The 20 Best Movies on Starz (April 2024)

Movies Lists Starz
The 20 Best Movies on Starz (April 2024)

Starz continues to fly under the radar among its bigger premium cable and streaming competitors, but the channel (that many add onto Amazon accounts for extra offerings) has amassed a slew of movies available to its subscribers. HBO may have the prestige, but Starz has the much-better-curated lineup of flicks.

From recent hits like The Father to underrated classics—not to mention a bundle of ‘80s comedies and a classic coterie of Westerns—Starz continues to build a cinematic library to easily rival services like Netflix and Hulu. Needless to say, we’re fans, so here at Paste we want to highlight the many wonderful movies Starz has to offer at the moment.

Here are the 20 best movies on Starz right now:


1. Night of the Living Dead

Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne
Rating: NR
Genre: Horror

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What more can be said of Night of the Living Dead? It’s pretty obviously the most important zombie film ever made, and hugely influential as an independent film as well. George Romero’s cheap but momentous movie was a quantum leap forward in what the word “zombie” meant in pop culture, despite the fact that the word “zombie” is never actually uttered in it. More importantly, it established all of the genre rules: Zombies are reanimated corpses. Zombies are compelled to eat the flesh of the living. Zombies are unthinking, tireless and impervious to injury. The only way to kill a zombie is to destroy the brain. Those rules essentially categorize every single zombie movie from here on out—either the film features “Romero-style zombies,” or it tweaks with the formula and is ultimately noted for how it differs from the Romero standard. It’s essentially the horror equivalent of what Tolkien did for the idea of high fantasy “races.” After The Lord of the Rings, it became nearly impossible to write contrarian concepts of what elves, dwarves or orcs might be like. Romero’s impact on zombies is of that exact same caliber. There hasn’t been a zombie movie made in the last 50-plus years that hasn’t been influenced by it in some way, and you can barely hold a conversation on anything zombie-related if you haven’t seen it—so go out and watch it, if you haven’t. The film still holds up well, especially in its moody cinematography and stark, black-and-white images of zombie arms reaching through the windows of a rural farmhouse. Oh, and by the way—NOTLD is public domain, so don’t get tricked into buying it on a shoddy DVD. —Jim Vorel


2. Planet of the Apes

Release Date: 1968
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Stars: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter
Rating: G
Genre: Sci-Fi

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“What will he find out there, doctor?” “His destiny” That’s what the conservative ape scientist Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) tells compassionate ape “veterinarian” Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) at the end of the original Planet of the Apes, as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) sets out into the Forbidden Zone of this topsy-turvy planet—where intelligent, talking apes are the dominant species and humans are dumb beasts—in order to find out what really happened to his species. Unless you were living under a rock for the last 50 years, you know exactly what he will find. But why does Zaius call this literally earth-shattering revelation Taylor’s destiny, and not his past, which is technically the case? The answer for that lies within Zaius’s role in the ape society. Unlike all other apes, Zaius knows the history of the painful and complex relationship between apes and humans. He knows how humans’ natural attraction to war, persecution, prejudice and cruelty sealed their eventual doom, and is (perhaps vainly) attempting to keep that “intellectual virus” from spreading to his beloved apes. He knows that once an intelligent human like Taylor has a chance to restart yet another attempt at civilization for his species, the same ugliness and destruction that comes with his inner nature will certainly plague his descendants. Therefore, he knows that Taylor will find both his past and his future on that beach. Today, the Planet of the Apes franchise is still going strong. The timeless appeal of these films stems from the fact that they explore high-concept themes, like the inherent viciousness and frailty of human nature, with brutal clarity, told with a refreshing lack of condescension and philosophical hand-holding. By presenting a fable world where what we now consider to be animals are dominating humankind, they hold a mirror to our ugliness, arrogance and, just maybe, our chance for redemption. Co-written by Twilight Zone co-creator Rod Serling, the sci-fi fable structure of the novel’s adaptation fits Serling’s sensibilities so impeccably that the original Planet of the Apes might be the closest we’ll ever get to a single-story, feature-length Twilight Zone movie, creating a kind of balanced synergy between pure genre excitement and level-headed morality tale. —Oktay Ege Kozak


3. Black Dynamite

Year: 2009
Director: Scott Sanders
Stars: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Tommy Davidson, Kevin Chapman
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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It may seem to be a bit late to spoof the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, but don’t tell the guys who made Black Dynamite. Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White and Byron Minns have made a funny satire whose distance from the source material works to its advantage. It pulls its style from films like Shaft and Coffy, using a low-grade film stock, polyester clothing, and afro wigs to mimic their textured look, but it pulls most of its humor from the same vein of silliness that produced movies like Airplane!, expecting an audience that responds to absurdity, not movie allusions. Even if your nearest exposure to Foxy Brown is through a Quentin Tarantino homage, Black Dynamite likely has a joke aimed at you.–Robert Davis


4. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Release Date: April 22, 2022
Director: Tom Gormican
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Lily Sheen, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Jacob Scipio, Neil Patrick Harris, Alessandra Mastronardi, Paco León
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

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It’s virtually impossible to think of an actor who has consistently maintained a larger presence—on or off the screen—than Nicolas Cage. From screaming “Not the bees!” in The Wicker Man to his gloriously bizarre southern accent in Con Air, Cage has been delivering audiences quotable gems and iconic moments since the early 1980s, inadvertently forming something of a cult around himself in the process. No one appreciates this presence more than Tom Gormican, the director and co-writer of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a film that stars Cage as himself. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent expertly weaves together numerous kinds of stories. At times, it’s a buddy comedy, and Cage and super-fan Javi (Pedro Pascal) have such palpable chemistry that they effortlessly lift the genre to the height of its powers. At others, it’s a straight-faced spy-thriller, with stunts from Cage that are bound to remind the audience of classics like National Treasure and The Rock. But the best part of The Unbearable Weight is its impressive amount of self-awareness. Most of this comes from Cage himself, who superbly channels caricatures that audiences know and love. His sleazy, long-haired alter-ego “Nicky” (billed as Nicolas Kim Coppola, Cage’s real name) recalls Cage’s cavalier 1990s-era Con Air slash Wild at Heart persona. Think Adaptation if Kaufman had gone the machismo route. Cage plays Nicky to his absolute limits, using a hilariously emphatic cadence while giving Nick impassioned pep talks on the significance of recapturing the fame he held 20 years prior. Even though The Unbearable Weight pokes fun at the fact that, at times, it follows the cold formula of a blockbuster film…it still follows the cold formula of a blockbuster film. Indeed, locations and action sequences are often replete with flat and predictable CGI, and a lot of the dialogue feels stilted. Despite these weak spots, The Unbearable Weight works on almost every level. If you’re a Cage superfan, then you’re guaranteed to revel in the bounty of references to his filmography. But even if you’re not (though you will become one after this movie), this is an emotional, engaging, funny, riveting film.—Aurora Amidon


5. Sisu

Year: 2023
Director: Jalmari Helander
Stars: Jorma Tommila, Aksel Hennie, Jack Doolan
Genre: Action
Rating: R

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Thank goodness Jalmari Helander got sidetracked by COVID. If not for the pandemic, the showy filmmaker of Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale might’ve spent his time making a sci-fi comedy instead of the stripped-down Nazi-smasher Sisu. In the vein of so many Westerns and modern actioners with strong, silent (often legendary) heroes, Sisu positions the gruff and grizzled Jorma Tommila as a Finnish supersoldier-turned-miner during WWII. He strikes gold, the Nazis strike him, he strikes back. Nearly dialogue-free and barely 90 minutes, Sisu is about as barebones an action movie as you could hope for, despite it seeing its protagonist demolish tanks, planes and an outrageous number of dirty Nazis. Tommila glowers well enough, but it’s the warped ideas that Helander and fight choreographer Oula Kitti have him pull off — like sucking the air from an enemy’s lungs after slicing his throat underwater, or tossing a mine right onto someone’s juicy noggin — that make Sisu an outrageous delight. “Sisu” is meant to be an untranslatable term referring to an indomitable, stubborn will. But we get the meaning well enough, watching “the Immortal” survive hangings, drownings, gunshots, explosions and plane crashes. We never doubt his safety, but we’re always excited to watch him pull through. That’s an elegant, intangible quality so many action movies miss, and one most could get nearer to if they just had their hero fight a bunch of racists. There’s not much to Sisu, but there doesn’t have to be — what is there satisfies a particularly primal itch so well, that it feels greedy asking for more. And with Tommila’s gold miner around…well, greedy is the last thing I want to be. Also: Don’t worry, the dog lives in this one.—Jacob Oller


6. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Year: 2019
Director: Marielle Heller
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG

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


7. Lady Macbeth

Year: 2017
Director: William Oldroyd
Stars: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

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Director William Oldroyd can’t be faulted for not keeping his tone straight throughout Lady Macbeth, a bleak thriller that only gets bleaker and more suffocating the more freedom it affords its main character. Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman sold into marriage in 19th century rural England, and though her much older husband has no interest in spending time with her, let alone acknowledging her, she’s kept practically in amber, her time spent falling asleep on the couch while staring at the wall or holding long, pregnant silences while her servant (Naomi Ackie) sees to the various exigencies of keeping Katherine alive: dressing, cleaning, feeding, waking. Not until her husband goes away on business—of some short, because it’s beyond her lot as a woman to know any details—does she begin to enjoy her days, eventually starting up a clandestine relationship with a thick-necked stable boy (Cosmo Jarvis) her age. Unwilling to give up her new way of life and newer love, she pretty much puts aside all else to keep what she wants. Less an obvious horror movie than something more subtly unnerving, Lady Macbeth offers little clarity as to whether the vile actions Katherine inevitably takes are really her fault, or if that’s what was bound to happen with such a stifled life. Oldroyd is skilled at keeping clean answers just out of reach the further Katherine devolves into desperation, but at some point near the end of this gorgeous black heart of a film (props to cinematographer Ari Wegner for drawing endless shades of gray out of Britain’s landscape), Alice Birch’s screenplay pulls back from Katherine’s perspective to provide little sign of what’s going on behind her glazed-over stare. Pugh is captivating, allowing just enough madness to shine through a few cracks in her bemused exterior, never quite giving us enough to really chart the degree of her character’s moral decline. —Dom Sinacola


8. Spotlight

Year: 2015
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

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Always a director who’s drawn great performances from his ensembles—we’ll set aside the disastrous The Cobbler for a moment—actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has made his best drama since his first, 2003’s The Station Agent, with this stripped-down depiction of the Boston Globe’s 2001 investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual misconduct. Starring the likes of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery, Spotlight is about nothing more than watching smart, passionate reporters do their job, digging into a story and using their savvy and moxie to bring it to the world. The cast lets its characters’ jobs fill in the backstory of their lives, and in the process Spotlight does what Zodiac, The Insider and All the President’s Men did before it: let us appreciate the difficulty and rigor required for good journalism. Special kudos to best-in-show Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, a ruthless bloodhound of an investigative reporter who may inspire a lot of impressionable high school juniors in the audience to take up the profession. —Tim Grierson


9. Django Unchained

Year: 2013
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: R
Runtime: 165 minutes

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The best thing about Quentin Tarantino is also the worst thing about Quentin Tarantino—he believes, wholeheartedly, in whatever he’s doing. Most of the time, what he’s doing consists of overly referential homage mashups with dialogue that would give most screenwriters carpal tunnel. The old video store clerk is sublime at saying important things through mediums that don’t usually convey them—Kung Fu films, revenge fantasies and spaghetti Westerns, for starters. He is an artist dressed as a Philistine, splattering the screen with cartoonish violence when what he’s really blowing is our minds. Although Tarantino’s effort here isn’t his best, it is his most ambitious, and for someone capable of so much, that means quite a lot.—Tyler Chase


10. The Thin Red Line

Year: 1998
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

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It seems unbelievable now that even an auteur as legendary as Terrence Malick actually secured financing to make poetry on the scale of The Thin Red Line. Pitched up on lush location in Australia and armed with a cast bursting with talent, Malick returned from moviemaking hibernation in 1998 with author James Jones’ story of a company of GIs battling Japanese forces in the paradise of Guadalcanal, all refracted through his own glorious lens. The result was an abstract and relentlessly contemplative epic, awash with gorgeous cutaways to jungle and beast, and—atypically for a filmmaker whose main fixation has always been the environment his characters reside in—chock-full of great acting. (The performances are faultless to a man, but a terrifically zen Jim Caviezel and a perpetually enraged Nick Nolte take the prize.) Hardly ever can a film sustain that aching feeling of raw emotion across its entire running time; this almost three-hour masterpiece does.—Brogan Morris


11. Nightcrawler

Year: 2014
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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“A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” That’s the image Nina (Rene Russo) evokes when describing her news program in director Dan Gilroy’s tremendous thriller Nightcrawler. It’s tempting to adopt that as a metaphor for the entire film—Gilroy’s first, by the way, which makes his achievement doubly impressive—but while that is definitely part of the equation, what drives this movie forward is the menace that lurks just below the surface, beneath a calm exterior personified by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom. A nocturnal rambler who scrounges for anything he can steal and sell, Lou is a motivated self-starter. Full of meaningful acronyms, manufactured self-confidence, and drive powered by self-improvement seminars, catchphrase wisdom and insight, he’s looking for a career to break into on the ground floor. When he comes across the lucrative world of nightcrawlers, freelance stringers who race after breaking news stories—the bloodier, the better is the prevailing wisdom—he has the ambition, opportunity and, most importantly, the moral flexibility to excel. Gyllenhaal, who shed in excess of 30 pounds for the role, has rarely—if ever—been better. Lou is calm, frank, goal-oriented and even borders on charming at times, but this measured exterior belies the inherent violence you spend the entire movie waiting to see erupt. Nightcrawler is tense and intense, ferocious and obsessed, and crackles with energy and a dark sense of humor.—Brent McKnight


12. The Social Network

Year: 2010
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella
Rating: R
Runtime: 128 minutes

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The Social Network follows the evolution of one of the most financially successful and problematic institutions of the 21st century. The film opens with a break-up scene between Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man completely devoid of social skills, and his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). Zuckerberg confuses Erica with his literal, machine-like translations of her every word while occasionally throwing in a sarcastic witticism. Throughout the film this sort of wordplay ebbs and flows with comedy and tragedy. After Erica walks out on him, an inebriated Mark goes back to his Harvard dorm room and disses Erica with aspersions to her character and bra size on the school’s social page for everyone to see while also creating a new social website which, with help from a few friends, eventually becomes Facebook. Most of the film takes place as a series of flashbacks based on testimony in two lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg. The first is from a trio of Harvard upperclassmen who claim to have contracted Zuckerberg to create the network, and who also belong to an elite club that Mark wishes to be a part of. The other suit comes from his best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) whose story in the film is as central as that of Zuckerberg’s. The disintegration of their relationship begins when the creator of Napster, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) takes a bandwagon seat on the rising company while creating a wedge between the co-founders. Garfield is wonderful as the unsure Saverin who wants to carefully guide Facebook into its future while Zuckerberg and Parker are full steam ahead. Like Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, greed is still king and the wolves are at the door. —Tim Basham


13. ParaNorman

Year: 2012
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin
Rating: PG
Genre: Animated, Horror, Comedy

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The beautifully crafted stop-motion film ParaNorman opens with two important pieces of information. First, we observe our young hero as he watches a B-zombie flick, complete with choppy edits and a boom mic that creeps its way into the frame. This lets us know that the filmmakers approach the upcoming story with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. Second, Norman carries on a conversation with his grandmother. This part of the scene is only significant once we learn that grandma is quite dead. The tale that follows is part Something Wicked This Way Comes, part The Goonies. The town of Blithe Hollow, once a colonial village, now a struggling tourist trap, has lived under the threat of a witch’s curse for 300 years—long enough for fear to transmogrify into camp. Norman can see and talk with ghosts, an ability that might make him quite popular with the dead set, but one that does little to improve his social standing with his living schoolmates… or his immediate family. At school, Norman is subject to bullying from students and teachers alike, and we quickly come to care for this small, tough, sweet boy as he patiently cleans the word “freak” from his locker. Another social outcast, the rotund Neil latches onto Norman, becoming his new best friend (whether Norman wants one or not). The arrival of Neil also indicates the arrival of the true heart of this endearing film, which is its humor. ParaNorman took two years to animate, and it shows in the exquisite craftsmanship of its design and execution. The artistic direction illustrates such a love for detail and texture that every bit of scenic design, from the town hall to a plastic bag caught in a fence, creates a perfect world for this story. Lead Animator Travis Knight and his sprawling team of animators, designers, and fabricators execute the vision with great flair. The result is a clear-headed and touching film about finding your own purpose, accepting others as they are and, most importantly, forgiveness. —Clay Steakley


14. An American Werewolf in London

Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Few directors have ever displayed such an innate tact for combining dark humor and horror the way John Landis does. At the height of his powers in the early ’80s, one year removed from The Blues Brothers, Landis opted for a much dirtier, grittier, scarier story that stands as what is still the best werewolf movie of all time. When two travelers backpacking across the English moors are attacked by a werewolf, one is killed and the other infected with the wolf’s curse. Haunted by the simultaneously unnerving and hilarious visions of his dead friend, he must decide how to come to terms with the monster he has become, even as he strikes up a relationship with a beautiful nurse played by Jenny Agutter. The film lulls you into comfort with its witticism before springing shocking, gory dream sequences on the viewer, which repeatedly arrive unannounced. The key moment is the protagonist’s incredibly painful, traumatic full transformation, set to the crooning of Sam Cooke doing “Blue Moon,” which is still unsurpassed in the history of the genre. Legendary FX and monster makeup artist Rick Baker took home the first-ever Academy Award for For Best Makeup and Hairstyling for creating a scene that has given the wolf-averse nightmares ever since. – Jim Vorel


15. The Northman

Release Date: April 22, 2022
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Björk
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes

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Forged in flame and fury, Robert Eggers’ The Northman is an exquisite tale of violent vengeance that takes no prisoners. Co-written by Eggers and Icelandic poet Sjón (who also recently co-wrote A24’s Icelandic creature feature Lamb), the film is ever-arresting and steeped in the director’s long-standing penchant for period accuracy. Visually stunning and painstakingly choreographed, The Northman perfectly measures up to its epic expectations. The legend chronicled in The Northman feels totally fresh, and at the same time quite familiar. King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) is slain by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who in turn takes the deceased ruler’s throne and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) for his own. Before succumbing to fratricide, Aurvandill names his young son Amleth (Oscar Novak) as his successor, making him an immediate next target for his uncle’s blade. Narrowly evading capture, Amleth rows a wooden boat over the choppy waters of coastal Ireland, tearfully chanting his new life’s mission: “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” Years later, Amleth (played by a muscular yet uniquely unassuming Alexander Skarsgård) has distinguished himself as a ruthless warrior among a clan of Viking berserkers, donning bear pelts and pillaging a series of villages in a furious stupor. The Northman is an accessible, captivating Viking epic teeming with the discordant, tandem force of human brutality and fated connection. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that the film feels noticeably less Eggers-like in execution compared to his preceding works. It boasts a much bigger ensemble, seemingly at the expense of fewer unbroken takes and less atmospheric dread. In the same vein, it eschews the filmmaker’s interest in New England folktales, though The Northman does incorporate Eggers’ fascination with forestry and ocean tides. However, The Northman melds the best of Eggers’ established style—impressive performances, precise historical touchstones, hypnotizing folklore—with the newfound promise of rousing, extended action sequences. The result is consistently entertaining, often shocking and imbued with a scholarly focus. It would be totally unsurprising if this were deemed by audiences as Eggers’ definitive opus. For those already enamored with the director’s previous efforts, The Northman might not feel as revelatory as The Witch or as dynamic at The Lighthouse. What the film lacks in Eggers’ filmic ideals, though, it more than makes up for in its untouchable status as a fast-paced yet fastidious Viking revenge tale. The Northman is totally unrivaled by existing epics—and perhaps even by those that are undoubtedly still to come, likely inspired by the scrupulous vision of a filmmaker in his prime.–Natalia Keogan


16. Casino

Year: 1995
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci
Rating: R
Genre: Crime

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Martin Scorsese’s second adaptation of a Nicholas Pileggi book, Casino is often overlooked as a lesser iteration of the first, 1990’s Goodfellas. The two are similar enough—pretty much all that’s missing behind or in front of the camera is Ray Liotta—but while this 1995 film may not rise to the level of Goodfellas, a movie that falls short of one of the best films of the decade can still reach pretty high. Casino marks the eighth collaboration between two of the best of their generation (Scorsese and Robert De Niro), but the film is more than just bookend material for some sophomore film studies class. In addition to De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci turn in performances that make this look beneath the facade and underbelly of Las Vegas in the 1970s and early 1980s a fascinating journey for all. —Michael Burgin


17. John Wick: Chapter 4

Release Date: March 24, 2023
Director: Chad Stahelski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgård, Shamier Anderson, Clancy Brown, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama, Lance Reddick, Scott Adkins
Rating: R
Genre: Action

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Early in John Wick: Chapter 4, our titular Baba Yagaplayed by Keanu Reeves after a decade as a near-mute terminator monk, his monastic frock a fine three-piece bulletproof suit and his tonsure a greased-down mane the color of night—is still in hiding following Chapter 3’s cliffhanger. Of course, an ever-increasing bounty on his head hasn’t stopped him from continuing to murder a lot of people, including the Elder (George Georgiou), who’s not the same Elder from Chapter 3, because, as this new Elder explains, he killed the last guy and took over, as the Elder did before that guy, and the Elder before that guy did to the guy before that guy. The convoluted hierarchy of the John Wick Murderverse exists only to multiply and grow more convoluted: In Chapter 2, no one sat above the High Table, except for, as introduced in Chapter 3, the Elder, who sits above and also beside it, but apparently has his share of problems. Just as the membership of the High Table is susceptible to sociopathic sibling rivalry (see Chapter 2), there will always be another Elder to kill, another personal war to wage, another henchman to shoot repeatedly in the face. “No one, not even John Wick, can kill everyone,” we hear said in an awed tone. But no, he must kill everyone. This is what we want and this is how this ends, how John Wick can be free: He kills the whole world. If Chapter 3 began immediately following Chapter 2, rarely letting up from its video game formula as levels grew more difficult and bad guys became more immune to John Wick’s superpower (murder), then Chapter 4 is the franchise’s most deliberate entry yet. With three movies worth of stakes and worldbuilding behind it, Chad Stahelski’s latest hyper-violent opus is a modern masterpiece of myth-making indulgence and archetypal action cinema. Stahelski and Reeves know that their movie must inhale genres, superstars, models, singers, Oscar winners and martial arts icons, DTV and prestige alike; consume them and give them space to be sacrificed gloriously to a franchise that values them. Behold Donnie Yen—who feels absolutely at home in the Murderverse—but also Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama and Clancy Brown and Scott Adkins, the latter given a lengthy neck-snapping set piece that’s both scene-chewing madness and an expected physical display from Adkins. It’s all patient and omnivorous and beyond ridiculous. Stahelski wields bodies to push them to god-like ends. Everything on screen is stupendous. This is what we want, to watch John Wick murder the whole world, forever and ever amen.—Dom Sinacola


18. Speed

Year: 1994
Director: Jan de Bont
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels
Rating: R
Genre: Action

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Of course Hollywood workhorses like Jan de Bont (making his directorial debut) and cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak (a favorite of Sidney Lumet) would go on a tear with the action movie equivalent of backseat driving through L.A. A ridiculous yet perfectly high-concept premise pairs with something the moviemaking world knows like the back of their hands at ten and two: Tooling around the California highway system. Jock cop Keanu Reeves and his man-in-the-chair Jeff Daniels take on an unhinged Dennis Hopper and a similarly unhinged (but much flirtier) Sandra Bullock as they all try to keep a bus above 50 MPH—or risk a bomb’s detonation. A soft, easygoing Reeves nicely balances the intense close-up camerawork, catchy soundtrack stingers and panicky energy onboard the claustrophobic bus, with measured dialogue and a quick smile compared to the quippy supporters. (Joss Whedon’s presence as a punch-up artist is heavily felt, yet mostly matches the self-awareness.) Hopper’s cartoonishly villainous smarm is an even more effective engine than the ones on the freeway, pumping the efficient thriller’s just-made-its and almost-blew-its like a charisma-powered piston. De Bont and Bartkowiak convince us that we know how elevators, trains, buses and bombs work; Hopper and Reeves convince us that it doesn’t matter. The American film industry’s relationship with vehicular madness would never be the same after Speed, as things only got more fast and furious from here. It’s a strange subgenre you’ve found yourself in when you’re praising Speed’s elegance, but rarely has a breakneck tour of the mechanical ways in which we navigate the world felt more exhilarating. —Jacob Oller


19. Leave No Trace

Year: 2018
Director: Debra Granik
Stars: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Dale Dickey, Dana Millican, Jeff Kober, Alyssa Lynn
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama

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It takes all of Leave No Trace before anyone tells Will (Ben Foster) he’s broken. The man knows, perhaps ineffably, that something’s fundamentally wrong inside of him, but it isn’t until the final moments of Debra Granik’s film that someone gives that wrongness finality, that someone finally allows Will to admit—and maybe accept—he can’t be fixed. Why: Granik affords us little background, save tattoos and a few helicopter-triggered flashbacks and a visit to the hospital to acquire PTSD meds all implying that Will is a military vet, though what conflict he suffered and for how long remains a mystery. As does the fate of Will’s deceased wife, mother to teenage girl Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). As does the length of time Will and his daughter have been living off the grid, hidden within the more than 5,000 acres of Portland’s Forest Park, a damp, verdant chunk of the city’s northwest side overlooking the Willamette River. As does the pain at the heart of Leave No Trace, though it hurts no less acutely for that. Toward the end of this quietly stunning film, Tom shows her father a beehive she’s only recently begun to tend, slowly pulling out a honeycomb tray and tipping a scrambling handful of the insects into her cupped palm without any fear of being stung. Will looks on, proud of his daughter’s connection to such a primal entity, knowing that he could never do the same. Will begins to understand, as Tom does, that she is not broken like him. Leave No Trace asserts, with exquisite humanity and a long bittersweet sigh, that the best the broken can do is disappear before they break anyone else. —Dom Sinacola


20. Ambulance

Release Date: April 8, 2022
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Jake Gyllenhaal, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, Olivia Stambouliah, Jackson White, A Martinez, Cedric Sanders
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

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If Ambulance, Michael Bay’s 15th feature currently basking in a gleeful critical reappraisal of Bay’s canon, feels as entelechial as Bad Boys II, it can only be because Bay has found himself in the absolute best time to be Bay. Though an ensemble of Angelenos fills out the film as it barrels to pretty much the only conclusion it could have, Ambulance is about as tidy as a Michael Bay film can get. Within ten minutes we’re deep in Ambulance: Strapped for money to pay his wife’s escalating medical bills, let alone care for their infant son, Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) agrees to join his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal, always a joy to behold) on one last big score, a bank heist that goes inevitably wrong. Subsequently, they shoot a cop (Jackson White) and commandeer the cop’s ambulance, also occupied by the “best” EMT in L.A., Cam Thompson (Eiza González)–just one more embittered soul in the grand gray tapestry that is the City of Angels. As Danny loses control and Will more and more accepts his fate as the offspring of a fabled bank-robbing psychopath, their bank robber father spoken of in hushed tones and unbelievable stories, the entire militarized might of the LAPD descends upon the stolen ambulance, led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt), a man who festishizes the police enough that Bay doesn’t have to. Even when FBI Agent Clark (Keir O’Donnell) gets involved, he’s only invited into Monroe’s inner circle because he went to college with Danny. Bad Boys and the fever dream of Bad Boys II are about how Michael Bay thinks that cops must be psychopaths in order to confront a modern psychopathic world. In Ambulance, as much as his vision of the LAPD comprises sophisticated surveillance and world-killing artillery to rival the most elite military power of the U.S. government–making sure it all looks really fucking cool–he also makes sure to interrupt an especially destructive chase sequence (as he once had Martin Lawrence declare the events happening on screen obligatory and nothing else) among so many especially destructive chase sequences, to have Monroe’s left hand, Lieutenant Dhazghig (Olivia Stambouliah), tell him how many tax dollars they’re annihilating. Later, many, many police officers die in explosions and hails of gunfire, bodies indiscriminately everywhere. One detects glee in these scenes, as if Bay’s countering Monroe’s dismissal of so many flagrantly abused tax dollars by blowing up half the LAPD in a spectacle that practically demands applause. Maybe Michael Bay no longer sees the utility in unleashing psychopathic cops on a psychopathic world, but maybe he never did. In Bay’s L.A., there are no sides, no good guys and bad guys, just a person who “saves my life” or doesn’t—just people with holes punched into their bodies and people without. This is Bay’s distinction between the “haves” and “have nots”: People who have mortal trauma and people who don’t. The film’s disposable blue collar Italian lump, Randazzo (Randazzo Marc), puts it simply: “L.A. drivers! They’re all mamalukes.” Behold this urban wasteland of struggling mamalukes—it teems with more style than we’ll ever deserve.–Dom Sinacola

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