The 25 Best Movies On Demand

Movies Lists On Demand
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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.

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 March 23, 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, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, 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. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

once-upon-time-in-Hollywood-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 159 minutes
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is as much a run through Quentin Tarantino’s obsessions as any of his other movies—Spaghetti Westerns, bad ’60s television, Los Angeles subculture, so, so many women’s feet—but there is an odd, almost casual generosity that I’d argue is entirely new to him. Is it possible Tarantino, at 56, has finally decided to share? This is a film that luxuriates in its indulgence, but it opens the door for us, at last lets us in. It’s an elegy for a long-dead Los Angeles that Tarantino both wants to sell us on and vigorously stir back to life, an era that, because it ended in violence, can only be resuscitated through that same violence. But more than anything, this is the most Hang Out Film of any of Tarantino’s films, a world that he wants to live in and roll around in and maybe just spend forever in. We follow three characters with three stories, though it takes a while for two of the stories to separate and they all end up in the same place. There’s Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an old-time television star with talent but an alcohol problem whose time seems to be passing him by, symbolized by a series of villainous guest spots on TV shows with diminishing returns. There’s Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s old stuntman and full-time assistant/gofer, a man with a dark past but the sunny, sun-splashed disposition of a guy who’s always going to get away with it. And then there’s Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the Sharon Tate, an up-and-coming movie star who lives just down the road from Dalton with her husband Roman Polanski, with the whole world ahead of her but with … occasional strange characters showing up outside her house. The movie leisurely weaves in their stories, sometimes down narrative cul-de-sacs, sometimes their goings-on simply an excuse to dance through Tarantino’s meticulous, almost sensuous recreation of 1969 Hollywood. But it’s all leading up to the moment when they all cross paths, and history both gets in the way and is shoved aside. The greatest achievement Tarantino pulls off here is, by pure force, to yank this era back to life, to recreate it and revive it as if driven by some sort of religious mania. Dalton might be on his way down and Tate on her way up, but they’re a part of the same world nonetheless, and when their paths cross, it feels like divine justice: It feels like Tarantino at last making history lock up the way it was supposed to. It elevates the material while consciously never wanting to rise up from the muck. This is as close as Tarantino will ever come to showing his full heart, what there is of it. —Will Leitch


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. 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


5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-man-spider-verse-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Spectrum, Xfinity
Year: 2018
Directors:
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin
Genre: Animation, Superhero
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes
There are, rarely, films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where ingredients, execution and imagination all come together in a manner that’s engaging, surprising and, most of all, fun. Directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, writer-director Rodney Rothman, and writer Phil Lord have made a film that lives up to all the adjectives one associates with Marvel’s iconic wallcrawler. Amazing. Spectacular. Superior. (Even “Friendly” and “Neighborhood” fit.) Along the way, Into the Spider-Verse shoulders the immense Spider-Man mythos like it’s a half-empty backpack on its way to providing Miles Morales with one of the most textured, loving origin stories in the superhero genre. Plenty of action films with much less complicated plots and fewer characters to juggle have failed, but this one spins order from the potential chaos using some comic-inspired narrative devices that seamlessly embed the needed exposition into the story. It also provides simultaneous master classes in genre filmmaking. Have you been wondering how best to intersperse humor into a storyline crowded with action and heavy emotional arcs? Start here. Do you need to bring together a diverse collection of characters, nimbly move them (together and separately) from setting to setting and band them together in a way that the audience doesn’t question? Take notes. Do you have an outlandish, fantastical concept that you need to communicate to the viewers (and characters) without bogging down the rest of the story? This is one way to do it. Would you like to make an instant contemporary animated classic? Look (and listen). —Michael Burgin


6. Us

us-peele-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, 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, Spectrum, 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. Toy Story 4

toy-story-4-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, 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


9. The Farewell

the-farewell-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, 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


10. Ad Astra

ad-astra-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: James Gray
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Genre: Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 124 minutes
Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut from a “future near to ours,” who, when we meet him, is somehow surviving an explosion from an international space station by using his preternatural ability to control his heart rate and his breathing, remaining calm in the face of mortal peril. The explosion was caused by a series of solar flares that, it’s learned, may be caused by an experiment years before led by Roy’s father, Griffin (Tommy Lee Jones), who was thought to have died but may be alive and in fact may have sabatoged the mission. Government officials, fearing the flares could end up destroying all life on planet Earth, want Roy to send a message to Griffin’s ship, hopefully persuading him to halt the flares and come back home. Roy, who hasn’t seen his father since he was a teenager, isn’t sure the mission’s going to work…but he’s haunted by his own demons, demons not entirely disconnected from his father. If this sounds like an exciting space yarn, know that director James Gray is in a much more meditative state here: The film is more about the mystery of the soul of man than it is about the mystery of the universe, or even about some big spaceship fights. The universe is the backdrop to the story of a man and his thwarted issues with his father, and his inability to connect with anyone else in the world because of it. Like many of Gray’s films, Ad Astra is about the depths one can find within oneself, how far down anyone can climb and hide. Pitt wouldn’t seem like the ideal actor for a part like that—charisma drips off him so effortlessly that it leaves a trail behind him wherever he goes—but he’s impressive at playing a man who doesn’t understand himself but suspects the answer to the riddle that has vexed him his whole life must be in this man who gave him life but whom he never really knew. There’s a reserve here that Pitt draws on that works well for him; it’s a serious performance, but it never feels showy. He is searching for something, knowing full well he probably won’t find it. Gray does provide some thrills on the journey of father to find son, and they are extremely well-crafted, particularly a battle with space pirates on the moon that takes place in a world without both gravity and sound. And in Pitt he has a solid emotional center that the audience will still follow anywhere, even if it’s to the ends of the solar system just to confront his daddy issues. —Will Leitch


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. Avengers: Endgame

avengers-endgame-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, GooglePlay, Spectrum, Xfinity
Year: 2019
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson
Genre: Superhero
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 182 minutes
Where does one begin? When it comes to Avengers: Endgame, that question is not so much an expression of wanton enthusiasm as a practical challenge in evaluating the destination toward which Kevin Feige and company have been steering story and viewer alike for the past 11 years and 21 films. Though there have been plenty of three-hour-plus movies and even a few 20+ entry movie franchises, there’s really nothing to compare with what Disney and Marvel Studios have pulled off, either in terms of size, quality and consistency of cast (a moment of silence for Edward Norton and Terrence Howard), or in how narrow the chronological window, all things considered, those movies were produced. Though we’ve praised it often, casting remains the cornerstone of the MCU. Whether by pitch-perfect distillations of decades-old comic book characters (Captain American, Thor, Spider-Man) or charisma-fueled reinventions of same (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Star-Lord), the MCU’s batting average in terms of casting is not only practically obscene, it’s a crucial ingredient in ensuring the thematic and emotional payoff (and box office payday) of Endgame. Moviegoers have been living with these actors, as these characters, for over a decade. For many, this version of these characters is the only one they know. This is why the sudden ashification of so many heroes at the end of Infinity War hit even the most cynical comic book veterans right in the feels and left less hardened viewers confused and distraught. It’s also why, as Avengers: Endgame opens (after another swift kick to the stomach just in case we’ve forgotten the toll of that snap), the audience cares about not just what the surviving heroes are going to do, but how they are doing in general. It gives the film an emotional resonance that’s unusual not only in pulpier genre offerings but in films in general. This connection makes the quiet moments as valuable to the viewer as the spectacle, and for all the fireworks in the third act, Avengers: Endgame is very much a film of quiet moments and small yet potent emotional payoffs. Comic book fans know the thrill of following all your favorite characters through a multi-issue storyline that culminates in a “universe at stake” ending. Now, thanks to 21 movies in 11 years and one massive, satisfying three-hour finale, moviegoers do, too. —Michael Burgin


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. Downton Abbey

downton-abbey-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Michael Engler
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 122 minutes
“A royal visit is like a swan on a lake,” a footman opines. “Beauty and grace above, demented kicking below.” And this, more or less, is what we are treated to for two hours by Julian Fellowes and his film revival of Downton Abbey, which has returned four years after its series finale. The PBS (in the U.S.) juggernaut is now an Avengers-level film event for Anglophiles, as the entire original cast (or at least, those who were still part of the show in the final season) have returned to tell one more tale from the stately Yorkshire manor. This time, the King and Queen of England are coming for a visit, which is a perfect capsule tale that allows fan-favorites upstairs and down to put on a show. The same can be said of the film, which is never surprising and yet immensely satisfying. We’re introduced to several new characters whose arcs throughout the movie can be guessed during their first appearance onscreen. Yet, because of the production’s light, witty and fully immersive aesthetic, all of it remains a delight (even one very silly attempt at an action sequence). Basically when it comes to the Downton movie, as Barrow (Robert James-Collier) states early on: “You can like it or lump it,” and that about sums it up. There are some incredibly funny sequences, a few genuinely heartwarming ones and so many plots it will nearly make your head spin. But that’s the Downton we know and love, and seeing so many familiar faces and dynamics is like visiting old friends for one more jolly reunion. Downton has always been an ideal, and the movie plays into that with joyous and wonderfully clever verbal exchanges (plus some costuming to die for). Though the series ended in a fully satisfying way, the movie provides yet another perfect finale—while leaving the door open for more stories. “One hundred years from now Downton will still be here, and so will the Crawleys,” Carson (Jim Carter) says matter-of-factly to Ms. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) as they stroll out the front of the manor into the evening, another mark of changing times. We want to watch as much of it as we can. Long live Downton Abbey. —Allison Keene


19. Rocketman

rocketman-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlaySpectrum, Xfinity
Year: 2019
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Stars: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden
Genre: Drama, Music
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes
Any major studio that gets its hands on the rights to a rock star’s music, desiring to retrofit it into a movie for the fans, has two options: Make a biopic that episodically lines up snippets of the artist’s life, like last year’s bafflingly popular Bohemian Rhapsody, or make a jukebox musical that integrates the beloved hits into an original story, like the gaudy Mamma Mia! or the sublime Across the Universe. Rocketman, a dazzlingly entertaining, heartbreaking, vulnerable, and delightfully exuberant biopic about the great Elton John (Taron Egerton) dares to ask a question so simple yet so smart: Why not do both? So we get an intimately dissected and well-acted biopic as well as a spectacularly visualized and choreographed musical. We begin with Elton, né Reginald, a child prodigy burying himself in his music to cope with the emotional hole in his heart brought on by his loveless father (Steven Mackintosh) and selfish mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). After finding true inspiration thanks to his lyric-writing partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), he enjoys the spoils of becoming an overnight smash. But of course the music, the money and the millions of fans turn out to be a temporary fix for the loneliness he has felt since childhood, so in comes the “dark period” full of drugs, sex, copious partying and the alienation of everyone who genuinely loves him, a period made worse by an abusive relationship with his life partner/manager (Richard Madden). This all sets up the third act, the long road to redemption. So the recipe is the same we’ve tried many times before, but writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher infuse it with delectable and previously unused ingredients. In a strictly audio/visual sense, the musical numbers are stunning, each new one managing to top what came before in uniqueness and whimsy. Most importantly, Taron Egerton embodies Elton with a captivating natural presence; his is a meticulously mannered performance in the best possible way, where even the tiniest facial tic becomes an irreplaceable detail that completes the big picture. Overall, it’s hard to imagine a better tribute to such a singular icon. —Oktay Ege Kozak


20. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Marielle Heller
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 108 minutes
One of the best things about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is how stubbornly it resists what you think it is going to be. Sure, this isn’t an exposé of Fred Rogers: In this telling, he’s kindly and pure—but the film never lets that be the end of it. The easy piety of the public perception of Mr. Rogers, the idea that you can simply Be Kind and stick to that platitude and that will be enough, is one the movie roundly rejects. Rogers himself is elusive, mysterious, but he’s also palpable and tangible: He exists in our physical realm and runs into the same challenges the rest of us do, sees the same pain and strife as everyone else. In fact, Mr. Rogers is not the main character of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The protagonist is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, playing a fictionalized version of writer Tom Junod), a highly successful magazine journalist and new father who is cynical about the world and crippled with rage at his alcoholic father (Chris Cooper) for leaving his mother when she was dying of cancer. His editor (a charming, much-missed Christine Lahti) assigns him a short 400-word profile for the magazine’s “Heroes” edition of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks, of course), and the two men meet and talk. You think the film is going to go in a familiar direction from then on, with the cynic journalist having his heart warmed by the human kindness (that word again) of this American hero. And it does, a little. But the movie is more willing to get its hands dirty than that. It wants to put in the work. The film is anchored in Hanks’ inherent goodness and likability as Rogers: He might be too big and too urgent to truly capture Rogers, but he captures the calmness of Rogers, that sense of total presence in the moment. The movie argues not that we should all be like Mr. Rogers, but that when tragedy hits us, and anger envelopes us, we must strive for grace wherever we can find it. The movie is tougher, and more rigorous, and more interested in the hard work of healing than empty slogans. It is true to the spirit of Mr. Rogers without every deifying him. I bet he would have loved it. —Will Leitch


21. Ford v Ferrari

ford-ferrari.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: James Mangold
Stars: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas
Genre: Superhero
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 130 minutes
Framing Ford v Ferrari as a feel-good inspirational sports drama feels like bad initial footing for director James Mangold: This is the story of how the Ford Motor Company set about building a car capable of outgunning the dominant Ferrari racing team at the 1966 Le Mans race, a 24-hour test of automotive moxy and testicular fortitude. But it is a blast, particularly when Christian Bale and Matt Damon ham it up with each other, trading jabs and one-liners, and having childish slap fights in broad daylight as Miles’ saintly, patient wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) quietly observes. Unfortunately it’s also politically muddled to the point of distraction. Tracy Letts plays Ford (a.k.a., “Hank the Deuce”) as a booming, bigmouth business jerk who’s desperate to live up to his dad’s legacy. When his company flounders, he demands that his workers come up with a big idea to save the brand. VP Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) believes that sexing up Ford’s image will lead them to prosperity, and to sex up Ford’s image, they must beat Italian race cars in Europe’s greatest race. Sex sells. Cars are sex. Europe is sex. They just need a genius designer and a deft man behind the wheel. Shelby fits the first bill, a straight-shooting Texan with years of experience to back his bravado. Miles fits the second, but if Shelby is direct and unapologetic, Miles is blunt enough to make a 50-pound sledgehammer blush. He’s a troublemaker. Ford executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) knows it. Bale and Damon’s characters are easy to rally behind not simply because they’re wonderful together but because they’re the ones actually doing the work. The further the film gets away from Ford and Ferrari and lets its focus drift to the folks responsible for scoring the former a “W,” the better off it is. Mangold directs his leading men to screwball-level antics; even when they’re trying to connect on emotional levels, they can’t help provoking smiles through sheer electric charm. Racing may or may not be your cup of motor oil, but Ford v Ferrari demands zero racing fluency from its audience. Everything runs through Bale and Damon. Hang onto their performances, and all the rest will follow. —Andy Crump


22. Judy

judy-movie-poster.jpg Available on: Amazon, Cox, DirecTV, Fandango, Fios/Verizon, GooglePlay, Optimum, Spectrum, U-Verse
Year: 2019
Director: Rupert Goold
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock
Genre: Drama, Music
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 118 minutes
The standard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” takes on a powerful new meaning in Judy, the latest drama from director Rupert Goold and writer Tom Edge. In the biopic, aging legend Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger ) runs across New York, and eventually across the globe, to keep working. Based on the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, Judy works as a subdued rehashing of some of Garland’s most scandalous moments. Flashing back and forth between the alcoholic final haze of Garland’s career and the pill-popping days of her youth, Garland’s darkest and loneliest days frame her existence. Frequently bordering on melodrama, Zellweger centers the film on the individual, not the celebrity. In her best performance since Chicago, she disappears into the icon. Her usual on-screen traits—the curled lips, stamping feet and balled-up fist—are replaced with a justified rage that she wields like a whip. Every insult slung lands precisely and without mercy, though she gets as good as she gives. When faced with the crackling loathing of ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell), she swells like a pufferfish at the indignation that she was ever anything less than a wonderful mother. But, when she asks her daughter if moving to her father’s would make her happy and her daughter replies yes, she caves in on herself at the perceived loss of the last person who made her feel needed and loved. The Garland-obsessed fan won’t learn a lot from watching this biopic, but education doesn’t appear to be the main goal of the filmmakers. The impact of the once golden girl on her family and her fans carries the most emotional punch. In the case of the latter, especially, Judy does a spectacular job highlighting Garland’s connection to the gay community. In the hands of Goold, Edge and Zellweger, the story blossoms into a heartbreaking journey of one abused soul reaching out to, and rejecting, nearly everyone that will have her. —Joelle Monique


23. 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


24. 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


25. 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

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