The 50 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (December 2021)

Movies Lists Hulu
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 50 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (December 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.

Here are the 50 best movies on Hulu right now:

1. Parasite

parasite-poster-low.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Bongb 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

Watch on Hulu

“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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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. 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

Watch on Hulu

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


5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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. Star Trek: First Contact

star-trek-first-contact-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Directors: Jonathan Frakes
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 111 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


8. The Act of Killing

the-act-of-killing-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Rating: NR
Runtime: 122 minutes

Watch on Hulu

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing focuses on one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century, speaking to some members of the Indonesian death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women in 1965 and ’66. These people don’t live in the shadows, though—instead they’re treated like royalty in their native land, celebrated as heroes who helped “save” Indonesia from communism. The film is so shocking and depressing that its subjects’ utter disconnection from morality would almost be funny if it wasn’t so frightening. Oppenheimer amplifies those conflicting reactions further by introducing a daring gambit: In the process of interviewing these butchers—who brag about raping and killing their victims (including the occasional beheading)—the director asked if they would be interested in re-creating their murders through fictionalized, filmed scenes. The men—most notably a gentleman named Anwar Congo, who was one of the death squad leaders—leapt at the chance. What follows is a literally nauseous glimpse into the minds of men who have spent decades mentally escaping the inescapable.—Tim Grierson and Dom Sinacola


9. The Matrix

the-matrix-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

Watch on Hulu

There is little to add about what’s been already codified about the film that made cyberpunk not stupid—and therefore is the best cyberpunk movie of all time, amidst its many accomplishments—or that made Keanu Reeves a respectable figure of American kung fu, or that finally made martial arts films a seriously hot commodity outside of Asia. The story of a computer hacker who woke up to the reality that everything he knows is an illusion constructed to placate humanity under the reign of a super-race of robot squids, The Matrix is—next to the Wu-Tang Clan—what proved to a new generation that martial arts films were worth their scrutiny, and in that reputation is bred college classes, heroes’ journeys and impossible expectations for special effects. Even today we still have this film to thank for so much of what we love about modern kinetic cinema, about how malleable genius science fiction can be, about just how deeply our connection to mythmaking—to the religiosity of civilization’s symbols—can reach. This is our red pill; everything else is an illusion of greatness and everything else is an allusion to what the Wachowskis accomplished, including the two sequels—bloated and beautiful and unlike anything anyone could have expected from the relatively self-contained original—which in turn earned the distinction of setting the course for every multi-part franchise to come —Dom Sinacola


10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

19-best-movies-stream-a-i-poster.jpg
Year: 2001
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


11. Nomadland

nomadland-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Chloé Zhao
Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


12. Predator

41-starz-predator-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura
Genre: Action
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


13. You’re Next

18. youre next (Custom).jpg Year: 2011
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

Watch on Hulu

Between A Horrible Way to Die, The Guest and You’re Next (let’s forget about the Blair Witch remake entirely), it’s easy to understand why Adam Wingard is still considered an upcoming director of interest. His films have a verve and sense of pacing that just crackles—they’re lean, mean and get to the point. You’re Next immediately sets up a premise that we’ve seen many times before, that of the “home invasion” style of horror-thriller, before subverting the genre’s expectations when our Final Girl proves to be far more adept and capable than any of the audience members realized—a moment that also transforms the film from “home invasion” into more of a pure slasher. From there, the story becomes more complex, as motivations and secret histories are revealed. The action, importantly, is viscerally shot and impactful, making for a film where each physical confrontation has real, concrete consequences. Hell, it’s even a little funny now and then. Given that The Guest is a bit more thriller than horror, You’re Next remains Wingard’s best pure horror work to date. —Jim Vorel


14. In & Of Itself

in-and-of-itself-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Frank Oz
Stars: Derek DelGaudio
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


15. Election

Election285x400.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


16. The Nice Guys

the_nice_guys_poster.jpg Year: 2016
Directors: Shane Black
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Keith David
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes

Watch on Hulu

Good performances can polish average movies with just enough elbow grease they end up looking like gems. Think Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, or Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Every advance that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys takes toward quality is made on the strengths of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Black is as quick with action scenes as with punchlines. The Nice Guys is funny. It’s exciting. If you find yourself growing tired of wordplay, Black will turn things around and slide in some Three Stooges slapstick. If you get tired of that, he’ll set off a gun or throw a few punches, though it is impossible to imagine anybody finding the clownish sight of Gosling tumbling off of balconies or crashing through plate glass tiresome. Gosling and Crowe are a great pair, so great that their team-up should justify funding for a buddy picture series where Holland and Jackson undertake jobs that spiral out of hand and above their pay grades. Crowe plays it straight and grumpy, and you half expect him to declare that he’s too old for this shit at any given moment. Gosling, on the other hand, shapes Holland through boozy tomfoolery and pratfalls. They’re a standout odd couple, but Black’s films are defined by great odd couples as much as they are by great scripting. In The Nice Guys, he leaves it up to Gosling and Crowe to use the former to fill in the gaps left behind by the lack of the latter.—Andy Crump


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

Watch on Hulu

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. Inception

inception-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 148 minutes

Watch on Hulu

In the history of cinema, there is no twist more groan-inducing than the “it was all a dream” trope (notable exceptions like The Wizard of Oz aside). With Inception, director Christopher Nolan crafts a bracing and high-octane piece of sci-fi drama wherein that conceit isn’t just a plot device, but the totality of the story. The measured and ever-steady pace and precision with which the plot and visuals unfold, and Nolan mainstay wally Pfister’s gorgeous, globe-spanning on-location cinematography, implies a near-obsessive attention to detail. The film winds up and plays out like a clockwork beast, each additional bit of minutia coalescing to form a towering whole. Nolan’s filmmaking and Inception’s dream-delving work toward the same end: to offer us a simulation that toys with our notions of reality. As that, and as a piece of summer popcorn-flick fare, Inception succeeds quite admirably, leaving behind imagery and memories that tug and twist our perceptions—daring us to ask whether we’ve wrapped our heads around it, or we’re only half-remembering a waking dream. Director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a book about his philosophy towards filmmaking, calling it Sculpting in Time; Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t sculpt, he deconstructs. He uses filmmaking to tear time apart so he can put it back together as he wills. A spiritual person, Tarkovsky’s films were an expression of poetic transcendence. For Nolan, a rationalist, he wants to cheat time, cheat death. His films often avoid dealing with death head-on, though they certainly depict it. What Nolan is able to convey in a more potent fashion is the weight of time and how ephemeral and weak our grasp on existence. Time is constantly running out in Nolan’s films; a ticking clock is a recurring motif for him, one that long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer aurally literalized in the scores for Interstellar and Dunkirk. Nolan revolts against temporal reality, and film is his weapon, his tool, the paradox stairs or mirror-upon-mirror of Inception. He devises and engineers filmic structures that emphasize time’s crunch while also providing a means of escape. In Inception different layers exist within the dream world, and the deeper one goes into the subconscious the more stretched out one’s mental experience of time. If one could just go deep enough, they could live a virtual eternity in their mind’s own bottomless pit. “To sleep perchance to dream”: the closest Nolan has ever gotten to touching an afterlife. —Michael Saba and Chad Betz


19. Silence

silence.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano
Rating: R
Runtime: 161 minutes

Watch on Hulu

Silence conveys with utter focus of its gestalt one of the greatest narratives that literature’s given us in the past 100 years. Like Endo’s book, the film is both text and subtext of our most difficult and challenging discussions as human beings: on the substance of our beliefs; the substance of our fears; the substance of our aggression and violence and of our seeking to control and/or protect ourselves and our people; the substance of the silence that surrounds all of this and on which we dare to impart meaning. Silence is a film about the plurality of belief, perspective and experience—-and about how, in the culmination of this plurality, these pieces cancel each other out. When that cancellation happens, one hears what really lies beneath all the barrage of noise: silence. This is not an atheist’s or nihilist’s creed, however; here silence sounds like peace and absolution. A voice speaks in the silence and it could be Jesus or it could be one’s own mind responding to the silence, transformed into the voice of Christ—when Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) finally hears Christ speak it sounds like a merging of his own voice with that of his mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson)—because Christ carried the purity of that same silence within. All divisions are melted down to nothing. Selfishness ceases because the self is no longer a thing, or is extant to the self recognized in all others. Perfection is the sound of the black between the stars, absolute and whole. Orthodox Christian thought typically associates God with light, life, being, paradise, the Word. But it would seem that any concept of God—-the supposed source of everything—-that hopes to be cogent has to include in that concept the opposites that compose our reality: darkness, death, negation, oblivion, the non-Word. At the root of the language of the universe and existence is this binary. Perhaps God really is Alpha and Omega. In an interview with Scorsese, Film Comment noted that Silence is like an “apostate apotheosis.” In his foreword to a recent edition of the book, Scorsese himself mused that Silence was a gospel of Judas, on the surface referring to the weak Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a guide for the priests who ends up repeatedly betraying them, but in truth referring to nearly every character in the story, especially Rodrigues. Especially Scorsese himself. It couldn’t be more clear why Scorsese connects with this material the way he does: It describes him and everything his art represents. It is the core of who he is, a believer who believes to the point that he must doubt. Scorsese has stated that his entire life’s work has been about religion and film. This is obvious: If his oeuvre has been a perpetual cycle of profession and denial, sin and confession, damnation and redemption, Silence is the point where the needle drifts off the vinyl. One stands transfixed, watching the record spin, no sound in the air other than incidental noise and the murmur of one’s own breath. —Chad Betz


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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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


25. 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

Watch on Hulu

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. Plan B

plan-b-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Natalie Morales
Stars: Kuhoo Verma, Victoria Moroles, Michael Provost, Myha’la Herrold, Jolly Abraham, Jay Chandrasekhar
Rating: NA
Runtime: 108 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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. Personal Shopper

personal-shopper-criterion-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

Watch on Hulu

The pieces don’t all fit in Personal Shopper, but that’s much of the fun of writer-director Olivier Assayas’s enigmatic tale of Maureen (Kristen Stewart, a wonderfully unfathomable presence), who may be in contact with her dead twin brother. Or maybe she’s being stalked by an unseen assailant. Or maybe it’s both. To attempt to explain the direction Personal Shopper takes is merely to regurgitate plot points that don’t sound like they belong in the same film. But Assayas is working on a deeper, more metaphorical level, abandoning strict narrative cause-and-effect logic to give us fragments of Maureen’s life refracted through conflicting experiences. Nothing happens in this film as a direct result of what came before, which explains why a sudden appearance of suggestive, potentially dangerous text messages could be interpreted as a literal threat, or as some strange cosmic manifestation of other, subtler anxieties. Personal Shopper encourages a sense of play, moving from moody ghost story to tense thriller to (out of the blue) erotic character study. But that genre-hopping (not to mention the movie’s willfully inscrutable design) is Assayas’s way of bringing a lighthearted approach to serious questions about grieving and disillusionment. The juxtaposition isn’t jarring or glib—if anything, Personal Shopper is all the more entrancing because it won’t sit still, never letting us be comfortable in its shifting narrative. —Tim Grierson


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

Watch on Hulu

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. Colossal

colossal-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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 clichés of film festival dramas before smashing them under a giant, monstrous foot. —Jim Vorel


32. The Sisters Brothers

the_Sisters_brothers_poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Jacques Audiard
Stars: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Carol Kane, Rutger Hauer
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

Watch on Hulu

The Sisters Brothers, Jacques Audiard’s eighth, and first English-language, film as director, begins with violence of mythical, gunslinger proportions—the voice of Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) declaring the title of the film as a warning, followed by the yellow flash of gunshots between the opaque blackness of the American frontier—only to pull apart that myth as the film winds down to a warm end. A deconstructionist take on the Western is nothing starkly new, but Audiard pays careful attention not just to the moral repugnance at the heart of American expansionism, but to the physical repugnance as well, filling The Sisters Brothers with bad teeth, horse death, vomit full of spiders, sweaty surgery and the general sentiment that living in the Oregonian and Californian wilderness in 1851 was a mostly difficult, dangerous, gross-ass endeavor. For Charlie and Eli (John C. Reilly) Sisters, the West fits their lawless acumen well, at least to the extent that indiscriminate murder, bounty hunting, projected daddy issues and nature tracking provide them with a living wage. Though Charlie thrives in the outlaw lifestyle, drinking and whoring through one tiny town after another, Eli hopes for better things, whatever that may be—a family, perhaps, with the school teacher who gave him the red handkerchief he wears around his neck—fed up with fearing for their lives and sleeping on the ground and nursing his brother’s hangovers, despite how good they’ve become at what they do. Handsomely, Audiard finds salvation for the brothers via camaraderie and femininity (Carol Kane appears, as if from a half-remembered dream), which isn’t so much subversive as it is refreshing, his Western anti-Western gently lulling into something that operates less like a genre flick and more like Oscar bait. Too often, Eli speaks of his brother as someone who needs to change, who is changing, who has changed; the old ways are dying, and Charlie’s too easily trapped within a cycle of violence and degradation. Audiard wants to offer a way out—for his characters, and for us, too—but his way out is much too traditional to make a difference. —Dom Sinacola


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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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 plagiarizing 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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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. Happiest Season


happiest_season_hulu.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Clea Duvall
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Mary Holland, Dan Levy, Burl Moseley, Aubrey Plaza
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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


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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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. Possessor

possessor-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Tuppence Middleton
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

Watch on Hulu

The barren, lonely, modest urban landscapes of Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor reflect a familiar perspective. Brandon is, as you either already know or have surely guessed, David’s son; he shares his father’s interest in corporeal grotesquery, physical transformation representing mental transformation, and an unnerving, topical preoccupation with viruses. Brandon cuts deeper than daddy, though, if not (yet) with the same incisiveness, then with a clinical precision that only intensifies the oneiric oddness coursing intractably through Possessor. This disturbing horror/thriller follows Tasya (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin working for a shady organization that carries out its hits via remote cerebral link between assassin and unwitting host—in this case Colin (Christopher Abbott). Cronenberg charts a horrific journey from mind to mind, plotted along neural pathways but predictably expressed along physical routes. It veers off into an arterial journey, the narrow vessels containing the stuff of life—and death—in a larger body. The film has the feel of a grand sci-fi spectacle shrunk down to a dark, dingy miniature; its crude efficiency belies the potency of Cronenberg’s ruminations on the theme of a foreign invader corrupting a wayward soul in a poisonous society.—Paddy Mulholland


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

Watch on Hulu

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

Watch on Hulu

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. Shane

shane-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: George Stevens
Stars: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin
Rating: TV-G
Runtime: 135 minutes

Watch on Hulu

Shane is another of the great Hollywood westerns and probably the most archetypal and mythical in its execution. The heroes are truly good, the villains badder than bad. It explores one of the classic Western expansion themes, cattle ranching—or the freedom and lawlessness of the open range—versus farming, which eventually leads to civilization and settling down in one place, bringing families and the laws of the city into play. Visually a character straight out of the Old Testament, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is a shaggy bearded cattle baron hell-bent on driving farming families from the land he considers his. A mysterious rider named Shane (Alan Ladd) arrives in the nick of time to bolster the courage of a group of homesteaders led by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Shane and Ryker, along with their cohorts, are relics of the past, ultimately doomed to extinction once the wives and children move in. Unlike Ryker, Shane knows this, and spells it out in their final showdown. The future of the West is in cities and communities. There is no place for lawless men like them in these new frontiers. All these years later, we know that Shane was wrong. Killing and lawlessness still abound in the cities, and big business still tramples the rights of the common man. The film is a reminder, though, that if communities band together, holding strong in faith and trusting one another, they can take back what is rightfully theirs and shape a collective destiny.—Joe Pettit Jr.


47. Signs

signs-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 106 minutes

Watch on Hulu

M. Night Shyamalan is one of Pennsylvania’s most loyal filmmakers, having shot every single one of his films at least partially in the state. And while not all of them feel particularly connected to place, 2002’s Signs exudes Pennsylvania-ness. The film opens on a lonely farm in Bucks County, PA (actually Doylestown, just north of Philadelphia), where former Episcopalian priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lives with his children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin), his baseball-star-turned-gas-station-attendant brother (Joaquin Phoenix), and the shadow of his deceased wife, whose death in an accident months earlier prompted Graham’s crisis of faith. Strange things begin occurring on the farm: complex crop circles, footsteps on the roof, aggression from the family dogs. Soon, the family is in the middle of a full-blown, global alien invasion. Bucks County is a place where everyone knows each other, and business owners speak disdainfully of “city people,” but this is not the kind of story where a small town bands together. It’s far from a warm community, and in fact it feels empty, judgmental and ever so slightly off in that uncanny Twilight Zone-esque way. And like The Twilight Zone before it, Signs finds its horror not in the aliens themselves (who, as many complained at the time of the films’ release, are pretty lame) but in the deep, unmooring sorrow that’s swallowing this family whole—an enemy not so easily defeated.—Maura McAndrew


48. Ali

ali-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

Watch on Hulu

Michael Mann’s ambitious attempt to chronicle the sprawling and wildly admired life of Muhammad Ali is respectable, if not enthusiasm-inducing. Certainly it’s Will Smith’s finest moment as a serious screen presence. He and the director spent exacting periods of time closely studying Ali’s fights and hours of candid footage, resulting in plenty of technical accuracy but a slightly mechanical feel overall. Still, Mann’s films hits all the biopic beats and its first hour or so is compelling, never shying away from the glamour, controversy, or flaws of egotism. The main trouble, in the end, lies with the difficulty of capturing Ali’s quicksilver, larger-than-life charm. That’s a mean feat for any filmmaker.—Christina Newland


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

Watch on Hulu

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

summer-of-soul-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Questlove
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 117 minutes

Watch on Hulu

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