The 25 Best Movies On Demand

Movies Lists On Demand
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 25 Best Movies On Demand

The competition for on-demand movies has grown in recent years beyond cable companies like Time-Warner, Charter, Cox Fios and Xfinity to online video-on-demand companies like FandangoNow and internet giants Amazon, Apple and Google. We searched through the offerings of all of the above to bring you the Best Movies On Demand, though no one service offers them all. We limited it to new VOD movies available to rent for less than $10. Several of these films appear on our list of the Best Movies of 2020 (So Far).

Many of the cable companies have branded their Movies on Demand service, so Time-Warner and Charter customers will be looking for Spectrum, Comcast on-demand is branded Xfinity, Verizon goes by Fios and AT&T calls its program U-verse. The selections are up to date as of October 13, 2020, but cable providers change their film on demand offerings regularly.

You can also check out our guides to the best movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu, YouTube, at Redbox and in theaters. Or visit all our Paste Movie Guides.

Here are the 25 Best Movies on Demand:

1. Parasite

parasite-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, GooglePlay, Spectrum, U-verse
Year: 2019
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun Kyun, Yeo-Jeong Jo, Choi Woo-sik, Park So Dam, Lee Jung Eun
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes
“That’s so metaphorical,” exclaims the son of the Kim family, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), holding with childlike reverie a large rock sculpture, a wooden base solidifying its aesthetic and cultural value. The pointedly nice object stands apart from the basic keepsakes in the Kims’ fairly dingy and cramped home, inhabited by unemployed driver father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), unemployed mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), and not-in-art-school daughter, Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). Brought to them by Ki-woo’s wealthy friend, the rock is supposed to foretell great financial wealth to whatever family keeps it in their home. Irritated at their own situation, at the lack of space, at the lack of immediate value the rock has, Chung-sook mutters, “Could’ve brought us food.” In Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, those that live with a stark awareness of inequality operate with a sense of cognitive dissonance. It’s this paradox of thought that allows Ki-woo to be both naively worshipful towards what a rock sculpture could bring them, but also understand, at other times, that wandering around isn’t how one ascends into power. At the behest of said wealthy friend, he becomes the English tutor for the daughter, Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), of the grotesquely affluent Park family: astute patriarch (Lee Sun-kyun), dim matriarch (Cho Yeo-jeong), manic artsy son, Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon), and severely loyal housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun). But as the Kim and Park families grow increasingly closer, both the differences and similarities between them blur beyond discernment. Bong’s interest in income inequality and class has spanned the majority of his career, examining the ways it impacts the justice system (Memories of Murder, Mother), the environment (Okja) and the institutions responsible for both the exacerbation of wealth inequality and failing to protect those most marginalized by that inequality (Snowpiercer, The Host). For Parasite, Bong takes a slightly different angle—he’s no less interested in inequality’s consequences, but here he sees how class as performance manifests, particularly when people are plucked from one echelon of society and put in another. As we watch both families act in different, but intersecting, pieces of social/anthropological theatre, Bong cuts through their mutual hunger, and what ultimately and tragically separates them, with a jaundiced eye and an acidic sense of humor. Laughing during Parasite feels like choking on rust. (Cho, especially, finds the perfect amount of absurdity as the somewhat doltish mother, truly a testament to rich ladies being easily knocked over by a feather.) But Bong is not interested in metaphor, and not the kind written on rocks. Even through its absurdist, bleakly satirical lens, Bong understands that social inequity is not just theatre, but lived experience. Sometimes the rock is just a shit-stained rock. —Kyle Turner


2. First Cow

first-cow-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum
Year: 2020
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Rene Auberjonois, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 121 minutes

Kelly Reichardt’s Oregonian ode to the human desire for comfort and friendship takes us back to the territory during the mid-19th century, when the economy of beaver pelts and gold rush hopefuls brought waves of migration to the area. A baker from Maryland, Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (John Magaro), finds himself amid a hostile group of fur trappers on the way to Oregon when he runs into King Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant fresh on the run from scorned Russians. A fraternal bond between the two quickly materializes, and when a coveted dairy cow is brought to the territory by an English nobleman known as Chief Factor (Toby Jones), King Lu immediately recognizes that fresh milk combined with Cookie’s baking expertise could give the duo a unique trade in an area where the predominant sweet is a bland concoction of water and flour crackers. And so, in the dead of night, King Lu and Cookie leave the small shack they share with a metal pail in hand, sneaking through the pasture until they reach the dairy cow. Reichardt makes no moral judgement on them for stealing; the irony is that Cookie and King Lu’s act of theft is so small compared to the pillaging and exploitation that propelled America into an economic superpower in the first place. First Cow takes place when slavery was the main economic drive of the country, when Native Americans were facing genocide, when women were second-class citizens. First Cow will win most viewers over; it is funny in the most earnest way, with the beauty of friendship presented as the foundation of the film. Yet if the film wants to implore us to understand the essence of our species, its portrayal of burgeoning American capitalism is undoubtedly, jarringly, at odds with the nature of mankind. —Natalia Keogan


3. The Lighthouse

lighthouse-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes
Sometimes a film is so bizarre, so elegantly shot and masterfully performed, that despite its helter-skelter pace and muddled messaging I can’t help but fall in love with it. So it was with the latest film by Robert Eggers. An exceptional, frightening duet between Robert Pattinson and Willam Dafoe, The Lighthouse sees two sailors push one another to the brink of absolute madness, threatening to take the audience with them. Fresh off the sea, Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) arrive at the isolated locale and immediately get to work cleaning, maintaining and fixing up their new home. Everything comes in twos: two cups, two plates, two bowls, two beds. The pair work on the same schedule every day, only deviating when Thomas decides something different needs Ephraim’s attention. Like newlyweds sharing meals across from one another each morning and every evening, the men begin to develop a relationship. It takes a long time for either of the men to speak. They’re both accustomed to working long days in relative silence. They may not possess the inner peace of a Zen monk, but their thought processes are singular and focused. Only the lighthouse and getting back to the mainland matters. Eggers uses the sound of the wind and the ocean to create a soundscape of harsh conditions and natural quarantine. The first words spoken invoke a well-worn prayer, not for a happy life, or a fast workday, but to stave off death. A visceral ride, The Lighthouse explores man’s relationship to the sea, specifically through the lens of backbreaking labor. Thomas and Ephraim’s relationship is like a Rorschach test. At times they are manager and worker, partners, enemies, father and son, competitors, master and pet, and victim and abuser. In many ways Eggers’ latest reminds of Last Tango in Paris, which explored a similar unhealthy relationship dynamic. Just as captivating, The Lighthouse shines. —Joelle Monique


4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

never-rarely-sometimes-always-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2020
Director: Eliza Hittman
Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Eggold
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

I keep thinking about the suitcase: Skylar (Talia Ryder) packs sweaters and a pair of jeans into an oversized travel bag (oversized, at least, for what is supposed to be a day-long trip). The next morning, Skylar and her cousin Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) board a bus from their hometown in rural Pennsylvania to New York City. When they get to Manhattan, the cousins take turns carrying the large bag, guarding it, rolling it on the sidewalk, lugging it up and down steep subway stairs. The pair has carefully planned a trip to New York so that Autumn can get an abortion without her mom (Sharon Van Etten) and stepdad (Ryan Eggold) knowing, since Pennsylvania requires parental consent for the procedure. The bag is the burden they carry; Never Rarely Sometimes Always—in emotive close ups, creating intimacy as if the viewer gets a chance to see the world through Autumn’s often solemn, stoic gaze—chronicles Autumn’s tortuous and convoluted path just to take agency over her body, studying the patience and perseverance that women often need to navigate the world. It’s a film punctuated by waiting, for one appointment or the other, or for the promise of safety. There are, however, brief moments that remind audiences that Autumn and Skylar are just kids—playing arcade games, or enjoying the thrill of an unfamiliar city—and these scenes, provide, at least, glimmers of respite or perhaps windows into what life could be if like if they didn’t have to work so hard for bodily autonomy. —Isabella Bridie DeLeo


5. Uncut Gems

uncut-gems-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian
Genre: Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes
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


6. Us

us-peele-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, Fandango, GooglePlay, Spectrum, U-verse, Xfinity
Year: 2019
Director: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes
Us clarifies what Get Out implies. Even after only two films, Jordan Peele’s filmmaking seems preconfigured for precision, the Hitchcock comparisons just sitting there, waiting to be shoved between commas, while Peele openly speaks and acts in allusions. Us, like Get Out before it but moreso, wastes nothing: time, film stock, the equally precise capabilities of his actors and crew, real estate in the frame, chance for a gag. If his films are the sum of their influences, that means he’s a smart filmmaker with a lot of ideas, someone who knows how to hone down those ideas into stories that never bloat, though he’s unafraid to confound his audience with exposition or take easy shots—like the film’s final twist—that swell and grow in the mind with meaning the longer one tries to insist, if one were inclined to do so, that what Peele’s doing is easy at all. A family comedy studded with dread, then a home invasion thriller, then a head-on sci-fi horror flick, Us quickly acquaints us with the Wilson family: calming matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), gregarious dad Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter wise beyond her years Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and adorable epitome of the innocent younger brother, Jason (Evan Alex). Though far from shallow, the characters take on archetypal signifiers, whether it’s Zora’s penchant for running or that Gabe’s a big guy whose bulk betrays a softer heart, Peele never spoonfeeding cheap characterizations but just getting us on his wavelength with maximum efficiency. Us isn’t explicitly about race, but it is about humanity’s inherent knack for Othering, for boxing people into narrow perspectives and then holding them responsible for everyone vaguely falling within a Venn diagram. Regardless of how sufficiently we’re able to parse what’s actually going on (and one’s inclined to see the film more than once to get a grip) the images remain, stark and hilarious and horrifying: a child’s burned face, a misfired flare gun, a cult-like spectacle of inhuman devotion, a Tim Heidecker bent over maniacally, walking as if he’s balanced on a thorax, his soul as good as creased. Divorced from context, these moments still speak of absurdity—of witty one-liners paired with mind-boggling horror—of a future in which we’ve so alienated ourselves from ourselves that we’re bound to cut that tether that keeps us together, sooner or later, and completely unravel. We are our undoing. So let the Hitchcock comparisons come. Peele deserves them well enough. Best not to think about it too hard, to not ruin a good thing, to demand that Us be anything more than sublimely entertaining and wonderfully thoughtful, endlessly disturbing genre filmmaking. —Dom Sinacola


7. Midsommar

midsommar-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Liv Mjönes, Jack Reynor
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes
Christian (Jack Reynor) cannot give Dani (Florence Pugh) the emotional ballast she needs to survive. This was probably the case even before the family tragedy that occurs in Midsommar’s literal cold open, in which flurries of snow limn the dissolution of Dani’s family. We’re dropped into her trauma, introduced to her only through her trauma and her need for support she can’t get. This is all we know about her: She is traumatized, and her boyfriend is barely decent enough to hold her, to stay with her because of a begrudging obligation to her fragile psyche. His long, deep sighs when they talk on the phone mirror the moaning, retching gasps Pugh so often returns to in panic and pain. Her performance is visceral. Midsommar is visceral. There is viscera, just, everywhere. As in his debut, Hereditary, writer-director Ari Aster casts Midsommar as a conflagration of grief—as in Hereditary, people burst into flames in Midsommar’s climactic moments—and no ounce of nuance will keep his characters from gasping, choking and hollering all the way to their bleakly inevitable ends. Moreso than in Hereditary, what one assumes will happen to our American 20-somethings does happen, prescribed both by decades of horror movie precedent and by the exigencies of Aster’s ideas about how human beings process tragedy. Aster births his worlds in pain and loss; chances are it’ll only get worse. One gets the sense watching Midsommar that Aster’s got everything assembled rigorously, that he’s the kind of guy who can’t let anything go—from the meticulously thought-out belief system and ritual behind his fictional rural community, to the composition of each and every shot. Aster and his DP Pawel Pogorzelski find the soft menace inherent to their often beautiful setting, unafraid of just how ghastly and unnatural such brightly colored flora can appear—especially when melting or dilating, breathing to match Dani’s huffs and the creaking, wailing goth-folk of The Haxan Cloak. Among Midsommar’s most unsettling pleasures are its subtle digital effects, warping its reality ever so slightly (the pulsing of wood grain, the fish-eye lensing of a grinning person’s eye sockets) so that once noticed, you’ll want it to stop. Like a particularly bad trip, the film bristles with the subcutaneous need to escape, with the dread that one is trapped. In this community in the middle of nowhere, in this strange culture, in this life, in your body and its existential pain: Aster imprisons us so that when the release comes, it’s as if one’s insides are emptying cataclysmically. In the moment, it’s an assault. It’s astounding. —Dom Sinacola


8. Emma.

emma-2020-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, GooglePlay, U-Verse
Year: 2020
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Miranda Hart
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 132 minutes
Shot as though each frame were a frothy realist painting, scored as though it were a Chaplin-esque silent film and pulled together by a cast of comedically impeccable performances, Autumn de Wilde’s feature-length debut, Emma., is made up almost entirely of thrillingly executed moments. More comedy of manners than straight romance, both Jane Austen’s novel and de Wilde’s film take as their subject a happily single Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), the “handsome, clever, and rich” mistress of an English country estate, as she fills her days as by mounting a series of ego-driven (if well-intentioned) matchmaking schemes. Signaled by the film’s opening in the soft dawn hours of the village’s latest Emma-orchestrated wedding day, these schemes have a history of being remarkably successful—successful enough, at least, that on one side, Emma has her co-dependent, doom-and-gloom father (a charming, if anxious, Bill Nighy) cautioning her not to start any schemes that might take her away from him, while on the other, she has the Woodhouses’ handsome family friend, Mr. Knightley (a refreshingly fiery Johnny Flynn), cautioning her against riding so high on her previous matchmaking coups that she starts an audacious scheme even she can’t pull it off. Beyond creating what would be a solid moviegoing experience in any context, the warm, boisterous sense of community this deep attention to detail works to build is, as Paste’s Andy Crump highlights in his thoughtful interview with de Wilde and Taylor-Joy, exactly what any 2020 take on a 205-year-old comedy of manners needed to cultivate. With our current cultural moment so defined by protracted digital isolation—and its cousin, anonymity-enabled cruelty—the best thing de Wilde’s Emma. could do was lean so hard into the sublimity of Austen’s original that, for the entirety of its gloriously phone-free two-hour runtime, its audience might feel, collectively, transported. —Alexis Gunderson


9. Toy Story 4

toy-story-4-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Josh Cooley
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michal Key, Jordan Peele
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: G
Runtime: 90 minutes
We were all concerned about Toy Story 4. How could we not be? This is perhaps the most beloved animated franchise of the last 50 years, and, in the eyes of many, each movie has been a little better than the last one. That final one, Toy Story 3, ended in such a perfect, emotionally devastating fashion that trying to follow it up felt like the ultimate fool’s errand. And in the nine years since that installment, Pixar, as a company, has changed, becoming more corporate, more sequel-focused, more …Disney. What a relief it is, then, that Toy Story 4 is such an immense joy. It might not reach the heights of Toy Story 3—which manages to be a prison escape movie that also happens to be a profound dissertation on grief and death and features a surrealist tortilla—but it is a more than worthy member of the Toy Story family. Like its protagonist, it’s less concerned with trying to do something revolutionary just because it’s done it in the past and instead worries about what comes next …what the next logical progression is. It finds the next step, for Woody (voiced as ever by Tom Hanks in what honestly has always been one of his best roles), and the franchise, while still being as hellzapoppin’ and wildly entertaining as you have come to expect from this franchise. The overarching theme in Toy Story 4 isn’t as much death as it is loss—loss of purpose, loss of meaning, loss of value. What do you do with yourself when the best thing you’ll ever be a part of is already over? How do you find drive in life when your lifelong goal has been accomplished? How do you handle getting old and not being needed anymore? If these seem like heady concepts for a Toy Story movie …you’ve never seen a Toy Story movie. —Will Leitch


10. The Farewell

the-farewell-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Lulu Wang
Stars: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes
Family, falsehood and farce: all the comforts expected of a funeral—when the funeral isn’t a funeral but a wedding. Yes, two people do end up getting p= married, but no one cares about matrimony as much as saying goodbye to the family matriarch, stricken by a diagnosis with an inevitably fatal outcome. Here’s the trick: No one told her about it. She thinks all of the hoopla is just about the bride and groom to be. The Farewell, Lulu Wang’s sophomore film, is many things. It’s a meteoric leap forward from the tried-and-true rom-com formula of her debut, Posthumous. It’s a story made up of her own personal roller coaster of loss. It’s a neat and, 26 years after the fact, unexpected companion piece to Ang Lee’s underappreciated masterpiece The Wedding Banquet. Mostly, it’s a tightrope walk along the fine line between humor and grief. Chinese-American Billil (Awkwafina) travels to China to see her grandmother (Zhao Shuzen) one last time, as grandma’s just received a death sentence in the form of terminal lung cancer, but the clan keeps mum because that’s just what they’d do for anybody. A wedding is staged. Cousins and uncles and aunts are convened. Masks, the metaphorical kind, are donned. Wang knows how to find the perfect tonal sweet spot from scene to scene in a sterling example of having one’s cake while also eating with gusto. With exceptions, moments meant to be uncomfortable and prickly on the surface are hilarious beneath, and moments meant to make us laugh tend to remind the viewer of the situation’s gravity. It’s perfect alchemy, yielding one of 2019’s most intimate, most painful and most satisfyingly boisterous comedies. —Andy Crump


11. A Hidden Life

a-hidden-life-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum
Year: 2019
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 180 minutes
You can see where this is going. It’s not prognostication, or a hunch. Director Terrence Malick, with his 10th film, draws fine lines from the quotidian—in this case that of peasant farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) and their family and their small, intimate rural community in 1930s Austria—to the extraordinary tragedy that waits at the end of the film. We understand the inevitable, can sense the sweep of Malick’s story within both the historical context he provides (that this is based on a real person) and the traumatic iconography we seem to take for granted in 2019. We know what terror lurks in the sound of planes overhead, lost in the echo of the Alps, or what it feels like to witness someone you thought you knew saying things you never thought possible. Malick conflates history and intuition to wrap a simple message in the folds of overwhelming emotion. He has nothing complicated to offer philosophically in contemplating one’s personal responsibility to oppose growing global fascism, and the repeated argument between Franz and literally everyone—that he should just pledge an oath to Hitler to keep his family safe, because an oath obviously means nothing compared to his life, let alone compared to the outcome of the war—becomes so redundant it takes on Biblical proportions. Instead, the director grasps with both hands, with stunning clarity, Franz’s life up until the moment he chooses his fate. Jörg Widmer films, in ceaseless handheld and cyclical movements, the boring work outdoors, the mundane chores, the rule-less games with his children, the long, ordinary walks to nowhere as luscious vistas limn practically every shot. We realize that such inevitability is the stuff of an existence filled with deep, lived-in affection: Scored by James Newton Howard, earning every ounce of that melodrama, Malick wants us understand not what happened, but why. Why this man refused paradise. Why paradise was his to refuse. A Hidden Life offers little consolation, but hope enough—that such courage can be more of an end that a means to one, the result of an increasingly rare time had on Earth, spent in the throes of honesty and love. —Dom Sinacola


12. Knives Out

knives-out-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 130 minutes
Knives Out is the type of movie that’s not so much a dying breed as one that just occurs uncommonly “in the wild.” Hollywood seems to release a new take on the classic (i.e., Agatha Christie-imprinted) murder mystery “who dunnit”—where an eccentrically mannered detective attempts to figure out who amongst a roomful of suspects has committed murder most foul—every five-to-10 years. For most viewers, the pleasures of such movies go beyond trying to figure out the killer before the detective does—there’s also typically a star-studded cast chewing up the scenery. Beyond dependable Christie fare like Death on the Nile (1978) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017), there’s Clue (1985), Gosford Park (2001) and now Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. Johnson’s latest starts out in classic who-dunnit fashion—acclaimed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead by apparent suicide the night after gathering his family together and delivering a series of unpopular messages. Enter the local police (led by Lakeith Stansfield’s Det. Lt. Elliott) and eccentrically mannered (there we go!) private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Suspects are interrogated. Secrets are revealed. Then, right as the viewer is gearing up to lay some Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot/Encyclopedia Brown-level discernment on all this, Johnson reveals what happened to the elder Thrombey. This flips the entire experience for the viewer, as they go from trying to figure out what happened to wondering if the truth will be discovered. Much as he did with Dashiell Hammett-style noir in his debut, Brick, Johnson shows both a reverence for and a willingness to tinker with the tropes and formula underpinning his story. It’s all delightful to watch. If, ultimately, Knives Out accomplishes what it sets out to do—which might sound like faint or even damning praise with another film or in another genre—here it’s meant as the sincerest of plaudits. —Michael Burgin


13. Driveways

driveways-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum
Year: 2020
Director: Andrew Ahn
Starring: Hong Chau, Brian Dennehy, Lucas Jaye, Christine Ebersole, Jeter Rivera, Sophia DiStefano, Robyn Payne, Jerry Adler
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 83 minutes

Loneliness looks different for the lonely depending on their circumstances, and Andrew Ahn’s sophomore feature, Driveways, captures that spectrum through character. For single mom Kathy (Hong Chau), loneliness means sitting amongst the clutter of her dead sister’s house, dwarfed by junk crammed into every corner and piled to the ceiling. For widower Del (Brian Dennehy), loneliness is literal: He lives alone in the house he shared with his wife for decades before her death, their only daughter having relocated to Seattle years prior. For Kathy’s son Cody (Lucas Jaye), loneliness is a weird blessing: Social anxiety makes him hurl; he’s happier reading or playing video games. Still, Cody wants to play with other kids, or at least he wants to want to, and Kathy, being a concerned mom, knows that even pleasant self-imposed isolation has adverse effects on children. Fortunately for both of them, Del is eager for company, though, as a man of a certain disposition, he’s not exactly the type to appear eager. Regardless, while Kathy cleans out her sister’s place, Del and Cody slowly bond, though their chummy and charming friendship has an expiration date: Kathy and Cody are out of towners staying in the unnamed New York hamlet where Del dwells only for as long as it takes to get the house settled and up for sale. As their time is short, so too is Driveways, a brisk, breezy 80 minutes where conflict is minimal and compassion prevails. Driveways is a simple picture about simple acts of human kindness; Ahn shot Driveways several years ago, and he premiered the film a hundred years ago at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019, so neither he nor writers Hannah Bos nor Paul Thureen mean to make any comment on what gets airplay on the daily news, but American antipathy is a real thing and Driveways is the accidental salve the rest of us need for our current era of callous stupidity. —Andy Crump


14. Hustlers

hustlers-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Stars: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes
If you only saw the trailer from Hustlers, the flashy cash throwing, fake meltdowns outside of a hospital and, of course, the incredible athletics of Jennifer Lopez on the pole might lead you to assume that writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s film is a female version of The Hangover. Instead, Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the Universe) has crafted a story of survival and friendship that more accurately compares to classics like The Apartment. At the center of the story resides Destiny (Constance Wu). Destiny’s elderly grandma accumulated a lot of debt, her parents disappeared from her life when she was a child, and all that stands between the little family she has left and homelessness is her ability to work as a stripper. For her, being an exotic dancer pays better than anything she could get with her GED-level education. It’s legal, and it allows her to help her grandma from pawning all of her jewelry. Enter Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). If Ramona showed up at the World Pole Dance Competition, all of the other competitors would go home. She’s confident in a way that makes everyone fall in love with her. Accordingly, Lopez and Wu are dynamic together. Their back and forth works when they’re fighting, when they’re figuring out how to best cook up their drug cocktail, and when they’re sitting around the Christmas table. The gaggle of women who join their crew feed into that energy, culminating in a wonderful ensemble. Rich in character portrayal and energy, the crew is wonderful to watch—even as they systematically destroy lives. An enviably stacked cast and gorgeous cinematography by Todd Banhazl (Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer) come together to present a heartbreaking story of the distance some will travel to get their piece of the American dream. —Joelle Monique


15. Avengement

avengement-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Fandango, GooglePlay
Year: 2019
Director: Jesse V. Johnson
Stars: Scott Adkins, Craig Fairbrass, Nick Moran
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 87 minutes
The second of three films directed by Jesse V. Johnson released in 2019, Avengement is as crystalline, as empirically precise, as micro-budget VOD martial arts action can aspire. With that kind of prolificacy, a journeyman director’s bound to do something right—which would be a valid assessment, were everything Johnson’s done not so undeniably solid. Thanks goes, of course, to Johnson’s muse, Vicious Beefcake Scott Adkins, a flawlessly sculpted humanoid so squarely planted in Johnson’s sweet spot—melodramatic, archly brutal action cinema with enough wit and heart to leave a bruise—a Johnson film without him as the protagonist doesn’t quite feel fully realized. Look only to Triple Threat, Avengement’s 2019 predecessor, to yearn for what could have been, mollified by a scene in which Adkins body slams a sedan going at least 40 mph. Triple Threat boasts three writers and a cavalcade of international action cinema stars, from Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, to Tiger Chen and Michael Jai White (still in decent shape, but so outclassed by Adkins and his peers’ athleticism he seems pretty much immobile), while in Avengement Johnson works from his own script, winnowing the plot to a series of increasingly higher stakes brawls as wronged nobody Cain (Adkins) makes his bloody way through the criminal organization (led by his brother, no less) that left him to rot in prison. As is the case with Savage Dog and The Debt Collector (both on Netflix), Avengement thrives on the preternatural chemistry between director and star, the camera remarkably calm as it captures every amazing inch of Adkins in motion, beating the living shit out of each chump he encounters, Adkins just as aware of how best to stand and pose and flex to showcase his body. Charming character actors cheer from the sidelines; the plot functions so fundamentally we hardly realize we care about these characters until we’ve reached a satisfying end at their sides. Perhaps Scott Adkins is a better dramatist than we’ve come to expect from our kinetic stars anymore. Perhaps we’ve set our expectations too low. —Dom Sinacola


16. Under the Silver Lake

under-the-silver-lake-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, Xfinity
Year: 2019
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Patrick Fischler
Genre: Thriller, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58%
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes
There are red herrings, unkempt structures and plot threads that go nowhere in David Robert Mitchell’s quasi-slacker noir Under the Silver Lake—its “shortcomings,” in terms of conventional taste, don’t really matter. Rather, like the best pulpy “mysteries,” Under the Silver Lake knows what actually matters most: thrusting its audience into the delirious eyes of the protagonist. In this case, that’s old-movie- and vintage-game-addled Sam (Andrew Garfield), who stumbles into a quest to both find the hot neighbor (Riley Keough) with whom he’s infatuated and unearth a conspiracy that lurks beneath the entirety of LA. Mitchell pulls us by the hand down a rabbit hole of Sam’s making. Strangest about the followup to the director’s critical hit It Follows is that it walks the line between being profoundly stupid and extremely acute. It is content to follow the logic of someone very stoned (perhaps even further than something like Inherent Vice did), where paths in the maze end abruptly, tantalizingly teasing, but Mitchell also seems to know the weirdest parts of Hollywood and its spell-like legacy, making each step in Sam’s odyssey clear and (internally) logical. As we’re plunged deeper into the weed-laced mind of its ever-broke lead and his adolescent attitude towards women and cultural objects (and women as cultural objects), Under the Silver Lake reveals itself to be a film about the ways in which nostalgia perverts the present and rots perspective. —Kyle Turner


17. Booksmart

booksmart-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Olivia Wilde
Stars: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes
Booksmart, the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, is another journey down the halls of a wealthy high school days before graduation, but it’s different enough to be endearing. Written by an all-female writing team—Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman—it centers on life-long besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they attempt to party one time before the end of high school. Wilde and company draw from a whimsical, rainbow palate to explore friendship at diverging roads. Feldstein and Dever shine as an odd couple. Molly wants to be the youngest person ever elected to the Supreme Court, while Amy seeks to discover what possibilities life may open up for her. Easily feeding off of one another’s energy, as Amy and Molly travel around town, jumping gatherings, trying to reach the ultimate cool kids’ party, they cross paths with a diverse array of students also attempting to hide their painfully obvious insecurities. As the night progresses, those masks begin to slip, and the person each of these students is striving to become begins to emerge. The pendulum of teen girl movies swings typically from Clueless—girl-powered, cutesy, high-fashion first-love-centered—to Thirteen, the wild, angry, depressed and running from all genuine emotion kind of movie. Most of these films lay in the space of heteronormative, white, upper or middle class, and able-bodied representation. Even in films centered on otherness, like Bend It Like Beckham, the white best friend is given equal space in the advertising of the film, and the original queer angle was written out in favor of a love triangle. Visit nearly any segment of the internet visited by Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z women, and the cry for better representation is loud and clear. There’s a fresh-faced newness of raw talent in Booksmart that begs to be a touchstone for the next generation of filmmakers. Like Wes Anderson’s Rushmore or Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides, Booksmart is an experience cinema enthusiasts will revisit again and again. —Joelle Monique


18. Babyteeth

babyteeth-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2020
Director: Shannon Murphy
Starring: Eliza Scanlen, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, Toby Wallace
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 117 minutes

If Josh Boone’s The Fault in Our Stars had several drug addictions, plus an overwhelming need for family therapy, it’d read like distant kin to Babyteeth, Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy’s feature debut. Babyteeth files under the “sick teenager” romantic dramedy sub-genre, being the story of Milla Finlay (Eliza Scanlen), a high school student struggling through youth with cancer while living with her overmedicated basket case mom, Anna (Essie Davis), and her emotionally remote psychiatrist dad, Henry (Ben Mendelsohn). Add into that dynamic the arrival of Moses (Toby Wallace), who parts the Finlay’s woes with all the grace of a caroming meteor. Babyteeth orbits the danger baked into Milla’s infatuation with Moses, which of course blooms into genuine fancy between them. He’s chaos incarnate with a rat tail and a face tattoo, but he clearly digs her, so she digs him back. The feelings that each has for the other are so baldly recognizable that Anna and Henry reluctantly allow the courtship to progress. “This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine,” Anna opines, one of the many acerbic punchlines given to her by Rita Kalnejais’ screenplay, each delivered with wide-eyed, deadpanned resignation. The dueling complications and contradictions of Babyteeth’s narrative make up its greatest treasures, captured with the marriage of naturalism to dreamlike aesthetics. One easy way to interpret the movie’s airy atmosphere is as a mirror of the characters’ stupefaction, whether pharmaceutical or spiritual. By the end, as Scanlen’s performance gains exponential clarity and power, that breezy quality connotes gentle acceptance. It’s a reflection of how people gradually learn to let go. —Andy Crump


19. Sorry We Missed You

sorry-missed.jpg Available on: Amazon, Fandango, GooglePlay, Spectrum
Year: 2020
Director: Ken Loach
Starring: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor, Ross Brewster, Charlie Richmond, Sheila Dunkerley
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 102 minutes
Ken Loach’s movies typically force viewers to acknowledge the toll a job can take on both body and spirit. Without fuss or forced moralizing, Sorry We Missed You performs this service for the folks who thanklessly zip about town dropping off parcels ordered yesterday by people who actually needed them a week before. The movie demystifies the browser sorcery of one-click purchases by humanizing, for better and for worse, the mechanics behind this modern-day ministration: Loach starts with Ricky (Kris Hitchen), head of the Turner family, who is first met interviewing Maloney (Ross Brewster), his boss-to-be, for a post as an owner-driver for a third-party delivery outfit nestled in North England. Maloney seems reasonable enough. He hears Ricky’s story, at least, his history as a blue-collar man whose years of hard labor have left him craving for freedom from micromanaging bosses. Ricky wants to be his own boss now, and Maloney’s spiel about choice and self-agency appeals to his wants. It’s all an illusion, of course, and the economy of Laverty’s writing succinctly lays out the tension between Ricky’s ambitions and the crushing realities of the position he’s sought out. The gift of personal determination Maloney offers him is a Trojan horse containing seeds of poverty. The way this job works, every package Ricky hands off is another row sown in his inevitable destitution. It’s sick. It’s barbaric. It’s just one problem among several the Turners deal with as a direct consequence of Ricky’s enterprise. He has to sell off, for instance, the family car, which his wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), uses for her own career as a home care nurse, which means she has to use public transportation, which is another stress added to an already stressful job made more stressful by her boss, who like Maloney doesn’t really give a damn about Abbie as a person—only as a hireling. Sorry We Missed You operates on a micro-level with contrastingly astronomical stakes. It’s a movie about one small family—including, apart from Kris and Debbie, their mulish teen son, Seb (Rhys Stone), and younger, sweethearted daughter, Liza Jane (Katie Proctor)—doomed to the streets if either Dad or Mom missteps. They have no safety net. They have no contingency plan. Worst of all, Kris and Debbie both have jobs designed to wring the most out of them with the least compensation or compassion in exchange. The perils of parenthood are enough without having to answer the question of how the lights stay on every day. —Andy Crump


20. The Whistlers

whistlers-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay
Year: 2020
Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Stars: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Sabin Tambrea, Rodica Lazar, Agusti Villaronga
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

Director Corneliu Porumboiu is no stranger to procedures or regulations, nor insensitive to the ways in which the strictures we impose on ourselves and others end up wrapping us up from within. His previous film, the documentary Infinite Football, allows his friend Laurentiu Ginghina time and cinematic space to explain the many modifications and new rules to enact in order to, he believes, completely revitalize the sport of football—all while exorcising the trauma of post-Communist Romania. The crime drama, then, is a genre particularly suited to Porumboiu’s concerns, and his latest, The Whistlers, appears as much a pulp exercise as a stylish deconstruction of social order in all its forms, from the institutions of justice to the basic tenets of language. In it, laconic, mild-mannered cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) navigates an elaborate schema of criminal enterprise and double-crossing police to walk away with a life-changing amount of stolen drug money. The key to much of the film’s convolution can be found on La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, where Cristi learns a native whistling language called El Silbo in order to clandestinely communicate with archetypal folks like Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), the girlfriend of Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) who owns a mattress warehouse through which he’ll abscond with money stolen from mob boss Paco (Augusti Villaronga), all while avoiding Police Chief Magda (Rodica Lazar), Cristi’s boss and another remnant of Communist Romania left to her own self-serving motivations. Though Porumboiu recalibrates a typical neo-noir plot by playing with chronologies and perspectives, adding a dose of pitch-black humor to leaven the film’s ostensible bleakness—and cinematographer Tudor Mircea’s shots of the Spanish coast are something to behold—rather than amounting to placeholders lost in a twisty plot twisted for the sake of it, Porumboiu’s many players survive the chaos. They are defined by it. We understand who these people are through the ways in which they struggle to escape the system. And by the time we’ve untangled the film’s plot, we’re offered a final moment of catharsis, a sense—after 90 minutes of state-sanctioned violence and depravity—of what freedom feels like. —Dom Sinacola


21. The Assistant

the-assistant-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum
Year: 2020
Director: Kitty Green
Stars: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfayden, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes
The nameless, faceless boss hiding behind closed doors in Kitty Green’s exceptional The Assistant can be easily read as a Harvey Weinstein stand-in. The truth is that Harvey Weinstein isn’t or, now that he’s in prison, wasn’t the only man in the film industry with a habit of abusing his position and privilege by preying on women in his office, either through coercion or through brute force, he is, or was, the most notorious of them. So yes, The Assistant can be thought of as “the Harvey Weinstein movie,” but it really should be thought of as the best contemporary movie to act out patriarchal rape culture dynamics on screen. Regardless, take Weinstein out of your interpretation of The Assistant and the film will still throttle you slowly, packing suffocating pressure into each of its 87 minutes. Green’s primary tool here is stillness: Static shots dominate the production, stifled frame after stifled frame, with the camera, manned by Michael Latham, often left hovering above Green’s star, Julia Garner, as if he means to leave space for her unanswered silent prayers to hang over her head. She plays the title’s long-suffering assistant, silent witness to her boss’s bullying and wanton lasciviousness, helpless to stop it. She spends the film unraveling over the course of a day, confronting her complicity in his sexual predation with no tangible hope of ending the cycle. Because there is no hope in The Assistant, no chance the film’s central evil will meet his punishment, or that the system built to facilitate his evil will collapse. What Green has done here is brutal and unsparing, but it’s also flawlessly made and necessary. —Andy Crump


22. Dark Waters

dark-waters-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes
In Dark Waters, we follow corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), whose primary job is, for all intents and purposes, to find legal loopholes and excuses to protect large chemical companies, such as potential client DuPont. With a city job in Ohio, he has a nice home and burgeoning family. But a farmer (Bill Camp) in Parkersburg, West Virginia whose stock has been mysteriously dying comes knocking to ask Robert to turn away from the big corporate institution that provides him such personal security (two cars, private school tuition for the kids) so that he can return to the part of his past he usually sweeps beneath the rug. Through the tedium of paperwork and a case that lasts over a decade, Bilott pieces together a scandal about unregulated forever chemicals and Teflon and the illusion of safety—the American Dream—that’s been sold to us since the 1960s. For Haynes, the systems and institutions at play present themselves in multiple scales: as small as the pan in your dishwasher and as gigantic as an international company. It recalls Haynes’ relationship to the legacy of AIDS, which informs nearly all of his films in some way, notably [Safe] and Poison. Here Dark Waters conjures the ghosts of corrupt pharmaceutical companies in the late ’80s and ’90s, reminds of their fraught relationship with patient testing and the safety of such drugs as AZT. The trauma of the AIDS crisis, and the people with the power to stop who didn’t, haunts the film. Those same companies with beloved slogans (“Better Living Through Chemistry”) embed themselves deeply into public consciousness, into communities, parasitically, tricking them into believing their success and sustainability is predicated on the success and sustainability of the company. If Haynes’ career-long project is to situate the United States as a kind of “house,” one with rules and systems, one that keeps a watchful eye on its inhabitants, one that operates like an institution filled with other powerful institutions, then that house has the stench of secrets. Not just of how willfully chemical companies put people at risk, particularly those of Parkersburg, WV—the stench is the American Dream itself. —Kyle Turner


23. 1917

1917-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: George McKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes
One suspects that Sam Mendes’ latest film might have made a bigger splash at the box office with slightly different timing. Like most cinematic sub-genres that have experienced robust popularity and saturation during a decade or two, the war movie benefits from “lying fallow.” (Someday, the same will be true for superhero films, as well.) With Dunkirk, another artfully shot and presented war film—albeit a different World War—still “fresh” in movie-goers’ minds, and another type of Wars movies dominating discussion, it seems unlikely many from those most sought-after demographics are going to say, “Hey, you know what I want to see? A film set during World War I!” No matter that both its director and cinematographer have Oscar statuettes, or that the latter is the Roger Deakins (no slight to Mendes—but just check out Deakins’ resumé). Nonetheless, 1917 is one of the most technically challenging and visually satisfying movies of the year. The “continuous shot” approach, so often a gimmick in lesser films, is executed here with such deftness that it’s fascinating to observe in and of itself—it’s like watching a juggler or tightrope walker pull off a routine …for two straight hours. In this case, the approach meshes perfectly with the setting and story, pulling the viewer into the tension of trench warfare and the overall horror of a prolonged stay in a place where the enemy is always trying to kill you, while also achieving a certain character-centric intensity that may feel familiar to anyone who has logged many hours in videogames. (It may sound strange to praise a film in those terms, but “viewer immersion” is one quality to which all great art—from brows low to high—aspires.) As a result, if you give 1917 an inch of attention, it will drag you along for miles. —Michael Burgin


24. Jojo Rabbit

jojo-rabbit-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes
In the opening moments of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, a German-language cover of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles plays over the fanatical cheers of the Nationalists lining the streets for their führer. Using historic black-and-white footage with the rocking guitars that would launch Beatlemania twenty years in the future creates a more immediate understanding of the inner clockwork of 10-year-old “Jojo” (Roman Griffin Davis). Davis delivers a performance far beyond his 11 years: Lonely and isolated, he portrays the desperation and the vulnerability Jojo possesses as he enters the Bund deutscher Arbeiterjugend (Hitler Youth). Run by the recently demoted Captain “K” Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), the Hitler Youth Summer Camp trains boys to hunt and throw grenades, while girls are taught to how to bandage a wound and give birth. But to Jojo, it represents his opportunity to become a man and a member of Hitler’s army. Production designer Ra Vincent details Adolf Hitler’s god-like status in Jojo’s mind by cementing his mug all over Jojo’s bedroom walls. Waititi’s script showcases Jojo’s fan-boy nature with detailed facts about the dictator with which the boy burdens his mother (Scarlett Johansson), and a charismatic imaginary Hitler that comes to Jojo’s aid when he’s feeling his most vulnerable. Like a Whitman-esque dream, imaginary Hitler (Waititi) contains multitudes. Waititi performs the role of dictator with such ridiculous fanfare, his interpretation couldn’t be mistaken for the real thing. Occasionally clown-like with a reserved charisma aimed directly at Jojo’s sensitive side, Hitler works to build the young boy up like a father would pal around with his son. But when dismissed, this internal figure becomes irate, launching into a horrendous tirade typically reserved for large crowds. Representing the fear of going against the state, the insecurity around his status as a male and the longing he has for his father, who has been away at war for over a year, Jojo’s imagination powers his entire world view—it just happens to take the shape of Hitler. In Jojo Rabbit, Waititi infuses a level of humanity into WWII without blindly forgiving those responsible, nor hiding behind the guise of good guys in bad situations, nor allowing even a 10-year-old boy to get away with hate without swift retribution and thorough self-examination. Combined with larger-than-life characters, splintering tragedy and a unique coming-of-age journey, Jojo Rabbit conveys a message about love’s ability to conquer loneliness. That’s a message that’s fervently needed. —Joelle Monique


25. We Summon the Darkness

we-summon.jpg Available on: Amazon, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum
Year: 2020
Director: Marc Meyers
Stars: Alexandra Daddario, Amy Forsyth, Maddie Hasson, Keean Johnson, Logan Miller, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

Roughly 30 minutes into Marc Meyers’ We Summon the Darkness, the tables turn. The twist isn’t telegraphed. Paranoid viewers might catch the scent of something “off,” the way people with hyperosmia know the milk’s gone bad before opening up the carton, but noticing the clues that Meyers, screenwriter Alan Trezza and the film’s main cast—Alexandra Daddario, Maddie Hasson and Amy Forsyth—leave on the screen takes a little deductive reasoning and a lot of psychological study. No one gives anything away. Instead, Meyers carefully pulls the truth from the set-up, and in the process hints at not a small amount of relish on his part. He’s having fun. A good twist should be fun, and We Summon the Darkness does indeed have a good twist, but Meyers, Trezza and especially Daddario appear to realize that the pleasure of a twist isn’t the reveal, it’s figuring out how to hide the twist in plain sight. This is, at first, a horror story about teenagers uniting under the banner of heavy metal in 1980s America, a time when God-fearing Christian bedwetters saw proof of devil worship everywhere they gawked and blamed the rise of Satanism on objectively awesome things like Dungeons & Dragons and Dio. Half an hour in, We Summon the Darkness still is that story, but told from the perspective of religious vultures who happily exploit the fears of the flock to profit the church. It’s a ferocious joy to watch, particularly in light of how well We Summon the Darkness holds back on secrets. Tipping the hand too much would be easy; the tells only become clear after the fact, couched in a choice of words here, a moment of hesitation there, a dose of forced enthusiasm there. For as unrestrained as things get, it’s the initial restraint that’s most memorable. —Andy Crump

Also in Movies