize the fascistic implications of Abreu’s designs—which culminate in an actual battle between the pitch-black Reichsadler and a rainbow phoenix (birthed, of course, from the music of the oppressed lower classes)—but the feeling he wants to give them is easy enough to understand. The World may be a big and scary place, he admits, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worth exploring. —Dom Sinacola


y-tu-mama.jpg 24. Y Tu Mamá También
Year: 2001
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
A road trip along the coast of Mexico turns out to be one of sexual discovery for two punk teenagers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna), as well as a bittersweet final adventure for their older female companion (Maribel Verdu), who struggles with a life full of regret and roads not yet traveled. Y Tu Mamá También is at times playful and seductive, but slowly reveals itself to be a substantive dual story involving both coming-of-age and coming-to-terms. —Jeremy Medina


breadwinner-poster.jpg 23. The Breadwinner
Year: 2017
Director: Nora Twomey
Having worked on both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Nora Twomey has taken a different tack than her Cartoon Saloon cohort, Tomm Moore, departing the mythology-rich shores of Ireland for the mountains of Afghanistan, focusing on the region’s own folklore against the backdrop of Taliban rule. The film is based on Deborah Ellis’s 2000 novel of the same name, the story of a young girl named Parvana who disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family after her father is seized by the Taliban. Being a woman in public is bad for your health in Kabul. So is educating women. Parvana (Saara Chaudry) understands the dire circumstances her father’s arrest forces upon her family, and recognizes the danger of hiding in plain sight to feed them. Need outweighs risk. So she adopts a pseudonym on advice from her friend, Shauzia (Soma Bhatia), who is in the very same position as Parvana, and goes about the business of learning how to play-act as a dude in a world curated by dudes. Meanwhile, Parvana’s embrace of familial duty is narrated concurrently with a story she tells to her infant brother, about a young boy who vows to reclaim his village’s stolen crop seeds from the Elephant King and his demonic minions in the Hindu Kush mountain range. If there’s a link that ties The Breadwinner to Moore’s films, besides appreciation for fables, it’s artistry: Like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner is absolutely gorgeous, a cel-shaded stunner that blends animation’s most traditional form with interspersed cut out animation. The result mixes the fluid intangibility of the former with the tactile quality of the latter, layering the film’s visual scheme with color and texture. Twomey gives The Breadwinner ballast, binding it to the real-world history that serves as its basis, and elevates it to realms of imagination at the same time. It’s a collision of truth and fantasy. —Andy Crump


battle-royale.jpg 22. Battle Royale
Directors: Kinji Fukasaku
Year: 2000
It’s OK to compare Battle Royale to The Hunger Games movies—or, rather, to find how the lasting accomplishments of the latter franchise were essentially done better and with so much more efficiency by the former—because you probably will anyway. Battle Royale, like the immensely successful four-film crash course in crafting an action star who is really only a symbol of an action star, chronicles a government-sanctioned battle to the death between a group of teens on a weird, weapon-strewn island. (There are even regular island-wide announcements of the day’s dead as the sun sets on the remaining children.) Yet, Battle Royale is so lean in its exposition, so uninterested in dragging out its symbolism or metaphor, that one can’t help but marvel at how cleanly Fukasaku (who had a full career behind him when he made this, only three years before he died) can lend depth to these children, building stakes around them to the point that their deaths matter and their doomed plights sting. What the director can do with such a tenuous premise (which The Hunger Games takes multiple films to do, and without a single ounce of levity) is astounding—plus, he wrangled Beat Takeshi Kitano to play the President Snow-type character, which Kitano does to near-perfection. That Battle Royale II sets out to up the stakes of the first film, especially given the first film’s crazy success in Japan, is to be expected, but stick to the first: Battle Royale will make you care about kids murdering each other more than you (probably) would anyway. —Dom Sinacola


fire-at-sea-poster.jpg 21. Fire at Sea
Year: 2016
DIrector: Gianfranco Rosi
Fire at Sea is an imagistic grasp at a few months on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, 100 miles south of Sicily and the first glimpse of land for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East. With no voiceover and little context, Italian director Gianfranco Rosi juxtaposes the lives of men, women and children barely sustaining themselves on the fringes of society, of humanity, with the everyday, mundane existences of the denizens of the island—both those who devote their lives to helping the refugees and those who work or play or eat big mounds of spaghetti without one thought for the deluge of sad souls passing over their home turf. In long takes and cinematography that aches with the need to push beyond the boundaries of the screen, Rosi indulges in the rhythm of that juxtaposition, daring us to move on from one atrocity after another in order to understand what moving on takes: a lot of boring afternoons and silent plates of spaghetti. —Dom Sinacola


coco-movie-poster.jpg 20. Coco
Year: 2017
Director: Lee Unkrich
With the release of Coco, the 19th film from Pixar Studios, there are at least two questions the answer to which every member in the audience can be certain of before that desk lamp comes hopping across the screen. Will the animation be top-notch, meriting adjectives like “vibrant” and “gorgeous” and perhaps even “luscious?” Without a doubt. Will the voice acting be superb, enhancing the aforementioned animation in every way? You bet it will! You can also count on at least a few effective strummings of the ol’ heartstrings. (And thanks to films like Up and Inside Out, you might even dread how destroyed you’ll be after said strumming.) Of course, that doesn’t mean a Pixar film is quite the sure thing it was before, say, 2011’s Cars 2 (for many, Pixar’s critical nadir). Inside Out and Finding Dory were home runs, but in between, there was The Good Dinosaur (a weak infield popup, at best). Fortunately, thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco will count as one of the studio’s successes—and for many who long to see their culture center stage instead of just a flavor sprinkle, the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he struggles to pursue his dreams may prove Pixar’s most meaningful film yet. —Michael Burgin


the-stranger-movie-poster.jpg 19. The Stranger
Year: 1946
Director: Orson Welles 
Orson Welles’ third film follows a UN War Crimes Commission agent, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who’s hunting down fugitive Nazi Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). Kindler has moved to a small New England town and married the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, teaches at a prep school, essentially erasing every possible trace of his former identity, save one: a longtime obsession with clocks. As Wilson finds more and more proof of Kindler’s identity, Kindler goes to greater and greater lengths to conceal it.

Though John Huston was originally supposed to direct The Stranger, Welles got the job because of an ill-timed military tour that took Huston (literally and figuratively) out of the picture. Because he hadn’t directed a film in four years, Welles was so eager for the work he took a contract stipulating that if he went over budget he’d be paying the studio out of pocket. In turn, it’s possible that Welles’ inventiveness was partially forged by the constraints under which he found himself working on all of his early films. Dogged by cut-happy producers (it’s not even clear how much footage was removed but Welles was relieved of the first 16 pages of his script before principal photography even started) and contrarian casting/location choices—Welles wanted Agnes Moorehead to play the investigator, but the studio cast Robinson; likewise he got a budget-driven “no” on filming the prep school scenes at The Todd School in Illinois, his own alma mater—Welles’ desire to personalize this film despite so many interventions were probably fundamental to the development of The Stranger’s nightmare-like tone. Perhaps most striking is Welles’ use of actual footage from concentration camps, which are still shocking today but exceedingly potent in the 1940s when large numbers of Americans still did not understand that the camps really existed. In typical Welles-versus-studio fashion, the producers backed out at the last minute on the promise of a four-picture deal to follow this film. They had become convinced it would run at a loss and Welles was incapable of directing a mainstream hit movie. As it turned out, it was Welles’ only significant box office success, and remains a canonized film noir. —Amy Glynn


iron-giant.jpg 18. The Iron Giant
Year: 1999
Director: Brad Bird
Brad Bird’s feature debut was traditional 2-D when computer animation was the craze, released by studio folk who didn’t realize just how special a film they had on their hands. Luckily, The Iron Giant received its due recognition on home video. Set in the 1950s and drawing off the nuclear fears of the time, it incorporates the hallmark of the era’s science-fiction—a giant metal robot—into a touching coming-of-age story. Bird effortlessly moves between riotous comedy (such as young Hogarth’s efforts to hide his enormous new robot friend from his mother), high-spun action, and poignant moments of fear and friendship. —Jeremy Mathews


raw-movie-poster.jpg 17. Raw
Year: 2016
Director: Julia Ducournou
If you’re the proud owner of a twisted sense of humor, you might tell your friends that Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a “coming of age movie” in a bid to trick them into seeing it. Yes, the film’s protagonist, naive incoming college student Justine (Garance Marillier), comes of age over the course of its running time; she parties, she breaks out of her shell, and she learns about who she really is as a person on the verge of adulthood. But most kids who come of age in the movies don’t realize that they’ve spent their lives unwittingly suppressing an innate, nigh-insatiable need to consume raw meat. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “that’s the name of the movie!” You’re right! It is! Allow Ducournau her cheekiness. More than a wink and nod to the picture’s visceral particulars, Raw is an open concession to the harrowing quality of Justine’s grim blossoming. Nasty as the film gets, and it does indeed get nasty, the harshest sensations Ducournau articulates here tend to be the ones we can’t detect by merely looking: Fear of feminine sexuality, family legacies, popularity politics, and uncertainty of self govern Raw’s horrors as much as exposed and bloody flesh. It’s a gorefest that offers no apologies and plenty more to chew on than its effects. —Andy Crump


heat-movie-poster.jpg 16. Heat
Year: 1995
Director: Michael Mann
Those first watching Michael Mann’s L.A. crime masterpiece should view it with a clean slate—and from then on dissect it in great detail, with all of its separate elements pulled apart to determine how they eventually came together to complete such an intricately constructed work of storytelling. Anything in between would seldom do this sprawling (yet taut) epic justice. Exploring the concept of the cop and the robber on opposite sides of the same coin is a premise that pretty much every crime drama has delved into in one way or another, yet Mann manages to create the dichotomy’s epitome. By implementing, with surgical precision, an impressively pure vision of a grand, boastful and larger-than-life crime story, Mann delivers a culmination of his previously tight, deliberately stylized work (namely, Thief and Manhunter). With its hauntingly cold cinematography, moody score, terrific performances by a slew of legendary stars and character actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer) and—let’s not forget—the mother of all cinematic shoot-outs in its center, it more than likely represents the peak of Mann’s ever-shifting career. —Oktay Ege Kozak


carol-poster.jpg 15. Carol
Year: 2015
Director: Todd Haynes
In Todd Haynes’ Carol, Therese’s (Rooney Mara) heart is encased and inaccessible—as if only to be glimpsed through the glass of a telephone booth or through the lens of her camera—until one day a woman named Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), who, from across the room, transforms Therese’s way of seeing with a little gesture of her head and a flirtatious, “I like the hat,” finally unearths it. Soon, Carol and Therese begin to dissolve into one another, to the music of “You Belong to Me,” no less. Bookended by a hand on shoulder, Therese continues to conceive of what her desire means, and the two dizzyingly create their own language of connection, fueled by Haynes’ acute eye, Ed Lachman’s grainy, Saul Leiter-reminiscent cinematography and the sounds of Carter Burwell’s propulsive score. —Kyle Turner


certain-women.jpg 14. Certain Women
Year: 2016
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Silence speaks volumes in Kelly Reichardt’s films. In works like Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, she has explored how people spend most of their day thinking, not talking, and that perhaps those quiet moments can be as revealing of character as anything that comes out of their mouths. (And, let’s not forget, even when we speak, we’re rarely saying precisely what we mean.) Reichardt’s less-is-so-much-more approach is again on display beautifully in Certain Women, a series of three barely interconnected stories in which empty spaces are pregnant with meaning and resonance. In the first vignette, a vaguely unsatisfied lawyer named Laura (Laura Dern) must counsel an aggrieved client (Jared Harris) who’s unhappy with the amount of money he’s received in a lawsuit settlement. In the second, Gina (Michelle Williams), a focused wife and mother, is on the search for some limestone for the house she and her disengaged husband (James Le Gros) are building. And finally, a lonely cattle rancher named Jamie (Lily Gladstone) stumbles into a nighttime legal class taught by an out-of-towner (Kristen Stewart), striking up a friendship with the disenfranchised woman. As usual with her films, Certain Women is so delicately but smartly constructed that ecstatic reviews may give people the wrong idea about its greatness. It’s wonderful not because it’s some towering, imposing colossus, but because every small moment feels thoughtfully considered, fully lived-in. Certain Women seeps into the skin and expands in the mind. It leaves you shaken—even though nothing seemingly momentous has happened. Reichardt treats cinema as a kind of meditation, which probably explains why her movies almost never feature traditional endings. Lives are a process, not necessarily a destination, and Reichardt honors her characters’ journey by letting it ebb and flow as it pleases. Like so many of her films, Certain Women is muted and restorative. Suddenly, the real world feels too loud. —Tim Grierson


cartel-land.jpg 13. Cartel Land
Year: 2015
Director: Matthew Heineman
Focusing its primary gaze on Michoacán, a Western Mexican state in the grip of the Templar Knights cartel, Cartel Land is a complex, harrowing documentary about drug gangs’ grip on Mexico (and the Mexican-American borderlands) that doubles as a portrait of the difficulties of grassroots revolutionary movements. Director Matthew Heineman’s film centers on Dr. José Mireles, who decided to fight back against the cartels oppressing his community by creating the vigilante group, Autodefensas. Liberating one occupied town after another another, the Autodefensas were a response to both the cartels and to the corrupt government with whom they were in league. Eschewing narration and on-screen text in favor of interviews that serve to keep the story propelled ever-forward—and often taking up residence right beside, or over the shoulder of, its Autodefensas subjects—Cartel Land is the rare nonfiction work that routinely keeps one’s nerves on edge. —Nick Schager


face-off-movie-poster.jpg 12. Face/Off
Year: 1997
Director: John Woo
One of the best action bonanzas of the ’90s begins with the murder of a small boy, and the following 130 brilliant, dove-dunked, borderline lysergic minutes do nothing to denounce the glorious shamelessness of those very first moments. Contrary to contemporary narratives, Nicolas Cage has always been a bit much, but as swaggering sociopath Castor Troy (and then as traumatized lawman Sean Archer), the Oscar-winning actor seems to realize that everything has been building to this Face/Off, that perhaps he had been put on this earth for the sake of this film, and that director John Woo—already an action maestro by this point with The Killer, Hardboiled and Hard Target—should be his Metatron, recording and overseeing this important time in the Realm of Humans. Similarly, John Travolta leans just as hard into his half of the two-hander, saddled with the added pressure of playing a bad guy who’s playing a dad who lasciviously stares at “his” own teenage daughter, encouraging her to smoke by basically flirting with her, and like most Travolta performances from the past 20 years, fails spectacularly to not make it weird. With a plot (FBI agent undergoes experimental face surgery to pretend to be super criminal in order to trick super criminal’s less-super criminal brother into revealing the location of a bomb) that makes way less sense as a Wikipedia synopsis than it does on-screen, Face/Off should be a disaster. And hoo boy is it ever—plus a landmark in action filmmaking. —Dom Sinacola


under-the-skin-poster.jpg 11. Under the Skin
Year: 2013
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Under the Skin is unified in purpose and in drive. It is a biting examination of sexual politics and a dissertation on the bodies we inhabit—how those bodies create a paradigm of ownership. Scarlett Johansson plays the alien avatar, the predator, the cipher whose weakness is her awakening humanity. When she looks in a mirror, lost in a gaze at her own body, it’s a reminder to us to find some remove from our weary familiarity with ourselves, to think, “Golly, what strange things we are.” The film’s tragic conclusion is an assertion that we achieve some positive ideal of what it is to be human when we accept a state of vulnerability, when we forsake the power position in our sexual communication. When we allow for the reality of our frailty, we can care for the frailty in all around us—and this is a very dangerous thing to do. Especially in a world riddled with corruption and malice that seeks to press its advantage. Under the Skin shows us these truths with images that are impossibly beautiful, terrifying and ultimately haunting. There is no exposition, only voids which suspended shells of victims float in, laser sharp lights piercing darkness, menacingly stoic bikers, snowflakes falling into lenses. There is a scene on a beach that plays out like a Bergman or Haneke set-piece and is just as heartbreaking as that would entail. Under the Skin is a soul-crushing work and yet, somehow, the film reiterates that we must continue working towards finding our souls. An artful cascade of multiple exposures of random people, about midway through the film, would seem to symbolize the birth of empathy in Johansson’s femme fatale, and while this is the beginning of the end for her, it can’t help but resonate in Under the Skin with all the radiance of beatitude. These are scenes, statements, questions that are only possible within the framework that the film’s science fiction aspect provides, for these are not the thought processes bound by what is real, but what could be. —Chad Betz


full-metal-jacket-poster.jpg 10. Full Metal Jacket
Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick 
It’s a non-controversial opinion that Full Metal Jacket’s worth extends as far as its first half and declines from there as the film nosedives into conventionality. But the second chapter of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam horror story is responsible for creating the conventions by which we’re able to judge the picture in retrospect, and even conventional material as delivered by an artist like Kubrick is worth watching: Full Metal Jacket’s back half is, all told, pleasingly gripping and dark, a naked portrait of how war changes people in contrast to how the military culture depicted in the front half changes people. Being subject to debasement on a routine basis will break a person’s mind in twain. Being forced to kill another human will collapse their soul. Really, there’s nothing about Full Metal Jacket that doesn’t work or get Kubrick’s point across, but there’s also no denying just how indelible its pre-war sequence is, in particular due to R. Lee Ermey’s immortal performance as the world’s most terrifying Gunnery Sergeant. —Andy Crump


out-of-sight-poster.jpg 9. Out of Sight
Year: 1998
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
As through Jim Jarmusch’s eyes in Only Lovers Left Alive, Detroit via Steven Soderbergh is a metropolis equal parts romance and history, both a place where people can escape their typical lives for a time and a place that people want to escape to leave behind the suffocating weight of centuries of human industry. Though he photographs the city in the cobalt blues of cold temperatures and the biting grays of colorless winter, Soderbergh seems to revel in the weird sprawl of Metro Detroit, fascinated by how the violence of boxing matches at the State Theater can so quickly—as if it were only a matter of changing a green screen—lapse into the wealthy compounds of Bloomfield Hills or the crystalline hotel rooms of the Renaissance Center, where you can eat a $25 burger listening to gun shots in the street below. Out of Sight is by far the best Elmore Leonard adaptation, the only one to truly embrace Leonard’s hometown as a place far more magical—far more dangerous and upsetting and beautiful and enchanting—than any director has ever admitted before. —Dom Sinacola


boyhood.jpg 8. Boyhood
Year: 2014
Director: Richard Linklater 
Of all the achievements in Richard Linklater’s career, perhaps what he will be best remembered for is his depiction of time. Dazed and Confused chronicled teenage life with precision, but his Before trilogy showed how the passage of time shapes and changes people in ways that they can’t see, precisely because they’re on the inside, lacking the necessary perspective easily available to us on the outside. Now with Linklater’s new movie, Boyhood, time is examined in a new, incredibly moving way. As is Linklater’s custom, Boyhood is profound in such a casual way that its weighty themes feel nonchalant, effortless. This movie might make you cry for reasons you can’t quite articulate. You won’t be alone in feeling that way. Because of the ambition of the project and the amount of years it covers, Boyhood might initially seem underwhelming. By design, Mason’s life isn’t particularly momentous, and there are no major revelations or twists. Instead, everything that happens is a matter of gradation—say, for example, how Mason begins to develop an interest in art or how his mother’s partners start to repeat similar patterns of behavior. These moments aren’t commented on—they’re simply observed—and one of Boyhood’s great attributes is its generous spirit. Linklater, who also wrote the script, doesn’t care about indulging in soap-opera melodrama to elevate the drama because he’s too busy being jazzed by the casual flow of life. There’s enough going on with most people that he doesn’t need to invent incidents. Without even necessarily intending it, Linklater in Boyhood has fashioned a rather lovely vision of modern America, and it’s telling that Mason’s story starts a year after 9/11. In a sense, the world of Boyhood is the world the rest of us have had to negotiate right along with him. By the time Boyhood ends, no grand resolutions have occurred. Mason will keep living his life, and so will we. But by observing the everyday with such grace, Linklater allows us the opportunity to do the same. There are few better gifts a filmmaker can give his audience. —Tim Grierson


touch-of-evil-movie-poster.jpg 7. Touch of Evil
Year: 1958
Director: Orson Welles 
With its legendary opening, a single, crane-enabled shot just shy of three-and-a-half minutes in length, Orson Welles essentially closed the book on the classic noir era—and rewrote his own legacy in the process. Welles was 20 years into his career and a Hollywood has-been at 42 when he signed on to adapt Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil for the screen. The result is a masterwork wrought by an auteur of monumental brass ones, even for Welles. The film opens at night, as a bomb is placed in the trunk of a convertible just before an unwitting couple take a drive through town. An echoing strain of horns and percussion situate us in an exotic, obviously dangerous locale, the natural sounds of the streets weaving in and out with the rock ’n’ roll playing on the car stereo. Cinematographer Russell Metty slowly pans away to refocus our attention on Mexican DEA agent Charlton Heston and his American bride Janet Leigh—a bit of breezy, expository chitchat fills us in on those details. They stroll through customs, across the border, into the U.S. on foot and share an embrace, just as the convertible explodes in front of them. In one extended take, we’re hurtled into this thriller with a minimum of screen time and maximum of suspense. Sure, Welles himself will soon command the frame as a fat, drunk, cane-toting corrupt cop, as will Marlene Dietrich as a brothel madam and Dennis Weaver as a sketchy hotel night manager. The plot will double down with a manhunt, kidnapping, gang rape, drugs and more in a yarn as thick and filthy as Welles’ villain’s final resting place. But those first three minutes 20 seconds not only encapsulate a singular mastery of filmmaking—an immaculately orchestrated synergy of technical skill, storytelling and style—they tick off practically every box on the noir checklist: gritty, maze-like streets; foreign vs. domestic threats; isolation and anxiety; the law and the lawless; the passions of a gorgeous gal and her hero; extremes of shadow and light, angles and composition; unsparing tension; and a palpable, inescapable sense of doom. Three. Unbroken. Minutes. —Amanda Schurr


jurassic-park-movie-poster.jpg 6. Jurassic Park
Year: 1994
Director: Steven Spielberg 
 Jurassic Park’s standing as a technical milestone in cinematic storytelling isn’t only dependent on its then-revolutionary use of computer generated imagery: The special effects look as groundbreaking and seamless today as they did 25 years ago. The magic behind the film’s ability to bring dinosaurs to life could be in Spielberg’s expertise in approaching special effects on a shot-by-shot basis, merging each sequence with reliable miniature and animatronic work, making the connective tissue between these tricks as unnoticeable as possible. More than an achievement, Jurassic Park is an infinitely fun action adventure that also manages to insert some prescient themes into the mix—like whether or not humanity should interfere, on a deeply intimate level, with Nature—affording a moral angle that the sequels have pretty much abandoned or just plain bungled so far. —Oktay Ege Kozak


thin-blue-line.jpg 5. The Thin Blue Line
Year: 1988
Director: Errol Morris 
A little after midnight on Nov. 28, 1976, Dallas police officers Robert Wood and Teresa Turko made a routine traffic stop for a car driving without headlights. When Wood approached the vehicle, the driver pulled a handgun and shot him five times. The car sped off into the night while Turko fired hopelessly in its wake and Wood died at her feet. A cop killer was on the loose in Dallas. Turko’s recollections of the driver were meager, and 50 investigators worked through the sparse clues without a single witness. But less than a month later, on Dec. 21, Dallas police arrested Randall Dale Adams, a 28-year-old itinerant laborer from Ohio. Though Adams claimed his innocence, a jury found him guilty and the judge handed him the death sentence. The man once branded in court as “Charles Manson” was safely locked away. Dallas breathed again. Nine years later, in 1985, a documentarian named Errol Morris drifted into town from New York. Morris had never heard of Randall Dale Adams; he was in Dallas to speak to a doctor. By the time Morris left three years later, he had freed an innocent man, identified a murderer, uncovered widespread corruption and earned death threats, law suits and debt. He had also made one of the finest documentary films of all time—a nimbly stylized and obsessive pursuit of truth; a study in and a shrug to the pitfalls of myopia; the Serial podcast before podcasts ever existed; an epic story of life, death and the misuse of power that has repercussions to this day. He called it The Thin Blue Line. —Neil Forsyth


CoverMoonrise.jpg 4. Moonrise Kingdom
Year: 2012
Director: Wes Anderson 
At the time of making Moonrise Kingdom, after seven features, Wes Anderson became unmistakable: white, upper-middle-class dysfunctional families deadpan wry dialogue amid meticulous mise-en-scène to an eclectic soundtrack. Also: exquisite, often centered, shot compositions; uninterrupted lateral tracking camerawork through dollhouse-like sets; and inserts of quasi-obscure cultural objects. The auteur’s calculated quality persists in this as well, but where his past work could come off as chilly and detached, Moonrise Kingdom exudes a warmth and innocence generated by the earnest adolescent romance at its core. Delightfully in turn, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola avoid clichés at every opportunity. The forces that would typically work to tear Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) apart instead rally behind them, perhaps infected by the conviction of their love, which never wavers, even in argument: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” As always on an Anderson film, there’s much to be charmed by, but Moonrise Kingdom is precious in the very best sense of the word. —Annlee Ellingson


boogie-nights.jpg 3. Boogie Nights
Year: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson 
Although Boogie Nights was Paul Thomas Anderson’s first epic production with an ensemble cast, time and perspective show it’s his closest brush with perfection. The auteur specializes in building up characters to break them down, and no one in his 1997 exploration of the pornography business is exempt from his deconstructive impulses: Few directos balance the hilarious and harrowing so seamlessly, and even fewer rely on dramatic irony to achieve both. Boogie Nights may be amusing because its characters—from Mark Wahlberg’s young rising star to Julianne Moore’s fading starlet and Burt Reynold’s once-famous director who must deal with an industry changing without him—are so hapless, but their ignorance is equally heartbreaking; they earnestly desire to make a good product, even if they struggle to figure out what constitutes quality anymore. Anderson’s fictional pornographers may desperately and futilely cling to a time before video and amateur acting, but Anderson himself managed to put out a two-and-a-half hour film that is careful to never overstay its welcome—even when it asks for “one last thing.” —Allie Conti


the-godfather.jpg 2. The Godfather Trilogy: Part I; Part II; Part III
Year: 1972; 1974; 1990
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The definitive immigrant story/definitive American tragedy: These are the awful things we are forced to do, and this is whom we do them for. The best mob stories ask: “How do I take care of me and mine?” How far are you willing to go to protect your own? In The Godfather and its sequels, the story of the Corleone family becomes the centerpiece of a deep meditation on family and power. Francis Ford Coppola answers: Ultimately, you will lose one in the vain pursuit of the other. During the second film, Family don Michael’s (Al Pacino) wife Kay (Diane Keaton, unrecognizable in her youth) gets her one really powerful scene as she reveals to her husband that she had an abortion because she can’t bear the thought of raising another child in the mob. He wouldn’t understand, she rants, because of “this Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years!” Before, we flash back to 1941 and the fight that results from Michael revealing his enlistment in the Marines to his family: either the beginning of his personal fall or one last reminder that he’s always viewed himself as apart, as better. True tragedy comes from a fatal, internal flaw, and something about this scene is meant to suggest his. His family leaves him in the room alone. The only other times that both Michael and Vito (Marlon Brando; Robert De Niro) are alone on screen in the films occur in the tense moments before they kill—always in explicit defense of the family. Flash forward to Michael on a park bench by himself —years later, after he’s driven away his wife and his sister and seen countless people killed, many by his own order. The lonely horn section of the waltz motif plays us out. Long before that, Michael asks his mother if a man can lose his family in the struggle to protect it. It’s a question we’ve already answered.These are the awful things we are forced to do, and this is whom we do them for. At least, for Coppola, that’s what we tell ourselves. —Ken Lowe


schindlers-list.jpg 1. Schindler’s List
Year: 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg 
It’d be hard to find a more inspiring, moving story to tell than that of Oskar Schindler. And before seeing this film, I assumed that Steven Spielberg was exactly the wrong person to tell it. But all thanks be to the movie gods that I wasn’t a studio head in the ‘90s, because Spielberg produced what was simply one of the most ambitious, wise, and moving motion pictures of our lifetime. The acting is superb—a career-making role for big lumbering Liam Neeson, so carefree and cocky at the beginning, so and concerned and determined in the middle, and so noble and humble at the end of the film. Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley are perfect in supporting roles. A host of unknowns give everything in their one moment on the screen. John Williams’s haunting score and Janusz Kaminski’s breathtaking black-and-white cinematography sparkle. But the script—oh, Steven Zaillian’s majestic script is the biggest star. He manages to take a Holocaust tale and turn it into a story of triumph, the story of how much one man can do, and the regret we’ll each someday have that we didn’t do much, much more. Oskar’s “I could have gotten more out” speech is almost too much to bear. —Michael Dunaway

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