The 30 Best Movies on Redbox Right Now

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The 30 Best Movies on Redbox Right Now

The best movies on Redbox in November include many films of Paste’s Best Movies of 2020, some new picks from 2021 and a share of our favorites from 2020. Redbox remains a bit slow to add new films to its selections, mostly because studios haven’t seen their releases actually hit theaters in about a year. Those that’ve made streaming deals are making the most of things, but as far as physical rentals go, things’ll start picking up the pace as 2021 continues. Our picks for November include new arrivals The Suicide Squad, The Green Knight, and Pig.

Our guide to the best movies to rent right now at Redbox includes Oscar winners, kids movies, comedies, indie film, musical biopics and horror. And all of the movies top Redbox movie rentals listed here are available on DVD for $1.80 ($2 if you want Blu-Ray) right now. If you’re more inclined to spend nothing and watch a few commercials, you can also read our picks for the best movies on Redbox’s free On Demand service.

In addition to new releases on Redbox, you can also check out our guides to the best movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, Cinemax, YouTube, on demand and in theaters. Or visit all our Paste Movie Guides.

Here are the 30 best new movies at Redbox:


1. Tenet

tenet-poster-low.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 150 minutes

Rent at Redbox

A classic Christopher Nolan puzzle box, at first glance Tenet is a lot like Inception. The central conceit that powers it is both cerebral and requires copious on-screen exposition. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Nolan’s films always have at least one person trying to get their head around what exactly is going on, and it makes sense the audience would be as confused as the Protagonist (John David Washington), especially early on. Also, as with Inception, Tenet is basically a series of heists—smaller puzzle boxes within the larger one—which means while the viewer may not understand exactly what’s going on big picture, they will find the immediate action briskly paced and compellingly presented. Still, despite a compelling performance from Kenneth Branagh as antagonist Andrei Sator, the cerebral underpinnings and and even as the exact mechanics of this particular puzzle may demand more from the filmmaker than the audience, no amount of painstakingly crafted “time-inverted” action sequences nor Ludwig Göransson’s sweeping score can fill that hole occupied by a sympathetic main character, which Tenet lacks. None of this rests on Washington. Past Nolan protagonists like McConaughey (Interstellar), Pearce (Memento) and DiCaprio (Inception) not only had actual names, they had relatable motives and discernible emotional arcs. And though personal growth and emotional depth are hardly necessary ingredients in a spy thriller—just look at Bond, classic Bond—with so much else about Nolan’s script a mental exercise made real, some emotional stakes would be helpful to bring it alive. That might keep Tenet from the #1 slot on this year’s Best Sci-Fi list, but it shouldn’t keep lovers of the genre from seeing the only big budget science fiction to debut in theaters in 2020. —Michael Burgin


2. Soul

soul-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Directors: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton
Genre: Comedy, Animated
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

Rent at Redbox

Pixar’s best in years, Soul matches its musical deftness with character and locations designs that are true love letters to New York City and its inhabitants. That’s the way it should be for a movie all about learning to look up once in a while and enjoy the life that’s happening all around you. Less heady than Inside Out, thanks to its grounded roots in barbershops and tailor back rooms, Soul is still one of Pixar’s most existential. A focus on jazz is a natural fit. Jamie Foxx’s obsessed music teacher/jazz pianist wannabe Joe flirts back and forth with death, getting a little It’s a Wonderful Life lesson while an unborn soul (Tina Fey) learns about all life has to offer alongside him. With plenty of jokes and impressive visual creations to plaster over some unwieldy plot decisions (Why are Black people always being pushed out of their bodies in animations?), Soul still sings. It’s got some of the most impressive lighting I’ve ever seen in an animated film, with skin, hair and metallic instruments glistening with a complex, near-photorealism that invites you to reach out and touch them. As Pixar’s premium offering in 2020, its tears flow early and often as crushing montages and inspiring instrumental performances prove over and over again how much joy there is to appreciate in this world—and how much joy Pixar films have the potential to capture. Soul is one of the closest yet to fully achieving that potential on an intimate, human scale.—Jacob Oller


3. The Suicide Squad

the-suicide-squad-poster.jpg Release Date: August 6, 2021
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion, Steve Agee, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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How is James Gunn one of the only people that actually seems to know how to make a comic book movie feel like it was built out of a comic book? Sure, the excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did it, but it took making one of the most impressive animated movies in years. Writer/director Gunn, who’s hopped over to DC after making a pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies for Marvel, achieves some of the same delirious multimedia fidelity in live-action with The Suicide Squad, his bombastic, silly and self-aware revisionist take on the super-group of screw-ups coerced into jobs too tough, dangerous and/or undesirable for the conventional wetworkers of our humble government. Gunn’s action has such a clear and confident tone that it can pepper in filmmaking winks—like quick Bourne-like zooms when Task Force X director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) plays God with the lives of costumed crooks from the safety of her command center—to add a little more visual flavor to its already over-the-top, R-rated, downright enjoyable adaptation. Part of the joke is the sheer quantity of goofball Legion of Doom rejects shoved into the mix. Sure, you’ve got the familiarly chaotic clown-about-town Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, who’s by now thoroughly made the role her own), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and straight-laced military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) alongside the new A-listers (John Cena’s Captain America pastiche, Peacemaker; Idris Elba’s gruff sharpshooter Bloodsport). But there’s a Golden Corral buffet of questionable riffraff introduced as well, including but not limited to: King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, channeling a dumber and hungrier Groot), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Blackguard (Pete Davidson) and a human-sized weasel (Sean Gunn). They’re all distinct and most of them are distinctly, joyfully hateable. And over the course of The Suicide Squad’s solid tropical island action movie—one that’s politics are almost as sharply cynical as its true-to-source treatment of its protagonistic supervillains—Gunn isn’t afraid to dole out the kind of consequences that have mostly been relegated to the fun-poking, franchise-flouting realms of TV superhero meta-critiques like The Boys and Invincible. These aren’t unfamiliar to Suicide Squad readers, but they’re increasingly shocking, strange and bracing (not to mention fun!) to find in AAA studio movies. As the team moves from FUBAR beach operations on Corto Maltese to sabotaging its local lab’s super-science, actual tension develops—a rarity among The Suicide Squad’s contemporaries. Whatever power its additional The gave it couldn’t completely divorce it from some expected genre limitations, but it’s helped continue and solidify the way Warner Bros. is responding to Marvel’s utter dominance of the form: Not by getting more serious, but by seriously investing in the idiosyncrasies of its comics.—Jacob Oller


4. The Green Knight

the-green-knight-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: David Lowery
Stars: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan, Joel Edgerton
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

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When Sir Gawain departs Camelot, he rides past a scene of desolation. A once-prosperous forest stripped of its lush greenery by human hands, only splintered wood and dust remain. Through his journey, Gawain (Dev Patel) is greeted by similar, if not entirely equal imagery, constantly evocative of mankind’s awkward, unwanted presence within the natural world. One year prior, the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) approached King Arthur (Sean Harris) and his Knights of the Round Table, conjured up by Gawain’s mother, Morgan Le Fay (Sarita Choudhury), seeking a participant for his Christmas Game. Should one of Arthur’s knights land a blow against him, the knight shall receive his mighty axe, but must seek him out exactly one year later to receive an equal blow in return. When Gawain, reluctant to accept though eager to bring honor to his name, agrees to the Green Knight’s terms, the humanoid creature only drops his axe and lowers his head to reveal an oaken neck, offering it to Gawain freely. Naturally, Gawain succeeds, but at what cost? The Green Knight retrieves his head and rides off into the night. Gawain understands he cannot do the same. Foliage sprouts in the stone cracks on the hall floor where the Green Knight’s blood has been spilt. David Lowery’s The Green Knight is a modern reckoning with a medieval fable. It’s a haunting, confounding, surprisingly erotic fantasy epic; a confrontation between man and nature, nature and religion, man and himself. Adapted from the anonymously authored Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Lowery’s austere yet spellbinding take on the simple 14th century legend evokes the same questions as the original work, interrogating the cost of one’s life for the sake of one’s honor when there is only certainty that they will die. “Greatness? Why is goodness not enough?” pleads Esel (Alicia Vikander), Gawain’s lover, a sex worker, whom he holds at arm’s length. But the film and Gawain’s quest carry a message that stretches far beyond the fantastical world of King Arthur, one about humanity’s inherent frailty in the face of far-reaching environmental destruction and what gods they have foolishly chosen in place of nature. Obscurities are what anchor The Green Knight as Lowery leans into the ambiguity that defines the original text and replaces it with his own equally mystifying visual interpretations. By blending his abstract sensibilities seen in 2017’s A Ghost Story with the grand fantasy of his live-action Pete’s Dragon, Lowery has crafted a breathtaking, titillating adaptation of folklore with a denouement that carries real-world weight.—Brianna Zigler


5. News of the World

news-of-the-world-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Bill Camp, Elizabeth Marvel
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Paul Greengrass and screenwriting partner Luke Davies may have adapted Paulette Jiles’ 2016 Western novel News of the World at least in partial consideration of how far the United States hasn’t come as a nation—around the time of the book’s publication, such cursed phrases as “fake news” and “alternative facts” were inducted into popular language by fascists and crooks attempting to pull a fast one on the American people. Neither of these terms, nor their equally grotesque cousins, make their way into Greengrass’ film, but the spirit that conjured them into being four years ago is alive and well in his recreation of the American frontier. His hero is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), a Confederate Civil War veteran who, having stood on the losing side of history, moseys across the Lone Star State and reads out-of-town papers to the locals at each stop on his journeys. The movie doesn’t exactly ask the viewer to overlook which side of the war Kidd stood on: In fact, the truth of his old allegiances becomes more unavoidable the less directly they’re spoken of. This is Texas. An erstwhile soldier in Texas could only have fought on one side of the aisle. News of the World damns Kidd without having to say a word. But as soon as the film judges him, it presents him with a chance at redemption in the form of a girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel). Zengel is a fresh spark in an otherwise old-fashioned production, but old-fashioned here is a compliment. News of the World has no interest in subverting or updating classic Western formulas: It is content with its function as a handsomely-made studio picture, built ostensibly around Hanks but with plenty of room for its young star to make her mark. What modernizes the movie has more to do with context than content. Anyone trapped in indentured servitude to social media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or worse, other people’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts—should appreciate this calming two-hour reprieve from the unavoidable din publishers and platforms make in our lives today. There’s such a thing as too much news, whether for better or worse, and News of the World only tries to give us the best. —Andy Crump


6. Pig

pig-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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In the forest outside Portland, a man’s pig is stolen. Rob (Nicolas Cage) is a witchy truffle forager that we learn used to be a chef—a Michelin-starred Baba Yaga, a gastronomical Radagast—who sells his pig’s findings to sustain his isolated life. What follows is not a revenge thriller. This is not a porcine Taken. Pig, the ambitious debut of writer/director Michael Sarnoski, is a blindsiding and measured treatise on the masculine response to loss. Featuring Nicolas Cage in one of his most successful recent permutations, evolving Mandy’s silent force of nature to an extinct volcano of scabbed-over pain, Pig unearths broad themes by thoroughly sniffing out the details of its microcosm. The other component making up this Pacific NW terrarium, aside from Rob and the golden-furred Brandy’s endearingly shorthanded connection, is the guy Rob sells his truffles to, Amir. Alex Wolff’s tiny Succession-esque business jerk is a bundle of jagged inadequacies, and only Rob’s calloused wisdom can handle such prickliness. They’re exceptional foils for one another, classic tonal opposites that share plenty under the surface of age. Together, the pair search for the pignapping victim, which inevitably leads them out of the forest and back into the city. There they collide with the seediest, John Wick’s Kitchen Confidential kind of industry underbelly you can imagine, in a series of standoffs, soliloquies and strange stares. It’s a bit heightened, but in a forgotten and built-over way that feels more secret than fantastic. The sparse and spacious writing allows its actors to fill in the gaps, particularly Cage. Where some of Cage’s most riveting experiments used to be based in manic deliveries and expressionistic faces, what seems to engage him now is the opposite: Silence, stillness, realist hurt and downcast eyes. You can hear Cage scraping the rust off Rob’s voice, grinding the interpersonal gears much like the dilapidated truck he tries (and fails) to take into town. Wolff, along with much of the rest of the cast, projects an intense desperation for validation—a palpable desire to win the rat race and be somebody. It’s clear that Rob was once a part of this world before his self-imposed exile, clear from knowing gazes and social cues as much as the scenarios that lead the pig-seekers through basements and kitchens. Part of Pig’s impactful, moving charm is its restraint. It’s a world only hinted at in 87 minutes, but with a satisfying emotional thoroughness. We watch this world turn only slightly, but the full dramatic arcs of lives are on display. A sad but not unkind movie, and certainly not a pessimistic one, Pig puts its faith in a discerning audience to look past its premise.—Jacob Oller


7. The Paper Tigers

the-paper-tigers-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Bao Tran
Stars: Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Roger Yuan, Matthew Page, Jae Suh Park, Joziah Lagonoy
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes

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When you’re a martial artist and your master dies under mysterious circumstances, you avenge their death. It’s what you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a young man or if you’re firmly living that middle-aged life. Your teacher’s suspicious passing can’t go unanswered. So you grab your fellow disciples, put on your knee brace, pack a jar of IcyHot and a few Ibuprofen, and you put your nose to the ground looking for clues and for the culprit, even as your soft, sapped muscles cry out for a breather. That’s The Paper Tigers in short, a martial arts film from Bao Tran about the distance put between three men and their past glories by the rigors of their 40s. It’s about good old fashioned ass-whooping too, because a martial arts movie without ass-whoopings isn’t much of a movie at all. But Tran balances the meat of the genre (fight scenes) with potatoes (drama) plus a healthy dollop of spice (comedy), to similar effect as Stephen Chow in his own kung fu pastiches, a la Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, the latter being The Paper Tigers’ spiritual kin. Tran’s use of close-up cuts in his fight scenes helps give every punch and kick real impact. Amazing how showing the actor’s reactions to taking a fist to the face suddenly gives the action feeling and gravity, which in turn give the movie meaning to buttress its crowd-pleasing qualities. We need more movies like The Paper Tigers, movies that understand the joy of a well-orchestrated fight (and for that matter how to orchestrate a fight well), that celebrate the “art” in “martial arts” and that know how to make a bum knee into a killer running gag. The realness Tran weaves into his story is welcome, but the smart filmmaking is what makes The Paper Tigers a delight from start to finish.—Andy Crump


8. Emma.

emma-2020-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Miranda Hart
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rating: PG
Runtime: 132 minutes

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


9. Judas and the Black Messiah

judas-and-the-black-messiah-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Shaka King
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, Martin Sheen
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

Rent at Redbox

“Not all skinfolks are kinfolks” is an idiom used colloquially among Black people to address the fact that although they share a racial identity and corresponding experiences of racism, intracommunal ideas regarding the path to Black liberation are seldom synchronous. Furthermore, white supremacy’s propagation of capitalist individualism as the default social framework positions Black collective action as an inherent threat to the United States of America. Director Shaka King centers all these tensions in his brilliant film Judas and the Black Messiah, a historical drama tinged with dazzling shades of caramel and crimson that documents the FBI’s calculated assassination of noted Black Panther Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). When car thief Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is caught impersonating a federal officer, FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) offers him an ultimatum: If O’Neal helps the Feds infiltrate the Black Panther Party and offers intel on their tactics, he can evade a substantial prison sentence and be handsomely compensated for his cooperation. As O’Neal immerses himself into the world of the Black Panthers, his commitment to his own self-interest is pressured by the Panthers’ communitarianism and radical politics. Judas and the Black Messiah superbly centralizes the betrayal of the informant’s Judas figure as he operates as a nexus between the Panthers and J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen)’s FBI, while also amplifying the experiences of the messianic Hampton and his fellow prominent Panthers portrayed by the film’s impressive ensemble cast. While I would love to see Kaluuya take on a leading role in which he at no point has to fight for his life (Get Out, Widows, Black Panther, Queen & Slim) he is an exemplary Fred Hampton. EX-EM-PLA-RY. From the head tilt to the Chicagoan cadence to the emotive gaze, Kaluuya manages to embody Hampton’s physicality and voice without falling into the trap of pure mimicry or impressionism. This is no small achievement especially considering the dearth of Hampton’s fictionalized portrayals. On the other side of things, Stanfield sinks into O’Neal’s paranoia and shivering soul in a way that simultaneously prompts reasonable disgust towards the character and intermittent bouts of empathy. Understanding that Black liberation can not move at the speed of white supremacist comfort is the price of mental and emotional admission to this film. As it should be. Judas and the Black Messiah remarkably fashions a world in which O’Neal’s behaviors are contextualized through the ethos of America’s institutions, and one where the efforts of Hampton and the Panthers are given abundant space to be boldly witnessed.—Adesola Thomas


10. The Farewell

the-farewell-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Lulu Wang
Stars: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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


11. The Wolf of Snow Hollow

the-wolf-of-snow-hollow-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Jim Cummings
Stars: Jim Cummings, Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome, Chloe East, Jimmy Tatro, Kevin Changaris, Skyler Bible, Demetrius Daniels
Rating: R
Runtime: 83 minutes

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Snow Hollow police officer John Marshall (Cummings) unsteadily balances Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with the travails of raising his teen daughter, Jenna (Chloe East), looking after his ailing father, Hadley (Forster), maintaining diplomatic relations with his ex, and keeping a lid on his volcanic temper. When a woman (Annie Hamilton) is torn to shreds on a weekend visit to John’s ski resort hometown, just moments before her boyfriend (Jimmy Tatro) planned to propose to her, John stretches to his limits and beyond in his pursuit of the killer, who everyone concludes with baffling swiftness is a werewolf rather than a man. His peers’ and subordinates’ stumblebum character and the ass-backwardness of Snow Hollow itself act like gasoline as is. The consensus that the town is under attack from a mythical creature is the straw that makes the vein in John’s neck go taut with anger. The Wolf of Snow Hollow lands in the space where horror and humor meet, mining laughter in mourning and custody battles. Cummings’ laughs are the sort that signal discomfort: His punchlines are razor sharp, which make the movie’s surrounding unpleasantries go down more easily. Watching a policeman get physical with anybody who sufficiently pushes his buttons induces squirms. When fellow officer Bo (Kevin Changaris) accidentally says too much about the murders in front of reporters, John calls him over to a snowbank and starts smacking the poor schmuck around, a moment that would tip over into pure darkness without the aid of a lighthearted soundtrack and the slapstick of their scuffle. Regardless, the point is made: John’s on edge, and his edge is surprisingly amusing. The wry, snappy banter gives The Wolf of Snow Hollow a prickly skin, and the restrained application of FX gives it tension. At just under 80 minutes, that economy is key. It’s not so much that the horror is elevated as controlled. But rather than clang with the innate savagery of the werewolf niche, Cummings’ command over his material gives the film a certain freshness. He tames the monster in the man so that the man is all that’s left, for better and for worse. John isn’t perfect, but an imperfect man need not be a beast.—Andy Crump


12. The Invisible Man

invisible-man-2020-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Leigh Whannell
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Aided by elemental forces, her exquisitely wealthy boyfriend’s Silicon Valley house blanketed by the deafening crash of ocean waves, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) softly pads her way out of bed, through the high-tech laboratory, escaping over the wall of his compound and into the car of her sister (Harriet Dyer). We wonder: Why would she run like this if she weren’t abused? Why would she have a secret compartment in their closet where she can stow an away bag? Then Cecilia’s boyfriend appears next to the car and punches in its window. His name is Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and according to Cecilia, Adrian made a fortune as a leading figure in “optics” (OPTICS!) meeting the self-described “suburban girl” at a party a few years before. Never one to be subtle with his themes, Leigh Whannell has his villain be a genius in the technology of “seeing,” in how we see, to update James Whale’s 1933 Universal Monster film—and H.G. Wells’ story—to embrace digital technology as our primary mode of modern sight. Surveillance cameras limn every inch of Adrian’s home; later he’ll use a simple email to ruin Cecilia’s relationship with her sister. He has the money and resources to peer into any corner of Cecilia’s life. His gaze is unbroken. Cecilia knows that Adrian will always find her, and The Invisible Man is rife with the abject terror of such vulnerability. Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio have a knack for letting their frames linger with space, drawing our attention to where we, and Cecilia, know an unseen danger lurks. Of course, we’re always betrayed: Corners of rooms and silhouette-less doorways aren’t empty, aren’t negative, but pregnant with assumption—until they aren’t, the invisible man never precisely where we expect him to be. We begin to doubt ourselves; we’re punished by tension, and we feel like we deserve it. It’s all pretty marvelous stuff, as much a well-oiled genre machine as it is yet another showcase for Elisabeth Moss’s herculean prowess. —Dom Sinacola


13. Ad Astra

ad-astra-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: James Gray
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
Genre: Science-Fiction
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 124 minutes

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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


14. F9

f9-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Justin Lin
Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Charlize Theron
Genre: Action
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 143 minutes

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This latest entry marks the return of director Justin Lin, who helped guide the series’ evolution from Tokyo Drift to Fast & Furious 6, and while he struggles with how unwieldy F&F has become, his undeniable understanding of what makes these movies tick keeps the film roaring along. Lin’s still adding new characters and twists to this high-octane telenovela as often as prefixes, retconning deaths and introducing long-lost brothers as easily as he moves from simply defying physics to defying astrophysics—as easily as he turned street-racing spies into globe-trotting superspies. The crew, including the newly domestic Dom and Letty, is pulled back into the world of…whatever it is they do...once again and their impossible mission (which they always choose to accept) has to do with another globally destructive techno-MacGuffin and a globally destructive flesh-MacGuffin: Dom’s younger brother Jakob (John Cena), excommunicated from the family for sins that become apparent over the course of extensive flashbacks. As Dom’s uneasy relationship with Jakob becomes clear—over the course of explosion-laden jungle races, rooftop chases and posh sitting room brawls—F9’s knowing relationship with its own cartoonishness balances it out. One of the funniest gags sees Tyrese Gibson’s Roman openly speculating if he and the rest of the crew have plot armor. Are they actually invincible? The gang realizing that they’re all in a movie seems like it could honestly be the next step, with them turning their cars towards the camera and bursting out of the fiction like Daffy Duck in Duck Amuck. While both come too late in the film for my taste (leaving much of the film hanging on how pleased you get seeing the admittedly amusing returns of Sung Kang and Lucas Black), two innovations keep F9 on the cutting edge of ridiculous action: Magnets and rockets. But such winning ideas, timed as they are to energize a relatively dramatic entry like last-minute nitro boosts, have a hard time standing out amidst the meandering plot and the narrative’s bevy of cameos. Perhaps the most telling way in which you can tell that F9’s action is a little underwhelming is that the standout moment from the film is purely dramatic. A shockingly well-directed “life flashing before your eyes” sequence allows Diesel to undersell a bevy of emotions through little more than a lemon-pursed mouth, while Lin spins his past, present and future around him. It’s not a great standalone entry into the Fast canon, but as the franchise speeds towards its finish line, it’s still satisfying to know that it’s in the hands of someone well-versed in the series’ strengths and still willing to imagine new ways to crash its toys into each other.—Jacob Oller


15. Knives Out

knives-out-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 130 minutes

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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


16. The King of Staten Island

king-staten-island.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Pete Davidson, Bill Burr, Marisa Tomei, Bel Powley, Ricky Velez, Moises Arias, Lou Wilson
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

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It’s hard to pull off a cohesive tone with dramedies about mental illness. The comedy part demands a quippy protagonist who masks their inner pain with killer comebacks. The drama part comes with the obligatory scenes of emotional purge, the defensive walls tumbling down and our protagonist exposing their fragile state. The tonal shift can be sudden enough to give you whiplash. Pete Davidson co-wrote and stars in The King of Staten Island, a messy but honest exploration of a millennial stoner’s journey to finding purpose in life despite living with grief and depression. Davidson is sometimes uncomfortably open about his own struggles with mental health in his stand-up act; his no-fucks-given vibe, combined with co-writer/director Judd Apatow’s brand of R-rated wholesomeness, culminates in a series of beautifully raw moments. The loose character-study structure, or lack thereof, can be both refreshing and frustrating. The weed-infused banter between Scott and his BFFs (Ricky Velez, Moises Arias and Lou Wilson), culminating in a bittersweet confession about Scott’s shitty tattoo work, crackles with the energy that’s expected from Apatow’s reputation as a stalwart of bromance humor. And Bill Burr was born to play the quintessential “cranky working class middle-aged dad with a heart of gold” archetype; he fit the part even when he was an up-and-coming comic in his 20s. The grayscale, docu-drama depiction of Staten Island by P.T. Anderson’s regular DP Robert Elswit mirrors Scott’s depression, and subtly lightens up as Scott discovers his worth. Scott’s growth was always going to be tied to his toxic relationship with Ray, and it’s in this dynamic The King of Staten Island shines. The movie is indulgent and unfocused, but it’s also gripping and full of life. Kind of like its protagonist. —Oktay Ege Kozak


17. Freaky

freaky-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Christopher Landon
Stars: Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Alan Ruck
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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On its face, the prospect of resurrecting two franchise IPs which have been endlessly re-made decade after decade teeters on the banal and unimaginative. Yet director Christopher Landon’s Freaky effortlessly weaves together the conventions of Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th, eschewing the confines of “remake,” instead creating a unique genre hybrid that’s slick and endlessly entertaining—all the while maintaining a clever self-awareness which enlivens the film’s jump-scares and punchlines without descending into the horror-comedy pitfall of self-referential metaness. What follows is a binary-bending comic exercise in sexual fluidity and gender expression which juxtaposes Vince Vaughn’s hefty stature with Kathryn Newton’s petite frame in order to prod at the horror genre’s previously held notion of who is perceived as weak, both in attitude and appearance. Vaughn and Newton give stellar performances, channeling the other’s mannerisms while poking fun at their own corporeal limitations and their immediate (dis)comfort within their new vessels. It’s heartening to see that the horror genre—still undeniably male-dominated—persists in its commitment to pushing boundaries. Whether those boundaries demarcate what we are able to stomach in terms of violence or what we are able to unpack within our own internal concepts of gender and sexuality, Freaky joins these tenets in order to craft a horror story rife with unexpected, imaginative kills all while subverting societal expectations of who we should really be afraid of—and why.—Natalia Keogan


18. Those Who Wish Me Dead

those-who-wish-me-dead-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry, Jake Weber, Jon Bernthal
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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There are few things about a thriller that get me more excited than realizing the movie doesn’t rely on complicated plot MacGuffins, but on a fully realized setting and characters that either make their home or find themselves helpless there. From writer/director Taylor Sheridan, Those Who Wish Me Dead is one of those thrillers—and those two elements, setting and character, are two that Sheridan is most capable with. Based on Michael Koryta’s 2014 novel of the same name, the film’s rock-solid survival story is enhanced by its charming ensemble and striking, elegant environment. This simplified adaptation (which Koryta co-wrote with Sheridan alongside Charles Leavitt) thrusts good and evil together with the same easy confidence of a corral shootout. A forensic accountant (Jake Weber, playing a pretty badass accountant but not a The Accountant-level badass) and his son, Connor (Finn Little) are on the run. Why? Well, the most we get is that Connor’s dad found out something pretty damn incriminating and those incriminated are none too happy. “What did you do?” Connor asks. All he really gets by way of answer is, “The right thing.” Quickly, that hard ol’ reality sets in that the right thing might not be the consequence-free thing it’s cracked up to be. It’s all carried by its cast, and Angelina Jolie is its best member. She plays Hannah, whom Connor stumbles into in the middle of the forest after Plan A is jettisoned for B. A smokejumper (basically like if a regular firefighter was in Point Break) with PTSD, Hannah was left guilt-ridden and shaken after a particularly awful wildfire. It also left her stuck in a dead-end assignment: All alone on watch duty, high above the forest in an isolated fire tower. Among the other visual feats pulled off by Ben Richardson (Sheridan’s cinematographer on Wind River and Yellowstone, who recently helped Mare of Easttown “[render] our small, collective suffering in stark shapes”) is the height, lonesomeness and awe of this skyward sentry, far above the verdant treetops. Ensembles collide, ricochet and tangle as Those Who Wish Me Dead builds its brutal if expected thrills, and it’s near impossible to look away. It’s the dense woodland, the savvy character work, the moral core that’s both optimistic and pessimistic enough to sustain its modern-day white and black hats. It pulls off the kind of complexity and aesthetic cohesion that Without Remorse and Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Sheridan’s latest screenplay works) so sorely lack. Gripping and intelligent, Those Who Wish Me Dead is revitalizing.—Jacob Oller


19. 1917

1917-movie-poster.jpg 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

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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


20. Minari

minari-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Stars: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 115 minutes

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It’s a peculiar film to emerge as the hot pick out of Sundance—in Lee Isaac Chung’s magnificent Minari, a Korean-American couple with two young children moves to rural Arkansas to try their hand at starting a farm. Eventually the kids’ grandmother comes to live with them as well. Oh, and there’s a prayer-yelling local who helps them. That doesn’t exactly scream “hot Sundance pick,” does it? But Chung’s direction, award-worthy performances from Steven Yuen and Will Patton, and the best kid performance in years from young Alan Kim produce a true masterpiece that will reverberate far beyond Park City. Each line, each movement, each shot contains worlds of meaning. Minari is a wonder, a crucial step forward in Chung’s red-hot career, and a richly deserving recipient of this year’s Audience and Grand Jury awards, both of which it did indeed win. Sometimes everybody gets it right. This was clearly the best film of Sundance 2020, and I doubt I’ll see a better film all year. —Michael Dunaway


21. Raya and the Last Dragon

raya-and-the-last-dragon-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Stars: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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From its intricate and exciting swordplay to its detailed depiction of styles and cultures underutilized by the House of Mouse, Raya and the Last Dragon is one of Disney’s better action-adventures. Its first foray into a Southeast Asian environment blends its traditional “princess” movies with a trial-hopping quest like Kubo and the Two Strings. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), after a youthful tragedy leaves her father (Daniel Dae Kim) turned to stone and her land fractured, must hop from community to community—gathering up the pieces of a magical gem and new quirky team members—so that Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon, can depetrify everyone and put the world right. There’s a well-meaning but sloppily implemented lesson from writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim about trust at the film’s heart, explained almost like an argument for nuclear disarmament—basically, mutual animosity won’t improve if nobody’s willing to take the first step. But it’s all just an excuse really, to take us through some of the best environmental work of Disney’s 3D era and some of its best fight sequences ever. A muddled but bold finale keeps Raya from being a tour de force, but it’s still worth taking a tour through Kumandra.—Jacob Oller


22. Nomadland

nomadland-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Chloé Zhao
Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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A devastating and profound look at the underside of the American Dream, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland turns Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (and some of its subjects) into a complex folk song about survival, pride and the beauty of getting by on the open road. Focusing on older Americans who’ve somehow either abandoned or been forced from stationary traditional homes into vans and RVs, the film contemplates all that brought them to this point (an ugly, crammed Amazon warehouse looms large over the movie’s otherwise natural landscapes and sweeping vistas) and all that waits for them now that they’re here. Some of Bruder’s sources make appearances in the film, threatening to steal the show from the fictional Fern (Frances McDormand) at every turn—and McDormand turns in one of the best performances of the year. That’s just how honest and compelling Linda May and Swankie are. As the migrating community scatters to the wind and reconvenes wherever the seasonal jobs pop up, Zhao creates a complicated mosaic of barebones freedom. It’s the vast American landscape—a “marvelous backdrop of canyons, open deserts and purple-hued skies” as our critic put it—and that mythological American promise that you can fend for yourself out in it. But you can’t, not really. The bonds between the nomads is a stiff refutation of that individualistic idea, just as Amazon’s financial grip over them is a damnation of the corporation’s dominance. Things are rough—as Fern’s fellow travelers tell campfire tales of suicide, cancer and other woes—but they’re making the best of it. At least they have a little more control out here. The optimism gained from a reclaimed sense of autonomy is lovely to behold (and crushing when it comes into conflict with those angling for a return to the way things were), even if its impermanence is inherent. Nomadland’s majestic portrait puts a country’s ultimate failings, its corrupting poisons and those making the best of their position by blazing their own trail together on full display.—Jacob Oller


23. In the Heights

in-the-heights-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Jon M. Chu
Stars: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 143 minutes

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In 2018, director Jon M. Chu imbued the standard rom-com plot of his Crazy Rich Asians adaptation with classical Hollywood decadence, hanging it all on a framework of well-constructed cultural specificity. It was big, spectacular and embarrassingly novel for an American movie of its kind. Now, in 2021, we’re getting Chu’s version of In the Heights, the musical that put Lin-Manuel Miranda on the map (and won him his first Tony). It’s incredible. The exciting electricity of a non-white blockbuster cast becoming superstars before your eyes, the maximalist style of a modern smash updating its influences, the intertwining of hyper-specific and broad themes—Chu’s strengths and his cast soar, bringing In the Heights as high as it’s ever been. It’s the best Hollywood musical in years. Tracking a few sweltering days in New York’s Washington Heights, the film meshes Do the Right Thing’s hot summer tension with School Daze’s teasing affection for its song-slinging genre. It just so happens that the corner we’re on is the collision point for the intersecting lives and romances of two couples—bodega boss Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and aspiring designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and dispatcher Benny (Corey Hawkins) and recent Stanford dropout Nina (Leslie Grace)—who serve as the neighborhood’s most vocal examples of those that life’s rigged lottery left putting their patience and faith in a daily scratcher. There’s no real pivotal struggle (especially not between Sharks and Jets, though wouldn’t it be incredible if Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story gave 2021 two great NYC musicals?) aside from the ever-present and myriad anxieties of Nth generation Americans living in a racist country. Yes, those familiar with the themes of Miranda’s Hamilton will find a similar rhythm and thematic flavor here—though with the showtunes’ style slipping into a salsa or bolero as easily as the rap bars dip in and out of Spanish—but with a purity of form and meaning that’s lyrical critiques and observations are even sharper than those mired in the phenomenon’s historical metaphor. In fact, almost all the songs are bangers that keep emotions high—you’ll weep, you’ll cheer, you’ll hum the songs to yourself on the way out of the theater—bolstered by orchestration that, while restrained when limited to its lovers, explodes when the choruses finally incorporate the neighborhood at large. Head-bobbing bops and moving melodies match rhythmic editing and a vibrant, fittingly populous background that’s constant choreography sustains the perpetual, organic flow of a community. In the Heights is great, and its greatness is amplified by the joy that it will inspire in theaters full of people for years to come.—Jacob Oller


24. Monster Hunter

monster-hunter-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ron Perlman, Tony Jaa
Genre: Action
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 103 minutes

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From Mortal Kombat to the Resident Evil franchise, writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson has consistently proven himself to be the king of videogame adaptations. He is able to take beloved properties and mold them into entertaining narratives that encapsulate their ethos and are accessible to both franchise fans and novices alike. This is no different with Anderson’s latest film, Monster Hunter, adapted from the popular Capcom franchise. He continues to create larger-than-life narratives that are just plain old fun. Monster Hunter begins with Lieutenant Natalie Artemis (the always badass Milla Jovovich) leading a team of soldiers in the desert, searching for a missing squad that seemingly disappeared without a trace. The group is suddenly transported into another world via an intense lightning storm. This is a relentless place, full of massive monsters who are out for blood. No matter their firepower, nothing seems to stop Diablos, a giant triceratops-like creature, or the Nerscylla, a nasty group of poisonous spiders the size of elephants. The tools of violence of the US military are rendered useless in the face of these titans. Monsters aside, the film ventures into a buddy action-comedy as much of the story focuses on Artemis and the Hunter’s (Thai martial artist Tony Jaa) developing relationship—and how they depend on one another for survival. They laugh, they joke, they make sacrifices for one another. Jovovich and Jaa make a remarkable team: The chemistry between the two actors is an endearing light in the middle of a gritty and violent film where humans are impaled and eaten. Anderson does not just rely on the monsters, but creates strong human relationships to encourage a deeper engagement than expected with a videogame adaptation.—Mary Beth McAndrews


25. The Empty Man

the-empty-man-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: David Prior
Stars: James Badge Dale, Owen Teague, Stephen Root, Marin Ireland
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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From the start, everything about The Empty Man is misleading. Its title sounds like the absolutely terrible Bloody Mary-esque The Bye Bye Man or the botched adaptation of Slender Man, where spooky too-long shadow dudes creep up on some doltish teens. Those bad high school urban legend films (that this trailer is cut oh-so-specifically to evoke) don’t usually stray from the 90-minute mark. Even Candyman, maybe the best and most ambitious example of this type of film, is barely 100 minutes. The Empty Man’s 137-minute runtime clearly has more to do than kill off a couple of kids for failing to be superstitious enough. Rather than falling into that traditional type of stock schlock, The Empty Man follows a troubled ex-cop investigating the root causes of an incident that could’ve been the entire plot of one of those movies. “We knew we weren’t making that movie and nobody wanted to make that movie,” writer/director/editor David Prior told Thrillist. “But it turns out, the people who inherited the movie wanted that kind of movie.” It makes sense that the ever-expanding, ever-spiraling photos-and-folders paranoid conspiracy of The Empty Man can feel a bit like getting sucked into the kind of heady, hyper-specific hell that festers in the underbellies of Zodiac, Se7en or Mindhunter. That ‘70s thriller structure, dedicated to the paper trail, merges in The Empty Man with a downright otherworldly horror (used here in the literal sense, as opposed to terror) aesthetic that’s sheer scope makes a mockery of the movie’s shoe-leather detective work. But even The Empty Man’s start is a delightful little horror film all its own, a mythological amuse-bouche set on snowy Bhutan peaks where set design and some solidly naturalistic acting sell the scares. Great! Solid. Sold. And then the movie keeps going, as if to literally push past your expectations. Its narrative evolves into something increasingly strange and engaging. It’s like A Cure for Wellness, another cult favorite, in its dedication to piling on an investigator’s hallucinogenic obsession and repulsion as he finds himself suddenly so deep that climbing back out—or, perhaps, out for the first time—proves impossible. Prior’s grasp of tone and savvy subversion of different modern monster tropes, alongside a staggering and committed James Badge Dale performance, position the film as one that understands and appreciates studio horror movies, but has much bigger things on its mind. In short, it rules.—Jacob Oller


26. The Father

the-father-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Florian Zeller
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 97 minutes

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The best line reading Anthony Hopkins gives during his monumental performance in Florian Zeller’s The Father comes in the film’s final scene, which is both a blessing and a king bummer. All anyone should want to do is live in that reading, sit awestruck at how Hopkins puts a name to the one thing that can assuage his character’s anguish and stare grief-stricken in the knowledge that the one thing he needs is the one thing he can’t have. The entire movie is an exercise in heartache, but it’s this final piece of dialogue that punctuates the drama preceding it and finally releases the suffering roiling under its surface. Hopkins’ character, also named Anthony, spends most of The Father fighting for his independence like a wolf cornered by hunters, stubbornly refusing to accept his clear mental deterioration and the need for professional help. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) has, as the picture opens, tried and failed several times over to find him a caregiver he’ll take to—and given her announced intention to relocate to Paris, her search has gained in urgency. Anthony isn’t pleased at her news. In fact, as they sit in his well-appointed London flat together, he gives her the business, expressing his opinion of her life plans with his canines bared. He’s not happy. But deep down, in the parts of him that remain self-aware, he’s mostly just afraid. Zeller has adapted The Father from his own award-winning play Le Père, and though he’s left the material of the script untouched, he’s transitioned to his new medium with subtle enhancements: Cinematographer Ben Smithard uses his lens as a screw gun, putting up figurative walls around Zeller’s cast in addition to the literal walls of the set. Visual claustrophobia compliments spatial claustrophobia, trapping the viewer in the flat and, far more importantly, in Anthony’s crumbling psyche. A simple open-concept apartment becomes labyrinthine through his point of view, and that’s before supporting characters begin to wander about its halls and loiter in its doors, in and out of his perception, assuming they were even there to begin with. Similar to how the characters are there to serve Anthony, the supporting cast is there to serve Hopkins. The stage belongs to him. What he does with it is something special, an unmissable performance from an actor with a filmography loaded with them.—Andy Crump


27. The Assistant

the-assistant-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Kitty Green
Stars: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfayden, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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


28. Zola

zola-poster.jpg Release Date: June 30, 2021
Director: Janicza Bravo
Stars: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo
Genre: Comedy, Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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A’Ziah “Zola” King’s ultra-viral Tweet thread—AKA The Story AKA The Thotessy AKA Dante’s Infern-ho—about stripping, sex trafficking and the dangers of braving the surreal and nearly mythological land of Florida with a white girl you barely know, has it all. It’s hilarious and disturbing, with characters noble, treacherous and pathetic, damning voyeurism while encouraging our participation and spectatorship. The social media saga is also a treatise on storytelling. It’s been embellished, deleted and reposted after the dark comedy inherent in the compelling truth was honed for an audience—an evolving epic poem, technologically modernized. Naturally, writer/director Janicza Bravo had her work cut out for her when turning its garish and nightmarish weekend into a film. But she responds in kind, adding in her own tweaks and retellings to heighten the fable. Zola maintains its source’s compelling magic, transforming us from rubberneckers to spellbound participants along for the wildest cinematic road trip of the year. In less capable hands, Zola could’ve been a movie of morbid fascination. But Bravo, who adapted her sophomore feature alongside Jeremy O. Harris, embraces the secondhand spontaneity of the vibe while immersing us in the humanity of its participants. We’re rarely looking at them, as can happen during the sleazy Floridian spectacle of Spring Breakers, but going through it with them. Sometimes that means empathizing with Zola (Taylour Paige) and Stefani (Riley Keough) when they’re feeling themselves, taking selfies in the strip club dressing room. Sometimes that means chuckling sadly when Stefani’s boyfriend Derek (Nicholas Braun, whose clueless giant schtick gets a Malibu’s Most Wanted coat of paint) brags to a stranger in an empty liquor store that they’re in town “making shmoney.” But the shmoney ain’t for nothin’ and these chicks ain’t free, as the next days spiral from a simple strip trip to a messy collision between culture vultures, warring sex traffickers and an ever-increasing desire to get the hell home. Zola continues the fairy tale evolution of King’s story, passing the rich text on with the same outrageous spirit—a level of respect most adaptations only aspire to.—Jacob Oller


29. Relic

relic-2020-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Directors: Natalie Erika James
Stars: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin, Chris Bunton, Steve Rodgers, Jeremy Stanford, Christina O’Neill
Genre: Horror
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

Rent at Redbox

If there has been a relatively consistent through-line within the horror genre, it is that there is something uniquely creepy about older people. Elderly women specifically have been portrayed as innately grotesque, their disrobed bodies often enough to provoke a response of guttural unease in the viewer. The 2010s in particular saw an increase in this trope: The unhinged sundowning Nana in The Visit, the baby-snatching sorceress in The Witch, the Scandinavian cult’s nude female elders in Midsommar, the deceptive old lady whose nude jaunt around her kitchen was distinctly unsettling in IT: Chapter 2. These examples, among countless other jump-scare-inducing characters, embody traits symbolizing the crone—an unsightly old hag who often represents death incarnate. While Natalie Erika James’ Relic focuses on aging family matriarch Edna (Robyn Nevin), the film is interested in much more than a face-value study of the horrors of getting old. Relic posits that old age is not something to be reviled or worshiped, instead viewing aging as a continual process as opposed to a fearful spectre. The film is overwhelmingly empathetic toward Edna, even when her demonic transformation renders her unaware of the threat she poses to herself and others. James shows Edna is much more than her senescent body and faltering mind. She affords Edna humanity, even when her actions border on the inhuman, leaving no room for societal repugnance to strip that from her.—Natalia Keogan


30. Bill & Ted Face the Music

bill-ted-face-the-music-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Dean Parisot
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler
Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 91 minutes

Rent at Redbox

Our enjoyment of Bill & Ted Face the Music may only be the direct result of living with a kind of background-grade dread for what feels like the whole of our adult lives. Those of us who will seek out and watch this third movie in the Most Excellent Adventures of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted (Theodore) Logan (Keanu Reeves) are bound by nostalgia as much as a desire to suss out whatever scraps of joy can be found buried in our grim, harrowing reality. Sometimes, death and pain is unavoidable. Sometimes it just feels nice to lounge for 90 minutes in a universe where when you die you and all your loved ones just go to Hell and all the demons there are basically polite service industry workers so everything is pretty much OK. Cold comfort and mild praise, maybe, but the strength of Dean Parisot’s go at the Bill & Ted saga is its laid-back, low-stakes nature, wherein even the murder robot (Anthony Carrigan, the film’s luminous guiding light) sent to lazer Bill and Ted to death quickly becomes their friend while Kid Cudi is the duo’s primary source on quantum physics. Because why? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. There may be some symbolic heft to Bill and Ted reconciling with Death (William Sadler) in Hell; there may be infinite universes beyond our own, entangled infinitely. Cudi’s game for whatever. A sequel of rare sincerity, Bill & Ted Face the Music avoids feeling like a craven reviving of a hollowed-out IP or a cynical reboot, mostly because its ambition is the stuff of affection—for what the filmmakers are doing, made with sympathy for their audience and a genuine desire to explore these characters in a new context. Maybe that’s the despair talking. Or maybe it’s just the relief of for once confronting the past and finding that it’s aged considerably well. —Dom Sinacola