The 75 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (January 2021)

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The 75 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (January 2021)

Hulu has been quietly expanding and updating its film catalog ever since its deal ended with Criterion all those long years ago, before Filmstruck and before the Criterion Channel and before the vast, choked-out landscape of streaming content became yet another sign of the end times. Now the best movies on Hulu feature an unexpected variety of classics, indie gems and recent blockbusters.

Although Hulu is known for its variety of TV, don’t be fooled into thinking its selection of movies can’t stand metaphorical toe to metaphorical toe with services like Netflix or Amazon Prime—especially since Hulu and Amazon seem to lap up anything Netflix has recently discarded. 2021 has seen big changes in all the streamers’ offerings and Hulu is no exception. A third of this list left the streamer between December and January. Unassailable classics like Raging Bull and ridiculously fun parodies like Not Another Teen Movie departed—not to mention all the Harry Potter films—leaving us with a shaken-up list that still has lots to offer. For example, all three Lord of the Rings films are now—for the month of January—on Hulu. Rejoice!

Here are the 75 best movies on Hulu right now:

1. Parasite

parasite-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun Kyun, Yeo-Jeong Jo, Choi Woo-sik, Park So Dam, Lee Jung Eun
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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“That’s so metaphorical,” exclaims the son of the Kim family, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), holding with childlike reverie a large rock sculpture, a wooden base solidifying its aesthetic and cultural value. The pointedly nice object stands apart from the basic keepsakes in the Kims’ fairly dingy and cramped home, inhabited by unemployed driver father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), unemployed mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), and not-in-art-school daughter, Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). Brought to them by Ki-woo’s wealthy friend, the rock is supposed to foretell great financial wealth to whatever family keeps it in their home. Irritated at their own situation, at the lack of space, at the lack of immediate value the rock has, Chung-sook mutters, “Could’ve brought us food.” In Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, those that live with a stark awareness of inequality operate with a sense of cognitive dissonance. It’s this paradox of thought that allows Ki-woo to be both naively worshipful towards what a rock sculpture could bring them, but also understand, at other times, that wandering around isn’t how one ascends into power. At the behest of said wealthy friend, he becomes the English tutor for the daughter, Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), of the grotesquely affluent Park family: astute patriarch (Lee Sun-kyun), dim matriarch (Cho Yeo-jeong), manic artsy son, Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon), and severely loyal housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun). But as the Kim and Park families grow increasingly closer, both the differences and similarities between them blur beyond discernment. Bong’s interest in income inequality and class has spanned the majority of his career, examining the ways it impacts the justice system (Memories of Murder, Mother), the environment (Okja) and the institutions responsible for both the exacerbation of wealth inequality and failing to protect those most marginalized by that inequality (Snowpiercer, The Host). For Parasite, Bong takes a slightly different angle—he’s no less interested in inequality’s consequences, but here he sees how class as performance manifests, particularly when people are plucked from one echelon of society and put in another. As we watch both families act in different, but intersecting, pieces of social/anthropological theatre, Bong cuts through their mutual hunger, and what ultimately and tragically separates them, with a jaundiced eye and an acidic sense of humor. Laughing during Parasite feels like choking on rust. (Cho, especially, finds the perfect amount of absurdity as the somewhat doltish mother, truly a testament to rich ladies being easily knocked over by a feather.) But Bong is not interested in metaphor, and not the kind written on rocks. Even through its absurdist, bleakly satirical lens, Bong understands that social inequity is not just theatre, but lived experience. Sometimes the rock is just a shit-stained rock. —Kyle Turner


2. Akira

akira.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Stars: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama
Genre: Animation, Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 124 minutes

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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. Sputnik

sputnik-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Egor Abramenko
Stars: Oksana Akinshina, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov, Anton Vasiliev
Rating: NR
Runtime: 113 minutes

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The good news is that, three years later, at least one of Alien’s descendants have figured out that borrowing from its forebear makes far more sense than lazily aping Scott, which explains in part why Egor Abramenko’s Sputnik works so well: It’s Alien-esque, because any film about governments and corporations using unsuspecting innocents as vessels for stowing extraterrestrial monsters for either weaponization or monetization can’t help evoke Alien. Abramenko has that energy. Sputnik’s style runs somewhere in the ballpark of unnerving and unflappable: The movie doesn’t flinch, but makes a candid, methodical attempt at making the audience flinch instead, contrasting high-end creature FX against a lo-fi backdrop. Until the alien makes its first appearance slithering forth from the prone Konstantin’s mouth, Sputnik’s set dressing suggests a lost relic from the 1980s. But the sophistication of the creature’s design, a crawling, semi-diaphanous thing that’s coated in layers of sputum equally audible and visible, firmly anchors the film to 2020. Let the new pop cultural dividing line be drawn there. —Andy Crump


4. Starman

starman-1984-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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John Carpenter’s Starman melds fish-out-of-water hijinks with more complex moral hierarchies. Jeff Bridges is the titular Starman, an outer space shape-shifter who takes the form of a widow’s (Karen Allen in one of her best unsung performances) recently departed husband, and enlists her to drive him to the Grand Canyon for … something that’s better left undisclosed. Bridges earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a gradually emerging human, though his performance is a bit distracting in its initial reliance on body language tics like hunched head turns and a scrunched Ken-doll expression. In the early going, it looks as though at any point he could unhinge his jaw inside out like one of the grotesqueries from The Thing. After the initial theatrics, an undeniably complex internal conversation ponders the need to lionize or villainize those who are different, as best synthesized in Charles Martin Smith’s line, “The cannibal said to the missionary, ‘Who is the missionary and who’s the cannibal?’” Another film about friendly aliens that uncovers the nature of our relationships, Starman isn’t necessarily interested in the outside forces in general, even as they’re always in the rearview mirror. Buoyed by Jack Nitzsche’s soaring, bruisingly raw synth score and the bristling warmth in Allen and Bridge’s romance, it’s a reminder that the purity of aliens reacting to humanity can reflect both our most base and most affirming qualities as a species. —Michael Snydel


5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

portrait-lady-on-fire-movie-poster.jpg Release: February 14, 2020 (wide)
Director: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

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


6. Let the Right One In

3. let the right one in (Custom).jpg Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Stars: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, Peter Carlberg
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Vampires may have become cinema’s most overdone, watered-down horror villains, aside from zombies, but leave it to a Swedish novelist and filmmaker to reclaim frightening vampires by producing a novel and film that turned the entire genre on its head. Let the Right One In centers around the complicated friendship and quasi-romantic relationship between 12-year-old outcast Oskar and Eli, a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of an androgynous (although ostensibly female) child who looks his same age. As Oskar slowly works his way into her life, drawing ever-closer to the role of a classical vampire’s human “familiar,” the film questions the nature of their bond and whether the two can ever possibly commune on a level of genuine love. At the same time, it’s also a chilling, very effective horror film whenever it chooses to be, especially in the absolutely spectacular final sequences, which evoke Eli’s terrifying abilities with just the right touch of obstruction to leave the worst of it in the viewer’s imagination. The film received an American remake in 2010, Let Me In, which has been somewhat unfairly derided by film fans sick of the remake game, but it’s another solid take on the same story that may even improve upon a few small aspects of the story. Ultimately, though, the Swedish original is still the superior film thanks to the strength of its two lead performers, who vault it up to become perhaps the best vampire movie ever made. —Jim Vorel


7. Super 8

super-8-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: J. J. Abrams
Stars: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Super 8 is a film that ultimately feels more deeply tied to its subtext and inspirations than anything within its own plot—ostensibly a story about a rogue alien on the loose in a small Midwestern city in the 1970s, ‘ala E.T., it often seems curiously disinterested in the literal extraterrestrial. Instead, this is a story about a young group of friends coming together to achieve their goals, sprinkled with social awkwardness and the grieving process for young protagonist Joe (Joel Courtney), even as his sexuality is awakening in the presence of peer Alice (Elle Fanning, in her debut). These exchanges between young teenage characters are the true heart of the film, evoking the emotional vulnerability of the characters in something like Stand By Me, and ultimately proving more interesting than the alien hijinks propelling the plot forward. Every time Super 8 is simply about a group of 14-year-olds trying to make the best damn zombie movie they can, it becomes oddly endearing. —Jim Vorel


8. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

cloudy.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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The director-producer team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have worked on everything from animated films The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to live action comedies 21 Jump Street and The Last Man on Earth. But they got their start adapting and directing the perfectly enjoyable kids film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs based on Judi and Ron Barrett’s classic 1978 book. In the film, inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) on the tiny island of Chewandswallow finally finds success with a machine that turns water to food. All is well until a tornado of spaghetti and meatballs threatens the island and Flint must work against the corrupt mayor (Bruce Campbell) to save everyone from destruction. Lord and Miller’s quirky humor is on display, backed by a funny cast: Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Samberg, Will Forte, Mr. T and, appropriately, Al Roker. —Josh Jackson


9. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery


austin-powers.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Carrie Fisher
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was a cultural touchstone when it was first released thanks to Mike Myers’ instantly iconic performance and plethora of catchphrases, but it’s really a more clever film than it’s ever truly been given credit for (unlike its sequels). A loving spoof on the entire genre of spy movies, rewatching it now is especially rewarding, given the recent announcement that the upcoming James Bond film will be dealing with the classic villain organization “SPECTRE.” With the possible return of Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, audiences may finally understand that the character of Dr. Evil is an almost perfect parody of more serious Bond source material. Austin Powers may be a true ‘90s time capsule, but many of the jokes have improved with age.—Jim Vorel


10. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

mission-impossible-ghost-protocol-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Genre: Thriller, Action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 133 minutes

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After the thrilling opening sequence of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, we cut to a Moscow prison where Ethan is mysteriously being held. Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) are plying their tech and explosives skills to break him out. The scene is jaunty and light-hearted, and scored, in the film’s reality, to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” Light fuse. Cue famous theme. What follows is still the best entry in the Mission Impossible franchise, and one of the best action movies of the last decade. Not bad for first-time live-action director Brad Bird, though with his widely acclaimed previous work on animated features The Iron Giant, and Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille, it’s not a huge surprise. Ethan and his thrown-together team (including late-to-the-game IMF analyst William Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner) find themselves on their own with limited resources when their infiltration of the Kremlin goes horribly wrong and the IMF is blamed. This causes the U.S. government to invoke the titular spectral protocol, in which the entire agency is disavowed in order to avoid a war much worse than a Cold one with Russia. From there, it’s a global cat-and-mouse game with a megalomaniacal arms dealer who’s attempting nothing less than to wipe the Earth clean to start the cycle of life anew. Cruise is as electric as ever, and Ghost Protocol is wholly satisfying, and a breathtaking blast from start to finish. —Dan Kaufman


11. Ghostbusters

ghostbusters.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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As the slew of ’80s merchandise and a cartoon series would prove, Ghostbusters had mass-appeal with kids. The film followed a team of parapsychologists—played by Dan Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray—who tackle big-ghost issues in New York City. Sure some of the effects are dated, but this one has staying power, and near-infinite quotability. And although the bad guys come from beyond the grave, they’re also kid-friendly, with the begging-to-be-a-plush-toy Slimer and a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Pass this classic comedy along to the next generation, while more or less ignoring the middling remake, which was neither as good or bad as fans or detractors made it out to be. —Tyler Kane


12. Grave of the Fireflies

fireflies.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Isao Takahata
Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Genre: Thriller, Action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies is the harrowing story of two children whose lives are left devastated by the 1945 firebombing of Kobe. Adapted from the autobiographical story of Akiyuki Nosaka, the film follows Seita, a young Japanese boy forced to care for his younger sister Setsuko in the wake of a devastating Allied attack that leaves his hometown in ruins. To describe the sum of their tragedies as “horrifying” feels like a gross understatement. The horror of Grave of the Fireflies is not reliant on brooding over callous acts of violence or fixating on the macabre, but rather on the heart-wrenching futility of Seita and Satsuko trying desperately to cling to some shred of normalcy in a world devoid of peace and security. Whether it’s the scene of Seita setting eyes on his mother for the first time after the firebombing, or Satsuko inadvertently stumbling across a corpse while playing at the beach, the film raises these children’s hopes of escaping a living hell on earth as quickly as it dashes them. The film is extraordinary in that it shows the audience, with no uncertainty, that these children will perish and somehow through its hour-and-a-half running time compels the viewer to hope that this fate can be averted. Grave of the Fireflies is a chilling portrait of the fragility of human life when confronted by the indifferent brutality of an uncaring world, a film utterly unlike anything Studio Ghibli had produced before or since. Tragic in the truest sense of the word, Grave of the Fireflies is not only one of the greatest films the studio has ever produced, but unmistakably one of the greatest anime films of all time. —Toussaint Egan


13. Boogie Nights

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

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


14. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

mission-impossible-fallout-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 147 minutes

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At some point midway through Mission: Impossible – Fallout—the sixth entry in the franchise and director Christopher McQuarrie’s unprecedented second go at helming one of these beasts—CIA brute Austin Walker (Henry Cavill) asks his superior, CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett), how many times she thinks Übermensch Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) will put up with his country screwing him over before he snaps. Walker’s question is rhetorical, intended to convince Sloane that Hunt is actually John Lark, the alias of a shadowy conspirator planning to buy stolen plutonium whom he and Hunt also happen to be chasing, but the question is better put before Cruise, the film’s bright, shining star. It’s a question that hangs over this dependably mind-blowing action flick more obviously than any installment to come before: How long can 56-year-old Cruise keep doing this before he, truly and irrevocably, snaps? Fallout never offers an answer, most likely because Cruise won’t have one until his body just completely gives out, answering for him by default. Fallout shows no real signs of that happening any time soon. What it does show is a kind of blockbuster intuition for what makes our enormous action brands—from Fast and the Furious to the MCU—thrive, behind only Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol as the best of the now 22-year endeavor. Where Bird leaned into the franchise as a literalization of its title, redefining the series by balancing the absurdity of what Cruise was impossibly doing (the Burj Khalifa scene is one of the greatest action sequences ever) with the awe of bearing witness to what a human person could accomplish if devoid of all Thetans, McQuarrie considers the two pretty much the same thing. The only reaction worthy of such absurdity is awe—and the only American tentpole films worth our awe anymore are those deemed Mission: Impossible. It’s all so goddamned beautiful. I love these movies. —Dom Sinacola


15. The Hurt Locker

hurt-locker-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Genre: Drama, War, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty may have been more ambitious in its step-by-step chronicle of the efforts to find and kill Osama bin Laden, but her preceding War on Terror film, The Hurt Locker, remains the more resonant achievement. It’s essentially a character study in the guise of an action movie, with Bigelow’s subject Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), a devil-may-care maverick who not only has a knack for disarming bombs, but loves doing it to a reckless degree. Beyond its hair-raising action and suspense set pieces, much of the film’s drama is driven by the tensions James’s hot-dog tendencies create between himself and everyone around him. But perhaps the film’s most noteworthy achievement lies in the way Bigelow uncannily inhabits James’s perspective while also standing outside of it. When, in its quiet epilogue, James finds himself immediately bored by suburban life and itches to return to the adrenalized theater of war, after nearly two hours of relentless nerve-wracking tension, we in the audience feel the same sense of stagnation he does. “War is a drug,” says journalist Chris Hedges in a quote that opens the film. In The Hurt Locker, Bigelow makes us understand that perspective in the most visceral way possible, to truly revelatory effect. —Kenji Fujishima


16. Face/Off


face-off-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1997
Director: John Woo
Stars: Nicolas Cage, John Travolta
Genre: Action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 138 minutes

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One of the best action bonanzas of the ’90s begins with the murder of a small boy, and the following 130 brilliant, dove-dunked, borderline lysergic minutes do nothing to denounce the glorious shamelessness of those very first moments. Contrary to contemporary narratives, Nicolas Cage has always been a bit much, but as swaggering sociopath Castor Troy (and then as traumatized lawman Sean Archer), the Oscar-winning actor seems to realize that everything has been building to this Face/Off, that perhaps he had been put on this earth for the sake of this film, and that director John Woo—already an action maestro by this point with The Killer, Hardboiled and Hard Target—should be his Metatron, recording and overseeing this important time in the Realm of Humans. Similarly, John Travolta leans just as hard into his half of the two-hander, saddled with the added pressure of playing a bad guy who’s playing a dad who lasciviously stares at “his” own teenage daughter, encouraging her to smoke by basically flirting with her, and like most Travolta performances from the past 20 years, fails spectacularly to not make it weird. With a plot (FBI agent undergoes experimental face surgery to pretend to be super criminal in order to trick super criminal’s less-super criminal brother into revealing the location of a bomb) that makes way less sense as a Wikipedia synopsis than it does on-screen, Face/Off should be a disaster. And hoo boy is it ever—plus a landmark in action filmmaking. —Dom Sinacola


17. If Beale Street Could Talk

beale-street-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Barry Jenkins
Stars: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Teyonah Pariss, Aunjanue Ellis
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Time for our characters elliptical, and the love story between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) the rhythm we’ll return to over and over. As our narrator, Tish speaks in both curt statements and koans, Barry Jenkins’ screenplay translating James Baldwin’s novel as an oneiric bit of voyeurism: When the two finally consummate their relationship after a lifetime (barely two decades) of friendship between them and their families, the mood is divine and revelatory. Do people actually have sex like that? God no, but maybe we wish we did? And sometimes we convince ourselves we have, with the right person, just two bodies alone, against the world, in a space—maybe the only space—of their own. The couple’s story is simple and not: A cop (Ed Skrein) with a petty score to settle against Fonny connives a Puerto Rican woman (Emily Rios) who was raped to pick Fonny out of a lineup, even though his alibi and all evidence suggests otherwise. In the film’s first scene, we watch Tish visit Fonny in jail to tell him that she’s pregnant. He’s ecstatic; we immediately recognize that unique alchemy of terror and joy that accompanies any new parent, but we also know that for a young black couple, the world is bent against their love thriving. “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass,” Tish says. Do they hope? James and Layne’s performances, so wondrously in sync, suggest they must, one flesh with no other choice. As Tish’s mother, Regina King perhaps best understands the wickedness of that hope, playing Sharon as a woman who can’t quite get what she wants, but who seems to intuit that such progress may be further than most in her situation. Beleaguered but undaunted, she’s the film’s matriarch, a force of such warmth that, even in our fear watching as Tish’s belly grows and her hope wanes, Sharon’s presence reassures us—not that everything will be alright, but that everything will be. The end of If Beale Street Could Talk is practically a given—unless your ignorance guides you throughout this idiotic world—but there is still love in those final moments, as much love as there was in the film’s symmetrical opening. There’s hope in that, however pathetically little. —Dom Sinacola


18. Deadpool

deadpool.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams
Genre: Superhero, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Years in the making, Deadpool has long presented a marketing conundrum for the studio. It’s a superhero movie set in the family-friendly-ish X-Men universe, starring a foul-mouthed, ruthless and self-referential antihero. Get it wrong, and Deadpool could be a spectacular failure, but get it right and it could begin a whole new chapter for superhero movies. They got it right, at least as far as the studio is concerned. The film introduces its title character with a wedgie, as he and a car full of bloody corpses fly through the air above a New York highway. From there the movie jumps in and out of flashback to tell how Wade Wilson (Reynolds) met love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and got turned into a disfigured mutant by Ed Skrein’s sneering Ajax, putting the Merc With a Mouth on a super-powered collision course with his maker. Per the Deadpool comics, the movie is, atypically for superhero cinema, gory, profane and loaded with sex jokes. Our superhero often breaks the fourth wall, stopping occasionally to chat to the audience or “cue the music.” Reynolds, after years spent searching for a franchise to call his own, has finally struck gold. A motormouth frequently hired to play characters both charming and irritating, he’s perfectly cast as Wade Wilson, but props must ultimately go to screenwriters Paul Whernick and Rhett Reese for successfully bringing the Looney Tunes anarchy of the Deadpool comic to life. Loud, scrappy and intentionally provocative, if it were a regular R-rated comedy, Deadpool’s “taboo” ingredients—sex montages, f-bombs, TJ Miller riffing obscenely, so much flagrant murder—wouldn’t be considered boundary-breaking at all. But in a superhero movie, this stuff feels revolutionary.—Brogan Morris


19. Superbad

superbad poster.png Year: 2007
Director: Greg Mottola
Stars: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Every generation of teens has its generation of teen movies, and Greg Mottola’s Superbad is the epitome of mine. In Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), my friends and I had a mirror for our own insecurity and awkwardness—they were our modern-day Anthony Michael Halls. In Fogell/McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), we had an icon of weird who somehow ended up a winner, a sort of photonegative of Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick). And in Superbad’s constant dick jokes (care of a script by namesakes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), we had an accurate representation of the way we all talked, maturity be damned. The film would join the pantheon of mid-2000s comedies—most notably Anchorman and Step Brothers—that created a white-adolescent-boy language made up entirely of lewd, absurd references. It’s a rom-com in many respects, but unlike its predecessors, Superbad is a romance between two buddies, a story wherein the ostensible sex drive is secondary to Platonic need. Most of John Hughes’ ’80s oeuvre centers on the cringe-worthy struggle of X character getting Y other character to notice their existence in order to have Y inevitably fall for X. No matter what else Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink have to say, their endgame remains Molly Ringwald getting with the correct Good Guy. Ditto Amy Heckerling’s iconic contributions to the genre, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, and the literary reimaginings (Ten Things I Hate About You, et. al.) that followed in the latter’s wake. In Superbad, Seth and Evan’s versions of the Good Guy aren’t Jules (a precocious Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac): they’re each other. In the film’s denouement, with the two leads snuggled up close in sleeping bags, Seth literally says, “I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream, ‘I love my best friend, Evan.’” For teenage boys struggling with anxiety over the seeming hopelessness of losing their virginity, Superbad provides a welcome respite, an acknowledgement that focusing your entire life upon your dick is pointless when there’s fulfillment to be had by your side the entire time. —Zach Blumenfeld


20. Sorry to Bother You

sorry-to-bother-you-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Boots Riley
Stars: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Stephen Yeun, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Terry Crews, Danny Glover
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Sorry to Bother You has so many ideas busting out of every seam, so much ambition, so much it so urgently wants to say, that it feels almost churlish to point out that the movie ends up careening gloriously out of control. This is rapper and producer Boots Riley’s first movie, and it shows, in every possible way—good, bad, incredible, ridiculous—as if he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to make another one, so he threw every idea he ever had into this. There are moments in Sorry To Bother You that will make you want to jump giddily around the theater. There are also moments that will make you wonder who in the world gave this lunatic a camera. (Some of those moments are pretty giddy too.) The former far outnumbers the latter. Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius, a good-hearted guy who feels like his life is getting away from him and thus tries his hand at telemarketing, failing at it (in a series of fantastic scenes in which his desk literally drops into the homes of whomever he is dialing) until a colleague (Danny Glover, interesting until the movie drops him entirely) recommends he use his “white voice” on calls. Suddenly, Stanfield sounds exactly like David Cross at his most nasally and has become a superstar at the company, which leads him “upstairs,” where “supercallers” like him go after the Glengarry leads. That is just the launching off point: Throughout, we meet a Tony Robbins-type entrepreneur (Armie Hammer) who might also be a slave trader, Cassius’s radical artist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson), who wears earrings with so many mottos it’s a wonder she can hold up her head, and a revolutionary co-worker (Stephen Yeun) trying to rile the workers into rebelling against their masters. There are lots of other people too, and only some of them are fully human. It’s quite a movie. —Will Leitch


21. Johnny Guitar

johnny-guitar.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Johnny Guitar is a film that barely hangs onto its genre trappings—and is one of the strangest and rarest of fifties Westerns. Nicholas Ray specialized in borderline-hysterical, hyper-magnified psychological drama, regardless of the setting. Here, he pits tough saloon keeper Vienna (a hard-faced Joan Crawford) against wrathful rival Mercedes McCambridge. Sterling Hayden sidles in as Vienna’s love interest and the catalyst for the witch hunt, but he’s hardly the driving force of the film. That showdown belongs to the women of Johnny Guitar—and the fearsome, small-minded community that surrounds them. —Christina Newland


22. Shoplifters

shoplifters-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Stars: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jo, Miyu Sasaki, Kirin Kiki
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

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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


23. The Assistant

the-assistant-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Kitty Green
Stars: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfayden, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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The nameless, faceless boss hiding behind closed doors in Kitty Green’s exceptional The Assistant can be easily read as a Harvey Weinstein stand-in. The truth is that Harvey Weinstein isn’t or, now that he’s in prison, wasn’t the only man in the film industry with a habit of abusing his position and privilege by preying on women in his office, either through coercion or through brute force, he is, or was, the most notorious of them. So yes, The Assistant can be thought of as “the Harvey Weinstein movie,” but it really should be thought of as the best contemporary movie to act out patriarchal rape culture dynamics on screen. Regardless, take Weinstein out of your interpretation of The Assistant and the film will still throttle you slowly, packing suffocating pressure into each of its 87 minutes. Green’s primary tool here is stillness: Static shots dominate the production, stifled frame after stifled frame, with the camera, manned by Michael Latham, often left hovering above Green’s star, Julia Garner, as if he means to leave space for her unanswered silent prayers to hang over her head. She plays the title’s long-suffering assistant, silent witness to her boss’s bullying and wanton lasciviousness, helpless to stop it. She spends the film unraveling over the course of a day, confronting her complicity in his sexual predation with no tangible hope of ending the cycle. Because there is no hope in The Assistant, no chance the film’s central evil will meet his punishment, or that the system built to facilitate his evil will collapse. What Green has done here is brutal and unsparing, but it’s also flawlessly made and necessary. —Andy Crump


24. Melancholia

melancholia.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård
Genre: Drama, Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

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If you want a really, really disturbingly beautiful apocalypse, you can’t go wrong with Lars von Trier. Melancholia is the second of a trilogy of films in which the director dives into the nature of depression. It revolves around two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg)—after a staccato series of prologue images set to Wagner (if you’ve ever experienced severe depression you’ll recognize the choppy, distanced, “underwater” quality of this first section), we open on Justine’s wedding reception. There is something seriously wrong with these people. Or is there? It seems like Justine’s boss is actually harassing her for ad copy in the middle of her own wedding toast. It seems like her father is a raging narcissist and her mother is “honest” in a way that makes you want to never take a phone call from her, ever. Everything seems off. And that’s before anyone realizes a runaway planet called Melancholia might be on a collision course with Earth. —Amy Glynn


14. Booksmart

booksmart-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Olivia Wilde
Stars: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Booksmart, the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, is another journey down the halls of a wealthy high school days before graduation, but it’s different enough to be endearing. Written by an all-female writing team—Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman—it centers on life-long besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they attempt to party one time before the end of high school. Wilde and company draw from a whimsical, rainbow palate to explore friendship at diverging roads. Feldstein and Dever shine as an odd couple. Molly wants to be the youngest person ever elected to the Supreme Court, while Amy seeks to discover what possibilities life may open up for her. Easily feeding off of one another’s energy, as Amy and Molly travel around town, jumping gatherings, trying to reach the ultimate cool kids’ party, they cross paths with a diverse array of students also attempting to hide their painfully obvious insecurities. As the night progresses, those masks begin to slip, and the person each of these students is striving to become begins to emerge. The pendulum of teen girl movies swings typically from Clueless—girl-powered, cutesy, high-fashion first-love-centered—to Thirteen, the wild, angry, depressed and running from all genuine emotion kind of movie. Most of these films lay in the space of heteronormative, white, upper or middle class, and able-bodied representation. Even in films centered on otherness, like Bend It Like Beckham, the white best friend is given equal space in the advertising of the film, and the original queer angle was written out in favor of a love triangle. Visit nearly any segment of the internet visited by Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z women, and the cry for better representation is loud and clear. There’s a fresh-faced newness of raw talent in Booksmart that begs to be a touchstone for the next generation of filmmakers. Like Wes Anderson’s Rushmore or Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides, Booksmart is an experience cinema enthusiasts will revisit again and again. —Joelle Monique


26. Frozen

frozen.jpg Year: 2013
Directors: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Ciaran Hinds, Alan Tudyk
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Frozen was a game changer in the Disney princess canon. Not only does it belie the idea that a woman is a damsel in distress needing to be rescued by a man but it openly mocks that anyone would marry someone they just met—something that has happened in nearly every Disney princess movie since the dawn of time. If you think this is something trivial, it isn’t. This kind of pop culture seeps into the psyche of young children and helps to shape the way they view the world. Walk away from Frozen and you know that Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are perfectly capable of saving themselves, thank you very much. But Frozen is more than an empowering movie for all ages. It features a standout performance from Josh Gad as the loveable snowman Olaf, a powerhouse ballad that doesn’t grow old no matter how many times you hear it and terrific songs throughout. Whether you’re seeing it for the first time in forever or for the one thousandth time, Frozen will warm your heart. —Amy Amatangelo


27. Heathers

heathers.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Kim Walker
Genre: Dark Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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As much an homage to ’80s teen romps—care of stalwarts like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe—as it is an attempt to push that genre to its near tasteless extremes, Heathers is a hilarious glimpse into the festering core of the teenage id, all sunglasses and cigarettes and jail bait and misunderstood kitsch. Like any coming-of-age teen soap opera, much of the film’s appeal is in its vaunting of style over substance—coining whole ways of speaking, dressing and posturing for an impressionable generation brought up on Hollywood tropes—but Heathers embraces its style as an essential keystone to filmmaking, recognizing that even the most bloated melodrama can be sold through a well-manicured image. And some of Heathers’ images are indelible: J.D. (Christian Slater) whipping out a gun on some school bullies in the lunch room, or Veronica (Winona Ryder) passively lighting her cigarette with the flames licking from the explosion of her former boyfriend. It makes sense that writer Daniel Waters originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his script: Heathers is a filmmaker’s (teen) film. —Dom Sinacola


28. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

hunt-for-wilderpeople.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Rhys Darby
Genre: Comedy, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Bella’s (Rima Te Wiata) first encounter with Ricky (Julian Dennison), the new foster child she’s agreed to take on, doesn’t inspire confidence, especially with her clumsy jokes at the expense of his weight. In turn, with child-services representative Paula (Rachel House) painting Ricky as an unruly wild child, one dreads the prospect of seeing the kid walk all over this possibly in-over-her-head mother. But Bella wears him down with kindness. And Ricky ends up less of a tough cookie than he—with his fondness for gangsta rap and all that implies—initially tried to project. An adaptation of Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople thrives on upending preconceived notions. The director shows sympathy for Ricky’s innocence, which is reflected in the film’s grand-adventure style. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne’s sweeping, colorful panoramas and a chapter-based narrative structure gives Hunt for the Wilderpeople the feel of a storybook fable, but thanks to the warm-hearted dynamic between Ricky and Hec (Sam Neill), even the film’s most whimsical moments carry a sense of real underlying pain: Both of these characters are outsiders ultimately looking for a home to call their own. —Kenji Fujishima


29. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

the-man-who-shot-liberty-valance-poster.jpg Year: 1962
Director: John Ford
Stars: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 122 minutes

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In the hands of any director other than John Ford, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would probably read as Western navel-gazing. This is a film that directly interrogates the themes and tropes that give the genre its identity while celebrating both at the same time. On paper that sounds self-indulgent to the point of abhorrence. In practice, at least under the mastered hand of Ford, it plays. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the last great Westerns to come out of Hollywood in the genre’s classic mode, one with clearly drawn good guys and bad guys who resolve their frontier beef in the designated courtroom of their time and place: their town’s main drag. But Ford isn’t interested in boilerplate cowboys and varmints having a good old-fashioned shootout as bystanders look on like a crowd watching a tennis match. He wants to do more than pit revolver against revolver. With The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he instead presents a clash of ideologies at the center of a changing world, all while dissecting the mythmaking that is so central to what makes Westerns so satisfying. It’s a contest between the rule of law vs. rule of arms, discourse against brute force.

You can savor the performances of James Stewart and John Wayne, co-starring alongside each other in a Western for the first time, or Lee Marvin, a man seemingly born to play ruthless and brutal heavy types; you can relish the supporting efforts by the film’s excellent secondary cast, which includes the likes of Woody Strode, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef and Edmond O’Brien. But the names, big and small alike, all fall under the umbrella of Ford, who asserts himself as the film’s true principal with the authority of his peerless craft. —A.C.


30. Let the Sunshine In

let-the-shunshine-in-criterion.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Laurent Grévill, Josiane Balasko, Bruno Podalydès, Philippe Katerine, Alex Descas, Gérard Depardieu
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 96 minutes

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


31. I, Tonya

ITonya-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Craig Gillespie
Stars: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Caitlin Carver, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Walter Hauser
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

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The triple axel was Tonya Harding’s greatest trick—and making an audience think that it’s a comedy of some sort is I, Tonya’s. Craig Gillespie’s infuriating and entrancingly brilliant biopic gives its subject control, and with fury, glibness, regret and a smirk, Tonya (Margot Robbie) and the many others in her life spin her story, detailing the ways that trauma (and class marginality) has affected and shaped her. Scenes of abuse—in which Tonya is often pummeled by both her mom (Allison Janney) and her husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan)—are bracingly uncomfortable but cut with snark, and the film then has the gall to ask why you could possibly be laughing at such a horrible thing. I, Tonya dares to embody a camp aesthetic and immediately rebuke it, making sure that everything about it, from its skating scenes—dizzingly filmed as if her skill should be admired, but without actually detailing the technical aspects of what she’s doing, as if to mimic white queer men and how they talk about character actresses—to its genre packaging (part wannabe gangster film, part confessional documentary), smears the ironic quotation marks of its framework with blood, sweat and tears: a roar and a snarl and a declaration of defiance. —Kyle Turner


32. The Cabin in the Woods

the-cabin-in-the-woods-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Drew Goddard
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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The gag here is that a group of young people—who loosely fall into a variety of slasher movie archetypes such as “the virgin,” “the fool” and “the athlete,”—are manipulated into a life-or-death scenario that also serves as a proxy battle for all of humanity. This “ritual,” we come to understand, is orchestrated from an underground bunker full of comically unsympathetic white collar workers who bend the rules of this contest as far as they possibly can, and for good reason: If the hapless protagonists “upstairs” manage to survive, the entire world will be devoured by ancient gods who will rise from below. Only the appeasement of horror film cliches will keep the ancient evil below slumbering for another year. That framework is an excuse to pick apart the silliest (and most beloved) aspects of horror movie tropes. The monsters and antagonists likewise draw inspiration from countless horror franchises: Evil Dead, Hellraiser, It, Chopping Mall, The Wolf Man. It’s a loving assembly of sinister, familiar cinematic imagery that has been corralled and controlled in a way that paints mankind as the ultimate evil above all others, due for extinction. The Cabin in the Woods remains a high bar against which horror genre parodies are judged. —Jim Vorel


33. Minding the Gap

minding-gap-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Bing Liu
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 93 minutes

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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


34. The Beach Bum

beach-bum-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Harmony Korine
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Martin Lawrence, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Witness Matthew McConaughey, transcending. Revel in it, because this has got to be as high as he goes. As Moondog, the opposite, arch nemesis perhaps, to the Matthew McConaughey of the Lincoln commercials—on TV the interstitial, nonchalant pool shark and connoisseur of fine leather everything, a man to whom one whispers courteously, in reverence between network shows—Matthew McConaughey realizes the full flat circle of his essence. The actor bears multitudes, and they all converge upon the befuddled Moondog, consummate inhuman and titular hobo of the southern sands of these United States. One could claim that Moondog’s hedonism represents a moral imperative to consume all that’s truly beautiful about life, and Moondog says as much even if he’s plagiarising D.H. Lawrence (which he admits to his best friend Lingerie, who’s carried on a long-time affair with Moondog’s wife, and who’s played by Snoop Dog in a career best performance). Speaking of Lawrence, Martin also gives a career-best performance as Captain Wack, dolphin lover; the film slides effortlessly into absurdity. One could claim, too, that Moondog’s little but a self-destructive addict somehow given a free pass to circumvent basic human responsibility altogether. One could claim that director Harmony Korine doesn’t believe in basic human responsibility anyway. He doesn’t claim much in the way of explicating Moondog’s whole way of being, doesn’t reserve any judgment for the man’s mantra and blissful lurch towards oblivion. Or annihilation. The uniform for which is casual, including JNCO jeans, brandished by Flicker (Zac Efron), with whom Moondog escapes the court-mandated rehab that seemingly does nothing to pierce the armor of intoxication Moondog’s spent his life reinforcing. Whether he’s protecting himself from any serious human connection or from the crass hellscape of capitalistic society—whether he’s deeply grieving a tragedy that occurs halfway through The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine’s masterpiece of feeling good in the face of feeling the worst, or avoiding all feeling completely—he’s still a bad dad. Or he’s an artist. Or a saint. Or he’s from a different dimension, as his wife (Isla Fisher) explains to their daughter, as she most likely always has, against a breathtaking vista followed not long after by a heartbreaking sunset, both photographed by Benoît Debie, in Miami of all places, all magnificent and hollow, the film a hagiography for the end of history. —Dom Sinacola


35. Support the Girls

support-the-girls-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Stars: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Brooklyn Decker
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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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


36. Force Majeure

force-majeure.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Ruben Östlund
Stars: Johnnes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Hidden behind this uncomfortably snickering fable about modern masculinity is something with no real patience for heteronormative nonsense. Though Force Majeure is mostly about a seemingly good dad who makes a bad split-decision while on vacation with his seemingly perfect family, the film would rather question the more primeval forces that bind us: monogamy, safety, companionship, blood and lust. This isn’t about a father who, in a brief moment of weakness, failed to protect his family, it’s about the dynamics of any relationship: Can we ever know the people we love most? Östlund asks this over and over, wreaking sickly funny havoc upon his male protagonist’s ego as he builds to a sweet little climax wherein this beaten-down bro revels in the chance to show his family his true colors. —Dom Sinacola


37. The Way Back

7-The-way-back-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong
Genre:
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 133 minutes

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Peter Weir’s WWII-era survival movie may be based on a disputed “true story,” but it holds indisputable truths about man’s perseverance in impossible odds. A prison break movie that soon morphs into an epic travelogue, The Way Back displays a bountiful variety of scenery, as a disparate group of POWs and political undesirables escapes from a Soviet gulag to trek 4,000 miles across Asia, from ice-blanketed Siberia through dusty Mongolia and on to lush India, the final destination getting always further away as the group discover how far the tyrannical communism they flee has spread. It’s one of Weir’s less remarkable films, but even Weir in a minor key is still compelling entertainment, and as usual he casts to a T: the top-drawer ensemble includes Ed Harris as a grizzly American engineer, Saoirse Ronan as a Polish stray who joins the escapees on their pilgrimage and, best of all, a wonderfully scuzzy Colin Farrell as a feral Russian gangster who’s spent so long imprisoned he hasn’t a clue what to do with freedom. —Brogan Morris


38. Love & Mercy

love-mercy.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Bill Pohlad
Stars: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks
Genre: Drama, Music Biopic
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 121 minutes

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There is a curious, oft times transcendent harmony to the dissonance at the heart of Love & Mercy. In taking a page from his subject’s life and music, director Bill Pohlad (best known for producing credits like 12 Years a Slave and Into the Wild) largely rejects sentimentality in chronicling a reluctant pop star who wants to craft something more than shiny, happy hooks. (In one scene, Wilson argues the Beach Boys’ true “surfer” cred with his bandmates, knowing better.) Sure, that’s kind of the story—at least on the surface—but his approach unearths the layers of Wilson’s genius and torment. Seemingly straightforward classics like “In My Room” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” take on new meaning as the extent of his struggles come into devastating focus. (Read the full review here.) —Amanda Schurr


39. Meek’s Cutoff

meeks-cutoff.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan
Genre: Western, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Leave it to Kelly Reichardt to reclaim the Western for women. Western movies tend to be seen as “guy” affairs, less so now in 2017 than in years past; they are manly products about manly men doing manly things and pondering manly ideas, though that’s an oversimplified critique that erases the impact women have had on Westerns in front of and behind the camera. What Reichardt does in Meek’s Cutoff is shunt the men to the side and confront the bullshit macho posturing that is such an integral component of the Western’s grammar (the only man here worth his salt is Stephen Meek [Bruce Greenwood], and even he is kind of an incompetent, entitled scumbag). So it’s up to Emily Tetherow, played by the great and luminous Michelle Williams, to challenge his self-appointed authority and take responsibility for the people in the caravan he has led so far astray from their path. Meek’s Cutoff is a stark, minimalist film, which is to say it’s a Kelly Reichardt film. The stripped-down, simmering austerity of her aesthetic pairs perfectly with the sensibilities of Western cinema. —Andy Crump


40. The Square

the-square.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Ruben Östlund
Stars: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary, Dominic West
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 142 minutes

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The Square starts with a hangover and ends with a headache, but don’t feel too bad for the well-meaning fool suffering from them. His ailments are entirely his own damn fault. This is what happens when you try to shoulder the combined weight of the world’s problems by yourself without shrugging: You buckle. In the case of our well-meaning fool, Christian (Claes Bang), that burden is made heavier by hubris, pomp, the kind of commodifiable liberal arrogance that dupes people into thinking they’re helping by responding to mass shootings and natural disasters with hashtags. Christian’s intentions are good—grand even—but he’s just one person. One person can’t wash away humanity’s woes, especially when that person is an inveterate asshole. If you know the movies of Ruben Östlund, though, this won’t come as a surprise: Crummy examples of manliness are his bread and butter. Östlund’s last movie, 2014’s superb Force Majeure, a biting satire of disgraced masculinity, is all about dissecting gender roles and finding sympathy for its protagonist following an act of humiliating cowardice. The Square explores similar thematic pursuits but couches them in an equally biting satire of the art world, and if you’re taking the mickey out of the art world, you’re taking the mickey out of the world at large. Art, after all, is innately political, and The Square has politics in its DNA. —Andy Crump


41. Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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David Mackenzie’s film gets the balance between genre and plot so right that, after a while, I forgot I was watching a genre film and simply found myself immersed in the lives of these characters. That is a tribute to not only the performances and Mackenzie’s direction, but also to Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay, which finds seemingly boundless amounts of colorful human detail and unexpected humor in what, on the surface, stands as a clichéd narrative. Hell or High Water is essentially a cops-and-robbers tale, with grizzled soon-to-retire veteran sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his deputy, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), going after a brotherly duo of bank robbers: Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) Howard. Sheridan’s characters are so fully imagined that, combined with actors and a director sensitive to the nuances in the script, we ultimately respond to them as flesh-and-blood people. But Sheridan—who tackled the moral difficulties of the drug war with his script for Sicario—has even bigger thematic game in mind. Hell or High Water is also meant to be a topical anti-capitalist lament, being that it takes place in a west Texas town that looks to have been decimated by the recent economic recession, with big billboard signs of companies advertising debt relief amid stretches of desolation, and with Toby driven in large part by a desire to break out of what he sees as a cycle of poverty for his loved ones, to provide a better life for his two sons and ex-wife. —Kenji Fujishima


42. Amazing Grace

amazing-grace-aretha-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: N/A
Stars: Aretha Franklin, C.L. Franklin
Genre: Documentary, Music
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: G
Runtime: 87 minutes

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A few years after the Apollo 11 mission, a different type of cosmic occurrence occurred at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Over two nights in January 1972, Aretha Franklin (just shy of her 30th birthday) recorded what would become the greatest-selling gospel album of all time—and arguably her finest album, period. The record Amazing Grace has been with us ever since, but the record of that night, shot by a young filmmaker named Sydney Pollack, has been kept away from public view for myriad reasons. Sadly, it took Franklin’s death last year at the age of 76 for that film to finally come to light. Though Amazing Grace was probably destined to be one of those much-rumored “lost” films that could never live up to its legend once the world got to see it, it’s a titanic vision of a performer whose extraordinary gift is self-evident, and the movie simply lets her be her magnificent self. Not credited to any director but completed by music producer Alan Elliott (and shot by Sydney Pollack), Amazing Grace is a straightforward presentation of archival materials without contemporary context or insights. But that’s enough, because history roars to life in this film, especially whenever Franklin opens her mouth and that incredible voice pours out. And, among its many attributes, Amazing Grace brings back the young Aretha Franklin who’s a human being rather than the totemic figure she became. She’s touchingly vulnerable, hesitant, normal in between songs, as if she’s just living her life, not consciously delivering an iconic album. And while the music critic in me will note that it’s a tad disappointing that the film peaks early, with her excellent version of Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy” as the night’s first song, Amazing Grace hums with the thrill of lightning being captured in a bottle—a thrill that’s as much a treat for the eyes as the ears. —Tim Grierson


43. The Prestige

the-prestige.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine
Genre: Thriller, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 130 minutes

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In The Prestige two competing magicians try to outdo each other, but are really trying to achieve a brand of immortality. They are competing for the same audience’s faith, and they need all of it, because it is not something that can be shared (many religious institutions hold similar dogma for similar reasons). Each wants to invoke utter and absolute belief in their audiences, much like Nolan wants to do in his own, as if that achievement grants the doer divinity, whether or not it is built on tricks and illusions. Nolan begins the film with a trick, in fact, a shot of top hats littering the forest floor, with the voice-over asking, “Are you watching closely?” It is a shot out of time and place from the rest of the film, Nolan once again doing as he pleases, manipulating our perception of what we’re seeing and when so as to emulate the pledge, turn and prestige of the “magic” acts the film portrays. Our faith is built on lies we tell ourselves and others, Nolan seems to posit, and it’s a thesis on which he elaborates with his Dark Knight trilogy, insinuating that symbols are sacred not for their truth, but simply for what they inspire. —Chet Betz


44. We Need to Talk About Kevin

about-kevin.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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A pitch-black drama from writer/director Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fascinating study of a sociopath, a family, and the former’s effect on the latter. While it allows Ezra Miller to showcase his alienesque abilities as a problem child, the film’s richest element is the evolving relationship between his parents (John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton). Reilly and Swinton construct a fractured window into a marriage, with one (possibly evil) rock thrown square through it. Gripping and disturbing, Ramsay’s effort (co-written by Rory Stewart Kinnear) strikes at a vague yet central parental fear through its horrifying specificity: what happens if I screw this up? —Jacob Oller


45. The Host

23. the host (Custom).jpg 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

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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


46. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

marston-wonder-women-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Angela Robinson
Stars: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Oliver Platt
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of two married psychology professors at Radcliffe College, Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), a couple who grew up together and are deeply in love but also restless and eager for discovery. While attempting to invent a lie detector test—they eventually create one but never patent it—they meet an eager, beautiful student named Olive (Bella Heathcote) who’s the daughter of a feminist icon and as desperate for knowledge and new experiences as they are. They eventually all fall in love and live together as a menage a trois before their university finds out, fires the couple and forces them to all go live together, now with their children, to find some sort of work. The work turns out, we learn in an unnecessary narrative flash-forward sequence, to serve as the basis of Bill’s increasing interest in comic books, creating a character, based on the two women in his life and based in his feminist ideals, who is strong, smart, truthful, heroic and, well, into bondage. The love story of this family turns out to be the origin story of Wonder Woman herself. This is a fascinating story, particularly as we see little moments in the lives of the Marston clan reflected in the Wonder Woman mythos. (Olive wears metal wristbands all the time, the lasso is like the lie detectors Elizabeth and Bill invent, so on.) But writer-director Angela Robinson makes sure to keep it focused on the emotions involved, which is especially tricky considering all three characters are all so academically oriented—not to mention obsessed with deciphering the human mind and why we make the decisions we do—and are thus constantly questioning their own value systems. We really do believe that these three people love each other, and that they’re all better off together, but Robinson never tries to make this overly prudish and sanitized. The movie isn’t buttoned-up and restrained, but it isn’t brash and in your face either; it’s affably sexy, if such a thing is possible. And it never loses sight of its central premise of equality and acceptance—this movie’s heart is firmly in the right place. —Will Leitch


47. Anna and the Apocalypse

anna-apocalypse.jpg Year: 2017
Director: John McPhail
Stars: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Musical
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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This sometimes confusing, sometimes endearing genre mish-mash is one part zombie comedy and one part high school musical, but has a tendency to throw itself entirely into one or the other until you’ve forgotten quite what it is you’re watching. Anna (Ella Hunt) is a British teen looking to toss her “uni” plans aside and live abroad for a while—plans that are derailed by the sudden holiday arrival of what certainly seems to be a zombie apocalypse. Peppered with hyperkinetic song-and-dance numbers that have a decidedly Broadway vibe, the film starts a bit slow, feeling for all intents and purposes like a lost entry in Disney’s High School Musical series before it blooms in its second and third acts into a surprisingly satisfying (and plenty gory) zombie-slaying farce. Capable of more pathos than you’d give it credit for, Anna and the Apocalypse tosses most character archetypes aside and can boast a few genuinely toe-tapping numbers, especially once the world has gone to hell. It’s a film you may need to warm up to, but Game of Thrones fans will enjoy the presence of Paul Kaye, one Thoros of Myr, as the school’s draconian principal.—Jim Vorel


48. Chicken Run

chicken-run.jpg Year: 2000
Director: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Stars: Voices of Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Tony Haygarth, Julia Sawalha
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: G
Runtime: 85 minutes

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If any of the brilliant Wallace and Gromit films aren’t on Netflix Instant, then Chicken Run (made by the same Aardman Animations studios) is certainly the next best thing. The 2000 movie should hardly be classified as a consolation prize, though—with its unique stop-motion clay animation and slapstick sense of humor, this story of a group of chickens who plot their escape from a farm mill provides just as many genuinely hilarious moments as it does thrilling action sequences. It’s an impressive feat of both animation and storytelling, with some spot-on voice acting to boot—what’s not to love about Mel Gibson voicing a slick Rhode Island Red named Rocky?—John Riti


49. Ninja Scroll

ninja-scroll.jpg Year: 1994
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajira
Stars: Stephen Apostolina, Dean Elliott, Wendee Lee, Richard Epcar
Genre: Anime, Action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Set during the Tokugawa era of Japan, Ninja Scroll follows the story of Jubei Kibagami, an itinerant samurai warrior (partly inspired by the real-life folk hero, Jubei Yagyu) who is recruited by a government agent to defeat the Eight Devils of Kimon, a cabal of demonic ninja who conspire to overthrow the Tokugawa regime and plunge Japan into destruction. Along the way he meets Kagero, a beautiful and mysterious poison eater, and is forced to confront the demons of his past as he fights to preserve the present. Produced during the boom of anime’s foreign markets, Ninja Scroll was one of the first titles released by Manga Entertainment in the West. Its well-defined animation, unflinching hyper-violence, and impressively creative fight sequences made it a requisite gateway title for early anime fans and is rightfully looked upon as a cult classic to this day. The film qualifies as a time capsule for one of anime’s heyday periods, with exquisite production values married to impeccably crafted set pieces. Ninja Scroll pushed the boundaries of excess, with unflinching depictions of sensuality and sexual violence shown alongside showers of gore and decapitation. The film was front-and-center for the argument that anime “wasn’t just for kids” in the mid-’90s, and qualifies today as a must-see title for a serious anime fan. Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll is the quintessential anime chanbara action film, no question. —Toussaint Egan


50. The Princess Bride

princess-bride.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Quite possibly the most perfectly executed transformation of a beloved book to a beloved film in the history of the sport. A family-friendly “kissing movie” with pitch-perfect performances by the entire cast—from main character to bit player—The Princess Bride is the most relentlessly quotable film anywhere this side of Monty Python and their Holy Grail. Though regarded warmly enough by critics, its status as comedic fable ensures it is criminally underrated on most lists. Inconceivable? Alas, no. But unfair, nonetheless. —Michael Burgin


51. Star Trek: First Contact

st-first-contact.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn
Genre: Science-Fiction, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 105 minutes

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First Contact wasn’t the first Star Trek film incorporating time-travel, though the plot device was used only sparingly on the show—it’s not really kosher with the Prime Directive. But we’ll take the Next Generation crew and The Borg over the whale watchers in the fourth movie, A Voyage Home. While the first film from this iteration of space explorers—the crossover Generations—got a little mired in the novelty of having two Enterprise crews together, First Contact let Patrick Stewart and company tackle their most iconic villain on their own. When the Borg create a temporal vortex to conquer Earth before humanity discovers they’re not alone in the galaxy, the Enterprise rides its wake and must preserve the timeline or face extinction. It’s a tight story carrying the weight of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s personal abduction and assimilation by the Borg, driving him with an Ahab-like determination. It also conveys a hope for humanity in the wake of world war that would have made Gene Roddenberry proud. —Josh Jackson


52. The Truman Show

the-truman-show-poster.jpg Year: 1998
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Peter Weir’s delightful, hilarious The Truman Show wouldn’t get made anymore. It’s a star-studded event film centered around a simple and dystopian premise: Jim Carrey’s eponymous character has unwittingly been raised from birth as a reality TV star and only now has begun to suspect that everybody in his life is a hired actor. Carrey’s clear-eyed acting is worlds away from the zany roles that catapulted him to fame a few short years prior, though, as was typically the case with Carrey roles in the ’90s, copious amounts of special effects work go toward creating a believable simulated reality for Carrey’s endearing everyman to be trapped within. The heartfelt monologues and devastating revelations as he fights to escape his gilded cage shine all the brighter for it. The fight to break away from control, from a sanitized and curated existence dictated by a literal white father figure in the sky, rings alarmingly two decades years later, when social media has made performative brand managers of us all. Truman is an unlikely and often hapless hero in his own story, but his eventual hijacking of his own narrative—and his final defiance of his literal and figurative creator figure—form one of the most heroic cinematic arcs of the last 20 years. —Kenneth Lowe


53. The Blair Witch Project

blair-witch.jpg Year: 1999
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
Stars: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 146 minutes

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Where Scream reinvented a genre by pulling the shades back to reveal the inner workings of horror, The Blair Witch Project went the opposite route by crafting a new style of presentation and especially promotion. Sure, people had already been doing found footage movies; just look at The Last Broadcast a year earlier. But this was the first to get a wide, theatrical release, and distributor Artisan Entertainment masterfully capitalized on the lack of information available on the film to execute a mysterious online advertising campaign in the blossoming days of the Internet age. Otherwise reasonable human beings seriously went into The Blair Witch Project believing that what they were seeing might be real, and the grainy, home movie aesthetic captured an innate terror of reality and “real people” that had not been seen in the horror genre before. It was also proof positive that a well-executed micro-budget indie film could become a massive box office success. So in that sense, The Blair Witch Project reinvented two different genres at the same time. —Jim Vorel


54. Gretel & Hansel

gretel-hansel-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Oz Perkins
Stars: Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey, Alice Krige
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Rating: PG-13

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Director Oz Perkins’ first two features, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, are meticulously constructed examples of slow burn horror, favoring ever-building, chilling atmosphere over quick scares. He begins Gretel & Hansel with a traditional fairy tale structure, only for it to degenerate into an otherworldly, hopeless tone, Perkins liberally playing with space and time. Accordingly, production and costume designs borrow from multiple time periods—slightly resembling medieval Europe—while characters speak in Shakespearean prose, their body language still distinctly modern. Instead of the usual sea of white faces for such a tale, different races that seem to have equal social standing populate this world. Perkins purposefully juxtaposes Galo Olivares’s classically picturesque cinematography, imbued with the illusion of natural light, against Robin Coudert’s synth-heavy score that resembles Wendy Carlos’s work for Stanley Kubrick. The film thrives within a dream-logic vibe, especially in Olivares’ cinematography, with its heavy emphasis on symmetrical framing, stark contast and lush use of yellows and blues, evoking subliminal terror. Gretel & Hansel continues the director’s streak as a unique voice in modern horror filmmaking. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


55. BPM

BPM-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Robin Campillo
Stars: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 146 minutes

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What did it look like before it was hashtagged and a selling point, branded on buttons and books? For Robin Campillo, it looked like: a handful of people disrupting a meeting of suits to call attention to oppression, abuse and malpractice, only to have everything go awry when someone throws a balloon of fake blood, complicating the intended political effects. It looked like: a couple dozen people in a badly lit room, ostensibly gathering for the same beliefs, shouting at one another, trying to negotiate what the best way would be to get the attention of the government so that lives can be saved. It looked like: a “die in,” a political action that describes when people’s mode of protest is to stop in the streets, in plain sight and full visibility, playing dead on the ground to represent the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been affected by ignorance and unhelpfulness from the government. Robin Campillo—by (semi-fictionally) documenting the Paris chapter of ACT UP, the HIV/AIDS activist group that grew out of New York in the mid 1980s, and how its members deal with pharmaceutical companies, actions, sex, love, hate, community, dancing and death—shows us what defiance and, yes, what resistance looks like. In BPM, Campillo understands better than almost any filmmaker that, for the marginalized, even the molecular is political. —Kyle Turner


56. The Quick and the Dead

the-quick-and-the-dead-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Sam Raimi’s sincere neo-Western is notable for several reasons: Joss Whedon’s contributions to the script (along with, reportedly, John Sayles); the American film debut of Russell Crowe; the final screen appearance of Woody Strode (Spartacus, his close friend John Ford’s Westerns The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 7 Women and Two Rode Together); a gender-bending narrative that sends Sharon Stone’s monotone gunfighter, “The Lady,” on a righteous quest into the town of Redemption (natch) to avenge her father’s death via quick-draw contest. Gene Hackman relishes his turn as the tyrannical mayor, not so subtly named Herod, responsible for said killing, as does a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio as cocked-brow smartass “The Kid.” Not the least of note here is Dante Spinotti’s characteristically vivid cinematography. —Amanda Schurr


57. The Fifth Element

fifth-element-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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In an early scene from Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, there’s a subtle but very telling exchange between the film’s two protagonists. Cab driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) has his daily routine interrupted when Leeloo (an early starring role for Milla Jovovich) crashes through his roof. She speaks an ancient language, so the two can’t communicate—until she says the word “boom,” that is. “I understand ‘boom’,” Korben replies. Right away, we’re cued to the limits of Korben’s worldview, mostly restricted to macho action. This is also the first hint we get that this is a self-reflexive role for Willis, breaking down his tough-guy star persona and digging deep into what exactly makes him such a reliable “guy-movie” centerpiece. For all his typical manly heroism, Korben is a misfit in the film’s flamboyant space operatic future. He’s an alpha-male, tailor-made for the ’80s or ’90s, but, after finishing his time in the military, he’s adrift. The 23rd century doesn’t quite have room for him: He lives alone following a failed marriage, has trouble holding onto his job (and his driver’s license), can’t quit smoking and doesn’t have any friends outside of his old platoon. When the mysterious Leeloo literally lands into Korben’s life, he automatically takes on the role of protector. Leeloo is, it turns out, is a supreme being, sent to Earth to protect humanity from an ancient force that threatens the planet every 5,000 years. There’s a contradiction at the heart of The Fifth Element, with Korben’s manly heroism at odds with his social ineptitude. The film doesn’t try to reconcile these, but rather lets Korben find his own path. He learns to work with others and embrace his more sensitive side, even as he’s cracking wise and kicking ass. In the end, it’s Leeloo who has the power to save Earth from an apocalyptic alien attack. She’s the supreme being sent to Earth for that purpose. But she still needs Korben, and at the last minute, he figures out his role. It’s hard to know how intentional any of this was, since Besson still gives us a stoic tough-guy who saves the day. But with , Besson doesn’t replace the male action hero, but rather makes him more complex. —Frederick Blichert


58. Honeyland

honeyland-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 85 minutes

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With great warmth and reverence, Honeyland mourns a fading way of life—a way through which we’re introduced to Hatidzhe, whose whole life resonates, on some primordial level, with beekeeping. She climbs steep heights and navigates narrow ledges of rural Macedonia until she brings us to a honeybee colony she’s discovered deep in the face of a mountainside. She takes a few combs, carefully wraps them for the slow journey home. She lives without electricity in a village all but abandoned were it not for her bedridden mother, whose head’s half-wrapped with a scarf to hide a wound or large sore, it’s not clear, whose only company when Hatidzhe walks to town to sell jars of honey are the flies she attracts. Hatidzhe tends to her bees—only taking “half” the honey, leaving the rest for the burgeoning colony—in the ruins of what might have once been a thriving town, and her mother sleeps, occasionally rising to eat honey, or a banana, just a little. This is how their days pass, until a big family of neighbors rolls up with a camper, some cattle and a desperate ambition to make something out of all that land. One can easily catch metaphors about mass-market industrialization, or conjure up less material parables about humans’ insatiable urge to annihilate everything in their paths. Honeyland resists the tendency to sprawl out. Instead, Hatidzhe must accept what’s happened and move on. We do the same. —Dom Sinacola


59. Eve’s Bayou

eves-bayou-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Tamara Tunie
Stars: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Meagan Good, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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With slice-of-life in the ’hood films and romantic comedies being served in rapid succession in the late 1990s, Lemmon’s directorial debut is a tour-de-force flaked by outstanding performances from Jurnee Smollett, Debbi Morgan, Samuel L. Jackson and Lynn Whitfield. Smollett’s Eve Batiste experiences a chaotic and confusing summer of family revelations. Between her father’s profound infidelity and her older sister’s burgeoning womanhood, the 10-year-old begins relying on fortune telling and voodoo to right her family’s wrongs. But even though tragedy strikes the family in the end, there is a sense of rebirth for Eve and her sister.


60. Force Majeure

force-majeure.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Ruben Östlund
Stars: Johnnes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Hidden behind this uncomfortably snickering fable about modern masculinity is something with no real patience for heteronormative nonsense. Though Force Majeure is mostly about a seemingly good dad who makes a bad split-decision while on vacation with his seemingly perfect family, the film would rather question the more primeval forces that bind us: monogamy, safety, companionship, blood and lust. This isn’t about a father who, in a brief moment of weakness, failed to protect his family, it’s about the dynamics of any relationship: Can we ever know the people we love most? Östlund asks this over and over, wreaking sickly funny havoc upon his male protagonist’s ego as he builds to a sweet little climax wherein this beaten-down bro revels in the chance to show his family his true colors. —Dom Sinacola


61. Palm Springs

palm_springs_poster.jpg 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
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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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


62. The Prince of Egypt

prince-egypt.jpg Year: 1998
Directors: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Stars: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer
Genre: Animation, Family, Adventure, Musical
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Dark, beautiful, and filled with songs as epic as its visuals, The Prince of Egypt came about when Jeffrey Katzenberg’s desire to make an animated version of The Ten Commandments finally became feasible after Katzenberg co-founded Dreamworks. The striking result is a painterly smorgasbord of Biblical imagery writ large that just happens to be voiced by a ton of A-listers and unexpected choices (Steven Martin and Martin Short? Why not!). It’s a lush and dramatic film with ambitions so high that it makes total sense when learning that its animators were sent to work on Shrek as a punishment if they weren’t up to snuff on Prince. It swings for the fences and mostly pulls it off, even if its grand vision wasn’t matched by equally grand successes.—Jacob Oller


63. The Way Back

7-The-way-back-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong
Genre:
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 133 minutes

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Peter Weir’s WWII-era survival movie may be based on a disputed “true story,” but it holds indisputable truths about man’s perseverance in impossible odds. A prison break movie that soon morphs into an epic travelogue, The Way Back displays a bountiful variety of scenery, as a disparate group of POWs and political undesirables escapes from a Soviet gulag to trek 4,000 miles across Asia, from ice-blanketed Siberia through dusty Mongolia and on to lush India, the final destination getting always further away as the group discover how far the tyrannical communism they flee has spread. It’s one of Weir’s less remarkable films, but even Weir in a minor key is still compelling entertainment, and as usual he casts to a T: the top-drawer ensemble includes Ed Harris as a grizzly American engineer, Saoirse Ronan as a Polish stray who joins the escapees on their pilgrimage and, best of all, a wonderfully scuzzy Colin Farrell as a feral Russian gangster who’s spent so long imprisoned he hasn’t a clue what to do with freedom. —Brogan Morris


64. The Lord of the Rings trilogy

lord-of-the-rings-fellowship-poster.jpg Year: 2001-03
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: To Mordor and Back

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The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King are really just one 13-plus-hour single movie. There’s little I can say about the film that its record-breaking box-office, 11 Academy Awards and legions of rapid fans have not already outlined. Though a live-action adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy was in demand for many years, fans should be forever thankful that the right people with the right tools came along at the exact right time to land the perfect execution. Considered one of the boldest, most creative filmmaker at the time, Peter Jackson’s reputation for overly indulging in his stories has somewhat hampered his reputation as of late. Yet, Jackson will always have Rings. Here, he not only captures the epic scale of the battle sequences but also deftly handles the escalating character drama as well, with Sean Astin delivering one of the highlight performances of the whole series as the forever noble Samwise Gamgee. Never has there been a better example of “guy love.” —Mark Rozeman


65. Eight Days a Week

eight-days-a-week.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Ron Howard
Genre: Documentary, Music
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 206 minutes

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The best documentaries, regardless of subject, give us something new. They teach us. They offer fresh perspective. That is really, really hard to do when you’re making a documentary about the Beatles. After more than 50 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone unfamiliar with the story of the Fab Four. Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary, focuses exclusively on the band’s touring years, from 1962-1966—and while it certainly doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a fun retelling of the band’s meteoric rise. What it does feature are new interviews with surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as a generous amount of archival interviews with John Lennon and George Harrison. Previously unseen, fan-recorded concert footage and some revealing studio outtakes are littered throughout, and while the film hits all the major points you’d expect it to (Beatlemania was crazy!), it’s so enjoyable you’re reminded there’s a reason this well keeps getting re-tapped. Just like the Beatles’ records will continue to spin across the world, from generation to generation until the end of time, we’ll keep poring over footage of these lads and talking about how they changed music—and pop culture as a whole—forever. —Bonnie Stiernberg


66. Species

species-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Roger Donaldson
Stars: Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, Marg Helgenberger
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Rarely has a genre movie been marketed and structured around the physical assets of a single actress more than Species was with model Natasha Henstridge. The screen debut of Henstridge certainly made a pop-cultural splash in the mid-1990s, during a downturn in classical horror cinema when crossovers with other genres (here it’s science fiction and more than a little of exploitation cinema) were one of the only viable ways to push horror into the mainstream. Species, in fact, was a bonafide box office smash, taking home more than $100 million as viewers (presumably male, for the most part) crowded cinemas to see Henstridge embody “sexy alien” Sil. Some 25 years later, the deeply ‘90s sensibilities of the film have turned it into something of a camp classic; one to be enjoyed especially for the seeming randomness of its supporting cast of character actors, which includes everyone from Forest Whitaker and Michael Madsen to Alfred Molina and a 15-year-old Michelle Williams. The FX haven’t quite held up, but at least the bad fashion will never die. —Jim Vorel


67. Ingrid Goes West

ingrid_goes_west_poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Matt Spicer
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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In her post-Parks and Rec career—wherein the crux of her performance was rolling her eyes—and relegated to typecasted roles like Life After Beth and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Aubrey Plaza has gone as far as she can with that kind of material. But in Ingrid Goes West she finds a seed of something so much more complicated, her talents are able to elevate the script to a new plane. Playing Ingrid, whose mental illness allows her social media activity to consume her life and the lives of those around her, Plaza unearths curious, complicated gradations in the character, one that could be easily written off as a weirdo freak. What Plaza senses in Ingrid, as the character desperately tries to become something else, hiding her vulnerability beneath layers of social (media) performance, is the ostensibly monstrous morphed into the deeply human. Plaza’s facial contortions alone, swooning with desperation and desire, lift her performance, and the film, to the ranks of the great queer personality-swap films like Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. —Kyle Turner


68. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

mad-max-beyond-thunderdome-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: George Miller
Stars: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Depending on who you ask, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome might be cited by a fan of the series as the best or worst of the original three films starring Mel Gibson, but we’re inclined to lean more toward the latter. It’s fun, certainly, but lacks the grit of the original film or The Road Warrior, instead carrying more Hollywood sheen, particularly in the form of Tina Turner’s casting. Thankfully, Thunderdome contains some more of the classic action setpieces the series is known for, particularly in the titular Thunderdome itself where Max stages a classic fight scene against the massive “Blaster.” Overall, it’s a bit more of a tonal mishmash than the previous Mad Max entries, particularly once the Lost Boys-style cargo cult gets involved, but it’s simultaneously a charming bit of mid-80s ephemera that contributed a few new words to the English lexicon that have stood the test of time. —Jim Vorel


69. Three Identical Strangers

three-identical-strangers.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Tim Wardle
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers revisits the endless nature-versus-nurture debate with the incredible story of Robert Shafran, Edward Galland and David Kellman, perfect strangers who discovered in the early 1980s that they looked eerily similar and were, in fact, triplets who had been separated at birth. With flashy precision, Wardle quickly recaps how they found one another—two of the brothers serve as the film’s lively talking heads—and sets the audience up for a happy ending about long-lost siblings finally reconnecting. But even if you’re not familiar with the actual events, Three Identical Strangers clearly intends to trip us up with its feel-good opening, paving the way for a tale that gets odder and sadder as it goes along. It’s best not to know much going into Three Identical Strangers, but Wardle’s slickly tells his juicy story for maximum dramatic impact and compulsive watchability. (Not a surprise that the montages of the brothers’ rising celebrity are scored to super-catchy pop hits of the era.) And when storm clouds begin to form on the horizon of this happy tale, the film cannily replays some of the same cheerful archival footage that had been presented earlier, giving it a darker new meaning as the men’s joyful reunion suddenly becomes more complicated. Three Identical Strangers can be too polished and cookie-cutter for its own good—the movie will air on CNN, and I could occasionally feel where the commercial breaks would appear—but nonetheless Wardle fixes his eye on the ways that people are forever shaped by their childhood, and how those years can do untold damage that’s only fully experienced later in adulthood. —Tim Grierson


70. Missing Link

missing-link-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Chris Butler
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Since we learned that Bumbles bounce in 1964, the legend of Bigfoot has provided a jumping-off point for countless kids’ movies. Warner gave us Smallfoot last year, and 2019 will deliver two more, DreamWorks’ Abominable and Laika’s Missing Link. What sets the Laika film apart, as usual, is the visual spectacle provided by the studio’s stop-motion animation. Fortunately, equal care went into the story as to the distinctive animation. The last Sasquatch teams up with failed explorer Sir Lionel Frost to find a new family among the Yeti of the Himalayas. Hugh Jackman as mythical-beast hunter and Zoe Saldana as his partner’s widow both grow in satisfying ways, and Zach Galifianakis provides equal parts comedy and charm as the well-read, mild-mannered beast. Still, it’s the meticulous craft of stop-motion scenes from Edwardian England to the frontier of the Wild West to the mountains of Nepal that will stick with you the longest. —Josh Jackson


71. The Dead Zone

the-dead-zone-1983-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurts, Martin Sheen
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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As expected from a King adaptation, we’re once again dealing with a protagonist who has telekinetic powers that he doesn’t want, and it depends on the course of the story and the choices that the character makes to find out if that gift becomes a curse, or if the curse becomes a gift. For the first half of The Dead Zone, David Cronenberg’s tightly wound and twist-filled thriller, the first outcome seems to be the case, as Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) uses his newfound powers of touching people and being able to see into their secrets and pasts to help those in need. Then the latter outcome presents itself, as Johnny is forced to dispose of a presidential candidate (Martin Sheen) who will certainly bring about nuclear holocaust. Sound familiar? Also, minor spoiler, does anyone really think Trump won’t use a baby as a human shield to save his own life? Perhaps The Dead Zone itself has powers of premonition. This is one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films, with a fairly straightforward mystery-horror structure, but this doesn’t stop him from building a mood full of dread and confusion, right from the terrifically enigmatic opening titles. Walken had the ability to come across as a likable everyman, a conduit for the audience, before his oft-imitated mannerisms turned him into a caricature. He displays that side of his work really efficiently here. —Oktay Ege Kozak


72. High-Rise

high-rise.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

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High-Rise begins with the past tense of Wheatley’s traditional mayhem, settling on tranquil scenes of extensive carnage and brutal violence inflicted before the picture’s start. Dashing Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) wanders waste-strewn halls. He goes to have a drink with his neighbor, Nathan Steele (Reece Shearsmith), who has enshrined a dead man’s head within a television set. Seems about right. But the film’s displays of squalor and viscera are a ruse. Spoken in the tongue of Wheatley, High-Rise is a tamer tale than Kill List or Sightseers. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you go into Wheatley films anticipating unhinged barbarity, you may feel as though the film and its creator are trolling you here. High-Rise is based on English novelist’s J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, a soft sci-fi dystopian yarn fastened to a through line of social examination. In context with its decade, the book’s setting could be roughly described as “near future England,” and Wheatley, a director with a keen sense of time and place across all of his films, has kept the period of the text’s publication intact, fleshing it out with alternately lush and dreggy mise en scène. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that High-Rise is a lost relic of 1970s American cinema. —Andy Crump


73. Cloverfield

cloverfield 2008 poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2008
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 90 minutes

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When Matt Reeves dropped Cloverfield on unsuspecting multiplex audiences in 2008, it quickly became painfully clear that the average viewer wasn’t quite ready to absorb what he was dishing out. Today, the same film would no doubt arrive as a streaming original feature from the likes of Netflix or Amazon, where its genre-redefining camera perspective would be less of a risk. That Cloverfield hit theaters in wide release at all is actually something of a marvel, considering how profoundly different it was in a visual sense from anything that the majority of its viewers had ever seen before. The film is of course on some level a “monster movie,” but it’s one where the primary creature is never the center of the film’s attention, precisely because we spend our time following regular folks who are in no way responsible for or connected to its rampage through New York City. For the film’s entire duration, we see only what they see, cleverly capturing one aspect of the true horror present in disaster situations—the very likely reality that no one present will have any idea what is happening, or any idea of what to do about it. Cloverfield puts its characters into some insane situations, but never breaks the trust it establishes that this is a bystander-eye’s view. No four-star general suddenly shows up to explain what’s going on, or empower our protagonists to take on the creature. No key to the creature’s origin is unearthed. It’s just a shaky-cam tribute to the idea that utter chaos can run rampant in one’s life, and there may be not a damn thing you can do about it. —Jim Vorel


74. Star Trek Beyond

StarTrekBeyond232x345.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Justin Lin
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Star Trek Beyond proves admirably willing to push the neo-film-series’ frontiers, at least in its eagerness to envision brand new, alien environments with incredibly imagined designs. Less compelling are the emotional stakes Director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung provide for the crew of the starship Enterprise. Lin’s fleet direction and the charismatic cast give dedicated fans their fix and the casual moviegoers a fun enough time, but Beyond offers a less memorable outing than its more ambitious predecessors, providing more for the eyes of its audience than for their hearts. —Curt Holman


75. Bumblebee

bumblebee-210.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Travis Knight
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg
Genre: Science Fiction, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Paramount actually made a Transformers movie that’s a lovely, exciting and wholly engaging gem of a sci-fi adventure for teenagers. I guess it’s time for me to finally go into my dream business of exporting the newly formed ice from hell using my army of flying pigs. Bumblebee is an ’80s set spin-off/prequel to Michael Bay’s migraine-inducing, often infuriating, and always head-slappingly stupid five Transformers flicks. It wisely scales down Bay’s love of random mayhem in favor of a fairly respectful and inventive throwback to those Spielbergian family sci-fi/adventure movies about the friendship between a nerdy, lonely teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) and a friendly and protective alien/robot/magical being. Their bond teaches the teenager to come out of her shell and face her fears. Of course since we also need an action-heavy third act, the big bad military that’s unfairly threatened by the creature goes after it, forcing the teenager and the creature to defend each other against all odds, learning lessons about the importance of love in the process. Sure, Bumblebee doesn’t really bring much that’s especially new or daring to that formula, but at least all the ingredients really work. It’s hard enough to have a fully CG character as your co-star, and it’s even tougher when an actor is tasked with creating a deep emotional connection with something she can’t even see during production. Steinfeld is up to the challenge, making us believe in Bumblebee’s existence almost as much as the animators who worked on bringing him to life. Just like death and taxes, it’s a certainty of life that we will get a new Transformers in theaters once every few years. If they’re more like Bumblebee going forward, the thought of that doesn’t depress me nowhere near as it used to. —Oktay Ege Kozak

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