The 20 Best Movies on Kino Film Collection

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The 20 Best Movies on Kino Film Collection

The best movies on Kino Film Collection—the streaming service curated and maintained by the arthouse distributor Kino Lorber—are a cut above those of its peers, simply because it’s the cream of the indie crop. Much like the Criterion Channel, Metrograph At Home, or another highly curated service, this one’s for the cinephiles who’ve probably already seen most of the good stuff that rises to the top of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. But even if you’re just curious to try things out because you’ve loved a couple Kino films in the past, we’ve got you covered with the best of the best.

Available as a Prime Video Channel that adds onto your Amazon (like the martial arts-focused Hi-Yah! or a few other more niche services), Kino Film Collection offers up Kino Lorber releases straight from the theater and from its library of more than 4,000 titles. Like many of the more serious-minded streamers, Kino Film Collection brings brilliant entryway movies for auteurs and eras alike, offering up early Yorgos Lanthimos, Jafar Panahi, Todd Haynes and Ana Lily Amirpour movies alongside all the classics you don’t have to pay for film school to see. At just $5.99 a month, this one’s a deal and a half even if you just watch one new-from-Kino title every 30 days—especially because you can count on Kino Lorber to be pushing some of the best movies each year.

Here are the 20 best movies on Kino Film Collection right now:


1. Four Daughters

Year: 2023
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
Rating: NR

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Like Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine, and Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal, Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters takes place at the confluence of two rivers: Fiction and documentary. The subjects of this hybrid film are Olfa, a Tunisian mother of four girls, and the teenage Eya and Tayssir, the youngest two of her daughters. Ben Hania fills the gaping silhouette of the mysteriously absent other pair—Ghofrane and Rahma—with two actors (Nour Karoui and Ichraq Matar), as well as a stand-in for Olfa herself (Tunisian megastar Hend Sabri). Together, the actors (including one man, Majd Mastoura, who plays a variety of male figures in Olfa’s life) re-enact significant moments in the women’s lives in an attempt to therapeutically exorcize their grief and anger. The film is a rehearsal with no end performance in sight, the process being the point. The result is astonishing emotional rigor, particularly from Eya and Tayssir. Forced to endure hardships both new and familiar to their mother—who unquestioningly believes one of her motherly duties is to inflict the same pain on her children that marred her own life—the girls are remarkably unafraid to hold Olfa to account. The conceit at the heart of the film is a brilliant one, because it dissolves all of the interpersonal barriers that might have prevented its subjects from total honesty. Four Daughters is a fascinating, gripping watch for the depth and candor with which it explores these women’s fraught bonds. Rather than dilute the truth, then, the use of mirrored performances has an intensifying, clarifying effect on their original subjects—one so acute that it even unnerves some of the actors.–Farah Cheded


2. Close to Vermeer

Release Date: July 21, 2023
Director: Suzanne Raes
Rating: NR

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While Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch baroque master who painted some 30-odd works during his career, is generally considered an enigmatic figure in the art world, curators and experts have nonetheless dedicated their entire careers to evaluating his comparatively limited oeuvre. Thus, Gregor Weber, a highly-regarded expert on the artist, considers the “crown jewel” of his career to be overseeing the largest and most encompassing Vermeer exhibit ever at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The planning and execution of this Vermeer retrospective is the focus of Suzanne Raes’s documentary Close to Vermeer, which unfurls into an engrossing 79-minute exploration of the experts, museums and debates that continue to engage with the artist and his legacy. Just a year away from retirement, Weber embarks on a quest to acquire as many Vermeer paintings as possible for the swiftly-approaching exhibit. Despite being a Dutch artistic icon, many of Vermeer’s works – including recognizable artworks The Milkmaid and The Art of Painting – are currently (and perhaps forever destined to be) part of permanent collections at foreign museums. As such, he and several Rijksmuseum colleagues, including fellow Vermeer historian Pieter Roelofs, attempt to secure loans of those paintings. They travel to The Frick and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, Germany’s Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum and even the neighboring Dutch Mauritshuis museum in The Hague. When able to secure pieces for the exhibit, researcher and conservator Anna Krekeler puts them under her microscope and relishes in the details of Vermeer’s brushwork up-close. Though much of the doc’s beauty clearly stems from the gorgeous details inherent to the 17th century artist’s motifs, the overall momentum of the film is driven by art-world politics that typically don’t filter down into public consciousness. For example, a standoff of sorts develops when American researchers decide to disavow a work long considered to be an authentic Vermeer due to the predominance of a green hue in a subject’s flesh tone. Weber contests this finding – but is it due to genuine scholarly disagreement, or because he’s down to the wire in terms of making decisions for the Rijksmuseum exhibit? Pleasant and contemplative, Close to Vermeer chronicles an exhibit of a master that both civilians and historians know startlingly little about, considering the profound impact he’s had on the craft of painting.–Natalia Keogan


3. Boy

Year: 2010
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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At one point the highest-grossing New Zealand film at the country’s box office, Taika Waititi’s sophomore feature (after making his wobbly indie debut with Eagle vs Shark) gives us the writer/director’s skills at sweet oddball comedy and wrenching pathos at their peak. Boy‘s search for identity and meaning gives star James Rolleston every available weapon to win us over, and the filmmaking’s blend of tight comedy, realism in depicting a Maori community, and charmingly janky animation dress up its somber heart in flashy colors. A coming-of-age movie about papering over the hardships of life, only to find solace in those using the same techniques and styles, you’ll probably love Boy as much as Boy loves Michael Jackson. —Jacob Oller


4. Body and Soul

Year: 1925
Director: Oscar Micheaux
Stars: Paul Robeson, Mercedes Gilbert, Lawrence Chenault
Rating: NR
Runtime: 99 minutes

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A rare surviving movie from pioneering Black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux’s early years, Body and Soul maintains some of his pet themes while entirely giving itself over to a gripping debut performance from Paul Robeson. A scorching critique of organized religion and how it related to Black life, taking far further a mistrust Micheaux briefly explored in Within Our Gates, Body and Soul sees Robeson (freshly successful on the stage) play two parts: A violent, drunk, extortionist preacher and a mild-mannered inventor. One of the cruelest and most intimidating men of the cloth outside of The Night of the Hunter, Robeson’s Reverend Isaiah T. Jenkins is a bundle of vices and hypocrisy—perfect for exploiting a congregation all too eager to give itself over to any passing preacher, one more concerned with the next life than the one they’re living. Shouldering that brassy role is a performance to match. With a menace that fully utilizes Robeson’s NFL physicality and a scuzzy charm that twists his handsome charisma into vulgarity, Jenkins is a monster worth devoting a film towards. Body and Soul is a fiery and dark film, with just a dash of the surreal thanks to the dual roles, a late plot twist and a horror-tinged flashback sequence set in an abandoned shack.—Jacob Oller


5. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Year: 2014
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Advertising itself as “the first Iranian Vampire Western,” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night transcends just about every word in that description, and yet it has the defiant one-dimensionality of a lurid graphic novel. Its moody atmosphere is all of a piece, cutting off our connection to characters or any sense of deeper thematic or emotional terrain. The film stars Sheila Vand (Argo) as the titular girl. She lives in Bad City, a desert community littered with slowly churning oil derricks and an unsettling open pit where dead bodies are dumped. This unnamed character walks the city streets at night decked out in a chador, which makes her look like a superhero. More accurately, she’s a vampire, feasting indiscriminately on men deserving of the grisly fate. (Pimps and other baddies seem to be favored targets.) Shot in Southern California, A Girl Walks is a triumph of high-contrast lighting, the dark shadows coexisting with the flickering streetlights. (The whole movie exists in the same arresting permanent-midnight environment of Touch of Evil, where empty desert threatens to consume the few signs of civilization.) Such a heightened visual palette risks becoming monotonous, but Amirpour and cinematographer Lyle Vincent keep delighting the eye, finding endless ways to surprise us with the ghostly appearance of Vand in the background. (With her pale face, heavily-mascaraed eyes and dark cloak, she’s the most bewitching vision of death you’ve seen on a screen in a while.) Amirpour has crafted a tone poem to alienation and first love that’s incredibly sensual and eerie. It has its share of spilled blood, but Amirpour prefers the creepy-crawly to the crudity of gore. Like Jim Jarmusch, she enjoys playing around with genres from an ironic distance, letting her noir-ish tone set the terms for everything else that goes into the film. Hers is a feature debut is so enveloping that it doesn’t much matter that not a lot happens within the frame. Draped in dreamy black-and-white and scored with proto-Morricone instrumentals and evocative goth-rock, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proudly stakes its claim as an aspiring cult classic. —Tim Grierson


6. Luzzu

Release Date: October 15, 2021
Director: Alex Camilleri
Stars: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna
Rating: NR
Runtime: 94 minutes

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What a tragic fate, to live at the intersection where tradition crosses modernity. Post-Brexit, Americans and Europeans alike have grown to romanticize the EU despite its pronounced flaws; stamping each of its 27 countries with a uniform slate of regulations, as if economic accords come in “one size fits all” measurements, has had a negative impact on the working class. Without offering direct commentary on either rose-tinted liberal views or Boris Johnson’s nationalist maneuvering, Maltese-American writer/director/editor Alex Camilleri’s naturalist debut, Luzzu, dramatizes those blue-collar struggles under well-intended but neglectful political guidance. The film is about the EU without being about the EU. It’s strictly about Jesmark Scicluna, a 20-something Maltese fisherman playing himself, to a point: Camilleri’s writing tailors Jesmark’s personal experiences into a character of similar background but with varied ordeals. Jesmark is the son of a fisherman who was himself the son of a fisherman and so on down the generations, with each father passing down the family luzzu–the vivid red-yellow-blue fishing boat traditionally used by sailors of the Maltese islands. Wishing to make his living the same way his forebears did, Jesmark collides with roadblocks and other obstacles, primarily financial and also domestic. He has an infant son with his girlfriend, Denise (Michela Farrugia), and they’re told by their pediatrician that the little cutie has a growth impediment solved only by expensive medical intervention. Camilleri worked as assistant editor with Ramin Bahrani on three movies before directing his own. Bahrani’s influence is evident in Luzzu’s neo-realism, and the film is of a piece with the works of Diego Ongaro, Jonas Carpignano and Kelly Reichardt, too. It’s that non-professional component that ties Camilleri’s filmmaking together: Scicluna’s performance isn’t flashy, but it’s honest, which gives the film much more impact than any faux-grounded affectations would allow. He matches well with his co-stars, but he acts best with the luzzu itself, a character of a sort and a symbol above all else. Jesmark replaces wood, David lovingly adds layers of paint, but beneath the love and care there is decay. Watching Jesmark let go of the boat, the past and his beloved traditions is as painful as Luzzu is lovely. What’s a fisherman without a rod? What is a fishing community if restrictions deny their catch? The world continues to change no matter what anyone does. Camilleri understands that dilemma and puts it on film with humble clarity.–Andy Crump


7. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Year: 1920
Director: Robert Wiene
Stars: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Freidrich Feher
Rating: NR
Runtime: 75 minutes

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The quintessential work of German Expressionism, of an entire cinematic style, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was described by Roger Ebert as the “first true horror film,” although a modern viewing is understandably unlikely to elicit chills. Still, in the same vein as Nosferatu, its fantastical visual palette is instantly iconic: Buildings cant in impossible angles and light plays strange tricks—are those shadows real, or painted directly onto the set? The story revolves around a mad hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a troubled sleepwalker (Conrad Veidt) as his personal assassin, forcing him to exterminate his enemies at night. The film’s astonishingly creative and free-thinking designs have had an indelible influence on every fantasy landscape depicted in the near-100 years since. You simply can’t claim an appreciation for the roots of cinema without seeing the film. —Jim Vorel


8. A Touch of Sin

Year: 2013
Director: Jia Zhangke
Starring: Jiang Wu, Zhao Tao, Wang Baoqiang, Luo Lanshan
Rating: NR
Genre: Action

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A Touch of Sin, from Chinese director Jia Zhangke, would appear to be a departure from his previous acclaimed work. But on closer inspection, his particular cinematic DNA has been perfectly preserved. It’s just that, this time, there’s a lot more bloodshed than we’ve come to expect from him. A Touch of Sin is Jia’s stab at more commercial filmmaking, although one should not confuse this ensemble drama with a conventional action movie or anything so easily accessible. (Jia made this film with the backing of Shanghai Film Group, a government-sponsored production company, which was a first for him.) The independent auteur of quiet character pieces like The World and Still Life has constructed a story about four loosely connected individuals whose lives are touched by violence or death. At its center are the same concerns that have always interested Jia—namely, how ordinary Chinese citizens are adapting to the rapid economic development of their nation. As usual, the characters struggle mightily with that proposition. But in A Touch of Sin, their anguish is expressed in gunfire and knife fights. This is less an action movie than it is an acting-out movie.—Tim Grierson


9. Beanpole

Year: 2020
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Starring: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Andrey Bykov
Rating: NR
Runtime: 137 minutes

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Russian filmmaker Kantemir Balagov’s Cannes hit Beanpole is as harrowing and moving as its title is disarming. The Leningrad-set story of two women ravaged by World War II is disturbingly intimate, rife with personal failure and grief. There is a lack of nutrition, housing, jobs, clothing, heat—you name it, they lack it. But the absence of these physical necessities (elegantly shown through production design) only masks the greater gaping wound lurking higher atop Maslow’s hierarchy: The dearth of fulfillment, even the illusion of such, is deadly. The towering Iya AKA Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and her anti-aircraft crewmate/friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) throb like toothaches in every colorful frame. Perelygina is particularly good as a woman who loses, then seeks, a child. Pain plays around the corners of her tight, always-smiling lips as the tension therein threatens to shatter her whole facade…eventually doing just that. The build-up and breakdowns in Beanpole turn what could’ve simply been lush misery porn into lyrical studies of exhaustion and despondency derived from PTSD and other side effects of full-scale war. It’s all in the performances. Compassion lurks beneath the surface, particularly in lovely scenes featuring a quadriplegic soldier (Konstantin Balakirev), but Beanpole is quick to remind you that the trauma persists and everything—and everyone—is wartorn, even if they don’t quite look it.—Jacob Oller


10. Tower

Year: 2016
Director: Keith Maitland

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The 1966 University of Texas clock tower shooting ought to be a footnote in American history and not a reference point for contemporary national woes. That Tower, documentary filmmaker Keith Maitland’s animated chronicle-cum-reenactment of that massacre, should feel as relevant and of the moment as it does, then, is startling, or perhaps just disheartening. It was 50 years ago this past August that Charles Whitman ascended the university tower with a cache of guns, killed three people inside, and went on to kill another 11 plus an unborn baby over the course of an hour and a half. Back in those days, a public act of violence on this level was an anomaly piercing the veil of our sense of security. Today, it’s just Sunday. Tower wraps the horror Whitman wrought in a rich, rotoscoped blanket, the vibrancy of Maitland’s palette lending urgency and vitality to the horror he and his cast recreate on screen. —Andy Crump


11. Fire at Sea

Year: 2016
Director: Gianfranco Rosi
Rating: NR
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Fire at Sea is an imagistic grasp at a few months on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, 100 miles south of Sicily and the first glimpse of land for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East. With no voiceover and little context, Italian director Gianfranco Rosi juxtaposes the lives of men, women and children barely sustaining themselves on the fringes of society, of humanity, with the everyday, mundane existences of the denizens of the island—both those who devote their lives to helping the refugees and those who work or play or eat big mounds of spaghetti without one thought for the deluge of sad souls passing over their home turf. In long takes and cinematography that aches with the need to push beyond the boundaries of the screen, Rosi indulges in the rhythm of that juxtaposition, daring us to move on from one atrocity after another in order to understand what moving on takes: a lot of boring afternoons and silent plates of spaghetti. —Dom Sinacola


12. Martin Eden

Year: 2020
Director: Pietro Marcello
Stars: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Denise Sardisco
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG

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Martin Eden, Jack London’s 1909 novel, finally got an adaptation worthy of its author from Italian filmmaker Pietro Marcello. The wide-ranging, painterly and dense evolution of a sailor-turned-author (here played in alluring, heart-wrenching, ultra-charismatic form by Luca Marinelli) from his blue collar roots to the upper echelons of the in-vogue is a stunning drama with a lot on its mind. Eden’s infatuation with learning is linked to his equal infatuation with the upper-class Elena (Jessica Cressy), and the combination of the two stop his primal ways (signified by one-night stands and humorously nonchalant fistfights) in their tracks. Marinelli’s earthy confidence and swaggering sex appeal are ogled by everyone—he’s a burly, good-natured sailor after all—but it’s his ideas that shout out London’s railing commentary on class inequality. As the film’s complex politics (made more resonant through the setting change to Italy) debate messily imperfect socialism and the mercenary bootstrapping tactics of individualism, Eden embodies this ideological journey through an impressive physical transformation, turning waxen, weak and washed-up as his literary ambitions find the exact wrong kind of success. Marcello’s Martin Eden is akin to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in its majestic beauty and society-spanning saga of a story, but with a meaner humor and rawer sense of criticism. The ex-documentarian’s penchant for slipping back and forth between old home movie-esque footage and his high art compositions make the dueling philosophies of the film even clearer. Somehow most impressive of all is Martin Eden’s success at making an exciting, engrossing film about a writer in which the writing process is actually fun (and beautiful) to watch. Marcello and co-writer Maurizio Braucci work London’s words into wonders.—Jacob Oller


13. Chile ’76

Release Date: May 5, 2023
Director: Manuela Martelli
Stars: Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Sepúlveda, Hugo Medina, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Decades after his death, Alfred Hitchcock’s name is still instinctively used to describe taut political thrillers like Manuela Martelli’s feature debut, Chile ’76. Set 3 years after Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende, the film steeps in unease for 90 minutes; it’s the product of a nation contemporarily inclined toward fractured partisan politics, as if Martelli intends for her audience to face the historical rearview as a reminder of what happens to democracies when they catch a case of hyper-polarization. The first appropriate qualifier for Chile ’76 that anyone should reach for is “urgent.” But rather than “Hitchcockian,” the second qualifier should be “Pakulan.” Chile ’76 shares in common the same pliable atmospheric sensibility as the movies of Alan J. Pakula; Martelli roots her plot in realism one moment, then surrealism the next, oscillating between a sharp-lined authenticity and dreamlike paranoia. Martelli is an optimist, her belief being that when faced with incontrovertible proof of genuine government tyranny, the average citizen will do their part to buck the system even if it might mean getting disappeared by the bully president’s goon squad. The sensation of the film, on the other hand, is suspicion, the relentless and sickening notion that nobody can be trusted. Whether the thrumming electronic soundtrack or Soledad Rodríguez’s photography, composed to the point of feeling suffocating, Chile ’76 drives that anxiety like a knife in the heart.—Andy Crump


14. Dawson City: Frozen Time

Year: 2016
Directors: Bill Morrison
Runtime: 120 minutes

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For those who know the work of avant-garde documentary filmmaker Bill Morrison well, his latest (and, significantly, longest) opus, Dawson City: Frozen Time, may shock in how formally conventional it is. In essence, the film plays like a feature-length history lesson. That is hardly a criticism, though, when the history is as compelling as it is here. From its humble beginnings as a hunting and fishing village for a nomadic First Nation tribe, Dawson City rose briefly to prominence thanks to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, but then plummeted in renown once the rush ended in 1899 and prospectors migrated elsewhere, reducing its population from approximately 40,000 to about 1,000. 1896 was also the year that commercial cinema was basically invented, with the creation of film projectors and the development of movie theaters. These two threads eventually converged in a dilemma for Dawson City officials, as films that were shipped there for exhibition accumulated over time as studios rarely, if ever, asked them to be returned. While many of the prints—all of them made out of nitrate, highly flammable material—burned up in fires, others were simply dumped into the Yukon River, while 533 reels were stored in the basement of the Carnegie Library. In 1929, one official decided to move all those films in the Carnegie Library to a spot underneath a re-built hockey rink, thus unknowingly providing the permafrost cover necessary to ensure their survival and eventual rediscovery in 1978, even as the athletic center that housed the rink burned to the ground in 1951. Morrison’s fascination with those surviving nitrate reels is certainly in keeping with his general fascination with film history, as evinced by his previous work. The heart of Morrison’s film lies in that unearthed nitrate footage, and what he shows of it is often astonishing. Clips of lost silent films are one thing, but images of Fatty Arbuckle playing Dawson City stages, and even footage of the crucial play that led to the 1919 Black Sox scandal are quite another. As impressively exhaustive as it is as a work of history, Dawson City: Frozen Time plays even more affectingly as Morrison’s most direct love letter to cinema: a tool not only for recording history, but also for capturing between-the-lines truths that history books can only graze. That nitrate footage unearthed below a hockey rink in Dawson City, on a broader level, stands as a testament to the potential of art to weather and endure the ravages of time. —Kenji Fujishima


15. Mountains May Depart

Year: 2015
Director: Jia Zhangke
Starring: Zhao Tao, Zhang Yi, Liang Jingdong, Dong Zijian
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

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The films of Jia Zhangke often explore a simple, supple theme: the ways time changes everything. A frequent chronicler of the massive transformation going on in China—technological, cultural, economic—Jia studies how individuals cope when the world they know shifts under their feet. The filmmaker behind The World, Still Life and A Touch of Sin plays with that theme anew for Mountains May Depart, a somewhat straightforward love story. I say “somewhat” because the film, which travels across three time periods, could almost be viewed as Jia’s one-movie version of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, watching the development of a couple’s relationship over 25 years or so. But Mountains May Depart soon proves that with whom it’s concerned is more than just a handful of characters—yet again, the writer-director is investigating an entire society in transition. Opening in 1999 to the strains of the Pet Shop Boys’ exuberant cover of The Village People’s “Go West,” Mountains May Depart introduces us to a romantic triangle already in progress. Tao (Zhao Tao) has feelings for both Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong), a worker in a coal mine, and Zhang (Zhang Yi), a wealthy man who will end up buying Liangzi’s mine. Liangzi resents Zhang, a feeling that’s only exacerbated when Tao accepts Zhang’s marriage proposal, declining to attend the wedding. That triangle’s destiny will play out over two more eras—2014 and, provocatively, 2025—but that summation doesn’t do justice to Jia’s particular ambition. While he certainly cares about his characters’ fate, he also has his eyes fixed on larger issues. In this sense, Tao, Liangzi and Zhang represent different aspects of Chinese culture, their individual paths meant to be heavily symbolic. In the world of Mountains May Depart, people lose themselves for plenty of reasons, but Tao alone seems to retain a core sense of herself, which is a triumph in a Jia film. It can hardly be an accident that the movie ends on her in a scene that can only be described as hopeful. Time changes everything, Jia tells us, but maybe some things survive—a good person’s soul, for instance.—Tim Grierson


16. Taxi

Year: 2015
Director: Jafar Panahi
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes

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In the seven-plus years since Iranian director Jafar Panahi was sentenced by government authorities to a 20-year ban from filmmaking in his homeland, the acclaimed auteur has turned inward—and kept making movies. Complaining that Panahi’s subsequent films—the 2011 documentary This Is Not a Film, 2013’s dreamlike narrative Closed Curtain—have been a bit insular is to miss the deep emotional catharsis at the center of these works, Panahi externalizing his inner drama and creative frustration in blunt, personal terms. Next comes Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, which carries itself like a nonfiction film but is actually scripted. Likewise, Taxi’s surface is casual, even impish, but underneath the movie are serious questions about filmmaking and individual freedom. If This Is Not a Film was defiant and Closed Curtain despairing, this new film is assured, composed, determined. The film lays out its conceit in its opening moments. Panahi is driving around Tehran in a cab, having installed small cameras onto the dashboard, and he’s picking up random passengers. Taking place over the course of a day, Taxi consists of his interactions with these different people, some of whom recognize him. Episodic and off-the-cuff, the 82-minute film initially feels like a lark, a renowned filmmaker spending a little time with everyday folks. But around the time that a married couple gets into the cab, the husband bloody and badly needing medical attention, it becomes clear that Panahi’s setup is actually a ruse, the whole project a work of fiction. But the trickery is less about deceiving the audience than it is about creating an environment in which Panahi can most clearly articulate his grief and anger. In some ways, Taxi improves upon his two previous films by cobbling together their strongest tendencies—the direct, likable presence of the director himself in This Is Not a Film and the creative license and hall-of-mirrors quality that informed Closed Curtain. With Taxi, Panahi uses fiction to express reality, so why shouldn’t the movie itself be a bit of a jumble between the two? —Tim Grierson


17. The Battleship Potemkin

Year: 1925
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Starring: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barskiy, Grigoriy Aleksandrov
Rating: NR
Runtime: 72 minutes

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It’s hard to say what Sergei Eisenstein’s most famous film influenced more: The Soviet spirit or film course syllabi. While the novelty of the film’s montage may be a bit overstated (Abel Gance—and he’s not the only one—played gleefully with rapid editing in La roué a couple years beforehand, and many U.S. films were cutting together exciting action sequences at the same time), there’s a genuine excitement and urgency in this workers’ rallying cry.—Jeremy Mathews


18. Millennium Mambo

Year: 2001
Director: Hsiao-Hsien Hou
Starring: Shu Qi, Jack Kao, Chun-hao Tuan, Yi-Hsuan Chen
Rating: R
Genre: Romance

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Millennium Mambo is the first movie in director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s career to be distributed theatrically in the U.S., and that’s reason alone to seek it out. It’s the story of Vicky (Shu Qi), a modern young woman in Taipei with a little money in the bank and not much to do besides smoke, drink and hang out at clubs with her friends. She bounces between her controlling, on-again-off-again boyfriend Hao-Hao (Tuan Chun-hao) and the older, possibly wiser Jack (Jack Kao), with occasional detours to a snowy part of Japan. Each of these three locations has a gravitational pull on Vicky, sometimes defying all reason, and the movie artfully balances them and seems to weigh them for their worth, just as Vicky is doing the same. Every frame of the movie pulses with color and light. One of Hou’s strengths, evident in all of his movies, is his masterful sense of space. He fully utilizes the three dimensions of his locations, but not by roving the hallways. His camera usually sits still, but he makes the audience aware of spaces beyond its reach so that his worlds feel observed rather than acted. People disappear through doorways, but they still exist. They don’t stand artificially in front of the camera. If they need to move into the kitchen to get something, they do, and Hou’s camera waits for their return. The spaces in Millennium Mambo are more cramped than usual, and the situations more urban and tense. He packs the frame with people and furniture, reflecting not only the characters’ physical locations, but their lives as well, bouncing off each other, unstable, in need of fresh air. The way the music both connects and contrasts the settings is often mesmerizing. A country and its history are reflected in its people, and few filmmakers capture them so well.—Robert Davis


19. Bacurau

Year: 2020
Directors: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles
Starring: Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, Sônia Braga
Rating: NR
Runtime: 132 minutes

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Brazilian directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelle’s Bacurau begins with a woman named Teresa (Bárbara Colen) being driven down a winding mountain road with sweeping swathes of lush greenery below. Suddenly, a splintered wooden casket appears in the middle of the asphalt. After the driver swerves to avoid it, there is another one. And another. Soon, broken caskets litter the entire road. The cause of the coffin calamity is revealed when Teresa sees that an open-back truck transporting caskets has collided into the mountainside, killing its passengers. The scene is oddly pleasant, though, as opportunists have quickly begun selling off the least damaged goods to a line of passersby, both seeming giddy about the exchange. Death is pervasive in the film, but it is often funny, and coincidentally Teresa is on her way to a funeral. Her grandmother—the beloved matriarch of Bacurau, a small Brazilian village where she grew up—has died. The entire town mourns her death, oblivious to the fact that their little village is slowly, literally, being erased from the face of the earth. Here, what has seemed like a horror film morphs into a weird Western that incorporates psychoactive flora, a seemingly benign history museum, and even an apparition or two. That’s not even counting the UFO. Bacurau is wildly creative, and its hilarious, Dadaist aura provides an uncanny comfort despite ample bloodshed. This is not to say that it’s without heart-wrenching loss and tearful contemplation of a world on fire. It’s clear that there is no space for moral ambiguity in this film. In reality, the Amazon is ablaze, rampant inequality festers and indigenous populations are displaced all for the net benefit of the ruling class. Bacurau is a long overdue neo-colonial revenge fantasy. —Natalia Keogan


20. Ganja & Hess

Year: 1973
Directors: Bill Gunn
Starring: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, Bill Gunn
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

Watch on Kino Film Collection

Although Blacula may serve as the definitive “black vampire” movie in the minds of many cinephiles, the experimental Ganja & Hess offers a more cerebral dive into the implications of the vampire story as it pertains to the African-American community in the 1970s. Brought to life by playwright/novelist/experimental filmmaker Bill Gun, the film centers on an aristocratic black anthropologist named Hess Green. After a fight with his assistant, Hess is stabbed by a mythical dagger and transformed into a vampire. Upon meeting his late assistant’s beautiful wife (the titular Ganja), Hess falls in love and the two begin a warped courtship. Through this deranged love story, Gunn fashions a tale ripe with parallels to black assimilation and religious hypocrisy. In a way, the film almost works more as a visual political treatise than a narrative film. Though occasional a bit overbearing in its exploration of ideas, the film remains a fascinating artistic document of its time period. And, as Spike Lee’s 2014 remake demonstrated, there are issues brought up in this movie that are still worth exploring to this very day. —Mark Rozeman

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