The 25 Best Movies on Plex (July 2024)

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The 25 Best Movies on Plex (July 2024)

No, the best movies on Plex aren’t always going to be found on your cinephile friend’s private server. They might not even be on your own device. But thankfully, Plex has followed in the footsteps of so many free-to-watch ad-supported streamers in offering up a massive selection of movies on their own terms—no account or payment necessary. The do-it-all entertainment platform already has a massive infrastructure to support and sort your personal collection of movies and TV shows, and its library of free movies benefits from this UI: The movies are sorted well, and feature themed categories alongside typical genres (as well as partnerships with familiar names like Lionsgate, AMC and Crackle). Its Western selection, horror picks, and A24 movies are top priority. Perhaps the only downside is that, even if you’re paying to get Plex’s extra features, you’ll still see ads. Sorry. But if you’re already using Plex for other reasons, you should be aware that you could easily take advantage of a gold mine of free movies sitting right under your nose.

Here are the 25 best movies on Plex:

1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Year: 1974
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen
Rating: R
Runtime: 83 minutes

One of the most brutal mainstream horror films ever released, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, based on notorious Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, resembles art-house verité built on the grainy physicality of its flat Texas setting. Plus, it introduced the superlatively sinister Leatherface, the iconic chainsaw-wielding giant of a man who wears a mask made of human skin, whose freakish sadism is upstaged only by the introduction of his cannibalistic family with whom he resides in a dilapidated house in the middle of the Texas wilderness, together chowing on the meat Leatherface and his brothers harvest, while Grandpa drinks blood and fashions furniture from victims’ bones. Still, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might not be the goriest horror film ever made, but as an imaginal excavation of the subterranean anxieties of a post-Vietnam rural American populace, it’s pretty much unparalleled. Twisted, dark and beautiful all at once, it careens through a wide variety of tones and techniques without ever losing its singular intensity. (And there are few scenes in this era of horror with more disturbing sound design than the bit where Leatherface ambushes a guy with a single dull hammer strike to the head before slamming the metal door shut behind him.) —Rachel Haas and Brent Ables

2. Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Year: 1972
Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Klaus Kinski, Elena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

The Rosetta Stone to understanding the relationship between director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski is contained within watching the way Herzog sees Kinski as Aguirre, the Conquistador circa 1560 who, through the sheer power of his belligerence, led a small army of Spaniards to their certain doom. In Kinski’s disturbing, hobbled presence, Aguirre is delusion manifest, his need to find the lost City of Gold while trekking through the unforgiving rain forests of Peru so corrupt and surreal it appears to be crippling his body from the inside out, crawling free from his heart and escaping his bug-eyes. Herzog exploits that delusion when he casts Kinski—known IRL for his self-aggrandizing optics and unbelievable cruelty—and in Aguirre, the Wrath of God is no purer sense of just how wholly Herzog knows Kinski’s true nature, letting it seep into—infect—the reality of the film itself: “Based on a true story” wasn’t so debased a cinematic term until Fargo took up the challenge decades later. Which is pretty much how Herzog treats true stories anyway—his documentary subjects he’s known to openly manipulate, and even Paul Cronin’s Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed book, a series of conversations amounting to a career retrospective, Cronin prologues with a lengthy explanation for how involved Herzog was in editing and rewriting his own interviews. What’s left in lieu of fealty to the story of Gonzalo Pizzaro’s ill-fated expedition is something so much more visceral: A reenactment of the story’s—and therefore History’s—pain, absurdity and grand illusion. —Dom Sinacola

3. Ip Man

Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To, Syun-Wong Fen, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam
Rating: R

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

4. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Year: 1986
Director: John McNaughton

Henry stars Merle himself, Michael Rooker, in a film which is essentially meant to approximate the life of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, along with his demented sidekick Otis Toole (Tom Towles). The film was shot and set in Chicago on a budget of only $100,000, and is a depraved journey into the depths of the darkness capable of infecting the human soul. That probably sounds like hyperbole, but Henry really is an ugly film–you feel dirty just watching it, from the filth-crusted urban streets to the supremely unlikeable characters who prey on local prostitutes. It’s not an easy watch, but if gritty true crime is your thing, it’s a must-see. Some of the sequences, such as the “home video” shot by Henry and Otis as they torture an entire family, gave the film a notorious reputation, even among horror fans, as an unrelenting look into the nature of disturbingly mundane evil. —Jim Vorel

5. Blood and Black Lace

Year: 1964
Director: Mario Bava

You can credit films such as Psycho or Peeping Tom for laying the groundwork for the slasher genre, and 1974’s Black Christmas for first bringing all the elements together into what is undeniably a “slasher movie,” but Mario Bava’s foundational 1964 giallo is so close as to almost merit that title as the first “true” slasher in almost every way that matters. Blood and Black Lace is an absolutely gorgeous, sumptuous movie that is all the better to see on the big screen, if you can, featuring dramatic splashes of primary colors used to maximum impact. The story is a blend of darkly comic murder mystery and titillation-tinged exploitation, featuring a gaggle of female models stalked by a mysterious assailant whose face is covered in an impenetrable stocking mask with blank features—a killer who looks for all intents and purposes like the DC Comics character The Question. It’s an immediately iconic image that seared its imprint into an entire Italian genre, and subsequent killers would reflect so many of this character’s features, from the black gloves and long coat to the mask itself. Although many tried to ape its visuals, very few could match the decadence and the sense of luxurious (and deadly) excess that Bava captures in Blood and Black Lace. —Jim Vorel

6. Melancholia

Year: 2011
Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

If you want a really, really disturbingly beautiful apocalypse, you can’t go wrong with Lars von Trier. Melancholia is the second of a trilogy of films in which the director dives into the nature of depression. It revolves around two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg)—after a staccato series of prologue images set to Wagner (if you’ve ever experienced severe depression you’ll recognize the choppy, distanced, “underwater” quality of this first section), we open on Justine’s wedding reception. There is something seriously wrong with these people. Or is there? It seems like Justine’s boss is actually harassing her for ad copy in the middle of her own wedding toast. It seems like her father is a raging narcissist and her mother is “honest” in a way that makes you want to never take a phone call from her, ever. Everything seems off. And that’s before anyone realizes a runaway planet called Melancholia might be on a collision course with Earth. —Amy Glynn

7. Point Break

Year: 1991
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

There are plenty of late ’80s/early ’90s action flicks anyone could cite, but few epitomized the near-paradoxical dudebro melodrama of the era with as much heart and sincerity as Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. Johnny Utah—played by the only one on this Earth who could believably play a human being named that, Keanu Reeves, with the sedate gusto that would further vaunt him to action star fame—is an FBI agent who must learn how to be an X-treme surfer in order to infiltrate a cadre of bank robbers led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze in peak hunk form). Inevitably, Johnny and Bodhi bond—and then clash—over their mutual thirst for salt water, high-stakes adventure and the love of a strong woman (Lori Petty, a wonderfully anti-typical blockbuster love interest), climaxing in the now-iconic scene of Reeves, consumed by X-treme angst, hollering and firing his gun into the sky, a scene so cemented in the cinematic canon that any aging, pacifist Millennial who has never fired a gun before still secretly wet-dreams about having the chance to do the same before their time on this godforsaken planet runs out. —Dom Sinacola

8. Halloween

Year: 1978
Director: John Carpenter

For students of John Carpenter’s filmography, it is interesting to note that Halloween is actually a significantly less ambitious film than his previous Assault on Precinct 13 on almost every measurable level. It doesn’t have the sizable cast of extras, or the extensive FX and stunt work. It’s not filled with action sequences. But what it does give us is the first full distillation of the American slasher film, and a heaping helping of atmosphere. Carpenter built off earlier proto-slashers such as Bob Clark’s Black Christmas in penning the legend of Michael Myers, an unstoppable phantom who returns to his hometown on Halloween night to stalk high school girls. (The original title was actually The Babysitter Murders, if you haven’t heard that particular bit of trivia before.) Carpenter heavily employs tools that would become synonymous with slashers, such as the killer’s POV perspective, making Myers into something of a voyeur (he’s just called “The Shape” in the credits) who lurks silently in the darkness with inhuman patience before finally making his move. It’s a lean, mean movie with some absurd characterization in its first half (particularly from the ditzy P.J. Soles, who can’t stop saying “totally”) that then morphs into a claustrophobic crescendo of tension as Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode first comes into contact with Myers. Utterly indispensable to the whole thing is the great Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, the killer’s personal hype man/Ahab, whose sole purpose in the screenplay is to communicate to the audience with frothing hyperbole just what a monster this Michael Myers really is. It can’t be overstated how important Pleasance is to making this film into the cultural touchstone that would inspire the early ’80s slasher boom to follow. —Jim Vorel

9. Reservoir Dogs

Year: 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino
Rating: R

Reservoir Dogs’ debut at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival launched not only the career of one Quentin Tarantino but an American indie genre unto itself characterized by extreme violence, profane dialogue, nonlinear storytelling and a curated soundtrack. Many have tried, but none of his imitators has achieved the visual and aural poetry at work in Tarantino’s oeuvre, particularly his magnum opus Pulp Fiction, upon whose release in 1994 newly minted fans went back to discover the aftermath of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White’s botched diamond heist (but not the heist itself). This is where it all began. —Annlee Ellingson

10. Bernie

Year: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine
Runtime: 104 minutes

Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk. —Tim Basham

11. Lake Mungo

Year: 2008
Director: Joel Anderson
Stars: Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

And speaking of found footage, here’s another entry in the genre that has had considerably more positive critical attention. Lake Mungo could scarcely be more different from something like Grave Encounters–there are no ghosts or demons chasing screaming people down the hall, and it’s chiefly a story about family, emotion and our desire to seek closure after death. You could call it a member of the “mumblegore” family, without the gore. It centers around a family that has been shattered by a daughter’s drowning, and the family’s subsequent entanglement in what may or may not be a haunting, and the mother’s desire to determine what kind of life her daughter had been living. Powerfully acted and subtly shot, it’s a tense (if grainy) family drama with hints of the supernatural drifting around the fraying edges of their sanity. If there’s such a thing as “horror drama,” this documentary-style film deserves the title. —Jim Vorel

12. Snowpiercer

Year: 2013
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton
Rating: R
Genre: Sci-Fi

There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic world: Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warming, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine and governed by a ruthless caste system. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up in the flurry. —Mark Rozeman

13. Grave Encounters

Year: 2011
Directors: Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, “The Vicious Brothers”

It’s hard to understand why Grave Encounters doesn’t have a better reputation among horror geeks, who largely seem to be aware of it but deride the found-footage movie as either derivative or cheesy. In our own estimation, it’s one of the best found footage offerings of the last decade, and certainly one of the most legitimately frightening, as well as humorous when it wants to be. It’s structured as a pitch-perfect parody of inane TV ghost-hunting shows, in the style of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, and imagines the satisfying results of what might happen when one of these crews full of charlatans is subjected to a genuinely evil location. But Grave Encounters goes beyond what is expected of it–you hear that premise and expect some frantic, handicam running around and screaming in the dark, but it delivers far more. The FX work, on a small budget, is some of the best you’re ever going to see in a found-footage film, and the nature of the haunting is significantly more mind-bending and ambitious than it first appears. We’ll continue to defend this film, although you should steer clear of the less inspired sequel. —Jim Vorel

14. We Are Still Here

Year: 2015
Director: Ted Geoghegan

We Are Still Here never wants for scares. It might actually be the single most terrifying movie of 2015, even next to David Robert Mitchell’s acclaimed and unsettling It Follows. But Geoghegan handles the transition smoothly, from the story of running away from tragedy We Are Still Here begins as to the bloodbath it becomes. There’s no sense of baiting or switching; the director flirts with danger confidently throughout. Plus, there’s that New England winter to add an extra layer of despair. The elements forebode and forbid in equal measure. The weather outside is frightful … and the carbonized wraiths in the basement even more so. In the end, this is one haunted house that won’t be denied. —Andy Crump

15. The Death of Stalin

Year: 2018
Director: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Jason Isaacs
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R

You can trace that dynamic from The Thick of It, through In the Loop and Veep, and then especially in his new film, The Death of Stalin, whose subject matter can be inferred from a mere glance. The Death of Stalin marks a major temporal departure for Iannucci, known for skewering contemporary political embarrassments and turmoil, by taking us back to 1953 Russia. Years out from the Great Purge, the country remains in the grip of widespread fear fomented by nationalism, public trials, antisemitism, executions, mass deportations and civic uncertainty. Iannucci asks us to laugh at an era not known for being especially funny. That’s the give and take at the film’s core: Iannucci drops a punchline and we guffaw, then moments later we hear a gunshot, accompanied by the sound of a fresh corpse hitting the ground. Finding humor in political violence is a big ask, and yet Iannucci’s dialogue is nimble but unfailingly harsh, replete with chafing castigations. We howl with laughter, though we can’t help feeling bad for every poor bastard caught on the receiving end of trademark Iannucci verbal abuse, which typically means we end up feeling bad for every character in his films. He spares no one from insult or injury, even when they’re lying dead on the floor, soaked in their own piss. A tale of mortal sins as well as venial ones, The Death of Stalin adds modern urgency to his comic storytelling trademarks: As nationalist sentiment rears its ugly head across the globe and macho authoritarian leaders contrive to hoard power at democracy’s expense, a farcical play on the political clusterfuck that followed Stalin’s passing feels shockingly apropos. It takes a deft hand and a rare talent to make tyranny and state sanctioned torture so funny. —Andy Crump

16. The Big Boss

Year: 1971
Director: Lo Wei
Stars: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien, Nora Miao
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

This is where it all started for a young man named Bruce Lee, his first starring vehicle in a Hong Kong action movie. Set in contemporary time, this isn’t some Shaolin temple period piece but a pretty grimy, modern crime movie that just happens to feature some martial arts. James Tien was ostensibly supposed to be the film’s star power, but it was clear that Bruce Lee had a magnetism that made him lightning in a bottle–you can’t look away when he’s on screen. The action isn’t quite fully developed, but you can just see the raw, seething potential in him, both as an actor and the most famous martial artist who’s ever lived. The film is more than a little goofy and its low-budgetness can make it a little bit tougher to watch today, but it’s worthwhile to see the birth of the legend. —J.V.

17. Assault on Precinct 13

Year: 1976
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

Assault on Precinct 13 launches into its action-packed second act with one of the more audacious, transgressive acts you’ll ever see in a film–it almost feels like a taboo you wouldn’t even see in a horror film today, and I wouldn’t dare ruin it for you. Suffice to say, that one moment of unthinkable violence is the starting gun on a gritty thriller from John Carpenter, two years before Halloween made him a much bigger name. As such, you might expect Assault on Precinct 13 to be a more conventional or safe film, but if anything, it’s significantly more complex a project than Halloween would have been. Taking inspiration from Night of the Living Dead, Carpenter weaves a criminal action tale about an officer holding down a decommissioned police station that comes under siege by dozens of gang members. The interpersonal dynamics between officer and prisoners almost reflects the suspicion and brotherhood that would later be displayed between the arctic residents of Carpenter’s The Thing, and the shootouts are just as bloody. Even on a budget, it’s one of the best action movies of the ‘70s. – Jim Vorel

18. Heathers

Year: 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Kim Walker
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

As much an homage to ’80s teen romps—care of stalwarts like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe—as it is an attempt to push that genre to its near tasteless extremes, Heathers is a hilarious glimpse into the festering core of the teenage id, all sunglasses and cigarettes and jail bait and misunderstood kitsch. Like any coming-of-age teen soap opera, much of the film’s appeal is in its vaunting of style over substance—coining whole ways of speaking, dressing and posturing for an impressionable generation brought up on Hollywood tropes—but Heathers embraces its style as an essential keystone to filmmaking, recognizing that even the most bloated melodrama can be sold through a well-manicured image. And some of Heathers’ images are indelible: J.D. (Christian Slater) whipping out a gun on some school bullies in the lunch room, or Veronica (Winona Ryder) passively lighting her cigarette with the flames licking from the explosion of her former boyfriend. It makes sense that writer Daniel Waters originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his script: Heathers is a filmmaker’s (teen) film. —Dom Sinacola

19. The Act of Killing

Year: 2012
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Rating: NR
Runtime: 122 minutes

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

20. Glengarry Glen Ross

Year: 1992
Director: James Foley

Surely somewhere on the Internet there’s a catalog of all the potboiler plays that have been turned into lifeless movies, wherein their minimal settings came off as flat rather than intimate or claustrophobic, and the surgically written prose came off as stilted rather than impassioned. Glengarry Glen Ross is the exception and the justification for all noble stage-to-screen attempts since. This adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play about workingman’s inhumanity to workingman still crackles today, and its best lines (there are many) have become ingrained in the angrier sections of our collective zeitgeist. James Foley directs the playwright’s signature cadence better than the man himself, and the all-star cast give performances they’ve each only hoped to match since. Mamet, for his part, managed to elevate his already stellar material with his screenplay, adding the film’s most iconic scene, the oft-quoted Blake speech brilliantly delivered by Alec Baldwin. This is a film worthy of a cup of coffee—and, as we know, coffee is for closers only. —Bennett Webber

21. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Year: 2009
Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Coolidge, Xzibit, Brad Dourif
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

Shot with wild-eyed lenses to truly capture the narcotic- and power-fueled cop at the heart of Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, this non-sequel is a staggering display of Nicolas Cage’s charisma in a workmanlike procedural. Initially, it seems like a bit of an odd bird: Herzog’s playfully dour direction and veteran TV writer William M. Finkelstein’s police drama script fizz and sparkle thanks to one of Cage’s best displays of mania, a few possibly-hallucinated iguanas and a pair of gators—one of which has already been turned into roadkill. But it all meshes together in a satisfyingly reptilian way, the cold-blooded and scaly id now physical and roaming the bayou. Cage smokes crack with Xzibit, busts the balls of Val Kilmer and watches football with a zonked-out Jennifer Coolidge. It’s a world of vice, as familiar yet inscrutable as the film’s bizarre title. The key players all make sense to your brain separately, but together, it’s a spiked cocktail and a bump in the bathroom—conflicting chemicals working in chaotic harmony. It can veer into stretches of unrefined silliness, but that’s part of the pitch-black fun. When you watch Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, you’re watching a cop drama with the saturation turned all the way up—where imagined lizards haunt coffee tables and souls breakdance until more bullets finally end the show. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Finkelstein co-created Cop Rock.—Jacob Oller

22. Ichi the Killer

Year: 2001
Director: Takashi Miike

Ichi the Killer is visually striking—in the sense that it will strike your eyeballs with its ultragore visuals for 129 minutes. This is not an easy film to watch—perhaps even harder than Takashi Miike’s own Audition, which was released two years earlier to significantly more acclaim. Ichi the Killer is less of a true horror film than that earlier effort, more gritty crime story in the mold of Oldboy, but any film with this degree of shocking sexual violence and lurid—almost reprehensible—gore is on some level going to join the horror stable by default, because it’s pretty horrifying stuff to watch. Many will find it inherently distasteful, and discussion boils down to what Miike is attempting to accomplish or what kind of “statement” all of the straight-faced, non-comedic gore is supposed to evoke. Reading a description, you might actually question how people getting sliced in half by Ichi’s razor-tipped boots could come across as “straight-faced,” but it does. It’s a film for those who can stand some truly harrowing sights. — Jim Vorel

23. Lady Bird

Year: 2017
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: R

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

24. Lady Vengeance

Year: 2005
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik, Kim Si-hoo, Oh Dal-su
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

The best entry in the Vengeance Trilogy marked its first female protagonist and Park Chan-wook’s first collaboration with Jeong Seo-kyeong, and there’s no better film to kick off one of the finest writer-director partnerships in modern cinema. Park’s female characters changed drastically for the better from this point; here illustrated by the aggrieved Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae), released from prison after a lengthy sentence for a crime she falsely confessed to so she could protect her daughter. It unpicks the emotional burden and aftereffects of vengeance in a measured, almost surgical way, and only in the trilogy’s final chapter do we see a central relationship that doesn’t become corrupted and vile. The final act, where the vengeance is actually carried out, is undoubtedly Park’s finest hour; filled with brutality, tragedy and quiet displays of powerful humanity. It’s a turning point for Park—one that would only lead him to greater glory.—Rory Doherty

25. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Year: 2002
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Shin Ha-kyun, Song Kang-ho, Bae Doona, Han Bo-bae, Im Ji-eun
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

Blunt. Pointless. Devoid of passion. And no, I’m not just talking about my first reviews. This is revenge in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, where attempts to better one’s station or right injustice end in a cacophony of senseless brutality and collateral damage. Park’s film is filled with offbeat, outsider characters, but the whole film is framed and shot so clinically, it’s difficult to muster a whole lot of sympathy for the players involved—despite how horrible a situation they find themselves in, be it bereft of a child or conned out of a kidney. Stylistically, it often feels more like a industrial film about murder than a crime thriller, distancing us from the rich and thorny emotional crises that plague the protagonists of Oldboy or Lady Vengeance. Can we ever truly feel sympathy for those who commit such barbarity? Can there ever be satisfying closure once violence is committed against someone? Sympathy may feel colder than other Park Chan-wook films, but its rebuttal to the glorification of violence in mainstream cinema still grabs you by the throat.—Rory Doherty

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