The 60 Best Dramas on Netflix

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The 60 Best Dramas on Netflix

Netflix lists nearly 1,500 movies in the drama category; not all of them are exactly worth checking out. It doesn’t help that drama is the broadest of genres, the most difficult to define: Basically anything that doesn’t fall into comedy, horror, action/adventure or sci-fi gets lumped into the catch-all, and even then there’s more than plenty of overlap. How funny can a movie be and still be “serious”? How much tension must be internal or inter-personal—can a dramatic movies still have a bunch of explosions? Drama is a key ingredient in all movies, but when you’re in the mood for a dramatic movie, we think we know what you’re looking for. As does Netflix. So we’ve let the streaming service define the term here, pulling from movies it classifies as “dramas” and adding a few that clearly should have been there.

Here are the 50 best dramas on Netflix:

1. Lady Bird

lady-bird-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet
Rating: R

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Before Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)—Lady Bird is her given name, as in “[she] gave it to [her]self”—auditions for the school musical, she watches a young man belting the final notes to “Being Alive” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A few moments before, while in a car with her mother, she lays her head on the window wistfully and says with a sigh, “I wish I could just live through something.” Stuck in Sacramento, where she thinks there’s nothing to be offered her while paying acute attention to everything her home does have to offer, Lady Bird—and the film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, that shares her name—has ambivalence running through her veins. What a perfect match: Stephen Sondheim and Greta Gerwig. Few filmmakers are able to capture the same kind of ambiguity and mixed feelings that involve the refusal to make up one’s mind: look to 35-year-old Bobby impulsively wanting to marry a friend, but never committing to any of his girlfriends, in Company; the “hemming and hawing” of Cinderella on the, ahem, steps of the palace; or Mrs. Lovett’s cause for pause in telling Sweeney her real motives. Lady Bird isn’t as high-concept as many of Sondheim’s works, but there’s a piercing truthfulness to the film, and arguably Gerwig’s work in general, that makes its anxieties and tenderness reverberate in the viewer’s heart with equal frequency. —Kyle Turner


2. The Irishman

irishman-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin
Rating: R

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Peggy Sheeran (Lucy Gallina) watches her father, Frank (Robert De Niro), through a door left ajar as he packs his suitcase for a work trip. In go trousers and shirts, each neatly tucked and folded against the luggage’s interior. In goes the snubnose revolver, the ruthless tool of Frank’s trade. He doesn’t know his daughter’s eyes are on him; she’s constitutionally quiet, and remains so throughout most of their interaction as adults. He shuts the case. She disappears behind the door. Her judgment lingers. The scene plays out one third of the way into Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Irishman, named for Frank’s mob world sobriquet, and replays in its final shot, as Frank, old, decrepit and utterly, hopelessly alone, abandoned by his family and bereft of his gangster friends through the passage of time, sits on his nursing home bed. Maybe he’s waiting for Death, but most likely he’s waiting for Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin), who disowned him and has no intention of forgiving him his sins. Peggy serves as Scorsese’s moral arbiter. She’s a harsh judge: The film takes a dim view of machismo as couched in the realm of mafiosa and mugs. When Scorsese’s principal characters aren’t scheming or paying off schemes in acts of violence, they’re throwing temper tantrums, eating ice cream or in an extreme case slap-fighting in a desperately pathetic throwdown. This scene echoes similarly pitiful scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel and Rashomon: brawls between wannabe roughs afraid of brawling, but forced into it by their own bravado. The Irishman spans the 1950s to the early 2000s, the years Frank worked for the Bufalino crime family, led by Russell (Joe Pesci, out of retirement and intimidating). “Working” means murdering some people, muscling others, even blowing up a car or a building when the occasion warrants. When disengaged from gangland terrorism, he’s at home reading the paper, watching the news, dragging Peggy to the local grocer to give him a beatdown for shoving her. “I only did what you should,” the poor doomed bastard says before Frank drags him out to the street and crushes his hand on the curb. The Irishman is historical nonfiction, chronicling Sheeran’s life, and through his life the lives of the Bufalinos and their associates, particularly those who died before their time (that being most of them). It’s also a portrait of childhood cast in the shadow of dispassionate brutality, and what a young girl must do to find safety in a world defined by bloodshed. —Andy Crump


3. Pan’s Labyrinth

pans-labyrinth.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Sergí Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Alex Angulo, Doug Jones
Rating: R

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One of the most imaginative films of the 21st century, Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish fable is a triumph of storytelling and nothing short of a work of art. Simultaneously a war saga and a fairy tale, it traces the journey of a young girl and her scavenger hunt through another world to save her mother’s life, set in the midst of the Spanish civil war. Pan’s Labyrinth oozes atmosphere with its stunning cinematography and production values, all guided by del Toro’s keen artistic vision. With this out-and-out masterpiece, del Toro cemented his position as one of this generation’s most exciting and talented visionaries. —Jeremy Medina


4. Uncut Gems

uncut-gems-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian
Rating: R

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The proprietor of an exclusive shop in New York’s diamond district, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) does well for himself and his family, though he can’t help but gamble compulsively, owing his brother-in-law Aron (Eric Bogosian, malevolently slimy) a substantial amount. Still, Howard has other risks to balance—his payroll’s comprised of Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), a finder of both clients and product, and Julia (Julia Fox, an unexpected beacon amidst the storm in her first feature role), a clerk with whom Howard’s carrying on an affair, “keeping” her comfortable in his New York apartment. Except his wife’s (Idina Menzel, pristinely jaded) obviously sick of his shit, and meanwhile he’s got a special delivery coming from Africa: a black opal, the stone we got to know intimately in the film’s first scene, which Howard estimates is worth millions. Then Demany happens to bring Kevin Garnett (as himself, keyed so completely into the Safdie brothers’ tone) into the shop on the same day the opal arrives, inspiring a once-in-a-lifetime bet for Howard—the kind that’ll square him with Aron and then some—as well as a host of new crap to get straight. It’s all undoubtedly stressful—really relentlessly, achingly stressful—but the Safdies, on their sixth film, seem to thrive in anxiety, capturing the inertia of Howard’s life, and of the innumerable lives colliding with his, in all of its full-bodied beauty. Just before a game, Howard reveals to Garnett his grand plan for a big payday, explaining that Garnett gets it, right? That guys like them are keyed into something greater, working on a higher wavelength than most—that this is how they win. He may be onto something, or he may be pulling everything out of his ass—regardless, we’ve always known Sandler’s had it in him. This may be exactly what we had in mind. —Dom Sinacola


5. Apocalypse Now Redux

apocalypse-now-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne
Rating: R
Runtime: 206 minutes

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Let’s invoke Truffaut, because his spirit feels as relevant to a discussion of Francis Ford Coppola’s baleful adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as to a discussion of a war film like Paths of Glory, and to considering war films in general. Maybe, if we take Truffaut at his word, Apocalypse Now (and its remastered version with 49 more minutes of footage that’s streaming on Netflix) can’t help but endorse war merely through the act of recreating it as art. Maybe that doesn’t stop the film from conveying Coppola’s driving theses: War turns men into monsters, leads them on a descent into a primal, lawless state of mind, and war is itself hell, an ominous phrase now made into cliché by dint of gross overuse between 1979 and today. If the film innately sanctions war by depiction, it does not sanction war’s impact on the humanity of its participants. In fact, Apocalypse Now remains one of the most profound illustrations of the corrosive effect nation-sanctioned violence has on a person’s spirit and psyche. It’s cute that in 40 years later we’re OK with quoting this movie in gratingly awful AT&T commercials, or repurposing its period backdrop for the sake of making King Kong happen for contemporary audiences for a second time, but there’s nothing cute, or even all that quotable, about it. Apocalypse Now sears, sickens and scars, branding itself in our memories as only the grimmest displays of human depravity truly can. —Andy Crump


6. Boogie Nights

boogie-nights.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rating: R

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


7. The Florida Project

florida-project-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklyn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb landry Jones
Rating: R

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However useful a surreal approach to reframing paradise may be, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project presents a more acute critique. Baker plunges his audience into his worlds through the lens of social realism, his camera on the same playing field as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and the manager of the motel they live in, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The camera lives with the characters, watches them haul a bed-bug-infested mattress outside, or sit and eat pancakes by a small creek-ish ditch. Nothing climactic happens in these scenes, we just get to watch and not pass judgment—or pass judgment, whatever, it’s up to us. Baker never interferes; the equality of these scenes under the eye of his camera makes his film’s pointed ideas about survival and joy all the more striking. The film may be buoyed with a sense of humor and, occasionally, wonder, but Halley’s life is framed by an internal struggle over whether humor and wonder can help her retain her autonomy at all in spite of her class status. The Florida Project is spattered with profound sadness, with moments of externalized, violent frustration at presumed helplessness, at practically being born into all this. To what degree you believe Baker to be condescending or patronizing or exploitative is up to you, but the film’s bursts of light, its idea of what caregiving looks like when caregiving is a privilege, is handled with sensitivity. When the film switches from 35mm to digital in its final shots, Baker imbues his camera, now mobile, with freewheeling liberation: No matter what happens after The Florida Project ends, in those last moments, these kids are born to live.


8. The Master

the-master-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern
Rating: R

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The Master studies its characters with such mystique, tragedy and humor that there’s not a moment that isn’t enthralling. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson continues some of the stylistic tendencies from his last film, There Will Be Blood, but he also finds ways to constantly take risks and make bold choices that are thoroughly unpredictable. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his religion, The Cause, are obviously inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and that link was the focal point of the film’s pre-release press coverage. The parallels between the two ideologies are inescapable, yet they’re not the point. Anderson never adopts the viewpoint of religion/cult as freak show. Even in a brilliant montage depicting a series of grueling exercises that Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) can’t or won’t let enlighten him, the personal struggle is in the forefront. The bizarreness of the rituals is almost incidental. Phoenix gives the performance of his career as a booze-soaked World War II veteran with mental and physical scars. Having gleaned little benefit from a psychiatric crash-course for returning soldiers with post-traumatic issues, he stumbles around one place until he must flee to another, obsessing over sex and making experimental hooch. Anderson has always been a visual virtuoso, and he uses the added detail to superb effect. Dodd first appears during a tracking shot of Freddie, seen in the distance as a tiny but exuberant figure on a cruise ship, small yet still the center of attention. Freddie has not yet met Dodd, but the boat is calling to him. That could be because Dodd knew Freddie in a past life, or it could be because Freddie is a desperate drunk looking for a place to hide. Freddie’s great tragedy is that the less appealing explanation gives him no answer, while the other gives him the wrong answer. —Jeremy Mathews


9. Da 5 Bloods

da-5-bloods.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norman Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Jonathan Majors, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Lê Y Lan, Johnny Trí Nguy?n
Rating: R
Runtime: 156 minutes

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The hunt for buried gold neither ends well nor goes off without a hitch. The long road to reconciliation, whether with one’s trauma, family or national identity, is never without bumps. Glue these truths together with the weathering effects of institutional racism, add myriad references to history—American history, music history, film history—and you get Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a classically styled Vietnam action picture made in his cinematic vision. As in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Lee connects the dots between past and present, linking the struggle for civil rights couched in conscientious objection and protest to contemporary America’s own struggle against state-sanctioned fascism. After opening with a montage of events comprising and figures speaking out against the Vietnam War, referred to predominantly as the American War throughout the rest of the movie, Lee introduces four of the five bloods: Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), bonded Vietnam vets returned to Ho Chi Minh City ostensibly to find and recover the bones of their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There’s more, of course, “more” being around $17 million in gold bars planted in Vietnamese soil, property of the CIA but reappropriated by the Bloods as reparations for their personal suffering as men fighting a war for a country governed by people who don’t care about their rights. Lee’s at the height of his powers when bluntly making the case that for as much time as has passed since the Vietnam War’s conclusion, America’s still stubbornly waging the same wars on its own people and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And Lee is still angry at and discontent with the status quo, being the continued oppression of Black Americans through police brutality, voter suppression and medical neglect. In this context, Da 5 Bloods’ breadth is almost necessary. As Paul would say: Right on. —Andy Crump


10. There Will Be Blood

there-will-be-blood.jpg Year: 2007
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciarán Hinds, Dillon Freasier
Rating: R

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There’s an odor of Citizen Kane about There Will Be Blood. Both Charles Foster Kane, the center of Orson Welles’ 1941 masterwork, and Daniel Plainview, the protagonist of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 gem, are Shakespearean in their contradictions—too creative and too wounded to be fully condemned, too ruthless to be fully admired. Like Welles, writer/director Anderson fashioned an original cinematic language to reveal Plainview’s strange mix of genius and monstrosity. Long stretches are virtually dialogue-free, punctuated by close-ups of Daniel Day-Lewis’ glowering face—splattered with blood, sweat and petroleum—and the long shots of rickety derricks and shacks perched precariously on a savage landscape say more than words ever could. —Geoffrey Himes


11. Magnolia

magnolia.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore
Rating: R

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus follows multiple plotlines, while still deeply developing each of the film’s many principle characters, played more than ably by some of the decade’s greatest actors—Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards and Alfred Molina, to name but half. Father/child relationships are explored, but the themes throughout are grand ones. Add in Tom Cruise’s best performance of his life and a killer soundtrack from Aimee Mann, and you have one of the greatest movies of the 1990s.—Josh Jackson


12. Christine

christine.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Antonio Campos
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, John Cullum, Timothy Simons
Rating: R

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Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness. —Tim Grierson


13. American Gangster

american-gangster.jpg Year: 2007
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin
Rating: R
Runtime: 156 minutes

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With American Gangster, Ridley Scott harkens back to the more measured style of filmmaking evidenced in his defining sci-fi document Blade Runner. The director’s world-building skills, never in doubt, are on full display as he recreates mid-’70s Harlem. But his storytelling once again prioritizes character over fast action. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, with the help of a talented supporting cast, light up this actor’s piece, turning in one audience delight after another. Washington is Frank Lucas, once right-hand man to a Harlem crime lord and eventually the most powerful and independent heroin dealer in New York City. Criminal or not, Lucas defines the American dream. Crowe is Ritchie Roberts, a too-honest cop given license to create an independent anti-drug unit, and he submerges into Roberts, displaying his considerable abilities in every frame. Meanwhile, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ted Levine and Armand Assante all contribute a unique strength and credibility. Scott even makes T.I. and RZA look like actors. But the movie belongs to Washington and Crowe; the former cool and menacing, the latter slumped and disheveled. When they finally collide, the film sparks into overdrive. From beginning to end, American Gangster crackles with just performances that make genre filmmaking look like art.—Russ Fischer


14. Good Time

good-time-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Peter Verby, Barkhad Abdi, Taliah Webster
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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The hero of Good Time is one of the canniest individuals in recent cinema, which might seem like an odd thing to say about a scummy lowlife who screws up a bank heist in the film’s opening reels. But don’t underestimate Connie: Several of the people who cross his path make that mistake, and he gets the better of them every time. Connie is played by Robert Pattinson in a performance so locked-in from the first second that it shoots off an electric spark from the actor to the audience: Just sit back, he seems to be telling us. I’ve got this under control. The financially strapped character lives in Queens, unhappy that his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is cooped up in a facility that, Connie believes, doesn’t do enough to help him. Impulsively, Connie strong-arms Nick into helping him rob a bank. They make off with thousands of dollars, but what they don’t realize is that they live in the real world, not a movie. A paint bomb goes off in their bag, staining the money and the criminals’ clothes. Shaken and trying not to panic, Connie and Nick abandon their getaway car, quickly raising the suspicion of some nearby cops, who chase down Nick. Connie escapes, determined to get his brother out of jail—either through bail money or other means. As Connie, Pattinson is shockingly vital and present, unabashedly throwing himself into any situation. Following their star’s lead, the filmmakers deliver a jet-fueled variation on their usual intricate exploration of New York’s marginalized citizens. Good Time features no shootouts or car chases—there isn’t a single explosion in the whole film. The Safdies and Pattinson don’t need any of that. Like Connie, they thrive on their wits and endless inventiveness—the thrill comes in marveling at how far it can take them. —Tim Grierson


15. The Edge of Seventeen

the-edge-of-seventeen-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson
Rating: R

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Craig may not always get the details right, but her larger vision—alternately pitiless and forgiving of teenage foibles in the midst of adolescence—is still bracing. And the performances she encourages from her actors help pick up the slack. This is Hailee Steinfeld’s first major performance after she burst onto the scene in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit in 2010, and if she showed remarkable pluck and heart there, she shows a talent for comedy here that one might not have been able to guess at from the earlier film. And what a joy Woody Harrelson is here, putting on a master class in minimalist acting, inspiring giggles while barely seeming to move a muscle.—Kenji Fujishima


16. The Other Side of the Wind

other-side-of-wind-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, Oja Kodar
Rating: R

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As gaudy and inexplicable as its title, The Other Side of the Wind nonetheless sings with the force of its movement whistling past its constraints. The wind blows: Orson Welles channels it through his studio-inflicted/self-inflicted torpor, in that process finding an organic melody—or rather, jazz. The making-of documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, released by Netflix to go with this film—the streaming giant’s finest moment—shows Welles, enormous and half-baked, describing what he calls “divine accidents.” These accidents were responsible for some of his oeuvre’s best details (wherein God resides), like the breaking of the egg in Touch of Evil; they were something he aimed to chase after (like chasing the wind) with this, his final project, released several decades after its shooting as Netflix opened their coffers to open the coffin in which the raw footage was locked. His former partners on the shoot, Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, make good on their old oath to their master to complete the film for him, and in finding the spirit of the thing, deliver us a masterpiece we barely deserve. A divine accident. John Huston plays John Huston as Jake Hannaford who is also Orson Welles, trying to finish The Other Side of the Wind much like Welles tried to finish The Other Side of the Wind, over the course of years with no real budget and by the seats-of-everyone’s-pants. In contrast, the film’s scenario is set up over the course of one evening and night, Hannaford surrounded by “disciples” and peers who are invited to a party to screen some of the footage of what the director hopes will be his greatest masterpiece, in what Welles hoped would be his. The film within the film is a riff on art film, with perhaps the strongest winks at Michelangelo Antonioni and Zabriskie Point. Life imitates art: Hannaford’s house is just around the rock corner from the one Zabriskie blew to bits. Aptly, that house is the setting for most of the film about Hannaford, in theory constructed from found footage from the cineaste paparazzi. The density is dizzying, the intellect fierce. In terms of Welles’ filmography, it’s like the last act of Citizen Kane felt up by Touch of Evil, then stripped and gutted by the meta-punk of F for Fake. No art exists in a vacuum, but The Other Side of the Wind, more than most, bleeds its own context. It is about Orson Welles, showing himself. Killing himself. —Chad Betz


17. Zodiac

zodiac.jpg Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

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I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


18. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

im-thinking-of-ending.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Rating: R

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Many viewers will think of ending I’m Thinking of Ending Things not long after it’s started. A cross-dissolve cascade of crude shots details the interior of a farmhouse or an apartment, or the interior of an interior. A woman we have not yet seen is practically mid-narration, telling us something for which we have no context. It feels wrong, off-putting. Something is not right. This is not how movies are supposed to work. Finally we see the woman, played brilliantly by Jessie Buckley. She is standing on the street as puffy snowflakes start to fall, like we’re within a 3-D snow globe with her. She looks up at a window a couple stories up. We see an old man looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemons looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemmons in the next shot picking up Jessie Buckley in his worn car. The movie music twinkles and swirls. Jessie Buckley’s Lucy or Lucia or Amy is thinking of ending things with Jesse’s Jake. Things aren’t going to go anywhere good, seems to be the reasoning. Jake drives the car and sometimes talks; his behaviors seem fairly consistent until they’re not, until some gesture boils up like a foreign object from another self. Louisa or Lucy is forthcoming, a fountain of personality and knowledge and interests. But sometimes she slows to a trickle, or is quiet, and suddenly she is someone else who is the same person but perhaps with different memories, different interests. Sometimes she is a painter, sometimes a physicist, sometimes neither. Jessie and Jesse are great. Their performances and their characters are hard to describe. The best movie of 2020 is terrible at being a “movie.” It does not subscribe to common patterns, rhythms, or tropes. It doesn’t even try to be a great movie, really, it simply tries to dissect the life of the mind of the other, and to do that by any cinematic means possible. The self-awareness of the film could have been unbearable, except awareness (and our fragmentary experience of it) is so entirely the point of everything that the film is wrapped up within and that is wrapped up within it. To say the film accepts both the beauty and ugliness of life would be a platitude that the film itself rejects. To say that “love conquers all,” even moreso. But these false truths flit in and about the film’s peripheral vision: illusions or ghosts, but welcome ones. —Chad Betz


19. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

ma-raineys-black-bottom-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Stars: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts
Rating: R

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Fittingly, Chadwick Boseman’s final role is all about the blues. The late actor’s appearance in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the August Wilson adaptation from director George C. Wolfe and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson, is equal parts actorly showcase, angry eulogy and comprehensive lament—boiled together in the sweaty kitchen of a ‘20s Chicago recording session. A story of ambition’s multiple facets and eventual endpoints, Ma Rainey revolves around those orbiting its title character (Viola Davis). She’s a blues legend at the top of her game, finally appreciated (at least in some parts of the country) and ripe for exploitation by white men in suits. As if she’d let them. She’s comfortably late to record an album, leaving everyone else to kick up their heels and shoot the shit in true Wilson style—with Santiago-Hudson finding the essence of Wilson’s work. Davis’ brutal performance, made all the more potent by her avalanche of makeup and glistening sweat, perfectly sets the scene. She, alongside loosened neckties and whirring fans, gives the film its intended temperature and gravity so that Boseman and the rest of her band members can zip around like fireflies ambling in the summer heat. With tragic serendipity, Boseman leaves us a gift: he is on fire. Lean, with the camera placements and props emphasizing his gangly limbs (there’s a reason he wields a squashed and squat flugelhorn, a jazz staple that happens to work better visually), Levee is a highly physical role despite the chatty source material: It’s all about capturing attention, sometimes literally tap-dancing for it, with any ounce of shame overrun by an anxious energy. High-strung, twitchy and tense during a nearly five-minute monologue, Levee seems to sense the window to his dream is closing: Time is running out. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is more than Boseman’s performance, sure, with Davis and Colman Domingo going on some delicious tears of their own and Wilson’s words continuing to sear and soar in equal measure. But Boseman’s ownership of the film, an Oscar-worthy snapshot of potential and desire, gives an otherwise lovely and broad tragedy something specific to sing about.—Jacob Oller


20. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

body-remembers-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn
Stars: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Violet Nelson, Barbara Eve Harris
Rating: NR

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Nothing pays off in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Every narrative detail, demanding resolution, goes mostly unnoticed: When Rosie (Violet Nelson) takes money from Áila’s (co-director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) purse, for example, we expect that the ensuing time they spend together, the 90 minutes or so, will teach Rosie a lesson, will encourage her to return the bills. That doesn’t happen. Instead, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open tells of a chance meeting between two First Nations women, divided by socioeconomic stability but united in having both just experienced violations—Rosie’s is the latest in a string of domestic abuse incidents, while Áila’s had an IUD inserted amidst a cold, impersonal procedure, shot by cinematographer Norm Li on 16mm with a commitment to capturing Áila’s every near-traumatized grimace and wince. Li follows Áila from the office, into the street, where she spots Rosie barefoot in the rain, maybe in shock, and from there the two escape Rosie’s infuriated boyfriend to Áila’s dry, airy loft apartment. Li is always just behind, the rest of the film edited together into one, continuous shot as Áila tries to figure out what to do to help Rosie, and Rosie tries to figure out how to keep from being victimized by virtue signalling outsiders. That Áila is also a FIrst Nations woman hardly matters to Rosie; she barely even looks the part. Of course, when they do part, Rosie swallows whatever guilt she may have developed over stealing from Áila, and the caretakers at the safe house remind Áila when Rosie doesn’t want to stay that it sometimes takes people seven or eight times to relent and leave their abusive situation. We wait for resolution, for a sign that things will get better. When they don’t, we look for other signs, and we wait, left only with patience—to watch, and to never stop watching, and to sit with the weight of that, to afford the cost of empathy. —Dom Sinacola


21. 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
Rating: NR

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


22. Wildlife

wildlife.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Camp, Ed Oxenbould
Rating: PG-13

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On its surface, Wildlife is a pretty familiar mid-century portrait of white-picket-fence America. (Spoiler alert: The nuclear family isn’t as harmonious as you might imagine.) But Paul Dano’s directorial debut is often subtler and more moving than would be expected, and the film is guided by Carey Mulligan’s stunning performance as Jeanette, a mother left to look after her teen son once her failure of a husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves town for a temporary job. Based on Richard Ford’s novel, Wildlife sets up expectations about this woman—oh, poor Jeanette, the helpless, sensitive lass—which Mulligan expertly explodes, constantly surprising us with the character’s capacity for reinvention and calculation. Whether plotting to find a replacement for her husband or confiding in her son about what a disappointment his father is, Jeanette expresses a whole generation of women’s frustration at being repressed by a patriarchal society. Mulligan makes that frustration sexy, poignant and liberating—even if we never stop seeing the character’s increasing desperation to free herself. —Tim Grierson


23. Roma

roma-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta
Rating: R

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Alfonso Cuarón’s most intimate film is also his most distancing. The camera sits back, black-and-white, focused not on the bourgeois children that represent the cinematographer-writer-director and his siblings growing up in Mexico City several decades ago, but moreso on the indigenous woman (Yalitza Aparicio) that cares for them and the household. Not even entirely focused on her, perhaps more focused on its classicist compositions of a place that no longer exists in the way Cuarón remembers it. The camera gazes and moves in trans-plane sequencing, giving us foreground, mid-ground and background elements in stark digital clarity. The sound mix is Dolby Atmos and enveloping. But the base aesthetic and narrative is Fellini, or long-lost Mexican neorealism, or Tati’s Playtime but with sight gags replaced by social concern and personal reverie. Reserved and immersive, introspective and outward-looking, old and new—some have accused Roma of being too calculated in what it tries to do, the balancing act it tries to pull off. Perhaps they’re not wrong, but it is to Cuarón’s immense credit as a thoughtful technician and storyteller that he does, in fact, pull it off. The result is a singular film experience, one that recreates something that was lost and then navigates it in such a way as to find the emergent story, then from that to find the emotional impact. So that when we come to that point late in Roma, we don’t even realize the slow, organic process by which we’ve been invested fully into the film; we’re not ready to be hit as hard as we are when the wallops come and the waves crash. It’s almost unbearable, but we bear it because we care about these people we’ve become involved with. And such is life. —Chad Betz


24. The Squid and the Whale

squid-whale.jpg Year: 2005
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin
Rating: R

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Borrowing themes from his previous films—children of failed marriages; characters whose bookish smarts seem to work against them; a floating sense of fatalism—The Squid and the Whale creeps ever closer to Noah Baumbach’s own tempestuous past. His parents’ faltering union isn’t just a detail used to add depth to a certain character. It’s the whole story—a gorgeous, candid portrait of the messy car crash of divorce, from all angles. “It’s hard to even put myself in the mindset of those movies anymore,” he told Paste in 2005. “With Squid, these are reinventions of people that are close to me, and this is the movie I identify with the most. It is a natural extension of what I have intended and what I feel. I trusted myself more on this one.” —Keenan Mayo


25. The Piano

the-piano.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Without ever saying a word, Holly Hunter still has one of the great performances of the early ‘90s. The Piano also introduced the rest of the world to New Zealand’s Jane Campion, creator of Top of the Lake, and to actress Anna Paquin (True Blood). Set in 1850s New Zealand, the film tells of a mute, young mother trapped in arranged marriage and the farmworker (Harvey Keitel) who falls for her.


26. Marriage Story

marriage-story-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever
Rating: R

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The way that Adam Driver ends “Being Alive,” which his character in Marriage Story has just sung in full (including dialogue asides from Company’s lead’s friends), is like watching him drain what’s left of his spirit out onto the floor, in front of his small audience (which includes us). The performance starts off kind of goofy, the uninvited theater kid taking the reins to sing one of Broadway’s greatest showstoppers, but then, in another aside, he says, “Want something… want something…” He begins to get it. He begins to understand the weight of life, the dissatisfaction of squandered intimacy and what it might mean to finally become an adult: to embrace all those contradictions, all that alienation and loneliness. He takes a deep exhalation after the final notes, after the final belt; he finally realizes he’s got to grow up, take down his old life, make something new. It’s a lot like living on the Internet these days; the impossibility of crafting an “authentic self,” negligible the term may be, is compounded by a cultural landscape that refuses to admit that “authenticity” is as inauthentic a performance as anything else. Working through identities is painful and ugly. Arguably, we’re all working through how to be ourselves in relation to those around us. And that’s what Bobby, the 35-year-old at the center of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company, is doing. The scene forces the viewer to make connections about their humanity, the art they’re experiencing, and the ever deadening world in which it all exists. Charlie grabs the microphone, drained, realizing that he has to figure out what he has to do next, to re-put his life together again. All of us, we’re putting it together too. Or trying, at least. That counts for something. —Kyle Turner


27. Atlantics

atlantics.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Mati Diop
Stars: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Nicole Sougou, Aminate Kane
Rating: NR

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Atlantics is quite the announcement for writer-drector Mati Diop. She takes the magic realism of a peer like Alice Rohrwacher and carries it to the world’s margins, examining class struggle in a Senegalese city by the Atlantic. Through the gritty, blustery opening images shot as artful document of the Dakar shore (outstanding work by cinematographer Claire Mathon) and the hypnotic electronic score by Fatima Al Qadiri, Diop is able to evoke an incomparable mood and sense of place. That it might look and sound so alien to an American watching this film on Netflix is perhaps a sharp enough indictment of the ways in which we intellectually seclude ourselves from realities beyond our own. Atlantics is about that and it’s about the breaking of that. It’s about the mystery of identity and how one can find identity by taking on the identity of something other, or can find it when looking in a mirror—not for the physical self but for the spirit. Congruously, it’s also about losing the identities that are culturally prescribed, that we may have been born with, nurtured and/or limited by. Love, the film posits, is a catalyst; love helps reform identities in transgressive and transcendent ways. And the film is at its best when it avoids being programmatic, lets its visuals pulse before you. It is yet another sad ghost story amongst many, but where it differs is finely drawing the distinction that sometimes the things that haunt the living most are not the things that were but the things that should have been. The film’s protagonist embraces that haunting as a form of hope; she loses something important and fills the hole by expanding her own self with the self that was touched by others. Though Atlantics feels elliptical in many ways, Diop has the bravery to end her film with a pretty resounding period. It’s a statement, both for itself and for its creator, and it’s a convincing one. —Chad Betz


28. Moneyball

moneyball.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright
Rating: PG-13

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Based on the gripping 2003 book of the same name, Moneyball centers on Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his impact on baseball, and specifically on the implementation of a mathematical approach to the game. As the washed-up GM, Brad Pitt’s chemistry with Jonah Hill’s geeky and unconfident assistant Peter Brand was the best thing about the movie. It’s one of the first times where his character looks totally comfortable on screen, and the movie’s success can be directly attributed his Oscar-nominated performance. —Benjamin Hurston


29. High Flying Bird

high-flying-bird-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 2019
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: André Holland, Zazie Beetz, Melvin Gregg, Sonja Sohn
Rating: NR

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Members of the “keep your politics outta my sportsball” crowd will probably hate High Flying Bird, Steven Soderbergh’s basketball drama, his latest experimentation with iPhone and his first collaboration with imminent playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (of Moonlight fame and success). The film forces audiences to confront the implicit and innate racial biases woven throughout American sports culture, settling specifically in the NBA’s court. Granted, the apolitical type probably wouldn’t give High Flying Bird a second thought browsing their Netflix queues anyway, and that’s just fine. Soderbergh’s filmmaking and McCraney’s writing gel together with up tempo pacing and nearly lyrical dialogue exchanged between its tight cast of characters, chiefly Ray Burke (André Holland), a sports agent doing his best to serve his client, star prospect Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg), while navigating a fictionalized lockout. The lockout’s not that fictionalized (recall events that impacted the NBA through 2011, for instance), it’s just that Soderbergh and McCraney aren’t referencing anyone or anything in particular here, beyond systemic biases, both casual and fully intentional, woven into basketball’s DNA. The film makes a surgically precise study of how governance over the game, wrested from the hands of its players and bequeathed to their owners, leads to grim power dynamics recalling the days of slave trades and auction blocks. In regards to material, it’s merciless. In regards to craftsmanship, it’s unforgiving. But curious viewers will be rewarded with one of the year’s most economical bits of closed-circuit storytelling, anchored by Holland’s towering lead performance—so long as they can keep up. —Andy Crump


30. Happy as Lazzaro

happy-as-lazzaro-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Stars: Adriano Tardiolo, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 137 minutes

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It’s very difficult to get into too many details about Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro without spoiling it—which seems a ridiculous thing to say about a film that starts off as a rural Italian take on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, but you’ve got no idea until you’re watching it. Rohrwacher’s The Wonders was a more intimate, personal film that had moments of magic realism peeking through, just barely. Happy as Lazzaro similarly keeps the magic in check (though a scene with whispers in a field will start to invoke Fellini) until it no longer can—and then the magic explodes, blowing up the narrative and sending what’s left in an insanely bold direction. We can only be applaud its daring. If Dostoevsky was re-framing the Christ narrative, Happy as Lazzaro re-frames the very idea of a Christ narrative until it is something else entirely. Here, Christ is a mythic wolf and our kind idiot Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is a touched Lazarus; the difference between them is a matter of substance, time and place. Lazzaro’s goodness, like all earthly goodness, is simultaneously transcendent and doomed, but the wolf continues on beyond any mortal coil, against the flow of humanity. Lazzaro tries to follow, perhaps foolishly, perhaps blindly…but happily, nonetheless. —Chad Betz


31. The Disaster Artist

disaster-artist-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: James Franco
Stars: James Franco, Seth Rogan, Dave Franco, Alison Brie
Rating: R

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To tackle the ineffable mystery of Tommy Wiseau’s consciousness is to understand the mind of a crocodile, or of a shark, or of a space alien. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Which is precisely what makes James Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau in The Disaster Artist such an impressive and triumphant one. Franco has physically transformed into Wiseau in the same manner that usually draws praise for an actor such as Daniel Day Lewis: not necessarily via hair or makeup, but in a way that is more primal and intimate. Every odd little tic, every awkward laugh, each inexplicable grimace—the gestures all shine through as genuine to anyone who has seen The Room, or even an interview with Wiseau. The portrayal is a huge part of what makes The Disaster Artist so compelling and just plain fun. You could make a good argument that this is the greatest role of Franco’s career. And even if The Disaster Artist reads like it’s positioning for a shot at year-end honors and the largest possible audience, fans of The Room will ultimately get far more from the experience than the average multiplex dweller. It’s a film to see with an audience familiar with what it’s about to see, with people who can appreciate the dedication with which Franco and co. have recreated so many of the original film’s woeful charm. —Jim Vorel


32. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ballad-buster-scruggs-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Tim Blake Nelson, Bill Heck, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson
Rating: R

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As much an anthology of post-bellum adventure stories as it is a retrospective of the many kinds of films the Coen brothers have made—not to mention a scathing bit of fantasy curbed against the stories we’ve used to water down the tragedy of our country’s growth—The Ballad of Buster Scruggs tells six tales of greed, murder, mercy and the harsh mistress of blind chance, the only through line being the bleakness of the horizon America trampled to stake its imperial claim. A musty traveling showman (Liam Neeson) weighs the burden of his limbless performer (Harry Melling) against each night’s measly cash-out; a lone prospector (Tom Waits) patiently divines the vein of gold he refers to respectfully as “Mr. Pocket”; a cocky outlaw (James Franco) swings between the two sides of fate, his whole life leading to a semi-decent punchline; a disparate collection of travelers argue about the vicissitudes of faith while a bounty hunted corpse sits atop their carriage, all five heading towards some ambiguous symbolism; and the titular mellifluous gunslinger finally meets his match, making for one of the strangest sights the Coens have ever conjured. With the downhome nihilism of No Country for Old Men and Fargo, the mythological whimsy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the back-breaking metaphysical weight of A Serious Man or the cutting capers of Raising Arizona, the whole of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—shot as a series of awe-inspiring vistas by DP Bruno Delbonnel punctuated by the porous mugs of the pioneers who populate them—sings to an unparalleled canon of genres and tones. That its centerpiece is a sweet romance, between a quiet young woman (Zoe Kazan) and a noble cowboy (Bill Heck) leading her wagon train along the Oregon Trail, proves that the Coens still have beautiful surprises in store more than three decades deep into their career-long odyssey of American life. —Dom Sinacola


33. Howard’s End

howards-end.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin
Rating: R

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James Ivory’s 1992 classic Howards End, starring Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter and an Academy Award-winning Emma Thompson, returns to theaters this weekend in a beautifully restored print. It’s tempting to call the film, which was nominated for nine Oscars and won three, the pinnacle of the Merchant-Ivory films catalog, but the more you dig, the harder it is to choose from the 50 years of excellent work. How do you ignore The Remains of the Day, possibly Hopkins’ best role of all? Or the lush romanticism of A Room with a View? Or a brilliant young Daniel Day-Lewis in Maurice. E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End has so much plot in it that in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, or lesser screenwriter, might have ended up feeling like all plot, but no character. But in Ivory’s Howards End, every one of the characters lives and breathes so much we get to know them intimately. —Michael Dunaway


34. Chef

chef.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Jon Favreau, Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo
Rating: R

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Jon Favreau took a break between the $163 million dollar Cowboys & Aliens and Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book to write, direct and star in a small indie comedy-drama about a celebrated chef rediscovering his love for food. When the owner of his restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) won’t let him experiment in the kitchen and his social-media ignorance leads to a very public feud with a food critic (Oliver Platt), he quits and buys a food truck. The road-trip that follows is the sweet, earnest heart of the film—reconnecting with his son as he reconnects with a passion for food. There’s not much to the straight-forward plot, but the film’s humor and mouth-watering food porn make it a treat. —Josh Jackson


35. My Happy Family

my-happy-family-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
Stars: Ia Shugliashvili, Merab Ninidze, Berta Khapava
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 minutes

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It’s a shame Netflix felt like Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s My Happy Family deserved a burial, that the company didn’t bother pushing the film for awards season and neglected to give it a boost in visibility for the average consumer. Because Ekvtimishvili and Groß’s latest collaboration in a long line of collaborations is superb, timely and altogether unexpected in its unwavering grace. Compared to the year’s other films centered on dysfunctional families, whether hammy (I, Tonya) or naturalist (Lady Bird), My Happy Family is a gentle tribute to dignity: Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) is never less than noble in her constant dedication to her family, even as she determines that to preserve her sanity she must move out of the apartment she shares with them and lay down roots in a pad of her own. My Happy Family doesn’t judge Manana—it validates her. It illustrates a woman’s liberation from social and familial expectations, allowing Manana to discover who she is, what she wants and where she’s going without looking down on her. But My Happy Family is a small film with grand artistic ambitions, and both Ekvtimishvili and Groß know that Manana’s bliss has its limit. They know that eventually the matters of her husband and children, plus their extended family, must be reconciled. Still, My Happy Family shows a benevolent kind of restraint by ending on a note of uncertainty, sparing us the lion’s share of that work, its ultimate lingering ambiguity a thing of honorable beauty. —Andy Crump


36. Private Life

private-life-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: R

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A rich film with the confidence to take its time, allowing its characters to unfurl and its themes to grow and develop, Private Life is a quietly remarkable comedy-drama about family, marriage and getting older. To accomplish all that, writer-director Tamara Jenkins uses as her entryway a familiar scenario: a 40-something couple struggling to have a baby. Led by terrific, tricky performances from Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn, Private Life keeps shifting and surprising, never offering anything dramatically monumental but speaking precisely about the bonds between people—how they can be threatened but also renewed. Giamatti and Hahn play Richard and Rachel, who have been married for quite some time, each of them enjoying a satisfying creative life in New York City. But in recent years, they’ve struggled to conceive, a process that no amount of fertility treatments has been able to remedy. Private Life devotes a significant amount of its early running time to showing how couples such as Richard and Rachel undergo IVF, which has its comic moments but is largely depressingly clinical. (Adding to the despair are the long lines of other expectant couples Richard and Rachel see in the waiting rooms sitting alongside them.) But Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, The Savages) uses the couple’s struggles to discuss far more intriguing subject matter. It’s not simply the inability to have a child that eats at these two people. Their failure to conceive hints that they’re not young anymore and, with that, exacerbates the feelings of regret they have about the career decisions they made. Did they focus on their art at the expense of parenthood? Now that the shine is off their early creative success, is their barrenness another indication of their growing irrelevance? Perhaps most pressingly, are they obsessing about having a child because, deep down, they know their marriage has troubles? The inability to conceive bothers Richard, but for Rachel, it’s a deeper wound—one that goes far beyond being deprived of motherhood. Hahn and Jenkins make the woman’s pain palpable, layered and also a bit ineffable, illustrating how people reach middle age not entirely sure how they got there or where they’re headed next. —Tim Grierson


37. Ali

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

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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


38. The Artist

the-artist.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman
Rating: PG-13

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In his black-and-white ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood, Gallic writer-director Michael Hazanavicius honors form as well as content, packaging his romantic melodrama about the rise of a new ingénue and the fall of a silent movie star in 1920s and ’30s Los Angeles in luxurious black, white, and shades of shimmering silver. It’s a beautiful, ambitious, nostalgic endeavor that demonstrates its makers are, indeed, artists. George is a Douglas Fairbanks-grade celebrity, utterly charming both on-screen and off, especially with his sidekick Jack Russell terrier at his side. Classically handsome and a gifted physical comic, Dujardin is enchanting in the role, as seductive to 21st-century audiences as to his character’s screaming fans. His seemingly fail-safe success hits a snag, however, with the advent of talkies, a development that ushers in a new generation of talent. Speaking of which, at the height of his powers, George crosses paths with Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, who is married to Hazanavicius), a movie extra whose career takes off just as his begins to tank. And peppy she is, with her cocked hip, flirtatious wink and spunky gestures. As lovely as she is lively, Bejo demonstrates unexpected depths to her perky character when, alone in George’s dressing room, she slips one arm into his tuxedo jacket and pretends she’s in a lover’s embrace—a bit of business that only could have resonated in a silent film. With no dialogue and few intertitles to convey plot, Hazanavicius and cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman have taken special care with the geometry of their images; there’s something artful and delightful to look at in every scene. —Annlee Ellingson


39. The Nightingale

nightingale.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Jennifer Kent
Stars: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr
Rating: R

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Calling The Nightingale a revenge film sets an expectation of triumph, found in the satisfaction of grim justice done on the unjust. Let it be known that there’s no such catharsis in Jennifer Kent’s followup to her 2014 debut The Babadook. Revenge, while indeed a dish best served cold, tends to be prepared in one of two ways in cinema: with fist-pumping vigor or soul-corroding sobriety. The Nightingale sticks with the recipe for the latter. This is neither a pleasant movie nor a pleasing movie, but it is made with high aesthetic value to offset its unrelenting pitilessness: It’s fastidiously constructed, as one should expect from a director of Kent’s talent, and ferociously acted by her leading trio of Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr and Sam Claflin, respectively playing Clare, an Irish convict driven by rage; Billy, an Aboriginal tracker driven by vengeance; and Hawkins, a British military officer driven by cold ambition and bottomless malice, who’s also Clare’s master and rapist. They’re three peas in a horrible pod, being 1820s Tasmania during the Black War, when English colonists slaughtered Aboriginal Tasmanians to the latter’s near extinction. It’s an altogether dark time in the country’s long history. Thus, The Nightingale is an appropriately dark film—but Kent is too shrewd a filmmaker to argue that Clare’s suffering trumps Billy’s, or to make any equivalency between them. She understands what must happen to fulfill Clare’s part in the story, and what must happen to fulfill Billy’s part. That she’s able to so seamlessly achieve both is an incredible accomplishment. The Nightingale is a far cry from The Babadook on obvious grounds of genre and style, though there are horrors here aplenty: Nightmare beats where Clare dances with Aidan, then with Hawkins and her other attackers. But the film expands on Kent’s interest in women’s stories by telling Billy’s tale alongside Clare’s, and shows once more her gift for making well-tread genre elements feel unique. If The Nightingale denies the traditional satisfactions of revenge cinema, it discovers new ones as well. —Andy Crump


40. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

sacred-deer-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
Rating: R

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In the uncanny valley of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, characters resemble human beings…but not entirely. In movies such as Dogtooth and The Lobster, the Greek writer-director has become a maestro of the queasy/funny horror-comedy, turning our universal anxieties into psychologically rich satires in which life’s mundane surfaces give way to dark, often bloody realities we don’t want to acknowledge. His movies are funny because they’re so shocking and disturbing because they’re so true. But for them to really soar, their provocations need to be grounded in recognizable behavior, which gives Lanthimos a foundation to then stretch his extreme stories past their breaking point. With his latest, we see what happens when his underlying ideas are not as complex as the intricacies of his execution. The Killing of a Sacred Deer reunites Lanthimos with his Lobster star Colin Farrell, who plays Steven, a cardiologist, who’s married to an ophthalmologist, Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two children, teen Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and her younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic). It would be hard to describe their personalities because, in typical Lanthimos fashion, they don’t really have any. Quickly, Sacred Deer introduces us to the fly in this particular ointment. His name is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a moody teen piecwho seems as lobotomized as the other characters. There’s one crucial difference, though: He has befriended Steven for reasons that feel sinister but will only eventually become clear, and he keeps insinuating himself into the man’s world. It wouldn’t be much fun to reveal where Sacred Deer goes from there, but Sacred Deer may be Lanthimos’s most visually and sonically ambitious work—technically, it’s pristine—clever without ever quite deciding precisely what it’s about. —Tim Grierson


41. Rain Man

rain-man.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Barry Levinson
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino
Rating: R

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In this Oscar-winning Best Picture, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) embarks on a road trip with his newly discovered brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). It’s not an intentional happy-go-lucky jaunt, though—Charlie is simply trying to get more of his recently deceased father’s $3 million estate, most of which he left to the autistic Raymond. Charlie gets to learn more about his brother and his mental tics like having to stop everything in order to watch Jeopardy! and buying underwear strictly from Kmart. Hoffman is undeniably good, and his performance as a savant earned him a Best Actor in a Leading Role award. But Cruise’s portrayal of a high-strung professional who transforms into a caring brother is also a treasure. The tender moments are just as important as the comical—and the blend of laughter and tears are skillfully spread out in this 1988 classic. —Shawn Christ


42. Beasts of No Nation

3-Beast-of-no-nation-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Stars: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs. —Alice Barsky


43. Shadow

shadow-yimou-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Zhang Yimou
Stars: Chao Deng, Sun Li, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang, Xiaotong Guan, Wang Jingchung
Rating: NR
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Zhang Yimou’s latest is Shadow, a wuxia film based on the Chinese “Three Kingdoms” legend. Where Yimou’s recent filmography either favors substance over dazzle (Coming Home) or dazzle over substance (The Great Wall), Shadow does what the best of his movies do by sewing them together into one seamless package. As in Hero, as in House of Flying Daggers, the anti-gravity fight scenes are stunning to behold, but those movies put performance and action on the same plane, and Shadow deliberately separates them with a gorgeous monochrome palette, backgrounded by gray scale that lets the actors, and the copious amount of blood they spill throughout, hold its forefront. Here, in this tale of palace intrigue, Commander Yu (Deng Chao) employs a double to act in his stead (also Deng Chao)—his shadow, if you will—to seize control of a city of strategic value from invading forces against orders from his king (Zheng Kai). The film twists and turns, but through Zhang’s devoted stylization, the intricacies never overwhelm. Instead, the stylization does. —Andy Crump


44. Omar

omar.jpg Year: 2014
Director:Hany Abu-Assad
Stars: Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Waleed Zuaiter
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 98 minutes

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More trenchant as a political allegory than a character drama, Omar is more interested in the ideas within this slow-burn thriller than in plot machinations. To writer-director Hany Abu-Assad, maniacal twists and cunning action set pieces would simply get in the way—better that we spend our time thinking about why the characters find themselves in this situation at all. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Omar stars Adam Bakri as the titular young Palestinian, who must daily scale the imposingly tall security wall that separates him from his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany). Though very much in love, they haven’t yet revealed their relationship to her brother (and Omar’s good friend) Tarek (Eyad Hourani), who is planning with Omar and another close pal, Amjad (Samer Bisharat), to kill an Israeli soldier. The three friends’ mission is a success—it’s Amjad who pulls the trigger—but soon after, Omar is snagged by Israeli forces, led by Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Threatening Omar with imprisonment, Rami promises him freedom if he’ll deliver Tarek, the group’s leader, to them in exchange. What’s most resonant in Omar is that, just as we can’t always gauge the characters, they’re, too, concealing parts of themselves from each other, a byproduct of living in a part of the world where distrust is commonplace and secrecy a necessity. Which is why Omar’s startling ending is both somewhat mystifying and also oddly perfect—we don’t see it coming, and yet deep down, we’re not surprised at all that it happened. —Tim Grierson


45. Ip Man

ip-man.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To, Syun-Wong Fen, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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2008’s Ip Man marked, finally, the moment when the truly excellent but never fairly regarded Donnie Yen came into his own, playing a loosely biographical version of the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chung and teacher of a number of future martial arts masters (one of whom was Bruce Lee). In Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), an unassuming practitioner of Wing Chung tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action fills this semi-historical film, which succeeds gloriously both as compelling drama and martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith


46. A Ghost Story

ghost-story-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: David Lowery
Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Liz Franke
Rating: R

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Turns out the perfect opportunity for an existential dilemma is when you no longer exist. With a cheeky title like A Ghost Story, it’s no surprise that David Lowery’s movie isn’t a typical tale of paranormal activity—but even that won’t prepare you for the film’s unpredictable, emotional odyssey through love, death, longing and time. It might even be one of the most epic sub-90-minute movies ever made. In it, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star as a couple, perhaps married, identified in the credits as C and M, respectively. They live in a simple, old house. He’s attached to it, she wants to move. We get a sense of friction because of that conflict, but we’re also offered genuine affection, especially when the two cuddle after a startling bang on C’s piano wakes them in the middle of the night. Then, just as we’re getting to know them via mumbled dialogue and C’s songwriting, he dies unexpectedly in a car accident. In the aftermath, the movie takes its time to reveal its bold intentions. Writer/director Lowery is already comfortable with both indie projects (Ain’t Them Body Saints) and high-profile Disney joints (2016’s Pete’s Dragon). Perhaps this success has given him the freedom to do a small, low-budget film and not worry about whether people will call it pretentious or boring. A Ghost Story’s dialogue is quiet and sometimes hard to make out, takes are long and deliberate, and the cinematography is muted, not to mention in the out-of-favor (albeit still used) 1.37:1 Academy aspect ratio. With these elements, Lowery captures time in its vastness and loneliness—because it is, after all, the most dramatic difference between the living’s and the dead’s points of view, something that’s taken for granted in most movies (pacing problems and flashbacks aside). C, of course, “wakes up” from death as a sheet-festooned ghost, for whom time becomes more and more significant as he lingers, and as the camera lingers along with him. A Ghost Story isn’t a haunting so much as a witnessing. —Jeremy Mathews


47. Mystic River

mystic-river.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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Based on Dennis Lahane’s novel, Clint Eastwood’s dramatic mystery is packed with great performances from Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins and, especially, Sean Penn, who won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for leading actor. The Boston neighborhood where the characters live feels like a small town, where three childhood friends drift apart and find themselves at odds in the wake of a local murder.—Josh Jackson


48. Loving

loving-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Marton Csokas
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 123 minutes

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How well you like Jeff Nichols’ Loving will partially depend on what you look for in courtroom dramas. If you prefer judicial sagas made with potboiling slickness and little else, you’ll probably like Loving less than Nichols likes filming landmark legal proceedings. His film isn’t about the case of Loving v. Virginia as much as its two plaintiffs, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter Loving (Ruth Negga), the married couple at the center of the 1967 civil rights victory over the United States’ anti-miscegenation laws. As an effect of Nichols’ focal point, the movie speaks little to no lawyer jargon and takes place almost entirely outside of the court rather than within. So if you’re sick to death of courtroom dramas that insist on pantomime, and if you think those kinds of stories demand more restraint, then you’ll probably dig on Loving. It so studiously avoids the clichés of its genre that it feels fresh, original, a completely new idea based on a very old, very formulaic one. It’s a disciplined, handsome, unfailingly serious screen reproduction of an important real-life moment in the nation’s ongoing fight for civil rights; it’s hitting theaters at a time when we’re still having cultural arguments about who gets to marry; and it’s directed by one of the critical darlings of contemporary cinema. This is the kind of anti-prestige movie critics yearn for, a product stripped away of non-artistic pretensions and ambitions, leaving only the art. —Andy Crump


49. Silver Linings Playbook

silver-linings-playbook.jpg Year: 2012
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

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With leads as winning as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, aas well as David O. Russell’s signature mix of clever and sincere dialogue, the hook is set. Every single detail doesn’t gel—Chris Tucker’s role as Danny, Pat Jr’s escape-prone friend from the treatment facility, seems a bit extraneous—but it doesn’t need to. By the end of the dance competition finale (yeah, there’s that), the audience, actors and director are on exactly the same page in Russell’s playbook. —Michael Burgin


50. “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

meyerowitz-stories-poster.jpg
Year: 2017
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, Sigourney Weaver
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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In maybe his most well-tuned chamber drama (let’s use this phrase loosely) since Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach takes time to observe the ways in which his characters run, their ambulatory gifts (or lack thereof) representing both their struggles to express their innermost selves and the ways in which they can’t escape the parents who must pass themselves—their failures, their quirks, their anger—to their offspring. One gets the sense that Baumbach wants to literalize the act of “running from” one’s deepest problems, but such tracking shots are largely played for laughs: Family patriarch Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a sculptor seeking acknowledgement in his old age, shuffles dopily down New York’s streets; Matt Meyerowitz (Ben Stiller) possesses the grace of a well-used corporate gym membership; Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler, deserving of an Oscar) hobbles around denying that he’s got a major medical problem; and Jean Meyerowitz (Elizabeth Marvel) just seems like she shouldn’t be running, Matt and Danny at one point consorting about how they’ve never actually seen her run before. In these moments, Baumbach allows the cerebral to awkwardly take on corporeal life, wondering aloud how the many themes and ideas we conceptualize (and thus internalize) break free in some sort of physical melee. It’s his tennis scene in The Squid and the Whale made feature length—and it may be the most viscerally moving film he’s ever made. —Dom Sinacola


51. Love Jones

love-jones.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Stars: Larenz Tate, Nia Long, Isaiah Washington
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Love Jones feels just as refreshing now as it did in 1997: It’s a romantic drama filled with realistic relationships and conversations, focused on a group of Black writers, artists and intellectuals. Nina (Nia Long), a photographer just out of a long relationship, meets Darius (Larenz Tate), a writer and spoken-word artist (oh hey, the ‘90s) who meets her at a show and pursues her—carefully but quite ardently—until they fall into on-again, off-again love. Aside from the naturalistic performances (from the two leads as well as their easygoing group of friends, including Isaiah Washington and Lisa Nicole Carson), the greatest delight of Love Jones is the way its soundtrack (which seamlessly blends Charlie Parker with Lauryn Hill with Coltrane with Maxwell) syncs with its Chicago scenery for a kind of hipper Woody Allen feel. The film opens on Chicago through Nina-the-photographer’s eyes, from black-and-white shots of the El and the skyline to close-ups of the faces of the city’s Black community. While Love Jones features Chicago movie staples like Buckingham Fountain and Union Station, it comes alive in its specifics—such as Nina and Darius’s meeting at the jazz/spoken word club Sanctuary (not real, but it feels it), and then their subsequent “first date”: Chicago-style stepping at the Blackstone Hotel. Carefully rendered, the City of Love Jones is truly multi-dimensional. —Maura McAndrew


52. Lagaan

lagaan.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Stars: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley
Rating: PG
Runtime: 223 minutes

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You may have heard of Lagaan, one of the most easy entryways into Bollywood. The film famously received India’s third-ever Academy Award nomination in 2001 and is rooted in a rich entanglement of a high-stakes sports game and a forbidden romance. An epic sports drama based in colonial India, Lagaan is the story of a group of Indian villagers who challenge their British colonizers to a game of cricket in exchange for the removal of their increasing burden of taxes. We get recruiting and training montages, drama amongst teammates, an intercultural flirtation, and a bangin’ soundtrack from the legend A.R. Rahman. It has everything and has been rightfully hailed as one of India’s most entertaining and thoughtful productions that seems to only get better with age. —Radhika Menon


53. Titanic

titanic.jpg Year: 1997
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 194 minutes

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Decades after its theatrical debut, James Cameron’s blockbuster epic is still so ubiquitous in the pop culture zeitgeist, its filmmaking marvels are drowned out by young Kate-and-Leo nostalgia and that damned Celine Dion caterwaul (not to mention the now late James Horner’s iconic score). Cameron’s ear for dialogue may be woefully leaden, but he’s a shrewd storyteller, plunking a Romeo-and-Juliet redux aboard the doomed ocean liner and flanking the fictional romance with historical details, groundbreaking special effects and jaw-dropping visuals. The narrative lapses are at times dumbfounding—let’s face it, old Rose, who tosses a priceless artifact into the abyss after waxing ad nauseam about herself, is a thoughtless jerk—and the aforementioned dialogue is awful (to say nothing of Billy Zane doing his best mustache-twirling silent movie villain) but Titanic remains a painstaking testament to the all-in Hollywood spectacle.—Amanda Schurr


54. Memoirs of a Geisha

memoirs-geisha.jpg Year: 2005
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Koji Yakusho
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 145 minutes

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Zhang Ziyi plays the complex role of Sayuri, a young Japanese girl who first loathes, then covets the idea of being geisha. As she fulfills her dreams, every victory is laced with sadness, and the troubling, yet beautiful tale of her life is juxtaposed against Japan’s entry into World War II. At the end of the film, the voice of Sayuri reminds us that not all love stories have uncomplicated, fairy tale endings: “After all these are not the memoirs of an empress, nor of a queen…these are memoirs of another kind.” —Shannon M. Houston


55. Cold Mountain

cold-mountain.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Anthony Minghella
Stars: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Donald Sutherland
Rating: R
Runtime: 154 minutes

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When Anthony Minghella adapted Charles Frazier’s gripping novel about a Civil War deserter from the Confederate Army and his long journey home to the woman he loves, he enlisted an all-star cast to bring it to life. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman led the marquee, but it was Renée Zellweger’s turn as Ruby Thewes, the woman who helps Kidman’s character survive on her farm as the nation was torn apart, who earned most of the plaudits. Gorgeously shot (with Romania mostly standing in for North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest), Cold Mountain also introduced the world to the glorious sounds of sacred harp or shape-note singing. —Josh Jackson


56. Pieces of a Woman

pieces-woman.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Stars: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Netflix’s Pieces of a Woman is about Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), a couple who suffer a neonatal death. Director Kornél Mundruczó’s movie is a tough watch and an uneven drama, but its exceptional elements keep you glued to the screen—especially a gripping, one-take scene of home birth that runs nearly half an hour. It’s a flashy move, built on the backs of its actors and the planning and choreographing of its directorial and camera team. Kirby is seriously fantastic and the fact that the Logistic never overwhelmed the Artistic when shooting is quite a feat. But while the adrenaline, hope and grief of the scene are impressive enough to overwhelm the rest of the film, the visual fallout from this loss struck me even more deeply. Martha and Sean are shocked into stillness, something that’s depressingly relatable and shown throughout Pieces of a Woman with a subtle potency. Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb captures perfect frames of domestic neglect that will be familiar to anyone that was waylaid in the past by unemployment, illness, loss, trauma, or general disillusionment with capitalism, democracy and all the ways in which we live life. Martha’s moment of trauma may be the standout scene from Pieces of a Woman, but it’s the subtle depiction of slowing rebuilding, after untold time spent stuck, that resonates in the subconscious. —Jacob Oller


57. Lust Stories

lust-stories.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar
Stars: Vicky Kaushal, Bhumi Pednekar, Radhika Apte
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 120 minutes

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An anthology film from four of India’s most prominent directors, Lust Stories explores the themes of sex and attraction in its many forms, and places them in modern-day India where these types of conversations don’t normally occur so openly. Each director’s short film focuses on a stigma—whether it’s a possessive relationship between a teacher and student, a forbidden tryst between members of two different social classes, an adulterous marriage, or an exploration of sexual satisfaction—and dives deep into the various perspectives at play. The format makes Lust Stories easily digestible, and the films themselves are excellent slices of progression within the industry and culture at large. That it premiered as a Netflix original is just another hat tip to the dynamism of the decade’s art. —Radhika Menon


58. First They Killed My Father

first-they-killed-my-father-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Angelina Jolie
Stars: Sreymoch Sareum, Kompheak Phoeung, Sochteata Sveng
Rating:TV-MA
Runtime: 136 minutes

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We may tease or scorn actors for stepping out of the frame to hunker down behind the camera, because for whatever reason we’re only cool with artists when they stay in their lane. Think of Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father as a democratic response, or, if you like, a defiant flip of the bird. It’s fitting that Jolie should be the actor to produce a film this accomplished. Recall the volume of shit shoveled on her for the release of 2014’s Unbroken, her Louis Zamperini biopic, and 2015’s By the Sea, the romantic drama she made with Brad Pitt: These were works met with deserved and undeserved response, both middling at best, but neither could be mistaken for being too vain. Whatever promise was found in her earlier movies is fully realized in First They Killed My Father, a brutal movie with a human heart. Jolie doesn’t gloss over the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. She knows honesty is the best way to face history and honor the dead, but she doesn’t find any nobility in the suffering of Loung Ung’s family as they flee from state-sanctioned genocide. First They Killed My Father’s emphasis falls on Loung, on the violence paraded before her young eyes, Jolie mining tragedy not for a misguided sense of importance but for an experiential scope and for, most of all, empathy. —Andy Crump


59. Blue Jay

BEST-ROMANTIC-MOVIES-NETFLIX-blue-jay.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Alex Lehmann
Stars: Sarah Paulson, Mark Duplass, Clu Gulager
Rating: NR
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Sarah Paulson is one of the most vital actors working today, and at this particular moment she’s damn close to ubiquitous; here she shows up as one of two leads in newcomer Alex Lehmann’s lovely romantic comedy Blue Jay, a compact and unassuming film about big, life-changing things that’s presented in a beautiful monochrome package. Think of it as a palate cleanser for Paulson after a year spent maneuvering productions of grander scope and ambition. But scale and quality exist in two separate zip codes, and what Blue Jay lacks in import it makes up for with effervescence and melancholy. As though to put Paulson’s luminous talents to the test, Lehmann has cast her alongside Mark Duplass, a man primarily known for making tons of low-fi mutter-fests and whose range allows him comfortably to play himself. Paulson and Duplass make such a great pair that the film’s relative nothingness is pleasurable rather than painful. Blue Jay only clocks in at about an hour and twenty minutes (less, counting the credits scrawl), so it should breeze along by its very nature, but it feels like it only runs about half as long as that. It’s well crafted, well mannered and very well acted, though you may decide for yourself if all credit should go to Paulson. She draws out Duplass’ best merits as an actor, much as Amanda draws out the best in Jim: The more the film progresses, the brighter and more enthusiastic Duplass becomes, relishing every second he gets to be on screen with her. Their chemistry is palpable. —Andy Crump


60. Irreplaceable You

irreplaceable-you-poster.jpg
Year: 2018
Director: Stephanie Laing
Stars: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michiel Huisman, Christopher Walken
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Netflix has gifted us with two Gugu Mbatha-Raw movies in the same month. One of them is a creative disaster and a sign of bad things to come for the streaming giant’s philosophy on original releases. One of them is Irreplaceable You. Upfront, Irreplaceable You is aggressively mushy and cutesy as hell, but Mbatha-Raw is an effortless charmer, and director Stephanie Laing is clearly a wizard because she found a way to scrub Michiel Huisman of his typical stubbly hipster douchiness. He’s still a brooding hottie, but an awkward nerd brooding hottie, and he’s good at playing the part. He and Mbatha-Raw match up well as Sam and Abbie, childhood sweethearts newly engaged and also staring down her terminal cancer diagnosis. In medical terms, she’s a goner. So she does what any type-A person would do in her position and interviews candidates for her replacement after she dies. She loves Sam so much she can’t stand the idea of him being alone. If you’re diabetic this synopsis probably has you reaching for an insulin dose, but for all of its obvious manipulations, watching Irreplaceable You is the equivalent of downing a heart-shaped box of chocolates. You might go into sugar shock and you’ll need to brush your teeth when it’s over, but you won’t regret the indulgence all the same. —Andy Crump