The 100 Best Movies on Netflix Ranked

Movies Lists Netflix
Share Tweet Submit Pin

candyman-movie-poster.jpg 26. Candyman
Year: 1992
Director: Bernard Rose
The oeuvre of Clive Barker tends to dwell on dualities and sensuality: pleasure and pain, heaven and hell, brilliance and insanity. They’re all present in Candyman (as they are in other Barker adaptations, such as Hellraiser), forming a tangled web of romance, abuse and psycho-racial wounds. “Romance” might be an odd word to hear in this instance, but it’s appropriate: Candyman is unusual among slashers/ghost movies for its deep themes of race and taboo, especially as they pertain to sex and love. On the surface an exploration of an urban legend about the ghost of a lynched slave with a hook for a hand, Candyman functions on a deeper level as both a sumptuous gothic romance (aided by its Philip Glass score), à la Crimson Peak, and a biting condemnation of government negligence and urban decay in Chicago’s poorest slums. Sometimes Candyman is noir; sometimes it’s sexy; sometimes it’s just plain gross. Tony Todd, as the titular character, has a certain mesmerizing quality that waltzes daintily on the line between farcical and terrifying, while Virginia Madsen as the protagonist actually allowed herself to be hypnotized by her director on set to properly convey the sense of falling under the Candyman’s spell. In terms of uniqueness alone, Candyman earns its own strange, little corner in horror canon. —Jim Vorel


roma-movie-poster.jpg 27. 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


boy-world.jpg 28. 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


spring-breakers.jpg 29. 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


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


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


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


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


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


dark-knight-movie-poster.jpg 35. The Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan 
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) deserves the collective sigh of relief it received in resuscitating the Caped Crusader’s cinematic reputation following Joel Schumacher’s 1997 neon-disco nightmare on ice that was Batman & Robin. And if Batman Begins represents the character’s tonal course correction, The Dark Knight provided an equally important act of rehabilitation—that of Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. (Let’s face it, though not a crime of Schumacherian dimensions, Jack Nicholson’s Joker fell short of setting a standard for the character.) Though ostensibly part of the superhero stable, The Dark Knight is, at its center, a proper crime saga—just as was its source, spawning from the pages of Detective Comics, less Spider-Man than it is Heat, in rather dramatic costume. Significantly trading up in the villain department this round, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime is a force of nature—brilliantly written as a crime boss who wants no less than Gotham’s very soul. Ledger’s Joker is as chilling as he is darkly funny, and the most bracing reminder to date of why he’s the most renowned foe of the World’s Greatest Detective. —Scott Wold


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


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


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


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


dirty-dozen-movie-poster.jpg 40. The Dirty Dozen
Year: 1967
Director: Robert Aldrich
Imitated by many and bettered by none, Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen is the greatest men-on-a-mission movie not because it has the coolest action sequences—though the final showdown between the dozen and German forces at the French chateau is a fine bit of mayhem—but because it so capably finds a balance between nihilistic fun and viewer investment in its characters’ welfare. The first two-thirds is full of goofery, as a none-more-Lee-Marvin Lee Marvin whips a group of unrepentant criminals (including Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes, stealing every scene with his jackal’s grin) into shape for a mission in Nazi-held France, but the final third has the film take an abrupt turn, as our charming reprobates are picked off whilst slaughtering a house full of partying Germans—officers, their wives and all. A snappy, studio-lot, heroes-and-villains war movie with a wickedly subversive tone and that nasty finale, The Dirty Dozen fascinatingly straddles the Old and New Hollywood eras. 1967 was the year things started to really shift in American cinema, and The Dirty Dozen’s queasy, morally murky climax announces the sea change in spectacular fashion. —Brogan Morris


five-venoms-movie-poster.jpg 41. The Five Venoms
Year: 1978
Director: Chang Cheh
This is what vintage kung fu—and martial arts cinema—is all about. The mythology alone is exquisite: The Five Venoms (aka Five Deadly Venoms) is the first Venom Mob film, and gave each of them a name for the rest of their careers. There’s the blinding speed of the Centipede (Lu Feng), the trickery and guile of the Snake (Wei Pei), the stinging kicks of the Scorpion (Sun Chien), the wall-climbing and gravity-defying acrobatics of the Lizard Kuo Chui), and the nigh-invincibility of the Toad (Lo Mang), along with the so-called “hybrid venom” protagonist, Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng), who is a novice in all of the styles. It’s a film typical of both Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers: high budget, great costumes, beautiful sets and stylish action. Is it on the cheesy side? Sure, but how many great martial arts films are completely dour? It’s emblematic of an entire era of Hong Kong cinema and the joy taken in delivering beautiful choreography and timeless stories of good vs. evil. —Jim Vorel


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


purple-rain-movie-poster.jpg 43. Purple Rain
Year: 1984
Director: Albert Magnoli
The story of a young, burgeoning lothario coming to understand that he is both in thrall to and burdened irrevocably by his sexual potential, Purple Rain is too easily overshadowed by its soundtrack. On it, Prince brought his conflicting sides into very sexy harmony, fetishizing chart-topping synth-pop while letting his dancehall urges go long and lascivious. The album defined an icon-in-the-making. The movie doesn’t, though much of its appeal is in watching Prince perform. Instead, it’s something weirder and sadder than one might expect given its success, but sacrifices none of the artist’s quirkiest, nearly obscene tendencies. Playing “the Kid,” an up-and-coming bandleader and figure head of the Minneapolis Sound (as well as pouty young adult from an abusive home), Prince pretty convincingly slinks along the line between eager vulnerability and confident misogyny, alluring and abhorrent and a good guitar player to boot. Maybe that sounds unappealing; steeped in contradictions, a mess of tones, Purple Rain is a vanity project because it could be nothing else. Regardless, it’s carried by the charisma of its star, a volatile power so clearly on display that it outshines everything around it, always on the verge of burning out. —Dom Sinacola


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


KungFuHustleHKposter.jpg 45. Kung Fu Hustle
Year: 2004
Director: Stephen Chow
Stephen Chow is probably the biggest name in martial arts comedy since the days of Sammo Hung, and Kung Fu Hustle will likely remain one of his most well-regarded films—both as director and performer. Gleefully kooky, the film combines occasional song and dance with expectedly extremely exaggerated kung fu parody in telling the tale of a young man who ends up overthrowing a large criminal organization, the “Deadly Axe Gang.” This is nothing complex—rather, Kung Fu Hustle is unadulterated absurdity: The action has no basis in reality, reveling in Looney Tunes physics, while characters are broad pastiches and/or references to famous actors from the genre’s history. With gags teetering decidedly on the juvenile (or inscrutable, for Americans at least) side, the film is a testament to Chow’s style—entertain first, make sense later. That’s what he does, and he does it better than anyone else. —Jim Vorel


pans-labyrinth.jpg 46. Pan’s Labyrinth
Year: 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro 
One of the most imaginative films of the 21st century, Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish fable is a triumph of storytelling and nothing short of a work of art. Simultaneously a war saga and a fairy tale, it traces the journey of a young girl and her scavenger hunt through another world to save her mother’s life, set in the midst of the Spanish civil war. Pan’s Labyrinth oozes atmosphere with its stunning cinematography and production values, all guided by del Toro’s keen artistic vision. With this out-and-out masterpiece, del Toro cemented his position as one of this generation’s most exciting and talented visionaries. —Jeremy Medina


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


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


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


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

Also in Movies