The 35 Best Movies on MUBI UK

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The 35 Best Movies on MUBI UK

Streaming services are creatively upended by their need to drum up viewership in the post-syndication era, churning out half-hearted sequels and remakes that no one called for. (Anyone remember He’s All That?) MUBI UK stands out for its willingness to platform quality films from across the globe. While Netflix contains unlimited potential for memes in its haphazard film categorization (listing The Babadook under “LGBTQ+ Films” may have been a galaxy-brain analysis, but it was more likely a mistake), MUBI UK crafts lists that feel thrillingly handmade. MUBI UK’s functionality celebrates filmmaking: How near impossible it is to make a movie and how miraculous it is when something is good; how every on-screen offering is caught in the tangled web of cinematic intertextuality, reliant on everything that came before. We’re here to appreciate that celebration, and focus on the great movies its service has curated.

Here are the 35 best movies on MUBI UK right now:


1. The Souvenir Part II

Year: 2021
Director: Joanna Hogg
Stars: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade, Harris Dickinson
Rating: R

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Halfway through The Souvenir Part II, Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical follow-up to The Souvenir, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) knocks over her mother’s (Tilda Swinton) handmade sugar pot. Despite her previous off-handed disregard for her mother’s hobby, Julie is immediately gripped by the need to make things better. She reaches out to her mother, possessed by an onslaught of rushed apologies, while her mother attempts to maintain a cool exterior, purposely removed. All of this captures The Souvenir Part II’s understanding of relational breakdown—how the specter of catharsis is often translucent, unmoored and floating just beyond your grasp. Hogg uses these unscripted moments to build to a final set piece that brilliantly reimagines artistic expression as a mode for relational repair, even if that relationship is with yourself. –Anna McKibbin


2. An Angel at My Table

Year: 1991
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Irish Churn
Rating: R

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Janet Frame, New Zealand’s greatest author by seeming consensus, does not actually emerge into authorhood until nearly 2/3rds of the way through An Angel at My Table, New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion’s portrait of Frame’s life and career (which happens to use Frame’s autobiographies as its foundation). For Frame, played by Karen Fergusson, Alexia Keogh and Kerry Fox over the course of childhood, adolescence,and adulthood, respectively, the wait is appropriate: It took about 30 or so years to secure her freedom from the mental institution where she was unjustly detained, as well as to secure her own agency, after all. Campion has no choice but to honor reality, ugly as Frame’s was for so much of her life. She grew up dirt poor in a literal sense, arriving at school visibly grimey; she witnessed horrible domestic abuse; she was shy, struggled with depression in an era where nobody, not even so-called professionals, had a damn clue what that meant. Frame’s is a tough background. An Angel at My Table does not, however, wallow. In its fashion, it’s actually aspirational. Campion creates scenes of intimacy shared between Frame and her most beloved possessions, her books, gifts handed down to her by her custodians; eventually she seeks them out on her own, realizing that they’re her best route to ditch the bummer hand the universe has dealt her. The film divides her slow, lifelong emancipation from poverty and sadness into chapters, each chapter starring a new actress, orbiting new themes, adopting new styles to match Frame’s maturation on her journey to success and happiness largely unknown to her for much of her existence. There’s an alternating delicacy and firmness to Campion’s hand. In one moment, she acknowledges the unforgiving boundaries of Frame’s upbringing. In the next, she reveals gentler moments to her audience, relief from the strain of the seeming insurmountable difficulties Frame faced at every stage of her growth. And pulling off a film like An Angel at My Table isn’t an easy feat, risking either glorifying a subject’s unflattering circumstances or tipping right into hagiography. Campion wrote the blueprint for how to balance the light and the dark years ago. —Andy Crump


3. Bacurau

Year: 2020
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles
Stars: Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Sônia Braga
Rated: R

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Brazilian directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelle’s Bacurau begins with a woman named Teresa (Bárbara Colen) being driven down a winding mountain road with sweeping swathes of lush greenery below. Suddenly, a splintered wooden casket appears in the middle of the asphalt. After the driver swerves to avoid it, there is another one. And another. Soon, broken caskets litter the entire road. The cause of the coffin calamity is revealed when Teresa sees that an open-back truck transporting caskets has collided into the mountainside, killing its passengers. The scene is oddly pleasant, though, as opportunists have quickly begun selling off the least damaged goods to a line of passers-by, both seeming giddy about the exchange. Death is pervasive in the film, but it is often funny, and coincidentally Teresa is on her way to a funeral. Her grandmother—beloved matriarch of Bacurau, a small Brazilian village where she grew up—has died. The entire town mourns her death, oblivious to the fact that their little village is slowly, literally, being erased from the face of the earth. Here, what has seemed like a horror film morphs into a weird Western that incorporates psychoactive flora, a seemingly benign history museum, and even an apparition or two. That’s not even counting the UFO. Bacurau is wildly creative, and its hilarious, Dadaist aura provides an uncanny comfort despite ample bloodshed. This is not to say that it is without heart-wrenching loss and tearful contemplation of a world on fire. It’s clear that there is no space for moral ambiguity in this film. In reality, the Amazon is ablaze, rampant inequality festers and indigenous populations are displaced all for the net benefit of the ruling class. Bacurau is a long overdue neo-colonial revenge fantasy. —Natalia Keogan


4. Howards End

Year: 1992
Director: James Ivory
Stars: Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins
Rating: PG

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Howards End achieves the same high-wire act as E.M. Forster’s book: A searing criticism of the upper-class that never leans too far into comedy nor too far into melodrama, but leaves the reader exposed to the intense feeling that simmers beneath the surface of English resolve. James Ivory uses all his films to expose this culturally specific cruelty, placing it within the worn texture of aristocracy. Emma Thompson’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Margaret Schlegel is painstakingly composed, adorned with her usual stuttering wit, but it is her pairing with Helena Bonham Carter, whose devastation as Helen, grounds this Schlegel family. Forster paints his protagonists with startling honesty, skewering them while sympathizing with them and Ivory manages the same thing through carefully scripted dialogue, emotional revelations buried beneath philosophically charged banter. The final moments channel something crucial about the trappings of social expectation, as Ivory pans over the manicured garden of Howards End. But this shot isn’t hopeless, as it works to catch the children that play on the periphery, unaware of everything that is being violently contained a few feet away. –-Anna McKibbin


5. The Watermelon Woman

Year: 1996
Director: Cheryl Dunye
Stars: Cheryl Dunye, Guinevere Turner, Valerie Walker, Lisa Marie Bronson
Rating: R

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An autobiographical unpeeling of filmic history, The Watermelon Woman remains one of the most influential independent films of the 1990s. Cheryl Dunye merges her own experience as a gay filmmaker with her search for “The Watermelon Woman,” a Black actress credited by this moniker whose history remains obscured by the racist underpinnings of classic Hollywood. Her pursuit of this identity is all-encompassing, possessing her movement through the world and reshaping her creative vision. In the end, the truth she uncovers regarding The Watermelon Woman serves her in a meta sense, as the film’s actual director, but it also expands Cheryl’s character within the film, encouraging her to imagine ways of being that extend beyond the video rental store she is consigned to. The eponymous Watermelon Woman, with her mysterious internal life, also proves that there is no way to comfortably exist for those whose identities traverse uncharted terrain. The Watermelon Woman achieves all this while still being funny and embodying a sharp self-awareness that is still mimicked by filmmakers today.–Anna McKibbin


6. House of Flying Daggers

Year: 2004
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Jiusheng Wang
Rating: PG-13

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Zhang Yimou enjoys a certain notoriety in arthouse circles for ravishing dramas like Raise the Red Lantern and To Live, but he burst into the mainstream with Hero, the long-delayed and eagerly awaited martial-arts spectacular. While House of Flying Daggers is hardly Hero’s sequel, it negotiates similar territory, combining romance, lush cinematography and enough martial arts to satisfy even the most zealous fight-enthusiast. Yimou effortlessly tempers his character’s; ferocious martial-arts capabilities with heartfelt emotion—something missing from Hero. Zhang Ziyi’s acting wows (as expected), and she exhibits real chemistry with Takeshi Kaneshiro. Yimou knows how to combine color and set design to breathtaking effect and assemble a top-notch cast. If only the film’s final act delivered on the script’s initial promise.–J. Robert Parks


7. Bergman Island

Year: 2021
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Stars: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie
Rating: R

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Fårö Island is treated like a maze of mythic proportions in Hansen-Løve’s only English-language film. Characters get lost cycling through a blur of trees, passing a flurry of cinematic landmarks before they end up dazedly wandering along the same pale shorefront they were at moments ago. This proves to be the perfect setting for this kaleidoscopic story of lost love, buried beneath different perspectives and people. Some may accuse Hansen-Løve’s slow pace of being inaccessible, but Bergman Island proves them wrong, leveraging the meandering first half to serve the explosive crescendo of the second half. An emotionally fraught lesson on the cost of making art, Bergman Island lets the medium of film reflect the uncomfortable truths seething beneath Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony’s (Tim Roth) relationship. The result is a multicolored haze, projected onto a blank canvas and soundtracked by ABBA. –-Anna McKibbin


8. Hit the Road

Year: 2022
Director: Panah Panahi
Stars: Pantea Panahiha, Hasan Majuni, Rayan Sarlak, Amin Similar
Rating: 

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The debut of writer/director Panah Panahi (yes, son of famed Iranian New Waver Jafar Panahi), Hit the Road is a sharp and endearing portrait of a family painted through a series of road trip conversations–often veiled, openly lying, or disguised by ballbusting humor. His ensemble includes a car karaoke queen mother (Pantea Panahiha), broken-legged father (Hasan Majuni), quiet driver son (Amin Simiar) and his scene-stealing fireball of a little brother (Rayan Sarlak). And a cute puppy, which means constant pee breaks. Together, they traverse the dry and rural roads fulfilling checkpoints for a mysterious quest that becomes clearer and clearer as they go. Panahi dwells on lived-in conversational rhythms as much as landscapes, both beautiful and affecting in their own ways. Sarlak’s manic little squirt often pays his respects to the picturesque horizon, but every long and loving sparring match between family members contains just as much reverence. It’s this adoration for closeness–and the confidence and trust in your cast to simply sit and shoot them rambling affectionate obscenities for long, long takes–that makes the film’s bittersweetness work so well. When Sarlak’s hilarious antics (he needs to get his contraband cell phone back because of all the people who constantly want to chat with him) and his parents’ deadpanned one-liners give way to fears about loss and separation, familiar modes of connective chatter become coping mechanisms and then reverse course, sometimes in seconds. Panahiha is particularly potent at this, letting it all play on her face–while singing her heart out, no less. For his part, the incredible Sarlak gets a musical moment as show-stopping as Mads Mikkelsen’s Another Round finale last year. It’s a movie where anyone can be a punchline, but nobody’s ever the butt of the joke. There’s too much love at hand, and even a child’s goofy babblings about the Batmobile can be transcendent moments of beauty. The road trip always has to have an end, but the excellent Hit the Road promises that the journey is as good as the people crammed in alongside you. –Jacob Oller


9. Lingui, the Sacred Bonds

Year: 2022
Directors: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Stars: Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane Khalil Alio, Youssouf Djaoro, Briya Gomdigue, Hadjé Fatimé Ngoua
Rating: NR

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The Chadian word “lingui” denotes the invisible social ties that sustain communities of people, especially if they’re connected by a common unifying trait. In Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film Lingui, the Sacred Bonds, this alliance is forged through the strife and solidarity intrinsic to womanhood. Though much of the Chadian-born, France-residing director’s work has focused on the lives of outsiders and underdogs, Lingui is his most feminine-forward film to date—perhaps save for his acclaimed 1994 breakthrough short film Maral Tanié, which chronicles a teenage girl forced by her family to marry a man in his 50s, a union which she refuses to consummate. Similarly in Lingui, a teenage girl named Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) finds herself maligned by patriarchal society when she discovers she’s pregnant with a child she has no intention of raising. Fortunately, her single mother Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) understands what it feels like to be shunned for carrying a child out of wedlock, and begins a quest with Maria to secure an abortion—despite the legal and societal ramifications that threaten them if their plot is exposed. –Natalia Keogan


10. The Worst Person in the World

Year: 2021
Director: Joachim Trier
Stars: Anders Danielsen Lie, Renate Reinsve, Herbert Nordrum
Rating: R

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But the core of The Worst Person in the World remains—this idea that in life, figuring things out is integral to being, not becoming. To constantly change and evolve is to be alive. We are meant to be as malleable in spirit as we are in flesh, but to stay in one place or free oneself from the other is not indicative of a life less lived either way. Thus the title of the film is a cheeky one, a phrase with which Eivind, not Julie, refers to himself at one point in the film, when the perspective crosses over very briefly to his (and which reminded me of the similarly fleeting, funny perspective shift in Janicza Bravo’s Zola). Eivind felt like the world’s worst person when he began to drift from his girlfriend, Sunniva (Maria Grazia Di Meo), whose noble, newfound environmentally-conscious pursuits in sustainability created too much of a fissure in the lives they each wanted to lead. It’s true that such a thing can make you feel like the worst person in the world—too selfish, too unstable, not generous or understanding enough. A little too fickle and imperfect, just like this film. Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is as indecisive as its endlessly curious heroine, but it is an invigorating, exceedingly kind portrait conveying that the journey is just as—if not more—crucial as the place we end up. –Brianna Zigler


11. The Handmaiden

Year: 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Kim Tae-ri, Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Rating: R

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There are few filmmakers on Earth capable of crafting the experience of movies like The Handmaiden so exquisitely while maintaining both plot inertia and a sense of fun. (Yes, it’s true: Park has made a genuinely fun, and often surprisingly, bleakly funny, picture.) The film begins somberly enough, settling on a tearful farewell scene as Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is carted off to the manor of the reclusive and exorbitantly rich aristocrat Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), where she will act as servant to his niece, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). But Sook-hee isn’t a maid: She’s a pickpocket working on behalf of Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a conman scheming to get his mitts on Hideko’s assets. (That’s not a euphemism. He only wants her for her money.) The reveal of Sook-hee’s true intentions is just the first of many on The Handmaiden’s narrative itinerary. Park has designed the film as a puzzle box where each step taken to find the solution answers one question while posing new ones at the same time. –Andy Crump


12. Petite Maman

Year: 2021
Director: Céline Sciamma
Star: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stéphane Varupenne, Nina Meurisse, Margo Abascal
Rating: PG

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Petite Maman is a stirring tearjerker; a meditation on mortality and on the small window of time we are gifted in which we can know just a compromised version of who our parents are. Deeply evocative and nearly bordering saccharine territory, the film is buoyed in no small part by the twin Sanz sisters in their remarkable acting debuts and colored vividly by cinematographer Claire Mathon in crisp, autumnal hues that make the film feel both out of time and eerily adjacent to death. This is further established in shots like one where Nelly sits on her bed as an orange glow of sunlight hangs above the crown of her head, reminiscent of a supernatural presence. There is also a particularity of childlike physicality Sciamma and company capture brilliantly, their camera eager to linger on every awkward little body movement expressed by Nelly and Marion to paint a picture of these children as full human beings. It ties into the film’s depiction of the throughline between childhood and adulthood—how there is not as much distance between who we were and who we are as we might think, how easy it can be to retreat into the safety of our past selves in order to protect us from the pain of the present.–Brianna Zigler


13. Phoenix

Year: 2014
Director: Christian Petzold
Stars: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf
Rating: PG-13

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Christian Petzold colors post-war Germany in vibrant shades. Throughout Phoenix, the inky night is punctuated by rich reds and blues. These contrasting visuals are an extension of Nelly’s (Nina Hoss) inability to ignore the crumbling ruins of her past amidst the shiny veneer of the new world around her. Such bold, beautiful imagery is wonderfully served by Hoss’ stunning turn. Hoss plays Nelly, who has newly left a Second World War concentration camp, with physical stutters and jitters, exposed and fragile. She encounters Berlin, now charged with a ferocious energy, with trepidation, unsuccessfully twisting away from the casual violence. Comparisons between Phoenix and Vertigo are obvious, but Petzold uses this twisty conceit to weave something horrifyingly specific. Phoenix is magnetic, a story about the limits of identity and the grotesque images people project onto them. –Anna McKibbin


14. Aftersun

Year: 2022
Director: Charlotte Wells
Stars: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio, Celia Rowlson-Hall
Rating: R

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Aftersun is not quite the mock-doc that the early video footage seems to suggest; Wells juxtaposes Sophie’s lo-fi tapes with scenes shot on richly grainy film, and adds subtly surreal touches—tourists parachuting, or parasailing, or something, through the background of multiple shots—with enough consistency to make them seem at once casually realistic and slightly dreamlike. In the final stretch, the movie’s realism bends further, as Sophie’s memories and dreams contort around the more straightforward narrative of her story. The movie is mostly from her point of view, but sometimes Wells follows Calum away from his daughter’s eyes. Are we seeing the truth of those moments, or Sophie’s attempt to reconstruct them years later? Aftersun doesn’t fuss around too much with underlining these ambiguities, though it does use some of its pop songs to comment directly on the action in ways that are at once rapturous and goofily literal, which may be the movie’s way of keeping in touch with its inner tween. Yet Sophie can’t live in that 11-year-old’s memories forever. –Jesse Hassenger


15. Like Father, Like Son

Year: 2013
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Stars: Fukuyama Masaharu, Ono Machiko, Maki Yoko, Lily Franky
Rating: NR

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Great filmmakers use the details of a story to build something that feels real; through this, the story can be near and personal, true for an ever-expanding audience. Hirokazu Kore-eda remains the master of this magic trick, a director synonymous with humanism, crafting his films around a genuine affection for people and the messes they leave in their wake. Like Father, Like Son tells the story of a family coping after learning their son was swapped with another child in the hospital. It is a startling phenomenon, and one that the majority of audiences won’t be able to relate to, but the subsequent doubt that creeps in is an evergreen storytelling maneuver. By the end, the somber tone has curdled this family drama into something bitter and less palatable. As such, Like Father, Like Son earns its conclusion, inviting these characters to feel a sense of peace without achieving any explicit closure. With Like Father, Like Son, Kore-eda reminds audiences that there is no one better at capturing the gentle, poetic multiplicity of human relationships. –Anna McKibbin


16. Charade

Year: 1963
Director: Stanley Donen
Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau

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Audrey Hepburn was closely associated with Stanley Donen through his genre-making directorial career, serving as the ideal shape to enact all his chic, balletic blocking. But Hepburn’s turn in Charade is markedly different from her performances in Funny Face or Two for the Road; in Charade she is embodying and mocking the Hitchcockian muse with an otherwise unseen wryness. With Cary Grant (in their only on-screen collaboration), the central duo use their physical prowess, influenced by their pre-acting work (Hepburn’s as a dancer, Grant’s as a performer on the vaudeville circuit) to lean into the hijinks that pepper this mystery. Charade is a genuinely thrilling satire, one adorned with Audrey Hepburn’s deliciously bitchy commentary. –Anna McKibbin


17. Drive My Car

Year: 2021
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Stars: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masaki Okada, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Park Yurim , Jin Daeyeon
Rating: R

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The melodic rotating faces of tire rims and cassette reels keep the time in Drive My Car, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s languorous adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name. The film’s meticulous commitment to unhurried emotional introspection might appear to be an overindulgence when considering its three-hour runtime, yet Hamaguchi and co-writer Takamasa Oe gracefully unfurl Murakami’s original story into a melancholy meditation of pain and performance that remains ever-enthralling. Renowned theater actor-turned-director Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his screenwriter wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) have what seems like a perfect relationship. Apart from sharing considerable marital bliss, they stimulate each other intellectually and sexually–oftentimes simultaneously. Oto will regularly weave narrative webs aloud while mid-coitus with Kafuku, reaching climaxes in literal and figurative senses. Despite the mutual adoration, both harbor a damning secret: Oto sustains a string of lovers as she hops around on productions, while Kafuku silently uncovers his wife’s infidelity without confronting her. Both maintain the facade of a remarkably happy couple that have been together for over 20 years, yet internally struggle with the emotional toll of concealing the extramarital affairs. The situation is only brought to a head years later, after Oto sustains a mortal injury and Kafuku covertly recognizes one of Oto’s past lovers at an audition for his forthcoming multilingual production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Simultaneously consumed by jealousy and intrigue, Kafuku casts his wife’s much-younger former paramour Takatsuki (Masaki Okada) in the titular role. The loneliness inherent in living through guilt-ridden grief is perhaps the most palpable aspect of Hamaguchi’s latest drawn-out feature. However, it is also the open embracing of this desolation that eventually yields the most tender and subtly exuberant results. It is through communal mourning – for lives (and lovers) shared or for the unknowable misfortunes of others’ – that ultimately binds us as human beings. —Natalia Keogan


18. Breaking the Waves

Year: 1996 
Director: Lars Von Trier
Stars: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge
Rated: R

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It is hard to believe that Breaking the Waves boasts Emily Watson’s feature film debut. She is so steadfast in her physical decision-making, tilting her head to a pre-calculated angle, curling her mouth expectantly, shoulders always leaning back and open to the world. But it is Watson’s unceasing curiosity as Bess McNeill that draws us in, the barrier between herself and the world worn thin by her inability to understand other people. Lars Von Trier’s directing style is exhaustive, pushing the actors and audience to the limits of what they can take with a constant grainy texture that catches the fleetingness of every moment. His camera lingers on intimate interactions, blurring the line between voyeurism and honesty, leaving the viewer stranded on this morally barren island, playing these craven, frustrating images on a loop. –Anna McKibbin


19. La Cérémonie

Year: 1995
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Bonnaire, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel
Rating: NR

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There is a feedback loop of media constantly ringing through the Lelievre family home. Cassettes are being rewound and spun; the artificial light of the TV is cast over everyone. For Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), the newly hired maid, there is an unshakeable appeal these TVs emit, offering a way to escape the horrific mundanity of her job. But her employers seek out the TV as a way to affirm their own status, languidly sitting around, getting together for an evening opera viewing. Who is afforded the opportunity to be affirmed and who is forced to escape is a political question, and one Claude Chabrol lets hang over the film. In the end, as the haunting final recording sings out over the bloodied street, the question grows more pressing and the answer more elusive. –Anna McKibbin


20. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Year: 2019
Director: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Rating: R

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French director Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire revels in the far-reaching history of women—their relationships, their predicaments, the unrelenting bond that comes with feeling uniquely understood—while also grappling with the patriarchal forces inherent in determining the social mores that ultimately restrict their agency. The film, which takes place sometime before the French Revolution in the late 18th century, introduces us to Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist commissioned to paint the portrait of an aristocratic young woman named Heloïse (Adèle Hannel), which, once completed, will be sent to Milan—where her suitor will covet it until his betrothed arrives. Completely resistant to the idea of marriage, Heloïse has sabotaged previous attempts, leaving Marianne with a difficult assignment. She must not reveal to Heloïse that she has been tasked with painting her, instead posing as a companion for afternoon walks, memorizing the details of Heloïse’s features and toiling on the portrait in secret. The class distinctions between Marianne and Heloïse point to an interesting exploration of the power dynamics at play within the muse/artist dichotomy, but even more beguiling about the relationship is that it is somewhat emblematic of Sciamma’s relationship with Hannel—the two publicly announced their relationship in 2014, amicably separating shortly before the filming of Portrait. Take another recent film that draws from a director’s real-life romantic relationship, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Loosely based on Anderson’s marriage to Maya Rudolph, the film, although subverting many clichés of depicting artist/muse relationships, ultimately concludes with the power dynamic intact. Sciamma has no interest in following the oft-petty conflicts between creative types and their romantic partners, instead opting to present a bigger picture of a relationship forged out of the climactic act of knowing another person, not just feeling inspired by what they mean for one’s art. —Natalia Keogan


21. Limbo

Year: 2020
Director: Ben Sharrock
Stars: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Kenneth Collard, Amir El-Masry
Rating: R

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Set on a fictional Scottish island, Limbo reflects the debilitating wait built into the British immigration system. Director Ben Sharrock struggles, alongside his characters, to find an escape from the cold rigidity of the rocky skyline. Omar (Amir El-Masry) sits alongside his fellow asylum seekers in their temporary living room, armed with nothing but plastic foldout chairs and a second-hand Friends box set to get them through the endless British winter. Limbo meanders across the island, following a group of hopeful characters, isolated in their inexpressible past. Particular desires are hidden beneath the overarching want to build a more permanent life in this country, but eventually Omar’s past comes spilling out in a piece of heartbreaking staging. With this mythical conclusion, Limbo cements itself as one of the great British films of the 21st century. –Anna McKibbin


22. Burning

Year: 2018
Director: Chang-dong Lee
Stars: Ah-in Yoo, Jong-seo Jeon, Steven Yeun
Rating: NR

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Eight years after critical hit Poetry, Korean director Lee Chang-dong translates a very brief and quarter-century old story by Japanese master novelist Haruki Murakami into something distinctly Korean, distinctly contemporary (spoiler warning: there’s a news clip of Trump) and distinctly Lee Chang-dong. But also: into something that utterly captures the essence of Murakami. Lee Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is an aspiring young writer who quits his menial job to tend to his incarcerated father’s farm (a storyline the film takes from William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning,” after which Murakami—as referential as ever—named his own story). Jong-su encounters a childhood acquaintance, Shin Hae-mi (Jong-seo Joon), who apparently he interacted with just once as a kid by calling her “ugly.” Anyways, Hae-mi’s all grown up and claims to have had plastic surgery; she and Jong-su strike up a relationship. It’s unusual and unnerving: Hae-mi is erratic and inscrutable, possibly a compulsive liar, while Jong-su can barely do more than gape and breathe. Nonetheless, Lee couches this set-up in exquisite details and rich observation. Spontaneously (as is her wont), Hae-mi asks Jong-su to watch her perhaps imaginary cat while she takes a trip to Africa. When Hae-mi returns to Korea, she—to Jong-su’s suppressed chagrin—has a rich new boyfriend in tow. His name is Ben, and he’s played as a bored but semi-cheerful sociopath by Steven Yeun (who has never been better). The way the film’s story flows into uncharted terrain is part of its spell. Something of a love triangle develops, some disturbing idiosyncrasies are revealed (not just about Ben) and some bad stuff happens. Murakami writes about that which he cannot grasp; he embraces the ineffable, inhaling and exhaling a cloud of unknowing. So, too, does Burning, while also managing to give us Lee Chang-dong’s signatures: visual lucidity and artful morality. It’s the rare symbiotic triumph between singular source material and singular cinematic vision. And while the film is a slow-burn, it expands the meaning of the term: You might never quench the flames it sparks within you, flames that send fumes up and away to a thundering, obscuring cloud. —Chad Betz


23. A Touch of Sin

Year: 2013 
Director: Zhangke Jia 
Stars: Wu Jiang, Bauqiang Wang, Tao Zhao 
Rating: R

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A Touch of Sin is Jia’s stab at more commercial filmmaking, although one should not confuse this ensemble drama with a conventional action movie or anything so easily accessible. (Jia made this film with the backing of Shanghai Film Group, a government-sponsored production company, which was a first for him.) The independent auteur of quiet character pieces like The World and Still Life has constructed a story about four loosely connected individuals whose lives are touched by violence or death. At its center are the same concerns that have always interested Jia—namely, how ordinary Chinese citizens are adapting to the rapid economic development of their nation. As usual, the characters struggle mightily with that proposition. But in A Touch of Sin, their anguish is expressed in gunfire and knife fights. This is less an action movie than it is an acting-out movie. –Tim Grierson


24. Things to Come

Year: 2016
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob, Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte
Rating: PG-13

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Hansen-Løve’s ability to hold grief and love in tandem, encouraging them both to settle in her characters’ physicality, proves to be the perfect match for Isabelle Huppert. Huppert uses her imposing restraint to obscure Nathalie’s deep well of pain, before twisting her expression to uncover a new feeling. Things to Come is necessarily forward-facing, letting the next phase of Nathalie’s life unfold before her like an unbroken horizon. As Nathalie’s student Fabien, Roman Kolinka embodies a slippery intrigue which alleviates the film’s more somber tone. The film ends by hanging on a shot of Nathalie cradling her grandchild, quietly proving that perhaps some of the “things to come” are worth waiting for. –Anna McKibbin


25. Titane

Year: 2021
Director: Julia Ducournau
Stars: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh
Rating: R

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Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) had an early connection with cars. Her insistence on using her voice to mimic the rev of an engine as a young girl (played by Adèle Guigue) while her irritated father (French director Bertrand Bonello) drove was so undaunted that one day she caused him to lose control of the vehicle. The accident rendered her father mostly unscathed, and Alexia with a titanium plate implanted in her skull. It was a procedure that seemingly strengthened a curious linkage between her and metal and machine, an innate affection for something hot and alive that could never turn away Alexia’s love. As the doctor removes Alexia’s surgical metal headgear, her father looks on with something that can only be described as disdain for his child. Perhaps, it is because he knew what Alexia would become; perhaps, Alexia was just born bad. Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning follow-up to 2016’s Raw crunches, tears and sizzles. Bones break, skin rips, libidos throb–the human body is pushed to impossible limits. It’s something that Ducournau has already proved familiarity with, but the French director takes things to new extremes with her sophomore film. Titane is a convoluted, gender-bending odyssey splattered with gore and motor oil, the heart of which rests on a simple (if exceedingly perverted) story of finding unconditional acceptance. Eighteen years following the childhood incident, Alexia is a dancer and car model, venerated by ravenous male fans aching to get a picture and an autograph with the punky, sharp-featured young woman. She splays her near-naked form atop the hood of an automobile to the beat of music, contorting and touching herself with simmering lust for the inanimate machine adorned with a fiery paint job to match Alexia’s sexuality. Pink and green and neon yellow glistens on every body (chrome or otherwise) in the showroom, but Ruben Impens’ cinematography follows Alexia as she guides us through this space where she feels most at home. Titane persists as a boundary-pushing exploration of the human form, of gender performance, masculinity and isolation; Ducournau’s script is surprising, shocking, titillating at every turn. And despite her cruelty, and the relative distance from and lack of insight into her character, Alexia remains an empathetic protagonist. This is in no small part thanks to Rousselle’s commanding portrayal which astonishingly doubles as her feature debut. Titane is not just 108 bloody minutes of bodily mutilation and perversion, but of blazing chaos inherent in our human need for acceptance. Ducournau has wrapped up this simple conceit in a narrative that only serves to establish her voice as one which demands our attention, even as we feel compelled to look away. Yes, it’s true what they’ve said–love will literally tear us apart. —Brianna Zigler


26. First Cow

Year: 2020
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Stars: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Rene Auberjonois, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner
Rating: PG-13

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Kelly Reichardt’s Oregonian ode to the human desire for comfort and friendship takes us back to the territory during the mid-19th century, when the economy of beaver pelts and gold rush hopefuls brought waves of migration to the area. A baker from Maryland, Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (John Magaro), finds himself amid a hostile group of fur trappers on the way to Oregon when he runs into King Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant fresh on the run from scorned Russians. A fraternal bond between the two quickly materializes, and when a coveted dairy cow is brought to the territory by an English nobleman known as Chief Factor (Toby Jones), King Lu immediately recognizes that fresh milk combined with Cookie’s baking expertise could give the duo a unique trade in an area where the predominant sweet is a bland concoction of water and flour crackers. And so, in the dead of night, King Lu and Cookie leave the small shack they share with a metal pail in hand, sneaking through the pasture until they reach the dairy cow. Reichardt makes no moral judgment on them for stealing; the irony is that Cookie and King Lu’s act of theft is so small compared to the pillaging and exploitation that propelled America into an economic superpower in the first place. First Cow takes place when slavery was the main economic drive of the country, when Native Americans were facing genocide, when women were second-class citizens. First Cow will win most viewers over; it is funny in the most earnest way, with the beauty of friendship presented as the foundation of the film. Yet if the film wants to implore us to understand the essence of our species, its portrayal of burgeoning American capitalism is undoubtedly, jarringly, at odds with the nature of mankind. —Natalia Keogan


27. Let the Sunshine In

Year: 2018
Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Laurent Grévill, Josiane Balasko, Bruno Podalydès, Philippe Katerine, Alex Descas, Gérard Depardieu
Rating: R

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Making love is better when you’re in love. For Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a painter living in Paris, the former comes easily, and the latter vexes her. She has no trouble meeting men, falling for them, sleeping with them. They practically stumble into her orbit, then into her embrace, and she into theirs. When your sex life is rich but your love life poor, life itself tends gradually to lose overarching meaning, and the search for meaning is the engine driving Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, an ostensible romantic comedy that’s light on both but rich with soulful ennui. Not to say that Denis and Binoche don’t make us laugh, mind you, but what they’re really after is considerably more complicated than the simple pleasures the genre has to offer. Let the Sunshine In is a sexy film, a free, loose, yet rigorously made film, and yes, it’s occasionally a funny film, but primarily it’s a painful film, that pain deriving from primal amorous cravings that unfailingly slip through Isabelle’s fingers like so much sand. The film strikes us as straightforward when boiled down to its synopsis, but Denis layers conflicting human longing upon its rom-com framework. The blend of artistry and genre is breezy and dense at the same time, a film worth enjoying for its surface charms and studied for its deeply personal reflections on intimacy. You may delight in its lively, buoyant filmmaking, but you’ll be awed by the breadth of its insight. —Andy Crump


28. Shiva Baby

Year: 2021
Director: Emma Seligman
Stars: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Danny Deferrari, Dianna Agron
Rating: R

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Marvelously uncomfortable and cringe-inducingly hilarious, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby rides a fine line between comedy and horror that perfectly suits its premise–and feels immediately in step with its protagonist, the college-aged Danielle. Played by actress/comedian Rachel Sennott, already messy-millennial royalty by virtue of her extremely online comic sensibility, Danielle is first glimpsed mid-tryst, an unconvincing orgasm closing out her perfunctory dirty talk (“Yeah, daddy”) before she dismounts and collects a wad of cash from the older Max (Danny Deferrari). Though it’s transactional, as any sugar relationship tends to be, Danielle seems open to discussing her nebulous career aspirations with Max, and he gives her an expensive bracelet–suggesting a quasi-intimate familiarity to their dynamic, even if the encounter’s underlying awkwardness keeps either from getting too comfortable. As such, it’s a smart tease of what’s to come, as Danielle schleps from Max’s apartment to meet up with her parents, Debbie (Polly Draper) and Joel (Fred Melamed, naturally), and sit shiva in the home of a family friend or relative. That Danielle’s unclear on who exactly died is a recurring joke, and a consistently good one, but there’s little time to figure out the details before she’s plunged into the event: A disorienting minefield of small talk, thin smiles and self-serve schmear. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the high anxiety and mortifying comedy of Seligman’s film, though it helps. Underneath all the best Jewish punchlines lies a weary acknowledgement of inevitable suffering; the Coen Brothers knew this in crafting A Serious Man, their riotous retelling of the Book of Job, and Seligman knows it in Shiva Baby. That the climax involves shattered glass, helpless tears and a few humiliations more marks this as one of the most confidently, winningly Jewish comedies in years. —Isaac Feldberg


29. Parallel Mothers

Year: 2021
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón
Rating: R

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Set in 2016, Parallel Mothers follows Janice (Penélope Cruz), a professional photographer in her 40s who begins a casual fling with forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde). Nine months after a particularly steamy encounter, she checks herself into a Madrid hospital’s maternity ward, preparing to give birth and raise her child as a single mother. As fate would have it, her roommate is in a similar position, save for the fact that she’s over 20 years Janice’s junior: Ana (newcomer Milena Smit) is also without a partner, her only support during labor being her self-absorbed actress mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). While Janice is thrilled that she’s been given the impromptu opportunity to become a mother, Ana is initially resentful of the circumstances that have led to her pregnancy. Yet the two women quickly bond, taking strolls down the sterile hospital halls in order to help their babies descend down the uterus. Coincidentally, they both give birth to beautiful baby girls, and exchange numbers in order to keep in touch as they embark on the journey of newfound motherhood. Though the film sets itself up as an straightforward examination of the peculiar perils of parenthood–particularly for women who raise children outside of the confines of conventional, heterosexual nuclear families–Pedro Almodóvar instead utilizes multiple generations of matriarchs to bring light to the families irreparably broken by the cruelty of Spain’s not-so-distant fascist regime. The initial reason why Janice approaches Arturo is to inquire if he could use his connections to organize an excavation of a mass grave in her hometown–one of the bodies buried being that of her great-grandfather. In many ways, Parallel Mothers is also an atonement on Almodóvar’s part for his own distancing from this period of Spain’s history, particularly considering that his own film career flourished after Franco’s decline. For a director who has never shied away from portraying society’s most controversial taboos on-screen; incest, rape, suicide attempts, pedophilia and even golden showers–the fact that it has taken him his entire career to explicitly incorporate the effects of the Spanish Civil War into his work demonstrates the country’s relative inability to reckon with it. Though Almodóvar has stated that none of his own family members were victims of fascist brutality, his dedication to the ongoing plight of the families of those who perished infuses the film with an almost uncharacteristic sense of levity and sorrow. While this is certainly a shift in the filmmaker’s melodramatic and outlandish sensibilities (though this has been shifting significantly since his 2019 semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory, followed by the deconstructive short The Human Voice), it never feels mishandled in his grasp, always remaining sensitive even while incorporating shocking twists and revelations. Particularly paired with Cruz’s knockout performance of a woman whose life endures the legacy left by the trauma of her family’s unresolved past, Parallel Mothers is a deeply political example of what is lost when we have forgotten–and what is achieved when we fight to remember. —Natalia Keogan


30. The Housemaid

Year: 1960
Director: Kim Ki-young
Stars: Jin Kyu Kim, Jeung-nyeo Ju, Eun-shim Lee
Rating: NR

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Kim Ki-young’s thriller The Housemaid uses its runtime to set elaborate traps for its protagonist. The Kim family home is fitted with revolving doors, belying secrets that lurk in the creaky floorboards and empty cupboards. By the time Myung-Sook infiltrates the family home, there have been a stream of women that appear to the family, motives partially obscured behind well-manicured pleasantries. Kim Ki-young uses this multi-layered deceit to expose the duplicity of the family structure, laden with a kind of sublimation that breeds betrayal. The film uses limited sets to great effect, forcing these characters into an obstacle course of household items. Under the director’s guidance, wooden stairs transform into a dangerous snare, catching the daughter Ae-soon (Lee Yoo-ri), who is consigned to climbing the rickety stairs with crutches. Indeed, the stairs occupy a careful symbolic position in The Housemaid; while the upstairs are adorned with big, floor to ceiling windows, the downstairs is shadowy, starkly sheltered from the outside world, a poisoned heart that corrupts and possesses this family, pumping out polluted blood. –Anna McKibbin


31. Lady Vengeance

Year: 2005
Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Lee Yeong-ae, Nam-mi Kang, Jeong-nam Choi, Hye-Sook Go
Rating: R

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The best entry in the Vengeance Trilogy marked its first female protagonist and Park Chan-wook’s first collaboration with Jeong Seo-kyeong, and there’s no better film to kick off one of the finest writer-director partnerships in modern cinema. Park’s female characters changed drastically for the better from this point; here illustrated by the aggrieved Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae), released from prison after a lengthy sentence for a crime she falsely confessed to so she could protect her daughter. It unpicks the emotional burden and aftereffects of vengeance in a measured, almost surgical way, and only in the trilogy’s final chapter do we see a central relationship that doesn’t become corrupted and vile. The final act, where the vengeance is actually carried out, is undoubtedly Park’s finest hour; filled with brutality, tragedy and quiet displays of powerful humanity. It’s a turning point for Park—one that would only lead him to greater glory. –Rory Doherty


32. Atlantics

Year: 2019
Director: Mati Diop
Stars: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Traore
Rating: TV-14

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Atlantics is quite the announcement for writer-director Mati Diop. She takes the magic realism of a peer like Alice Rohrwacher and carries it to the world’s margins, examining class struggle in a Senegalese city by the Atlantic. Through the gritty, blustery opening images shot as an artful document of the Dakar shore (outstanding work by cinematographer Claire Mathon) and the hypnotic electronic score by Fatima Al Qadiri, Diop is able to evoke an incomparable mood and sense of place. That it might look and sound so alien to an American watching this film on Netflix is perhaps a sharp enough indictment of the ways in which we intellectually seclude ourselves from realities beyond our own. Atlantics is about that and it’s about the breaking of that. It’s about the mystery of identity and how one can find identity by taking on the identity of something other or can find it when looking in a mirror—not for the physical self but for the spirit. Congruously, it’s also about losing the identities that are culturally prescribed, that we may have been born with, nurtured and/or limited by. Love, the film posits, is a catalyst; love helps reform identities in transgressive and transcendent ways. And the film is at its best when it avoids being programmatic, lets its visuals pulse before you. It is yet another sad ghost story amongst many, but where it differs is finely drawing the distinction that sometimes the things that haunt the living most are not the things that were but the things that should have been. The film’s protagonist embraces that haunting as a form of hope; she loses something important and fills the hole by expanding her own self with the self that was touched by others. Though Atlantics feels elliptical in many ways, Diop has the bravery to end her film with a pretty resounding period. It’s a statement, both for itself and for its creator, and it’s a convincing one. —Chad Betz


33. Summer 1993

Year: 2018
Director: Carla Simón
Stars: Laia Artigas, Paula Robles, Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer, Isabel Rocatti, Fermí Reixach, Montse Sanz
Rating: PG

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Many cinematic memoirs are characterized by an unhurried pace, wandering through the landmarks of the director’s childhood cautiously, careful not to disturb anything. Carla Simón’s Summer 1993 is no different, a picturesque retelling of Simón’s own experience in the wake of her mother’s death. What elevates the film from other autobiographies is Leila Artigas’ performance as Frida, isolated in her pain, struck by everyone’s inability to discuss the context of her mother’s passing, unwilling to identify the rush of feelings that overcomes her. Under Artigas’ guidance, Frida is annoying and obtuse. But with the emotional wallop of the final scene, Simón reminds us that she is just young, finally able to express the profundity of her grief, weighed down by the sudden instability of the world. –Anna McKibbin 


34. Paterson

Year: 2016
Director: Jim Jarmusch 
Stars: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
Rating: R

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The passion of a meet-cute or whirlwind love affair is relatively easy to portray on the screen, but the mostly silent bond of the lived-in married couple? That’s much harder. If done wrong it could come across like boredom, and sure Paterson and Farahani’s Laura experience some of that, but Jarmusch also lingers long enough to take in the tender moments at this slower stage of romance. Domestic bliss isn’t about constant bouts of passion, it’s about slotting together so that each complements the other. Jarmusch risks over-egging his delicate pudding by giving too many quirks to Laura—her obsessions include baking cupcakes, bizarre culinary experiments and the color combo of black and white—but Farahani and, especially, Driver always keep Paterson’s central relationship grounded in sweet, uncomplicated reality. As anyone who has tracked his career over these few great years of his will have come to expect by now, Driver is terrific. Here, in his least complicated role, he gives his best performance. It takes real skill to sell a character so straightforwardly wholesome—think the magic Philip Seymour Hoffman conjured in Magnolia—but Driver steps up, fresh off sneering villain duties in a behemoth sci-fi franchise, to make a quiet man compelling. Brogan Morris


35. Talking About Trees

Year: 1993 
Director: Suhaib Gasmelbari
Stars: Manar Al Hilo, Suleiman Ibrahim, Altayeb Mahdi, Ibrahim Shaddad
Rating: NR

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Despite their profound love of film, the four friends that comprise the center of Talking About Trees seem unaware that they are being observed. In their quest to open an abandoned movie theater in their home country of Sudan, they passionately complain and joke, facing away from the camera, seeking out one another away from the prying glare. But by the end, Ibrahim Shaddad invites the camera towards him, pointing the megaphone and jokingly miming a shot. It is a lovely visual progression for a film that meanders alongside the four filmmakers determinedly trying to reintroduce cinema to the neighborhood outside of Khartoum. –Anna McKibbin

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