The 100 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

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5-best-so-far-2015-Ex-Machina.jpg 50. Ex Machina
Year: 2015
Director: Alex Garland
While popular science-fiction films have taught us that, no matter what we do, robots that become self-aware will eventually rise up and kill us, recent advances in artificial intelligence in the real world have confirmed something much seedier about the human imperative: If given the technology to design thinking, feeling robots, we will always try to have sex with them. Always. Alex Garland’s beautifully haunting film seems to want to bridge that gap. Taking cues from obvious predecessors like 2001: A Space Odyssey and AI—some will even compare it to HerEx Machina stands solidly on its own as a highly stylized and mesmerizing film, never overly dependent on CGI, and instead built upon the ample talents of a small cast. The film’s title is a play on the phrase deus ex machina (“god from the machine”), which is a plot device wherein an unexpected event or character seemingly comes out of nowhere to solve a storytelling problem. Garland interprets the phrase literally: Here, that machine is a robot named Ava, played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, and that nowhere is where her creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), performs his research and experiments. Ava is a heavenly mechanical body of sinewy circuitry topped with a lovely face, reminiscent of a Chris Cunningham creation. Her creator is an alcoholic genius and head of a Google-like search engine called Bluebook which has made him impossibly rich. Enter Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who is helicoptered in after winning a lottery at work for which the prize is a week at Nathan’s house. Nathan also intends to use Caleb to conduct something of a Turing test on steroids with Ava to determine if she can truly exhibit human behavior. In fact, Ex Machina seems designed around the performances of its excellent mini-ensemble; it’s an awfully attractive film, appropriately seductive. No doubt it was intended to provoke conversations about the morality inherent in “creating” intelligence—as well as whether it’s cool to have sex with robots or not. —Jonah Flicker


breadwinner-poster.jpg 49. The Breadwinner
Year: 2017
Director: Nora Twomey
Having worked on both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Nora Twomey has taken a different tack than her Cartoon Saloon cohort, Tomm Moore, departing the mythology-rich shores of Ireland for the mountains of Afghanistan, focusing on the region’s own folklore against the backdrop of Taliban rule. The film is based on Deborah Ellis’s 2000 novel of the same name, the story of a young girl named Parvana who disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family after her father is seized by the Taliban. Being a woman in public is bad for your health in Kabul. So is educating women. Parvana (Saara Chaudry) understands the dire circumstances her father’s arrest forces upon her family, and recognizes the danger of hiding in plain sight to feed them. Need outweighs risk. So she adopts a pseudonym on advice from her friend, Shauzia (Soma Bhatia), who is in the very same position as Parvana, and goes about the business of learning how to play-act as a dude in a world curated by dudes. Meanwhile, Parvana’s embrace of familial duty is narrated concurrently with a story she tells to her infant brother, about a young boy who vows to reclaim his village’s stolen crop seeds from the Elephant King and his demonic minions in the Hindu Kush mountain range. If there’s a link that ties The Breadwinner to Moore’s films, besides appreciation for fables, it’s artistry: Like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner is absolutely gorgeous, a cel-shaded stunner that blends animation’s most traditional form with interspersed cut out animation. The result mixes the fluid intangibility of the former with the tactile quality of the latter, layering the film’s visual scheme with color and texture. Twomey gives The Breadwinner ballast, binding it to the real-world history that serves as its basis, and elevates it to realms of imagination at the same time. It’s a collision of truth and fantasy. —Andy Crump


step-brothers-movie-poster.jpg 48. Step Brothers
Year: 2008
Director: Adam McKay 
If we’re judging in terms of pure quotability, the only comedy film of the last 20 years to even exist in the same solar system as Step Brothers is Anchorman. What does this say of us as viewers? Step Brothers is perhaps the finest distillation of the post-2000s man-child comedy subset, taken to the illogical extreme. Its two central characters are each in their 40s, and equally incapable of taking the barest shred of responsibility for their lives outside of the protective cocoon of home. Brennan (Will Ferrell) doesn’t understand where a person might go in order to obtain toilet paper when they run out. Dale (John C. Reilly) erroneously believes he can inherit his father’s “family business” of being a medical doctor. The characters are so exaggeratedly helpless that the film somehow manages to achieve transcendent punchlines toward the end simply by showing them forced to adapt to the mundanity of normal life. What other film could turn “taking baby Aspirin to reduce my risk for heart attack” into a genuinely laugh-out-loud moment? But more than anything, Step Brothers is what happens when you simply let two of the finest comic actors of a generation play off each other and improvise to their heart’s content, with a rare form of chemistry that would be impossible to fake and flanked by brilliant supporting work from the likes of Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen and Adam Scott. —Jim Vorel


high-flying-bird-movie-poster.jpg 47. High Flying Bird
Year: 2019
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Members of the “keep your politics outta my sportsball” crowd will probably hate High Flying Bird, Steven Soderbergh’s basketball drama, his latest experimentation with iPhone and his first collaboration with imminent playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (of Moonlight fame and success). The film forces audiences to confront the implicit and innate racial biases woven throughout American sports culture, settling specifically in the NBA’s court. Granted, the apolitical type probably wouldn’t give High Flying Bird a second thought browsing their Netflix queues anyway, and that’s just fine. Soderbergh’s filmmaking and McCraney’s writing gel together with up tempo pacing and nearly lyrical dialogue exchanged between its tight cast of characters, chiefly Ray Burke (André Holland), a sports agent doing his best to serve his client, star prospect Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg), while navigating a fictionalized lockout.

The lockout’s not that fictionalized (recall events that impacted the NBA through 2011, for instance), it’s just that Soderbergh and McCraney aren’t referencing anyone or anything in particular here, beyond systemic biases, both casual and fully intentional, woven into basketball’s DNA. The film makes a surgically precise study of how governance over the game, wrested from the hands of its players and bequeathed to their owners, leads to grim power dynamics recalling the days of slave trades and auction blocks. In regards to material, it’s merciless. In regards to craftsmanship, it’s unforgiving. But curious viewers will be rewarded with one of the year’s most economical bits of closed-circuit storytelling, anchored by Holland’s towering lead performance—so long as they can keep up. —Andy Crump


tintin-movie-poster.jpg 46. The Adventures of Tintin
Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg 
It’s actually amazing that The Adventures of Tintin marks the first big screen treatment of the immensely popular comic book character in nearly 40 years (and, really, the first one of note originating from Hollywood, ever). After all, the intrepid carrot-topped reporter/sleuth stands with fellow Franco-Belgian characters Asterix and Obelix as a titan of European comics. Created by Belgian artist Georges Remi (under the pen name Hergé), Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 50 languages and inspired a decently rabid following of “Tintinologists” who have discussed, debated, critiqued and theorized on virtually every imaginable aspect of Tintin and his friends. (For proof, check out www.tintinologist.org.) Part of that can be attributed to careful guardianship of the property, first by Hergé himself and then by his estate. How else can one explain how a series started in 1929 and involving a resourceful boy and his resourceful and cuddly dog has escaped the clutches of the Disney merchandising behemoth? But then there’s also the fact that the new film’s director, some guy named Steven Spielberg, has held the film rights for nearly 30 years, waiting for the right moment to give Tintin his cinematic due. The Adventures of Tintin does just that. Not since Rob Reiner’s pop culture quote font, The Princess Bride, or perhaps Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, has a film worked so hard—and so successfully—to capture the spirit of the source material. —Michael Burgin


last-jedi-movie-poster.jpg 45. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Year: 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
The Last Jedi, unlike its predecessor, has the freedom to be daring, and perhaps the most thrilling thing about it—and there are many, many thrilling things—is how abundantly it takes advantage of that freedom. If The Force Awakens was basically just Star Wars told again in a new, but familiar way, The Last Jedi challenges the audience, challenges the Star Wars mythos, even challenges the whole damned series itself. It blows the universe up to rebuild it; it is a continuation and a new beginning. And more than anything else, it goes places no Star Wars film has ever dreamed of going. In a way, the success J.J. Abrams had with The Force Awakens, particularly how decidedly fan-servicey it was, laid the groundwork for what The Last Jedi is able to pull off. That movie reminded you how much power and primal force this series still had. This movie is an even more impressive magic trick: It uses that power and force to connect you to something larger. Not everything in The Last Jedi works perfectly, but even its few missteps are all founded in the desire for something new, to take risks, to push an American myth into uncomfortable new directions. —Will Leitch


frances-ha.jpg 44. Frances Ha
Year: 2012
Director: Noah Baumbach 
In a single gesture from actor/writer/Baumbachian collaborator Greta Gerwig, there is an entire universe. She makes a sort of “trespassing” buzz when Lev (Adam Driver) reaches out to touch her shoulder, then, taking a deep sigh of resignation, her body once tense in obligatory “Am I into this guy?” reservation, she relaxes. They might as well be friends. Nothing really goes the way Frances plans; not when she’s asked to move in with her then-boyfriend at the start, not her prospects as a dancer, not her relationship with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). But she’s a dancer, right? Her body awkwardly tries to roll with the punches life throws her way—maybe not with the wherewithal of actually trying to figure out what the next thing should be. Even as she continually loses stability after effectively losing her constant (Sophie), Frances has an irrepressible exuberance, running all about Chinatown to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” scouring the Lower East Side for an ATM and hiding her whole body as she serves as university benefactor’s wine pourer/ward. There is a gracefulness to Gerwig’s gangly gracelessness, as if all of her warmth, fear, pain and joy cobbles itself together in beautiful unwieldy movements. It’s in these moments, and in the shared body language between Frances and Sophie, that Baumbach and Gerwig find the tenderest moments in their career. And in digital black and white, the movie shimmers, recalling not just the buoyancy of the French New Wave, but the economic and social uncertainty of young New Yorkers (perhaps of a particular social subset) who want everything—with the heart, body and soul—except to grow up. —Kyle Turner


matrix.jpg 41. The Matrix
Year: 1999
Directors: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
There is not much to say about the film that made cyberpunk not stupid—and therefore is the best cyberpunk movie ever made—or that made Keanu Reeves a respectable figure of American kung fu, or that finally made martial arts films a seriously hot commodity outside of Asia. The Matrix is—next to the Wu-Tang Clan—what proved to a new generation that martial arts films were worth their scrutiny, and in that reputation is bred college classes, heroes’ journeys and impossible expectations for special effects. While there are plenty better, there is no movie in the canon of martial arts films bigger than The Matrix, and even today we still have this film to thank for so much of what we love about modern kinetic cinema. This is our red pill; everything else is an illusion of greatness and everything else is an allusion to what the Wachowskis accomplished. —Dom Sinacola


okja-movie-poster.jpg 42. Okja
Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


heathers_poster.jpg 41. Heathers
Year: 1988
Director: Michael Lehmann
As much an homage to ’80s teen romps—care of stalwarts like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe—as it is an attempt to push that genre to its near tasteless extremes, Heathers is a hilarious glimpse into the festering core of the teenage id, all sunglasses and cigarettes and jail bait and misunderstood kitsch. Like any coming-of-age teen soap opera, much of the film’s appeal is in its vaunting of style over substance—coining whole ways of speaking, dressing and posturing for an impressionable generation brought up on Hollywood tropes—but Heathers embraces its style as an essential keystone to filmmaking, recognizing that even the most bloated melodrama can be sold through a well-manicured image. And some of Heathers’ images are indelible: J.D. (Christian Slater) whipping out a gun on some school bullies in the lunch room, or Veronica (Winona Ryder) passively lighting her cigarette with the flames licking from the explosion of her former boyfriend. It makes sense that writer Daniel Waters originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his script: Heathers is a filmmaker’s (teen) film. —Dom Sinacola


legend-drunken-master-movie-poster.jpg 40. The Legend of Drunken Master
Year: 1994
Director: Chia-Liang Liu
1994’s Drunken Master II (released in the U.S. as The Legend of Drunken Master) may be Jackie Chan’s best movie—by far. Featuring everything uniquely awesome about Chan’s martial-arts movie stardom while showcasing each of his prime elements (fluidity of motion, comedic timing, sheer athleticism) better than in any one of his other cinematic punch-outs, including the original 1978 Drunken Master (starring an obviously much younger Chan), here he leads as Wong Fei Hung, a Chinese folk hero who employs his Zui Quan (Drunken Boxing) skills to stop the corrupt British consul set on illegally exporting Chinese artifacts out of the country. Although nearly all the action sequences are wonderfully exhaustive and memorable, the final fight, as one should expect, is a breathless show-stopper. —K. Alexander Smith


the-witch.jpg 39. The Witch
Year: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers
From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus—much like the dialogue-less beginning to There Will be Blood —rise to a climax that never comes. It’s a long shot, breathing dread: The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered. But what’s most convincing is the burden of puritanical spirituality which blankets the film’s every single moment, a pall through which every character—especially teenage Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy)—struggles to be, simply, a regular person. There is no joy in their worship, there is only gravitas: prayers, fasting, penitence and fear. And it’s that fear which drives the film’s horror, which eventually makes even us viewers believe that, at the fringes of civilization, at the border of the unknown, God has surely abandoned these people. —Dom Sinacola


drive-nwr-movie-poster.jpg 38. Drive
Year: 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Drive is the movie that makes me think I’m a Nicolas Winding Refn fan: all of the director’s appetites sublimated into something that indulges the viewer as much as it indulges its maker. I’ve watched Refn’s other stuff on Drive’s merit and liked none of it. Nonetheless, I’m a Refn fan, because the things that drive me crazy about his other work (stylistic posturing, stilted dialogue, general wankery, etc.) are things that click into the gear teeth of Drive so that it can idle, hum, rev and roar to life. Besides that, the set-pieces are simple and perfectly realized, as are the characters, with textured supporting turns from Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks. Most of Refn’s stuff is about repression, his protagonists like aliens to the societies with which they’re forced to engage. Ryan Gosling’s nameless driver is pure archetype, but unlike Gosling’s parody of his Drive performance in the subsequent Only God Forgives, there is something about his Driver that resonates, that makes us want to believe in him even as he’s established as a pawn for dangerous men. We crave “a real hero,” as the soundtrack at one point highlights with neon marker; Drive kens what we long to see in human nature. It knows that to love is to sacrifice; it’s also one of the more affecting depictions of a good person finding out that he’s good by virtue of human connection—while at the same time understanding that process alienates him even further from the world. The Driver seems inert on his surface but the action of the film speaks very much otherwise. For once in his oeuvre, Refn finds a way to bring his protagonist’s repression and catharsis together in a final grace note. And if there’s one thing we need more of in our entertainment and in our lives, it’s grace. —Chad Betz


private-life-movie-poster.jpg 37. Private Life
Year: 2018
Director: Tamara Jenkins
A rich film with the confidence to take its time, allowing its characters to unfurl and its themes to grow and develop, Private Life is a quietly remarkable comedy-drama about family, marriage and getting older. To accomplish all that, writer-director Tamara Jenkins uses as her entryway a familiar scenario: a 40-something couple struggling to have a baby. Led by terrific, tricky performances from Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn, Private Life keeps shifting and surprising, never offering anything dramatically monumental but speaking precisely about the bonds between people—how they can be threatened but also renewed. Giamatti and Hahn play Richard and Rachel, who have been married for quite some time, each of them enjoying a satisfying creative life in New York City. But in recent years, they’ve struggled to conceive, a process that no amount of fertility treatments has been able to remedy. Private Life devotes a significant amount of its early running time to showing how couples such as Richard and Rachel undergo IVF, which has its comic moments but is largely depressingly clinical. (Adding to the despair are the long lines of other expectant couples Richard and Rachel see in the waiting rooms sitting alongside them.) But Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, The Savages) uses the couple’s struggles to discuss far more intriguing subject matter. It’s not simply the inability to have a child that eats at these two people. Their failure to conceive hints that they’re not young anymore and, with that, exacerbates the feelings of regret they have about the career decisions they made. Did they focus on their art at the expense of parenthood? Now that the shine is off their early creative success, is their barrenness another indication of their growing irrelevance? Perhaps most pressingly, are they obsessing about having a child because, deep down, they know their marriage has troubles? The inability to conceive bothers Richard, but for Rachel, it’s a deeper wound—one that goes far beyond being deprived of motherhood. Hahn and Jenkins make the woman’s pain palpable, layered and also a bit ineffable, illustrating how people reach middle age not entirely sure how they got there or where they’re headed next. —Tim Grierson


ballad-buster-scruggs-movie-poster.jpg 36. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Year: 2018
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
As much an anthology of post-bellum adventure stories as it is a retrospective of the many kinds of films the Coen brothers have made—not to mention a scathing bit of fantasy curbed against the stories we’ve used to water down the tragedy of our country’s growth—The Ballad of Buster Scruggs tells six tales of greed, murder, mercy and the harsh mistress of blind chance, the only through line being the bleakness of the horizon America trampled to stake its imperial claim. A musty traveling showman (Liam Neeson) weighs the burden of his limbless performer (Harry Melling) against each night’s measly cash-out; a lone prospector (Tom Waits) patiently divines the vein of gold he refers to respectfully as “Mr. Pocket”; a cocky outlaw (James Franco) swings between the two sides of fate, his whole life leading to a semi-decent punchline; a disparate collection of travelers argue about the vicissitudes of faith while a bounty hunted corpse sits atop their carriage, all five heading towards some ambiguous symbolism; and the titular mellifluous gunslinger finally meets his match, making for one of the strangest sights the Coens have ever conjured. With the downhome nihilism of No Country for Old Men and Fargo, the mythological whimsy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the back-breaking metaphysical weight of A Serious Man or the cutting capers of Raising Arizona, the whole of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—shot as a series of awe-inspiring vistas by DP Bruno Delbonnel punctuated by the porous mugs of the pioneers who populate them—sings to an unparalleled canon of genres and tones. That its centerpiece is a sweet romance, between a quiet young woman (Zoe Kazan) and a noble cowboy (Bill Heck) leading her wagon train along the Oregon Trail, proves that the Coens still have beautiful surprises in store more than three decades deep into their career-long odyssey of American life. —Dom Sinacola


carrie 1976 poster (Custom).jpg 35. Carrie
Year: 1976
Director: Brian De Palma
The tropes and individually famous scenes of Carrie are so well known and ingrained into the pop cultural consciousness that you’d be forgiven for thinking you didn’t really need to see the original film to understand what makes it significant. But Carrie is much more than a precariously balanced bucket of pig’s blood: Sissy Spacek’s plaintive performance is genuinely wounding—it’s very difficult to believe she was a 27-year-old playing a 16-year-old here, because she brings such vulnerability and instability to the character; an uncertainty over every word she utters and action she takes. You find yourself not only disgusted by how she’s treated but consistently enraged on her behalf, not just at the likes of P.J. Soles, pelting her in the bathroom with tampons, but with the mother who allowed her daughter to navigate the waters of high school without any information to prepare her for the challenges of puberty. As Margaret White, meanwhile, Piper Laurie is an unholy terror in the guise of a holy one, and even her attempts to care for her daughter help the audience to understand how dangerous she would be once she discovers the true nature of Carrie’s gifts. After all, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Ultimately, Carrie is among the most empathic of the Stephen King works that would go on to receive film adaptations, despite being the very first to do so. Spacek’s performance creates a genuine, diffident young woman who has been damaged in truly serious ways, and even if she hadn’t been armed with telekinetic powers, one is led to conclude that she probably would have snapped one day all the same. Perhaps, instead of a bucket of blood raining down on her head at prom, it would have been when she was dumped by a boyfriend, or fired from a job, or (most likely) confronted one times too many by her abusive, withered mother. King merely gave Carrie an unusually strong bag of tricks to use in her inevitable retaliation. The world, he would likely say, had it coming. —Jim Vorel


zodiac.jpg 34. Zodiac
Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher 
I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


monty-python-holy-grail-movie-poster.jpg 33. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Year: 1975
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film after a few years, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler


grandmaster.jpg 32. The Grandmaster
Year: 2013
Director: Kar Wai Wong
Kar Wai Wong will indefatigably make anything elegant, and so it’s a given that The Grandmaster is a gorgeously paced historical epic told in patient piecemeal. A loose chronicle of the nascent legend of Yip Man, the film skirts the line between noir-ish tragedy and chiaroscuro thriller, rarely leaving room to discern the difference. From an opening set-piece that will leave you wondering why any other director since would ever bother capturing rain droplets in slo-motion, to one masterfully orchestrated balsa-wood-tower of martial arts prowess after another, there is little left to say about Wong’s directing other than hyperbole: This is heartfelt and beautiful action filmmaking, but never so far removed from the savagery of the action at hand that it romanticizes the pummeling of so many hapless foes. There are penalties to these punches and consequences to these kicks—there should be little doubt that The Grandmaster is not just a masterpiece of its genre but one of Kar Wai Wong’s best. —Dom Sinacola


crouching-tiger.jpg 31. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Year: 2000
Director: Ang Lee 
Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning epic is not only the highest-grossing foreign film ever in America (still), but it also happens to be a film that changed the cinematic landscape: an old-school wuxia flick, with pulpy soul and a romantic heart, that reinvigorated the genre for a whole new audience. Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi play 19th-century warriors whose loyalty and vitality are tested by a series of events that lead each to contemplate their many decisions that brought them together. Beyond the entrancing and lyrical storytelling, Crouching Tiger stands as a rare, beautiful beacon of hope: a foreign film that was actually universally embraced by Western audiences. Here’s to hoping that happens more often, though it’s been almost two decades and nothing has had the same impact since. —Jeremy Medina


swiss-army-man.jpg 30. Swiss Army Man
Year: 2016
Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
Known for the “Turn Down for What” music video, and for the short film (“Interesting Ball”) in which one director is sucked up into the butt of the other director (among other anomalies), and now for the farting boner-corpse movie, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are filmmakers in complete mastery of the absurdity at the heart of everything they do. Swiss Army Man, their feature length debut about a man (Paul Dano) who, while stranded on a deserted island, discovers a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) with extraordinary physical abilities (involving farts and boners), is both a testament to their childish imaginations and a relentlessly creative exploration of mental illness, nostalgia and the ways in which movies define (usually to our detriment) our expectations for love and happiness. Swiss Army Man is cobbled together from Spielbergian hope and Cronenbergian body horror, from the white people romance of Nancy Meyers and the white people fantasy of John Williams’ Jurassic Park score or the melody of “Cotton Eye Joe,” cherished cultural touchstone and so much more mysterious than anyone would ever give it credit for and whatever else the heart desires. It haunts the subconscious; it ends on a note so antithetical to the plot machinations of a rom-com that it both is and isn’t one; it draws logic like ethereal cobwebs from the minds of every viewer to assemble somehow a magnificent tessellation of pop culture and poop joke as emotionally wrenching as it is ridiculous. Assembling somehow the many multilayered voices and neuroses of so many different people with so many different loves. It’s beautiful, and I love it. —Dom Sinacola


rolling-thunder-revue-movie-poster.jpg 29. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Bob Dylan’s life and career are so encased in myth that it can be hard to untangle the romanticism from the reality. As much a symbol as he is a man, Dylan has spent most of his adulthood resisting being labeled the voice of his generation while slyly welcoming fans’ desire to dissect his every utterance, devoting much of the last couple decades opening up the vaults to release a series of official “bootleg” recordings associated with his most iconic albums and tours. He invites us to look deeper and listen harder, as if the answers can be gleaned from closer study. Long before David Bowie, Tom Waits, Madonna or Lady Gaga dabbled in persona play, Robert Zimmerman made us ponder masks in popular music. He’s both there and not there, which can be frustrating and fascinating. Both sensations are on display in Rolling Thunder Revue, the oft-spectacular, sometimes shtick-y chronicle of Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour. As is typical when depicting anything in the Dylan universe, this concert film/documentary simultaneously oversells its subject’s genius and provides overwhelming evidence of what a brilliant artist he is. The documentary’s full title should also be a disclaimer: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. Early on, the movie features a contemporary interview from Dylan confessing that he doesn’t quite remember what prompted Rolling Thunder or what his ambitions were. “I don’t have a clue because it’s about nothing,” he says, another example of obscuration and seduction. The movie is a “story,” which means some parts might be invented or exaggerated, and because it’s “by Martin Scorsese,” the whole film is filtered through one artist’s perspective on another. Scorsese is after something grander than mere documentation—more layers of myth are applied while trying to present an honest account of a tour and a performer. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Rolling Thunder Revue is overlong but also overpowering, inconclusive yet undeniably stirring. It left me exhausted, but I kinda want to see it again. —Tim Grierson


spring-breakers.jpg 28. Spring Breakers
Year: 2013
Director: Harmony Korine
Watching James Franco in Spring Breakers, one has to ask: Is this a put-on? But the scarier question is: What if it’s not? The brilliance of his portrayal of Alien, a Scarface-aspiring dirt-bag, is that no matter how outlandishly over-the-top it goes—“Look at my shit!”—there remains a deeply unsettling edge to the performance that suggests a white-trash nightmare who could do real damage to those around him. We laugh at Franco as Alien, but the laughs get stuck in our throat: Just like the movie, his performance is a wickedly satiric look at our worst impressions of youth culture—until it gets so frighteningly real that we’re left dazed and amazed. —Tim Grierson


boy-world.jpg 27. Boy & the World
Year: 2013
Director: Alê Abreu
Boy & the World, like any should-be classic of kids’ cinema, is laced with images of pure, incomprehensible terror. Nearly wordless, it’s also a subcutaneous wonder: heartbreaking and sumptuous and sometimes so gorgeous you feel like you should weep in appreciation, at near microscopic levels Boy & the World excels. As Cuca, our eponymous boy—defined mostly by his Charlie Brown head and infectious giggle—is literally swept up on a hallucinogenic journey, political iconography and economic devastation gradually devour the vibrant, weird colors that define his idyllic home. Your kids probably won’t recognize the fascistic implications of Abreu’s designs—which culminate in an actual battle between the pitch-black Reichsadler and a rainbow phoenix (birthed, of course, from the music of the oppressed lower classes)—but the feeling he wants to give them is easy enough to understand. The World may be a big and scary place, he admits, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worth exploring. —Dom Sinacola


roma-movie-poster.jpg 26. Roma
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuarón’s most intimate film is also his most distancing. The camera sits back, black-and-white, focused not on the bourgeois children that represent the cinematographer-writer-director and his siblings growing up in Mexico City several decades ago, but moreso on the indigenous woman (Yalitza Aparicio) that cares for them and the household. Not even entirely focused on her, perhaps more focused on its classicist compositions of a place that no longer exists in the way Cuarón remembers it. The camera gazes and moves in trans-plane sequencing, giving us foreground, mid-ground and background elements in stark digital clarity. The sound mix is Dolby Atmos and enveloping. But the base aesthetic and narrative is Fellini, or long-lost Mexican neorealism, or Tati’s Playtime but with sight gags replaced by social concern and personal reverie. Reserved and immersive, introspective and outward-looking, old and new—some have accused Roma of being too calculated in what it tries to do, the balancing act it tries to pull off. Perhaps they’re not wrong, but it is to Cuarón’s immense credit as a thoughtful technician and storyteller that he does, in fact, pull it off. The result is a singular film experience, one that recreates something that was lost and then navigates it in such a way as to find the emergent story, then from that to find the emotional impact. So that when we come to that point late in Roma, we don’t even realize the slow, organic process by which we’ve been invested fully into the film; we’re not ready to be hit as hard as we are when the wallops come and the waves crash. It’s almost unbearable, but we bear it because we care about these people we’ve become involved with. And such is life. —Chad Betz

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