The 50 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (March 2020)

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The 50 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (March 2020)

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.

Here are the 50 best movies on Hulu right now:

1. Jaws

jaws poster (Custom).jpeg Year: 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg
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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Because someone is sure to ask: Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T., but leaner and less polished-looking than either, which actually works in its favor. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws as a film really benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making—the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back, which ended up maximizing each appearance’s impact. The first time that Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has literally never been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is made into a great film via memorable characters, but it’s made into a scary film by novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


2. 28 Days Later

28-days-later-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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The classical zombie film was effectively dead by the time 28 Days Later came along in 2002 and completely reanimated the concept. (And yes, we all know that the “infected” in this film aren’t technically zombies, so please don’t feel that you have to remind us.) The definition of “zombies” is fluid, and always expanding. Here, they’re living rather than dead, poor souls infected by the “rage virus” that makes them run amok, tearing through whatever living thing they see. It’s a modernization of the same fears that powered Romero’s ghouls—unthinking assailants who will stop at nothing and are now more dangerous than ever because they move at a full-on sprint. It’s hard to overstate how big a quantum leap that mobility was for the zombie genre—the early scenes of 28 Days Later where Jim (Cillian Murphy) tries to navigate a deserted London in hospital scrubs, chased by fast-moving zombies, did for this genre what Scream did for the slasher revival, sans the humor. Indeed, 28 days Later is a dead-serious horror film, marking a return to seeing these types of creatures as a legitimate, frightening threat. It’s indicative of another trend of the 2000s, which was to reimagine the classic rules of zombie cinema to fit the needs of the film. The Zack Snyder Dawn of the Dead remake replicated a lot of this film’s DNA when it was released two years later, although it marries the concept with the more traditional Romero ghoul. Together, those two movies gave birth to the concept of the 21st-century serious zombie film. —Jim Vorel


3. Annihilation

annihilation-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac
Genre: Science Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Annihilation is a movie that’s impossible to shake. Like the characters who find themselves both exploring the world of the film and inexplicably trapped by it, you’ll find yourself questioning yourself throughout, wondering whether what you’re watching can possibly be real, whether maybe you’re losing it a little yourself. The film is a near-impossible bank shot by Ex Machina filmmaker Alex Garland, a would-be science fiction actioner that slowly reveals itself to be a mindfuck in just about every possible way, a film that wants you to invest in its universe yet never gives you any terra firma on which you can orient yourself. This is a film that wants to make you feel as confused and terrified as the characters you’re watching. In this, it is unquestionably successful. This is a risky proposition for a director, particularly with a big studio movie with big stars like this one: a movie that becomes more confusing and disorienting as it goes along. Garland mesmerizes with his visuals, but he wants you to be off-balance, to experience this world the way Lena (Natalie Portman) and everyone else is experiencing it. Like the alien (I think?) of his movie, Garland is not a malevolent presence; he is simply an observer of this world, one who follows it to every possible permutation, logical or otherwise. It’s difficult to explain Annihilation, which is a large reason for its being. This is a film about loss, and regret, and the sensation that the world is constantly crumbling and rearranging all around you every possible second. The world of Annihilation looks familiar, but only at first. Reality is fluid, and ungraspable. It can feel a little like our current reality in that way. —Will Leitch


4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

star-trek-ii.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei
Genre: Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 113 minutes
Come for the “KhaaAAHHHHHN!” and stay for the surprisingly emotional treatise on aging without wisdom—as well as one hell of a potent, humbling gut punch of an ending. Anyone arguing for any other film in the Trek franchise will find themselves speaking into a black hole chewed in the matte canvas by exquisitely potent villain, played by Ricardo Montalban. That director/co-writer also Nicholas Meyer somehow coaxes a performance from William Shatner that’s only barely un-Kosher makes this movie a space opera with broad, lasting appeal. —Scott Wold


5. Winter’s Bone

winters-bone.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Debra Granik
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Watching Winter’s Bone is like entering into an entirely different world, vividly capturing the sights and sounds of the Ozark mountains in a way that’s stylized yet feels completely natural to the setting. But that’s all just beautiful wrapping around Jennifer Lawrence’s stunning performance as a 17-year-old raising her two younger siblings, supporting her mother, and trying to find the whereabouts of her deadbeat father before their house is taken away. Debra Granik takes this search plotline in dreadful new directions, and while Lawrence may end up battered by her community and nearly starved by an indifferent society, she never loses her dignity. Winter’s Bone is simultaneously depressing and uplifting, showing us the worst of humanity without ever giving in to it. —Sean Gandert


6. Akira

akira-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Stars: Mitsuo Iwara, Nozomu Sasaki
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 a cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Taking place 31 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 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 single-handedly 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. —Toussaint Egan


7. Day of the Dead

day-of-the-dead-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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


8. Tangerine

tangerine-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, James Ransone, Mickey O’Hagan
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Shot entirely with an iPhone, Sean Baker’s Tangerine is a near perfect execution of raw realism juxtaposed against fleeting yet profound moments of vulnerability and tenderness. Writer-director Baker wastes no time flinging viewers into his story’s cacophonous premise: a delirious misadventure focusing on the fractured but luminous lives of transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Such immediacy helps set up the fast-paced, heartfelt journey that follows. When Sin-Dee and Alexandra reunite following the former’s release from her month-long prison sentence, we learn that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been seeing another woman. The news ignites a nearly two-hour chase around the streets of L.A. to locate and handle the “issue.” Within the story’s backdrop of the wild and dingy Los Angeles cityscape, Tangerine’s rule-defying characters thrive. Though it could easily devolve into an exploitative revenge porn drama, Tangerine shirks its expectations, becoming an aggressive examination of human complexity and a bold refusal to judge a book by its cover. That goes not only for its approach to characterization, but just about every narrative aspect of the work—from the way Baker develops his larger plot to how he sequences his shots, carefully upholding its characters’ sharply divisive existence. The deeper we go into the world of these two sex workers, the more we forget our assumptions of those who inhabit it. In the end, Tangerine is about discovering that our roughest edges can be both our most colorful and meaningful. —Abbey White


9. 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 / Full Review


10. 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


11. When Harry Met Sally

when-harry.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Easily the most beloved romantic comedy of the ‘80s, the story of Harry (Billy Crystal), Sally (Meg Ryan) and their 12-year journey to couple-hood boasts a solid script by Nora Ephron that feeds and feeds off of the unexpected chemistry between its leads. (And with each new generation of lovers watching the diner scene for the first time, another woman laughs and another man sits silently, wondering what’s so funny.)—Michael Burgin


12. 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


13. 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


14. 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


15. 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


16. 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


17. 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


18. 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


19. Evolution

evolution-2015-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic
Stars: Max Brebant, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Roxane Duran
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 81 minutes

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Hadžihalilovic’s gorgeous enigma is anything and everything: creature feature, allegory, sci-fi headfuck, Lynchian homage, feminist masterpiece, 80 minutes of unmitigated gut-sensation—it is an experience unto itself, refusing to explain whatever it is it’s doing so long as the viewer understands whatever that may be on some sort of subcutaneous level. In it, prepubescent boy Nicolas (Max Brebant) finds a corpse underwater, a starfish seemingly blooming from its bellybutton. Which would be strange were the boy not living on a fatherless island of eyebrow-less mothers who every night put their young sons to bed with a squid-ink-like mixture they call “medicine.” This is the norm, until Nicolas’s boy-like curiosity begins to reveal a world of maturity he’s incapable of grasping, discovering one night what the mothers do once their so-called “sons” have fallen asleep. From there, Evolution eviscerates notions of motherhood, masculinity and the inexplicable gray area between, simultaneously evoking anxiety and awe as it presents one unshakeable, dreadful image after another. —Dom Sinacola


20. A Quiet Place

quiet-place-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: John Krasinski
Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 90 minutes

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A Quiet Place’s narrative hook is a killer—ingenious, ruthless—and it holds you in its sway for the entirety of this 95-minute thriller. That hook is so clever that, although this is a horror movie, I sometimes laughed as much as I tensed up, just because I admired the sheer pleasure of its execution. The film is set not too far in the future, out somewhere in rural America. Krasinski plays Lee Abbott, a married father of two. (It used to be three.) A Quiet Place introduces its conceit with confidence, letting us piece together the terrible events that have occurred. At some point not too long ago, a vicious pack of aliens invaded Earth. The creatures are savagely violent but sightless, attacking their prey through their superior hearing. And so Lee and his family—including wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe)—have learned that, to stay alive, they must be completely silent. Speaking largely through sign language, which the family knew already because Regan is deaf, Lee and his clan have adapted to their bleak, terrifying new circumstance, always vigilant to ensure these menacing critters don’t carve them up into little pieces. As you might expect, A Quiet Place finds plenty of opportunities for the Abbotts to make sound—usually accidentally—and then gives the audience a series of shocks as the family tries to outsmart the aliens. As with a lot of post-apocalyptic dramas, Krasinski’s third film as a director derives plenty of jolts from the laying out of its unsettling reality. The introduction of needing to be silent, the discovery of what the aliens look like, and the presentation of the ecosystem that has developed since their arrival is all fascinating, but the risk with such films is that, eventually, we’ll grow accustomed to the conceit and get restless. Krasinski and his writers sidestep the problem not just by keeping A Quiet Place short but by concocting enough variations on "Seriously, don’t make a noise" that we stay sucked into the storytelling. Nothing in his previous work could prepare viewers for the precision of A Quiet Place’s horror. —Tim Grierson


21. Good Will Hunting

good-will-hunting.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Ben Affleck
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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The story of a genius janitor capable of solving the world’s most difficult mathematical problems, Will (Matt Damon) is both exasperating and lovable as the Boston boy reluctant to live up to his true potential. Robin Williams takes the oft-clichéd mentor paradigm and turns it into a wholly original character as Will’s therapist Sean. But what’s special about this film is the way Gus Van Sant captures the existential angst and, ultimately, the frustrated striving of a brilliant boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star in their own breakthrough roles as best friends closer than even blood brothers. Though the movie touches on heart-wrenching topics like childhood abuse and heartbreak, the sarcastic humor and witty banter are just as memorable. Effortlessly charming and never overwrought. —Amy Libby


22. 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


23. An American Werewolf in London

american werewolf poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Few directors have ever displayed such an innate tact for combining dark humor and horror the way John Landis does. At the height of his powers in the early ’80s, one year removed from The Blues Brothers, Landis opted for a much dirtier, grittier, scarier story that stands as what is still the best werewolf movie of all time. When two travelers backpacking across the English moors are attacked by a werewolf, one is killed and the other infected with the wolf’s curse. Haunted by the simultaneously unnerving and hilarious visions of his dead friend, he must decide how to come to terms with the monster he has become, even as he strikes up a relationship with a beautiful nurse played by Jenny Agutter. The film lulls you into comfort with its witticism before springing shocking, gory dream sequences on the viewer, which repeatedly arrive unannounced. The key moment is the protagonist’s incredibly painful, traumatic full transformation, set to the crooning of Sam Cooke doing “Blue Moon,” which is still unsurpassed in the history of the genre. Legendary FX and monster makeup artist Rick Baker took home the first-ever Academy Award for For Best Makeup and Hairstyling for creating a scene that has given the wolf-averse nightmares ever since. – Jim Vorel


24. 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


25. 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


26. 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


27. 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


28. 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


29. Life Itself

life-itself-poster1.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Steve James
Stars: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Life Itself may tell the story of a remarkable life, but it’s at its most enlightening when dealing with death. Steve James’s documentary on Roger Ebert naturally chronicles its subject’s exploits, trials and triumphs as he became the most recognizable film critic in the United States, but it weaves his life story around footage shot during the last months of his life, as we see the effect his impairments and mortality have on him and his loved ones. While the director’s best-known works like Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters mainly use location footage and naturalistic interviews shot by James himself, the historical segments of Life Itself take on a slick production quality that would be more closely associated with Ken Burns—complete with old photos and archival footage. While the movie jumps around chronologically, its contemporary footage is the pivot on which it all turns. But James is most at home while working with his own footage, and that’s where the movie really shines. Shooting began a few months before Ebert’s death, but no one knew that the end would come so soon. Ebert had been publicly battling cancer for several years, after all; surgeries and subsequent complications in 2006 left him with no jaw, nearly unrecognizable and unable to eat without tubes or speak without a computer. When James joins him, Ebert is doing even worse after breaking his hip. It’s fitting that Ebert often professed his love for documentaries that unfold in a way the filmmakers couldn’t have predicted when production began. He would have loved this one. —Jeremy Mathews


30. Swingers

swingers poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Deena Martin, Alex Désert
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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With their breakout roles in Swingers, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau established the personalities that still define them 20 years later. Vaughn’s a fast-talking Eddie Haskell type who isn’t quite as charming as he thinks, and Favreau’s an affable everyman with a sensitive side. This carries over to their recent work: Vaughn motormouths his way through comedies and dramas alike, while Favreau makes big budget Hollywood films that tend to be a little bit smarter and better crafted than most. The ease and charm of their friendship is what makes Swingers so memorable—it would’ve been called a bromance so often if that portmanteau existed in 1996. Swingers is a character-first comedy that captures a specific time and place in vivid detail. —Alan Byrd


31. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

jiro-sushi.jpg Year: 2012
Directors: David Gelb
Stars: Jiro Ono, Sukiyabashi Ono
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 81 minutes

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about one of the greatest masters of the culinary world, one of whom casual foodies have never even heard. Although Jiro’s work—literally, the dishes he so effortlessly prepares, and then the act of watching him as he watches his customers eating the dishes—is ostensibly the film’s focus, the story is truly propelled by the chef’s relationship with his two sons: the youngest started his own restaurant, and the oldest, at the age of 50, continues to work with his father, training to one day take over Jiro’s infamous restaurant. Devoid of the typical familial jealousy you may expect (and so devoid, arguably, of much conflict at all), Jiro Dreams of Sushi is only a beautifully filmed documentary about three men who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of perfection. Which in itself is conflict enough, as the film airily asks: Where do style, artistry, practice and perfection meet? —Emily Kirkpatrick


32. 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


33. 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


34. Up in the Air

CoverUpintheAir.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Jason Reitman
Stars: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Danny McBride, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 109 minutes

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Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) lives his life traveling, and he loves it, even though his job is to fire workers for employers who can’t break the news themselves. The gig’s a downer, but at least he gets to fly. His remote boss is played by the great Jason Bateman, Vera Farmiga plays a fellow traveler, and when these actors pair off they’re fantastic. The film is primarily a portrayal of Bingham’s isolation and the depressing circumstances of his job, and in doing so provides a spot-on illustration of the the life of the jaded business traveller who knows his way around an airport better than his own home. —Ryan Bort


35. Waiting For Superman

24.WaitingForSuperman.NetflixList.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Stars: Geoffrey Canada, George Reeves
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 103 minutes

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In a year that gave us three major documentary features about the glaring need for educational reform in America, Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” presents the most unavoidably compelling argument. In one of the biggest eye-openers, he shows that housing a man in prison (where inner city high school dropouts are statistically likely to wind up) costs three times as much per year as sending them (as kids) to even the most exclusive private school. Another—in order to bring the U.S. from close to last in developed-world education to close to first, we’d only have to get rid of the worst 10% of teachers. Like his previous epic An Inconvenient Truth, it’s not the most balanced picture, but he does give the largest teachers’ union their say. They’re on the wrong side of history, however, and one day this film, like An Inconvenient Truth, will be seen as one of the turning points in the conversation.—Michael Dunaway


36. 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


37. The Duke of Burgundy

duke-burgundy-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Peter Strickland
Stars: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Even the kinkiest couples have to work to keep the spark alive. That’s the message at the heart of the hypnotic, erotic The Duke of Burgundy, which weaves quite a spell out of repetition and mystery. A midnight movie for the smart set, this 2014 film from In Fabric filmmaker Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, too) is a beautiful puzzle. The deception begins from the opening frames. Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) rides her bike to the house of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a slightly older woman who addresses her gruffly, expecting Evelyn, who’s a maid, to clean her home to her exacting standards. (Even worse for poor Evelyn, she’s late on her first day.) But after criticizing Evelyn, Cynthia ends up in bed with the woman. It turns out this isn’t their first encounter: In fact, it’s part of an elaborate game of role-play for these longtime lovers, and it appears that it’s actually Evelyn who’s calling the shots, writing scripts for them to act out. From that clever opening, The Duke of Burgundy proceeds to explain (but not explain) the couple’s relationship. Setting most of the action within the walls of the house—except for brief scenes from a conference for butterfly enthusiasts—Strickland has crafted a claustrophobic portrait where we observe the characters’ actions without always understanding them. Such mysteries are common for Strickland. His debut, Katalin Varga, chronicled the strange odyssey of a woman who travels to the home of the man who raped her and got her pregnant. Berberian Sound Studio concerned a sound mixer slowly losing his mind—or was the studio where he’s working haunted? Utilizing intense, impressionistic sound designs, Strickland makes films as if they were headphone symphonies, enveloping the viewer in his quietly unsettling moodscapes. The Duke of Burgundy is less outwardly ominous than Strickland’s previous two films, but not by a lot. Easily it’s his funniest. The movie’s setup—lesbians, S&M—suggests all types of naughty sights, but Strickland both plays into those assumptions and subverts them. Strickland filters his characters’ desires through homages to Nicolas Roeg and Ingmar Bergman, never once giving us a traditional sex scene but always filling the frame with a steamy undercurrent. (The most provocative moment happens off-screen.) The movie is all tease, but it can sometimes be a really fun tease: A particularly engrossing sequence is inspired by the dark shadow between a woman’s thighs. Because Strickland doesn’t make conventional stories, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they end on deeply ambiguous or unresolved notes. Like the filmmaker, The Duke of Burgundy’s lovers understand their world better than we ever will, so the allure is entering it for a few hours, trying to make sense of what we see. —Tim Grierson


38. The Descent

descent-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2005
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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True camaraderie or complex relationships between female characters isn’t so much “rare” in horror cinema as it is functionally nonexistent, which is one of the things that still makes The Descent, nominally about a bunch of women fighting monsters in a cave, stand out so sharply all these years later. But ah, how The Descent transcends its one-sentence synopsis. The film’s first half is deliberately crafted to fill in the personalities of its group of women, while slowly and almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the sense of dread and foreboding. As the characters descend deeper into the cave, passageways get tighter and the audience can feel the claustrophobia and dankness creeping into their bones—and that’s before we even see any of the resident troglodytes. Neil Marshall’s screenplay makes masterful use of dubious morality, infusing its protagonists, particularly the duo of Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), with numerous shades of gray. Not content to simply paint one of the two as flawed and the other as resourceful and ultimately vindicated, he uses a series of misunderstandings to illustrate human failing on a much more profound and universal level. Ultimately, The Descent is as moving a character study as it is terrifying subterranean creature feature, with one hell of an ending to boot. —Jim Vorel


39. Rango

rango.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty
Genre: Animation, Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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The most surprising thing about Rango is how much Johnny Depp disappears into the character of a nameless pet chameleon who creates his identity when his terrarium falls out of the back of a car into the desert frontier. Unlike a certain cartoon panda, who was basically an animated version of every Jack Black character ever, Rango is no Keith Richards with an eye-patch or crazy barber/milliner/chocolatier. He’s a cipher who becomes a fraud who becomes a hero. —Josh Jackson


40. 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


41. 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


42. 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


43. 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


44. Colossal

colossal-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Colossal is simply a much darker, more serious-minded film than one could possibly go in expecting, judging from the marketing materials and rather misleading trailers. It blooms into a story about sacrifice and martyrdom, while simultaneously featuring an array of largely unlikable characters who are not “good people” in any measurable way. I understand that description sounds at odds with itself—this film is often at odds with itself. But in the cognitive dissonance this creates, it somehow finds a streak of feminist individuality and purpose it couldn’t have even attempted to seek as a straight-up comedy. What Nacho Vigalondo has created in Colossal is a truly unusual, sometimes head-scratching aberration, a film with tonal shifts so jarring that the audience’s definition of its genre is likely to change repeatedly in the course of watching it. Aspects of the film defy explanation, but one thing is clear: Nobody was stifling the writer-director, and we’ve been given one of the most interesting films of 2017. Vigalondo takes aim at the cliches of film festival dramas before smashing them under a giant, monstrous foot. —Jim Vorel


45. Whose Streets?

Whose-Streets-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Sabaah Folayan
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Following the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis examine the American media’s biased, racist coverage of the tragedy and the protests in response. Whose Streets? asks that—rather than if black lives matter to prosecutors, or State’s Attorneys or the American police (all culprits in the teen boy’s modern-day lynching)—viewers place their faith in those real heroes, like activists Brittany Farrell and David Whitt. You might go into Whose Streets? expecting to simply see a film about the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the people behind it. And if you are of the opinion that black lives do matter, you might expect to be moved and motivated to either continue on in your activism, or take to the streets for the first time in your life. I, for one, anticipated another powerful, but difficult, film, similar to 13th and this year’s equally excellent The Blood is on The Doorstep. And while I was right, I also had no idea how deeply personal the protestors’ stories would get. The directors frame the film around the very young children of the activists they follow, but Whose Streets? is one of those rare and wonderful experiences in which a piece’s framing manages to both enhance and intensify the central narrative. “Whose Streets?” refers to the protest chant encouraging people to take back their neighborhoods from the cops and racist, classist policies that would seek to destroy them, but the answer to the question is actually more devastating: These streets—whether they’re covered in the blood of slain, unarmed black people, or humming with protestors both peaceful and riotous, or swarming with members of the national guard in tanks, sent in to militarize an entire city—these streets are always seen and experienced through the eyes of those with the least ability to change it, and the most to lose. By personalizing the experiences of their activist subjects, and demanding viewers see how the subjects’ choices and sacrifices directly impact their children and families, Whose Streets? becomes all about the kids and, therefore, all about the the future. And so much of that future, the film seems to insist, is dependent on the emotion and anger that keeps the film’s subjects in the streets, and the cameras in the hands of the filmmakers who also put their own bodies on the line. A political documentary that dares acknowledge rage as a tool as useful as hope or faith: That is one that [Black] America will surely need in 2017, and beyond. —Shannon M. Houston


46. 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


47. 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


48. 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


49. 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


50. Goodbye First Love

goodbye-first-love.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Stars: Lola Créton, Sebastian Urzendowsky
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Goodbye First Love is a small, sweet film that tells an old story with some new twists. While many films embrace the theme of young love, French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve takes an almost dispassionate approach; her characters are not especially precocious or quirky, or even exceptional. Instead, they really are “just” a couple of kids in love, making the story all the more relatable. With a gentle, hands-off approach, Hansen-Løve gives us a love story of modest (rather than epic) proportions. In the beginning of the film, Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) are heading for a break-up because they are teenagers and that’s what teenagers (and, to be fair, lots of adults) do. In terms of character, Camille is all of the wrong things, but appropriately so. She seldom wears a bra, but always wears a frown. She is angsty, but without the love for dead poets or punk rock. Instead, she has one, single interest: Sullivan, her boyfriend who has (naturally) many other interests. When Sullivan leaves to backpack across South America, Camille (after being severely depressed for a time) eventually becomes a real person with real interests. Her narrative deepens when she begins studying architecture, learning to construct buildings as she begins to construct her own sense of self. Camille’s independence is complicated with Sullivan’s return. One cannot help but root for him, as he is now up against a more independent Camille who is also in a serious relationship with her professor. With the help of cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (A Prophet) and music consultant Pascal Mayer (Incendies), Hansen-Løve manages to evoke some true emotion in her third feature film. The mood and tone of Goodbye First Love is palpable—sharp, moving, and intense even where the actors are not. Camille and Sullivan are somewhat difficult to connect with, individually. The film is ultimately successful in its care for the small, lovely things. Goodbye First Love is “just” a love story, but in that, it is enough. —Shannon M. Houston

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