The 50 Best Movies on HBO Go and HBO Now (December 2018)

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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Go and HBO Now (December 2018)

For the first month in quite a while, HBO hasn’t lost a buttload of great films, but still: To help make sure you get the most out of your subscription, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO in December, ranging from new 2017 classics like Oscar winners Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water and Phantom Thread to one of our favorites from this year, Paddington 2. We’ve also got a few new picks from our Best Comedies of All Time list, and our Best Romantic Comedies of All Time list.

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

Here are the 50 best movies on HBO in December:

cure-wellness-movie-poster.jpg 50. 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


love-simon-movie-poster.jpg 49. Love, Simon
Year: 2018
Director: Greg Berlanti
Love, Simon is the latest entry in the fairly minuscule collection of movies geared towards young LGBTQ people, but it’s in how main character Simon (Nick Robinson) self-actualizes which seems to establish the film firmly in the present. The ironies of Simon’s very liberal family, accepting friends, etc. are no match for deeply rooted anxiety and a proclivity to want to create some sort of identity online, a version of himself only he and one other, his anonymous pen pal Blue, can know. Love, Simon was not the first queer teen movie (though it was being touted as if it was), and it was not even the first queer film to explore digital identities, but the film is nonetheless of interest because of the way that it uses digital spaces to project who Simon wants to be and and what Simon wants gay desire to look like. Simon, brusquely masc-performing and part of a dream middle class family, can exist as an ostensibly more honest version of himself in the digital realm, while writing to an anonymous person named Blue, whom he found by way of a “confessions”-like blog. Love, Simon’s connection to You’ve Got Mail is crucial because of how it articulates the line between artifice and authenticity: Simon, and Blue for that matter, are no less honest for carving out an identity online in which they feel safe enough to reveal an “authentic” part of themselves. The internet has evolved rapidly since Nora Ephron’s film, but the same rules apply. Love, Simon is one of a few very recent queer films that has its protagonist use the internet to imagine who they could be, or who they think they should be. For Simon and Blue, an email thread can be the queer space they need to explore what “being yourself” really means. —Kyle Turner


wonder-woman-poster.jpg 48. Wonder Woman
Year: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Considering that the character of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was the only one in Batman v Superman who didn’t want to yank your eyeballs out of your head with a spork, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Wonder Woman is lightyears better than anything else the newfangled DC cinematic universe has produced. It’s not quieter necessarily, but it is more measured, more comfortable in its own skin, less fanboy desperate to keep waving keys in front of your face—exploding keys—to make sure it has the full attention of all your assaulted senses. It feels almost old-fashioned in its themes of the goodness of humanity—and the debate alien outsiders have about whether or not humans are worthy of redemption—and the selflessness of one for a greater good. It still has too many skyscraper-sized god-monsters blowing up whole acres in hackneyed super slo-mo, and it doesn’t have much you haven’t seen before, but that it simply tells one story in linear order with logical progression…man, when it comes to these movies, it almost feels like a miracle. —Will Leitch


american-made-movie-poster.jpg 47. American Made
Year: 2017
Director: Doug Liman
In his best performances, Tom Cruise often gives off the impression that he’s getting away with something. Whether it’s Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia or Maverick in Top Gun, the 55-year-old actor burrows deep into his characters’ ability to hustle, scam or charm all those around him. The men he portrays are almost always full of shit, but because it’s Cruise playing them, they’re also very fun company. There are many reasons he’s been a movie star for decades, but that might be among the most crucial: No matter how cocky or ridiculous he or his characters can be, we don’t mind being taken for a ride. The true-life drama American Made is powered by Cruise’s catch-me-if-you-can spirit, exuding a showy, impish disposition that’s sometimes grating but often enticing enough that we forgive its limitations. Aspiring to be Goodfellas but more closely aligned with American Hustle’s manic irreverence, the film has a doozy of a story to tell, and so naturally it would have been far more effective if it had simply told its story rather than endlessly marveling at its own madcap absurdity. And yet, Cruise buoys American Made’s flop-sweat intensity because he seems to understand his character’s desperate, ingratiating whirligig restlessness from the inside. This is that rare time that one of his slick charmers lets you see behind the curtain—and what a fascinating sight it is. —Tim Grierson


diana-our-mother.jpg 46. Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy
Year: 2017
Director: Ashley Gething
This HBO original documentary falls in the “pathologically respectful” category, but it at least has a focus that makes clear that it understands its own purpose. It’s Diana’s life story as recalled by her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. While not especially substantive or deep, it is pleasantly intimate and gives viewers a legitimate peek at a point of view they probably haven’t had access to until now, as Diana’s sons have not spoken much about her in public. You can feel A Lot of Stuff getting glossed over, but it’s lightweight versus insincere. This particular documentary does a good job of reinforcing one of those through lines: Diana was, by all accounts, a loving and deeply engaged parent. This is a warm-hearted look at a couple of boys who are now men and who have never gotten over the untimely and sudden loss of one of their parents because, generally speaking, you don’t get over that. It’s… not typical, at least it wasn’t, for the British royal family to expose much about their private lives or their feelings (Charles and Diana’s incredibly public divorce changed that a bit), and William and Harry are restrained and circumspect in their remembrance of their mother. It’s kind of obvious that there’s a certain amount of reputation damage control going on here, and fair enough: The woman was so dogged by tabloid journalists and accused of everything from being an unfaithful bad-wife attention-seeking troublemaker to being downright mentally ill. This documentary does a really good and arguably needful job of reminding people that this adored and beleaguered public persona was also a human being and the mother of two other human beings who miss her. —Amy Glynn


darkest-hour-poster.jpg 45. 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


the-normal-heart.jpg 44. The Normal Heart
Year: 2014
Director: Ryan Murphy 
Among HBO’s most prestigious—and star-studded—recent efforts is this 2014 adaptation of Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 stage play about the earliest, darkest days of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City. It’s also among the most necessary. Kramer adapted the teleplay, directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), which casts a brilliant Mark Ruffalo as Kramer’s onscreen alter ego, a gay writer who consults with a local doctor (Julia Roberts) about this mysterious, fatal new “cancer” that’s devastating the community and his inner circle of friends (portrayed by Jonathan Groff, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, all excellent). Just as devastating is the ignorance and inhumanity shrouding what was then viewed as a death sentence and, worse, a deserved retribution. Some 35 years after the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit critical mass, and in light of a generational complacency accompanying new medical breakthroughs like PrEP, The Normal Heart is a timely reminder of the physical, emotional and psychological ravages of the disease. Murphy and co. revisit a not-too-far-away era of fear, in which the basic function of breathing the same air—let alone holding someone’s hand—was a gesture of dangerous courage, and compassion. Though it obviously plays much differently four decades vs. four years after Kramer’s original play, the relevance is undeniable, as is his still-coursing anger at the systemic and individual indifference to those affected. Murphy dials down his own flourishes for a harrowing document that needs to be seen. —Amanda Schurr


it-2017-movie-poster.jpg 43. It
Year: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
2017 was the year of blockbuster horror, if ever such a thing has been quantifiable before. Get Out, Annabelle: Creation and even would-be direct-to-video gems such as 47 Meters Down turned sizable profits, but they were just priming the box office pump for It, which shattered nearly every horror movie record imaginable. Perhaps it was the uninspiring summer blockbuster season to thank for an audience starved for something, but just as much credit must go to director Andy Muschietti and, especially, to Pennywise star Bill Skarsgård for taking Stephen King’s famously cumbersome, overstuffed novel and transforming it into something stylish, scary and undeniably entertaining. The collection of perfectly cast kids in the Loser’s Club all have the look of young actors and actresses we’ll be seeing in film for decades to come, but it’s Skarsgård’s hypnotic face, lazy eyes and incessant drool that makes It so difficult to look away from (or forget, for that matter). The inevitable Part 2 will have its hands full in giving a similarly crackling translation to the less popular adult portion of King’s story, but the camaraderie Muschietti gets in his cast and the visual flair of this first It should give us ample reasons to be optimistic. Regardless, it’s impossible to dismiss the pop cultural impact that It will continue to have for a new generation discovering its well-loved characters. —Jim Vorel


napoleon-dynamite-poster.jpg 42. Napoleon Dynamite
Year: 2004
Director: Jared Hess
Made for a shoestring budget of $400,000 (star Jon Heder was originally paid just $1,000 for his performance), Napoleon Dynamite never seemed built to become a pop-cultural touchstone of the mid-2000s, nor a generator of countless memes and catchphrases that would persist in the high school lexicon for years to come. But as we all know, the film took on a life of its own and became a huge sleeper hit, perhaps because the truth of the film is that it’s a rather cutting satire of American un-exceptionalism. Napoleon and the residents of his Idaho town are a uniquely pathetic lot, and Napoleon Dynamite is a comedy that dares to present an entire universe of ugly personalities, fragile egos and social ineptitude. The character of Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), best captured in his endless, masturbatory, self-shot football videos, is someone you might typically expect to appear in a tragedy rather than a comedy, so crushing is his characterization. Hell, the most popular kid in Napoleon’s school looks like a young Jake Busey, for God’s sake. The film’s unusual sense of Midwestern ennui may have been lost on some audiences, but it’s that element that makes Napoleon Dynamite more than just a Comedy Central weekend afternoon feature. —Jim Vorel


tickled-movie-poster.jpg 41. Tickled
Year: 2016
Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
It’s safe to assume that most people have never heard of “competitive endurance tickling,” so when David Farrier, a New Zealand-based television reporter and actor, was sent a link to a bizarre video of young men tickling other men for “sport,” it was only natural that it piqued his curiosity. So, he did what any other reporter would have done: He sent a Facebook message to Jane O’Brien Media, the U.S.-based company that produced the aforementioned videos. While his inquiry was routine, the response he received from company representative Debbie Kuhn was anything but. In fact, it was jaw-droppingly hostile. She wrote, “To be brutally frank, association with a homosexual journalist is not something that we will embrace,” and then continued, assuring Farrier that Jane O’Brien Media would pursue legal action should he take his inquiry any further. So begins the fascinating documentary Tickled, directed by Farrier and Dylan Reeve, the latter largely remaining off-camera. What might have been a tongue-in-cheek examination of a subculture—a fluff piece of the kind on which Farrier’s built his career—quickly becomes a trek down the fetish rabbit hole, the filmmakers uncovering a larger, more nefarious operation. With hidden cameras, ambush interviews and Dateline-esque gotcha segments, the film segues into a bona fide thriller as they explore the dark, seamy corners of the internet, hunting for the Keyser Söze of the competitive tickling world. —Christine N. Ziemba


TheNewtonBoys210x310.jpg 40. The Newton Boys
Year: 1998
Director: Richard Linklater 
Between 1919 and 1924, the Newton Gang—a family-owned and run operation based in Uvalde, Texas—robbed over eighty banks and six trains, sparing bloodshed in their outlaw ventures and taking in an astronomical tally of pelf in the process. The sibling quartet—Willis, Wylie, Jess and Joe—cut their legend from the same cloth as Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, sharing more in common with the latter by virtue of their humanitarian ideals; theft is one thing, but killing people is another entirely. Maybe their claims of non-violence are immaterial, maybe not, but go try to prove them wrong a century after the fact, and see how far you get. Or don’t even bother, because their myth takes on a kind of romanticism when viewed through a contemporary lens. If it’s a lie, it’s a pretty lie. Maybe that’s what drew Richard Linklater to the four brothers and their exploits when he cobbled together his 1998 heist flick, The Newton Boys. Today the film feels like an anomaly in his body of work, a straight-up genre exercise that sticks out like a sore thumb against the vast majority of his catalog. We salute Linklater as a filmmaker primarily for his array of high fallutin’ ramblings on human nature and the meaning of life, whether in Boyhood, the Before trilogy or Waking Life. We do not necessarily think of his name in conjunction with stories about stick ups and car chases. —Andy Crump


the-post-movie-poster.jpg 39. The Post
Year: 2017
Director: Steven Spielberg 
The Post begins as a restrained procedural, sticking only to the facts surrounding The Washington Post obtaining, in 1972, top secret Pentagon Papers showing (without a doubt) that the American resolve for winning the war in Vietnam was severely diminished—the exact opposite mood the U.S. administration was claiming at the time. This strictly matter-of-fact approach would have made directors like Gosta Gavras and, yes, Alan J. Pakula proud. Of course, this being a Steven Spielberg joint, The Post can’t help but gradually bring heavy emotional tension to the film’s forefront, easing us moment by moment into a fairly manipulative yet exhilarating finale. None of that should come as a surprise: “Manipulative but exhilarating” might as well be the director’s calling card. The fact that The Post doesn’t stick to its apparent predecessors’ (All the President’s Men, Spotlight) dogged dedication to never clearly extracting strong emotional responses out of its audience might come across as a clear criticism of this otherwise airtight, tautly-paced drama with some of the best acting of the year. However, we are not living in subtle times. With the rise of authoritarianism here in the U.S. severely pushing back on the first amendment, explicitly declaring the free and open press an enemy of the people, the people need a populist piece of art with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. That’s why, in 2017, Spielberg is the perfect director to handle this story. Who better to rouse us, give us the passion and motivation we need to not only keep up the fight against such tyranny, but to hold out some hope for salvation as well? Depending on one’s politics, then, The Post could be the most important film of the year, or a pathetic piece of left-wing agitprop, but its effectiveness in eliciting a strong emotional response cannot be denied. —Oktay Ege Kozak


perfect-world-movie-poster.jpg 38. A Perfect World
Year: 1993
Director: Clint Eastwood 
On paper, there isn’t much to John Lee Hancock’s screenplay about a seasoned criminal named Butch (Kevin Costner) escaping prison, kidnapping Philip (T.J. Lowther)—a melancholic kid who’s raised without any of the fun that comes with childhood because he’s part of a strict Jehovah’s Witness family—to use him as a hostage as he drives for the border. The narrative and character beats hit exactly when they’re supposed to: Butch and Philip eventually form a bond; Butch helps Philip enjoy life; Philip’s innocence pushes Butch to become a better person until, of course, the law catches up to them and a standoff ensues. What makes A Perfect World still so gripping is Eastwood’s delicate, nostalgic use of the Texas countryside, as well as the natural performances he extracts out of Costner and the child actor, who themselves have a palpable. Costner was at the height of his stardom at the time, known for playing morally airtight do-gooders, so this antihero was a risky move on his part, playing a dark, violent character who can become an imperfect but necessary father figure. —Oktay Ege Kozak


funny-people-poster.jpg 37. Funny People
Year: 2009
Director: Judd Apatow 
Judd Apatow’s dramedy is about the lifetime regrets of a comedian who became a superstar by starring in dumb comedies that cater to the lowest common denominator. Gee, I wonder who’d be the perfect actor for that part? Apatow is fearless in the way that he holds an existential mirror up to his best friend, going as far as using home videos he took of Sandler while they were a bunch of nobodies rooming together, further blurring the line between the fictional George Simmons (Sandler, playing a comedian dying of cancer, facing the existential crisis of death and wondering if comedy can serve as a suitable salve to such grief) and the real actor. Sandler stands up to the challenge with an honest performance showcasing the inherent charm and charisma of such a powerhouse comedian, never diluting the dickish ego and narcissism that comes with it. —Oktay Ege Kozak


inception-movie-poster.jpg 36. Inception
Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan 
In the history of cinema, there is no twist more groan-inducing than the “it was all a dream” trope (notable exceptions like The Wizard of Oz aside). With Inception, director Christopher Nolan crafts a bracing and high-octane piece of sci-fi drama wherein that conceit isn’t just a plot device, but the totality of the story. The measured and ever-steady pace and precision with which the plot and visuals unfold, and Nolan mainstay wally Pfister’s gorgeous, globe-spanning on-location cinematography, implies a near-obsessive attention to detail. The film winds up and plays out like a clockwork beast, each additional bit of minutia coalescing to form a towering whole. Nolan’s filmmaking and Inception’s dream-delving work toward the same end: to offer us a simulation that toys with our notions of reality. As that, and as a piece of summer popcorn-flick fare, Inception succeeds quite admirably, leaving behind imagery and memories that tug and twist our perceptions—daring us to ask whether we’ve wrapped our heads around it, or we’re only half-remembering a waking dream.

Director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a book about his philosophy towards filmmaking, calling it Sculpting in Time; Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t sculpt, he deconstructs. He uses filmmaking to tear time apart so he can put it back together as he wills. A spiritual person, Tarkovsky’s films were an expression of poetic transcendence. For Nolan, a rationalist, he wants to cheat time, cheat death. His films often avoid dealing with death head-on, though they certainly depict it. What Nolan is able to convey in a more potent fashion is the weight of time and how ephemeral and weak our grasp on existence. Time is constantly running out in Nolan’s films; a ticking clock is a recurring motif for him, one that long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer aurally literalized in the scores for Interstellar and Dunkirk. Nolan revolts against temporal reality, and film is his weapon, his tool, the paradox stairs or mirror-upon-mirror of Inception. He devises and engineers filmic structures that emphasize time’s crunch while also providing a means of escape. In Inception different layers exist within the dream world, and the deeper one goes into the subconscious the more stretched out one’s mental experience of time. If one could just go deep enough, they could live a virtual eternity in their mind’s own bottomless pit. “To sleep perchance to dream”: the closest Nolan has ever gotten to touching an afterlife. —Michael Saba and Chad Betz


batman-66-movie-poster.jpg 35. Batman
Year: 1966
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
The Adam West Batman film offers the sort of gleeful insanity you need to inflict upon modern comics fans who are unaware of its existence, because once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it. With a plot that defies any attempt toward description, it’s the height of camp, featuring incredible performances by Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin and especially the great Burgess Meredith, as the Joker, Riddler and Penguin respectively, in a team-up to take down the caped crusader and his dopey ward (Burt Ward, that is). The film is just a string of jaw-droppingly silly moments, one right after another—the “shark-repellent bat spray” gives way to Penguin’s bird-shaped submarine, and into the two full minutes of West running around with a giant bomb held over his head, unable to find a place to dispose of it. Such a joyful superhero movie is a rarity, but be warned—Batman ’66 is best paired with your booze of choice. —Jim Vorel


descent-movie-poster.jpg 34. The Descent
Year: 2005
Director: Neil Marshall
True camaraderie or complex relationships between female characters isn’t so much “rare” in horror cinema as it is functionally nonexistent, which is one of the things that still makes The Descent, nominally about a bunch of women fighting monsters in a cave, stand out so sharply all these years later. But ah, how The Descent transcends its one-sentence synopsis. The film’s first half is deliberately crafted to fill in the personalities of its group of women, while slowly and almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the sense of dread and foreboding. As the characters descend deeper into the cave, passageways get tighter and the audience can feel the claustrophobia and dankness creeping into their bones—and that’s before we even see any of the resident troglodytes. Neil Marshall’s screenplay makes masterful use of dubious morality, infusing its protagonists, particularly the duo of Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), with numerous shades of gray. Not content to simply paint one of the two as flawed and the other as resourceful and ultimately vindicated, he uses a series of misunderstandings to illustrate human failing on a much more profound and universal level. Ultimately, The Descent is as moving a character study as it is terrifying subterranean creature feature, with one hell of an ending to boot. —Jim Vorel


youve-got-mail-poster.jpg 33. You’ve Got Mail
Year: 1998
Director: Nora Ephron
Some films are just pure testaments to the power of relatable characters and believable screen chemistry, and Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail is a prime example. Dramatically unsurprising and artistically unremarkable, it still pulls you in with its Jane Austen-esque lover-rival dynamic and general good-naturedness. The third rom-com collaboration between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (and Ryan’s most unaffected performance of the trio) is the story of the unlikely (yet inevitable) coupling between an independent bookstore owner and the mogul at the helm of the mega-bookstore that’s threatening to put her out of business. In real life they can’t stand each other—but in an anonymous chat room, they get along and then some. Sailing along on the sheer likability of its protagonists, and the actors who portray them—Ryan’s at her best in a grounded, just-plain-happy performance and Hanks’s kind of limitless plasticity is in full flow—You’ve Got Mail trades in “cute.” If that makes you itch, you’re in for a bit of scratching, but there is a genuine heart to this movie that will reel in even avowed cynics. —Amy Glynn


hitcher-movie-poster.jpg 32. The Hitcher
Year: 1986
Director: Robert Harmon
In horror films, there’s something alluring to a relentless and unstoppable killer whose motivation is only to destroy innocent life with nihilistic, almost supernatural fervor. Part of the reason the original Halloween is still so frightening lies in its chillingly effortless ability to present Michael Myers as a figure of death itself: no reason, no rhyme, he won’t stop until you stop breathing. The original The Hitcher operates on many of the same levels, as the simplicity of its premise about a couple (C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who takes on a dual role, as the top and bottom halves of her body) hounded by a murderous maniac hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) takes full advantage of the unresolved mystery surrounding the killer’s motivations. (Transform the truck from Duel into Rutger Hauer, and you get The Hitcher.) Director Robert Harmon’s film casts an appropriately icky, low-grade aura, perfectly fitting the killer’s philosophical point-of-view, an aesthetic approach that eludes the makers of the ill-fated 2007 remake, which looks too glossy to work on a visceral level. Also, with all due respect to Sean Bean, he’s no Rutger Hauer. —Oktay Ege Kozak


last-days.jpg 31. Gus Van Sant’s Last Days
Year: 2006
Director: Gus Van Sant 
Actor Michael Pitt portrays the lost figure at the center of Last Days, a stark walk through a dying artist’s final moments inspired by the death of one of rock history’s great tragic figures. Like Van Sant’s prior films, Gerry and Elephant, an improvised script and freedom from routine cinematic language gives Last Days a hyper-real, oddly poetic flow of events. Pitt plays Blake, first seen stumbling alone in the wilderness, a caveman in pajamas and sunglasses. Through a random series of events we learn that he’s a rock musician living in a once-elegant mansion gone seedy with neglect, with a small entourage of housemates who incessantly seek him for advice, money and affirmation. Presumably stoned beyond repair, Blake spends Last Days dodging so-called friends, bandmates and other intrusions of the outside world, unable to secure the peace he craves. There’s no doubt that Blake is intended to recall the late Kurt Cobain; Pitt’s emaciated frame, bedraggled blonde shag, pink sunglasses and general demeanor is sometimes uncanny in its resemblance to the long-mourned star. But the Last Days story has little in common with the facts of the case, keeping, with Thurston Moore also on board as music consultant, only the essential themes Van Sant believes we should take away from Cobain’s demise. —Fred Beldin


three-billboards-movie-poster.jpg 30. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Release Date: 2017
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


lady-macbeth-movie-poster.jpg 29. Lady Macbeth
Year: 2017
Director: William Oldroyd
Director William Oldroyd can’t be faulted for not keeping his tone straight throughout Lady Macbeth, a bleak thriller that only gets bleaker and more suffocating the more freedom it affords its main character. Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman sold into marriage in 19th century rural England, and though her much older husband has no interest in spending time with her, let alone acknowledging her, she’s kept practically in amber, her time spent falling asleep on the couch while staring at the wall or holding long, pregnant silences while her servant (Naomi Ackie) sees to the various exigencies of keeping Katherine alive: dressing, cleaning, feeding, waking. Not until her husband goes away on business—of some short, because it’s beyond her lot as a woman to know any details—does she begin to enjoy her days, eventually starting up a clandestine relationship with a thick-necked stable boy (Cosmo Jarvis) her age. Unwilling to give up her new way of life and newer love, she pretty much puts aside all else to keep what she wants. Less an obvious horror movie than something more subtly unnerving, Lady Macbeth offers little clarity as to whether the vile actions Katherine inevitably takes are really her fault, or if that’s what was bound to happen with such a stifled life. Oldroyd is skilled at keeping clean answers just out of reach the further Katherine devolves into desperation, but at some point near the end of this gorgeous black heart of a film (props to cinematographer Ari Wegner for drawing endless shades of gray out of Britain’s landscape), Alice Birch’s screenplay pulls back from Katherine’s perspective to provide little sign of what’s going on behind her glazed-over stare. Pugh is captivating, allowing just enough madness to shine through a few cracks in her bemused exterior, never quite giving us enough to really chart the degree of her character’s moral decline. —Dom Sinacola


lego-batman-movie-poster.jpg 28. 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


fantastic-mr-fox-movie-poster.jpg 27. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Year: 2009
Director: Wes Anderson 
A match made in heaven? Wes Anderson’s trademark ironic eccentricity and Roald Dahl’s vaguely menacing but entirely lighthearted surrealism combine to form Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson’s first animated effort, which uses the same maddeningly traditional stop-motion techniques as Isle of Dogs. It’s ostensibly a children’s film (Mr. Fox and his family and friends try to outrun the mean farmers), but rather transparently aimed at their parents, who likely read Dahl’s books in grade school, remember stop-motion when it didn’t feel vintage, and have followed Anderson’s work for years. But while earlier Anderson films may have turned off some audiences—and will most likely continue to—with their self-conscious quirk, Fantastic Mr. Fox is broader and more straightforward, trading some of the hipster-ness for cuteness. The tale has been greatly expanded from the Dahl original to cover familiar Anderson themes of family, rivalry and feeling different, and with its lush autumnal palette and hijinks worthy of Max Fischer or Dignan, the result is a film that only Wes Anderson could have made. —Alissa Wilkinson


strange-days-movie-poster.jpg 26. Strange Days
Year: 1995
Director: Kathryn Bigelow 
Before she reinvented herself as the director of award-winning docudramas, Kathryn Bigelow made her name directing crazy genre movies like Near Dark and Point Break. With all respect to Point Break, however, Strange Days remains Bigelow’s most compelling pre-War on Terror project. Written by Bigelow’s former husband James Cameron and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jay Cocks, Strange Days is a pulpy, noir-influenced sci-fi pic in the vein of Blade Runner but with more high-octane action and a lot more nudity. Developed during the Rodney King/L.A. Riots era, the film is set in a dystopian Los Angeles where people’s memories and experiences are recorded directly from their brains to sell on the black market. Anyone who has ever wanted to experience criminal activities or perverse sexual encounters can now do so without repercussions. The trouble begins when vice-detective-turned-black-marketer Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) discovers a “snuff” disc depicting the brutal murder of an acquaintance. This disc leads him down a rabbit hole into the urban underground. At nearly two and a half hours, the film’s visual pyrotechnics and beautifully stylized performances provide more than enough ammunition to justify such excess. —Mark Rozeman

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