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The 50 Best New Movies on iTunes

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The 50 Best New Movies on iTunes

A quick look at the top movies on iTunes will tell you that popular doesn’t always equal good. What we give you here is a list of the best new movies on iTunes (2017 or newer). There are blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming for sure, but we’re also recommending excellent indie films like A Ghost Story and brilliant docs like Whose Streets? iTunes has an enormous catalog of movies, but this guide should help you find something brand new to rent or buy that you’ll love.

You can also check out our guides to the best movies on other platforms like Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, On Demand, YouTube, Shudder and The Best Movies in Theaters. Or visit all our Paste Movie Guides.

Here are the 50 Best New Movies on iTunes:

abacus-poster.jpg 50. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Year: 2017
Director: Steve James
Imperiled families are popular forms of community in documentaries this year—on the more heartwarming side is Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, the deceptively straightforward new film from Hoop Dreams director Steve James. In it, James details the ordeal of the Sungs, who ran the only bank to face federal prosecution in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse. What’s even more surprising is that their bank, Abacus Federal Savings, was a tiny, local institution catering to New York City’s Chinatown residents—hardly one of the massive financial corporations that helped crater the world economy. There is a happy ending to Abacus’s legal nightmare, however, but James uses the court case as a means to explore the Sung family, particularly patriarch Thomas Sung, who even in his late 70s still elicits a strong hold over his adult daughters, who help run the bank with him while jockeying to curry his favor. Abacus is a family portrait mixed with current events, and if it’s less ambitious than Hoop Dreams that doesn’t diminish the warmth and subtlety James brings to this look at an anxious, close-knit clan who rally around one another once the government goes after them. —Tim Grierson


ingrid-goes-west.jpg 49. Ingrid Goes West
Year: 2017
Director: Matt Spicer
In her post-Parks and Rec career—wherein the crux of her performance was rolling her eyes—and relegated to typecasted roles like Life After Beth and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Aubrey Plaza has gone as far as she can with that kind of material. But in Ingrid Goes West she finds a seed of something so much more complicated, her talents are able to elevate the script to a new plane. Playing Ingrid, whose mental illness allows her social media activity to consume her life and the lives of those around her, Plaza unearths curious, complicated gradations in the character, one that could be easily written off as a weirdo freak. What Plaza senses in Ingrid, as the character desperately tries to become something else, hiding her vulnerability beneath layers of social (media) performance, is the ostensibly monstrous morphed into the deeply human. Plaza’s facial contortions alone, swooning with desperation and desire, lift her performance, and the film, to the ranks of the great queer personality-swap films like Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. —Kyle Turner


beguiled.jpg 48. The Beguiled
Year: 2017
Director: Sofia Coppola
Talking about The Beguiled means talking about Sofia Coppola’s accidental racism. Google the film’s title and you’ll be dragged under an endless swirl of thinkpieces hinged upon the matter of Coppola’s decision to scrub her adaptation of Don Siegel’s 1971 Southern Gothic movie, itself an adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 Southern Gothic novel, of its lone black character, with each piece yanking discussion of The Beguiled further and further away from The Beguiled itself. Citing what Coppola bypasses in her take on The Beguiled has the natural consequence of eliding what she includes, and if the absence of Hattie, Mae Mercer’s house slave in the Siegel original, is impossible to ignore, it’s equally impossible to ignore the subtext Coppola articulates through her absence. Here, she treats the all-girls boarding school where the story’s action takes place as a bubble of privilege: Her characters sit on the periphery of the Civil War, worrying out loud over the suffering war inflicts on its participants without considering the suffering that led to its outbreak, because of course a bunch of Southern whites would never question the morality of systemic racism as they sit comfortably in the lodge, watching smoke billow in the distance, the cost of a culture and economic order built on wholesale indifference to human dignity. Maybe Coppola should have spared time herself for confronting the race politics of The Beguiled’s era directly. Maybe if she had, the film wouldn’t be as deftly streamlined as it is. The discussion of what the film isn’t is a discussion worth having, just not at the expense of what the film is: Delicious, sensual, made with sterling craft and an unassumingly sharp edge. —Andy Crump


big-sick.jpg 47. The Big Sick
Year: 2017
Director: Michael Showalter
The Big Sick can sometimes be awfully conventional, but among its key assets is its radiant view of its characters. Based on the first year in the relationship of married screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, this indie rom-com has a mildly risky structure and some trenchant observations about the culture clashes that go on in immigrant families living in America. But what cuts deepest is just how profoundly lovable these people are. That’s not the same as being cutesy: Rather, The Big Sick is defiantly generous, understanding that people are horribly flawed but also capable of immeasurable graciousness when the situation requires. So even when the film stumbles, these characters hold you up. Nanjiani plays a lightly fictionalized version of his younger self, a struggling Chicago stand-up who is having as much success in his career as he in his dating life. Born into a Pakistani family who moved to the United States when he was a boy, he’s a dutiful son, despite lying about being a practicing Muslim and politely deflecting the attempts of his parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) to set him up in an arranged marriage. That’s when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), an American grad student with whom he’s instantly smitten. She swears she doesn’t want a relationship, but soon they fall for one another—even though Kumail knows it can’t work out. What’s most radical about The Big Sick is its optimistic insistence that a little niceness can make all the difference. —Tim Grierson


lego-batman-movie-poster.jpg 46. The Lego Batman Movie
Year: 2017
Director: Chris McKay
It goes without saying that this isn’t a serious movie, but it does take its material seriously. There’s a distinct feeling here that McKay—plus the team of writers gathered to write the script—genuinely cares about the Batman mythos, that he’s a bona fide Bat-fan and that he can not only write a joke but take a joke, because to make fun of Batman is to make fun of Batman’s legions of fans. McKay’s immense understanding of the character lets him get away with relentless parody, and also positions The Lego Batman Movie as one of the most surprisingly authentic Batman movies ever made. It gets that Bruce Wayne is Batman’s alter ego and not the other way around, that at the end of the day the real persona is the one shaped by childhood trauma. The playboy is more of a mask than that iconic cowl. —Andy Crump


the-square.jpg 45. The Square
Director: Ruben Östlund
The Square starts with a hangover and ends with a headache, but don’t feel too bad for the well-meaning fool suffering from them. His ailments are entirely his own damn fault. This is what happens when you try to shoulder the combined weight of the world’s problems by yourself without shrugging: You buckle. In the case of our well-meaning fool, Christian (Claes Bang), that burden is made heavier by hubris, pomp, the kind of commodifiable liberal arrogance that dupes people into thinking they’re helping by responding to mass shootings and natural disasters with hashtags. Christian’s intentions are good—grand even—but he’s just one person. One person can’t wash away humanity’s woes, especially when that person is an inveterate asshole. If you know the movies of Ruben Östlund, though, this won’t come as a surprise: Crummy examples of manliness are his bread and butter. Östlund’s last movie, 2014’s superb Force Majeure, a biting satire of disgraced masculinity, is all about dissecting gender roles and finding sympathy for its protagonist following an act of humiliating cowardice. The Square explores similar thematic pursuits but couches them in an equally biting satire of the art world, and if you’re taking the mickey out of the art world, you’re taking the mickey out of the world at large. Art, after all, is innately political, and The Square has politics in its DNA. —Andy Crump


city-ghosts-poster.jpg 44. City of Ghosts
Year: 2017
Director: Matthew Heineman
There need not be a documentary about the Syrian catastrophe to rally the world around its cause—just as, in Matthew Heineman’s previous film, Cartel Land, there was no need to vilify the world of Mexican cartels or the DEA or the paramilitaristic nationalists patrolling our Southern borders to confirm that murder and drug trafficking are bad. The threats are known and the stakes understood, at least conceptually. And yet, by offering dedicated, deeply intimate portraits of the people caught up in these crises, Heineman complicates them beyond all repair, placing himself in undoubtedly death-defying situations to offer a perspective whose only bias is instinctual. So it is with City of Ghosts, in which he follows members of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a group committed to using citizen-based journalism to expose the otherwise covered-up atrocities committed by ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria. In hiding, in Turkey and Germany and at an event for journalists in the U.S.—in exile—these men, who Heineman characterizes as a very young and even more reluctant resistance, tell of both the increasingly sophisticated multimedia methods of ISIS and their hopes for feeling safe enough to settle and start a family with equal trepidation about what they’ve conditioned themselves to never believe: That perhaps they’ll never be safe. Heineman could have easily bore witness to the atrocities himself, watching these men as they watch, over and over, videos of their loved ones executed by ISIS, a piquant punishment for their crimes of resistance. There is much to be said about the responsibility of seeing in our world today, after all. Instead, while City of Ghosts shares plenty of horrifying images, the director more often that not shields the audience from the graphic details, choosing to focus his up-close camera work on the faces of these men as they take on the responsibility of bearing witness, steeling themselves for a potential lifetime of horror in which everything they know and love will be taken from them. By the time Heineman joins these men as they receive the 2015 International Press Freedom Award for their work, the clapping, beaming journalists in the audience practically indict themselves, unable to see how these Syrian men want to be doing anything but what they feel they must, reinforcing the notion that what seems to count as international reportage anymore is the exact kind of lack of nuance that Heineman so beautifully, empathetically wants to call out. —Dom Sinacola


logan-lucky.jpg 43. Logan Lucky
Year: 2017
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Steven Soderbergh has often been best after he has taken time off to recharge, and the four years of “retirement” after 2013’s Side Effects seem to have sharpened his filmmaking instincts. Logan Lucky has the briskness and sheen of a professional, of a man who, after years of restlessness, has become comfortable enough to simply tell a story with confidence, clarity and gusto. You can feel Soderbergh in every frame of this thing, but he’s not foregrounded: He knows he doesn’t have to do that anymore. Soderbergh, for all his greatness, has never had a signature stamp, a theme or a vision that he consistently hits hard every time out. He just wants to make movies that are fun to watch. The Logans of the title are Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver). Jimmy’s a West Virginian divorced, doting dad who has just lost his construction job at Charlotte Motor Speedway and decides, in an effort to change his life and to get back at the jerks who canned him, to get together with Clyde, a bartender who lost part of his left arm in Iraq, to rob the Speedway of millions of dollars. The brothers draw up their master plan, which consists of breaking an explosives expert named Joe Bank (played by a loose, undeniably funny Daniel Craig) out of jail, sneaking into the Speedway the same day as the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 and evading two insistent, suspicious detectives (Hilary Swank and Macon Blair). If you’re thinking this sounds like a redneck Ocean’s 11, well, Soderbergh is way ahead of you: At one point, a newscaster actually calls Jimmy and his gang “Ocean’s 7-11.” Logan Lucky isn’t the best movie Soderbergh has ever made, but it’s pointing him a most fascinating new direction—the auteur as compulsive entertainer. —Will Leitch


karl-marx-city-poster.jpg 42. Karl Marx City
Year: 2017
Directors: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker
If you didn’t live in East Germany during the decades the Stasi was extending its insidious reach, perhaps your only knowledge of the GDR secret police comes from the 2007 Oscar-winner The Lives of Others. If nothing else, Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s Karl Marx City offers a necessary riposte to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film—and not just because one talking-heads expert in the film takes devastatingly direct aim at that film’s bogus sentimentalities. Epperlein and Tucker go deeper into elucidating the inner workings of Stasi authoritarian machinery than most films, exposing a whole society driven by paranoia, one where few people felt they could trust even their closest friends. But perhaps the most noteworthy achievement of Karl Marx City lies in the way it manages to use Epperlein’s own personal story—her quest to discover whether her late father was, in fact, a Stasi informant—as a conduit to explore this harrowing period in German history without coming off as merely solipsistic. Here is a sterling example of a deeply intimate story that successfully opens out into broader historical terrain in genuinely eye-opening ways. —Kenji Fujishima


cure-wellness-movie-poster.jpg 41. A Cure for Wellness
Year: 2017
Director: Gore Verbinski
It’s a bit of a tragedy that Gore Verbinski’s delightfully bizarre, absurdly violent and grotesque A Cure For Wellness went largely unnoticed. Hollywood’s versatile trickster, Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe go for broke cramming various sub-genres and mood-drenched tropes into an overstuffed, batshit-crazy horror epic, a loving nod to old Universal monster movies, among many, with the mad scientist conducting experiments that “defy god and nature” in a picturesque old castle perched atop a village that somehow skipped the 20th Century, Bojan Bazelli’s gorgeous cinematography taking full advantage of the Euro-gothic aesthetic. It’s a no-fucks-given gonzo experiment, laced with the riskiness of Giallo and the surrealist imagery of a Lynchian nightmare, disparate tones wrapped dreamily around an angry, blunt satire about the self-destructive, soul-sucking nature of greed and ambition. —Oktay Ege Kozak


after-the-storm-movie-poster.jpg 40. After the Storm
Year: 2017
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Depending on the filmmaker, After the Storm’s storyline could be grist for a dark comedy, a tear-jerking melodrama or a bilious character study. But because it springs from the mind of Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda, this look at a middle-aged man who’s only slowly coming to the realization that he’s a right bastard is gentle, wistful—serene even. The film stars Hiroshi Abe (who previously appeared in Kore-eda’s I Wish) as Ryota. Years ago, he was a novelist of some acclaim—he even won a prestigious literary prize—but lately, the muse has run dry, leaving Ryota busily tending to his gambling addiction while taking a job as a private detective. And that’s when Ryota is not snooping on his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) to see who she’s dating now, even cajoling his 11-year-old son Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa) to question her about how serious this new relationship is. If a melancholy, troubled tone is endemic in Kore-eda’s work, so is his close chronicling of family dynamics. While Ryota fears turning into the same terminal disappointment as his father—or, perhaps, the disappointment he perceived him to be—he tries to win Shingo’s affection, buying him gifts to assert his supremacy over his ex’s new boyfriend. In Ryota’s mind, it’s how to be close to his boy in a way his father never was with him, but After the Storm knows better, recognizing all the ways that he’s failing his kid—and also how, like its own kind of genetic gravity, Ryota is becoming his old man, unable to correct the mistakes of the past. But there’s no scorn in Kore-eda’s depiction of Ryota’s transformation, the director’s patience towards Ryota is both touching and despairing. After the Storm shows this man more kindness than perhaps he deserves, but the film has no illusions: Only Ryota can pull himself out of his own hole. But that’s the thing about having faith in people—it makes it that much easier for them to keep breaking your heart. —Tim Grierson


darkest-hour-poster.jpg 39. Darkest Hour
Year: 2017
Director: Joe Wright
Darkest Hour is a film of flummoxed old white men hollering at each other, a perfect foil to (and double-bill alongside) Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, both because the two take place at about the same time during the early years of World War II—as Hitler’s world domination began to take shape and an invasion of the UK imminent—and because they are entirely different experiences: Dunkirk is all action, while Joe Wright’s film is all words. And with volume, those words gain weight—sound, in all of its ephemera and exigencies, is just as important to Darkest Hour as it is to Nolan’s visceral spectacle, except Wright’s are the sounds of bureaucracy and urbanity building to a fever pitch, and Nolan’s are the sounds of bodies in motion through time. Rarely has the uncomfortable, marrow-deep scritch of pen to paper bore such portent, except for maybe in Wright’s other period drama, Atonement. Silence erupts from the din of war—in that ebb and flow of Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman’s performance is formidable. Not only is his makeup beyond convincing (and undoubtedly Oscar-worthy), but Oldman understands that the bluster of what’s required of him to overcome the silliness of both his casting and facade must be balanced—countered and, all puns intended, fleshed out—in quiet. The film’s two most striking moments occur in silence: When Churchill allows his secretary (Lily James, impressively reserved) a moment with him to soundlessly ponder her brother’s death at Caille, and when, first addressing the nation on May 19th to tell white lies about the state of the British army and Hitler’s advance, Churchill’s silence is a palpable thing, felt until he breaks it with the onslaught of war propagandism, which Wright only stylizes via an aerial shot of a French battlefield landscape bombed to smithereens transitioning seamlessly into the landscape of a young corpse’s face, Bruno Delbonnel’s camera lingering on a vacant, clouded-over eye. Wright often pulls out to these aerial shots, relieving the audience of the claustrophobia of war bunkers and overly-festooned rooms and smoky halls full of flummoxed old white men with a God’s Eye perspective. This push-and-pull, between loud and quiet, between intimacy and vastness, deepens what could otherwise end up a mealy-mouthed glimpse at a moment too engorged on its own laudatory memorializing. Which is why Darkest Hour transcends its biopic trappings to work, almost despite itself. —Dom Sinacola


brawl-cell-block-99-poster.jpg 38. Brawl in Cell Block 99
Year: 2017
Director: S. Craig Zahler
In which we bask in Vince Vaughn’s hugeness, witnessing S. Craig Zahler’s pitch-perfect ode to grindhouse cinema draw the best of extremes out of an actor who’s had a rough couple years crawling out from under the parody of himself. This is not Vince Vaughn playing Bradley Thomas, stolid brute willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family, it is the silhouette of Vince Vaughn, silent and bigger than everyone else in the room, a spectre of bruised flesh—so much flesh—descending circle by circle into Hades, his odyssey heralded by the likes of Don Johnson and Udo Kier (both seemingly born to be in this endlessly compelling, awfully fucked-up movie) and soundtracked by soul/RnB icons like the O’Jays and Butch Tavares. It confirms that Zahler—along with Bone Tomahawk—is on some Tarantino levels of modern genre filmmaking—which could honestly be a pejorative, were Brawl in Cell Block 99 less finely tuned, less patient and less breathlessly violent. By the time Bradley lurches into irrevocable action, foreshadowed by an opening scene in which he rips apart a car with his bare hands, which is exactly as that sounds, every life force he snuffs out with maximum barbarity also comes with pure satisfaction, the Id of anyone who’s into this kind of thing stroked to completion. —Dom Sinacola


the-lure-poster.jpg 37. The Lure
Year: 2016
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
In Filmmaker Magazine, director Agnieszka Smoczynska called The Lure a “coming-of-age story” born of her past as the child of a nightclub owner: “I grew up breathing this atmosphere.” What she means to say, I’m guessing, is that The Lure is an even more restlessly plotted Boyhood if the Texan movie rebooted The Little Mermaid as a murderous synth-rock opera. (OK, maybe it’s nothing like Boyhood.) Smoczynska’s film resurrects prototypical fairy tale romance and fantasy without any of the false notes associated with Hollywood’s “gritty” reboot culture. Poland, the 1980s and the development of its leading young women provide a multi-genre milieu in which the film’s cannibalistic mermaids can sing their sultry, often violently funny siren songs to their dark hearts’re content. While Ariel the mermaid Disney princess finds empathy with young girls who watch her struggle with feelings of longing and entrapment, The Lure’s flesh-hungry, viscous, scaly fish-people are a gross, haptic and ultimately effective metaphor for the maturation of this same audience. In the water, the pair are innocent to the ways of humans (adults), but on land develop slimes and odors unfamiliar to themselves and odd (yet strangely attractive) to their new companions. Reckoning with bodily change, especially when shoved into the sex industry like many immigrants to Poland during the collapse of that country’s communist regime in the late ’80s, the film combines the politics of the time with the sexual politics of a girl becoming a woman (of having her body politicized). And though The Lure may bite off more human neck than it can chew, especially during its music-less plot wanderings, it’s just so wonderfully consistent in its oddball vision you won’t be able to help but be drawn in by its mesmerizing thrall. —Jacob Oller


Rat-Film-poster.jpg 36. Rat Film
Year: 2017
Director: Theo Anthony
Director Theo Anthony draws parallels: between statistics and hunches, between logistics and subtext, between the systemic and the everyday, between the drama of history and the total lack of histrionics required to support his 100-year-old post-apocalyptic vision of institutionalized racism. This vision is Rat Film, Anthony’s brilliant docu-essay chronicling Baltimore’s city planning and resultant systemic segregation as a microcosm of the still-failing American Urban Experiment. In it, first we hear a voice (Maureen Jones, siri-adjacent). Amidst stark black, before we see anything we hear: “Before the world became the world it was an Egg. Inside the Egg was Dark. The rat nibbled the egg and let the Light in. And the world began.” From these initial moments, Rat Film introduces the idea of creation—from whatever mythos Anthony culled this intro—not as an expansion, a pushing out, but as an illusion of growth hiding something so much more claustrophobic, so much more suffocating. Rat Film is ostensibly about Baltimore’s rat problem, about how the City has historically dealt with and studied and used parts of their poorest neighborhoods to address pest control, trial-and-erroring over decades, but as Edmund the amicable exterminator with the Baltimore City Rat Rubout Program tells us, “There ain’t never been a rat problem in Baltimore; there’s always been a people problem.” —Dom Sinacola


the-breadwinner.jpg 35. 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’ 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. As much as The Breadwinner emphasizes women’s plight living under the heel of male dominion, the film’s portrait of gender inequality is multi-dimensional. The trouble isn’t only that women in Parvana’s world have limited rights, it’s that men have an overabundance of them. The Breadwinner never loses its focus on Parvana’s journey. She is the film’s heart and soul, and her arc is its reason for being. But Twomey wisely complements Parvana’s growth by couching her struggle in a wider cultural scope. As a result, we better appreciate the severity of her situation, just as we appreciate The Breadwinner for the strength of its presentation. Like the film itself, Parvana is more than up to the task of shouldering an outsized burden. —Andy Crump


marjorie-prime-movie-poster.jpg 34. Marjorie Prime
Year: 2017
Director: Michael Almereyda
Marjorie Prime is an elusive movie. You could call it dense, but calling it agile, or maybe just tricky, better describes the film’s character. Another director might have felt compelled to present Marjorie Prime as a mystery box, a riddle to be solved instead of a film to be savored, and peppered its plot with clues to vie for our attention, encouraging us to figure out the box’s secrets before its creator tips their hand. Michawl Almereyda gives not a single damn about outsmarting his viewers or his viewers outsmarting him. Like him or not, there’s no point denying how well he’s aged as a filmmaker throughout his extensive career. Appropriate, then, that this is a movie about precisely that—age—and all of the melancholic baggage and ennui that comes along with it. Working from Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play of the same name, Almereyda presents a tale of generational grief, in which elderly Marjorie (Lois Smith, reprising her role from the original play) is kept company in her modern seaside abode by a hologram modeled after her late husband, Walter (Jon Hamm). Walter, referred to coolly as “Walter Prime” by Marjorie’s daughter, Tess (Geena Davis), and her son in law, Jon (Tim Robbins), looks and sounds like the real thing, perfectly captured as a man in his 40s by the miracle of technology. Tess thinks the whole thing is weird. Jon less so, though he has his own problems with the Walter dynamic despite being the one who purchased him for Marjorie in the first place. From there, Almeryeyda mounts an exquisitely challenging production, one that calls for repeat viewings over years, all the better to persuade the film to surrender its meaning. How does the old saying go? That a lie told often enough becomes the truth? Such is the stuff that Marjorie Prime is made of: The lies we all tell ourselves to work through mourning and the passage of life. —Andy Crump


starless-dreams-poster.jpg 33. Starless Dreams
Year: 2016
Director: Mehrdad Oskouei
Mehrdad Oskouei, the director of this sobering documentary about young girls in a juvenile-detention facility in Iran, is well-regarded in his home country, but until the Museum of the Moving Image in New York gave this film a theatrical run earlier this year, he was barely known, if at all, by international audiences outside of the festival circuit. Based on Starless Dreams, though—and especially in tandem with two earlier, shorter, similarly themed documentaries of his, It’s Always Late for Freedom (2007) and The Last Days of Winter (2011)—the belated wider attention seems richly deserved. A mix of talking-heads interviews and fly-on-the-wall observational sequences, Starless Dreams couches its critique of a heartless judicial system, and by extension a repressive society, in deeply human terms. The personal stories Oskouei, with his paternal manner, collects are heartbreaking in their evocation of childhood innocence crushed at a prematurely early age, with some of them either fearing returning to their normal lives outside of the facility, and others simply wishing for death. And yet, occasionally these girls are able to find pockets of light, mostly through the bonds they’ve forged with each other. Abbas Kiarostami may have left this earth last year, but his gently inquisitive spirit, at least in the nonfiction realm, finds a successor in Oskouei. —Kenji Fujishima


coco.jpg 32. Coco
Year: 2017
Director: Lee Unkrich
Thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco will count as one of Pixar’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. Set during Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican celebration of life/remembrance of the dead, Coco features young Manolo trying to pursue his love of music despite strong opposition from a family of shoemakers. The implicit contract between films like Coco and the audience is a simple one: Sit back and let us immerse you in a world you haven’t seen before, or one you’ve only imagined. Director Lee Unkrich and crew do just that. Coco’s underworld is richly textured and imagined, but so is the “real world” where we start and end up. Sure, by now it’s what we expect from Pixar, but it’s notable nonetheless. And the lasting accomplishment of Coco lies in the reverence and joy with which it depicts another culture’s celebration. Dia de los Muertos isn’t used as some convenient, exotic setting or explored through the eyes of someone from the United States (though early iterations of the script did just that, apparently). Instead, the film represents a full embrace of a culture and its people, as well as a celebration of family, both present and past. As such, it’s difficult to imagine healthier holiday fare. —Michael Burgin


marston-wonder-women-movie-poster.jpg 31. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Year: 2017
Director: Angela Robinson
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of two married psychology professors at Radcliffe College, Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), a couple who grew up together and are deeply in love but also restless and eager for discovery. While attempting to invent a lie detector test—they eventually create one but never patent it—they meet an eager, beautiful student named Olive (Bella Heathcote) who’s the daughter of a feminist icon and as desperate for knowledge and new experiences as they are. They eventually all fall in love and live together as a menage a trois before their university finds out, fires the couple and forces them to all go live together, now with their children, to find some sort of work. The work turns out, we learn in an unnecessary narrative flash-forward sequence, to serve as the basis of Bill’s increasing interest in comic books, creating a character, based on the two women in his life and based in his feminist ideals, who is strong, smart, truthful, heroic and, well, into bondage. The love story of this family turns out to be the origin story of Wonder Woman herself. This is a fascinating story, particularly as we see little moments in the lives of the Marston clan reflected in the Wonder Woman mythos. (Olive wears metal wristbands all the time, the lasso is like the lie detectors Elizabeth and Bill invent, so on.) But writer-director Angela Robinson makes sure to keep it focused on the emotions involved, which is especially tricky considering all three characters are all so academically oriented—not to mention obsessed with deciphering the human mind and why we make the decisions we do—and are thus constantly questioning their own value systems. We really do believe that these three people love each other, and that they’re all better off together, but Robinson never tries to make this overly prudish and sanitized. The movie isn’t buttoned-up and restrained, but it isn’t brash and in your face either; it’s affably sexy, if such a thing is possible. And it never loses sight of its central premise of equality and acceptance—this movie’s heart is firmly in the right place. —Will Leitch


guardians-galaxy-vol2-movie-poster.jpg 30. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn shows that “second verse, mostly same as the first” can serve the viewer (and, inevitably, the box office) well, especially when one has most of the Marvel universe to pull from. To a large extent, GotG Vol. 2 follows the playbook from the first film, though now, with the entire cast familiar faces to the audience, Gunn skips introductions and goes right to the funny. In this case, that means an opening credits sequence featuring the entire team and what amounts to a highlight reel of character traits meant to amuse: rapid banter from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), humorous ’roid-rage from Drax (Dave Bautista), quiet bad-assitude from Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and an extended cute-Groot frolic. During this sequence and throughout the movie, the comic elements of this particular space opera feel as if they have been ratcheted up. But though he doesn’t seem to want the audience to have too much time between laughs, Gunn also seems determined to match the increased comic volume with more heart. The audience is unlikely to feel they’ve seen anything that different from Vol. 1, but it’s clear that Gunn and company knew exactly what qualities made the first film so enjoyable, and what they needed to do to make sure this particular sequel was worth the wait. —Michael Burgin


columbus-poster.jpg 29. Columbus
Year: 2017
Director: Kogonada
Kogonada takes us on a tour of Columbus, IN and all of its glorious, beautiful, occasionally surreal architecture, from the Columbus Learning Center to the Second Street Suspension Bridge. He highlights these landmarks in tribute to his setting, but the greatest monument on display here is Haley Lu Richardson’s striking, towering performance. The places and things Kogonada includes in his frame are important for drawing us into Columbus’s world, but it’s Richardson who gives that world its shape, supplying her director’s clean, static compositions, captured in long shots, with aching humanity molded by doubt and disappointment. “Do you think he’s got a chance to recover, even if it’s just enough to go back to Seoul?” Casey asks Jin (John Cho) as she takes a drag off her cigarette. “God,” he mutters, “I hope not.” She’s stricken by the acidic tone of his reply, as if Jin’s ambivalence has fractured the veneer covering her world. It’s a great moment in a movie littered with them, and most of them belong to Richardson’s poise. Through the figurative lens of Richardson’s performance and the literal lens of Kogonada’s camera, we see Columbus for what it is: A moral lesson about keeping ourselves in neutral. The more time we spend living in the same spot, the more we take that spot, and ourselves, for granted. —Andy Crump


three-billboards-movie-poster.jpg 28. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, a divorced mother who lives in a rural Missouri community. Everybody in a small town knows everybody else’s business, and Mildred is Ebbing’s walking tragedy: She’s the woman whose teen daughter was recently raped and murdered. Unhappy that the local police force, led by the cantankerous Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), has failed to find her girl’s killer, Mildred decides to take action, buying up three billboards outside of town and splashing an accusing message across them: “Raped while dying. And still no arrests. How come, Chief Willoughby?” Whether it’s Our Town or Dogville, fiction occasionally uses small towns as a microcosm for America at large, showing what’s wonderful or toxic about our country. Judging by this film, the state of our union is fractious and violent—and only getting worse. You probably didn’t need a movie to tell you that, but writer-director Martin McDonagh’s volatile comedy-drama keeps poking at our scabs, pinpointing our humanity and surprising us with a series of small revelations. This is a film that’s proudly impertinent but also deeply morally serious. And even if Three Billboards doesn’t always hold together, that’s appropriate for its anxious characters who are, themselves, a little unsteady. —Tim Grierson


not-your-negro-poster.jpg 27. I Am Not Your Negro
Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck
Raoul Peck focuses on James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, a work that would have memorialized three of his friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. All three black men were assassinated within five years of each other, and we learn in the film that Baldwin was not just concerned about these losses as terrible blows to the Civil Rights movement, but deeply cared for the wives and children of the men who were murdered. Baldwin’s overwhelming pain is as much the subject of the film as his intellect. And so I Am Not Your Negro is not just a portrait of an artist, but a portrait of mourning—what it looks, sounds and feels like to lose friends, and to do so with the whole world watching (and with so much of America refusing to understand how it happened, and why it will keep happening). Peck could have done little else besides give us this feeling, placing us squarely in the presence of Baldwin, and I Am Not Your Negro would have likely still been a success. His decision to steer away from the usual documentary format, where respected minds comment on a subject, creates a sense of intimacy difficult to inspire in films like this. The pleasure of sitting with Baldwin’s words, and his words alone, is exquisite. There’s no interpreter, no one to explain Baldwin but Baldwin—and this is how it should be. —Shannon M. Houston


girls-trip-poster.jpg 26. Girls Trip
Year: 2017
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
While it’s great to experience movies that are powerful and groundbreaking and devastating—we all love to weep at the theater or in our homes, wiping away tears as the credits roll on movies like Call Me By Your Name—but some of the best movies can be both well-written and unapologetically fun. And I’m not sure anybody had more fun this year than those of us who experienced Girls Trip. You go in likely expecting a solid, heartwarming tale about a group of friends who reconnect on a trip to New Orleans, but you leave wondering how you’d gone your whole life without experiencing this sort of black, female-centered version of The Hangover. It’s not just that Girls Trip, is so reminiscent of those raunchy, absurd (and kind of disgusting) comedies, it’s that the shocking, laugh-out-loud moments are so earned and so excellently delivered that it’s easy to forget there’s some kind of message wrapped up in it all. That’s a good thing, because it makes those final confrontations and confessions at the end of the film all the more compelling. Of course, what really made this movie one of the most beautiful and hilarious movies of the year was its cast, featuring performances from an incredible group of women with the kind of chemistry you dream of seeing on screen: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah all turned in phenomenal work. Haddish has been (rightfully) celebrated as the breakout star, but her comedic prowess could have been lost on a lesser script. Luckily, writers Tracy Oliver, Kenya Barris and Erica Rivinoja laid an impeccable foundation for director Malcolm D. Lee, and the result was one of the biggest blasts—among any genre—of the year. —Shannon M. Houston

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