The 50 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (July 2024)

Movies Lists Hulu
The 50 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (July 2024)

The best movies on Hulu span international hits and cheeky originals, with its curated selection fitting squarely between the content glut of Netflix and the highly selective Criterion Channel. More experimental than its peers, Hulu’s film library offers a surprising range of arthouse picks and Hollywood blockbusters. Still, navigating this catalog and finding something great to watch could stand to be a bit simpler. That’s where we come in.

Our 2024 list of the best movies on Hulu is updated weekly, reflecting movies that have left the service due to streaming churn and those that have been added. Sure, Hulu is best known for its TV arsenal, but its movies shouldn’t be discounted. In particular, the streamer’s relationship with the distributor Neon means that ton of excellent indies find their home here after they wow us in the theater. So whether you’re after A Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s scintillating romantic drama or the updated sci-fi action of Prey, Hulu has you covered—and so do we.

Here are the 50 best movies on Hulu right now:

1. Aliens

Year: 1986
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn
Rating: R
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi

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

2. Akira

Year: 1988
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Stars: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama
Rating: R
Genre: Sci-Fi, Animation

The sum total of anime cinema from the early ’90s to present day is marked by the precedent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Adapted from the early chapters of Otomo’s landmark manga series, Akira was the most expensive animated film of its time and cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Set thirty-one years after after World War III was sparked by a massive explosion that engulfed the city of Tokyo, Akira is set in the sprawling metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of the former and teetering precariously on the cusp of social upheaval. The film follows the stories of Kaneda Shotaro and Tetsuo Shima, two members of a youth motorcycle gang whose lives are irrevocably changed one fateful night on the outskirts of the city. While clashing against a rival bike gang during a turf feud, Tetsuo crashes into a strange child and is the promptly whisked away by a clandestine military outfit while Kaneda and his friends look on, helplessly. From then, Tetsuo begins to develop frightening new psychic abilities as Kaneda tries desperately to mount a rescue. Eventually the journeys of these two childhood friends will meet and clash in a spectacular series of showdowns encircling an ominous secret whose very origins rest at the dark heart of the city’s catastrophic past: a power known only as “Akira.” Like Ghost in the Shell that followed it, Akira is considered a touchstone of the cyberpunk genre, though its inspirations run much deeper than paying homage to William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Akira is a film whose origins and aesthetic are inextricably rooted in the history of post-war Japan, from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the “Anpo” student protests of that era to the country’s economic boom and the then-nascent counterculture of Bosozoku racing. Akira is a film of many messages, the least of which a coded anti-nuclear parable and a screed against wanton capitalism and the hubris of “progress.” But perhaps most poignantly, at its heart, it is the story of watching your best friend turn into a monster. Akira is almost singlehandedly responsible for the early 1990s boom in anime in the West, its aesthetic vision rippling across every major art form, inspiring an entire generation of artists, filmmakers and even musicians in its wake. For these reasons and so many more, every anime fan must grapple at some point or another with Akira’s primacy as the most important anime film ever made. Long Live Akira! —Toussaint Egan

3. Get Out

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
Rating: R
Genre: Horror

Jordan Peele’s a natural behind the camera, but Get Out benefits most from its deceptively trim premise, a simplicity which belies rich thematic depth. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) go to spend a weekend with her folks in their lavish upstate New York mansion, where they’re throwing the annual Armitage bash with all their friends in attendance. Chris immediately feels out of place; events escalate from there, taking the narrative in a ghastly direction that ultimately ties back to the unsettling sensation of being the “other” in a room full of people who aren’t like you—and never let you forget it. Put indelicately, Get Out is about being black and surrounded by whites who squeeze your biceps without asking, who fetishize you to your face, who analyze your blackness as if it’s a fashion trend. At best Chris’s ordeal is bizarre and dizzying, the kind of thing he might bitterly chuckle about in retrospect. At worst it’s a setup for such macabre developments as are found in the domain of horror. That’s the finest of lines Peele and Get Out walk without stumbling. The film doles out scariness in intervals, treating fright as a supplement to the inexplicable or the downright creepy. It’s an exercise in tension, where we can presume what’s happening in the Armitage household without necessarily being on the money, and that’s the fun of the film: It spaces its revelations carefully, building on each to undercut any hint of a twist, while still catching us off our guard. When we’re exposed to the whole truth of Get Out’s race dynamic, it feels like a gut punch instead of a bombshell. —Andy Crump

4. Palm Springs

Year: 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
Stars: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, June Squib, Conner O’Malley, Jena Friedman
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Sci-Fi

Imagine living the same day of your life over and over, stuck within an hour and a half of Los Angeles but so closely nestled in paradise’s bosom that the drive isn’t worth the fuel. Now imagine that “over and over” extends beyond a number the human mind is capable of appreciating. Paradise becomes a sun-soaked Hell, a place endured and never escaped, where pizza pool floats are enervating torture devices and crippling alcoholism is a boon instead of a disease. So goes Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs. The film never stops being funny, even when the mood takes a downturn from zany good times to dejection. This is key. Even when the party ends and the reality of the scenario sinks in for its characters, Palm Springs continues to fire jokes at a steady clip, only now they are weighted with appropriate gravity for a movie about two people doomed to maintain a holding pattern on somebody else’s happiest day. Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned time loop to force folks trapped in neutral to get retrospective on their personal statuses.—Andy Crump

5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Year: 2020
Director: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes
Genre: Romance

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

6. The Host

Year: 2006
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 minutes

Before he was breaking out internationally with a tight action film like Snowpiercer, and eventually winning a handful of Oscars for Parasite, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades–the mutated creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome in practice than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer and Parasite) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk.—Jim Vorel

7. I Am Not Your Negro

Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck

Raoul Peck focuses on James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, a work that would have memorialized three of his friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. All three black men were assassinated within five years of each other, and we learn in the film that Baldwin was not just concerned about these losses as terrible blows to the Civil Rights movement, but deeply cared for the wives and children of the men who were murdered. Baldwin’s overwhelming pain is as much the subject of the film as his intellect. And so I Am Not Your Negro is not just a portrait of an artist, but a portrait of mourning—what it looks, sounds and feels like to lose friends, and to do so with the whole world watching (and with so much of America refusing to understand how it happened, and why it will keep happening). Peck could have done little else besides give us this feeling, placing us squarely in the presence of Baldwin, and I Am Not Your Negro would have likely still been a success. His decision to steer away from the usual documentary format, where respected minds comment on a subject, creates a sense of intimacy difficult to inspire in films like this. The pleasure of sitting with Baldwin’s words, and his words alone, is exquisite. There’s no interpreter, no one to explain Baldwin but Baldwin—and this is how it should be. —Shannon M. Houston

8. Step Brothers

Year: 2008
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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

9. Flee

Release Date: December 3, 2021
Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Documentary, Animation

“Flee.” It’s an imperative, a one-word title telling the audience what a person has to do to save themselves from cultural takeover by barbarians with too many guns: Get the hell out of Dodge. Run for your lives. Flee. Danish documentarian Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s new movie animates the truth of one man, Amin, Rasmussen’s friend, who for the first time in his adult life (and in his relationship with Rasmussen) has decided to open up about the time he and his family cut town when the Taliban took over Kabul. Being an everyday non-fundamentalist person in Afghanistan is hard enough with those lunatics in control. Being both everyday and non-fundamentalist and a closeted young gay man is worse. Sounds real damn grim! It is, of course, and that unavoidable bleakness softens and sharpens through the film’s animated presentation. Using animation to reenact Amin’s perilous journey from Afghanistan to Denmark, with stops along the way in Russia and Estonia, has a way of layering the stunning cruelty Amin endures and observes on the road to safety with an electric playfulness: Even the worst real-life images gain a certain exuberance when recreated by hand. But the film comprises Amin’s recollections, and human memory being what it is—simultaneously faithful, fuzzy, and faulty—the casual alchemical qualities so intrinsic to animation as a medium pull those recollections into harsh relief. Maybe this is the only way Amin can face his past. Animation also has a way of feeling more alive than live-action, or alive in its own separate way, which makes Flee’s darkness all the darker. But Rasmussen isn’t using Amin to make suffering porn. He’s letting Amin tell his story his way. Animation only ultimately acts as a veneer. Even through the layers of artifice, what this movie shows us may be one of cinema’s most harrowing refugee stories.—Andy Crump

10. Talladega Nights

Year: 2006
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Jane Lynch, Amy Adams
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes

There are so many reasons to love this movie: Will Ferrell and Amy Adams recreating White Snake’s “Here I Go Again” video; Elvis Costello and Mos Def randomly hanging out with Ricky Bobby’s French nemesis, delightfully played by Sasha Baron Cohen; Ricky Bobby trying to overcome his fears by driving with a cougar in the car. But the chief reason is Will Ferrell’s prayer to “Eight-Pound, Six-Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent.”—Josh Jackson

11. Nomadland

Year: 2020
Director: Chloé Zhao
Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

A devastating and profound look at the underside of the American Dream, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland turns Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (and some of its subjects) into a complex folk song about survival, pride and the beauty of getting by on the open road. Focusing on older Americans who’ve somehow either abandoned or been forced from stationary traditional homes into vans and RVs, the film contemplates all that brought them to this point (an ugly, crammed Amazon warehouse looms large over the movie’s otherwise natural landscapes and sweeping vistas) and all that waits for them now that they’re here. Some of Bruder’s sources make appearances in the film, threatening to steal the show from the fictional Fern (Frances McDormand) at every turn—and McDormand turns in one of the best performances of the year. That’s just how honest and compelling Linda May and Swankie are. As the migrating community scatters to the wind and reconvenes wherever the seasonal jobs pop up, Zhao creates a complicated mosaic of barebones freedom. It’s the vast American landscape—a “marvelous backdrop of canyons, open deserts and purple-hued skies” as our critic put it—and that mythological American promise that you can fend for yourself out in it. But you can’t, not really. The bonds between the nomads is a stiff refutation of that individualistic idea, just as Amazon’s financial grip over them is a damnation of the corporation’s dominance. Things are rough—as Fern’s fellow travelers tell campfire tales of suicide, cancer and other woes—but they’re making the best of it. At least they have a little more control out here. The optimism gained from a reclaimed sense of autonomy is lovely to behold (and crushing when it comes into conflict with those angling for a return to the way things were), even if its impermanence is inherent. Nomadland’s majestic portrait puts a country’s ultimate failings, its corrupting poisons and those making the best of their position by blazing their own trail together on full display.—Jacob Oller

12. Predator

Year: 1987
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura
Rating: R
Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

A slasher film where battle-hardened soldiers replace the traditional nubile teens. Sounds like a recipe for a good time. And, indeed, Predator delivers on all fronts, from its cheesy approximation of “manly” dialogue (“I ain’t got time to bleed”) to the dated-yet-still-impressive special effects to the abundance of gory, creative violence. Subsequent installments in the sci-fi franchise have never truly captured the original’s meathead appeal. Besides, as any frequent viewer of VH1’s I Love the ‘80s can attest, the decade just wouldn’t have been the same without it.—Mark Rozeman

13. Prey

Year: 2022
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope
Rating: R
Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg’s Predator prequel Prey succeeds by daring to embrace what prior sequels did not: Simplicity. The basics of Predator cinema boil down to skull trophies and rival combat, but most of all, the thrill of an uninterrupted hunt. With brutal ease, writer Patrick Aison translates Predator codes to hunter-gatherer dichotomies in Native American cultures. There’s nothing scarier than the laws of natural hierarchies on display in their most elemental forms, and that’s what Prey recognizes with menacing regard. Trachtenberg understands what Predator fans crave, and executes without mercy. Set in the Northern Great Plains of 1719, Prey pits a Predator challenging any species’ alphas—wolves, bears, people—against a Comanche tribe. Taabe (Dakota Beavers) leads other boys on hunts while his sister Naru (Amber Midthunder) practices her deadliest skills in secrecy. She’s dismissed by most for her gender, but not by Taabe. Naru’s chance to defeat a lion (thanks to Taabe) and earn her warrior’s rite of passage fails when a Predator’s alien technology distracts from afar—which no one believes. Only Naru can protect her family and tribespeople from the unknown Yautja threat since no one will listen, which will be the warrior-wannabe’s ultimate test. Prey is inarguably the best Predator since the original. The film gets so much right, paying homage to John McTiernan’s 1987 masterwork—through cigars and direct quotes that it’ll have fans hooting—and adding Indigenous representation with real cultural strength. Trachtenberg and Aison keep things simple, and that’s the special sauce. The performances are tough-as-nails, action sequences absurdly gory and intensity streamlined like a high velocity arrow. By going back to beginnings, Prey sheds pounds of franchise dead weight for a leaner, meaner Predator prequel with all the spine-tearing, one-liner-spouting gladiatorial conquest that fans desire—computer-generated or not. —Matt Donato

14. In & Of Itself

Year: 2021
Director: Frank Oz
Stars: Derek DelGaudio
Rating: NR
Genre: Documentary

How do you translate In & Of Itself—a stage meditation on identity and the self that needs to be a profound, shared experience—into something someone watches passively on a screen? If you’re Frank Oz and Derek DelGaudio, you do it by pulling off another great piece of “magic”—figuring out via performance, lens and subtle editing how to transmute the heart of the show without sacrificing the emotion that those two summoned 552 unique times inside that black box theater. Like Oz, DelGaudio is a multi-hyphenate performer, writer and magician—and the antithesis of what that last word usually conjures in the mind. He doesn’t use jazz hands, or sport gaudy tattoos or flashy clothes. Oz captures him as the play presents him: An understated, sad-eyed everyman who knows how to tell a compelling story. And he does just that. In the same space and format of the stage show, he conjures six wildly different stories/puzzles/tricks that take the viewer on an existential journey. Each one is almost deceptively simple, but the payoffs are bold and contingent on the participant being present and open to the gifts that DelGaudio bestows. Miraculously, it all manages to still translate through our seemingly impersonal screens.—Tara Bennett

15. Italian Studies

Release Date: January 14, 2022
Director: Adam Leon
Stars: Vanessa Kirby, Simon Brickner, David Ajala, Rosa Walton, Jenny Hollingworth, Annika Wahlsten, Neil Comber
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

The title refers to a short story collection by Alina Reynolds (Vanessa Kirby), a Londoner lost in New York City, and seemingly in time, too, struck dumb by a sudden bout of amnesia that robs her of her memory and leaves her stranded in a strange place. Leon shoots this key moment, where Alina’s amnesia kneecaps her, with casual poise. There’s nothing special about it. It’s a day like any other day in New York in summer: Alina, looking chic and fashionable in a way that’s so breezy as to be infuriating, takes her curly-haired pooch out for a walk, arrives at a hardware store, ties the dog outside and within minutes of perusing the aisles forgets who she is, where she is and why the fuck she’s browsing wingnuts and push brooms. She leaves the store. She walks away from the dog, expectantly wagging its tail. There’s an unexpectedly heartbreaking cosmic cruelty to the sequence absent in Leon’s other films, though the cruelty is a byproduct of Alina’s stupor and not the intent. It’s sad. It’s scary, too. Scariest of all is Kirby who, in tight proximity with Leon’s camera (guided by his third cinematographer in as many films, Brett Jutkiewicz), somehow conveys Alina’s blackout by doing as little emoting as possible. We can see the instant her mind goes blank, fluttering across her eyes. That kind of darkness simply doesn’t factor into Gimme the Loot or Tramps, but Leon doesn’t deny his audience lightness for long. Compassion abounds. Friendships are made. Relationships are kindled. Alina even reunites with her dog in the end. It’s an odd sort of travelogue Leon and Kirby curate here, but Italian Studies’ drifting, artsy peculiarities make 70 minutes fly by with a palliative affection—for Alina, for New York and for all the intersecting stories contained within its bounds.—Andy Crump

16. Support the Girls

Year: 2018
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Stars: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Brooklyn Decker
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Drama

As Hooters fades more and more from the American consciousness, locations closing everywhere and the urges of its typical past patrons transmogrified into more sinister, shadier proclamations online, the concept of the “breastaurant,” a bygone signifier once as prevalent off highways as a Cracker Barrel, provides for yet another sign of service industry jobs in decline—and a perfect subject for Andrew Bujalski, a filmmaker emerging as America’s great bard of the working class. Over the course of one harrowing day at Double Whammies, Manager Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall, bastion) goes about her run-of-the-mill duties—standing up to volatile customers, training new waitresses, dealing with a seemingly inept cable guy—in addition to organizing a car wash fundraiser for an employee and her shitty boyfriend, serving as whipping girl to the restaurant’s shitty owner (James LeGros, male insecurity personified) and generally navigating the exhausting reality of what her job is and what it represents. Isn’t she better than this? Bujalski, wonderfully, answers “no,” because she’s very good at her job, and her staff adores her—led by magnanimous performances from Haley Lu Richardson and rapper/artist Junglepussy—and work is work is work. And what are any of us supposed to do when increasingly the fruits of our labor are taken from us, devalued or dragged through the street, squashed or screamed into oblivion, our jobs both defining us and dooming us to a lack of any real definition? Support the Girls understands the everyday pain of those contradictions, without judgment standing by our side, patting us on the back. One has to do what one has to do anymore. —Dom Sinacola

17. Pig

Release Date: July 16, 2021
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

In the forest outside Portland, a man’s pig is stolen. Rob (Nicolas Cage) is a witchy truffle forager that we learn used to be a chef—a Michelin-starred Baba Yaga, a gastronomical Radagast—who sells his pig’s findings to sustain his isolated life. What follows is not a revenge thriller. This is not a porcine Taken. Pig, the ambitious debut of writer/director Michael Sarnoski, is a blindsiding and measured treatise on the masculine response to loss. Featuring Nicolas Cage in one of his most successful recent permutations, evolving Mandy’s silent force of nature to an extinct volcano of scabbed-over pain, Pig unearths broad themes by thoroughly sniffing out the details of its microcosm. The other component making up this Pacific NW terrarium, aside from Rob and the golden-furred Brandy’s endearingly shorthanded connection, is the guy Rob sells his truffles to, Amir. Alex Wolff’s tiny Succession-esque business jerk is a bundle of jagged inadequacies, and only Rob’s calloused wisdom can handle such prickliness. They’re exceptional foils for one another, classic tonal opposites that share plenty under the surface of age. Together, the pair search for the pignapping victim, which inevitably leads them out of the forest and back into the city. There they collide with the seediest, John Wick’s Kitchen Confidential kind of industry underbelly you can imagine, in a series of standoffs, soliloquies and strange stares. It’s a bit heightened, but in a forgotten and built-over way that feels more secret than fantastic. The sparse and spacious writing allows its actors to fill in the gaps, particularly Cage. Where some of Cage’s most riveting experiments used to be based in manic deliveries and expressionistic faces, what seems to engage him now is the opposite: Silence, stillness, realist hurt and downcast eyes. You can hear Cage scraping the rust off Rob’s voice, grinding the interpersonal gears much like the dilapidated truck he tries (and fails) to take into town. Wolff, along with much of the rest of the cast, projects an intense desperation for validation—a palpable desire to win the rat race and be somebody. It’s clear that Rob was once a part of this world before his self-imposed exile, clear from knowing gazes and social cues as much as the scenarios that lead the pig-seekers through basements and kitchens. Part of Pig’s impactful, moving charm is its restraint. It’s a world only hinted at in 87 minutes, but with a satisfying emotional thoroughness. We watch this world turn only slightly, but the full dramatic arcs of lives are on display. A sad but not unkind movie, and certainly not a pessimistic one, Pig puts its faith in a discerning audience to look past its premise.—Jacob Oller

18. Together Together

Release Date: April 23, 2021
Directors: Nikole Beckwith
Stars: Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, Rosalind Chao, Tig Notaro, Fred Melamed, Julio Torres
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

Together Together is an amiable, successfully awkward surrogacy dramedy that also has the respectable distinction of being a TERF’s worst nightmare. That’s only one of the tiny aspects of writer/director Nikole Beckwith’s second feature, but the gentle tapestry of intimacy among strangers who, for a short time, desperately need each other certainly benefits from the meta-text of comedian and internet terror Patti Harrison’s multi-layered starring performance. Stuffed with bombastic bit parts from a roster of recent television’s greatest comedic talents and casually incisive dialogue that lays waste to media empires and preconceptions of women’s autonomy alike, the film is an unexpected, welcome antidote to emotional isolation and toxic masculinity that meanders in and out of life lessons at a pleasingly inefficient clip. That the tale of fatherhood and friendship is told through the sparkling chemistry of a rising trans star and her entrenched, anxious straight man (an endearing Ed Helms) only adds to Together Together’s slight magic.—Shayna Maci Warner

19. I’m Your Man

Release Date: September 24, 2021
Director: Maria Schrader
Stars: Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw
Rating: R
Genre: Sci-Fi, Rom-Com

Anytime someone makes a concerted effort to shake up rom-com formulas, I’m all in. While the bougie and hyper-literate can poo-poo the whole genre as trite or corny, they’ve either got no heart, or they’ve never truly seen a great rom-com hit the admittedly rare sweet spot of story, actor chemistry and tonal execution. German director Maria Schrader almost achieves that sweet spot with I’m Your Man, but gets a little muddled in her storytelling in the last minutes. That doesn’t take away from her subtle and mature study of loneliness and intimacy via technology. Set in the very near future, Alma (Maren Eggert) is an expert researcher at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Falling short on funds, she agrees to be part of a three-week research program where she’ll provide her colleague an in-depth report advising for or against the ethics of a new technology: Entirely lifelike robots algorithmically programmed to be the perfect partner. For Alma, the tech company has programmed Tom (Dan Stevens), a handsome, smart, blonde specimen who also speaks German with a slight British accent because she likes the exotic. Eggert does a beautiful job modulating Alma’s slow thaw towards Tom. Stevens is also pitch perfect as he moves Tom away from his initial cloying programming and assimilates to Alma’s pragmatic needs. Watching him make that transition is like witnessing an expert race car driver shift for the most efficient ride possible; you weren’t aware it was happening but they sure did win that race. And it’s delightfully unexpected that the film doubles down on robot Tom as the romantic, doggedly undeterred in figuring out how to be the best partner he can for Alma. I’m Your Man succeeds in breathing gentle life into the well-worn genre by proving that, just like Tom, the perception of something’s value can actually be hiding something surprisingly deep.—Tara Bennett

20. Titane

Year: 2021
Director: Julia Ducournau
Stars: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh
Rating: R
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller

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

21. Tangerine

Year: 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Alla Tumanian, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

One of filmmaker Sean Baker’s best, Tangerine‘s fable of Christmastime sex workers navigating love and loss in Hollywood is everything the indie great is known for: intimate, warm, silly, heartfelt and just scuzzy enough. Shot entirely on iPhones, this subversive holiday film celebrates found family in donut shops and laundromats and bar bathrooms. It reminds us that sometimes, the best gift of all is a friend who’ll lend you their wig while yours is in the wash. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor carry the film in all its emotional and tonal complexity, while Baker’s compassionate interest in folks just outside the margins make the filmmaking’s guerilla-esque stylings seem more loving than exploitative. Approaching his subjects with empathy, and giving them so much space to suck us into their world, is utterly within the holiday spirit–even if a car wash sexual encounter might not be as wholesome as something from Jimmy Stewart. But for a certain kind of person, and for Tangerine‘s very certain kind of friendship, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch” is all that needs to be said. —Jacob Oller

22. Anatomy of a Fall

Release Date: October 13, 2023
Director: Justine Triet
Stars: Sandra Hüller, Milo Machado-Graner, Swann Arlaud, Samuel Theis
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

Anatomy of a Fall is the tale of a stone-cold female author who steals her husband’s book idea, then mercilessly murders him. It’s also the sorry story of a widow who must defend herself in court after her depressed husband commits suicide by jumping from the attic window of their remote home in the French Alps. The truth remains ambiguous; we may learn the ending of the trial, but we will never know what really happened. The facts of the case: Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is a writer whose books often borrow from her life—the death of her mother, the emotional rift from her father, and the accident that left her 11-year-old son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) partially blind. Her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), also a writer, was unable to pick Daniel up from school on time, leading to the accident, and thus blamed himself. One morning, Daniel goes on a walk with his dog Snoop and returns to find his father dead in the snow. Sandra, the only other person present in the house at the time, is the prime suspect, although she claims she was asleep. Although filmmaker Justine Triet leaves the ending ambiguous, it’s fairly easy to parse which of these two films she set out to make. Sandra might be an icy protagonist, but Triet’s view of her is largely sympathetic. If your romantic life were put under the scrutiny of the law, without time for preparation, would you come out as the victim or the perpetrator? While it may be fun to debate whether or not Sandra is guilty, Anatomy of a Fall is most compelling as a picture of a grieving child working his way through his father’s death. Its interrogation of a marriage is a touch too clinical to deliver any real dramatic gut punches, due both to the nature of the procedural genre and Sandra’s chilly personality. But Machado-Graner’s tear-jerking performance as a heartbroken kid searching for impossible answers after discovering his father’s lifeless corpse is another story. Anatomy of a Fall may not reinvent the wheel, but it’s still one of the most sharply made courtroom dramas in recent memory. —Katarina Docalovich

23. Plan B

Year: 2021
Director: Natalie Morales
Stars: Kuhoo Verma, Victoria Moroles, Michael Provost, Myha’la Herrold, Jolly Abraham, Jay Chandrasekhar
Rating: NA
Genre: Comedy

The meeting of past and present is on full display in Plan B which puts a new spin on one of the tried and true plots of the genre—the road trip. Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) is a responsible student trying to do everything right. Her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) seems to walk more on the wild side, but it’s really just bravado hiding some inner insecurity. When Sunny’s mom Rosie (Jolly Abraham) goes out of town for a real estate convention, Lupe convinces Sunny to throw a party to get the attention of Hunter (Michael Provost). “Who plays hockey in a cardigan? He’s like an athletic librarian,” Sunny sighs. But after one too many shots of some very questionable alcoholic punch (pickle juice is involved), Sunny has sex for the first time with the super religious and super geeky Kyle (Mason Cook from the late, great TV series Speechless). The next morning, to her horror, Sunny discovers the condom and its contents have been inside her all night long. The quest for the Plan B pill begins. All films require a willing suspension of disbelief and Plan B does need its viewers to not ask too many questions. Suffice to say a lot of Sunny and Lupe’s problems could have been solved by a simple Google search on their phones. But once you set aside any lingering doubts, the movie is a delight. That’s in large part due to first-time director Natalie Morales. Morales, known for her roles on Parks & Recreation, The Middleman and Dead to Me, clearly understands these characters and the emotional angst of high school. Perhaps because Morales is an actress herself, she’s even more conscious of ensuring that the female leads are treated with the respect they deserve.—Amy Amatangelo

24. Petite Maman

Release Date: April 22, 2022
Director: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stéphane Varupenne, Nina Meurisse, Margo Abascal
Rating: PG
Runtime: 72 minutes

A year or two ago, I asked my mom whether she feels like her age, or if she feels younger. I told her that I still don’t feel like I’m an adult, that I feel like a teenager disguised as a person in their mid-twenties. I wanted to know if my mom had ever felt this feeling, and if she had, if it ever goes away–if people ever reach a point where they know that they’ve finally, officially stepped into adulthood and shed their adolescence. She admitted that sometimes she does feel like she ought to: Like a woman in her early sixties. But most of the time, in every way that isn’t physical, she still feels like a kid. In Petite Maman, Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to 2019’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire“:, the French director returns with a much smaller affair by comparison: A compact, 73-minute (yet nonetheless affecting) portrait of grief, parenthood and the constant dialogue between our past and present selves. Following the death of her maternal grandmother, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) travels with her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) to her mother’s childhood home. By all accounts, little Nelly seems to get on well with her mother. During the journey from the nursing home, Nelly attentively feeds her grieving parent cheese puffs and apple juice from behind the driver’s seat, then slides her tiny arms around her mother’s neck in an embrace to comfort her as she steers the wheel. But grief is a concept largely foreign to a child wise beyond her years and eager to play pretend as an adult, yet still distant to the reality of death. In the wake of her grandmother’s passing, as her mother clears out her old family things from the house, Nelly laments with more annoyance than anything that she bid a farewell to her relative that wasn’t the right kind of goodbye. She would have given her a better goodbye if she had known it would be her grandmother’s last. “We can’t know,” her mother tells her, and the two of them fall asleep wrapped in each other’s arms. But when Nelly awakes the next morning, her mother is gone. It’s a discovery less crushingly felt due to an implied absence that Nelly is familiar with. And her spacy yet well-meaning father can’t give Nelly a straight answer as to where her mother has up and left, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about it. The grieving process is something he’s acquainted with, but something he’s reluctant to impart upon a young kid. So, Nelly, an only child, goes off to play in the woods by herself to occupy her time during this confusing interlude. It’s there in the wilderness behind her mother’s old house that Nelly discovers a little girl about her height, about her same hair color and face shape, who lives in a home exactly like the one just beyond the path in the woods where Nelly came from. A little girl named Marion (unsurprisingly, Joséphine’s twin sister, Gabrielle Sanz) who’s building a branch fort in the woods; the same branch fort that Nelly’s mother had once made when she was around Nelly’s age. With a gentle touch, Sciamma crafts a profound, easily digestible film that takes heavy themes and makes them bite-sized. She looks at the way we speak to one another, and to ourselves, at every age, and how these conversations are inevitably dulled in the schism between a child and their parent. Our parents only know one sliver of our own personhood just as time has robbed us of knowing our parents, their proximity to changing our diapers and teaching us to drive stunted by the lives we create as we become our own people, and as we grow to understand that our parents are people, too. Petite Maman is about this dialogue we create with our families that is just as meaningful, if often frustrating, amidst the fractures inherent to our relationship with them.–Brianna Zigler

25. Infinity Pool

Release Date: January 27, 2023
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert
Rating: R
Genre: Horror

Heartbeats and cumshots are the alpha and omega of Brandon Cronenberg’s vacation in White Lotus hell, where the tourists loosen their collars and let loose their lizard brains. The limbic system and the most basic biological processes of life dominate Infinity Pool, the filmmaker’s descent into a slimy, sexy, terrifying world where death is just another game for rich people. It’s a hit-and-run satire of Western nonsense, dismantling the havoc our destination-hopping upper-crust wreaks on other cultures and the faux-mystical enlightenment hawked by gurus and Goop fools—those too wealthy to have real problems, those aspiring to achieve this status, and those taking lucrative advantage of both. In this tropical trial, they spill into each other, forever and ever. Ego death has nothing on Brandon Cronenberg’s brilliantly warped resort. The dangled, juicy lure isn’t subtle: A seemingly normal couple being approached by weird (probably swinging) Europeans always leads to trouble. We’d be fools not to be suspicious of Gabby (Mia Goth) and Al (Jalil Lespert) when they come up to their estranged hotel-mate couple James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman). One of them is played by Mia Goth, which is a sure sign to hightail it back to your room and flip the “do not disturb” sign. But James is a novelist, with one bad book to his name (The Variable Sheath, a fantastic fake title) that only got published because he married the rich publisher’s daughter. Gabby’s proclaimed fandom strokes the part of his ego that’s all but shriveled up and crumbled to dust—he’s weak, he’s hungry for it, he’s the perfect mark. When the white folks inevitably do something irreversibly horrible to the locals of Li Tolqa, their unprepared alienation in their culture is disturbingly hilarious. They don’t speak the language, and can’t read the forms the cops ask them to sign. But it’s stranger than that. Brilliant production design, location scouting and cinematography lock you into a late-night freakout. Getting too deeply into what exactly happens in Infinity Pool is like outlining the recirculating edge of its title’s horizon-flouting construction. It won’t take away from its pleasures, but you can’t really understand until you’re in it. Until Cronenberg drives you down an unlit backroad, long enough that you start wondering if you’re dreaming or awake. But what’s clearest in this gallows comedy is that its characters exist. The people who think they’ve solved reality, the conceited class with the luxury of being horny for death, because death has never been real to them. Infinity Pool’s inspired critique of this crowd is fierce and funny, its hallucinations nimble and sticky, and its encompassing nightmare one you’ll remember without needing to break out the vacation slideshow.—Jacob Oller

26. Rye Lane

Year: 2023
Director: Raine Allen-Miller
Stars: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Simon Manyonda, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, Poppy Allen-Quarmby
Rating: NR
Genre: Rom-Com

Part of the joy of making a romantic comedy is reimagining the stakes of a story, relitigating what is deemed cinematic. Rather than the traditional blockbuster terrain, you are charting the more familiar fallout from relational misunderstanding. Romantic comedies are bound by relatability, and truly great romantic comedies understand this relatability grows from specificity. Where many recent examples of this genre fall short is in dodging this degree of specificity, scared to ground an audience in the monotony of the everyday. Rye Lane leans into this perceived monotony, animating everything with the promise of new love. Rye Lane takes place over the course of a day, following Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) as they wander across South London, concocting new, increasingly ridiculous ways of spending time together. They use local landmarks as a set of interpersonal stepping stones, guiding one another through the physical ruins of their own romantic histories. Everything is captured in sharp, bright colors, reflecting the joy buried in every corner of this city. But the color scheme is only one way director Raine Allen-Miller navigates the playfulness of Dom and Yas’ dynamic. She stages elaborate setups to heighten their budding relationship: A cinema full of multiple Doms, passionately cheering Yas on as she recreates her recent breakup, is both a funny joke and a constructive character beat, showing two people who bond over a shared way of coping. Allen-Miller experiments with the focus and angle of the camera, switching between the extremes of the fish-eye lens and wide shots to capture the blurred and busy texture of the city. Their love story is one dedicated to recontextualizing their surroundings, to overhearing an embarrassing conversation and seeking out the other’s amused gaze, to buying burritos from the stall in Brixton and letting the other one order for you. Each new location is a gateway into understanding the other person, a prompt for a new story. In this way Rye Lane builds a lovingly transportive setting. Thanks to Rye Lane’s specificity and care for its central relationship, Allen-Miller has made one of the best British comedies–certainly one of the best London-based films—of the last decade.—Anna McKibbin

27. The First Omen

Release Date: April 5, 2024
Director: Arkasha Stevenson
Stars: Nell Tiger Free, Tawfeek Barhom, Sônia Braga, Ralph Ineson, Bill Nighy
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

Unless it’s something like the Evil Dead franchise, I generally don’t give horror sequels or prequels a passing thought other than “obvious insta-garbage.” How wrong I was about The First Omen, the feature debut of writer/director Arkasha Stevenson. Her film immediately struck me not as a franchise cash-in, but as the work of someone who deeply understands what makes good horror tick and who made this installment almost completely their own. The small handful of Marvel-esque Easter eggs are entirely negligible for how well the film succeeds at being an affecting and stomach-churning work of modern horror. The First Omen kicks off with a queasy conversation between two English priests, Father Harris (Charles Dance) and Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson), over the conception of an unknown cursed child, a girl (Damien is a boy, yes—but I’ll keep this review spoiler-free) whose birth will bring forth an all-powerful evil. Kept elusive and told via a collage of disturbing yet striking images, we leave this scene and cut to the arrival of a young American nun-to-be named Margaret (Nell Tiger Free). She befriends her new roommate, the free-spirited Luz (Maria Caballero), who is determined to use her remaining days of secular freedom spent as the hedonistic young woman she still is. One night, Luz gets a reluctant Margaret all gussied up and drags her to a disco, where Margaret meets a nice Italian boy with whom she shares an intimate moment. The next day, she wakes up in a puddle of her own sweat, the memory of the previous night already erased; Luz assures her that she got Margaret home safely. A grave encounter with Father Brennan portends impending doom, and Margaret begins to see and experience strange, diabolical things. Stevenson, aided by co-writers Tim Smith and Keith Thomas, makes The First Omen remarkably fresh while utilizing old tricks. Pans and zooms give the filmmaking a throwback feel (cinematography credited to Aaron Morton), jump scares function as earned accoutrement for a well-crafted atmosphere instead of supplanting actual horror filmmaking, and there are images that are genuinely difficult to look at—not just because they make the audience look at something particularly visceral, but because of the way the shot is blocked, the way the lighting is lit, the way a body is not quite as it should be. Not overtly gory but just off, which is often far more skin-crawling than blood and guts ever are. The First Omen is an exceedingly successful first feature, and an invigorating film within a genre’s increasingly limp mainstream.–Brianna Zigler

28. Minding the Gap

Year: 2018
Director: Bing Liu
Rating: NR
Genre: Documentary

In a year rich with slice-of-life glimpses at pubescence in flux care of the arrested development of skateboard crews, Minding the Gap is undoubtedly the best of its cinematic ilk—not because it’s “real,” but because it’s so clearly focused on interrogating the toxicity that keeps these kids from truly growing up. In Rockford, Illinois, just a smidge too far outside of Chicago to matter, three kids use Liu’s camcorder to chronicle their days spent avoiding responsibility and the economic devastation suffered by so many Rust Belt cities of its kind: Zack, a cute and reckless elder of the crew, about to embark on fatherhood with his (noticeably younger) girlfriend Nina; Keire, a seemingly always-grinning black kid who stays stiffly quiet whenever Zack claims that he has permission to use certain racial epithets, or when another kid insists that white trash kids have it the same as black kids; and Bing, the director himself, one of the few from his friend group able to escape Rockford. Splicing nostalgic footage of their time skating with urgent documents of their burgeoning adult life, Liu builds a portrait of the modern male in Middle America, lacing ostensibly jovial parties and hang-outs with shots of Rockford billboards vilifying absentee parents and pleas from Nina not to tell Zack that she admitted on-camera he’s hit her. As Liu discovers more and more about the abuse indelible to the young lives of his two friends, he reveals his own story of fear and pain at home, terrorized by his stepfather up until the man’s death, pushing him to confront his mother in the film’s climax about what’s been left unsaid about their mutual tormenter. It all breathes with the nerve-shaking relief of finally having these burdens exposed, though Liu is careful to ground these moments with the harsh reality of Rockford and those towns like it: Billboards beg men not to leave, not to hit their family members, not to take out their deep-seated emotional anxiety on their loved ones, because it will happen anyway. Zack, who was abused, will pass on that abuse. We hope he won’t, because we see simultaneously how he skates, how all of his friends skate together, the act less about being great at skating (though a sponsorship could help their pocketbooks), and more about finding respite from the shackles of their worlds. That Liu shoots these scenes—especially the film’s opening, set to a stirring classical score—with so much levity and beauty, with so much kinetic freedom, only assures that, for as much as Crystal Moselle and Jonah Hill love their subjects, Liu lives with them. He’s shared the weight of that. —Dom Sinacola

29. Watcher

Release Date: June 3, 2022
Director: Chloe Okuno
Stars: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

Maika Monroe knows better than almost any actor working today how to turn her head or widen her eyes in mounting horror. The control she has over her body, the ability she has to convey realistic fear and her 2014 double-header of The Guest and It Follows made her an instant household name for genre fans. Perhaps one of those was director Chloe Okuno, who knows exactly what to do with her star in her paranoid debut feature (which follows her “V/H/S/94“: segment from last year), Watcher. A straightforward little B-treat, Monroe’s furtive glances out her Rear Window morph Watcher into a moody thriller elevated by its acting. Monroe plays Julia, a beautiful young housewife cooped up in an empty apartment and cooped up in an intimidating and isolating Bucharest after moving there with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his work. Francis speaks Romanian. He entertains clients, makes friends, grabs drinks, chastises fresh cab drivers and translates day-to-day interactions with neighbors and landlords. Julia has none of that. No job, no friends, no real way to communicate with the world aside from her baser senses. She has her taped language lessons, which soundtrack her wistful wanderings around her lovely pale apartment and its massive window. Through that window, she sees those marking the building across the way. One of them contains a figure that also stands at the glass, looking right back. As Okuno twists the screws on the plot—Francis and Julia take a late-night stroll past police, conducting what they later learn to be a serial murder investigation—her characters unravel exactly how we want them to. Watcher flourishes as it complicates its premise beyond the unknowable and faceless desires of a shadowy silhouette. When do finally meet said suspicious neighbor (Burn Gorman), the resulting scenes are the film’s best. Monroe is fantastic alone—reacting both to intense fears and to indignation at Glusman’s fed-up patronizing—but with the always-nuanced Gorman, Watcher taps into something sharper, creepier and enjoyably ‘90s in its psychological execution.–Jacob Oller

30. Shoplifters

Year: 2018
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Stars: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jo, Miyu Sasaki, Kirin Kiki
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

The Shibatas—Osamu and Nobuyo (Lily Franky and Sakura Ando), daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), son Shota (Kairi Jo) and grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiri)—live in tight quarters together, their flat crowded and disheveled. Space is at a premium, and money’s tight. Osamu and Shota solve the latter problem by palming food from the local market, a delicately choreographed dance we see them perform in the film’s opening sequence: They walk from aisle to aisle, communicating to each other through hand gestures while running interference on market employees, a piano and percussion soundtrack painting a scene out of Ocean’s 11. It’s a heist of humble purpose. Once they finish, Shota having squirreled away sufficient goods in his backpack, father and son head home and stumble upon little Yuri (Miuy Sasaki) huddling in the cold on her parents’ deck. Osamu invites her over for dinner in spite of the Shibata’s meager circumstances. When he and Nobuyo go to return her to her folks later on, they hear sounds of violence from within their apartment and think better of it. So Yuri becomes the new addition to the Shibata household, a move suggesting a compassionate streak in Osamu that slowly crinkles about the edges as Shoplifters unfolds. The obvious care the Shibatas, or whoever they are, have for one another forestalls or at least deflects a building dread: Even in squalor, there’s a certain joy present in their situation. It’s not magic, per se—there’s nothing magical about poverty—but comfort, a sense of safety in numbers. But for a few stolen fishing rods, the Shibata clan is content with what it has, and Kore-eda asks us if that’s such a crime in a world both literally and figuratively cold to the plight of the unfortunate. Shoplifters is held up by the strength of its ensemble and Kore-eda’s gifts as a storyteller, which gain with every movie he makes. —Andy Crump

31. Poor Things

Release Date: December 8, 2023
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichael
Rating: R
Runtime: 141 minutes

Yorgos Lanthimos’ off-kilter, pastel-drenched Poor Things opens with static shots of silken embroidery. It is hard to ascertain the images themselves, threaded so neatly in a near-identical gray. But the slippery, elusive texture is integral to the film, which weaves together something thick and rich with detail. What follows is narrow in its focus and big and engulfing in its scale: The story of a young woman who must overcome the experiments enacted against her while embracing her changing body and irrepressible urges. As such, this adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s book of the same name is difficult to summarize, loosely following Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) as she grows to embrace adulthood despite the overbearing tutelage of her de facto father God (Willem Dafoe). Once introduced to the dashing and cocky Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), Bella recognizes the pitfalls of her sheltered life and endeavors to travel around the world, experiencing life anew before marrying her father’s sweet and bumbling assistant Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef). Lying in the genre gulf between science fiction and straightforward drama, Poor Things also finds time to unleash Stone’s ability as a physical comedian, building a sticky, entrancing bodily language that lives somewhere between twitchy, childlike enthusiasm and mystical knowingness. She wanders through their eclectic family home with an unsteady gait, crashing into delicately hung porcelain displays and cackling rather than cowering at the destruction which follows. It is a deliciously amoral journey, the kind that has already secured Lanthimos ample praise over the course of his career. But this is perhaps the filmmaker’s most garish and confident endeavor, using Bella’s naive perspective to design a world so heightened that it exists somewhere between a nightmare and a dream. Somewhat surprisingly, Poor Things feels like it is in conversation with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, right down to Stone’s robotic, doll-like physique. Where Barbie feels shallow and tentative in its understanding of what it means to physically grow up, Poor Things is bold and radically (at times uncomfortably) honest. It will satisfy fans of Lanthimos’ previous work and perhaps win over new viewers who are desperate to engage in the kind of coming-of-age stories that propel the genre forward. —Anna McKibbin

32. How to Blow up a Pipeline

Release Date: April 7, 2023
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Stars: Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary, Irene Bedard
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

Andreas Malm’s 2021 book How to Blow Up a Pipeline saw its argument for more climate activism morph into an argument for different climate activism. Money isn’t cutting it. Protests aren’t either. Maybe sabotage will. Its vitality flows like an antidote to the poisonous nihilism surrounding the climate crisis from progressives; its fiery points threaten the crisp piles of cash collected by conservatives. Filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber’s air-punching, chair-clenching, heart-in-mouth adaptation is the best way to convert people to its cause—whether they’re dark green environmentalists or gas-guzzling Senate Republicans. Adapting a nonfiction treatise on the limits of nonviolent protest into a specific, heist-like fiction is a brilliant move by Goldhaber and his co-writers Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol. In its execution of a carefully crafted plan, held together by explosive and interpersonal chemistry, it thrusts us into its thrilling visualized philosophy. How to Blow Up a Pipeline isn’t naïve enough to rely on optimism, opting instead to radicalize competence. Think of How to Blow Up a Pipeline like a word problem. The most exciting word problem you can imagine, where the two trains leaving the station collide in an explosive snarl of steel, your onboard loved ones saved only by quick thinking and teamwork. How to Blow Up a Pipeline contextualizes its concepts into actions so we can better understand, internalize and identify with them. There’s not a moment lost getting us there. Malm’s chapters (”Learning from Past Struggles,” “Breaking the Spell” and “Fighting Despair”) are elegantly transposed, their high-level arguments humanized into character and conversation. The ensemble—led by student protestors Xochitl (Barer) and Shawn (Marcus Scribner), whose plan organically gathers together surly Native bomb-builder Michael (Forrest Goodluck), horny crustpunk couple Rowan (Kristine Froseth) and Logan (Lukas Gage), terminally ill Theo (Sasha Lane) and her reluctant girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson), and disillusioned landowner Dwayne (Jake Weary)—is colorfully drawn and filled out through savvy, well-cut flashbacks. Everyone has their reasons, and we have everyone’s back. By structuring its simple plot (blow up a goddamn pipeline) as a zigzag, How to Blow Up a Pipeline builds its team without losing steam. It’s as efficient and thoughtful in its planning as its heroes, and the results are just as successful. It’s as satisfying as any good bank job, only it’s stealing a little bit more time on this planet from the companies looking to scorch the earth. Responding to tragedy not with hopelessness but with proficiency, it’s not a dreamy or delusional movie. It knows its sabotage doesn’t take place in a vacuum. It understands that people get hurt. What makes How to Blow Up a Pipeline great, is that it so deftly wins us to its cause anyway. It’s absolutely electric filmmaking.—Jacob Oller


33. Perfect Days

Release Date: November 10, 2023
Director: Wim Wenders
Stars: Kôji Yakusho, Yumi Asô, Tokio Emoto
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama/Comedy

Actor and recently christened Cannes Film Festival award-winner Koji Yakusho introduced my New York Film Festival screening of his new Wim Wenders-helmed film, Perfect Days (which shares its name with the Lou Reed song it samples) with a plea. He implored us to make use of Tokyo’s magnificent public restrooms if we were ever to visit the city. I was struck not only by the multitude of public restrooms ready for use at a moment’s notice in Tokyo, but the quality of these restrooms. I digress—because in real life these same public restrooms might not have a person like Hirayama (Yakusho) to take care of them. Hirayama is a quiet, solitary man who revels in the bare-bones simplicity of his life, happy to wake up before the sun creeps out and start his day of making toilet bowls sparkle. Hirayama chooses his words so carefully that most of the time he does not speak at all, especially when paired with his motormouthed “Tokyo Toilet” cohort Takashi (Tokio Emoto), who practically speaks for him, but establishes Hirayama’s persistent peace of mind. When Hirayama is not spending the bulk of his time tending to bathrooms, he’s taking photos of the sun, peeking behind the trees, with an old Olympia film camera, or showering at the public bathhouse, or digging up saplings to repot in his home, or listening to his ancient cassette tapes of Lou Reed and Nina Simone. But the rhythm of the man’s tranquil day-to-day is interrupted when his teenage niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) drops by his tiny apartment for an unannounced visit, having run away from her mother, Hirayama’s estranged, wealthy sister. Though directed by the German Wenders, Perfect Days’ co-writer, Takuma Takasaki, admitted before my screening that the film made him appreciate Tokyo, a city he knows and loves very well already, even more. It’s clear that Wenders has an extensive rapport with Japan’s capital, and his camera (cinematography credited to Franz Lustig) lovingly paints the city as a place defined by its coexistence between urbanism and nature—like Hirayama attempting to coexist in simplicity against the demands of the 2020s. Still, there is despair and heartache tucked into the sentimental folds of the frame, all of which is carried masterfully by the great Koji Yakusho. Perfect Days revels in its ambient minimalism as much as its own protagonist, though something is missing. One might ask for more from Perfect Days, a film that finds itself a bit too understated in its understatement. But sometimes it is just nice to be reminded that there are pockets of beauty in a world which does all it can to extinguish them—like finding a store that doesn’t make you buy something in order to get a code to use the bathroom.—Brianna Zigler

34. BlackBerry

Release Date: May 12, 2023
Director: Matt Johnson
Stars: Glenn Howerton, Jay Baruchel, Matt Johnson, Michael Ironside, Cary Elwes, Rich Sommer, Saul Rubinek, SungWon Cho
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

There is much to love about Matt Johnson’s BlackBerry, and then there is the ineffable gravitational pull of its furious white-hot core: A 40-something pale man’s bald pate, so smooth it seems forged by eons of tectonic movement, from which erupts perfect sleazy ‘80s-business-guy bon mots alloyed to unbridled sociopathic rage. Johnson’s always been at the heart of his films, starring in The Dirties and Operation Avalanche and serving as the source of most of the chaos steering Nirvanna the Band the Show, his series with Jay McCarrol, but in BlackBerry he plays Doug, some guy who technically doesn’t even exist. No, Doug is nothing in BlackBerry next to the movie’s everything, Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie, a vessel for the alarming voice of Canada’s most radioactive co-CEO. Lives inevitably wilt in his orbit. “I’m from Waterloo, where the VAMPIRES hang out!” he hollers at a room of NHL executives, each syllable pronounced as if the sentence is punctuated by tombstones. Based on Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, the film tells of the rise and fall of the pocket device company, from its exploited beginnings in the mid-’90s as the brainchild of the timid, always-inward-looking Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and his best friend Doug, to the company’s collapse in the wake of the iPhone’s emergence (and more than one SEC violation on Jim’s part). Johnson’s regular cinematographer, Jared Raab, shoots the film more like D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Clinton doc The War Room than The Social Network, BlackBerry’s inescapable predecessor, but Johnson’s aim is no less Icarus-like: To make a period piece about the founding of a transformational and dramatically tragic tech company with an inimitable, blackly comic performance at it center.—Dom Sinacola

35. Happiest Season

Year: 2020
Director: Clea Duvall
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Mary Holland, Dan Levy, Burl Moseley, Aubrey Plaza
Rating: R
Genre: Rom-Com

The grounded sobriety of Happiest Season lasts long enough for a reprieve from the still-present cornball Christmas melodrama, which director/co-writer Clea Duvall stages with the relish of someone who appreciates that melodrama in spite of themselves. But frankly, if every Hallmark movie was this over-the-top hilarious, they’d all at least be watchable as background noise, but then we’d have less reason to appreciate Duvall’s appropriation of their core components in Happiest Season. Kristen Stewart, continuing to prove wrong all the smug remarks about her one-dimensional dourness starting around 2008, remains a treasure. She’s lively, lovely, and having a wonderful time vibing with Mackenzie Davis. The latter ends up shouldering juicier theatrical speeches and breakdowns as her character, Harper, unravels under the dual pressure of being the daughter she thinks her parents want and being the girlfriend she wants to be to Stewart’s Abby. The ensemble keeps things fresh throughout these conventional plot beats, with Mary Holland coming out ahead as Duvall’s friction-seeking SRBM. Anytime the atmosphere chafes, Holland flies into the room and annihilates it with adorable, well-meaning awkwardness. She’s a gift, but the whole cast glitters in this holiday fare. Everyone’s tuned to Duvall’s wavelength, playing their human sides while keeping the mood appropriately hammy and saccharine—just sweet enough without killing the pancreas. And that’s the film’s secondary message: It’s okay to like Christmas schmaltz. The greater message, of course, is that it’s okay to struggle with the sometimes-bruising process of coming out. Duvall dovetails the seasonal pap with her characters’ pain, treating it like ointment for their mellowing emotional stings. The message isn’t just about liking Christmas. The message is that everybody deserves a Christmas movie.—Andy Crump

36. Bernie

Year: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine
Runtime: 104 minutes

Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk. —Tim Basham

37. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Year: 2009
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman
Rating: PG
Runtime: 86 minutes

Wes Anderson’s trademark ironic eccentricity and Roald Dahl’s vaguely menacing but entirely lighthearted surrealism combine to form _Fantastic Mr. Fox_, Anderson’s first animated effort, which uses the same maddeningly traditional stop-motion techniques as Isle of Dogs. It’s ostensibly a children’s film (Mr. Fox and his family and friends try to outrun the mean farmers), but rather transparently aimed at their parents, who likely read Dahl’s books in grade school, remember stop-motion when it didn’t feel vintage and have followed Anderson’s work for years. But Fantastic Mr. Fox is broader and more straightforward than any of Anderson’s other films. The tale has been greatly expanded from the Dahl original to cover familiar Anderson themes of family, rivalry and feeling different. And with its lush autumnal palette and hijinks worthy of Max Fischer or Dignan, the result is a film that only Wes Anderson could have made.—Alisa Wilkinson

38. When Evil Lurks

Release Date: October 6, 2023
Director: Demián Rugna
Stars: Ezequiel Rodriguez, Demián Salomon, Luis Ziembrowski, Silvia Sabater, Marcelo Michinaux
Rating: R
Genre: Horror

When Evil Lurks starts with a bang. Well, two bangs, to be precise. The film opens with brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jimmy (Demián Salomon) awoken by a pair of gunshots that pierce through an otherwise quiet night in their sleepy rural town. The two then set off to investigate the noise, only to come across a rotting subhuman bathing in his own fetid fluids and excrement. Directed by Demián Rugna, When Evil Lurks follows Pedro and Jimmy’s desperate attempts to contain the infectious evil at hand. It quickly leaps out from under a boldly original and bone-chilling premise and wastes no time hooking its viewers and setting the scene for a film that is impressively committed to defying horror conventions and being its own beast. Indeed, When Evil Lurks takes place in a uniquely-crafted and novel world where characters are all-too familiar with the disease that has taken root in their village. But When Evil Lurks isn’t just a grim and nightmarish cautionary tale – it’s also insanely fun. The film is filled with a profusion of I-can’t-believe-they-went-there moments, one of which involves the creepiest goat you’ve seen since The Witch, another of which sees a kid getting bitten by a zombie dog, and the rest of which are so delightfully gruesome that you’ll simply have to see them to believe them. These shocking moments shine even brighter when juxtaposed with the understated stylization of the film. Mariano Suárez’s cinematography is refreshingly restrained, and through limited, stagnant camera setups, he positions his characters in a stark and eerily real world. Similarly, When Evil Lurks manages to escape the trap of punctuating every jump scare with a deafening musical cue. Instead, the score simply accompanies the viewer through the film’s emotional beats without being manipulative. When a filmmaker finds a way to talk about fears that have existed for literal centuries, that’s something to celebrate–and that is exactly what Rugna has done.—Aurora Amidon

39. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Year: 2022
Director: Sophie Hyde
Stars: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack
Rating: R
Genre: Rom-Com

If you thought the “sex worker with a heart of gold” genre had fully blown its load, then director Sophie Hyde’s latest endeavor will surprise you. Warming hearts and other body parts, she and screenwriter Katy Brand have crafted a delicate, hornt and hilarious two-hander between a widowed retiree (Emma Thompson) and the lean boy-toy of her very modest dreams (Daryl McCormack). Good Luck to You, Leo Grande can bobble the more dramatic elements of the pair’s professional and personal relationship, but its feel-good story satisfies to completion. Nancy plans everything out. The ex-Religious Education teacher never comes unprepared and is prepared to never come. And yet she arrives at her precisely booked hotel room early, prepared with a sexual to-do list. Leo Grande (which, what a great name for a gigolo), in his way, does the same. He arrives with his backpack full of sex toys and mood music, armed with disarming conversational techniques to put his clients at ease. Over the course of their encounters, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande unpacks how this level of intimacy—not inherently sexual, but with sexual availability acting as a gateway to vulnerability—can be therapeutic. In this would-be secret world—confined to fake names, and the blocky furniture and sterile familiarity of a hotel room—you can be more honest than in real life. A painfully cheesy penultimate scene gives way to glorious release, once again highlighting the movie’s best features and boldest choices. Thompson and McCormack’s potent bond elevates the humble film, its talky core giving both the rich foundation of a play. They make the smart film smarter, the sexy film sexier, and the funny film funnier. They even use the word “concupiscence” in a sentence. Multiple times! Even if it takes some negotiation to figure out where its comfort zone lies, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande still finds a hell of a sweet spot. —Jacob Oller

40. Dual

Release Date: April 15, 2022
Director: Riley Stearns
Stars: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Sci-Fi

In Dual, everyone talks like they’re a robot. Perhaps that’s because they want to better integrate new Replacements, clones made of terminally ill or otherwise on-their-way-out people, into the world. Maybe it’s because the delivery is supposed to be as dry, strange and winning as the low-key sci-fi itself. Regardless, this idiosyncratic acting choice by writer/director Riley Stearns is just one of many over the course of his third and (so far) best movie. The world of Dual is near-future, or present-adjacent but in another dimension. Its video chat is Zoom-like, but texting has more of a coding aesthetic. Its minivans still run on gas, but you can make a clone out of spit in an hour. Its people still love violent reality TV, but its shows sometimes involve government-mandated fights to the death between people who discover they’re no longer dying and their Replacements. It’s the latter situation in which Sarah (Karen Gillan) finds herself. After puking up blood, creating a clone to take over her life and receiving improbable good news from a scene-stealingly funny doctor, Sarah finds that she has a year to prepare for the fight of (and for) her life. Stearns shoots the film in grim, hands-off observations sapped of color and intimacy, but with amusing angles or choices (like a long take watching characters do slo-mo play-acting) that add visual energy to the bleakness. As we see this unfurl, we root for Sarah’s success not because we want her to get her old, sad life back, but because the training process has opened her up to life beyond those walls. It can be read as a redemptive allegory representing a life-shaking break-up or other crisis, but Stearns’ deadpan script and wry situations rarely give you enough distance to consider Dual beyond the hilarious text in front of you. Gillan goes beyond a cutesy Black Mirror performance to find tragedy, obscene humor and warmth even in her relatively stoic roles, but the shining star of the show is Aaron Paul, who gets the biggest laugh lines as her intense combat instructor. Somewhere between a living instruction manual and the “Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit” Monty Python sketch, Paul’s character is a riot as he attempts to familiarize Sarah with weapons and desensitize her to violence. His performance is just as committed as his serious scene partner’s, but when the two are in the groove together, Dual transcends to such big-hearted, surreal silliness that I had a hard time calming my laughter down as the film reminded me that death was on the line. Stearns’ work has always been a bit of a specific flavor, a little like that of Yorgos Lanthimos where if you’re not in on the dark joke you can feel ostracized from the universe of the movie, and Dual is both his most successful and most eccentric yet. But if you’re blessed with matching taste, where you’ll put up with a bunch of over-literal, stiff-backed oddballs dealing with a clone crisis, you’ll find a rewarding and gut-busting film that’s lingering ideas are nearly as strong as its humorous, thoughtful construction.—Jacob Oller

41. All of Us Strangers

Release Date: December 22, 2023
Director: Andrew Haigh
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

In All of Us Strangers, Haigh makes clear that loneliness need not confine itself to physically desolate landscapes. The solitary, melancholy Adam (Andrew Scott) seems reasonably well-off, though he insists to his neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal) that he’s not a particularly rich or famous type of writer. Still, he can afford a nice apartment in a London high-rise where, still, he feels removed from the world. For the moment, he and Harry appear to be the only tenants in the new building, and Adam’s job does afford him the ability to spend his days at home, alone. He only meets Harry when the younger man knocks on his door in a flirtatious, drunken stupor, assuming (correctly) that Adam is also gay. Adam is working on a screenplay inspired by his childhood years, which has him thinking about one likely reason contributing to his loneliness: His parents both died in a car crash when he was only 12. Seeking to reconnect with his roots, Adam is drawn back to his old neighborhood, a train ride away from London, and is surprised yet somehow not exactly shocked at what he eventually finds: His father (Jamie Bell) and mother (Claire Foy), living in their old house, just as he remembers it. He is aware of the strangeness, and so are his parents; they understand that they have not been with Adam all these years, and that their renewed time with him may be limited, subject to disappear at any moment. The reunited family tries not to focus on this, instead having tea and catching up with Adam’s adult life. Are his parents ghosts? Transposed memories? Hallucinations generated with unusual calm and rationality? Haigh, adapting a 1987 novel just called Strangers, does not commit to one particular explanation – even when it seems like maybe he has. Yet All of Us Strangers doesn’t have the watery, wishy-washy quality of the more precious strains of magical realism. In its way, it is as clear-eyed and upfront as it needs to be. The performances are note perfect, as they must be with such a small cast. For all its open-heartedness, All of Us Strangers doesn’t peddle easy uplift. The movie suggests that loneliness, isolation or ostracization – whether created by circumstance or intolerance – don’t heal like normal physical wounds, and that all the time in the world given over to that process wouldn’t necessarily feel like enough. A lot of movies attempt to replicate the experience of a dream; this one situates itself right on the edge, whether ecstatic or delirious or stricken, of waking up.–Jesse Hassenger

42. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Release Date: August 2, 2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is as much a run through Quentin Tarantino’s obsessions as any of his other movies—Spaghetti Westerns, bad ’60s television, Los Angeles subculture, so, so many women’s feet—but there is an odd, almost casual generosity that I’d argue is entirely new to him. Is it possible Tarantino, at 56, has finally decided to share? This is a film that luxuriates in its indulgence, but it opens the door for us, at last lets us in. It’s an elegy for a long-dead Los Angeles that Tarantino both wants to sell us on and vigorously stir back to life, an era that, because it ended in violence, can only be resuscitated through that same violence. But more than anything, this is the most Hang Out Film of any of Tarantino’s films, a world that he wants to live in and roll around in and maybe just spend forever in. We follow three characters with three stories, though it takes a while for two of the stories to separate and they all end up in the same place. There’s Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an old-time television star with talent but an alcohol problem whose time seems to be passing him by, symbolized by a series of villainous guest spots on TV shows with diminishing returns. There’s Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s old stuntman and full-time assistant/gofer, a man with a dark past but the sunny, sun-splashed disposition of a guy who’s always going to get away with it. And then there’s Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the Sharon Tate, an up-and-coming movie star who lives just down the road from Dalton with her husband Roman Polanski, with the whole world ahead of her but with … occasional strange characters showing up outside her house. The movie leisurely weaves in their stories, sometimes down narrative cul-de-sacs, sometimes their goings-on simply an excuse to dance through Tarantino’s meticulous, almost sensuous recreation of 1969 Hollywood. But it’s all leading up to the moment when they all cross paths, and history both gets in the way and is shoved aside. The greatest achievement Tarantino pulls off here is, by pure force, to yank this era back to life, to recreate it and revive it as if driven by some sort of religious mania. Dalton might be on his way down and Tate on her way up, but they’re a part of the same world nonetheless, and when their paths cross, it feels like divine justice: It feels like Tarantino at last making history lock up the way it was supposed to. It elevates the material while consciously never wanting to rise up from the muck. This is as close as Tarantino will ever come to showing his full heart, what there is of it. —Will Leitch

43. Ferrari

Release Date: December 25, 2023
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Sarah Gadon, Gabriel Leone, Jack O’Connell, Patrick Dempsey
Rating: R
Runtime: 131 minutes

More casual appreciators of director Michael Mann might have understandably wondered if he was permanently locked into a late-period For Mannheads Only phase of his career. But you don’t need to be a Blackhat apologist to vibe with Ferrari; in fact, some of his most dedicated followers might blanch at the very lack of neon-dotted opportunities for pure cityscape viewing. Structurally, Ferrari is closer to an Aaron Sorkin-style compressed biopic, following the famous Italian carmaker (Adam Driver) during a time of personal and professional crisis. His mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley) wants him to claim their son with his famous name; doing so would risk the wrath of his powerful wife Laura (Penelope Cruz), who he needs to keep his company from bankruptcy. In the midst of all this, he can secure his future as a manufacturer of race cars if his team triumphs at a major (and dangerous) cross-country race. Mann, working in a more classical mode than his digital-forward experiments, transcends this year’s crop of brand-name-as-protagonist business-plan cinema by turning Enzo Ferrari into one of his haunted, taciturn control-seekers, juxtaposing the freedom of the road with its technological limitations (and personifying it with the cars’ artist-creator). Driver, steering through soulful reflection and deadpan humor, proves true to his name.–Jesse Hassenger

44. Yes, God, Yes

Year: 2020
Director: Karen Maine
Starring: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Francesca Reale, Wolfgang Novogratz
Rating: NR
Runtime: 78 minutes

A Christian’s hypocrisy is accurately measured by their piety: The louder they caterwaul about other people’s sins, the more likely they are to have a closet packed with their own perversions. Karen Maine gets it. Her debut feature, Yes, God, Yes, adapted from her debut short of the same name, is glazed around a big, moist cake of sexual sanctimony. Fart-sniffing Christian holier-than-thou gossipmongers fall on the perceived weakling of their flock, young Alice (Natalia Dyer), accused of tossing salad even though she doesn’t even know what the blue hell that means. Alice actually is innocent, unlike her peers. Her only wrongdoing isn’t wrong at all: She stumbles onto an AOL chat room, catches a glimpse of some hardcore porn sans context, and then decides to start discovering her own body just before she’s sent off on a retreat run by Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), a man with a necessarily wide smile, stretched so far that his face is primed to split but in danger of collapsing should he stop. Yes, God, Yes stitches Alice’s coming of age to a culture where talking about coming is verboten; Maine looks for humor in her experiential screenplay and finds it, but it’s a bleak kind of humor punctuated by hopelessness. If the authority figures in a society break the rules they set out for everyone else to follow, then navigating that society as a reasonable person is impossible. But Dyer’s spirited work as Alice gives the film a plucky heart. Maybe she can’t affect actual change here, but she can, at least, do right by herself. Dyer’s star has risen in the last half decade or so, and Yes, God, Yes further validates her gifts as an actress. Maine lets the camera linger on Dyer’s face when she’s confronted with obscenity, and Dyer lets her eyes and mouth and cheeks perform hilarious, expressive gymnastics. At the same time, she conveys fear—the fear of realizing that the adults of Alice’s life are all bullshit artists, the fear of having no one to confide in about her natural curiosities and urges—with wounded brilliance. She’s the perfect actress to realize Maine’s deft critique of religious sexual duplicity. –Andy Crump

45. Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Year: 2021
Director: Questlove
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Documentary, Musical

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is the subject of Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson’s debut documentary feature, Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). More specifically, the documentary examines how this six-week summer festival, which featured many of the most revered Black musicians of all time— including Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and Gladys Knight—went largely unrecognized in America’s cultural consciousness. Featuring an immense catalogue of footage that sat in a basement virtually untouched for 50 years, Summer of Soul acts as an interrogation of what the absence of these materials has meant for the subsequent generation of Black artists, including Questlove himself. Despite the apparent cultural amnesia that followed the event (at least among non-Black Americans), the Harlem Cultural Festival easily overshadowed a ubiquitous moment in American history: The 1969 moon landing. Archival interviews with several attendees reveal that for many Black Americans, the moon landing was not seen as a boundary-pushing event worth celebrating. Catching Stevie Wonder’s set, on the other hand, was. Considering the undeniable essence of colonialism that space travel entails, who can blame them? 300,000 music lovers descended on Mount Morris Park that summer—hardly a negligible amount, especially when compared to Woodstock’s 500,000 attendees. While Woodstock may have been emblematic of the power of counter-culture, the predominance of white spectators in the crowd cemented the event as an artistic awakening. Meanwhile, the equally hyped Harlem Cultural Festival was relegated to the sidelines of historical preservation due to its predominantly Black audience and centering of Black acts on stage. Summer of Soul was easily one of the most successful films at this year’s Sundance, earning the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the documentary section. But Questlove was never in it for the acclaim, a sentiment made evident in some of the first words the filmmaker uttered during his remote acceptance speech: “I didn’t even know this was a competition, yo!” The documentary was quickly picked up by Searchlight, with a streaming release on Hulu imminent. Whether interested in unraveling an overshadowed cultural event or eager to experience awe-inspiring performances from beloved artists at their best, Summer of Soul surely won’t disappoint.—Natalia Keogan

46. Crimes of the Future

Year: 2022
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Don McKellar, Scott Speedman
Rating: R
Genre: Sci-Fi

Sharing a title with Cronenberg’s second film, the latest from the body horror auteur is a return to (de)form after two decades of more dialed-back drama. Digging into the art world’s juicy guts and suturing it up as a compelling, ambitious sci-fi noir, Crimes of the Future thrills, even if it leaves a few stray narrative implements sewn into its scarred cavities. The dreamy and experimental Crimes of the Future (1970) sees creative cancers develop in a womanless world ravaged by viruses. New organs are created (and sometimes worshiped) in a broken society now run by fetishists and hurtling towards a dire, damnable biological response. While Cronenberg’s 2022 do-over on the subject of organic novelty in a collapsing society isn’t a remake by any stretch of the new flesh, it addresses the same pet interests that’ve filled his films since the beginning. Thankfully, it does so with new subtextual success and a far more straightforward and accessible text (despite the full-frontal nudity and graphic autopsies). Unlike Cronenberg’s early work, this movie has color, diegetic sound and movie stars. It embraces traditional dramatic pacing and supplements its perversion with cutting-edge effects. And at least now the characters speak to each other—in that detached, psychology-textbook-meets-FM-2030-essay style—while the camera dives deep into the guts that fascinate us. Specifically, the guts of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen). He and Caprice (Lea Seydoux) are performance artists whose medium is the generation and removal of neo-organs. Saul builds them up, Caprice slices them out. Our destruction of the world, filling its oceans with plastic and its air with pollution, allowed this to happen. Humanity is now literally numb. People slice each other with knives at clubs, or in the street. Recreational surgery is commonplace. Many can only feel real pain while asleep. This unconscious suffering is just one of many sharpened sides of Crimes’ metaphor. Art is evolving to meet this nerve-deadened world on its terms. Humans are too, literally. That’s why Saul’s able to squeeze out nasty new lumps of viscera and why National Organ Registry investigators Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart), as well as radical transhumanist Lang (Scott Speedman), find him fascinating. The trio help narratively blend the dystopian bureaucracy and thriving, subversive multimedia generated by Cronenberg’s nihilistic predictions. When we eventually ruin things, there will just as surely be new cogs in old machines as there will be new rebels in old resistances. Erudite and exploitative, gory yet gentle, Crimes of the Future shows the new kids on the chopping block that an old master can still dissect with the best. But Crimes of the Future’s more meaningful impact is in its representation of a trailblazer finally seeing the horizon. Cronenberg’s view of the future understands that the true death of an artist and the death of society at large result from the same tragic failure to evolve—even if that innovation is simply renovation.—Jacob Oller

47. The Monk and the Gun

Release Date: February 9, 2024
Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji
Stars: Tandin Wangchuk, Deki Lhamo, Choeying Jatsho, Tandin Sonam, Harry Einhorn, Pema Zangmo Sherpa
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes

Set against the backdrop of 2006 Bhutan, The Monk and the Gun is a light but well-delivered political satire about the country’s first democratic elections following their king’s abdication. Through Pawo Choyning Dorji’s thoughtful framing of his home country and understated humor that captures the specifics of this place, The Monk and the Gun communicates why those living there may not be as enthused about these changes as Western pundits would assume. Buddhist monk Tashi (Tandin Wangchuk) receives a request from his lama: Find a pair of guns. While the lama isn’t exactly forthcoming about why, he ominously states that “things need to be made right again” regarding the upcoming mock elections recently announced over the radio. As Tashi sets out on his quest, a man from the city, Benji (Tandin Sonam), undertakes a parallel endeavor to help an American named Ron (Harry Einhorn) to locate an antique rifle reported in the area. Elsewhere, locals brace for the imminent elections as tensions flare within households, like how Tshomo (Deki Lhamo) and Choephel (Choeying Jatsho) face issues with their marriage due to the latter’s involvement in helping a family member run for office. As these groups approach the next full moon, when the elections will take place and the lama’s plan will be carried out, their paths converge. Although elements of The Monk and the Gun’s premise, like its focus on political machinations and firearms, may imply that it’s a heavy, brooding affair, it’s defined by an undercurrent of levity. Dorji, who also wrote the film, weaves in playful comedy, delighting in the quiet absurdity implied by its title. The Monk and the Gun balances all these inclinations. It’s funny and lighthearted, but delves into political forces and carries a slight undercurrent of danger. It subtly lambasts the overbearing reach of Western influence, particularly American gun culture, but also accepts the possibility for change. Most importantly, it gives director Pawo Choyning Dorji a chance to catalog the landscapes and ideas of his home as he deftly recounts where it was at a specific moment. It may be unhurried, but for a film archiving a particular way of life, that is very much by design.–Elijah Gonzalez

48. The Worst Person in the World

Year: 2022
Director: Joachim Trier
Stars: Tanya Chowdary, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

Millennials were born into a world that no longer demands much of young people, yet somehow expects even more of us. Not as long ago as we might think, it was the norm for adults in their 20s and 30s to have it all figured out. A spouse, a career, a gaggle of children—at least one of these things and even better if all three. Young people now are caught in this strange purgatory between child and adult. We are afforded more time to become who we want to be and there is more pressure than ever to do so. Enter Julie (Renate Reinsve, Dakota Johnson’s long-lost twin), a fickle Norwegian who has never stayed committed to one thing in her entire life. A teenaged overachiever, she dabbled in medicine before she discovered that she was more interested in matters of the soul than the body. So, she cuts and dyes her hair, dumps her med school lover and pivots to psychology pursuits before burning that all down too, shifting once again—this time to photography. But unsurprisingly, photography manages to bore Julie as well, and soon enough she’s off to the next new thing, next new hairstyle, next new guy in the adult coming-of-age film that is Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, the director’s follow-up to the 2017 supernatural thriller Thelma and his fifth film overall. Prior to this breakneck, whimsically-scored narrated montage of Julie’s life so far (edited with precision by Olivier Bugge Coutté and scored by Ola Fløttum), the narrator explains what’s going to happen: This is a film in twelve chapters, complete with a prologue and an epilogue. Thus, The Worst Person in the World functions like a fractured collection of moments in one person’s life as they strive for self-actualization. The chapters are never consistently timed, some lasting only a few minutes and others lasting the length of a television episode, creating an atmosphere in which we never know how much time has passed, and yet time is passing all the same—and quickly—for Julie. When we’ve finally caught up to her present, she’s entered into a long-term relationship with a successful, 44-year-old graphic novelist named Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), whose prosperous career has given her the stability to work a day job at a bookstore while she decides what she wants to set her sights on next. Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is as indecisive as its endlessly curious heroine, but it is an invigorating, exceedingly kind portrait conveying that the journey is just as—if not more—crucial as the place we end up.—Brianna Zigler

49. Mandibles

Year: 2021
Directors: Quentin Dupieux
Stars: David Marsais, Grégoire Ludig, Adèle Exarchopoulos, India Hair, Roméo Elvis, Dave Chapman
Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy

A scenario of magical realism achieved as if through a scuzzy bong rip, French director Quentin Dupieux’s Mandibles follows two slacker friends (Grégoire Ludig, David Marsais) who scheme to make some quick cash to scrape by with the friendly assistance of an oversized housefly. Though Dupieux’s previous films such as Rubber and Deerskin never shy away bloodshed and suffering, his latest effort is overwhelmingly defined by a sense of joie de vivre despite a typically surreal plot and the undeniable disaster left in its protagonists’ wake. The filmmaker’s absurdist comedy leanings are on full display, rendering Mandibles his most surprisingly exuberant film to date. Bizarre but never confounding, Mandibles is a superbly executed tragicomedy. The pair’s idle reaction to their misfortune only adds another veneer of hilarity to the already farcical plotline. When a case of mistaken identity grants the friends a chance to crash at a bougie vacation house on the coast, their oblivious hosts’ ridiculous insistence on politeness and good manners makes them appear far more deranged than the wannabe grifters and their enormous pet fly. Particularly when it comes to Agnès (marvelously performed by Adèle Exarchopoulos, best known in the U.S. as the star of 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color)—a resident with a volume-control issue stemming from a ski-related incident that shouldn’t be funny, but certainly is—her insistence on adhering to textbook French civility despite a startling, brash tone indicates a certain commentary on an antiquated notion of politeness. Irreverent and heartfelt at once, Mandibles’ comedic duo is part Cookie and King Lu from First Cow, part Dante and Randall from Clerks. They treat the animal which promises them profit with reverence while simultaneously acting in selfish, boorish ways totally unfit for polite society. Though Dupieux’s films have never shied away from violence and destruction, Mandibles preserves the filmmaker’s penchant for perplexity while asserting that life is a glorious thing—even in its distasteful weirdness.—Natalia Keogan

50. The Promised Land

Release Date: February 2, 2024
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Amanda Collin, Simon Bennebjerg, Melina Hagberg, Kristine Kujath Thorp, Gustav Lindh
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Western

Mads Mikkelsen plays Ludvig Kahlen, a retired military officer living in 18th-century Denmark who’s hellbent on cultivating the Jutland heath, a stretch of land considered impossible to farm. If he can accomplish this seemingly undoable task, he’s been promised a noble title, a goal he chases with obsessive resolve. But beyond taming this infertile landscape, he also must contend with Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), a sadistic magistrate willing to spill blood to ensure he retains control over the region. As Kahlen spends every penny of his meager pension to cultivate this space, a stand-off brews between these men, each determined to get his way. While The Promised Land largely takes place on a relatively tiny plot of dirt in the Danish boonies, its filmmaking lends this struggle an expansive, David-versus-Goliath slant. Cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk and director Nikolaj Arcel contrast the breadth of the Jutland countryside against the smallness of our protagonist’s enterprise as he cuts through vast shrubland and tills acidic soil in what initially feels like a futile and hubristic effort. But what makes The Promised Land truly compelling is how it naturally grows into something else, as Kahlen nurtures a seed of doubt about his ultimate aims. Mikkelsen deftly embodies these turns with subtle gestures that bring out internal struggles, and it’s deeply satisfying to watch as his icy demeanor at least marginally melts. The toughness of these surroundings makes it feel all the more precious when he finds his unexpected connections. But, thanks to Mikkelsen’s performance and Kahlen’s characterization, even at the heights of their happiness, there is a genuine uncertainty around how things will break, a relative rarity in a storytelling landscape where the protagonist’s final decision often comes across as perfunctory and obvious. It all comes together to make The Promised Land a stirring historical epic that balances its grandiose framing with something surprisingly grounded and genuine. A bountiful harvest indeed.–Elijah Gonzalez

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