The 50 Best Movies on HBO Right Now

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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Right Now

Surprisingly, HBO hasn’t lost much lately, but, to everyone’s surprise, has added even better titles: First Man, Widows, The Favourite and, just recently, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Robocop. So, to help make sure you get the most out of your subscription, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO right now, including a bunch of our favorites from last year (in addition to the aforementioned titles), Paddington 2, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, A Star Is Born and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

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 right now:

despicable-me-movie-poster.jpg 50. Despicable Me
Year: 2010
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Followed by three more franchise flicks—one of which, 2013’s Despicable Me 2, is so old-timey racist and unabashedly violent and culturally tone-deaf it’s legitimately detrimental to the health of young children—the original Despicable Me shines best by flattening the dichotomy between good guys and bad guys, removing all but the most heart-strings-tugging stakes from what would otherwise be a minefield of superhero and spy thriller movie tropes. In the world of career super villain Gru (Steve Carell, playacting a mouthful of an Eastern European accent), good guys are boring state-subsidized bureaucrats, and bad guys aren’t all that bad, just ambitious pseudo-scientists with big ideas and healthy competitive natures. They don’t actually want to hurt anybody. So, really, once Gru begins unwittingly step-fathering three young orphan girls (the youngest voiced adorably by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) he sheds all of his sociopathic tendencies to become an ersatz Good Guy replete with brand new nemesis, Vector (Jason Segal). Though the two sequels and standalone Minions vehicle needlessly complicate the DM mythos, further muddying Gru’s lineage and giving the Minions personalities (the funniest joke in this first film is how Gru talks to each Minion as if they are an individual being, giving them normie names, even though they are impossible to distinguish)—which then means we have to ask questions about how Minions procreate and/or go to the bathroom—the first Despicable Me movie is a pleasantly pure distillation of family-friendly values, slapstick and indifferent character designs, bolstered by a good joke or two. If only it ended there. Instead, we must wonder, in 2019: If a Minion with its pants around its ankles has no genitals, is it really naked? —Dom Sinacola


the-predator-movie-poster.jpg 49. The Predator
Year: 2018
Director: Shane Black
There was no need for The Predator, a vague sequel to iconic action potboiler Predator and 1990’s dated, vulgar bloodbath, Predator 2, starring Danny Glover as Lt. Mike Harrigan, a weird old man who has no friends but does have a healthy obsession with oversized handguns and phallic metaphors that illustrate he might actually not know how penises work. As with most things in 2018, there was no need for a reboot, or sequel, or whatever, yet it exists anyway, and in the more-than-capable imagination of Shane Black, The Predator works—it works hard—to hybridize the many foundational successes of the Predator franchise. Aping the plot structure, humid aura of testosterone and ‘80s action-thriller chops of the original, as well as the meta-violent, tone deaf vulgarity of 2, The Predator is a funhouse of “fuck”-leaden witticisms and grotesque CGI bloodletting, an old-fashioned franchise staple infused with Black’s voracious knack for crafting the best the Hollywood machine has to offer. Which also means that it’s too often barely coherent, that it ends with obvious intentions for a sequel and a closing line that so shamelessly does not give a shit about anything you might leave the theater feeling like you just got royally trolled. Still, it’s difficult to deny that the film is a loud, bloated mess, wistful about everything in the Predator series except for the movie that began it all, John McTiernan’s bare-bones-and-sinew ode to the Platonic ideal of the male body, smeared in mud and galloping through the jungle. The Predator, instead, is an ode to the success of that first movie, to making movies simply because one can, not because one should. Here’s to hoping they make another. —Dom Sinacola


hoffa-movie-poster.jpg 48. Hoffa
Year: 1992
Director: Danny DeVito
To call Hoffa a biopic is maybe too on-the-nose, though the title might have most thinking otherwise. Instead, Danny DeVito uses the name to represent a massive social movement, an attitude, a conflagration: Very little is shown of Jimmy Hoffa’s (Jack Nicholson) family, or of his childhood, or even of his undoubtedly complicated internal life. Instead, David Mamet’s script shears all dramatic frills from the Teamster President’s rise to power, building his background as an act of myth-making, letting Nicholson’s frightening charm imbue the historic character with enough confidence and grit to make the fact that Hoffa came to be an inhuman figurehead a believable conclusion to a life’s work. With that, Hoffa is rote in tone and narrative economy, translating an impossibly complex series of backroom dealings and class politics into the fairy tales that now inhabit the gray areas of Detroit legend. It almost doesn’t matter that Mamet frames his script with a Passion-esque prediction of what actually did happen to Jimmy Hoffa’s body—today Detroiters are still looking, long after everyone else stopped caring if he’d ever be found. —Dom Sinacola


waking-ned-devine-movie-poster.jpg 47. Waking Ned Devine
Year: 1998
Director: Kirk Jones
Waking Ned Devine may be the most feel-good heist flick ever made. An old-timer in a small village, Ned (Jimmy Keogh), wins the lottery then immediately dies of shock. Two of his also-old-timer buddies, Jackie (Ian Bannen) and Michael (Fawlty Towers’ David Kelly), decide to scam the big-city lotto agent into thinking that one of them is Ned, alive and well. What ensues is not so much a con-artist caper but more a celebration of all that is Irish: community, camaraderie and the spirit of human generosity. Other Irish themes championed: whiskey, lush landscapes, poetry, naked geriatric men riding motorcycles, whiskey and the fiddle. —Ryan Carey


hate-u-give-movie-poster.jpg 46. The Hate U Give
Year: 2018
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
During the sobering, somber opening scene of The Hate U Give, an emotionally rousing and vital drama about police brutality against people of color, the smart and resourceful Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is barely in grade school when she’s given The Talk—in which African American parents must instruct their children on how to act when they’re pulled over by the police so they won’t get shot—by her loving father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby). Upon reaching her high school years, Starr’s protective mother Lisa (Regina Hall) sends her to Williamson, a prep school in an affluent neighborhood, mainly as a way to provide a brighter—and whiter—future for her daughter while keeping her away from the violence inherent in their predominantly black neighborhood of Garden Heights. Starr’s voice-over, handled honestly as a way to insert the audience into Starr’s psyche (and not as a narrative crutch), informs us that Starr has to act as non-black as possible when she’s at Williamson. Meanwhile, her white classmates can appropriate her culture as much as they desire, as much as they can consume through mainstream media. Back in Garden Heights, she might feel like she’s allowed to be herself, but her neighbors see her as too white and snobby. Then, Starr’s life turns upside down. One of her best friends (Algee Smith) from childhood is shot by a cop who “mistook” his hairbrush for a gun. Starr witnesses the event and has to decide between keeping her mouth shut in favor of maintaining the “non-threatening black girl” illusion at Williamson, or come out to the public regarding what she saw and be branded a “troublemaker.” Casting Amandla Stenberg to carry the project was an inspirational choice: She’s luminous and always captivating in the part, delivering a natural performance that allows easy access to Starr’s soul. —Oktay Ege Kozak


the-mule-movie-poster.jpg 45. The Mule
Year: 2018
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Early in Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial feature—somewhere around his 70th film—shambling Everyman Earl Stone (Eastwood) explains to a young person he’s just met the stickers that litter the back window of his equally shambling pickup, decals telling of the everywheres he’s been, man, comparable to the Johnny Cash song we’ll later hear him sing along to in the film. “That’s right, 41 states,” he recalls, then adds, “out of 50.” Most viewers would not need such a clarification—perhaps it’s a subtle nod to Earl’s casual racism, which the film will explicate further farther on, as in this case he’s talking to a Mexican man who will introduce him to the lucrative late-in-life career of drug muling, or perhaps Eastwood simply said that, because he’s acting, and left it in, because why not? Let’s move on, he seems to be saying. Let’s not get hung up on it.

2018 was an odd year for the 88-year-old director, mostly because of The 15:17 to Paris, in which Eastwood followed Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos as they played themselves reenacting their thwarting of the 2015 Thalys train attack, though Eastwood mostly seemed to want to tag along as they reenacted the European trip which led up to the heroic event. Their knowledge of Hitler’s suicide is questioned, their selfies are documented, their ordering of gelato detailed for much longer than any director, any viewer, would expect. And The Mule beautifully throws its much weirder predecessor into focus: In the twilight of his career, Clint Eastwood celebrates the things he loves about life, which happens to be driving, and pulled pork, and the American Southwest, and flowers, and big round butts, and the industriousness of working hard in order to enjoy the aforementioned everything, without judgment. Because Earl Stone, estranged from his family and definitely a bad father/husband, can somehow get an erection at such an advanced age, which Eastwood implies by having Stone engage in at least two threesomes. We’re not supposed to wonder how, but instead not get hung up on it—sex is good, and sex with more than one person, especially with more than one person who has a big round butt, is better. That doesn’t make you a bad person; it makes you a person who enjoys life before it’s gone. Ordering gelato, driving through the desert listening to Johnny Cash, making millions off of the illegal drug trade—that’s part of the mundane wonder of life, a life which must thrive against the forces of an American economy that in the past decade or so no longer leaves room for such pleasures, or understands that when a man is casually racist, it’s not because he’s actually racist, it’s because even at 88 he has so much more to learn, and that’s why life is worth pushing long past the point at which pushing seems futile. Does that make sense? Let’s move on. —Dom Sinacola


mavis.jpg 44. Mavis!
Year: 2016
Director: Jessica Edwards
Mavis! celebrates the remarkable career of Mavis Staples, one that started when the woodsy-throated Chicagoan was only 16, backed on guitar by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and belting out the religious standard “Uncloudy Day.” Just as Greg Kot’s biography avoided the temptation to focus on scandal fodder, Jessica Edwards’ movie avoids the easy path of relying on celebrities to deliver on-camera testimonials about how terrific Mavis is. The filmmaker trusted that the audience could figure that out from the plentiful performance clips, so she only used talking-head interviews if the subjects had worked directly with Mavis and could advance the narrative. The result is one of the best music documentaries of this decade. The film includes the scene of Mavis receiving her first Grammy Award in 2011; she looked up overhead and said, “It’s all because of you, Pop, that I am here. You built the foundation, and I’m still working on the building.” The picture ends with Mavis and her recent producer Jeff Tweedy fleshing out Pops’ final recordings, which he left unfinished when he died in 2000. —Geoffrey Himes


the-normal-heart.jpg 43. 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


early-man-movie.jpg 42. Early Man
Year: 2018
Director: Nick Park
With Early Man, Nick Park has made his first feature since 2005’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit—and his first non-Wallace and Gromit film since 2000’s Chicken Run—and it’s a sly, unexpectedly emotional comedy with lots of goofy laughs and the occasionally inspired bit of business. But fair or not, it’s hard not to compare this prehistoric laugher to Aardman’s (and Park’s) brilliant past. In this stop-motion film, we’re introduced to Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), a kindly caveman who thinks his tribe, led by Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall), needs to stop settling for rabbits to hunt and instead go after bigger game. But their peaceful, albeit meager existence is interrupted by an invading Bronze Age army, which kicks them out of their valley homeland and condemns them to live in the inhospitable Badlands. As a way to return to the valley, Dug offers the Bronze Army’s snooty Lord Nooth (voiced by Tom Hiddleston) a deal: If his tribe can beat Nooth’s elite athletes in a soccer match, they can remain in the valley. If they lose, Dug and his friends will have to work in Nooth’s grueling mines. Chicken Run, which Park co-directed with Aardman co-founder Peter Lord, succeeded in part because of its cheeky tweaking of the prison-breakout movie. Early Man cycles through a few genres—Park reportedly pitched the film as a mixture of Gladiator and Dodgeball—but it’s primarily an underdog sports movie, pitting our lovable losers against a superior squad, the whole film building to the finale’s big game. What’s consistently funny about Early Man is its characters’ discomfort—at being mocked, of saying the wrong thing, of losing the big match—which lends Park’s film a humanity and vulnerability that undercut the splashy razzle-dazzle of other, bigger-budgeted animated fare. —Tim Grierson


rescue-dawn-movie-poster.jpg 41. Rescue Dawn
Year: 2006
Director: Werner Herzog 
As PG-13 as a war movie can get, Werner Herzog’s cinematic re-creation of his own documentary (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) feels as if, like any Herzog film can, it was re-created on the fly. Rescue Dawn avoids a strict adherence to the truth of Dieter Dengler’s ordeal, in which he served as a pilot for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, shot down over Laos then captured and tortured for months before escaping. It’s also historically inaccurate, as only any Herzog film can be, for the benefit of the more “ecstatic” truth the director was attempting to reach, ignoring the complaints of Dengler’s fellow prisoners’ accounts, which mostly have to do with how heroically Herzog portrays Dengler (Christian Bale) and how pathetically he imagines the others. Herzog saw himself in the real Dengler anyway—they were both born poor in Hitler’s Germany—and Bale seems to intuit the director’s projection, playing Dengler as an endlessly fascinating hybrid of wide-eyed innocent and arrogant American, fully committed to the freedom and opportunities for self-aggrandizement that being an American affords. And yet, Rescue Dawn doesn’t defend Dengler’s patriotism, or really have anything poignant to offer about American’s checkered military past. Instead, Herzog is concerned as ever with the tyranny of Nature and all powers like it, which happen to include war, America, the ambition of Man, whatever—an idealistic guy like Dieter Dengler can only suffer, survive and then tell his story later to a director who will warp its facts to keep the true extent of the man’s suffering from the cold, calculating judgment of the MPAA. —Dom Sinacola


land-before-time-movie-poster.jpg 40. The Land Before Time
Year: 1988
Director: Don Bluth
It’s hard to overstate what a major development it was for Don Bluth to leave Disney in 1979 to form his own studio. Working during the actual reign of Walt Disney, starting as an in-betweener—the crucial artist whose job it is to fill in the frames of animation that add detail to the movement between poses—in 1955, he chafed under the cutbacks that hit the company in the ’70s just as he was about to direct films of his own. Ultimately he, Gary Goldman and 14 other animators jumped ship to start Don Bluth Productions. An American Tail (1986), the heartbreakingly true and important story of an immigrant family coming to America, was an incredible success from the standpoint of animation and storytelling. The company marketed the hell out of it and, for an animated film, it pulled decent numbers. It set the stage for The Land Before Time two years later in 1988, but already, the studio was struggling: Tail may have reached eyeballs and won acclaim, but it didn’t turn the studio a profit. Setting any story in the age of the dinosaurs is asking for tragedy, but you can still tell some tales of that era without focusing on the unavoidable fact that all their hopes and dreams and everything that they ever were is destined to be washed clean by nature. So what did Bluth and his team decide to do? Set the story during the end of days, of course.

Beginning with a wonder-filled tour of the prehistoric landscape through which we’ll be roaming, The Land Before Time introduces our hero, a baby dino named Littlefoot (voiced by Gabriel Damon), paired with narration that tells us his herd is dying and the plants are shriveling. Bluth’s creative team and their financiers fought over the tone of the movie, and it’s easy to see why the money men were alarmed. Who wants a light-hearted kid’s movie to grapple with childhood orphaning and abandonment, all set while the inevitable end of the world plays out? Littlefoot is orphaned in the first few minutes of the film when a T-Rex violently kills his mother, then is joined on his journey by other orphaned or abandoned dino babies with their own neuroses. Littlefoot struggles at the head of his little band to keep the faith and continue plodding onward toward the legendary Great Valley when every circumstance along the way taunts them with doubt. The Land Before Time clearly wanted to be a movie that was about coping with loss, being changed by it, but it ended up an adventure movie with a happy ending that leaves most of that solemnity as weighty subtext. It’s debatably one of Bluth’s best movies, and I’d even argue one of the best animated movies of the ’80s. It was also one of the last bright spots of Don Bluth’s film catalogue. —Ken Lowe


grosse-pointe-blank-movie-poster.jpg 39. Grosse Pointe Blank
Year: 1997
Director: George Armitage
In the role that probably set the foundation for High Fidelity’s Rob, John Cusack plays Martin Q. Blank as a vaguely charming, vaguely confident, vaguely organic hitman—the kind of guy one would never suspect is good at killing people for a living. Except: Blank is from the vaguely wealthy Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, which means that he’s one of many formless Michigander schlubs who go one to do things no one has ever expected of them. Before the 2008 Recession, Oakland County, one of Detroit’s surrounding counties, a very popular member of the Metro Detroit family, was among the absolute richest counties in the country. Like Orange County rich. And still no one seems to really remember that—back in even 1997, when the car companies were slaying, no one expected much from a Michigander. Grosse Pointe Blank epitomizes that befuddling state-wide middle child complex in John Cusack’s thoroughly, anxiously casual performance. —Dom Sinacola


halloween-2018-movie-poster.jpg 38. Halloween
Year: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green 
A blessing that David Gordon Green’s Halloween is so good, a curse that it made a pile of money: Likely that means no matter what Michael Myers’ fate was by film’s end, he will be back in further sequels. Even if those yet-unannounced (but almost inevitable) movies turn out as well as Green’s, they’ll keep 2018’s Halloween from perfectly bookending John Carpenter’s original 1978 masterpiece, the best in its genre and the chagrined sire to a slew of follow-ups, each progressively worse than the movies preceding them. You could toss the entirety of the Halloween franchise, save ’78 and ’18, and you’d have a great horror duo untainted by the exponential awfulness of the trash separating them both over the course of decades.

Green’s Halloween does so well what Carpenter’s does perfectly: present Michael as an unstoppable and inscrutable force, a monster of method rather than brutality. He’s strong enough to embarrass just about anyone fool enough to get within reach of his kitchen knife, but he’s silent and implacable, and Haddonfield, having been established as a grid of suburban idyll by its architects, is a hunting ground made just for him. The film’s best strength, ahead of its shocking and clever applications of violence, is distance. Like Carpenter’s classic, Green’s Halloween is about the act of seeing, and voyeurism, and the disquieting sense of responsibility the movie puts on us. Through the benefit of the camera’s lens, we catch glimpses of what the characters don’t, such that we feel compelled to cry out for their safety and denied the opportunity to do so by the screen. The effect is unnerving. But more than merely fearsome, 2018’s Halloween is also hilarious, and a master class in finding subtle, economical ways to make the audience care about Michael’s kill fodder through comedy. There’s a balance between character and horror here that’s rarely seen in modern slashers, and in slashers writ large, where the purpose of the exercise is usually just to watch folks get offed in creatively agonizing ways. Here, death matters, whether it’s that of a couple of cops, a babysitter or the doctor in charge of Michael’s behavioral healthcare (who turns out to be more of a loony tune than Michael, at least in some ways). Halloween ’18 shows us that there’s still gas in the slasher tank, as long as smart, talented filmmakers are given a chance at taking the wheel. —Andy Crump


uncle-drew-movie-poster.jpg 37. Uncle Drew
Year: 2018
Director: Charles Stone III
Uncle Drew is proof positive that a solid execution, deft handle on tone and a genuine emotional connection with characters can turn even the most cynical premise into (at least) a fun time at the movies. Based on a series of Pepsi commercials in which NBA superstar Kyrie Irving plays a cranky old man who turns out to be a nimble, expert basketball player, Uncle Drew somehow transcends all of its prejudices to be a funny, affable, by-the-numbers but genuinely warmhearted sports underdog story that finds a way to take its silly gimmick—look at those old, frail men at the basketball court…oh wait, turns out it’s Shaq and Chris Webber!—and wrap it around a well-paced, inspirational narrative that earns almost every bit of its schmaltz. In it, Lil Rey Howery, breakout comic relief from Get Out, plays Dax, the high-strung coach of a street ball team getting ready for the prestigious Rucker Classic tournament. A lover of the game since his days growing up in an orphanage, he has given up on playing after his rival Mookie (Nick Kroll) blocked a winning shot. Does Dax’s character arc revolve around him coming to terms with his past failures, leading to some inspirational moments during the third act? Yes, the script sticks close to the Mighty Ducks template, but the characters and their bond keep our interest. After Mookie steals Dax’s star player, the desperate coach comes up with a plan to get back in the tournament: He recruits the reclusive ’60s streetball star Uncle Drew (Irving) and his team of senior goofballs for one last shot at the championship. this is one of those rare occasions in which a movie uses the dusty trope of turning a group of oddball misfits into a “family” and actually pulls it off in an emotionally satisfying way. —Oktay Ege Kozak


hail-caesar.jpg 36. Hail, Caesar!
Year: 2016
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
The period zaniness of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Hail, Caesar! is an ode to old Hollywood—and much more—as only they can do, tracing the efforts of James Brolin’s studio scandal fixer through a parade of 1950s soundstages, back lots and actors. His latest potential headline concerns the abduction of a Biblically epic movie star—George Clooney having a helluva good time doing his best Chuck Heston/Kirk Douglas amalgam—by what turns out to be a tea sandwich-serving think tank of communists. Other subplots have Scarlett Johansson’s starlet plotting out her unwed motherhood in the public eye and the screen makeover of an unsophisticated cowboy by Ralph Fiennes’ debonairly enunciating director, Laurence Laurentz. There are dueling gossip columnist twins (Tilda Swinton pulling double duty), a hapless film editor (Frances McDormand) and scattered movies-within-the-movie, which even pauses midway through for a thoroughly enchanting—and cheeky—Gene Kelly-styled song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum as a heavily made-up matinee star with controversial extracurricular activities. Most of the main characters/performances take blatant inspiration from Hollywood legends of yore, and the cast seems to have as much fun as the Coens. Hail, Caesar! is by no means their best work, but it’s characteristically gorgeous, spiritedly acted and rife with political, religious and creative (sub)text for moviegoers as thoughtful and dorky as Joel and Ethan themselves. —Amanda Schurr


when-the-levees.jpg 35. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
Director:   Spike Lee  
Year: 2006
Part indictment of FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, part celebration of the unfailingly resilient spirit of New Orleans, Spike Lee’s four-hour-long look at “The City That Care Forgot” a year after the near-obliteration of Hurricane Katrina is an exhausting, comprehensive, worthwhile experience. There’s a reason so many residents refer to the catastrophe as the “Federal flood” and not Katrina itself—Lee’s Peabody-winning doc examines the systemic failure at all levels of government to maintain the storm barriers and deal with the consequences of their negligence. It’s political, it’s racial, it’s accusatory and it’s utterly compelling viewing. It’s also inspiring, thanks to the resolute locals shown struggling to survive and rebuild in the disaster’s aftermath. This is very much a Spike Lee joint; don’t expect anyone in the Dubya administration to come away without a tongue-lashing. But the heart and soul of the doc is the people of New Orleans, and they won’t let you down—on the contrary. —Amanda Schurr


miseducation-cameron-post-movie-poster.jpg 34. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Year: 2018
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Maybe one would not have guessed it from word of mouth or a logline, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of the funniest films of the year. With a sense of humor that is knowingly in debt to Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, though more subtle, Desiree Akhavan’s second feature length functions as a teen film about challenging authority first and a film about conversion therapy second. Chloe Grace Moretz’s Cameron and her friends, Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) are clear-eyed about both the ridiculousness and the terrifying consequences at the gay conversion camp they’re all forced to attend. And in spite of their situation, they must find solace where they can, be it on the kitchen tables singing 4 Non Blondes or in the backwoods smoking weed. Cameron Post has, above all, a clear, lived-in perspective about being a teen, being queer and what trauma can mean in the context of both. —Kyle Turner


crazy-rich-asians-poster.jpg 33. Crazy Rich Asians
Year: 2018
Director: John M. Chu
Chinese-American professor of economics Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is Chinese-American, and the adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book Crazy Rich Asians starkly makes that point, repeatedly. Rachel’s college best friend Peik Lin (an ebullient Awkwafina) calls her a “banana”: “Yellow on the outside, white on the inside,” and attaches a superlative when she says this. Her mother (Tan Kheng Hua), on the occasion of finding out Rachel will be traveling to Singapore to meet her hunky boyfriend’s family, tells her a somewhat uncomfortable truth: “You are Chinese, you speak Mandarin, but in here,” she says, pointing to Rachel’s heart, “You are American.” It is a bittersweet, but rather perceptive observation, one that finely articulates a compounded sense of otherness Rachel feels throughout the film, particularly once the plot gets rolling and Rachel realizes that her debonair Nick Young (Henry Golding) is the son of an obscenely wealthy Singaporean family who leans heavily on traditional Chinese family values and matriarchy. She is middle class, raised by a single mother and, as everyone has been quick to point out, Chinese-American. If Crazy Rich Asians is not as barbed in its satire about the bourgeoisie as one might want in a cultural landscape where it has become more popular to be vocally anti-capitalist (or at least skeptical of capitalism as a system and ideology), it nonetheless sparkles in its in-jokes about Asianness and Chinese families and the interconnectedness of other Asian people. In the skin of a very competent romantic comedy, it is slickly directed by Chu, whose strength in making champagne on a beer budget lies not in the objects on display in and of themselves, but in the color correcting and cinematography by Vanja Cernjul. However, in its keen and sensitive and moving observations about the uncertainty in being Asian-American, it’s always drifting, and Wu’s incredible ability to convey all those ideas wordlessly is what makes the film more than just about a material China girl. —Kyle Turner


aquaman-movie-poster.jpg 32. Aquaman
Year: 2018
Director: James Wan
Paying environmental catastrophe lip service is an expected thematic conceit for movies in 2018, but no one (hypothetically) wants to pay to sit in a damp two hours and 20 minutes of guilt when every film in this Universe to come before was either suffocatingly grim or unfairly tasked with shouldering the entire weight of Hollywood’s misogyny. All Wan had to do was deliver a blisteringly colorful spectacle. Aquaman is dumb and loud and really dumb and too long and dumb but also wonderfully creative and shameless; it’s both the superhero film we need, and the one we deserve.

The plot, as is the case in almost every DCEU entry, is as bloated as it is messy and predictable, a whale carcass washed up on shore sliced in half by Atlantean plasma lasers during a Two Towers-league battle with an army of crab people. Those action scenes, though. Revolutionary at best, innovative at worst, Wan and his team have taken what Justice League incapably worked around—talking/interacting/fighting/living underwater—and transformed that obstacle into a marvelous strength, using the omnidirectional freedom of subterranean saltwater violence to make up for the “everyone is flying” bullshit of Zack Snyder’s wet dreams while never abandoning the unique physics (limitations) of all that wetness. A late film battle scene between Orm’s hordes and the aforementioned talking crustaceans is astounding: a feat of design and imagination for which James Wan should understand that this is most likely why he’s on this Earth. Likewise, while the surface scenarios featuring Arthur and Mera searching for a lost trident that holds the key to saving the world just add needless fat to an already drowning runtime, one rooftop, wall-obliterating sequence shines, a demonstration of Wan’s formidable grip on action grammar, pushing long takes and swooping crane shots to establish a seamless, real-time geography for Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur (Jason Momoa) and Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to just wreck each other’s day. Bell towers explode; the living rooms and privacy of more than two Sicilian grandmothers are violated. Granted, the scene exists for its own sake, devoid of narrative stakes and sense, but that’s hardly ever been a valid argument against any contemporary studio movie anyway. If Justice League was a self-aware course correction, then Aquaman is course correction as business model, a denial of much of what Snyder established, leaning hard into Momoa’s charm and Wan’s old-school fantasy proclivities. May Martha bless us, everyone. —Dom Sinacola


funny-games-poster.jpg 31. Funny Games (US)
Year: 2007
Director: Michael Haneke
One does not watch Funny Games—one sits miserably bearing witness to Funny Games, understanding what is going on, terrified that the solution to the puzzle it poses is so simple. About two teenager-ish boys, upper crust and polite—referring to one another as Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt)—who, with dead eyes and well-mannered propriety, work their way into the vacation home of a family the two systematically and remorselessly torture to inevitability, Funny Games toys with chronology, with narrative, with the audience’s many expectations, fulfilling all but resolving none. In 2007, Haneke remade his own film, shot for shot, for American audiences (purposely casting the recognizable personalities of Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), litigating our notions of cinema and violence and the nexus of both within the ways we understand such horror narratives to end. Because, unlike the original’s dependence on the ordinariness of its actors to convey the ordinariness of such depravity, the point is that we recognize these faces as famous, and so we familiarize ourselves with them immediately—and in that comfort, our nightmares are most realized. Funny Games is far from a traditional horror film, but it is, without a doubt, one of the scariest things you will see through to the end, all the while hoping that won’t be exactly how you know it will. —Dom Sinacola


darkman-movie-poster.jpg 30. Darkman
Year: 1990
Director: Sam Raimi 
After failing to get the rights to classic superheroes like the Shadow and Batman, Sam Raimi did what came naturally: He created his own. Cobbled together from the detritus of radio drama, noir, crime-leaden comic books and all kinds of chiaroscuro pop culture churning beneath the surface of whatever illusions of morality people cling to in order to sleep at night, Darkman is Raimi purging every dusty corner of his brain. More than a trial run for Raimi’s Spider-Man series, Darkman is as weird and ghoulish as anything the director accomplished with his Evil Dead flicks, though obviously tailored for more of a mainstream reception. If Marvel is building their MCU empire on the backs of directors who find their cinematic egos perfectly satisfied by their assigned lot in the universe, then Raimi’s creepy origin story of a super-scientist (Liam Neeson) whose synthetic skin can only bear 100 minute’s worth of sunlight demonstrates that the director had their formula figured out decades ago. —Dom Sinacola


thoroughbreds-movie-poster.jpg 29. Thoroughbreds
Year: 2018
Director: Cory Finley
The line separating thrillers and horror films is razor thin. In the case of Cory Finley’s feature debut, Thoroughbreds, the former fits more suitably than the latter, but to take a page from Potter Stewart, I know horror when I see it, and Thoroughbreds toes that line with macabre confidence. The film isn’t particularly frightening, but makes up for that with suspense to harrow the soul. Thoroughbreds rattles us by pitting posh cultivation against human nihilism: When you’re scared, you tend to be scared in the moment. When you’re rattled, there’s no telling how long you’ll stay that way. That’s Thoroughbreds in a nutshell: A sobering, beautiful movie that’ll haunt you for weeks after watching it. Lily (horror queen ascendant Anya Taylor-Joy) is the epitome of high breeding: Impeccably dressed and made up, unflappably well-mannered, academically accomplished with a bright future ahead of her. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is her polar opposite, a social outcast, friend to no one, possessed of a barbed tongue and a caustic temperament. They’re childhood chums who became estranged from one another over years, an everyday occurrence spurred by an incident involving Amanda’s family horse and an act of casual butchery. That all happens in the film’s past tense. In its present tense, the girls reconnect, Lily acting as Amanda’s tutor, and as they do the latter begins to rub off on the former and draw out her dark side. Lily and Amanda’s grim candor is couched in limited settings, primarily the grand house Lily lives in with her stepdad Mark (Paul Sparks) and her mother, but Thoroughbreds’ sense of confinement is a necessary component for its success as genre. Finley creates a space from which they can both break out, a gorgeous veneer akin to limbo. Within reason we can’t blame them for wanting to escape. Finley does a lot with very little apart from the raw talent of his leads. If this is what he’s capable of as a first-timer, we should rightfully dread his follow-up. —Andy Crump


a-star-is-born-movie-poster.jpg 28. A Star is Born
Year: 2018
Director: Bradley Cooper 
Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born reminds us that clichés exist for a reason: They embody a whiff of universal truth that can hit us right between the eyes when it becomes our reality. This latest remake of a perennial Hollywood story doesn’t offer many new insights, but it reaffirms what we know—or what we think we know—about relationships, artistry, the trappings of fame and the demands of the entertainment industry. Its comforting familiarity is both its greatest limitation and its appeal—there are certain songs we love hearing over and over again, and A Star Is Born’s tale of “making it” is one we apparently never tire of. Cooper, who makes his directorial debut and also co-wrote the adaptation, stars as Jackson Maine, a roots-rocker of considerable popularity. But not all is right with the man: Tinnitus is robbing him of his hearing, and his addiction to drink and drugs is becoming worrying to those around him. One night after a show, he goes looking for a bar, stumbling upon a performance from Ally (Lady Gaga), who belts out an impassioned rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” Jackson is captivated by this aspiring singer-songwriter. She tells him she’s been told she’s not pretty enough to make it in the music business. He tells her she’s beautiful. A Star Is Born quickly throws these two mismatched souls together, as Jackson brings her onstage at his next sold-out show to duet with him on an arrangement he’s put together of one of her songs. The performance goes viral. Ally suddenly is in huge demand. The two become lovers. You know every word by heart. His Cooper acknowledges the clichés of his setup while asserting that there’s something eternal and cyclical about their underlying tenets. Yes, we’ve seen all manner of stories about fading stars, rising stars, the toxicity of ego and the struggle to balance career and romance—as you watch this new movie, you feel like you’ve known its contours all your life—but the predictability is part of these characters’ tragedy. —Tim Grierson


last-days.jpg 27. 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


old-man-and-gun-poster.jpg 26. The Old Man & the Gun
Year: 2018
Director: David Lowery 
Of the many things that David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun does right, staying fixated on Redford’s face is the smartest. Redford, in what he has said is his last performance (though he’s since backtracked from that), plays Forrest Tucker, who, we learn at a calm, leisurely pace, is a lifelong bank robber. And I really mean lifelong: He’s still at it in his eighties in the year 1981, with a small, equally elderly crew (played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits!), hitting banks across the Southwest with precision, intelligence and, more than anything else, a disarming politeness. (All his victims keep remarking how friendly he is.) Meanwhile, a Texas cop (Casey Affleck), dissatisfied with his career, trails him and becomes part of a cat-and-mouse game, with Tucker leaving him playful notes and even, in one terrific scene, popping in on him in the bathroom. The lifelong rogue, who has spent most of his life being sentenced to prison and then busting out, also comes across a widow named Jewel (Sissy Spacek), and they have a gentle, wistful courtship. He clearly cares for her … but he’s a bank robber, and he’s never going to stop. Lowery pushes the story on with a style that’s both lively and laconic, like his star himself; the movie has the rhythm of a fun ’70s laid-back thriller but a certain undeniable mournfulness about the passage of time, of growing old, of lessons learned. (There’s a scene with Redford and Spacek talking on the porch about how their younger lives feel like different people all together that leaves a warm haze that never lifts for the rest of the film.) Lowery wrote the script, and it shares several thematic similarities to his last film, A Ghost Story, also starring Affleck. That film was obsessed with the passage of time, to the point that time itself became almost the main character of its story, eternity’s indifference both awing and moving in equal measure. This film is much lighter and straightforward than that movie, but that idea of identity, and how it evolves and stays constant throughout the decades, is foregrounded here, as well. The story of both is the story of time, how it tricks us, and jolts us, and moves us, the person we are the same we have always been, but also not. The Old Man & the Gun is a jaunty joyride, a valedictory for a beloved American icon and a giddy true story. But Lowery ties it all together at the end: It’s a story about how the years go by, and who we are. It’s a story about all of us. —Will Leitch


teen-titans-go-movie-poster.jpg 25. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies
Year: 2018
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
With Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, the long-running Cartoon Network series joins the ranks of still-running animated series that were deemed popular enough to get a movie of their very own. Much like The Simpsons Movie and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the show’s creators use the opportunity to distill and put on display what has made the show so popular in the first place. The result is one of the funniest “superhero” films of the year, and one that allows Robin and company to join Deadpool—Statler and Waldorf style—on the balcony poking fun at the clichés, blindspots and foibles of the current Big Genre on Campus. When Teen Titans Go! debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013, its chibi design, juvenile humor and overall zany approach drew mixed reactions from fans of the source material. For some, it stemmed from the disappointment of not getting a renewed “serious” series. (The original Teen Titans animated series had ended seven years earlier.) For others, the succession of booty jokes—or any joke hammered at relentlessly for 10-11 minutes—quickly grew tiresome. In Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, creators Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath pull off what we’ll call a “reverse-Hobbit,” showing how the characters from those 11-minute bursts of mayhem stand up just fine to the “rigor” of an 88-minute theatrical release. (Granted, they have more than 200 episodes to draw from and no dearth of tired tropes to target.) The premise of “Robin wants his own movie. What must he do to get one?” is all the framework directors Horvath and Peter Rida Michail need to support a sustained skewering of the current frenzy of superhero moviemaking. —Michael Burgin


og-2019-movie-poster.jpg 24. O.G.
Year: 2019
Director: Madeleine Sackler
A man who’s committed a terrible crime faces a daunting re-entry into the world outside the walls. In prison he’s been a force, a guy who runs the place. He’s also been a penitent who wishes he could take it all back, and who’s learned the hard way to focus on “dignity, self-respect, and grace,” as he tells a newbie he finds under his wing. But we know, and so does he, that the power dynamics are about to change when he has to reintegrate. An ode to the tight close-up, Madeleine Sackler’s film O.G. stars Jeffrey Wright as Louis, an incarcerated man at the end of a 24-year prison term in Indiana. Shot in an active maximum-security prison and with many incarcerated men and prison staff taking their first turn in front of the camera, O.G. is nonetheless not about filming less-than-conventional actors in a gimmicky way; it’s naturalistic and tempered and organic. It’s committed to a plot-by-accretion, character-driven style, but it’s spare, tightly paced, and contains zero beard-stroking nonsense. It’s visually sophisticated, with subdued colors and bright panes of sunlight and beautifully rendered transitions and lavish close-ups. (Wright does a majority of the acting without saying a word.) Louis, under a veneer of detached calm, is in fact a pretty emotional man. He cares. About his family. About the pain he caused someone else’s family. About doing better, being better. He’s not a bodhisattva; there’s tremendous anger in him, and resentment, and wrath and defensiveness and humiliation. And, it seems—as his release draws closer and as he agrees to a confrontation with his victim’s sister—considerable fear he would rather not make visible. Fear of something happening to jeopardize his freedom, and perhaps greater fear of attaining it. This vivid emotional palette arises almost entirely between the lines in those amazing, lingering shots of Wright’s face. O.G. is an even-handed film in which the eruptions of violence in prison are not handled in a macho determination to be “edgy” or “gritty” or sensationalistic, and because of that it feels realistic. It is a delicate treatment of tough guys and a nonjudgmental look at a broken system, more focused on how men adapt to it than on taking audiences to school about why it’s unfair. The film assumes you know it’s unfair. It’s not going to bother patronizing you about it; it’s going to tell you a story about a decision that permanently altered the course of someone’s life. —Amy Glynn


traffic-movie-poster.jpg 23. Traffic
Year: 2000
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
As long as the U.S. keeps demanding copious amounts of drugs, and Latin America keeps providing them, Traffic will remain relevant. Steven Soderbergh’s brutally honest (and therefore grim) ensemble drama about the lucrative-for-some, destructive-for-most drug trade between both halves of our continent plays out like a Cocaine Cowboys version of The Battle of Algiers. As in Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece, Soderbergh employs a raw docudrama aesthetic with an even-handed narrative approach to sympathize with and scorn both sides of the issue in equal measure. Catherine Zeta-Jones’s drug kingpin might be a ruthless killer, but Stephen Gaghan’s script, based on a miniseries by Simon Moore, doesn’t shy away from establishing the economic desperation that pushes her to the edge. Michael Douglas’s conservative (and possibly alcoholic) drug czar might talk a good game in public about the U.S.’s no tolerance policy against drugs, but he can’t do anything but witness his daughter’s (Erika Christensen) descent into addiction. Soderbergh shot Traffic himself, and employed a clear blue-vs-yellow color palette between American and Mexican scenes, supporting his themes with clear visual cues. The yellows of Mexico, while warmer and naturalistic, communicate constant danger; the blues of the U.S. convey relative safety, but also moral coldness and emotional distance. Instead of offering any clear answers, Soderbergh and Gaghan stress the immediacy of the issue; their warnings remain unheard to this day. —Oktay Ege Kozak


leaving-neverland-movie-poster.jpg 22. Leaving Neverland
Year: 2019
Director: Dan Reed
It’s all heartbreaking. The damage to the psyches of children, certainly, but everything else is sad as hell, too: the endless voracious need for approval at any cost, the radioactive half-life of a lie, the emptiness at the center of fame, the way child abuse is a perpetual motion machine that infects one generation after another. In an oblique way, HBO’s Leaving Neverland is a reminder that the monstrous people who sexually abuse children do not simply drop out of the skies. They are forged. Created. Usually by abusers of their own. You look at Michael Jackson—his collapsing, bleaching face; his skinny little body; his soft, mealy speaking voice—and you can see a victimizer who was also a victim. If we could hold that perception and really understand it, would it change anything? The desire to withhold forgiveness from such people is deep and tenacious, and it’s more than understandable why that’s the case. No one tests the limits of forgiveness quite like someone who has molested children.

The four hours of Leaving Neverland are characterized by a cavernous sense of aural and visual space. The sound editing is almost uncomfortably intimate; I squirmed at the audible swallowing and breathing sounds in the interview segments. There’s also the way archival photo images are centered deeply in the frames—small, surrounded by black space, static. It’s elliptical, allusive. And effective. The testimony of the two alleged victims (and their mothers and their wives) is uncontested, and they do not affirmatively prove anything, but their stories strike so many of the same chords that you’d have to be awfully spaced out not to notice. The seduction of the boys’ star-struck and ambitious mothers. (Wade Robson’s mom relocated him from Australia to Hollywood, splitting up her family on the promise of Jackson’s mentorship and help.) The extended, extensive grooming process. Manipulative generosity. (A passage where James Safechuck describes Michael taking him to a jeweler to buy him a ring is especially creepy; apparently, Jackson had an elaborate story that James was helping him select something for a woman friend, and the kid’s delicate little fingers were the right size.) Creating a shared secret. We say people who hurt children don’t deserve to be forgiven, but just as it’s a mistake to see Leaving Neverland as a film about Michael Jackson, so is it a distraction to conflate forgiveness with releasing people from accountability. It doesn’t demand that viewers make a call on any of that, which is as it should be. It tells a piercingly sad and highly disturbing story that might or might not change how you feel about Michael Jackson, but will almost certainly draw a haunting, highly detailed sketch of the legacy of damage that ensues when someone violates children. —Amy Glynn


going-clear.jpg 21. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Year: 2015
Director: Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney’s up-close examination of Scientology, its practices and the controversies that surround the religion founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard is also a stirring portrait of eight former adherents, who tell their stories of how they came to practice Scientology and their reasons for leaving the church. While much of the ideological content in Gibney’s film has circulated on the Internet for years, there was still a number of items to be learned from watching the film and hearing from the men who made it. While Going Clear is part exposé and part condemnation of a controversial religion, director Gibney has said that he was most interested in “the journey of the key characters in the film”—and how people got lost in the ‘prison of belief.’” —Christine N. Ziemba


paradise-lost-poster.jpg 20. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Year: 1996
Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
If you’ve never heard of the West Memphis Three, do some research before you begin—you’ll want to be prepared. Within only a minute of the film’s opening, as Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” noodles forebodingly over pixelated camcorder videos, intolerable images taken straight from police evidence glance across frame, so quickly and frankly you’ll immediately question if they are, in fact, real. Of course, they are—they are images no person should ever have to see, and yet Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky use them only to expose the unbelievable horror at the heart of the appropriately named Paradise Lost. What unfolds over the following two and a half hours is just as heartbreaking: a trio of teenage boys (one with an IQ of 72) is put on trial for the brutal murders of three prepubescent boys, the only evidence against them a seemingly forced confession by the young kid with the below-average IQ, and laughably circumstantial physical proof. The film explores the context of West Memphis, its blindly devoted Christian population and how the fact that these teenagers dressed in black and listened to Metallica somehow led to their predictable fates at the hands of a comprehensively broken justice system. With surprising access to everyone involved in the trial, as well as a deft eye for the subtle exigencies of any criminal case such as this, Paradise Lost is a thorough, infuriating glimpse of the kind of mundane evil that mounts in some of America’s quietest corners. Welcome home. —Dom Sinacola


19. Won’t You be My Neighbor?
Year: 2018
Director: Morgan Neville
Morgan Neville’s winning portrait Won’t You Be My Neighbor? withholds darkness. Which makes sense since the Oscar-winning director of 20 Feet From Stardom has turned his attention to Fred Rogers, a kindly TV personality who entertained a couple generations of kids with his benign PBS program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Rogers died in 2003 at the age of 74, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of his landmark show, so expect plenty of tributes over the next several months. Appropriately, as an official chronicling of the man’s life and legacy, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? isn’t remotely innovative. We get polished interviews from colleagues, family members and Rogers’ widow. There are plenty of clips from his show, as well as other archival material. There’s a gimmick-y recurring use of animation to illustrate parts of his story that’s the only truly cloying element of a film that mostly eschews mawkishness. And yet, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a stunningly moving film that also feels just the teensiest bit radical. That word will be used a lot during this golden anniversary for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, as his fans remind everyone that, rather than starring a smiling square who couldn’t have looked less manly, the show was actually a pretty progressive program that frankly discussed everything from race relations to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Neville accentuates Rogers’ unembarrassed sweetness as an example of his principled stand against bigotry and injustice, making the case with conviction and gusto.

At my True/False screening, the audience was warned before Won’t You Be My Neighbor? that we ought to have Kleenex in hand to prepare for what we were going to experience. I’m an unashamed movie crier, but I resent being prepped for how I should feel about a movie I’m about to see. And yet, the warning was warranted: The tears elicited from Won’t You Be My Neighbor? are a testament to Neville’s tasteful, loving (but not fawning) depiction of a decent, unassuming man. The movie’s not just a balm in the age of Trump—it’s an opportunity for viewers to reconnect with their own decency, and Neville’s gentle skill at arguing for goodness ends up being a minor miracle. —Tim Grierson


bessie.jpg 18. Bessie
Year: 2015
Director: Dee Rees
It may have taken 20 years to make it, but when Bessie finally arrived, she came, she saw and she conquered. The HBO film has garnered 12 well-deserved Emmy nominations, with Queen Latifah, co-stars Michael Kenneth Williams and Mo’Nique, and director Dee Rees all getting the nod. One scene in particular—with the reverse paper bag test—is one of Bessie’s finest moments, as it encompasses all that makes the HBO film so wonderful. There’s Queen Latifah in all her glory, finally setting up her own tour and making sure everyone knows who’s boss. There’s the hilarity when she lets down one of the hopefuls auditioning—“You must be darker than the bag to be in my show!” After all, Bessie is an incredibly funny movie at times. And there’s the whole inversion of the brown paper bag test. Where Bessie Smith grew up in a world that demanded black women performing back-up be lighter than a brown paper bag, Bessie makes up a new rule that gives her back some agency and sets a different tone (literally and figuratively) for her showcase. Bessie was, in no way, your average blues performer and for that reason Lili Fini Zanuck and her husband Richard D. Zanuck knew they couldn’t just deliver your average black-performer-who-grew-up-poor-and-made-it-big biopic. The familiar story of a talented woman done in by a man (or many men), or childhood tragedies, or her own celebrity was not Bessie’s story—she wasn’t lighter than a brown paper bag, and, thankfully, wasn’t presented as such. —Shannon M. Houston


american-splendor.jpg 17. American Splendor
Year: 2003
Directors: Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman
Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” books are fascinating: Pekar believed that even the most mundane and seemingly uncomplicated lives were worth documenting. American Splendor showcases this theory by combining real footage of Pekar, fictionalized versions of characters from his life—maintaining both stylized caricatures and naturalistic drama—and even animated segments pulled from the comics to create a cohesive whole that presents an ordinary life as a fascinating experience. —Ross Bonaime


crimes-misdemeanors-movie-poster.jpg 16. Crimes and Misdemeanors
Year: 1989
Director: Woody Allen 
“Is there a God? And if so, is He watching?” Woody Allen’s somber meditation on this variant of the Big Question centers on two, vaguely interrelated stories: A successful ophthalmologist (Martin Landau) takes drastic measures to deal with an increasingly threatening mistress (Anjelica Huston) while a married filmmaker (Allen) finds himself attracted to the assistant (Mia Farrow) of his egotistical brother-in-law (Alan Alda). The events that follow leave the viewer uncomfortably aware of just how unanswerable some questions can be. This philosophical discomfort has only been heightened in the years since as it’s become much harder for some—and impossible for many—to enjoy Allen’s films in light of the accusations that have been leveled against him. This has especially been the case in films where Allen writes his stand-in character—often Allen himself—exhibiting the same school of misbehavior he’s accused of in real life. (See Manhattan.) In Crimes and Misdemeanors, this autobiographical gloss has additional resonance, as the script wrestles with whether misbehavior, even the most egregious, truly gets punished (and implies, if not, why not behave as you will?). It’s hard not to read the initial guilt, then relief and return to normalcy of Martin Landau’s character as, on some level, authorial wish fulfillment. —Michael Burgin


amelie.jpg 15. Amélie
Year: 2001
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Delicate and delicious, Amélie is an easily, exceedingly lovable little French trifle. With the face of an angel, the heart of a child and the haircut of a Parisian pixie, Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) sweeps us clean off our feet while Tautou launches herself into the American consciousness as the do-gooding waitress who sends her secret crush photos and riddles, masking her identity in order to make their first encounter—and first kiss—the most romantic moment of her life. Her fantastical adventures—in the name of idealized, even cinematic, coupling—unfold in flights of magical realism, Jean-Pierre Jeunet holding up love itself as both realistically magical and magically realistic. —Nick Marino


tale-hbo-movie-poster.jpg 14. The Tale
Year: 2018
Director: Jennifer Fox
Jennifer Fox has just done something utterly brilliant, and you need to see it. Be prepared to feel uncomfortable, because The Tale, adapted from her narrative memoir of the same name, will do a number on your head, in the way that a particularly vivid nightmare sometimes can, whether you personally have a childhood sexual abuse story or not. This film was made three years ago. It’s not a response to or the property of any movement, any hashtag; it’s not finally, finally pulling back the veil on the terrible stories no one ever told until now. We have always told these stories. They have always existed and we have always told them. We just didn’t do it with hashtags. To even characterize this film as “a story about sexual abuse” would be a shallow read on a very deep work of art. The Tale is, at a certain level, “about” sexual abuse. But focus on that for too long and you’ll miss the astonishing, courageous, gorgeous mosaic of ways in which it is deliberately, doggedly and totally not. This is a film about the morphing quicksand terrain of human memory and it’s about the stories we tell ourselves in order to stay sane and most of all it’s about the Plinian, volcanic power of emotional honesty. If you want to talk about the spirit of the moment, the guiding spirit of the times, maybe we need to pan back from anything as specific as sexual abuse of girls and women and talk about why being honest is the ultimate act of revolution. Plenty of people make autobiographical films. The Tale is so deeply and specifically autobiographical that it almost becomes something else. Fox as director and writer puts her documentarian’s tools to work to create a meta-textual tapestry depicting the ways in which our memories inform (and misinform) our self-concept. And this beautiful, gripping, disturbing film deserves to be looked at with as much nuance as it offers. It manages to dive so deeply into the personal that it explodes into something universal. —Amy Glynn


drugstore-cowboy-movie-poster.jpg 13. Drugstore Cowboy
Year: 1989
Director: Gus Van Sant 
Gus Van Sant’s sophomore feature film was the filmmaker’s huge breakout, earning him near-universal critical acclaim. And it’s ridiculously easy to understand why: Drugstore Cowboy is a propulsive, gripping slice of cinema. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by James Fogle, Cowboy features an electric lead performance in Matt Dillon as Bob, a junkie who, along with girlfriend Diane (Kelly Lynch), friends Rick (James LeGros) and Nadine (a young Heather Graham), robs pharmacies while getting high on their supply in and around Portland, Ore. in 1971. The film veers wildly between bleak drug-addled hellscape, paranoid delusions and pitch-black comedy. That it does so in a way that is perfectly in service with—even elevating—the story being told is the best testament to the talent and discipline of Van Sant as a writer/director. And, really, who could resist a movie featuring both funny and tragic drug overdoses that actually casts William S. Burroughs as a junkie priest? —Scott Wold


deadwood-movie-poster.jpg 12. Deadwood: The Movie
Year: 2019
Director: Daniel Minihan
A decade has passed in Deadwood between the show’s finale and Deadwood: The Movie, and longer has come and gone in the real world. Beloved characters have vacated the town, passed away with the beloved actors behind them. Deadwood isn’t used to that much temporal space. The longest narrative gap it ever weathered over the course of its 2004-2006 run was a seven month stretch hastening an affair and a bonanza gold mine. It’s a show where events and episodes occur over hours, where the threat of even minor change can send its entrenched group of outcasts to the brothel-worn mattresses. As South Dakota looks to enter the United States, Deadwood is about to finish the painful pubescence it began during the show and finally grow up. It left off with seething, begrudging closure—the kind found after a lopsided armistice—when gold magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) strong-armed Alma Garret (Molly Parker) into selling her lucrative claim by, among other things, having her husband murdered. With all parties in that conflict returning to town to celebrate this new statehood, irredentism and its dictatorial opposite come into conflict. Hearst may own the town, but nobody stays bitter like a Deadwood resident. Tragic reunions, new beginnings, and those signature beatings—all the run-ins, disappointments, and excitements good fan service requires are included in its wide-ranging story. And the funerals have gotten way more elaborate since Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) and Sol Star (John Hawkes) buried the murderer Ned Mason in the show’s second episode.

Everyone, including the protagonistic owners of the hardware store, gets a life update. Community leader, killer, and brothel/bar operator Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) is on a jaundiced decline as law enters the land. Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) has somehow survived her alcoholism, but is even more death-obsessed than she was after Wild Bill Hickok’s murder. Some get more detail than others, like Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens) or Mr. Wu (Keone Young), who merely drop by for familiarity’s sake and to help the characters actually doing something during the movie. Some of these developments are propped up by flashbacks that could be clip show-ish; others more delicate and wistful recollections whose images reignite the pain we haven’t seen these characters experience in 10 years. They’re obsessive fragments, moments of time snipped, captured, and replayed like a haunting tune stuck in their heads. The focus on memory feels natural, but it’s perhaps even more understandable when taking into account the Alzheimer’s diagnosis of show creator David Milch (who also wrote the film). The “curiosity, bitterness, and incredulity” of mental decline meets the “unflinching dignity” of idealism, something seen in every corner of Deadwood’s hard, angry, honorable inhabitants. Time, and the perspective its passage brings, is new for the show. But its addition only serves to cement its legacy as one of the best ever. As a series capper, the movie is a satisfying, loving end that fulfills old Deadwood’s imperfect promises while mostly avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia. —Jacob Oller


first-manmovie-poster.jpg 11. First Man
Year: 2018
Director: Damien Chazelle
We first meet Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) as a remote, almost chilly flyboy who is less Maverick than a willful, stoic technician. The year is 1961, and he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) are paralyzed by the malignant tumor attacking their daughter Karen’s brain. When she dies, the family barely holds itself together and, in fact, Armstrong joins NASA in large part because the couple’s mourning is tearing them both apart. From there, we follow many of the familiar contours of the NASA story and Armstrong’s part in it, as he digs himself deeper and deeper into his work—and removes himself further and further from his family—in an obsession with … what, exactly? One of the movie’s slyest, most daring and affecting conceits is that we never quite know what’s going on with Armstrong, and neither does anyone else in the film, not least of all Janet, who is left raising two increasingly difficult boys while her husband buries himself in his work, perhaps to hide the grief that consumes him. It just turns out that work is something that’s going to change the world. This would seem like a bit of a turn for director Damien Chazelle, whose Whiplash and La La Land barely seem to exist in the same universe of Neil Armstrong and the space race. But his lyrical intensity, his ability to find the hard edges of his story while still being able to leave us in awe, is a perfect fit for this material. The space sequences, of which there are three major ones, are like musical numbers of their own, with Chazelle plunging us into the terror of what’s happening, the utter sense that, for all the technical know-how and noble intentions, everything could explode at any minute without anyone having the slightest idea why. These were, after all, experiments, and with those experiments came tragic failures. Chazelle is able to ground us with the details while making sure, when it all clicks together, that it can still soar. Chazelle has shown the ability to lift us off our feet before, but this is a major step forward. —Will Leitch


capturing-friedmans.jpg 10. Capturing the Friedmans
Year: 2003
Director: Andrew Jarecki
This is the story of Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse, convicted of multiple counts of child molestation that supposedly took place in the basement of their home in a quiet New York suburb during the ’80s. In Capturing the Friedmans, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki interviews the victims and prosecutors, but never reaches a conclusion as to the veracity of the charges, tacitly acknowledging that guilt and innocence are fluid concepts in such sensational and shameful circumstances. Instead, he documents the implosion of the family and the destruction of an already tenuous marriage. Surely, the details of the abuse are disturbing, but almost as unsettling is the cruelty with which the two older Friedmans reject their mother in blind loyalty to their shamefaced father and numb younger brother, further facilitating the family’s emotional separation. —Emily Reimer


blackkklansman-poster.jpg 9. BlacKkKlansman
Year: 2018
Director: Spike Lee 
BlacKkKlansman begins, in vintage Spike fashion, with a big Oliver Stone-esque set piece featuring a racist “scholar” named Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard (Alec Baldwin) delivering a demented, bigoted speech straight to the camera, but then, for a brief while, the movie settles down to tell its real-life story. In 1970s Colorado, a man named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzel) joins the police department and, after dealing with discrimination within the force itself, decides to go undercover and take down the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, talking to its members on the phone while using his white, Jewish partner Flip (Adam Driver) to serve as his in-person representative. The two slowly infiltrate the Colorado KKK and end up corresponding with the KKK’s grand wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace), who becomes so infatuated with Ron that he comes to Colorado to meet him. Meanwhile, Ron falls for a local radical (Laura Herrier) and attempts to figure out whether he can square the circle of being a good police office and a conscientious, vigilant black man. This is a Spike Lee movie, so the straightforward story you might have gotten from Get Out’s Jordan Peele—who was originally going to make this film as his follow up but instead produces here—keeps taking all sorts of detours, mostly with the intent of reminding you that there’s a direct line between the shithead Klansmen of this time period and the shitheads in Charlottesville…and the White House itself. Lee shook himself out of his brief academic torpor with 2015’s Chi-Raq, a wildly unfocused but deeply passionate movie, and he evolves further here, his outrage and sadness seeping out of every frame. It can be a little on the nose sometimes—one discussion of racism in the Oval Office is so overt you half expect the word “TRUMP” to just start flashing on the screen—but Spike Lee is at his best when he’s on the nose. Lee is too urgent, too furious, to have time to lull you in with subtlety and nuance: When the house is on fire, you don’t worry about what kind of hoses you have, you just spray that shit with everything you have. Lee is shaking with rage at what he sees in the world right now, and for crissakes, he should be. His excesses don’t just seem powerful; they’re necessary. You can sort out all the particulars later: The house is on fire right now. —Will Leitch


mean-girls-movie-poster.jpg 8. Mean Girls
Year: 2004
Director: Mark Waters
Before Tina Fey got stubborn—before sometimes thoughtful critiques of her occasionally limited perspective encouraged the reactionary, heel-in-ground attitude about the politics of identity and changing social norms—she was one of the most thoughtful writers and creators to engage with both of those subject matters, and how we talk about them. A crucial part of what made 30 Rock one of the smartest sitcoms in history was its investigation of what we talk about when we talk about identity politics. A lot of that sharpness has its origins in Fey’s 2004 screenplay debut, Mean Girls, a dark comedy in the vein of Heathers and Clueless, scrutinizing the social dynamics of high school and, in particular, how young women treat one another and themselves. Through the eyes of new kid, formerly homeschooled Cady Harron (Lindsay Lohan), the film submerges the audience in the nasty politics of “girl world” as she tries to make friends, schemes against the popular girls, and loses sight of herself in the process. Adapted from Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence , Mean Girls has its own unique edge apart from 30 Rock, not just as a high school movie, but as a movie that dives into the operations of hierarchical systems. And for Fey, language is the key to unlocking how these high school cliques work. Fey’s lauded for her film’s memorable lines (quotes like “stop trying to make fetch happen” and “too gay to function” live on, at least in meme form), but Mean GIrls is an impressive example of translating Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction, sociological approach into narrative and fictive application. When Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damien (Daniel Franzese) introduce her to the various lunch room groups, they give her the vocabulary to describe them from then on. Taxonomical breakdowns of high school are almost blasé at this point, but director Mark Waters and Fey give a potency to the language of that social environment.

As Cady socializes into 2004-era high school life and finds her image growing in popularity, she must continually learn the nomenclature of high school and, effectively, of white femininity. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), a social leader of sorts, plays that game with her: “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?” Regina jabs, establishing what the correct conversational and syntactical routine should be when someone compliments you. Later, the titular Girls—Regina, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert), Karen (Amanda Seyfried) and Cady—all look at themselves in the mirror pointing out their flaws. But the significance of this scene isn’t merely that Cady engages with the body politics of white womanhood, it’s that she is given the language with which to do so. Essentially, Mean Girls focuses on how the high schoolers codify social dynamics—how they articulate where they or other people fall taxonomically—via class, gender and race. As time passes, Mean Girls’s imitators seem flaccid by comparison. The film’s unpacking of the cruelty of internalized misogyny has, over the course of nearly a decade and a half, grown more acidic, its schemes and backtalking as scalding as it ever was. —Kyle Turner


can-you-ever-forgive-me-movie-poster.jpg 7. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Year: 2018
Director: Marielle Heller
Ten minutes into the film, the aging, broke, world-weary Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) walks by a room of a handful of women circled around a fastidiously dressed man decrying “Writer’s Block” as laziness, as a justification of the inability to do work or to be original. At a party held in her agent Marjorie’s (Jane Curtin) enormous apartment (there’s a coat check guy), Israel is an invisible outsider in the world of the literary elite. No one talks to her, and there’s the palpable friction of her contempt for the snobbery of such characters who ramble on about structure and reflexivity and her yearning to be recognized and embraced as worthy and talented. The writer of a handful of well-received and panned biographies, Israel is told by Marjorie that she has not made a name for herself, that she has disappeared behind her writing. Or, as Israel retorts, she’s doing her job—but still, she has doubt. And what do so many queer people do when they want to toe the line between disappearing into someone else and flaunting their own persona? They do drag. Certainly, one of the fundamental questions at the heart of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on Lee Israel’s autobiography, is a notion of authenticity within art, or, in this case, within writing. To make ends meet, Israel begins to forge and embellish the personal letters of literary and social figures like Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward, and as she becomes further invested in the con of selling them to collectors and bookstore owners, she realizes she has to negotiate the space between her persona as a writer and how much of that persona is predicated on imitation without a real grasp on her own sensibilities or idiosyncrasies as a writer. How much real is there in this representation, how much authenticity is there in her artifice?

Through the eyes of Israel and Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), New York retains the gritty luster of the 1970s, a time where the city still had a place for them. Heller and Holofcener and Whitty have an otherworldly skill at pinpointing the queer bitterness of these people’s lives, their willingness to keep living, and what may lurk beneath their armor. Like few other films, Can You Ever Forgive Me? seems tailor-made for a person like me: It’s a film about the frustrating, often sad life of writers, the anxiety of being able to create, the uncertainty of whether you have a voice in your craft, the adoration for a time and its figures to whence you do not belong, the things queer people will do to fight off loneliness. —Kyle Turner


favourite-movie-poster.jpg 6. The Favourite
Year: 2018
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Love is a battlefield, as Pat Benatar once opined—a cliche that can also convey how love and sex, though not necessarily mutually inclusive, are never neutral. Those acts and feelings are political. A kiss is never just a kiss, and in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, massaging someone’s leg, one person standing and the other on their knees, is not just a massage. From a fiendishly barbed screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (this is the first film of Lanthimos’s not co-written by him), The Favourite is about ailing, naïve, fussy Queen Anne (Olivia Colman)—ruler of Great Britain from 1702 to 1707—who acts like a wanton child (or is she treated like a child?) and submits most of her power and leadership duties to her “favourite,” Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). This is convenient for Lady Sarah, who uses this opportunity for political strategy, swaying the Queen’s Tory-like politics to her own Whiggian politics, despite the battles she must carry on in court regularly (particularly against Robert Harley, a Tory, played by Nicholas Hoult). Her role as the Queen’s right-hand woman is as emotionally exhausting as it is politically fulfilling; while pushing for higher land taxes in order to finance an ongoing war with France, she is expected to quell the Queen’s many insecurities and neuroses. When Sarah’s distant cousin, and former lady herself, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) lands on the steps of the palace, Abigail realizes she, too, can strategize to climb her way back to the top, even if it means pushing Sarah aside at all costs. Weisz and Stone are well-equipped as foils, and it is within their precision in comic timing, calculation (the film features the best hand job scene since The Master) and volleying passions that the film is able to ground their presences in the same kind of melancholy resignation as Anne’s. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan uses fisheye and wide angle lenses, bending the interior architecture like the women’s allegiances and truths, to unsettling effect. Arguably, Queen Anne is, at heart, an optimist, living in a world in which affection and vulnerability can be depoliticized, not tied to class or royalty or nationhood. This detachment from the reality of the varying power dynamics and spectacles around her and her court—and her forced confrontation with the nature of the quasi-love triangle—gives The Favourite its beating broken heart. Rather than being concerned with historical authenticity (Sandy Powell’s costumes are gorgeously anachronistic), Lanthimos gestures towards an emotional reality that posits the lover and the loved as soldiers, capable of being a casualty in what each party believes is a greater cause. What a blazing and burning feat of melodrama. —Kyle Turner


in-the-bedroom.jpg 5. In the Bedroom
Year: 2001
Director: Todd Field
Based on a story by Andre Dubus, Todd Field’s In the Bedroom is a quiet, understated and devastating exploration of grief in the aftermath of a happy family torn apart by the murder of Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) by his girlfriend Natalie’s (Marisa Tomei) ex (William Mapother). Of course, Nick’s parents (Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson) handle the loss of their son in very different ways, inevitably alienating themselves from each other, compounding their isolation and profound loss. Field’s directorial debut is an arresting (and emotionally exhausting) work, combining elements of romance, drama and the taut tension of a very good thriller to reveal and unfold the story at the core of the film, which is Spacek and Wilkinson’s joint and individual journeys to contend with the utterly life-shattering experience of unexpectedly losing a child. The shifts from grief to anger and blame to guilt to need are incredibly real, and Spacek and Wilkinson deliver stellar, deeply nuanced performances. Field was critically lauded for the restrained style of the film, and for good reason: This is a riveting character study, the deepest, fathomless of dives into the psychology of family in the midst of loss. —Amy Glynn


paddington-2-movie-poster.jpg 4. Paddington 2
Year: 2018
Director: Paul King
A sequel to 2014’s Paddington, Paddington 2 picks up where its predecessor left off, with Paddington Brown (né Bear and voiced by Ben Whishaw) living contentedly with his human family, including Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and a newly name-recognizable Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), joined by that British A-Lister of yore Hugh Grant, dramatic heavyweight Brendan Gleeson, and many others. (In fact, one of the simple joys for parents watching the film lies in recognizing this or that British actor.) A simple, commendable desire to find a good gift for his Aunt Lucy (currently spending her days in a nice retirement home for bears in Lima, Peru, natch) leads Paddington to set his eyes on a certain antique pop-up book as the perfect present. When that scoundrel and fading thespian Phoenix Buchanan (Grant) also sets his sights on the same book, well, hijinks, misunderstandings and adventure ensue. Paddington 2 reminds us how difficult it can be to pull off a sweetly tempered, gently moving children’s movie by doing exactly that, and doing it so well. —Michael Burgin


widows-movie-poster.jpg 3. Widows
Year: 2018
Director: Steve McQueen
Beyond all its other attributes, what’s perhaps most remarkable about Widows is the man who made it. An Oscar-winning filmmaker and, before that, an acclaimed visual artist known for his arresting video installations, Steve McQueen has long focused on the suffering of the human soul, again and again exploring the anguish within our spirit. There hasn’t been much indication that the thrills of pulp fiction have been part of his DNA, and so it might be easy to assume that McQueen, while adapting the 1980s British crime series created by Lynda La Plante, would either condescend to the audience or drain the material of its vibrancy. Incredibly, his Widows does neither: This is a mature, exciting, utterly engrossing heist film that proves to be far more than just a crime drama. Set in Chicago, the film stars Viola Davis as Veronica, who’s in the midst of mourning. Her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) has just died in a shootout with the police—although she doesn’t quite want to acknowledge it, Harry was a professional bank robber, and his most recent haul ended up killing him and his partners. But Veronica’s grief has to be put on hold after a dangerous man named Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s running for political office, approaches her with an urgent message. He was the target of Harry’s last heist, and now he wants his money back—even though it burned up in the fire that claimed Harry and his team. If Veronica doesn’t come up with a couple million dollars, she’ll end up like her husband. Veronica is terrified—she works for the city’s teachers union and doesn’t have the resources or the means to grant Jamal’s request—which is when she hits upon an idea. Harry left behind a journal with detailed plans for his next heist. Veronica recruits the widows of Harry’s team to pull off that robbery. These women—working-class Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and sheltered, spoiled Alice (Elizabeth Debicki)—don’t seem like the bank-robbing types. But what other option do they have? To call Widows merely a heist film would be to shortchange it. And yet, when it comes time for the robbery, McQueen, cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and editor Joe Walker deliver an exhilarating one that’s steeped in our knowledge of these characters and their personal stakes. If thrillers are meant to be escapist, nobody told this cast and crew. Sure, Widows is a dynamite entertainment, but it’s also more mournful, thought-provoking and intelligent than that. Adults often complain there aren’t good mainstream movies for them—ones that can engage them, entertain them and leave them with something to chew on as they leave the theater. Widows is here waiting for you. —Tim Grierson


annie-hall.jpg 2. Annie Hall
Year: 1977
Director: Woody Allen 
The sole best picture winner in Woody Allen’s canon—or whatever amounts to his legacy nowadays—Annie Hall succeeds in many forms, not the least as a great romantic comedy, simply because it patiently takes the time to reveal a relationship’s many moments, major and not so much—the wide spectrum of happy and sad, of bittersweet and just plain bitter. From fighting over which movie to see, to laughing while chasing down lobsters in the kitchen, Allen’s film grasps the delicacy of how such a bond can shift imperceptibly from bliss to something else entirely. It doesn’t hurt that Allen’s wit and humor is perfectly matched (even challenged) by Diane Keaton, in her iconic, Oscar-winning performance. However his films have soured sense, Annie Hall remains an enduring classic. —Jeremy Medina


robocop.jpg 1. Robocop
Year: 1987
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Throughout the late-’70s and indulgent 1980s, “industry” went pejorative and Corporate America bleached white all but the most functional of blue collars. Broadly speaking, of course: Manufacturing was booming, but the homegrown “Big Three” automobile companies in Detroit—facing astronomical gas prices via the growth of OPEC, as well as increasing foreign competition and the decentralization of their labor force—resorted to drastic cost-cutting measures, investing in automation (which of course put thousands of people out of work, closing a number of plants) and moving facilities to “low-wage” countries (further decimating all hope for a secure assembly line job in the area). The impact of such a massive tectonic shift in the very foundation of the auto industry pushed aftershocks felt, of course, throughout the Rust Belt and the Midwest—but for Detroit, whose essence seemed composed almost wholly of exhaust fumes, the change left the city in an ever-present state of decay. And so, though it was filmed in Pittsburgh and around Texas, Detroit is the only logical city for a Robocop to inhabit. A practically peerless, putrid, brash concoction of social consciousness, ultra-violence and existential curiosity, Paul Verhoeven’s first Hollywood feature made its tenor clear: A new industrial revolution must take place not within the ranks of the unions or inside board rooms, but within the self. By 1987, much of the city was already in complete disarray, the closing of Michigan Central Station—and the admission that Detroit was no longer a vital hub of commerce—barely a year away, but its role as poster child for the Downfall of Western Civilization had yet to gain any real traction. Verhoeven screamed this notion alive. He made Detroit’s decay tactile, visceral and immeasurably loud, limning it in ideas about the limits of human identity and the hilarity of consumer culture. As Verhoeven passed a Christ-like cyborg—a true melding of man and savior—through the crumbling post-apocalyptic fringes of a part of the world that once held so much prosperity and hope, he wasn’t pointing to the hellscape of future Detroit as the battlefield over which the working class will fight against the greedy 1%, but instead to the robot cop, to Murphy (Peter Weller), as the battlefield unto himself. How can any of us save a place like Detroit? In Robocop, it’s a deeply personal matter. —Dom Sinacola

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