The 30 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (April 2021)

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The 30 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (April 2021)

Paramount+, the streaming service that is to ViacomCBS what HBO Max is to WarnerMedia, is finally here. The company (and the studio that streamer takes its name from) is stuffing its library online. CBS All Access, which it is replacing, is dead. Yes, it’s another streamer and yes, it’s another streamer with a at the end of its name. But hear us out: Paramount might be the new kid on the block, but it’s a heck of a deal. Either $9.99 a month for the ad-free tier or $4.99 for ads gets you “2,500 movie titles,” and that’s not even mentioning the slew of TV shows that’re coming along for the ride.

Between the Comedy Central Roasts, stand-up specials and seemingly endless documentaries, it can be hard to sift through. Never fear, though, because we’re here to sort through it all and find the cream of the crop—updating every month. The plethora of dramatic classics, martial arts movies, Indiana Jones films, Star Trek entries and forgotten favorites make Paramount+ worth checking out—especially considering its relatively low price point.

Between its March launch and April, Paramount+ lost five movies from this list—including the likes of The Godfather Part II—so it’s good that it’s expanded its library in turn.

Here are the 30 best movies available to stream on Paramount+ right now:

Fist of Fury

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Year: 1972
Director: Lo Wei
Stars: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Riki Hashimoto, Huang Tsung Hsing
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Bruce Lee’s second feature is a definite upgrade over the rawness of The Big Boss, sporting a bigger budget, better production and a story more important to Lee’s values. His character, Chen Zhen, becomes a Chinese folk hero when he stands up to the invading Japanese occupiers—especially in the classic scene in which he breaks a sign reading “no Chinese and no dogs” in the local park. Fist of Fury marks Bruce Lee’s true arrival, fully formed as an action legend, and if there’s a precise moment when the audience can witness that happen, it’s the iconic dojo fight: Chen shows up at the Japanese training facility to absolutely go to town on everyone inside. Just how iconic would Bruce Lee become? Pretty much every piece of clothing Lee wore in any film became a symbol of martial arts badassery for decades to come, whether it’s a simple white shirt, or this film’s navy blue suit, or, of course, the yellow tracksuit from The Game of Death. That’s how you know the guy is a legend. —Jim Vorel


The Phantom

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Year: 1996
Director: Simon Wincer
Stars: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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One of the better “comic strip/pulp era” heroes brought to the big screen, The Phantom holds up pretty well as a realization of its source material (even if it will never be considered among the best superhero films). The plot—the leader of a nefarious brotherhood seeks to control a mystical item that will bring him absolute POWER!—is pure pulp goodness. Billy Zane is beefy and believable as the 21st Phantom out to avenge the death of his dad (the 20th), and I sort of wish Catherine Zeta-Jones had spent more of her career playing rogue-ish femme fatales who lead a squadron of female mercs. —M.B.


Zodiac

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Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

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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


Raiders of the Lost Ark

raiders-of-the-lost-ark.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Wolf Kahler, Ronald Lacey
Genre: Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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A near-perfect distillation of the excitement and fun of the radio and pulp serials of yesteryear, Raiders of the Lost Ark established Harrison Ford’s wookie-free leading man credentials once and for all (with an assist from Blade Runner). The film also raises the question: Has anyone had a more impressive, more industry-transformative five-year run than Spielberg and Lucas did from 1977-1982? —Michael Burgin


The Aviator

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Year: 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Ian Holm, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Gwen Stefani, Kelli Garner, Matt Ross, Willem Dafoe, Alan Alda
Rating: R
Runtime: 170 minutes

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With Howard Hughes’ larger than life personality and those action-packed scenes of him flying (and crashing) planes, it’s hard not to first think of the famous businessman and aviator as a sort of superhero: A man capable of almost any feat, of withstanding any sort of struggle. But a movie that only captures that side of Hughes’ life would be an incomplete one. A hollow one. What makes The Aviator one of the greatest biopics of all time is that it shows Hughes’ vulnerabilities as well, most notably of which was his battle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hughes at his lowest, during Hughes’ anxiety-ridden spirals is far more compelling and suspenseful than the Beverly Hills plane crash scene itself.—Anita George


Chinatown

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Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

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When you look at Jack Nicholson’s run of films in what I’ll call the “New Hollywood” era, starting with Easy Rider in 1969 and ending with The Shining in 1980, it’s truly astounding. There’s barely a dud on the list, so it’s really saying something that Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s crime classic, stands out among the best. The central mystery is bold for its complexity, revolving around water rights in 1930s Southern California—a plot that remains relevant today—and was undoubtedly an influence for the second season of True Detective. Like much of Polanski’s work, an ominous atmosphere works alongside the plot, shadowing every character in doubt and undermining the possibility of a clean conclusion. In Polanski’s world, the mere fact that a mystery is solved doesn’t mean there’s a happy ending, and his incredible powers of ambiguity have never been so strong as in Chinatown. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won the Oscar for Robert Towne’s original screenplay. Add Nicholson at his most essential, along with a young Faye Dunaway and an aging John Huston, and this is truly one of the classics of American cinema. —S.R.


eXistenZ

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Year: 1999
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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From its first moments—during which a hotshot digital designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) introduces her newest virtual reality “game” to a congregation of fans that eerily resemble an AA meeting gone bust, not moments before an ersatz assassin shoots her in the shoulder with a monstrous gun that uses human teeth as bullets—until its last, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a discernible line between reality and the virtual, eXistenZ never lets up. This is the closest David Cronenberg will ever get to making a first-person shooter or survival horror videogame, and for that, it’s more than we could have ever hoped. Gross, absorbing and breathlessly paced, eXistenZ exists in the trenches between action movie clichés and weird B-movie trash, between cyberpunk and political thriller, between sense and absolute nonsense—lecturing its audience on the real consequences of violence in “games” without losing sight of just how much fun that violence can be. —Dom Sinacola


Children of Heaven

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Year: 1997
Director: Majid Majidi
Stars: Mohammad Amir Naji, Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG
Runtime: 89 minutes

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There are few better ways to introduce your child to a film with subtitles than this Iranian nominee for Best Foreign Film Oscar. The film follows a pair of impoverished siblings after the brother Ali loses his sister’s pink shoes in the market. He and his sister Zahra decide to share Ali’s shoes so his parents, already under the weight of financial struggles, won’t have one more thing to worry about. Roger Ebert summed it best, saying that Children of Heaven “lacks the cynicism and smart-mouth attitudes of so much American entertainment for kids and glows with a kind of good-hearted purity.” The perfect antidote for the bratty kids populating our TV and movie landscape.—Josh Jackson


Trainspotting

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Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Based on the gritty Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this early film from the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Millions follows a thuggish group of heroin addicts in Scotland and features brilliant performances from young Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald and Robert Carlyle. At times funny, gripping and nightmarishly haunting, Trainspotting is not an easy movie to forget. —Josh Jackson


Wheels on Meals

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Year: 1984
Director: Sammo Hung
Stars: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Biao Yuen
Genre: Action
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Wheels on Meals is a silly, silly movie, but damn is the action amazing. As far as trios go, it’s harder to get better than Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, although Hung’s role in this one is minimal. Rather, it all comes down to some incredible fight scenes featuring Chan and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, a real-life American kickboxing champion who makes the perfect dance partner for Chan in several high-octane brawls. Their final confrontation isn’t just a thrilling scene, it might be the best one-on-one fight scene of Chan’s career—and Benny the Jet is just as good as Chan. In fact, it’s the Jet who pulls off one of the coolest fight scene feats I’ve ever seen, the supposedly unintentional (and unfaked) “candle kick,” where a missed spin kick generates such force that it blows out all of the lit candles on a candelabra several feet away. You really have to see it to believe it. Oh, and Wheels on Meals also features a story about a kidnapped girl. —Jim Vorel


Election

Election285x400.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Tom Perrotta writes novels that strip the veneer from polite and “civilized” mid-American suburban life to expose it as the Starbucks-ian jungle that it is: The most reptilian impulses of human nature can strike at any time to dismantle the weak ones in the pack, or to at least flirt with pure narcissistic and hedonistic behavior. In fact, two great films based on his work outline this thematic connection—in Todd Field’s Little Children, the sexual indiscretions of small town characters are narrated like an old school National Geographic documentary, and in Alexander Payne’s Election, the soundtrack blares with a screeching, angry tribal chant whenever a character feels slighted, preparing for an attack to socially destroy an enemy. Perrotta and Payne’s narrative covers a rift between a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who isn’t self-aware enough to realize how much of a selfish prick he really is, and a student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the embodiment of blind and ruthless ambition, during the election to appoint the new student body president. Underneath this simple story rides a precise and nimble exploration about the lengths anyone might go to on the road to success to protect their fragile ego while stabbing many backs. Witherspoon’s now-iconic take on Tracy Flick is the embodiment of that person we’ve all encountered who will do and say literally anything to get ahead in life. However, Broderick’s seemingly caring and guiding teacher also succumbs to his own basest desires. Which one perishes, and which one comes out on top depends not on any preconceived cosmic hierarchy of good morals (or ethics—what’s the difference?), but on who can be the shrewdest and cleverest animal in the pack. —Oktay Ege Kozak


The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

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Director: Tim Hill
Year: 2021
Stars: Tom Kenny, Awkwafina, Matt Berry, Snoop Dogg, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Tiffany Haddish, Carolyn Lawrence, Mr. Lawrence, Keanu Reeves, Danny Trejo, Reggie Watts
Runtime: 91 minutes

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There are many reasons why SpongeBob SquarePants has endured more than two decades of steadfast love and pop culture relevance. Part of it is the enduring positivity and ridiculousness of SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and the entire populace of their world. The characters are self-referential, consistent to their defining traits and the writers have always created a duality of experience: Silliness for kids and a sly ascendance of wit that appeals directly to the older viewers. The mode in which the funny is served needs to have all of that present to work. Director/writer Tim Hill (who also wrote 2004’s original The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie) understands that in this first, all-3D presentation. Hill and his team of artists—including Mikros Image, which is responsible for the CGI animation—play it smart by introducing a subtle transition for the view in the opening of Sponge on the Run. Gorgeous, photorealistic CGI of the underwater world transitions to the familiar color palette and stylized look of Hillenburg’s corner of the ocean, just with more presence and tactile flourishes. From Gary’s snail slime coming across as tangible goop to scratches in Sandy Cheeks’ breathing dome, the movie doesn’t aim to overwhelm audiences with overt tech bells and whistles. Instead, it presents the characters and world as an opportunity to experience the familiar in a new light, like appreciating the miniscule scale of a 3D-generated Plankton in comparison to his explosive rage—which makes him all the more hilarious. As another evolution in the ongoing SpongeBob universe, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is a graceful and well-executed dip of the yellow toe into 3D waters. There’s overall respect for the characters and tone, and artistic merit to how they integrate the medium into the show’s standards for presenting the surreal and strange. Does it push the sponge forward? Probably not, and that’s ok. There’s something timeless about Bikini Bottom remaining as it is, with spin-offs and new series serving as the appropriate playgrounds for new outlets of storytelling. Sponge on the Run lovingly splits the difference, but doesn’t take anything away from what many know and love.—Tara Bennett


Jackie Brown

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Year: 1997
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 155 minutes

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“AK-47! The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes,” boasts cocky gangster Ordell Robbie in what is easily Tarantino’s most underrated film. It was clear from Pulp Fiction that Tarantino had found his muse in Jackson, but it was their second collaboration that really solidified their bond. There were so many ways this character—the chief antagonist to Pam Grier’s slick and smart, titular flight attendant shaking up the world of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster)—could have gone horribly wrong. On paper and upon first look, he comes across as a spoof of a blacksploitation cliché. Yet while Jackson effortlessly delivers those Tarantino lines with expected gusto, he gradually adds layers to Ordell Robbie, revealing the inherent insecurity and fear hiding under his insatiable ego. By the time he’s cornered in the third act, Robbie is a psychopath who earns your pity. Even though it’s an early Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown is such an insightful and empathetic character piece that it comes across as the kind of measured and patient material a master filmmaker would put out in their later years. Perhaps that’s due to this being an adaptation of Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, and Tarantino’s very faithful adaptation reads like a filmmaker who was content with leaving aside his ego—one can guess how hard that was for Tarantino—and serve whatever attracted him to the source material. Jackie Brown contains a fairly complicated heist plot amidst Tarantino’s usual toying with non-linear structure, but it’s essentially a film about the regrets and fatigue one finds oneself in one’s advanced years. It must be Leonard’s influence on Tarantino that keeps most of the director’s self-serving instincts at bay, delivering dialogue that feels more natural than grandstanding. Even the trademark Tarantino-esque monologues carry an underlying feeling of uncertainty and self-doubt, infusing his characters with more depth than ever found in a Tarantino joint. —Oktay Ege Kozak


The Elephant Man

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Year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Stars: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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David Lynch melds history and art in the true story of severely disfigured John Merrick, known as “The Elephant Man,” and his physician Frederick Treves. Abandoned by his parents and exhibited as a side-show freak, Treves rescues Merrick from squalor, educates him, and allows him to become the toast of London. Filmed in black and white, the film is a triumph of cinematography as well as prosthetic makeup design. By film’s end, we feel Merrick’s exhaustion and depression as he gently slips away, reminding us that there are many kinds of exploitation. —Joan Radell


Roman Holiday

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Year: 1953
Director: William Wyler
Stars: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn
Genre: Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Roman Holiday is the gold standard for the American romantic comedy, and quite possibly one of the most charming films ever made. Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor both turned down the lead roles, and thank God they did, because it’s hard to imagine William Wyler could have gotten this jewel without the absolutely exquisite Audrey Hepburn (in her debut American role), playing opposite Gregory Peck, whose performance prompted my little sister to write to Peck begging him to take her to Prom. Hepburn plays Ann, a young princess fed up with the strictures of her diplomatic tour escaping her unspecified country’s embassy in Rome to explore the world. Peck is Joe Bradley, ex-pat reporter, who finds her asleep on a bench and takes her home without realizing who she is. Once he does, it’s safe to say that Hijinks Ensue. The third principal character in this film is of course the city of Rome, whose imagistic power could have easily overwhelmed a less charismatic star-crossed odd couple than the princess and the newspaper man. End-to-end gorgeous and lovably funny, Roman Holiday is an exemplar of the difference between sweet and hokey. I’m sure there are critics who would pick at this film for being lightweight (it’s supposed to be), or for Hepburn “over-acting” (it got her the only Oscar of her career), or predictable (it’s a love story?)—however, the pacing, the interlocking moments of poignancy and comedy, and the sheer adorable-bomb factor of Peck and Hepburn would make it tough for even the most hardened cynic to turn it off. —Amy Glynn


El Dorado

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Year: 1966
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Ed Asner, Paul Fix
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Easily one of the best Westerns ever made, and perhaps one of the best movies ever made period, El Dorado is Howard Hawks at his best and most self-referential. In case the obvious question need be asked: Might this be Hawks’ re-do of his own 1959 masterwork, Rio Bravo? In many ways, yes, absolutely, 100%, hands-down. Both are about ragtag teams of heroes joining in defiance against arrogant ranchers, greedy men with varying nefarious aims, and both star John Wayne. When you strike gold, you strike gold, and Rio Bravo being a hit, maybe we can understand why Hawks decided to rehash it twice over the next 10 years and change. (Note: Avoid the second of these, 1970’s Rio Lobo. It’s sort of a dud.) If El Dorado is the lesser version of Rio Bravo, though, it’s still excellent, seasoned with a nimble sense of humor, superb action, and strong performances bolstered by the chemistry of Hawks’ cast, expanding beyond Wayne to include Robert Mitchum, Arthur Hunnicutt and James Caan. (The perspective shift helps, too.) El Dorado willingly engages with perfectly Western concepts of death and mortality, perhaps reflecting the span of time separating it from Rio Bravo. —Andy Crump


Minority Report

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Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 140 minutes

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The more we become connected, the more any sense of personal privacy completely evaporates. So goes Steven Spielberg’s vision for our near future, couched in the signifiers of a neo-noir, mostly because the veil of safety and security has been—today, in 2002 and for decades to come—irrevocably ripped from our eyes. What we see (and everything we don’t) becomes the stuff of life and death in this shadowed thriller based on a Philip K. Dick story, about a pre-crime cop John Anderton (Tom Cruise) whose loyalty and dedication to his job can’t save him from meaner bureaucratic forces. Screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen’s plot clicks faultlessly into place, buoyed by breathtaking action setpieces—metallic tracking spiders ticking and swarming across a decrepit apartment floor to find Anderton, the man submerged in an ice-cold bathtub with his eyes recently switched out via black market surgery, immediately lurches to mind—but most impressive is Spielberg’s sophistication, unafraid of the bleak tidings his film prophecies even as it feigns a storybook ending. —Dom Sinacola


Big Night

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Director: Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci
Year: 1996
Stars: Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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“Sapienza” is Italian for “knowledge” and this spirited and completely adorable ensemble piece is all about the gap between what you know and what you know. Primo and Secondo (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci) lead a sparkling ensemble cast in this tale about a floundering Italian restaurant that’s on the brink of collapse because Primo (Shalhoub) is a high-octane chef who refuses to “give the people what they want” and insists on his integrity to the point of collapsing his business, while across the street, the hideous Pascal’s Italian Grotto, helmed by Ian Holm (who really shines in evil restauranteur roles) and Isabella Rossellini, packs ’em in with pure cheese (and I don’t mean cave-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano). Holm’s Pascal helps to kill Primo’s restaurant by persuading the brothers to spend their last dollars on a meal they’re told will be attended by jazz great Louis Prima. Of course Prima never shows, and of course in the meantime, dinner at the Paradiso that night is a life-changing experience for several people. Under its lighthearted, slightly neurotic exterior, this film has subtle and wonderful depths, speaking about foodways and the American immigrant experience, about the conflict between artistry and hustle, about sibling rivalry and family support, about food as a shorthand language for art and love and approval and moxie. It’s about know-how, and how it both is, and is not, enough. —Amy Glynn


Seconds

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Director: John Frankenheimer
Year: 1966
Stars: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Setting the tale from coast to coast in prosperous ’60s America, John Frankenheimer casts an eye through a thin veil of science fiction to what he sees as a failingly lonely way of life. Approached by a mysterious outfit known as “the Company,” middle-aged family man Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is given the opportunity to fake his death and start over as bohemian California-based painter Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Tapping away to the existential core, however, “Tony” only finds his new life as hollow as his old one, a construct populated by Company actors and other “reborns” who just want to sustain the illusion. James Wong Howe’s shadow-infused cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith’s anxious horror score apply the paranoid sheen to what is really a bleak examination of the contemporary domesticated worker—bleak because, minus the presence of the elusive, amoral Company, Seconds’ dystopian Earth is really our own. —Brogan Morris


To Catch a Thief

to-catch-a-thief-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, John Williams
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 106 minutes

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But really—he didn’t do it. Cary Grant plays John Robie, a retired jewel thief who’s enjoying his golden years tending vines on the French Riviera. Just when the Grenache is hitting the perfect Brix level, a series of copycat heists put Robie back in the thiefly limelight. Seeking to clear things up, he compiles a list of locals who are known to have heistable jewels, and being a smart and wily guy, he starts tailing a very, very pretty one (Francie, played by Grace Kelly). Budding romance can be an accidental side-effect of these things, but when Francie’s ice does go missing, she suspects John and it sours their relationship, as one might expect. John goes on the proverbial lam to get to the bottom of it. Talk about jewels! Nothing ever sparkled quite like Cary Grant and Grace Kelly onscreen together, especially with the legendary Edith Head on costume design—and their peerless charisma is in amazing hands here. The film itself is a bauble, unapologetically so: light and frothy and absolutely not Rear Window (none of which is an indictment). Sometimes it’s enough for something to simply be charming and beautiful. This film proves it. —Amy Glynn


Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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Year: 1956
Director: Don Siegel
Stars: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Don Siegel’s film is the first of several adaptations of Jack Finney’s 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, and although it lacks some of the more stomach-churningly weird sights of Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake (like that man-faced dog!), it makes up for it with solid performances and its uniquely bright, complacent portrayal of human society being destroyed from within. As so many others have observed since the film’s first release, it’s the ultimate Red Scare-era parable for the coming conflict of East vs. West, emotionless collectivist vs. passionate individualist cultures, tapping into the simmering fear that the nation’s very identity was being secretly undermined by outsiders. The fact that the assimilations and “pod people” creations happen while we sleep only deepens the metaphor, implying the need for constant, ceaseless vigilance. Of course, these themes have kept Invasion of the Body Snatchers painfully relevant at any time in American history when xenophobia is running rampant, today being no exception. Embroiled as we are in another culture war revolving around oft-racist accusations of “un-American” behavior, there’s never been a better time to revisit the film than right now.—Jim Vorel


The Virgin Suicides

virgin-suicides-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner, James Woods, Giovanni Ribisi, Josh Hartnett
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Set in the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, The Virgin Suicides is yet another Detroit-area, ’70s-era film obsessed with death. That its quintet of young protagonists—sisters played to unnervingly angelic perfection by Kirsten Dunst, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall, Leslie Hayman and Chelse Swain—all commit suicide in the end is far from a surprise, of course: What is a surprise is that we never know why. In fact, the film is almost an oneiric procedural, in which the neighborhood boys who become infatuated with the strange daughters pick apart, piece by piece, detail by detail, the befuddling lives behind the objects of their affection. As such, The Virgin Suicides gracefully attempts to remember what it’s like to be a suburban teenager, comfortable in Middle America but uncomfortable with one’s body. Yet, the brilliance of Sofia Coppola’s direction (on even her first film) is in the way she laces such a seemingly innocent story with malice and melancholy, fixating on details that don’t matter or moments that have no consequence. That the narrator (Giovanni Ribisi) refers throughout to the decaying of the auto industry in Detroit makes the film as much a ghost story about Southwest Michigan as it is a tale of unrequited love: Try as hard as we might, we’ll probably never be able to trace the tragedy of Detroit back to its source. —Dom Sinacola


A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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Year: 2001
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


Mission: Impossible

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Year: 1996
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Yup—stop for a minute and contemplate that the first M:I film was directed by Brian De Palma. A guy known more for art house thrillers and anti-heroes helms the first in a possible franchise starring an A-list actor (before Hollywood was only interested in franchises), not to mention the first film Cruise ever produced, a risk in and of itself. And yet, it all worked: Mission: Impossible is a plot-heavy, intelligent, patient action film, establishing a cypher of an action star who would go on to perfectly serve every single director to come. By now, it’s expected that with every new film in the franchise, Tom Cruise will step up his stuntman game, and every new director will be given the chance to interpret Ethan Hunt as he (or she, we can only hope) sees fit. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise asserts himself as perhaps the world’s most prominent asexual action hero, but 20 years ago no one had any idea what kind of conceptual framework he was putting into place. Mission: Impossible was a new breed of blockbuster action film, and the franchise’s longevity is clear evidence that, no matter what’s happened since, Tom Cruise is a guy whose risks seem to always pay off.—Dom Sinacola


Infernal Affairs

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Year: 2002
Director: Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak
Stars: Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Chapman To, Lam Ka Tung
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Infernal Affairs left such an impression on Martin Scorsese that he translated the pulpy cop drama almost wholesale into The Departed’s Oscar gold, dialing down the original’s operatic tendencies and embracing the kind of hardcore nihilism that’s apparently supposed to make films like his seem more award-worthy. While the two are identical plot-wise, what Scorsese misses in his version is the gracefulness of gunplay through the eyes of those who treat each criminal transaction like a kind of artful dance. Scorsese’s action is blunt and unforgiving; Lau’s is kind of attractive and, at times, bracing with portent. If you ever watch a mob movie and wonder what characters find so seductive in such ugly lifestyles, Infernal Affairs answers your curiosities with crime that pays—in luxury, in respect, in the kinesthetic satisfaction of a job well done. And while both films follow two men as they wade through the gray area between organized crime and those who want to disorganize it, Infernal Affairs stays truer to that gray area. There’s nothing ambiguous about The Departed. Most notably, Scorsese’s ending is bleaker, and in its bleakness, is indefatigably black and white: Violence is wrong, police are good, but nothing—including justice—truly matters. Who really wants an action movie like that?—Dom Sinacola


An Inconvenient Truth

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Year: 2006
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Al Gore proved himself a better narrator than a campaigner, with an Oscar for a consolation prize after losing the Presidency in 2004. Director Davis Guggenheim laid out a convincing point-by-point case for the reality of climate change and the need to ensure that responsible development throughout the world. And despite having its scientific conclusions questioned, the film gave the issue of global warming a voice much louder than an audible sigh.—Josh Jackson


Tommy Boy

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Year: 1995
Director: Peter Segal
Stars: Chris Farley, David Spade, Brian Dennehy, Bo Derek, Dan Aykroyd
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 98 minutes

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The ill-fated journey of Chris Farley’s Tommy Callahan and tiny curmudgeon Richard Hayden (played wonderfully and probably not with much difficulty by David Spade) is just as relevant as it was in 1995, if not moreso. Pairing the slapstick buffoonery of Farley’s bull in a china shop anxiety with Spade’s insecurity masked as smarmy assholism, Tommy Boy is more than the sum of its buddy comedy parts. Though the economic boom of the 1990s was a welcomed reprieve from Reaganomics and George Bush’s “thousand points of light” predecessors, the turnaround didn’t help the kind of middle-class manufacturing that made companies like Callahan Auto and towns like Sanduskey , Ohio possible. Still reeling from the overcooked economics of the 1980s and the increasing globalization of the 1990s, the middle class worker’s struggle in that decade was represented with no more honest absurdity than in Tommy Boy.—Jonathan Dick


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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Year: 2007
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Whoever said murder couldn’t be wonderfully melodic? Although the Tony-winning Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was right up Tim Burton’s alley, his 2007 film took his macabre look at a homicidal English barber and made it fun. Here’s another Burton flick that relies on the tested chemistry of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but we also see great performances from Alan Rickman as the corrupt Judge Turpin and Sasha Baron Cohen as a rival barber. The film sees Burton’s on-screen gruesomeness at an all-time high, but it’s all balanced out by some infectious musical numbers.—Tyler Kane


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

the-last-crusade.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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After the mindfreak that was Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom left a bad taste in audiences’ mouths (creating the PG-13 rating in the process), Steven Spielberg and his collaborators went back to the drawing board, crafting a film that would retain the simpler tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like a rehash of that Oscar-nominated adventure. After filing through several different pitches and drafts (Spielberg even admitted at one point he felt he was “too old” for some of the stories), Spielberg and producer/writer George Lucas settled on a story about the search for The Holy Grail. Spielberg’s stroke of genius, however, was not only his decision to incorporate Indiana’s Jones estranged father into the plotline but to cast Sean Connery to fill the role. The dramatic dynamic between father and son lends the film an emotional heft that is noticeably absent from the more lightweight Raiders. In this way, one could perhaps even hold up Last Crusade as the superior story (emphasis on “perhaps”). Plus, as an added bonus, the film offers a prologue featuring the late, great River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones. —Mark Rozeman


The Adventures of Tintin

tintin-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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

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