The 100 Best Movies on HBO Max, Ranked (October 2020)

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The 100 Best Movies on HBO Max, Ranked (October 2020)

The best movies on HBO Max reflect nothing if not the culmination of our streaming dystopia. Ostensibly, this is a good thing: Below you’ll find masterpiece after masterpiece from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Agnes Varda, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Barbara Kopple, the Coen brothers, Jacques Demy, Akira Kurosawa, the Maysles, Pennebaker, Ingmar Bergman—those looking for a crash course in world cinema can pretty much single-handedly thank Turner Classic Movies’ folding under the HBO banner for the bounties they’re about to inhale.

Like most other streaming services, there is no real overarching theme to what HBO Max presents, which is exactly why HBO Max represents such a powerful urge to just roll over and let it all happen. Even Hayao Miyazaki, notoriously against having his movies available on streaming services, finally gave in. Whereas once these streaming services represented a more accessible alternative to an overpriced cable TV package, now we’re given no alternative, even though pretty much every movie imaginable is available for us to watch right now. Welcome HBO Max: You get a piece of us too.

Ironically, the list of best movies on HBO Max resembles the list of Best Movies on Hulu circa 2014. You’ll find a lot of French gems here, not to mention an essential selection of documentaries, silent films, sci-fi staples, psychedelic monster movies, musicals and every shade of Oscar bait in between.

About a dozen of the movies below are new for October. We’ll keep it updated throughout the month with new additions.

Here are the 100 best movies on HBO Max right now:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001-space-odyssey-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain, William Sylvester
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: G
Runtime: 139 minutes

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Fifty years ago, Stanley Kubrick told the story of everything—of life, of the universe, of pain and loss and the way reality and time changes as we, these insignificant voyagers, sail through it all, attempting to change it all, unsure if we’ve changed anything. Written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (whose novel, conceived alongside the screenplay, saw release not long after the film’s premiere), 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with the origins of the human race and ends with the dawn of whatever comes after us—spinning above our planet, god-like, a seemingly all-knowing, hopefully benevolent fifth-dimensional space fetus—spanning countless light years and millennia between. And yet, despite its ambitious leaps and barely comprehensible scope, every lofty symbolic gesture Kubrick matches with a moment of intimate humanity: the sadness of a mighty intellect’s death; the shock of cold-blooded murder; the minutiae and boredom of keeping our bodies functioning on a daily basis; the struggle and awe of encountering something we can’t explain; the unspoken need to survive, never questioned because it will never be answered. So much more than a speculative document about the human race colonizing the Solar System, 2001 asks why we do what we do—why, against so many oppositional forces, seen and otherwise, do we push outward, past the fringes of all that we know, all that we ever need to know? Amidst long shots of bodies sifting through space, of vessels and cosmonauts floating silently through the unknown, Kubrick finds grace—aided, of course, by an epic classical soundtrack we today can’t extricate from Kubrick’s indelible images—and in grace he finds purpose: If we can transcend our terrestrial roots with curiosity and fearlessness, then we should. Because we can. That the end of Kubrick’s odyssey returns us to the beginning only reaffirms that purpose: We are, and have always been, the navigators of our destiny. —Dom Sinacola


2. Alien

alien-1979-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Conduits, canals and cloaca—Ridley Scott’s ode to claustrophobia leaves little room to breathe, cramming its blue collar archetypes through spaces much too small to sustain any sort of sanity, and much too unforgiving to survive. That Alien can also make Space in its vastness feel as suffocating as a coffin is a testament to Scott’s control as a director (arguably absent from much of his work to follow, including his insistence on ballooning the mythos of this first near-perfect film), as well as to the purity of horror as a genre. Alien, after all, is tension as narrative, violation as a matter of fact. When the crew of the mining spaceship Nostromo is prematurely awakened from cryogenic sleep to attend to a distress call from a seemingly lifeless planetoid, there is no doubt the small cadre of working class grunts and their posh Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) will discover nothing but mounting, otherworldly doom. Things obviously, iconically, go wrong from there, and as the crew understands both what they’ve brought onto their ship and what their fellow crew members are made of—in one case, literally—a hero emerges from the catastrophe: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the Platonic ideal of the Final Girl who must battle a viscous, phallic grotesque (care of the master of the phallically grotesque, H.R. Giger) and a fellow crew member who’s basically a walking vessel for an upsetting amount of seminal fluid. As Ripley crawls through the ship’s steel organs, between dreams—the film begins with the crew wakening, and ends with a return to sleep—Alien evolves into a psychosexual nightmare, an indictment of the inherently masculine act of colonization and a symbolic treatise on the trauma of assault. In Space, no one can hear you scream. Maybe that’s because no one is listening. —Dom Sinacola


3. Spirited Away

spirited-away-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Yumi Tamai
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 125 minutes

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What is it about Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away that makes it one of his greatest—if not the greatest—films he has ever made? Perhaps it’s because it represents the best expression of his most defining themes and concepts—the strength and perseverance of a young woman, the rapturous glory of flight, the spiritual struggle of personal and cultural amnesia with Japanese society, the redeeming power of love. Maybe it has something to do with the crux of the film’s story being so archetypically identifiable, not so much a modern reimagining as it is a spiritual evocation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a childhood odyssey in a world that feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. Whatever the case, there is nothing quite like watching Spirited Away for the first time. The image of Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi), having discovered her parents transformed into pigs, running frantically through the streets as the town surrounding her comes to life, lights flickering into existence and spirits rising up from the earth, is nothing short of magical. Films like Nausicaä, Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro introduced the world to Hayao Miyazaki, but it was Spirited Away that secured his name among the canon of the greatest animators to have ever lived, ensuring his legacy for decades to come. —Toussaint Egan


4. The Passion of Joan of Arc

joan-arc-Criterion.jpg Year: 1928
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Renée Jeanne Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Antonin Artaud, Maurice Schultz
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s face is in your brain, whether you’re aware of it there or not. Its contours and stipples, topped by hair shorn of substance or style—her head centered by two wide eyes rimmed with tears, in superposition between ecstasy and misery even though we’re staring at her—consumes boundless space in Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent masterpiece, seemingly suspended over the long course of history between now (whenever now happens to be) and when Dreyer first envisioned this immersive, expressionist experience. Dreyer wrote of his film, “What counted was getting the spectator absorbed in the past,” and then, “A thorough study of the documents from the rehabilitation process was necessary; I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present.” Though The Passion of Joan of Arc Dreyer based on the 1491 transcripts of its titular saint’s trial for heresy (the director welcomed by the Société Générale des Films to make a film in France, his choice of subject bolstered by France’s canonization of Joan of Arc after World War I), he provides little visual detail or historical context. Instead he submerges the viewer in Joan’s perspective, keeps his hand on our heads as we drown in the torment of what she’s subjected to, rarely releasing his weight except for in the film’s final moments, when Joan’s execution at the stake unleashes violence throughout the citizenry. But mostly: that face, awestruck throughout time. Most notably, in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, the director watches as his protagonist, Nana (Anna Karina), watches Joan of Arc, lighting her tear-streaked face in close-up as she experiences something of the same images before her. Godard reflects Falconetti’s face in Karina’s, spanning more than three decades as if they’re nothing. There is perhaps no better ode to the power of what Dreyer achieved: Timelessness borne by the tragedy of our all too weak, all too human, flesh. —Dom Sinacola


5. 8 1/2

8-1-2.jpg Year: 1963
Director: Federico Fellini
Stars: Marcello Mastroiani, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 140 minutes

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With Fellini we wander through a shadow of his psyche, wondering where his memories begin and where Guido’s (Marcello Mastroiani) psychoses end. Perhaps Fellini’s most impressive blending of dreams and fantasies, of moral truth and oneiric fallacy, of space and time, 8 ½ tells its story in Möbius strips, wrapping realities into realities in order to leave audiences helplessly buried within its main character’s self-absorption. Guido’s obsession is so inward-looking he can’t help but destroy every single close relationship in his life, and yet, in hanging the film’s narrative on the struggle of one filmmaker to make his latest film—the title refers to the fact that this was Fellini’s eighth-and-a-half feature—the iconic Italian director seems to claim that artistic genius practically demands such solipsism. It’s a brazen statement for a film to make, but Fellini does so with such grace and vision, with such seamless intent, 8 ½ becomes a bittersweet masterpiece: Clear, aching and steeped in nostalgia, it celebrates the kind of glorious life only cinema can offer. —Dom Sinacola


6. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

umbrellas-of-cherbourg-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon
Genre: Musical, Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: G
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Jacques Demy’s masterpiece is a soaring, vibrant, innately bittersweet story of love lost, found and forever disbanded, another wartime casualty in a country scarred by military conflict. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is lived-in, a story derived from Demy’s life experience, and that keyword—“experience”—is essential to making the film click. Take away its musical cues, and you’re left with a narrative about a young man (Nino Castelnuovo) and a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) who fall deeply in love with one another, only to be torn apart when he’s drafted to fight overseas. The story remains rooted in Demy’s pathos, and pathos gives Umbrellas’ gravity. The music, of course, is a critical part of its character, a dose of magic Demy uses to buttress the rigors of life in wartime with grandeur and meaning. It’s a film about people in love falling out of love, and then falling in love all over again with new partners and altered sentiments, a beautiful picture as likely to make you swoon as to crush your heart. —Andy Crump


7. Seven Samurai

seven-samurai-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1956
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Yoshio Inaba, Kuninori Kodo
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: R
Runtime: 207 minutes

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The heart’s favorite Akira Kurosawa film is Ikiru, while the brain’s is always dead-set on Seven Samurai. Forget the myriad of official and unofficial remakes and re-imaginings, just think of practically any ambitious action/adventure yarn, of rousing tales of underdogs battling seemingly unbeatable forces threatening their existence, with only bravery, wits and bravado on their side: Seven Samurai is built into that DNA. From the smallest details of its structure, right down to specific framing, design and choreography, Kurosawa’s choices solidify it as easily one of the greatest films ever made. —Oktay Ege Kozak


8. Casablanca

casablanca.jpg Year: 1942
Director: Michael Curtiz
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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There are probably a decent number of auteur-theorist types who’d quibble with me for saying Casablanca is a perfect film. The production team didn’t consider it a big deal, in fact; just one of hundreds of films being made that year (despite a major league cast and great writers). It performed solidly at the box office, though not spectacularly. Then it won a bunch of Academy Awards. Then its reputation began to grow. One of the many interesting things about Casablanca is its epic durability – the story feels as fresh and real today as it did in 1945. A romantic drama with political tones and a ton of wit, it features superb performances by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Paul Henreid (for starters). Doomed love, self-sacrifice, Bogie one-liners galore, and one of the most quintessential cinematic moments of its age (both of my kids were born after 9/11 and even they cheered when that chorus of La Marseillaise drowned out the Nazis). Smart, sweet, and witty; probably the quintessential film of the 1940s, and one of the best feel-good movies of the 20th century. —Amy Glynn


9. Jaws

jaws poster (Custom).jpeg Year: 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Genre: Action & Adventure, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T., but leaner and less polished than either,. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws as a film really benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making; the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back, which ended up maximizing each appearance’s impact. The first time that Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has rarely been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is a great film via memorable characters, but a scary film care of novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


10. Citizen Kane

citizen-kane-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Obviously, Citizen Kane is no stranger to any list of movies like this, but there’s no denying that part of what makes this film ostensibly the “greatest of all time” is the way it uses the process of journalism to create a style and structure of storytelling that felt totally unique at the onset of the 1940s. We experience much of the film through the eyes of a reporter (the great Joseph Cotten) attempting to understand the life and death of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (director Orson Welles): In a sense, it is film-as-investigative journalism, which enables Welles to take an innovative approach, dissecting Kane’s life in flashbacks, newsreels and interviews from not-always reliable sources. See only: its visually stunning newspaper montage—just one example of the film’s spectacular editing, which even today seems ahead of its time. —Maura McAndrew


11. Jules et Jim

jules-and-jim-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1962
Director: François Truffaut
Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, Michel Subor
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Widely regarded as a French touchstone, François Truffaut’s classic WWI-era love triangle is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by Henri-Pierre Roche, which Truffaut stumbled across in a Paris bookstore in the 1950s. The adaptation tells the tragic story of Jim (Henri Serre), a French Bohemian, Jules (Oskar Werner), his Austrian friend, and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), Jules’ girlfriend/wife. The two men are besotted with Catherine, who bears an eerie resemblance to a statue they both love. She marries Jules. The war breaks out, and the two men, on opposing sides of the conflict, struggle with the fear that one might unwittingly kill the other in battle. (What actually happens is arguably worse.) Both survive, and later, Jim visits Jules and Catherine in their Black Forest cottage. Jules confides he’s miserable, that Catherine has constant affairs, has left him and their baby, Sabine, for months at a time, and that he lives in terror of losing her. Catherine tries to seduce Jim. The three try an experimental situation where Catherine is with both men, but tragedy only ensues from there. Perhaps a definitive example of the French New Wave, the film incorporates a vast lexicon of cinematic techniques—newsreel footage, stills, wipes, panning shots, freeze-frames, voiceover narration (by Michel Subor)—though shades of its towering influence in subsequent films, television and music are almost innumerable. —Amy Glynn


12. Aliens

aliens-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: R
Runtime: 138 minutes

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James Cameron colonizes ideas: Every beautiful, breathtaking spectacle he assembles works as a pointillist representation of the genres he inhabits—sci-fi, horror, adventure, thriller—its many wonderful pieces and details of worldbuilding swarming, combining to grow exponentially, to inevitably overshadow the lack at its heart, the doubt that maybe all of this great movie-making is hiding a dearth of substance at the core of the stories Cameron tells. An early example of this pilgrim’s privilege is Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece, in which Cameron mostly jettisons Scott’s figurative (and uncomfortably intimate) interrogation of masculine violence to transmute that urge into the bureaucracy that only served as a shadow of authoritarianism in the first film. Cameron blows out Scott’s world, but also neuters it, never quite connecting the lines from the aggression of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation to the maleness of the military industrial complex, but never condoning that maleness, or that complex, either. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) story about what happened on the Nostromo in the first film is doubted because she’s a woman, sure, but mostly because the story spells disaster for the corporation’s nefarious plans. Private Vasquez’s (Jennette Goldstein) place in the Colonial Marine unit sent to LV-426 to investigate the wiping out of a human colony is taunted, but never outright doubted, her strength compared to her peers pretty obvious from the start. Instead, in transforming Ripley into a full-on action hero/mother figure—whose final boss battle involves protecting her ersatz daughter from the horror of another mother figure—Cameron isn’t messing with themes of violation or the role of women in an economic hierarchy, he’s placing women by default at the forefront of mankind’s future war. It’s magnificent blockbuster filmmaking, and one of the first films to redefine what a franchise can be within the confines of a new director’s voice and vision. —Dom Sinacola


13. Raising Arizona

raising-arizona-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Francis McDormand
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Understated dramatic performances are all well and good, but it takes pinpoint control on behalf of both directors and cast to deliver the sustained overstated performances found throughout Raising Arizona. From its opening courtship sequence to the struggles of H.I. (Nicholas Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter) to form a family by borrowing an “extra” from a family with a surplus to the final battle with the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, the Coen brothers’ film remains an immensely beguiling and quotable farcical fable. —Michael Burgin


14. Godzilla

godzilla-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Sachio Sakai, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Early in Godzilla, before the monster is even glimpsed off the shore of the island of Odo, a local fisherman tells visiting reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) about the play they’re watching, describing it as the last remaining vestige of the ancient “exorcism” his people once practiced. Hagiwara watches the actors “sacrifice” a young girl to the calamitous sea creature to satiate its hunger and cajole it into leaving some fish for the people to enjoy—at least until the next sacrifice. Ishiro Hondo’s smash hit monster movie—the first of its kind in Japan, the most expensive movie ever made in the country at the time, not even a decade after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is, after 20-something sequels over three times as many years, a surprisingly elegiac exorcism of its own, a reminder of one nation’s continuing trauma during a time when the rest of the world jonesed to forget.

As J Hoberman describes in his essay for the film’s Criterion release, much of Honda’s disaster imagery is “coded in naturalism,” a verite-like glimpse of the harrowing destruction wrought by the beast but indistinguishable from the aftermath of the Americans’ attacks in 1945, especially when the U.S. and Russia, among other powers, were testing H-bombs in the Pacific in the early 1950s, bathing the Japanese in even more radiation than that in which they’d already been saturated. And yet, Godzilla is a sci-fi flick, replete with a “mad” scientist in an eye patch and a human in a rubber dinosaur suit flipping over model bridges. That Honda handles such goofiness with an unrelentingly poetic hand, purging his nation’s psychological grief in broadly intimate volleys, is nothing short of astounding. Shots of Godzilla trudging through thick smoke, spotlights highlighting his gaping maw as the Japanese military’s weapons do nothing but shock the dark with beautiful chiaroscuro, have been rarely matched in films of its ilk (and in the director’s own legion of sequels); Honda saw gods and monsters and, with the world entering a new age of technological doom, found no difference between the two. —Dom Sinacola


15. Die Hard

die-hard-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov
Genre: Action & Adventure, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Die Hard may be the “stickiest” film of its decade—how many best-laid plans have been derailed by running across John McTiernan’s masterful actioner on cable? As Officer John McClane and Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, respectively, steal the show in career-defining roles, but even Henchman #10 (Asian man who eats candy bar, or Uli, to his friends) comes across more realized than most lead roles in today’s run-of-the-mill action flicks. Tightly plotted with cleverness to spare, Die Hard welcomes the scrutiny of multiple viewings without losing its humor or heart. Yippie ki-yay, indeed. —Michael Burgin


16. The Wages of Fear

wages-of-fear-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Stars: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 149 minutes

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About an hour has passed before Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film reaches its real plot—a whole hour before our four impoverished expatriates take on the death-defying gig of driving two trucks filled with nitroglycerine across 300 treacherous miles, from the South American oil town of Las Piedras to the site of an oil field explosion overseen by an American corporation. Clouzot sets his stakes simply: Because nitroglycerine is so volatile, and because the corporation does not have the proper transportation equipment available, volunteers must, with exquisite care, drive trucks full of the chemical across mountainous terrain to be used to damper the oil fire with a huge controlled explosion. But that journey doesn’t begin until after Clouzot has waded through the stagnant world of our drivers, introducing us to the kind of men who rarely deal in the currency of hope: Corsican lothario Mario (Yves Montand), warm-hearted Italian Luigi (Folco Lulli), slippery ex-gangster Jo (Charles Vanel) and stoic German cool guy Bimba (Peter van Eyck) are each trapped in the town, wasting away their interminable time there with odd jobs, liquor and local women.

With almost effortless allegorical control, Clouzot strands the men at the mercy of American capitalism, giving them the choice to continue to die slowly in Las Piedras, or risk their lives for enough money to finally get out (which is really no choice at all). Rather than cast them as heroes and future martyrs, Clouzot’s wallowing with them in Las Piedras exposes their ne’er-do-well natures, such as Mario’s womanizing, Bimba’s near-sociopathic aloofness and Jo’s latent cowardice. Even with such unpleasantness, we grit our teeth and hold our breath as these anti-heroes teeter over the maw of their own inevitable obliteration, Clouzot knowing full well he’s got us by our throats. In its unbelievable tension, The Wages of Fear can be a harrowing watch, but it’s shot with such a total dearth of sentimentality that the bleakness of the landscape Clouzot’s created forces us to care about those who don’t deserve it. We have affection not because Clouzot’s manipulated us, but simply because these broken men are as much at the mercy of an indifferent universe as we are, ruled by fate and classism and whatever else we’ll never control, whether we know it or not. —Dom Sinacola


17. The Great Dictator

chaplin_Great_dictator.jpg
Year: 1940
Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: G
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Charlie Chaplin’s first “talkie” was a biting satire that he wrote, directed, produced, scored, and starred in-as both of the lead roles, a fascist despot who bears a rather marked resemblance to Adolf Hitler and a persecuted Jewish barber. Good satire can be powerful, and this film was: Released while the United States was still formally at peace with Germany, it stirred greater public attention and condemnation of the Nazis and Mussolini, anti-Semitism and fascism. (That said, Chaplin later recounted that he could never have made the satirical film even a year or two later, as the extent of the horrors in German concentration camps became clearer.) The choice to play both the tyrant and the oppressed man was an inspired one, underscoring the frightening but inescapable truth that we all contain a little bit of both characters. This is a strikingly pertinent film for our particular moment in history, and well worth dusting off and queueing up not only for its incredible craft but for its resonance as a study in projection. —Amy Glynn


18. Punch-Drunk Love

punch-drunk-love.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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It may be hard to recall now that we’ve all rallied around his talent—allowing him to transcend the stigma of his Netflix deal while he still profits ludicrously off it—but there was once a time when the world doubted Adam Sandler. Long before the Safdies or even Noah Baumbach got their time getting tight with the Sandman, we have P.T. Anderson to thank for inspiring such hope. Compared to the scope of There Will Be Blood, or the melancholy of Boogie Nights, or the inexorable fascination at the heart of The Master, or the obsession and obfuscation of Phantom Thread, Punch-Drunk Love—a breath of fresh, Technicolor air after the weight of Magnolia—comes off like something of a lark for Anderson, setting the stage for the kind of incisive comic chops the director would later epitomize, and complicate, with Inherent Vice. A simple love story between a squirmy milquetoast (Sandler) on the verge and the woman (Emily Watson) who yanks him back to life, Punch-Drunk Love is as confounding as it is a delight, an expression of unmitigated, sputtering passion—sad and febrile and, most importantly, optimistic about what anyone is truly capable of doing. This might be as sincere as Anderson gets. —Dom Sinacola


19. Solyaris

solaris-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Genre: Sci-fi & Fantasy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 168 minutes

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In 2002, Steven Soderbergh adapted Stanislaw Lem’s classic science fiction novel into a perfectly fine and handsome movie. It’s the one time that the story of a Tarkovsky film has been duplicated, sharing source material, and it illustrates an important truth: Andrei Tarkovsky’s vision is singular, inimitable; it towers over all others. Where an accomplished director like Soderbergh made a serviceable sci-fi flick, Tarkovsky made visual poetry of the highest order.

Tarkovsky’s artistic instincts rarely failed him, and even though it was a big budget genre picture, Solyaris takes risks with the same confidence of expression and the same depth of resonance as any other Tarkovsky film. The science fiction concept of the titular planet-entity allows Tarkovsky a new angle at the same themes pondered in many of his works: the pivotal roles of history and memory in our present and future; the fraught responsibility of the individual in responding to the calls of the sublime; the struggle to know truth. Tarkovsky’s long-take, free-associative aesthetic was predicated on his philosophy of filmmaking as “sculpting in time,” and in Solyaris there is a fascinating confluence between the way time and perception is manipulated by Tarkovsky, and the way those things are manipulated by Solyaris itself. Solyaris gives back the protagonist, astronaut psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), his dead wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), for what purpose is unclear. But Tarkovsky’s films work in a similar fashion; difficult to say exactly why they do what they do, yet they pull at the deepest roots of ourselves. They elicit emotional, meditative realities unlike any other. Like Kelvin’s resurrected Hari, the stimuli are simulacrums, symbols mined from a collective dream, but this does not diminish the worth of experiencing them. Sometimes they lead you to a place like Solyaris leads Kelvin: an island of lost memory—or perhaps of an impossible future, awash in the waters of some Spirit. That makes the unreal real; that gives the dream life. —Chad Betz


20. Taste of Cherry

taste-of-cherry-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Stars: Homayoun Ershadi
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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An existential tone poem of exasperating pace and deliberation, Taste of Cherry takes the long way in almost every conceivable fashion. Kiarostami stages a bare minimum of plot in his favorite setting—a moving vehicle—his middle-aged protagonist driving around the dusty roads of the Northern Iranian village of Koker. Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), a Range Rover-driving stoic, surveys stranger after stranger, inviting a few into his car to discuss a low-effort, high-paying job. He needs help committing suicide.

The ensuing conversations are uncomfortable, philosophical, layered, sometimes labored. When Kiarostami isn’t taking viewers on a physical journey of unflinching confrontation, he’s likewise keeping us at a literal distance—behind windows and from wide, curiously flat shots, the isolation of the car contrasted with expansive landscapes of industrial machinery. Mr. Badii’s voice is at times obscured behind glass; we strain to see him through semi-sheer curtains or a ticket booth—we don’t even get a first name. We are denied the slightest of intimacy, determinacy or logic. In turn, there’s something transient and yet immemorial to Taste of Cherry, a confounding, transcendental bridge between extremes and experiences, cultures and politics, passenger and driver, viewer and Kiarostami himself, between our respective unknowns. —Amanda Schurr


21. Modern Times

modern-times.jpg Year: 1936
Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: G
Runtime: 88 minutes

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If time is a flat circle, then Modern Times is like a flat sprocket—the travails of the Little Tramp navigating a mechanical world being so incessant and repetitive that elements like luck and hope only serve to spur along Chaplin’s farce even though they hold little grip on his characters’ futures. Not much changes for the Little Tramp throughout: He tries to survive, and yet the institutional system craps him back out to where he started, desperately hungry and penniless, left with nothing to do but try again. This was also Chaplin’s last go as the Tramp, and it’s easy to imagine that, throughout the film’s many misadventures—joined by equally good-natured partner in crime, the gamin (Paulette Goddard)—as he gets sucked up and sublimated into the modern industrial machine, this “disappearance” was kind of by design. It’s a weird way for Chaplin’s beloved character to go out, but so are the many ways in which Chaplin shows how the modern industrial machine becomes part of the Tramp, too. He may get squeezed through a giant, sprocket-speckled apparatus, becoming one with its schematics, but so too does the assembly line—with all that twisting, wrenching, and spinning—impress itself onto the Tramp, leaving him unable after a long shift to do anything but waggle his arms about as if he’s still on the assembly line. It’s no wonder, then, that the President of Modern Times’ factory setting bears a striking resemblance to Henry Ford: Chaplin, who toured the world following the success of City Lights, witnessed the conditions of automobile lines in Detroit, how the drudgery of our modern times weighed on young workers. The Great Depression, Chaplin seems to be saying, was the first sign of just how thoroughly technology can kill our spirits, not so much discarding us as absorbing our individuality. Modern Times, then, is a film with a conscious far beyond its time, a kind of seamless blending of special effects, sanguine silent film methods and radical fury.—Dom Sinacola


22. Ikiru

221_BD_box_348x490_original.jpg Year: 1952
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Takashi Shimura, Yunosuke Ito, Miki Odagiri
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 144 minutes

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Watching Ikiru, you get the feeling that Leslie Knope would love it: The film is as much a celebration of life as it is of one life in particular, but it’s also an affirmation of what local government can do if just one dogged public servant can grease the wheels of bureaucracy. Ikiru is one of Akira Kurosawa’s finest, a big-scale movie built to house a small-scale story, clocking in at just under two and a half hours as it details the final days of section chief Kenji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), an aging government employee reeling from a stomach cancer diagnosis. (The doctors give him less than a year to live.) Over the course of Kurosawa’s film, he is guided by two very different figures—a debauched novelist (Yunosuke Ito), and the cheery Toyo (Miki Odagiri), one of Kenji’s subordinates—toward purpose and meaning. A simple life lived in service to others isn’t a life wasted, the film tells us as it throws jabs and japes at the hypocrisy of Kenji’s callous, apathetic peers. A sentimental message, maybe, but one that’s earnestly felt and well earned through the stature of Kurosawa’s craft. —Andy Crump


23. Au Revoir les Enfants

au-revoir-les-enfants-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Louis Malle
Stars: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto, Francine Racette
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Au revoir les enfants portrays one French schoolboy’s (very limited) view of the Holocaust in a manner both reserved yet devastating. Set in a Catholic boarding school in France, Louis Malle’s Golden Lion-winning film follows a pampered rich boy (Gaspard Manesse) as he befriends a new classmate who is secretly a Jew (Raphaël Fejtö) harbored by the boarding school’s benevolent priest (Philippe Morier-Genoud). Malle based the film on his own childhood, effortlessly imbuing it with a quiet simplicity that allows its saddest, potentially melodramatic moments to be gut-wrenchingly real. Along with cinematographer Renato Berta, Malle merely lets the camera linger; in one scene, in particular, he films an empty passageway, beautifully emphasizing a terrible moment that his main character—and his audience—will never forget. —Jeremy Mathews


24. Blood Simple

blood-simple-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: John Getz, Frances McDormand, M. Emmett Walsh, Dan Hedaya
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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The Coen brothers’ lean and gloomy debut is an essential neo-noir, dripping with style and attitude, unapologetic about its loyalty to the raw genre gods. The premise is as simple as it gets: A forlorn bartender (John Getz) falls in love with the abused wife (Frances McDormand) of a rich asshole (Dan Hedaya), who hires a private detective/hit man (M. Emmett Walsh, in full sardonic glory) to “take care” of them both. Enough plot twists, deadly misunderstandings and back-stabbings will wholly satisfy fans of the genre—the long sequence which painstakingly lays out how hard it would be to get rid of a body in real life, capped off with a chilling burial scene that won’t leave your nightmares anytime soon, is the clear highlight—but the self-confident execution and airtight grasp on tone sets the film up as a truly impressive first. Find out just how much blood a common kitchen towel will absorb. —Oktay Ege Kozak


25. Kwaidan

kwaidan-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Stars: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsua Nakamura, Osamu Takizawa, Noboru Nakaya
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 184 minutes

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Ghost stories don’t get much more gorgeous than the four in Masaki Kobayashi’s sprawling Kwaidan. Between two acerbically political and widely lauded samurai epics, Hara-kiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), Kobayashi led what was then Japan’s most expensive cinematic production ever, an anthology film with its parts loosely connected by Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales and Kobayashi’s intuitive penchant for surreal, sweepingly lush sets. In “The Black Hair,” a selfish, impoverished ronin (Rentaro Mikuni) abandons his wife to marry into wealth, only to realize he made a dire mistake, plunging him into a gothic nightmare of decay and regret. “The Woman of the Snow” follows a craftsman (the always welcome Tatsuya Nakadai) doomed to have everything he loves stolen from him by a patient bureaucratic specter. The movie-unto-itself, “Hoichi the Earless,” pits the titular blind monk musician (Katsua Nakamura) against a family of ghosts, forcing the bard to recite—in hushed, heartbreaking passages on the biwa—the story of their wartime demise. Rapt with indelible images (most well known, perhaps, is Hoichi’s skin completely covered in the script of The Heart Sutra to ward off the ghosts’ influence), “Hoichi the Earless” is both deeply unnerving and quietly tragic, wrung with the sadness of Kobayashi’s admission that only forces beyond our control hold the keys to our fates. The fourth, and by far the weirdest, entry, “In a Cup of Tea,” is a tale within a tale, purposely unfinished because the writer (Osamu Takizawa) who’s writing about a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who keeps seeing an unfamiliar man (Kei Sato) in his cup of tea is in turn attacked by the malicious spirits he’s conjuring. From these disparate fairy tales, plenty of fodder for campfires, Kobayashi creates a mythos for his country’s haunted past: We are nothing if not the pawns of all those to come before. —Dom Sinacola


26. Police Story

police-story-crtierion.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Jackie Chan
Stars: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin
Genre: Action & Adventure, Martial Arts, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Remember that scene in The Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood drive the Bluesmobile through a mall and wreck it up good? That’s basically what Jackie Chan does to a shopping center in Police Story, except it’s with his own two hands. Seriously, there’s enough breakaway glass in that one, nine-minute fight scene for ten martial arts movies. Chan plays a cop (again) who goes after bad guys (again). Why complicate the plot synopsis any more than that? The only sensible way to rank Jackie Chan movies is simply to focus on the action and the death-defying stunts. Chan has called Police Story his greatest film, and who are we to argue? —Jim Vorel


27. Ugetsu

Ugetsu285x400.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Stars: Mitsuko Mito, Masayuki Mori, Eitaro Ozawa, Kinuyo Tanaka
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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During an incredibly prolific point at the end of his career, Kenji Mizoguchi released Ugetsu between The Life of Oharu (1952) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), only three years before his death. Like in those two films, Mizoguchi set Ugetsu in feudal Japan, using the country’s civil war as a milieu through which he could explore the ways in which ordinary people are kept from seeing to their basest needs, ground instead to dirt by forces far beyond their control. So it goes with two couples: Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), a potter hoping to profit from wartime, and his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka); Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), who rightly indicts her husband’s dreams of being a well-decorated samurai as foolish, especially considering that Tobei shows no signs of physical mettle, let alone a brain with any sense of militaristic prowess. Ignoring both their wives’ grave concerns and the ecliptic tide of war, the two men set out to make one last big bid for fame and fortune, setting out only to find a country haunted, literally sometimes, by casualties. Ugetsu is a lushly elemental film, epitomized by Mizoguchi’s long takes and aloof mise-en-scene, highlighted the callousness of what he was trying to capture. Seamlessly shifting between ethereal setpieces—the iconic rendezvous between boats, set amidst a hellish waterscape of mist and portent is perhaps the crux around which the film unwinds—and grittier clusterfucks of mass pain in progress, Mizoguchi conjures up a sense of inevitability: No matter how much these characters learn about love or family or themselves, they are doomed. Misery unfolds supernaturally and pointlessly in Ugetsu—so much so that by the time anyone’s noticed that tragedy’s struck, it’s already well-burrowed into the bones of those at its mercy. —Dom Sinacola


28. Cléo from 5 to 7

cleo-from-5-to-7-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1962
Director: Agnès Varda
Stars: Corinne Marchand, Dorothy Blank, Antoine Bourseiller
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Halfway through Agnès Varda’s sophomore film, the titular Cléo (Corinne Marchand), a pop singer awaiting the potentially devastating results of some sort of medical test, looks directly into the camera, weeping as she sings a song during an otherwise typical practice session. It’s a revelatory moment: Varda addresses her audience directly through her character addressing her audience directly, all while on the precipice of total dissolution. Cléo, a beautiful, burgeoning celebrity, seems to understand that she may be empty without her looks, just as she rails against the forces that put her in such an untenable position. In other words, realizing in that moment of melodrama, of the heightened emotion she knows all too well is the stuff of pop music at its most marketably patronizing, that her attractiveness may be soon over, she’s driven to tears, unable to reconcile her talent with her face, or her fragility with her livelihood, leaving it to the audience to decide whether she deserves our sympathy or not. If not, Varda wonders, then why not?

Shot practically in real time, Cléo from 5 to 7 waits along with our character as she waits for life-changing news, floating from coffee shop to home to park to wherever, not doing much of anything with the life she has, the life she may find out she’s losing soon enough. She watches a silent film featuring cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, meets a soldier on leave from the Algerian front (Antoine Bourseiller) who confesses he believes people are dying for nothing, drives past a murder scene and senses that the universe maybe has misdirected her bad luck towards another soul. One of the defining films of the Left Bank branch of the French New Wave (as opposed to those of the “Right Bank,” the more famous films of Truffaut and Godard, the movement’s more commercial, cosmopolitan cinephiles), Cléo from 5 to 7 is a fever dream of the ordinary, a meditation on the nothingness of everyday living, as existential as it is blissfully bereft of purpose. —Dom Sinacola


29. Point Break

point-break-210.jpg Year: 1991
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Lori Petty, Gary Busey, John C. McGinley
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

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There are plenty late ’80s/early ’90s action flicks anyone could cite, but few epitomized the near-paradoxical dudebro melodrama of the era with as much heart and sincerity as Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. Johnny Utah—played by the only one on this Earth who could believably play a human being named that, Keanu Reeves, with the sedate gusto that would further vaunt him to action star fame—is an FBI agent who must learn how to be an X-treme surfer in order to infiltrate a cadre of bank robbers led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze in peak hunk form). Inevitably, Johnny and Bodhi bond—and then clash—over their mutual thirst for salt water, high-stakes adventure and the love of a strong woman (Lori Petty, a wonderfully anti-typical blockbuster love interest), climaxing in the now-iconic scene of Reeves, consumed by X-treme angst, hollering and firing his gun into the sky, a scene so cemented in the cinematic canon that any aging, pacifist Millennial who has never fired a gun before still secretly wet-dreams about having the chance to do the same before their time on this godforsaken planet runs out. —Dom Sinacola


30. Hoop Dreams

hoop-dreams-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1994
Director: Steve James
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 171 minutes

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The documentary labeled by none other than Roger Ebert as the single best film of the 1990s alternates often between beautiful and crushing, an intense profile of life in inner city Chicago pitted against dreams of escape—through basketball of all things. The story of two young men recruited by a wealthy, predominantly white high school to play basketball, Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, his first feature, obviously raises serious questions about how modern education exploits race and socioeconomic status, but shot over the course of five years and condensed from 250 hours of footage, the film’s true accomplishment is its sprawl, leaving out seemingly absolutely nothing in its portrayal of multiple families. Yet, that it was snubbed from a nomination in the Academy’s best documentary category, leading to public and critical outcry? It doesn’t get more illuminating, more heartbreakingly real than this. Both of the young Illinois men profiled—William Gates and Arthur Agee—had older brothers gunned down in Chicago street violence in the years that followed the film’s release, one in 1994 and another in 200: The film is never far from the reminder of just how life-saving these dreams can be. —Jim Vorel


31. North by Northwest

north-by-northwest-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint,
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 137 minutes

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When a mild-mannered ad man (Cary Grant, in some seriously natty threads) is mistaken for a secret agent and finds himself in the crosshairs of a dangerous spy, suspense is a given. Add a romantic entanglement with the epically gorgeous Eva Marie Saint, who might or might not be in cahoots with the spies, and you’ve got Hitchcock at his tongue-in-cheek best, turning a surrealist fever dream of a plot into something light-handed and smooth. North by Northwest might also be his most utterly entertaining and arguably his most visually stunning, with some of the most iconic scene compositions in film history (particularly, though not solely, the incredibly shot sequence at the top of Mount Rushmore). Saint’s cool and intriguing, and if Grant ever had one day in his life where he wasn’t unbelievably charming, it was not captured on film. This is definitely a thriller, too, but it’s also witty as hell (maybe even a little self-satisfied, but this viewer isn’t complaining—if anyone’s earned that, Alfred Hitchcock has). Skillful, clever, charming—if for some reason you don’t already know why Hitchcock is an enduring god of cinema, this film ought to clear it up for you. —Amy Glynn


32. The Conversation

TheConversation.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 113 minutes

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The really incredible fact about this film is that Coppola made it as a side project between Godfather movies. Starring Gene Hackman, The Conversation is the story of a surveillance technician coming face to face with the implications of his job, and the paranoia of being watched at every moment. It was nominated for Best Picture in 1974, an award that went to The Godfather, Part II. It’s one of the rare times in film history when a director has lost to himself. —Shane Ryan


33. Pather Panchali

pather-panchali-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1955
Director: Satyajit Ray
Stars: Runki Banerji, Kanu Banerji, Subir Banerji
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali is, depending on who you ask, either the saddest movie ever made or one of the saddest—though whether the film makes you weep more or less is, perhaps, besides the point. Pather Panchali’s influence may be best evinced on a micro scale, in specific relation to Indian cinema, presenting a watershed moment that sparked the Parallel Cinema movement and altered the texture of the country’s films forevermore. Which isn’t proof of Pather Panchali’s actual substance, though let’s be realistic here: Ray’s masterpiece is an aching, vital movie crafted to transmute the harshest rigors of a childhood lived in rural India into narrative. Maybe it’s presumptuous for an American critic with no frame of reference for Pather Panchali’s cultural context to describe the film as “true to life,” but Ray is so good at capturing a small, specific world with his camera that we come to know, to understand, the life of young Apu, regardless of who we are or where we come from. Isn’t that just the absolute definition of cinema’s transporting power? —Andy Crump


34. Eraserhead

eraserhead-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allan Joseph
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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It can be a painful experience to watch a film and have no idea what it’s about—to have the film’s meaning nagging at the core of you, always out of reach. Yet, that’s exactly the molten, subterranean fuel that pushes David Lynch’s visions forward, and with his debut, the perplexing and terrifying Eraserhead, the director offers no consolation for the encroaching feeling that with him we’ll never find any sort of logical mooring to keep our psyches safe. A simple tale about a funny-haired worker (Jack Nance) trundling nervously through a phantasmagoric industrial landscape, in the process fathering a mutant turtle-looking baby who he’s left to raise after his new wife abandons her “family,” Eraserhead is an astounding act of burying independently-minded cinematic experimentation in the popular consciousness. You may not know much about Eraserhead, but you probably know what it is. And whether or not it’s a meditation on the horrors of fatherhood, or a glimpse of the weird devolution of physical intimacy in a dying ecosystem, or a groundbreaking work of DIY sound design, or whatever—Eraserhead is a black hole of influence. It’s gross, it’s soul-stirring, it’s a visceral nightmare, and to this day, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Which may or may not be a compliment. I can’t be sure. —Dom Sinacola


35. Babe: Pig in the City

babe-pig-in-the-city-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1998
Director: George Miller
Stars: James Cromwell, Elizabeth Daily, Magda Szubanski, Mickey Rooney, Mary Stein
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Comedy, Kids & Family
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 65%
Rating: G
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Three franchises mostly define George Miller’s almost five-decade career: Mad Max, Happy Feet and Babe—the latter comprised by the two films Miller wrote about the talking pig who thinks he’s a sheepdog. Miller has kept such a distinct visual language throughout these 50-some years, we can draw a direct aesthetic line between Fury Road’s lavish colors depicting the grotesque beauty of a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and Babe: Pig in the City’s old-school fairy-tale world, equally enchanting and deadly. It’s is a textbook example of solid sequel-making: Instead of blindly recreating the charming family drama of Babe, following the titular pig hell-bent on defying his social place in his world, Miller dials the story’s fantasy to 11 to take us to an awe-inspiring metropolitan city that’s a hodgepodge of the most beautiful and recognizable urban spots in the world. Pushing human characters even more to the background, Miller’s film tells of Babe’s latest exploit leading a group of plucky and downtrodden animals in their quests for freedom and dignity. Like so many classic children’s entertainments, in Pig in the City, horrors lurk around every corner but the possibilities of life’s wonders similarly shine. —Oktay Ege Kozak


36. The Maltese Falcon

maltese-falcon-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1941
Director: John Huston
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Referred to by many as the first major noir (after the more obscure 1940 film Stranger on the Third Floor), this John Huston classic set the bar for the archetypal detective, the subgenre as a whole, and the rest of star Humphrey Bogart’s career. On the surface a murder mystery revolving around yet another archetype, that of the titular MacGuffin, The Maltese Falcon is in essence a character study, a definitive assurance of masculinity and the cool objectivity it entails, by way of one Sam Spade. Bogart’s antihero is a man of honor, as it suits him—he has no qualms about kissing his dead partner’s widow while the body’s still warm, or turning in the guilty woman he loves to the police. He’s nobody’s “sap.” Interestingly, Spade’s creator, Dashiell Hammett—who once worked as a P.I.—called the character “a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.” In Bogart’s brusque yet smooth hands, that sounds about right. Likewise, this is the adaptation to which vastly inferior attempts, including a 1931 version of the same name and 1936’s Satan Met a Lady, could only aspire. It is impeccable in every sense. Huston also penned the screenplay, on Howard Hawks’ advice, almost verbatim from Hammett’s hard-boiled novel. He painstakingly storyboarded the drama to include complex camerawork and lighting schemes, evocative POVs, and an uninterrupted seven-minute take whose logistics boggle the mind. The violent, stylized set pieces are as visceral as the verbal confrontations. Aside from Bogie’s legendary turn, the other performances are spot-on: among them, an already scandalized Mary Astor as the femme fatale; Sydney Greenstreet (Casablanca) as hulking baddie Kasper “Fat Man” Gutman—astonishingly, his film debut; and Peter Lorre as an obviously gay associate of Gutman’s whose homosexuality was muted for the folks at the Hays Code. One of the first titles to be preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, The Maltese Falcon is landmark filmmaking. —Amanda Schurr


37. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

assisnation-jesse-james.jpg Year: 2007
Director: Andrew Dominik
Stars: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Sheperd, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel
Genre: Drama, Western, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Rating: R
Runtime: 160 minutes

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Is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford an ode to the first of its two title subjects, or a dirge about the second? Is it a loyal and authentic screenshot of history, or a folk-style retelling of historical events? It’s certainly more than the sum total of the answers to the questions it poses, but above all else it’s a movie that attained near-instantaneous iconic status on its release. The film’s great achievement is its ease. You get the sense that Andrew Dominik didn’t make this movie as much as it simply flowed out of him, an anecdotal recount of a legend brought to his end by the toxic punch of hero worship and betrayal. The Assassination of Jesse James affixes intimate narrative to wide scope, as befits the commodious quality of the Western genre, and sets about getting to the promise of its name in as leisurely a fashion as possible. We know what’s coming, but the film is in no hurry to get there, and when the trigger is pulled minutes before the credits roll, the shot rings all the louder for it. —Andy Crump


38. The Philadelphia Story

philadelphia_story_poster.jpg
Year: 1940
Director: George Cukor
Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Can you believe there was a time when Katharine Hepburn was known in Hollywood as “box office poison”? This adaptation of a Broadway hit was a vehicle to get her career back on track after a series of flops. Her performance as icy heiress Tracy Lord in this “remarriage” comedy is a force of nature. Happily, her no-longer-drunken ex is played by Cary Grant, who is a fabulous foil. Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey round out the cast as reporters in not-so-clever disguise. Pretty much everything about this movie is a pure delight, and the script is a masterpiece. —Amy Glynn


39. Princess Mononoke

princess-mononoke-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Yôji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 134 minutes

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One persistent theme across all of Studio Ghibli’s work, in particular Miyazaki’s, is that there rarely are any true villains. This sentiment is perhaps most apparent in Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki’s seventh film and notably one of his darkest. Set during the early 16th century, the film follows the story of Ashitaka (Yôji Matsuda), the last remaining prince of a small eastern village who is wounded while defending his home from a wild boar overtaken by a malicious spirit. Mortally cursed with no hope of a cure, Ashitaka takes it upon himself to journey to the West to discover (and halt) whatever malevolent force is causing this havoc. What he finds there is more complicated than he could have imagined: a settlement of humans mining the region to build a home while fending off the forces of the nearby forest who see their world being destroyed. Later he meets San (Yuriko Ishida), a young woman raised by the clan of wolves who defend the forest as he attempts to broker an uneasy peace between the two sides. Accordingly, Princess Mononoke is the epitome of Miyazaki’s appeal to environmentalism, melding traditional fantasy and Japanese folklore to create one of the director’s most serious and adult-oriented works. The film’s violence is a sharp divergence from Miyazaki’s relatively goreless body of work, with limbs severed with callous abandon and wild boar gods weeping blood as they trudge on a death march through the forest. It’s an exhilarating, heartbreaking and colossal film whose message will leave audiences changed by its final scene. Quite simply, it is everything that one would come to expect from the pedigree of Hayao Miyazaki. —Toussaint Egan


40. Planes Trains and Automobiles

planes_trains_poster.jpg
Year: 1987
Director: John Hughes
Stars: Steve Martin, John Candy, William Windom, Michael McKean, Edie McLurg
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Anyone who’s ever endured holiday traffic on their way home for Thanksgiving can relate to this John Hughes tale—although hopefully you’ve never had to endure the sheer number of transportation mishaps (not to mention some accidental spooning) Neal Page and Del Griffith go through. Planes, Trains and Automobiles pits a petulant Steve Martin (Neal) against the usually mirthful John Candy (Del) as they travel home for the holidays. Weather and time are stacked up against them, so they end up traveling together with some disastrous results. Of course, nothing goes according to plan as Thanksgiving gets closer and closer. —Bonnie Stiernberg and Pete Mercer


41. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

gremlins-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Joe Dante
Stars: Zack Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert Prosky
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69% (nice)
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Joe Dante didn’t want to make a sequel to Gremlins. The first film exhausted him and was wrapped up so nicely, he didn’t see a need to carry the story forward. The studio, however, refused to give up and, out of desperation, gave him complete creative control. They sure got what they paid for, as the cult classic sequel throws absolutely everything at the viewer with zero interest in whether it will stick or not. It’s a slapstick comedy wrapped up in cartoonish violence and some sharp-edged satire about corporations and capitalism. Oh, and there’s a cameo by Hulk Hogan to boot. —Robert Ham


42. Salesman

salesman-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1969
Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

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The Maysles’ ode to the can-do attitude of the so-called “Greatest Generation” is an ever-saddening study in charisma: who has it, what it is and just how deeply, unintentionally ingrained it is in our whole model of the American Dream. In following four Bible salesmen, each with an animalistic nickname to handily keep them apart, we’re able to observe the pitch process from seemingly every persuasive angle. Some salesmen are wise and respectful, others enthusiastic and joking, and still others resort to bullying nervous stay-at-home moms or emasculated husbands into signing a pay stub. Couple that ethical conundrum with the product they’re hocking—the original “Good Book,” apparently—and it’s no surprise when one of the salesmen (Badger, who hits a streak of shitty luck, never living up to his name) loses all hope in his vocation and spends every night in his shared hotel room complaining to his fellow salesmen that what they’re doing is existentially bound to fail. And yet, Rabbit has no trouble keeping his sales up, and the Bull always walks out with scribbled-on chits. Badger just happens to be a dying breed of salesman, a guy whose charisma refuses to adapt. What’s worse: He’s got no one to blame but himself. And capitalism. —Dom Sinacola


43. The Wind Rises

wind-rises-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Hideaki Anno, Naoko Satomi, Hidetoshi Nishijima
Genre: Drama, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Of all of Miyazaki’s most persistent tropes and motifs, there are none more consistently threaded throughout the whole of his body of work than that of the depiction of flight. So it’s no surprise that The Wind Rises, his 11th and final feature film as of this writing, would focus squarely on the life of Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi and the complicated legacy of his creations. A story of how a creator cannot control what their work becomes, only the dedication and craft to which they pour into the work itself, The Wind Rises relates not only to the pacifist cultural identity of contemporary Japan but also, on a personal level, to Miyazaki himself. The film is nothing short of Miyazaki’s final artistic testament to humanity’s paradoxical capacity for both the redemptive act of creation and dogged pursuit of self-annihilation. It is in no uncertain terms a conclusion—if not to Miyazaki’s venerable career as one of the undisputed patriarchs of modern Japanese animation, then a thematic coda that ties an elegant knot at the end of his storied career as a director. —Toussaint Egan


44. Persona

persona.jpg Year: 1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Ingmar Bergman didn’t seem to have any answers to the questions he raised in this film—or those raised in many others—but he kept asking them, bringing his stories to appropriately dramatic conclusions without cauterizing all of his characters’ wounds. He was a smooth, precise director, but one who worked within the conventions of ?lm grammar rather than pressing at the medium’s edges—most of the time. Persona not only acknowledges this medium but rips it wide open.

Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson—who both worked with Bergman many times—play a stage actress and a nurse, respectively. The actress has had a breakdown—rendered mute in the middle of a performance—and she’s recuperating at a seaside cottage. This simple plot is the skeleton for a very complex examination of identity and psychology. The two women seem to merge at certain points—perhaps they’re two sides of the same woman—and their histories bleed into the present through a variety of cinematic techniques, from the ?rst shot of a projector lighting up and the infamous, dazzling montage that seems to unearth the unconscious, to the moment in the middle of the film, when the stock seems to burn and run in reverse. Persona doesn’t reveal its meaning easily; Bergman was forever balancing the world of the theater with the world of ?lm, an artist with a split personality. —Robert Davis


45. Mikey and Nicky

mikey-nicky-criterion.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Elaine May
Stars: Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, Ned Beatty, William Hickey
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Everyone’s got a friend like Nicky (John Cassavetes), though the Nickys of the world exist on a sliding scale. Not every Nicky works for the mob, or womanizes, or betrays the mob, or generally acts like a large diameter asshole at any provocation or under any amount of strain. But strip Mikey and Nicky of its genre particulars, its gangster trappings, and what remains is a recognizable story of two friends at loggerheads, joined by the history of their lifetimes, inseparable, and yet chemically volatile when standing in arm’s reach of each other. Mikey (Peter Falk) and Nicky go way back. They’ve been pals since always, since before they became small time crooks, since before their parents shuffled their mortal coils. Mikey’s the equanimous one, Nicky the hothead, though Mikey’s only cool and composed when stood next to Nicky. “You give me that in 30 seconds or I’ll kill you, you hear me?” he roars at a diner counterman, desperate for a cup of cream to help soothe Nicky’s ailing stomach. Neither is especially good to women, and both are in boiling water, though Mikey’s only up to his toes and Nicky’s waist-deep, having ripped off his boss and earned a hit on his forehead. The most honest move Mikey can make is to leave Nicky to the mob’s mercies, but he’s not an honest man and honestly, male relationships aren’t all that honest. Elaine May understands how quickly men oscillate between emotion and violence, rancor and play. One minute Mikey’s fretting over Nicky catching a cold. The next, they’re scrapping in the street, as if their friendship never mattered in the first place. Amazing how easily men can transgress from adults to boys, whether they’re trading blows or just gleefully racing one another down the sidewalk. Even when they’re all grown up, they’re still children at heart. Over 40 years later, Mikey and Nicky has aged better than both of them. —Andy Crump


46. House

house.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Movies are rarely, if ever, as whirringly rich and strange as House. The 1977 fairy-tale-as-fever-dream from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi was the debut of a guy who was known mostly for his TV commercials. Given a shot at making his first feature by a struggling studio that had nothing to lose, Obayashi did what any aspiring auteur would do: He went to his 11-year-old daughter Chigumi for ideas. What they came up with is a tragi-comic festival of the uncanny about a posse of seven Japanese schoolgirls, a maiden aunt with heartbreaking secret, her freaky-ass white cat named Snowflake and the house of the title, an ooky-spooky hallucination out of gothic myth and Japanese folklore, jazzed by an animated, ADD-afflicted spirit like something from the minds of Tex Avery and Busby Berkeley on crack. Though: No summary really does House justice, and every little thing about it demands attention, from the schoolgirls themselves—precocious archetypes who go by the nicknames Gorgeous, Melody, Fantasy, Prof, Sweet, Mac and Kung Fu—to the anything-goes flourishes of gimmick and technique, which evoke everything from silent film to children’s shows, classic surrealist cinema to Italian giallo. Obayashi crams every frame with a surplus of mad ideas, as if his background in 30-second spots demanded he never let the screen remain calm for an instant. House suggests that the nitrous-oxide hyperdrive of Japanese pop culture—as vivid now as ever—is a brilliantly imagined, if not in fact transcendental brand of therapy. —Steve Dollar


47. King Kong

king-kong-1933-poster.jpg Year: 1933
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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There had been monster movies or “creature features” before Kong, but it became the key reference point for that entire film demographic from the time of its release until the genre underwent an atomic-age reimagining with the likes of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 and Them! in 1954. Likewise, it set the bar on its special effects at such a high level that in many instances, shots and sequences from King Kong weren’t suitably duplicated for decades to come. Much of the credit belongs to pioneering stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, who was inventing new techniques on the set of Kong on a daily basis, laying a foundation for an entire field of visual effects that are still being refined by studios such as Laika today. Those techniques were likewise carried on and further refined by O’Brien’s arguably more famous protege, Ray Harryhausen, who used them to great effect in the second golden age of the monster movie, from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Kong, though, stands as an unparalleled achievement for its time—far grander and more ambitious in scope than most anything you can compare it to back then. On one hand it’s a rollicking adventure film, with a classic “journey into the unknown” plot that is still being recycled for modern monster installments like Kong: Skull Island. At the same time, though, it was likewise an interesting experiment in genre-blending—an FX-driven adventure-drama film with horror elements and no clear-cut, traditional “antagonist.” Carl Denham might fit the bill, but he’s better described as a naive dreamer with stars in his eyes, oblivious to the ethical quandary of shanghaiing a huge beast to display in the middle of New York City. Kong, meanwhile, is a misunderstood creature, operating on the sense of self preservation he learned in a home where he’s only ever known a daily fight for survival against a neverending stream of monsters. The film’s empathy for Kong, and its condemnation of the hubris that led to his ascent of the Empire State Building, are what helped make the story such an emotionally affecting classic. —Jim Vorel


48. My Neighbor Totoro

my-neighbor-totoro-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi
Genre: Drama, Animation, Kids & Family
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: G
Runtime: 87 minutes

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My Neighbor Totoro is not only Miyazaki’s most iconic film to date, it’s also an all but perfect family film that manages to distill the essence of childhood whimsy down to its purest state. Set in 1958, the film follows university professor Tatsuo Kusakabe (Shigesato Itoi) and his daughters Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto) as they move into an old house along the countryside in order to be closer to their mother, who is recovering from a long illness. We see the world through the girls’ eyes: leaping through the fields along the house, chasing skittering dust mites, tumbling down holes in the base of trees to land safely on the bulbous stomach of a benevolent spirit animal. My Neighbor Totoro was revolutionary for its time for luxuriating on quiet contemplative moments in a time when most of anime was otherwise dominated by the chase from one flash to the next spectacle. In this way, the film has a sort of timeless appeal, disarming audiences new and old of their cynicisms and suspicions with beautiful settings, empathetic characters and an infectious marching band theme. The late film critic Roger Ebert described it best, “My Neighbor Totoro is based on experience, situation and exploration—not on conflict and threat.” It’s a film sprung fully formed from the imagination of a master animator, a movie about the everyday magic of being a child and the simple power of meeting the world with an open heart. —Toussaint Egan


49. Eyes Without a Face

eyes-without-a-face-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Georges Franju
Stars: Édith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Francois Guerin
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

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I remember seeing my first Édith Scob performance back in 2012, when Leos Carax’s Holy Motors made its way to U.S. shores, in which she donned a seafoam mask, every bit as blank and lacking in expression as Michael Myers’, in the film’s ending. I thought to myself, “Gee, that’d play like gangbusters in a horror movie.” What an idiot I was: Scob had already appeared in that movie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, an icy, poetic and yet lovingly made film about a woman and her mad scientist dad, who just wants to kidnap young ladies that share her facial features in hopes of grafting their skin onto her own disfigured mug. (That’s father of the year material right there.) Of course, nothing goes smoothly in the film’s narrative, and the whole thing ends in tears—plus a frenzy of canine bloodlust. Director Franju plays Eyes Without a Face in just the right register, balancing the unnerving, the perverse and the intimate, as the most enduring pulpy horror tales tend to do. If Franju gets to claim most of the credit for that, at least save a portion for Scob, whose eyes are the single best special effect in the film’s repertoire. Hers is a performance that stems right from the soul. —Andy Crump


50. The Seventh Seal

seventh-seal-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Max von Sydow, Bengt Ekerot, Bibi Andersson
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Like any cultural touchstone, any ubiquitous landmark of the arts more mitotically absorbed than actually experienced, The Seventh Seal is bound to be misremembered. We know well the chess game with Death (Bengt Ekerot), as well as Death’s get-up—a sort of gothic mix between Musketeer and monk—etched into the firmament of our pop obsessions (for most my age, it was in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey that the bone-white face and cape were first encountered), even if we’ve never actually seen the film. We know well the name of director Ingmar Bergman or that of star Max von Sydow, even if we aren’t familiar with their work, so ingrained into any working conception of “international cinema” are they, much of which is due to The Seventh Seal. We know well the dour chiaroscuro of Swedish cinema, the arch-symbolic pretension of art house stuff that squeezes all mirth from every orifice of the viewer. But do we forget how little of this movie is the chess game—how dimwitted Death can be? How funny The Seventh Seal actually is? “Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses?” asks knight Antonius Block (von Sydow). “What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren’t able to?” With The Seventh Seal, a simple story about a jaded knight returning from the Crusades to find that the world he fought for has seemingly been abandoned by God, Bergman sought clarity in the problem of faith—he wanted to map the vast spiritual terrain between experiencing and knowing, between feeling and believing. The reason why today the film still resonates, why we know the movie without having to experience it, is because of that clarity in Bergman’s vision: The Seventh Seal is all symbol, metaphor, allusion—but what it’s symbolic of, a metaphor for or alluding to isn’t too hard for any of us to figure. When the knight asks a question, God answers with silence—and there’s little humans understand better than how that feels. —Dom Sinacola

51. The Last Emperor

last-emperor.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Stars: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, Ying Ruocheng, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 162 minutes

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Epic barely begins to describe the scope of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Oscar-winning masterpiece which follows Pu Yi, Emperor of China at the age of three before the Ching Dynasty gave way to the first and second republics, Japanese occupation and eventually Communist rule. —Josh Jackson


52. Belly

belly--movie-poster.jpg Year: 1998
Director: Hype Williams
Stars: DMX, Nas, Method Man, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Taral Hicks
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16%
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Every hip-hop fan over the age of 25 has a particular era of rap that they consider to be untouchable, and for me it’s the late ‘90s/early 2000s. 1998, though, is an especially magical year: DMX dropped not one, but two great albums (his debut being a classic, and both going on to make him the first rapper to release two number one albums in one year). It’s also the year he starred in Belly alongside Nas and Method Man. The film’s soundtrack now stands not only as a great reflection of the gritty and simultaneously flashy Hype Williams movie, but also as one of the best examples of what hip-hop had become at the time. This was back when, for many of us, Roc-a-Fella records and the Ruff Ryders ruled the world. Putting DMX, Jay Z, Beanie Sigel and Ja Rule (before he started singing) all on one album would have been plenty, but when you throw in both a Wu-Tang track and a soulful and lyrically gangsta D’angelo favorite, along with one of the most intoxicating reggae/rap collaborations in history (I dare you to try and listen to “Top Shotter” just once), you have a classic. The Belly soundtrack (with production credits from the great Swizz Beatz, Poke & Tone, Diddy, Irv Gotti and others) functions like any great collection, in that it transports the listener back to the exact time and place it was created—it’s, like Williams’ film, timeless and, simultaneously, so specific to its time. At the risk of sounding like just another old head: We’ll never have something like this again, something, like the hip-hop that fills it, that will probably never be as brilliant, dark and untouchable as we got in Belly. —Shannon M. Houston


53. The 400 Blows

400-blows-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: François Truffaut
Stars: Jean?Pierre Léaud, Albert Rémy, Claire Maurier, Guy Decomble
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Sometimes a movie can be boiled down to its final shot. The Long Goodbye has Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould), unhurriedly strolling down a road in Mexico, playing his harmonica after killing his best friend. 8 ½ has young Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), bringing down the lights as he marches along with his flute, sending the audience out of the theater wondering whether his presence affirms life or nods to death. The 400 Blows has Antoine Doinel (Jean?Pierre Léaud) gamboling about on the coast before François Truffaut’s camera zooms in on the boy’s face, freezing the frame just as his eyes meet the lens. For anyone who saw Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, that description probably sounds familiar, but this shot has been long-copied since The 400 Blows became a part of the cinematic canon after its 1959 release. (For example: Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl, or even George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which both use a similar effect to achieve altogether different ends.) In Truffaut’s film, the shot is meant as a capstone, or, if you prefer, the closing of a book: It’s the climax of one chapter in Doinel’s life, though Truffaut probably didn’t have any thought of making sequels to the film to begin with. Questions linger as the credits roll, and of course they should. When one comes of age, their next age begins, and so The 400 Blows leaves itself open at the last, leaving us to consider what fate may befall Antoine from here. —Andy Crump


54. Dont Look Back

dont-look-back-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1967
Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 97 minutes

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“When I made Dont Look Back with Dylan, we just shook hands,” documentary icon D.A. Pennebaker said in 2011. “It was 50/50 … I think that bond means you will be fair about money, but it also means you’re not making the film just for yourself. You’re making it for the subject because it’s all he’ll ever have of that experience, and it should be as true for him as it is for you.” Far from a disposable fan item, Don’t Look Back is a bracing portrait of an artist colliding headlong with both his growing fame and the confusion of those in the press who don’t know how to approach this mercurial young man—or the generation he represented. Most famous for its iconic, much-parodied non sequitur opening—Dylan flipping white cards with lyrics from “Subterranean Homesick Blues”—Dont Look Back somehow manages to capture the promise of the decade’s counterculture movement, all embodied in a willful little genius who loved tormenting reporters and Donovan with equally bratty gusto.

Explaining the movie’s eternal appeal, Pennebaker used an analogy. “In the ’60s, every kid would buy certain records,” he once explained. “To their parents, the record covers were just pictures. But for [the kids] it was a whole secret symbolic language that told them what kind of dope to smoke, where things were hidden, where to go and all kinds of things they naturally needed to know. Film is one more way you can convey secret information. Dont Look Back provided coded information for people who didn’t want the other generation to know what they were really into. When the older generation looked at it, all they saw was out-of-focus, shaky pictures they weren’t used to.” —Tim Grierson


55. Se7en

seven.jpg Year: 1995
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: R
Runtime: 125 minutes

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Horror films had several high-profile crossovers with the crime/psychological thriller genres in the 1990s, with Seven as a prime example of the potent offspring of this union. Adding in a twist of nihilistic, world-weary neo-noir, the film endured the same indignities as The Silence of the Lambs when it came to the desire to strip the term “horror” away from it. Owing to the film’s A-list casting and strong performances, many critics seemed to want to call it anything but horror, but one look at the grotesque imagery of Seven should be all you need to classify it as such. And truly, grisly is the right word for the story here, one of the darkest that Fincher has ever presented. Each of the mangled bodies left behind by serial killer “John Doe” is arranged in a way that is truly theatrical in nature. It’s as if Doe took it upon himself to act as a set designer for how he wanted the film’s two detectives to behold and process each crime scene, arranging every aspect of the murders for maximum charnel house gruesomeness. Each one is a tableau that would no doubt make the likes of Mario Bava or Dario Argento proud—especially the “sloth” victim, who has been ceaselessly confined to a bed for a year until his body has almost completely withered away from inactivity. The “he’s alive!” revelation of that particular victim is one of the best pure jump scares in all of 1990s horror. Morgan Freeman’s detective William Somerset is the film’s emotional core, turning in an excellent performance as a jaded, retiring cop who has to be coaxed into reaffirming his duty and sense of responsibility to those he is sworn to serve. Conversely, Kevin Spacey is electric in his limited screen time as Doe, a mastermind villain who feigns detachment but secretly seems to be reveling in the attention he’s generating—a perfect hypocrite who is insufferable in exactly the right way. We want to see him shot, long before Brad Pitt has to ask about the contents of that fateful box in the film’s conclusion. —Jim Vorel


56. A Hidden Life

a-hidden-life-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 180 minutes

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You can see where this is going. It’s not prognostication, or a hunch. Director Terrence Malick, with his 10th film, draws fine lines from the quotidian—in this case that of peasant farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) and their family and their small, intimate rural community in 1930s Austria—to the extraordinary tragedy that waits at the end of the film. We understand the inevitable, can sense the sweep of Malick’s story within both the historical context he provides (that this is based on a real person) and the traumatic iconography we seem to take for granted in 2019. We know what terror lurks in the sound of planes overhead, lost in the echo of the Alps, or what it feels like to witness someone you thought you knew saying things you never thought possible. Malick conflates history and intuition to wrap a simple message in the folds of overwhelming emotion. He has nothing complicated to offer philosophically in contemplating one’s personal responsibility to oppose growing global fascism, and the repeated argument between Franz and literally everyone—that he should just pledge an oath to Hitler to keep his family safe, because an oath obviously means nothing compared to his life, let alone compared to the outcome of the war—becomes so redundant it takes on Biblical proportions. Instead, the director grasps with both hands, with stunning clarity, Franz’s life up until the moment he chooses his fate. Jörg Widmer films, in ceaseless handheld and cyclical movements, the boring work outdoors, the mundane chores, the rule-less games with his children, the long, ordinary walks to nowhere as luscious vistas limn practically every shot. We realize that such inevitability is the stuff of an existence filled with deep, lived-in affection: Scored by James Newton Howard, earning every ounce of that melodrama, Malick wants us understand not what happened, but why. Why this man refused paradise. Why paradise was his to refuse. A Hidden Life offers little consolation, but hope enough—that such courage can be more of an end that a means to one, the result of an increasingly rare time had on Earth, spent in the throes of honesty and love. —Dom Sinacola


57. An Angel at My Table

angel-at-my-table-criterion-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Kerry Fox, Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 159 minutes

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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


58. A Woman Under the Influence

woman-under-influence-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: John Cassavetes
Stars: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Katherine Cassavetes
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 155 minutes

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Popularly derided during much of his career, John Cassavetes left a body of work that, in retrospect—over 25 years after his death—seems more and more an uncompromising portrait of middle America: Here, he points, be dragons. And in A Woman Under the Influence, perhaps more than in any of his other films, Cassavetes’ characters are provided arguably no respite from their incomprehensible realities. For Mabel (Gene Rowlands) just as much for her husband Nick (Peter Falk), absolutely nothing makes sense, be it her devastating descent into mental illness or his inability to accept that his life is no longer the one he imagined. Cassavetes makes it clear that whatever tragic things happen to this family, none of it is particularly fair. There is only what happens and the consequences, and in A Woman Under the Influence, such indifference in the universe is told with painstakingly rich detail. —Dom Sinacola


59. Harlan County, USA

harlan-county-usa-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Barbara Kopple
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Kentucky, 1974. Brookside coal miners have tried to unionize, and their company, fearing a domino effect, refuses to sign their contract with the union, setting a 10-month strike into motion. Barbara Kopple and her mostly female crew made their Oscar-winning documentary after spending years with the miners, bravely following them to the picket line in spite of threats from company “scabs.” As a result, the scenes Kopple and her crew are privy to are riveting; she is knocked sideways in a hail of bullets, and witness to the solidarity as well as the squabbles of the tough-minded coalition of miner’s wives. It seems prescient that so much of the focus in Harlan County, USA is on women; Kopple seems interested in the ways deeply traditional portions of the U.S. still contained powerful matriarchal figures—women with voices and real political agency. Combining plaintive protest song with displays of the miners’ abject poverty, Kopple underlines the need for Brookside mining company to improve its workers’ living conditions—or else. —Christina Newland


60. Fast Five

fast-five-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Justin Lin
Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Gal Gadot, Sung Kang, Elsa Pataky
Genre: Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 131 minutes

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Early in Fast Five, director Justin Lin’s third film in the Fast & Furious—which just so happens to be the title of his previous film—franchise, U.S. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (The Rock) reminds his team of elite operatives, “And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.” Of course referring to a cadre of international outlaw thieves (?) led by Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) and ex-supercop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Hobbs is the first character in the storied series to just come in and state all of the previous films’ subtext out loud: These people’s symbiotic connection to automobiles makes them superheroes. What Dominic Torretto would then insist: Their symbiotic relationship to each other makes them gods. Because the magic of the Fast & Furious movies, crystallized in Fast Five, is that it finally realizes that the logical next step from a powerful relationship between man and machine is a powerful relationship between man and machine and man, everything operating in ultra-rare synergy down to the laws of physics, which bend to the will of our titular crew. Stealing $100 million but causing so much more in public property damage—it’s OK as long as a drug lord suffers most. Which he does, after Dom and Brian drag a multi-ton safe through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, reality at their mercy, justice (existential and cosmic) on their side. Fast Five isn’t stupid—it’s the saaviest movie in the bunch, the cornerstone of the series’ mega-success—just extremely comparable to Vin Diesel’s body: over-big, over-blunt and wielded with the overwhelming belief that the world revolves around it. When something’s got this much mass, it grows its own gravity. —Dom Sinacola


61. Life Is Beautiful

life-is-beautiful.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Roberto Benigni
Stars: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Italian writer, director, actor and concentrated ball of exuberance Roberto Benigni brought comedy to a story of a Nazi concentration camp without downplaying the tragedy. We all want to give our children their childhood, and Guido Orefice’s efforts to do just that make the horror all the more relatable. Pulling all the dark comedy from Rubino Romeo Salmonì’s book In the End, I Beat Hitler—based on the author’s own experiences at Auschwitz—the film won three Academy Awards including Best Actor for Benigni. The story tugs at heartstrings, but Benigni plays them so well, you’ll forgive any hint of emotional manipulation. —Josh Jackson


62. Rebel Without a Cause

rebel-without-a-cause-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: James Dean, Corey Allen, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 111 minutes

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If melodrama were high-octane fuel, Nicholas Ray’s emo masterpiece would soar off the end of a rocky bluff and keep flying forevermore. In fact, it’s difficult to not reach the end of the film’s emotionally churning two hours and not declare out loud, as if the room in which you watched it required it, “That was a fucking weird movie.” But then—teenagers are weird creatures, greasy sacs of megalomania, alien to both the demands of adulthood and to the scarier demands of their own bodies. Jim Stark (James Dean, painfully iconic) asks a father he barely respects whether he should prize honor above his own safety, but what he’s really talking about is whether he should care if the cool kids at school like him or not. All is hyperbole to a teenager; even indifference is a world-defining credo. A teenager cares the most about not caring so that when the game of chicken in which he reluctantly participated ends up killing some chump named Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen), he struggles to determine the course of his own fate rather than what will become of Buzz Gunderson’s loved ones, or what the metaphysical implications are of a human being wiped prematurely from reality. A teenager will even take the only chance he has, the night of Buzz Gunderson’s death, to court Buzz Gunderson’s girlfriend, the self-described “numb” girl next door (Natalie Wood). Add a skin-crawling performance from Sal Mineo as Plato, effortlessly conjuring both pity and revulsion in the viewer, and Rebel Without a Cause channels too perfectly the sociopathy of the American teen, perhaps more than any other movie able to convince even those who’ve already long passed puberty that growing up can be a really terrifying thing. —Dom Sinacola


63. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

bitter-tears-petra-von-kant-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Stars: Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: R
Runtime: 125 minutes

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The austerity of German New Wave’s enfant terrible and ridiculously prolific Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s emotionally sadomasochistic romance/character study is a bit of a joke. In the tormented relationship between Petra (Margit Carstensen), her muse Karin (Hanna Schygulla) and Petra’s silent and subservient assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann) is an air of deadpan terror and eroticism. Fassbinder distributes power unequally amongst the trio: Karin has her way with Petra, going hot to cold from one line to the next, while Petra regularly dismisses and disregards Marlene. The women around Petra von Kant—her mother, her friend, her daughter—all look back with varying amounts of awe and disgust as they recount their own interpersonal relationships and how those relationships are connected to Petra’s sense of self. For a fashion designer as haute as Petra, the archness of her affairs contrasts with her carefully designed looks, as each of Fassbinder’s characters bounces between the humanity of vulnerability and the artificiality of their cruelty. —Kyle Turner


64. Black Girl

black-girl-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1966
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Stars: Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Anne-Marie Jelinek, Momar Nar Sene
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: R
Runtime: 60 minutes

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Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène grew up a French citizen in the final throes of his country’s centuries-long period of colonialism, almost 40 when Senegal joined French Sudan to gain independence. Made six years after France transferred power, Black Girl, Sembène’s first feature-length film as writer and director (based off of his own short story), aches with wounds still lifetimes away from healing, worsened by the shallowness of a people (French) who just want to move on and with the humiliation and resentment of a lot more people (Africans) who physically live everyday—in their language and social structures and economic lots—surrounded by the reminders that they for so long were not their own. Sembène makes this divide dreadfully clear, telling the story of quiet Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), hired by a French family to serve as their nanny in Dakar, until they move back to the Riviera and encourage (expect) Diouana to go and live with them. Of course, once she arrives, the bitter, malicious Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek) expects her to cook and clean, callously stretching the bounds of Diouana’s duties as nanny into a kind of indentured servitude, exacerbated by Diouana’s inability to read and lack of money. She is, literally, stuck in France. Meanwhile, Sembène cuts to memories of Diouana’s life before she left Senegal, in which she lived in relative poverty but had family and boyfriend (Momar Nar Sene) to support her, telling her not to leave but still needing the money she could potentially earn. Juxtaposing these two realities, Sembène slowly crafts a vision of post-colonial slavery in a post-war world, building a tension that gives Diouana no choice but to tragically get out the only way she knows how. Despite whatever the Madame and her family had in mind, Diouana’s story could have ended no other way. —Dom Sinacola


65. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

fire-walk-with-me-poster.jpg Year: 1992
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Moira Kelly, David Bowie, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Isaac
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

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In retrospect, in light of The Return, David Lynch’s prequel to the Twin Peaks series emerges as an extraordinarily compassionate prayer in the midst of the director’s canon. If 25 years ago Fire Walk with Me bore a reputation for unnecessary brutality, nihilism even—booed at its Cannes premiere and a box office failure—today its brutality seems more necessary than ever, the depths of its bleakness matched only by just how deeply felt Lynch’s characters develop on screen. Everything, of course, feels weird, and somehow unsafe, though the horror we witness Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) survive and then succumb to is both rendered in all of its terrible boldness and tempered by Lynch’s inability to exploit the tragedy he unfolds.

This last week in Laura Palmer’s life, before she’s killed and bound within plastic, an image which still seems strange making it onto network TV then—this last week in Laura’s life passes with ever creeping intensity, malignant energies converging upon a poor girl’s soul. We learn the identity of her killer, though we probably should have known all along, because this is a David Lynch film, and the graphic, upsetting shitty absurdity of reality is always hiding in plain sight. Kiefer Sutherland and Chris Isaac are there too, playing FBI agents just as quirky and inevitably lovable as Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan); Agent Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) emerges from nowhere at a Philadelphia FBI building, then disappears as if ripped from our reality into another. Fire Walk with Mepretty much works that way: People—especially “women in trouble,” a Lynch favorite—cross over into the film from different worlds regularly, usually carried by pain and trauma, two powerful forces that Lynch uses against women at the hands of men, who are all pretty much vessels for evil, except for those in the FBI, who are damn good folks. Is it misogyny? Maybe, though Lynch seems to really hate men more than anyone else. —Dom Sinacola


66. M

m-fritz-lang-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1931
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Gustaf Gründgens, Inge Landgut
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 110 minutes

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It’s rather amazing to consider that M was the first sound film from German director Fritz Lang, who had already brought audiences one of the seminal silent epics in the form of Metropolis. Lang, a quick learner, immediately took advantage of the new technology by making sound core to M, and to the character of child serial killer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), whose distinctive whistling of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is both an effectively ghoulish motif and a major plot point. It was the film that brought Peter Lorre to Hollywood’s attention, where he would eventually become a classic character actor: the big-eyed, soft-voiced heavy with an air of anxiety and menace. Lang cited M years later as his favorite film thanks to its open-minded social commentary, particularly in the classic scene in which Beckert is captured and brought before a kangaroo court of criminals. Rather than throwing in behind the accusers, Lang actually makes us feel for the child killer, who astutely reasons that his own inability to control his actions should garner more sympathy than those who have actively chosen a life of crime. “Who knows what it is like to be me?” he asks the viewer, and we are forced to concede our unfitness to truly judge. —Jim Vorel


67. Wild Strawberries

wild-strawberries-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 93 minutes

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As befits a film about a physician, the most striking quality of Wild Strawberries is its surgical artistry. By the time of the movie’s release, Ingmar Bergman had 17 directorial credits to his name, and his experience shows in each of Wild Strawberries’ 93 minutes. His craftsmanship is seamless, to the effect that one might offhandedly dismiss the nuance of the film as perhaps obtuse, or overly vague, or even ambiguous. But they’re either missing the point or they haven’t lived enough of a life to recognize Wild Strawberries’ reflective power: This is a movie of self-consideration, art that captures the experience of looking at oneself in the mirror and being dismayed at what they see. Maybe you’re not as curmudgeonly as Victor Sjöström’s Isak Borg, because how could you be, but everyone has endured their share of disappointments and felt bouts of unhappiness in degrees and fits and spurts throughout their own existences. Wild Strawberries is all about the reconciling with such past discontent and finding a form of peace in your present, regardless of the roads you’ve taken to get there. —Andy Crump


68. Us

us-peele-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Tim Heidecker, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Us clarifies what Get Out implies. Even after only two films, Jordan Peele’s filmmaking seems preconfigured for precision, the Hitchcock comparisons just sitting there, waiting to be shoved between commas, while Peele openly speaks and acts in allusions. Us, like Get Out before it but moreso, wastes nothing: time, film stock, the equally precise capabilities of his actors and crew, real estate in the frame, chance for a gag. If his films are the sum of their influences, that means he’s a smart filmmaker with a lot of ideas, someone who knows how to hone down those ideas into stories that never bloat, though he’s unafraid to confound his audience with exposition or take easy shots—like the film’s final twist—that swell and grow in the mind with meaning the longer one tries to insist, if one were inclined to do so, that what Peele’s doing is easy at all. A family comedy studded with dread, then a home invasion thriller, then a head-on sci-fi horror flick, Us quickly acquaints us with the Wilson family: calming matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), gregarious dad Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter wise beyond her years Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and adorable epitome of the innocent younger brother, Jason (Evan Alex). Though far from shallow, the characters take on archetypal signifiers, whether it’s Zora’s penchant for running or that Gabe’s a big guy whose bulk betrays a softer heart, Peele never spoonfeeding cheap characterizations but just getting us on his wavelength with maximum efficiency. Us isn’t explicitly about race, but it is about humanity’s inherent knack for Othering, for boxing people into narrow perspectives and then holding them responsible for everyone vaguely falling within a Venn diagram. Regardless of how sufficiently we’re able to parse what’s actually going on (and one’s inclined to see the film more than once to get a grip) the images remain, stark and hilarious and horrifying: a child’s burned face, a misfired flare gun, a cult-like spectacle of inhuman devotion, a Tim Heidecker bent over maniacally, walking as if he’s balanced on a thorax, his soul as good as creased. Divorced from context, these moments still speak of absurdity—of witty one-liners paired with mind-boggling horror—of a future in which we’ve so alienated ourselves from ourselves that we’re bound to cut that tether that keeps us together, sooner or later, and completely unravel. We are our undoing. So let the Hitchcock comparisons come. Peele deserves them well enough. Best not to think about it too hard, to not ruin a good thing, to demand that Us be anything more than sublimely entertaining and wonderfully thoughtful, endlessly disturbing genre filmmaking. —Dom Sinacola


69. Three Kings

three-kings.jpg Year: 1999
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Spike Jonze, Ice Cube, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Action & Adventure, War
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Three Kings is a war movie which, as it moves ever less-casually along, attempts to figure out what a war movie even is anymore. Set at the butt-end of the Gulf War, the film begins as an odd bacchanalia of boredom, contorting through a handful of genres and Desert Storm misadventures to arrive, inevitably, at the conclusion that, Oh, yeah, Actually, it turns out that war can’t be boring. Director David O. Russell has his faults—and even a cursory reading into this movie’s production will give you plenty of anecdotes about how much of a heel he is—but he’s not too naïve to claim he can sum up that conflict and the U.S.’s role by portraying its participants as hedonists and potential career criminals, partying and plundering their way through a passive desert land with nothing better to do. So, as four soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Spike Jonze and Ice Cube) embark on a Kuwaiti gold heist based on information found within an ass map—a map protruding from an Iraqi POW’s ass—Russell explores what the responsibilities of these men could be when their only responsibilities (occupying, killing, standing around) are no longer all that urgent. Camaraderie, brotherhood, moral fortitude: all of it gone from Russell’s wonky post-war flick, replaced with a refreshing sense of surprise all but extinct from most movies dealing with the same moral gray of modern capitalist violence. —Dom Sinacola


70. Pom Poko

pom-poko-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1994
Director: Isao Takahata
Stars: Kokondei Shinchou, Makoto Nonomura, Yuriko Ishida
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Comedy, Drama, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Pom Poko is the type of film that feels inconvertible from its cultural origin. Forget trying to make this one more palatable for Western sensibilities; Pom Poko doubles down on the qualities that identify it as Japanese film and brandishes them proudly for all to see. Although better known for his realistic human dramas rendered through increasingly more experimental animation techniques, Isao Takahata made Pom Poko his first foray into full-on fantasy farce, depicting the story of a clan of Japanese raccoon dogs (known as “tanuki”) whose home is ravaged by urban development. Emboldened both to defend their home and possibly learn to peacefully coexist alongside the humans, the tanuki retrain themselves in their lost ancestral ability of transformation to disguise themselves in modern society. But what distinguishes Pom Poko as such a unique cultural curiosity? The answer is simple: balls. Or, to be more descriptive, the on-screen prominence of the tanuki’s testicles as they use them in increasingly more inventive ways to disguise or defend themselves. Though surprisingly non-explicit and unquestionably coded as a children’s comedy film, this aspect might turn off potential audiences from exploring it and perhaps explains why the movie is relatively so unknown even among ardent Studio Ghibli fans. Still, Pom Poko is a brilliant slapstick take on traditional Japanese mythology—something of a cross between Watership Down meets The Gods Must Be Crazy—that’s full of zany and inventive animation and genuine emotional depth. If you’ve always yearned in your heart of hearts for a Studio Ghibli film where a pack of anthropomorphic raccoons use their gigantic testicles as bludgeoning weapons in a last stand against police officers, rest assured because your prayers have been answered. —Toussaint Egan


71. Capturing the Friedmans

capturing-friedmans.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Andrew Jarecki
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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


72. Something Wild

something_wild_poster.jpg
Year: 1986
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, Ray Liotta, Tracey Walter, Jack Gilpin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Something Wild offers the odd-couple pairing of Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels), a vice-president of a banking company living a comfortable existence in a Long Island suburb, and Audrey Hankel (Melanie Griffith), a free-spirited woman seemingly without attachments, but also with a lot of money at her disposal to fund her devil-may-care ways. At first introducing herself to Charles as Lulu, Audrey basically ropes this yuppie into following her on a bizarre road trip throughout a good part of the East Coast—an adventure that, true to genre form, encompasses everything from screwball comedy to violent thriller, with the tone often shifting on a dime. Certainly, Demme’s film lives up to its title in the all-over-the-place story it weaves, but the film is more than just the sum of its deliberately disparate parts—especially because neither of these two characters can be easily pinned down as types. The first time we see Charles in the film, he’s walking away from a diner having not paid for his meal—an act he later justifies as his way of rebelling within the system. Whether that is in fact true or not, it’s nevertheless clear that he does have certain unruly impulses in him just itching to pop out—which naturally catches the eye of someone like Audrey, who has made such unruliness her life’s mantra. But Audrey isn’t simply the kind of character who would later become known as the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Audrey and especially Charles do learn new things about themselves during this odyssey, but it’s not as simple as Audrey learning the dangers of her unfettered lifestyle and Charles becoming more of a bad-ass by embracing that same lifestyle. Instead of being about self-improvement, Something Wild is more about self-awareness: a realization of how complex human beings can be. —Kenji Fujishima


73. Dragged Across Concrete

dragged-across-concrete-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Stars: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Rating: R
Runtime: 158 minutes

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It’s more apt a title than most to describe the manner in which writer-director S. Craig Zahler pulls us from place to place over the course of a few days in the lives of old school cops Brett (Mel Gibson) and Anthony (Vince Vaughn). We meet them in the few hushed minutes before they brutalize a suspect; they seem much too self-aware and articulate to be as racist as one would assume, given their propensity for violence, and Zahler never quite justifies nor condemns their copious, morally questionable (and often despicable) actions. All in the name of supporting their families under the threat of losing their jobs, so they say; Zahler gives fascinating, quick-witted lines and hilarious rapport and insightful mini-soliloquies to his two leads, so he obviously wants them to be remembered as tragic figures more than outright villains. Equally venomous and Victorian, offensive and outraged, Dragged Across Concrete is a potboiler in the purest sense, a wicked tale of two cops putting their skills to more lucrative use, a sad bit of pulp that describes our current economic despair as tonally on-point as the economic despair of any American decade since forever—a movie about racist white cops starring Mel Gibson and his notable Hollywood conservative friend, Vince Vaughn. Were one to overlook Zahler’s obvious mastering of atmosphere and dread and bleakly compelling genre indulgence, one would find Problematic: The Movie, a measured provocation meant to make questionable choices in order to—if we’re being charitable—ultimately condemn these two men to the loser’s heap of history. Unlike the endings to Zahler’s previous films, Bone Tomahawk and the endlessly entertaining Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete’s final half hour exhausts itself to an inevitable, somber conclusion. The right person has won, but only at the cost of great trauma in his wake. And as for Brett and Anthony, their defeat is swift, melacholic and, perhaps best of all, stupid: Zahler’s final refutation for the very beliefs he also seems, sometimes and unfortunately, to be all about. —Dom Sinacola


74. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

when-the-levees.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Spike Lee
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 255 minutes

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


75. A Fish Called Wanda

movie poster fish called wanda.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Charles Crichton
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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This ensemble piece shows what can happen when four skilled comic actors (John Cleese, fellow Monty Python alum Michael Palin, Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis) are given a script (written by Cleese) that puts them all on equal footing. The result is a tour-de-force of crisply delivered, character-driven comedy that, while tough on old ladies, fish and terriers, continues to reward new and returning viewers. (The film also broke through the Academy’s normal bias against comedies, winning Kevin Kline a richly deserved Best Supporting Actor for his role as Otto.) —Michael Burgin


76. Down By Law

down_by_law_poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Barkin
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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What makes Down By Law the quintessential Jarmusch film is in the deliberate exclusion of a sequence most other directors would have turned into their calling card. Two innocent inmates (John Lurie and Tom Waits) are joined by a third prisoner (Roberto Benigni), who is guilty but has a pretty airtight argument for self-defense. While playing cards, they discuss various exciting prison break scenes in film history, which motivates Benigni’s character to mention that he has a foolproof plan of escape. After a scene that references such cinematic moments, Jarmusch directly cuts to the prisoners already running away from prison, having cut the escape sequence all together. Jarmusch succinctly demonstrates that he isn’t interested in action but is far more fascinated by the individual quirks and mannerisms of his characters, while the dialogue that references such other prison break films expresses how deeply American mainstream pop culture has defined a big part of his personality. —Oktay Ege Kozak


77. When We Were Kings

when-we-were-kings-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Leon Gast
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 84 minutes

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This Oscar-winning look at the October 1974 heavweight boxing match between champion George Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali is a thrilling document of not only the hype leading up to the event, but the sociopolitical climate in its host nation, Zaire. The capital city of Kinshasa was essentially operating as a police state, the republic at large under Mobutu Sese Seko’s dictatorship, while the Black Power movement was gaining momentum. So the fight, orchestrated by ever-calculating Don King, was more than a cultural event—it encapsulated a pivotal moment in contemporary Black history. So too does Leon Gast’s electrifying portrait, tracing Ali’s return to the ring after his anti-Vietnam stance cost him his title, and characterizing Foreman’s seemingly undefeatable Olympian. That we know now what was then an unthinkable outcome, and yet are still on the edge of our seats, is Gast’s own triumph. His way with the larger-than-life subjects puts into context just how extraordinary “The Rumble in the Jungle” was, with edits and pacing as sharp as Ali’s left hook. —Amanda Schurr


78. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

symbiopsychotaxiplasm-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1968
Director: William Greaves
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 76 minutes

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Symbiopsychotaxiplasm meta-weaves three interconnected parts into one unnerving synthesis: 1) a documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff; 2) a documentary of the documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff; and 3) a documentary about the documentary of the documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff, wherein the director of the first documentary also happens to be directing the third documentary to capture additional footage of people in Central Park that has something tangentially to do with “sexuality,” which may or may not be what Over a Cliff is about. That the first documentary seems to be only the repeated filming of different actors having the same offensively tone-deaf conversation is but one point of contention; that the crew can’t seem to possibly grasp what’s going on, let alone get any sort of coherent idea about what they’re supposed to be doing from director Bill Greaves, makes much of the film feel like an inchoate disaster. Which of course compels the crew to gather, apart from Greaves, in a sort of mutiny room to discuss whether they should continue with the production, filming that meeting with full intention of giving the footage to Greaves at the end of whatever it is they’re doing, whenever it is that will happen—all the while debating if, somehow, Greaves orchestrated the whole thing, because there’s no way the audience will know what’s staged and what’s not. And we don’t. So when later Greaves gathers the crew to hear their dissent and then—shutting them down like the genius badass he is—plainly tell them that he did orchestrate all of this, we immediately call into question how easily any kind of film, whether it’s fictional or not, can manipulate our experience of truth—no matter what side of the camera we happen to find ourselves on. —Dom Sinacola


79. Boogie Nights

boogie-nights.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 152 minutes

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Although Boogie Nights was Paul Thomas Anderson’s first epic production with an ensemble cast, time and perspective show it’s his closest brush with perfection. The auteur specializes in building up characters to break them down, and no one in his 1997 exploration of the pornography business is exempt from his deconstructive impulses: Few directors balance the hilarious and harrowing so seamlessly, and even fewer rely on dramatic irony to achieve both. Boogie Nights may be amusing because its characters—from Mark Wahlberg’s young rising star, to Julianne Moore’s fading starlet, to Burt Reynold’s once-famous director who must deal with an industry changing without him—are so hapless, but their ignorance is equally heartbreaking; they earnestly desire to make a good product, even if they struggle to figure out what constitutes quality anymore. Anderson’s fictional pornographers may desperately and futilely cling to a time before video and amateur acting, but Anderson himself managed to put out a two-and-a-half hour film that is careful to never overstay its welcome—even when it asks for “one last thing.” —Allie Conti


80. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

paradise-lost-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 150 minutes

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


81. School of Rock

school_of_rock_poster.jpg
Year: 2003
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Joan Cusack,
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 minutes

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School of Rock gets plenty of comic mileage of the fact that Jack Black’s character, Dewey Finn, isn’t nearly as book smart as his students: “You’re gonna have to use your head, and your brain, and your mind, too,” he tells them. But it’s Dewey who uses his head, brain and mind as he becomes musical mentor, creator of lesson plans and manipulator of an inflexible educational system. (With school music programs being slashed at schools nationwide, School of Rock was ahead of its time.)

School of Rock doesn’t go overboard on the sentimental aspects—it establishes that young guitarist Zach has a controlling, overbearing father without beating the audience over the head with it. And while it advocates giving children a means of self-expression and catharsis, it doesn’t elevate rock music into something more than it should be.—Curt Holman


82. American Splendor

american-splendor.jpg Year: 2003
Directors: Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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


83. Buena Vista Social Club

buean-vista-social-club-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Wim Wenders
Genre: Documentary, Musical
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: G
Runtime: 105 minutes

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A good 15 years before Obama moved to lift the embargo, Wim Wenders helmed this exuberant introduction to a members club in Havana that closed in the 1940s, only to find worldwide popularity in the 1990s. Wenders’ camera follows his friend, American musician Ry Cooder, as he gets the band of legendary Cuban talents back together for an album and a few transcontinental performances. The soundtrack is, unsurprisingly, exceptional. So too are the individual players and their stories: Take Ibrahim Ferrer, a soft-spoken septuagenarian with a dulcet falsetto, or Omara Portuondo, a soulful chanteuse and dancer who once performed with Nat King Cole. Wenders’ film is more than just a journey of discovery for Cooder and his accompanying son Joachim, or for the group’s members, many of whom had never been to the U.S. (where they sold out Carnegie Hall); it’s the viewer’s passport to an indigenous African-Spanish sound theretofore blockaded by politics. Back in the studio, back in front of a crowd, back with each other, the Club’s members are positively radiant. It’s damned near impossible for audiences to not bask in that warmth. —Amanda Schurr


84. The Night Porter

night-porter-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Liliana Cavani
Stars: Charlotte Rampling, Dirk Bogarde, Philippe Leroy
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Much as Pasolini attempted to deconstruct the evils of fascism through sadomasochism, Liliana Cavani with The Night Porter attempted a similar feat. Fifteen years after the end of World War Two, a former Concentration Camp SS officer (Dirk Bogarde) runs into a former victim, a child-prisoner in his concentration camp, while he now works as a meek night porter at a Vienna hotel. As flashbacks reveal the violent and sexual nature of their previous meeting, they resume a charged affair that revisits the trauma and painful power imbalance of many years earlier. As if caught in that initial time period of trauma, the pair continue their sadomasochistic relationship; the violent nature of their pairing escalates while the pair slowly starve. Controversial since it was first screened—Ebert awarded it just one star; The New York Times referred to it as a “piece of junk”—the film has nonetheless found staying power for better or for worse among critical circles. Though through a very unconventional lens, The Night Porter tackles the convoluted co-dependency of humiliation, survival and victimhood in the contemporary era. While daring (perhaps even occasionally silly), the film is ultimately held together by its actors, as Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling are not only two of the most talented actors in cinema history, but among the sexiest as well. —Justine Smith


85. Day of the Dead

day-of-the-dead-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Although Dawn will probably always have more esteem, and is significantly more culturally important, Day of the Dead is my personal favorite of George Romero’s zombie films, and I don’t think it ever quite gets the respect it deserves. It comes along at a sort of sweet spot for the director—bigger budget, more ambitious ideas and Tom Savini at the zenith of his powers as a practical effects artist. The human characters this time are scientists and military living in an underground bunker, which for the first time in the series gives us a wider view of what’s been going on since the dead rose. This film reintroduces the science back into zombie flicks, finally making one of the main characters a scientist (Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan, played by Richard Liberty) who has had some time to study the zombies in the relative safety of a lab. As such, the movie redefines the attributes of the classic Romero ghoul—they’re dumb, but not entirely unintelligent, and some of them can even be trained to use tools and possibly remember certain aspects of their previous lives. That of course brings us to “Bub,” (Sherman Howard) maybe the single most iconic zombie in Romero’s oeuvre, who displays a unique level of personality and even humor. Day of the Dead ultimately takes a monster that audiences thought they knew pretty well at this point and suggests that perhaps they were only just scratching the surface of the subgenre’s potential. —Jim Vorel


86. Her Smell

her-smell-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Amber Heard, Cara Delevigne, Ashley Benson, Dan Stevens, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes

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Her Smell chronicles the fall and rise of Elisabeth Moss’s Becky Something, a Courtney Love surrogate and frontwoman of the punk rock band Something She; Becky talks like a Wonderland character but acts like an uncaged animal. Moss being an actress whose greatest asset is her eyes, and Perry being a filmmaker who fixates on the human gaze, Becky spends the movie staring either at other characters or into the camera. Her eyes burn like toxic twin moons. The movie’s first three quarters light the match of her self-immolation. In the punk rock world there’s little more stultifying than commercial success; add in a poisonous personality and an enthusiastic drug habit and Becky’s unmaking—by her own hand—is assured. Yet, the film’s final act redeems her, such as Perry’s movies redeem anyone. In contrast to his other work, Her Smell is compassionate, even tender; Becky, later seen sober, washed up and repentant for her years as a monster fed on abusing her ex-husband (Dan Stevens), her bandmates (Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin) and her mother (Virginia Madsen), sings a devastatingly moving cover of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to her daughter in a moment equally as gentle as it is painful. Even in the recovery phase, Her Smell delicately walks a perilous tightrope and arrives on the other side as the masterpiece of Perry’s career. —Andy Crump


87. Bessie

bessie.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Dee Rees
Stars: Queen Latifah, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mo’Nique, Charles S. Dutton, Mike Epps
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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


88. Ad Astra

ad-astra-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: James Gray
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut from a “future near to ours,” who, when we meet him, is somehow surviving an explosion from an international space station by using his preternatural ability to control his heart rate and his breathing, remaining calm in the face of mortal peril. The explosion was caused by a series of solar flares that, it’s learned, may be caused by an experiment years before led by Roy’s father, Griffin (Tommy Lee Jones), who was thought to have died but may be alive and in fact may have sabatoged the mission. Government officials, fearing the flares could end up destroying all life on planet Earth, want Roy to send a message to Griffin’s ship, hopefully persuading him to halt the flares and come back home. Roy, who hasn’t seen his father since he was a teenager, isn’t sure the mission’s going to work…but he’s haunted by his own demons, demons not entirely disconnected from his father. If this sounds like an exciting space yarn, know that director James Gray is in a much more meditative state here: The film is more about the mystery of the soul of man than it is about the mystery of the universe, or even about some big spaceship fights. The universe is the backdrop to the story of a man and his thwarted issues with his father, and his inability to connect with anyone else in the world because of it. Like many of Gray’s films, Ad Astra is about the depths one can find within oneself, how far down anyone can climb and hide. Pitt wouldn’t seem like the ideal actor for a part like that—charisma drips off him so effortlessly that it leaves a trail behind him wherever he goes—but he’s impressive at playing a man who doesn’t understand himself but suspects the answer to the riddle that has vexed him his whole life must be in this man who gave him life but whom he never really knew. There’s a reserve here that Pitt draws on that works well for him; it’s a serious performance, but it never feels showy. He is searching for something, knowing full well he probably won’t find it. Gray does provide some thrills on the journey of father to find son, and they are extremely well-crafted, particularly a battle with space pirates on the moon that takes place in a world without both gravity and sound. And in Pitt he has a solid emotional center that the audience will still follow anywhere, even if it’s to the ends of the solar system just to confront his daddy issues. —Will Leitch


89. The Tale

tale-hbo-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Jennifer Fox
Stars: Queen Latifah, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mo’Nique, Charles S. Dutton, Mike Epps
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 114 minutes

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


90. Wonder Woman

wonder-woman-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen
Genre: Superhero, Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 141 minutes

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Considering that the character of Wonder Woman was the only one in Batman v Superman who didn’t want to yank your eyeballs out of your head with a spork, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Wonder Woman is lightyears better than anything else the newfangled DC cinematic universe has produced. It’s not quieter necessarily, but it is more measured, more comfortable in its own skin, less fanboy desperate to keep waving keys in front of your face—exploding keys—to make sure it has the full attention of all your assaulted senses. It feels almost old-fashioned in its themes of the goodness of humanity—and the debate alien outsiders have about whether or not humans are worthy of redemption—and the selflessness of one for a greater good. It still has too many skyscraper-sized god-monsters blowing up whole acres in hackneyed super slo-mo, and it doesn’t have much you haven’t seen before, but that it simply tells one story in linear order with logical progression…man, when it comes to these movies, it almost feels like a miracle. —Will Leitch


91. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

teen-titans-go-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
Stars: Greg Cipes, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage
Genre: Superhero, Animation, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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


92. Election

election.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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A high-school election for student body president turns into a darkly comic satire on politics and sexuality in one of Alexander Payne’s uproarious takedowns of Midwestern values. The election turns into a struggle of wills between Matthew Broderick’s wormy high-school teacher and Reese Witherspoon’s overbearing know-it-all Tracy Flick, but resentful mediocrity doesn’t stand a chance against relentless ambition. With a hyper-capable schoolkid surrounded by hilariously flawed characters, Election could be Rushmore’s cynical classmate.—Curt Holman


93. Bridesmaids

bridesmaids.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 125 minutes

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Unlike The Hangover, which was basically a long comedy sketch, Bridesmaids is actually a movie. This is always the big question when it comes to comedies. Should you aspire to make a full cinematic experience and risk coming up short (Wedding Crashers) or do you simply shoot for non-stop emotionless laughs and achieve wild success at a less transcendent achievement (Anchorman). Bridesmaids is thoroughly hilarious, complete-narrative cinema thanks to the brilliance of Kristen Wiig. And it has staying power in the typically bro-dominated pantheon of film comedy. —Ryan Carey


94. The Kid Who Would Be King

kid-who-would-be-king-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Joe Cornish
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Kids & Family
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 120 minutes

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What better time to retell the King Arthur origin story as a witty, charming and rousing family fantasy/adventure? The Kid Who Would Be King reminds its core audience—and perhaps even some adults—that we might still find hope in our future leaders if passé values like compassion, chivalry, compromise, virtue and honor are remixed back into society. Any creative tasked with reinvigorating a public domain myth would do well to take notes from writer-director Joe Cornish’s thrillingly fresh take on the Arthurian legend. The legend tells, in the form of boisterous opening narration accompanied by some colorful children’s textbook animation, that Arthur and his brave knights were able to defeat Arthur’s evil sister, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), and cast her into the bowels of hell. However, Morgana vowed to come back and cover the land in darkness when the land is once again bitterly divided the way it was before Arthur’s time. Cut to post-Brexit England, where half the country despises the other half, which Morgana understandably takes as an invitation to unleash her army of minions to take back the land. Will a hero of Arthurian stature show up to challenge her once again? That hero, in true ’80s-style children’s fantasy fashion, comes in the form of a meek but pure-of-heart 12-year-old named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, an 11 on the instant adorability meter), who not only has to contend with the surrounding culture and media constantly reminding him how his country’s about to implode, but has to defend himself and his even nerdier best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), against school bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). Those familiar with the Arthurian legend might predict where this story’s going simply by looking at the character names, but Cornish’s specialty, as evidenced by his terrific London alien invasion adventure Attack the Block, lies is in applying sci-fi/fantasy tropes to invigorating new settings. The Kid Who Would Be Kid hits the family classic trifecta: Spectacular fun for kids and adults, full of important themes and a rebellious attitude in regard to the wide range of things grownups are messing up. —Oktay Ege Kozak


95. Man Bites Dog

man-bites-dog-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1992
Directors: Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde
Stars: Rémy Belvaux, Benoît Poelvoorde, Andre Bonzel
Genre: Comedy, Thriller, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NC-17
Runtime: 97 minutes

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An undeniable forebear to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Man Bites Dog won the International Critics’ Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival, only to receive an NC-17 rating upon its US release, banned in Sweden altogether. One can understand the squeamishness: Man Bites Dog unflinchingly portrays serial murder in its graphic banality, victims ranging from children to the elderly to a gang-raped woman whose corpse is later photographed with her entrails spilling all over the table on which she was violated, the perpetrators lying in drunken post-revelry, heaped on the floor. Filmed as a mockumentary, Man Bites Dog goes to distressing lengths to portray the exigencies of murder as basely as possible, incorporating the reluctance of the crew filming such horrors to offer the audience a reflection of the ways they were probably reacting. The fascinated sorrow expressed by the documentary film’s director (Rémy Belvaux) as he realizes what making a documentary film about a serial killer actually means, becoming more and more complicit with the killings as the film goes on, explicitly points to our willingness as bystanders to stomach the horrors displayed. Still, we react viscerally while the film explores conceptual themes of true crime as pop culture commodity and reality TV as detrimental mitigation of truth, ultimately indicting viewers apt to enjoy this movie while simultaneously catering to them. Benoit (Benoît Poelvoorde), the subject of the faux film, is of course an incredibly intelligent societal outcast beset by xenophobia and misogyny, offering up countless neuroses to explore behind his psychopathy and serial murder, which he treats as a legitimate job. But Man Bites Dog is more about the ways in which we consume a movie like Man Bites Dog, concerned less about the flagrant killing it indulges for laughs than it is the laughs themselves, implying that the real blame for such well-known horror falls at our feet, in which each day we take big, basic steps to normalize the violence and hate that constantly surrounds us. —Dom Sinacola


96. Godzilla vs. Hedorah

godzilla-vs-hedorah-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Yoshimitsu Banno
Stars: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Yoshimitsu Banno’s only Godzilla entry, the wonderfully weird Godzilla vs. Hedorah from 1971, not only splits the Showa Era into two halves, between Ishiro Honda’s work and a string of much more comedic Jun Fukuda joints, but manifests Honda’s existential anxiety—over nuclear devastation, ecological obliteration, industrial exploitation, natch—into a literal Pollution Monster. The chonky blob (sometimes a bipedal heap of muck, sometimes a kind of exhaust-fueled flying arthropod) feeds off of smog and devours people whole with its sludge, able to break apart and reconfigure, given to infiltrating various psychedelic dance clubs. A shapeless, viral force of destruction pit against a groovy society just finally getting used to its grooviness, Hedorah represents the earliest days of the Godzilla franchise as a clash of dissonant tones and intent, a bloodletting of encroaching modernism. Juxtaposing psychedelic music and cartoons with grim tableaux of corpses and (real shots of) toxic waste, Hedorah is at odds with its own franchise as much as it’s of a piece with the franchise’s pervasive distress at the way in which we treat our world. —Dom Sinacola


97. Schizopolis

schizopolis.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Steven Soderbergh, Dave Jensen, Betsy Brantley, Eddie Jemison
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Everything and nothing at all, Schizopolis came about in the midst of a prolific period for Steven Soderbergh—though one could say that for practically any movie he’s made throughout his career. Released the same year as Gray’s Anatomy, and on the heels of King of the Hill and The Underneath, one an award-winning bildungsroman and the latter a remake of a Robert Siodmak noir, Schizopolis puts something of a cap on the notion of Soderbergh as auteur. Here he seems capable of making any kind of movie he wants to make—this time a largely improvised experimental comedy shot on a quick-and-dirty microbudget, pretty much between breakfast and dinner. And, as further testament to Soderbergh’s weird pandextrousness, Schizopolis feels inextricably of its time, mapping in broad, absurd strokes the way meaningful communication has become a lost privilege of a technologically advancing society. As Soderbergh himself (who also stars) states in a prelude to the actual film: “In the event that you find certain sequences or ideas confusing, please bear in mind that this is your fault, not ours.” As a director in full control of even his most tossed-off films, he’s probably right. —Dom Sinacola


98. Scanners

scanners.jpg Year: 1981
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Michael Ironside, Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Everything to love about David Cronenberg rests squishy and bulging in Scanners—but this is before The Fly, before Videodrome, before Dead Ringers, and long before Naked Lunch—and so everything we love about Cronenberg is in Scanners, squishy and bulging and also with the slight gleam of nascent dew. To be sure, the body horror is egregious, and its tension visceral, but the bonus of Scanners is that, still so early in his career, Cronenberg had an obviously dubious time trying to figure out what kind of films he wanted to make. Sci-fi thriller, old-timey cyberpunk, grody procedural—Cronenberg litters his typical themes of transformation and transmutation throughout a story that, at practically any moment, feels like it could turn completely on its head. A head which would then, in a firework of brains and bone, explode—nothing if a gratuitous sign of genius things to come. —Dom Sinacola


99. Safety Last!

safety-last-poster.jpg Year: 1923
Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Stars: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother
Genre: Silent, Comedy, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 80 minutes

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“I shouldn’t have bothered scoring the last 15 minutes,” Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra told me after accompanying Safety Last! at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. He said he and his ensemble couldn’t even hear themselves over the uproarious laughter in the Castro Theatre during Harold Lloyd’s famous building-scaling sequence. The scene, with its iconic clock-hanging finale—is such a perfect mix of suspense and comedy that it doesn’t much matter that the rest of the film seems to exist merely as a lead-up. —Jeremy Mathews


100. The Invisible Man

invisible-man-2020-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Aided by elemental forces, her exquisitely wealthy boyfriend’s Silicon Valley house blanketed by the deafening crash of ocean waves, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) softly pads her way out of bed, through the high-tech laboratory, escaping over the wall of his compound and into the car of her sister (Harriet Dyer). We wonder: Why would she run like this if she weren’t abused? Why would she have a secret compartment in their closet where she can stow an away bag? Then Cecilia’s boyfriend appears next to the car and punches in its window. His name is Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and according to Cecilia, Adrian made a fortune as a leading figure in “optics” (OPTICS!) meeting the self-described “suburban girl” at a party a few years before. Never one to be subtle with his themes, Leigh Whannell has his villain be a genius in the technology of “seeing,” in how we see, to update James Whale’s 1933 Universal Monster film—and H.G. Wells’ story—to embrace digital technology as our primary mode of modern sight. Surveillance cameras limn every inch of Adrian’s home; later he’ll use a simple email to ruin Cecilia’s relationship with her sister. He has the money and resources to peer into any corner of Cecilia’s life. His gaze is unbroken. Cecilia knows that Adrian will always find her, and The Invisible Man is rife with the abject terror of such vulnerability. Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio have a knack for letting their frames linger with space, drawing our attention to where we, and Cecilia, know an unseen danger lurks. Of course, we’re always betrayed: Corners of rooms and silhouette-less doorways aren’t empty, aren’t negative, but pregnant with assumption—until they aren’t, the invisible man never precisely where we expect him to be. We begin to doubt ourselves; we’re punished by tension, and we feel like we deserve it. It’s all pretty marvelous stuff, as much a well-oiled genre machine as it is yet another showcase for Elisabeth Moss’s herculean prowess. —Dom Sinacola

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