The 50 Best Movies on Starz (May 2021)

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The 50 Best Movies on Starz (May 2021)

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. Five great films departed in May (like Predator) only to be replaced by films like Crooklyn.

From recent hits like Little Women to underrated classics like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—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 50 best movies on Starz right now:


50. Borat

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Year: 2006
Director: Larry Charles

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It’s easy to overlook or underrate Borat in 2016, or Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, given the Sacha Baron Cohen movies that followed. The likes of Bruno and The Dictator managed to water down Cohen’s original statement, but his faux-documentary about an awkward Eurasian traveler remains kind of brilliant. It was a wide-release comedy that plainly and critically looked at an average American attitude of dismissiveness and outright xenophobia toward people we don’t understand, as well as a willingness to feign earnestness if they thought taking advantage of Borat might somehow benefit them. Borat might say things that are naive, but at least they’re sincere products of the character’s fictitious upbringing. Borat the character is no charlatan—the “real” people he meets in America, on the other hand, can’t make the same claim. One final aside: This film, along with Anchorman, is the loudest I’ve ever heard an audience laugh in a multiplex theater. —Jim Vorel


49. Night of the Living Dead

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Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero

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It’s not really necessary to delve into how influential George Romero’s first zombie film has been to the genre and horror itself—it’s one of the most important horror movies ever made, and one of the most important independent films as well. The question is more accurately, “how does it hold up today?”, and the answer is “okay.” Unlike, say Dawn of the Dead, Night is pretty placid most of the time. The story conventions are classic and the black-and-white cinematography still looks excellent, but some of the performances are downright irritating, particularly that of Judith O’Dea as Barbara. Duane Jones more than makes up for that as the heroic Ben, however, in a story that is very self-sufficient and provincial—just one small group of people in a house, with no real thought to the wider world. It’s a horror film that is a MUST SEE for every student of the genre, which is easy, considering that the film actually remains in the public domain. But in terms of entertainment value, Romero would perfect the genre in his next few efforts. Also recommended: The 1990 remake of this film by Tom Savini, which is unfairly derided just for being a faithful remake. —Jim Vorel


48. Office Space

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Year: 1999
Director: Mike Judge

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Great comedy almost always has a dark heart. (The flipside is also true of great horror: It almost always teeters on the edge of farce). But this makes sense: Laughter is our response to absurd and unexpected contradictions; comedy needs its darkness to fully flourish. Mike Judge, the writer/director of Office Space, knows this well. His humor concerns the lowest, saddest schmucks on the corporate ladder (thus 99% of us can relate) who mostly feel dead inside, turning to Kung Fu films and cheap beer to escape. It’s a subject as old as capitalism itself: Most of us are unhappy, not doing what we want, feeling our dreams escaping us more and more with each passing day. For protagonist Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), his goal is a subversive joy: Independently, from no wellspring of societal angst (unlike, say, The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock), he wants to do nothing. And besides being a hilarious antidote to scores of predictable, cookie-cutter hyperactive hero-protagonists, his needs feel absolutely real, and is what the corporate rat race deserves in an anti-hero. The do-gooder replaced by the do-nothing. It also helps that Judge has a cast perfectly on board with his tone. Together, they turn caricature into depth, a cartoon into vivid life. —Harold Brodie


47. Sleepy Hollow

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Visually, there’s no denying that Sleepy Hollow is among Tim Burton’s most sumptuous films. A modern retelling of the story of Ichabod Crane makes Johnny Depp’s character an eccentric police inspector rather than a nebbish school teacher, although he does retain plenty of the typical Depp mix of awkwardness, vulnerability and smoldering sensuality. The story almost plays like a Burton film crossed with something by say, Wes Craven if it’s Craven in one of his more populist, money-making moods—a Georgian-era supernatural slasher film with a touch of American giallo as Crane tries to work out not the identity of the killer (the headless horseman) but who is controlling the killer. It all builds to a big finale that feels a little out of place and overwrought, a seeming overture toward making a financially successful film that doesn’t feel entirely necessary. Sleepy Hollow is at its best in its quieter moments, living off the strength of Depp and its creepy art direction, rather than when resorting to fight and chase scenes. But the gothic visuals definitely do carry it quite a ways. —Jim Vorel


46. Ghost World

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Year: 2001
Director: Terry Zwigoff

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Terry Zwigoff’s appropriately somber, stylish, brutally honest yet surprisingly tender Ghost World, adapted by Daniel Clowes and Zwigoff from Clowes’ comic, intimately captures the post-high school struggles of Enid (Thora Birch in perhaps the best performance of her career), a too-cool-for-school type who puts on a seemingly impenetrable exterior of ironic detachment as an attempt to hide her ever-growing insecurities regarding the adult life that’s rearing its ugly head more and more each passing day. She’s so “cool,” that she’d call Ellen Page’s Juno a poser who sold out to a corrupted mainstream ideal of teen rebellion. When Enid and her equally non-chalant BFF Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) see a missed connections ad in the classifieds (remember those, printed on actual paper?), they decide to pull a prank by setting up a date with the poster. What shows up is a shell of a man, a middle-aged dork named Seymour (Steve Buscemi) whose inherent sadness immediately attracts Enid. At first, she becomes friends with Seymour because of a hint of guilt, but eventually comes around to realize that she might have feelings for him. This scares her more than anything, since it also implies that maybe, just maybe, the perfect Ms. Enid, who’s above everyone else, might not be that different from this lovable weirdo who’s into collecting old Americana and blues records. Zwigoff and Clowes, together toeing the comic’s fine line between exaggerated cartoon characterizations and grounded regular people as protagonists, occupy Ghost World with eccentric people, to be sure, but people we all know well. Some of us even are those people. —Oktay Ege Kozak


45. Miller’s Crossing

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Year: 1990
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

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Like O Brother Where Art Thou a decade later, Miller’s Crossing is a terrible choice for those who prefer their Coen films a little less Coen-ish. It’s highly stylized, confusing and often ridiculous. But the parts that do work are glorious: Gabriel Byrne’s casual indolence, Albert Finney’s blustering menace, and most of all, John Turturro’s masterful painting of the spectacularly weaselly Bernie Bernbaum. “Look in your heart!” —Michael Dunaway


44. Big Hero 6

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Year: 2014
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams

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Some superheroes fight evil in the name of justice. Some fight for revenge. Baymax, the incomparably huggy automaton in Disney’s Big Hero 6, fights to help his young ward, teen genius Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), as he mourns a devastating personal tragedy. This makes Baymax an outlier of sorts in today’s crop of big screen good guys, who tend to answer the call to action for the sake of something bigger than themselves; there are no armored space worms with whom he must tangle, no volcanic sleeper agents working for a megalomaniacal terrorist that he must thwart. Instead, there’s just a sad, lonely kid who needs someone to lean on. Big Hero 6 features characters from the pages of a Marvel comic book, and there’s a lot here that feels familiar, particularly the origin story trappings and the assembly of the super team. But every single step that Big Hero 6 takes is carried on a genuine undercurrent of emotion. The film alternates between profound joy and the deepest heartbreak. Like the Tony Starks and Peter Parkers of the world, Hiro uses his gifts as a means of dealing with his trauma. But few among those films feel quite so refreshingly alive as Big Hero 6. There’s a beat here, a rhythm that the film follows from start to finish as it juggles adult themes through the lens of children’s fare. This is an immensely entertaining picture—bright, vivid and smartly constructed on tropes that show themselves a bit too much in its peers. Thrilling, well-crafted set pieces are only one aspect of what makes blockbusters like this tick. The bond between a boy and his android makes up the rest.—Andy Crump


43. Frozen

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Year: 2013
Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

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I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Frozen was a game changer in the Disney princess canon. Not only does it belie the idea that a woman is a damsel in distress needing to be rescued by a man but it openly mocks that anyone would marry someone they just met—something that has happened in nearly every Disney princess movie since the dawn of time. If you think this is something trivial, it isn’t. This kind of pop culture seeps into the psyche of young children and helps to shape the way they view the world. Walk away from Frozen and you know that Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are perfectly capable of saving themselves, thank you very much. But Frozen is more than an empowering movie for all ages. It features a standout performance from Josh Gad as the loveable snowman Olaf, a powerhouse ballad that doesn’t grow old no matter how many times you hear it and terrific songs throughout. Whether you’re seeing it for the first time in forever or for the one thousandth time, Frozen will warm your heart. —Amy Amatangelo


42. Looper

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Year: 2012
Director: Rian Johnson

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Joseph-Gordon Levitt channels his inner badass to act as the younger version of Bruce Willis, nailing (with the help of some CGI and prosthetics) Willis’s ubiquitous action presence. The best case made on film for “If time travel is outlawed, only outlaws will have time travel!”, writer/director Rian Johnson wisely treats the tech as a given, focusing instead on the dramatic scenarios humans’ use of it would create. The result is one of the more thrilling time-travel-infused flicks of the last few decades, and clear evidence as to why Johnson took a Star Wars film under his wing.—Michael Burgin


41. Crooklyn

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Year: 1994
Director: Spike Lee

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Crooklyn won’t go down in Lee’s filmography as a thematically important achievement, but it still might be his most heartwarming work to date. This makes sense, since it’s pretty much an autobiographical film about growing up in 1970s Brooklyn, communicated through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. Sure, he takes on some serious issues, like the drug use that permeated his neighborhood, but it’s mostly a love letter to his youth, giving back to the borough that defined him as an artist and a person. Zelda Harris is downright adorable as Troy, a precocious nine-year-old firecracker in 1973 who’s beginning to truly discover her home and how it connects to her family, which is made up of her four siblings, her teacher mother (Alfre Woodard) and her jazz musician father (Delroy Lindo). The exuberant color scheme makes Brooklyn look like a child’s dream, full of hidden wonders, placing the audience squarely in Troy’s point-of-view. Crooklyn also holds the distinction of employing the most surreal application of Lee’s trademark “floating” tracking shot.—Oktay Ege Kozak


40. The Fly

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Year: 1986
Director: David Cronenberg

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Between The Blob, The Thing, and The Fly, the ’80s were a magical decade for remaking already iconic ’50s horror/sci-fi movies. The original Kurt Neumann/Vincent Price version of The Fly is sometimes waved away as nothing more than a “camp classic,” but it’s a substantial film that is often more mystery than it is horror—a tightly focused narrative hinging around the question of why a woman has confessed to messily crushing her husband to death in a hydraulic press. Vincent Price is as entertaining as the fly-crossed scientist as you would no doubt expect him to be. The Cronenberg version, like the remake of The Blob, takes that basic premise and dresses it in both gallows humor and body horror, as Jeff Goldblum’s researcher literally watches pieces of his body gelatinize and melt away in front of him. As “Brundle” he’s great, full of manic sexual energy, ingenuity and eventually insectoid-enhanced physicality. Along with The Thing, the film is one of the last great hurrahs of the practical effects-driven horror era, featuring some of the more disgusting makeup and gore effects of all time. After seeing a man-sized Brundlefly vomiting acid, it’s difficult to ever look at a common housefly in the same way again. —Jim Vorel


39. Trading Places

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Year: 1983
Director: John Landis

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A biting take on the The Prince and the Pauper story as filtered through the prism of the Decade of Greed, Trading Places stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as, respectively, high class broker Louis Winthorpe III and homeless street vagrant Billy Ray Valentine. As part of a “nurture vs. nature” experiment by the Duke Brothers, two wealthy, yet unscrupulous business magnates, Louis and Billy end up abruptly, per the title, trading places on the social ladder. The Dukes frame Louis for drug dealing, resulting in him losing both his job and his girlfriend, and then bail Billy out of jail and provide him with Louis’ old job and high-class apartment. Once Billy and Louis discover this deception, they launch a plan for vengeance. Featuring both Murphy and Aykroyd at the top of their game, Trading Places represents a prime example of the kind of smart, yet decidedly un-PC comedies that could only exist at a certain point in the ’80s (Aykroyd’s blackface-heavy disguise in one scene, for example, would never fly in today’s market). A stone-cold ’80s classic if there ever was one. —Mark Rozeman


38. Spider-Man

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Year: 2002
Director: Sam Raimi

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If this was a list of the most influential or important superhero films, then Sam Raimi’s 2002 film would come in well ahead of its 2004 sequel—perhaps even top three. Though there had been a few Marvel movies before it (X-Men, Blade), Spider-Man showed how exhilarating it could be when a film strove to do the Marvel universe justice rather than apologizing for and obscuring the source material. Granted, a few decades and casting iterations from now, Tobey Maguire will likely not be considered the best Spider-Man ever, but he was good enough. (And J.K. Simmons’ turn as J. Jonah Jameson will likely never be touched.) More importantly, in the hands of Raimi, a Spider-Man fan with chops, Spider-Man carried with it the same species of wonder that Jurassic Park had—instead of “Wow, this is what it would be like to see real dinosaurs,” we got to see what it was like for a comic book to come to life. —M.B.


37. Groundhog Day

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Year: 1993
Director: Harold Ramis

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In the rich vein Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code, Groundhog Day stars Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a rude, unhappy man who, after spending the day covering the news of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania’s groundhog celebration, wakes up to relive the day once more. There’s little explanation as to why this happens, but Groundhog Day strips back all the mysteriousness and pretention of time travel as a concept to celebrate the hilariously mundane. It also helps that this film is a single-serve capsule of Bill Murray, America’s Greatest-of-All-Time Comic Sweetheart, at his very best.


36. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising

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Year: 2020
Director: Kenji Nagasaki

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Since it first aired back in 2016, My Hero Academia has secured its place as one of the best, if not arguably the best, shounen action anime of its generation. Set in a world populated by humans born with unique abilities known as “quirks,” the series follows Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, a young boy who dreams of one day becoming a hero despite being born without any powers. Taken under the wing of All Might, the world’s number one hero, as his secret apprentice and gifted with the elder’s awesome generation-spanning ability One for All, Midoriya is accepted to the U.A. Hero Academy, and soon embarks on his personal journey to one day succeed All Might as the world’s greatest hero. The second standalone spin-off feature since 2018’s Two Heroes, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising takes place some weeks following the conclusion of the first arc of the series’ fourth season. With All Might now retired, Midoriya and his classmates are charged with a work study assignment protecting the residents of the small island of Nabu. Things quickly turn sour when the island is attacked by a group of villains led by the mysterious Nine; cut off from the mainland and with no way to contact their mentors for help, it’s up to Midoriya and his friends to uncover Nine’s plot and rescue the island from disaster. Sure, the action is thrilling and the visual effects are stellar, but Heroes Rising feels like an hour-long filler episode capped by an exhilarating 20-minute spectacle that’s as impressive as it is ultimately inconsequential. Maybe that’s enough.—Toussaint Egan


35. Call Me by Your Name

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Year: 2017
Director: Luca Guadagnini

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In Kyle Turner’s Paste review of Call Me By Your Name, he muses that in the film’s opening credits “there’s enough of a hint to suggest that, as Michael Stuhlbarg’s professorial patriarch Mr. Perlman mentions, the statues are ‘daring you to desire.’ The film, while occasionally inching towards it, never takes that dare.” Much has been made about whether the film flinches at the physical love it champions, or embraces with grace and decorum the same love, finding eroticism in other (maybe juicier, stickier) images. Regardless, the allure of Call Me By Your Name, the story of a 17-year-old rich white kid (Timothee Chalamet) and his Italian summer tryst with a hunky grad student (Armie Hammer), is in all of that anticipation and lazy anxiety, of never being quite sure what’s right for you because you’re not yet quite sure what “you” means. Perhaps Guadagnino never “takes that dare” because the film is less about the consummation of the two characters’ desires, and more about the dissolution of that consummation, the need to let it go for all its fantasy and excitement and confusion, and then to live with the quiet, needling regret that more could have been done, that somehow the desire, the sumptuousness of the flesh, should have been better grasped. It’s in Michael Stuhlbarg’s final, bittersweet monologue, as well as in Chalamet’s credits-long fireplace cry: Call Me By Your Name is an exquisitely shot movie, alive with the privilege and luxury of what it means to spend one’s formative sexual years in the Italian countryside, but more importantly, it’s a movie that aches far harder for the lives and relationships that could have been. —Dom Sinacola


34. Elf

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Year: 2003
Director: Jon Favreau

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In a sense, making Christmas “funny” can be as easy as responding to something meant to be sincere and joyful with cynicism and darkness. Is there any comedic Christmas character that embodies a genuine love of Christmas? Thankfully, we have Will Ferrell’s fearlessly committed performance as the titular elf to answer this question with a resounding yes. Nothing represents Christmas cheer better than Will Ferrell in yellow tights, a green parka and cone-shaped cap. He wrings a ton of comedy out of responding to everything with wide-eyed, childlike wonder. Arguably our generation’s classic Christmas movie, watching Buddy the Elf makes you laugh, makes you smile and, to paraphrase from the Grinch, makes your heart grow three sizes bigger. Even if the movie devolves into a formulaic, race-against-the-clock flick in the last 30 minutes, its myriad gifts outweigh its problems. From endlessly quotable nuggets like “cotton-headed ninnymuggins”; the hysterical fruit spray scene; Zooey Deschanel showcasing her pre-She & Him singing chops; Mr. Narhwal and the arctic puppets (a band name if I ever heard one); to, finally, Ferrell’s infectious enthusiasm, Elf is instant holiday merriment. —Greg Smith & Jeremy Medina


33. The Dark Crystal

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Year: 1982
Director: Jim Henson, Frank Oz

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In 1982, audiences were mixed on Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, which was very much not in the same vein as The Muppets or Sesame Street. The strange, mystical film reveled in its fantasy setting, and in particular, its unique character design. One of the primary races in The Dark Crystal, the Skeksis, are massive, grotesque and wizened vulture-like creatures reminiscent of the inhabitants of Versailles—if those inhabitants were already dead. That was enough to spook parents looking for softer family-friendly fare in the ’80s, and perhaps rightfully so. And yet, revisiting the film in 2019 ahead of Netflix’s prequel series, it still feels bold. The Dark Crystal was ahead of its time in a number of ways, both in its “puppets, but dark!” aesthetic as well as its outstanding use of animatronic arts. There are sequences within The Dark Crystal that make time for the unnamed, fascinating, totally bizarre creatures that inhabit the world of Thra. These moments aren’t tied to plot, only world-building—which is a luxury few fantasy properties feel they can afford. A now rarely-used narrative device sets up the world of Thra and the origin of the central conflict: There is a life-giving crystal that was broken in two, giving rise to two opposing races. The aggressive Skeksis took over the throne while their counterparts, the gentle Mystics, retreated to the mountains. Caught up in the subsequent war was an elf-like race called Gelflings, all of whom have now been eradicated other than Jen (adopted by the Mystics) and—as we later come to find—Kira (adopted by the Podlings). Jen is also the one who has been chosen to find the shard to restore the crystal, bringing peace and balance to Thra. (That opening narration saves almost an entire act of exposition, and allows The Dark Crystal to have a hugely respectable 93-minute runtime.) Aside from a unique take on a familiar “chosen one” fantasy trope, where The Dark Crystal really shines is in its visual splendor. It’s clear how intricate and ornate these creatures are for casual Muppets fans as well as modern audiences. The design work—from the large-scale characters down to Fizzgig—creates an environment where there’s something intriguing to spot in every frame. Thra is a dying world that nevertheless feels fully alive because of the care that Henson, Gary Kurtz and Frank Oz put in to managing all of these extraordinary details. —Allison Keene


32. Men in Black

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Year: 1997
Director: Barry Sonenfeld

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Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith have tremendous chemistry in what’s essentially a buddy cop movie. But if the cocky, young cop starts out sure of himself, Jones’ Agent K quickly brings him down to an alien-infested Earth. Delightful in tone, director Barry Sonnenfeld plays into all our wildest conspiracy dreams, turning our everyday world into a secret refuge for an imaginative variety of creatures from planets beyond. The plot might be a little slim, but the alien vignettes along the way are clever enough to carry the weight.—Josh Jackson


31. Whiplash

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Year: 2014
Director: Damien Chazelle

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It’s easy to celebrate musical genius after the fact, overlooking the endless early years of struggle, self-doubt and maniacal dedication that went into making artistry that seems effortless. Happily, that’s not the case with Whiplash, which thoughtfully considers talent’s emotional and physical toll, and for most of its running time this character drama remains ambivalent about the sacrifices needed for greatness. If a young hopeful ends up to be Charlie Parker, then the pain was worth it. But what happens if he doesn’t? The film stars Miles Teller as Andrew, a first-year drum student at an elite New York music conservatory. With few friends and a father (Paul Reiser) he loves but also fears of becoming—his dad longed to be an author but wound up a high-school teacher—Andrew has staked his entire future on becoming a drummer. His goal is to catch the eye of Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the intimidating, ruthless conductor of the school’s competitive jazz band. Fletcher immediately notices Andrew’s dedication, but his invitation to the young man to sit in with the group turns out to be a double-edged sword. The instructor’s admiration only means that he’s going to push Andrew incredibly hard, reducing him to tears and spraying demeaning, emasculating taunts until Andrew performs to his satisfaction. Teller shows his ability to play an outsider who’s not a stereotypical rebel or misfit but someone with great sensitivity and surprising anger. Quietly, Teller starts to reveal the depth of Andrew’s desperation, not just to become a world-class drummer but also to escape his father’s career failure and to prove to Fletcher that he’s got what it takes to succeed. Simmons is a fine complement in a far showier role, a force of nature with an uncompromising steeliness.—Tim Grierson


30. Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Year: 2019
Director: Jon Watts

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Coming on the heels of the hefty hunk o’ cinematic event that was Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home is, as one would expect, much lighter fare. That doesn’t stop this 23rd and final entry in the MCU’s initial Feige Phase barrage from serving as an effective coda for Endgame even as it presents what is, in many ways, a classic Spider-Man adventure. Along with having a Grade A capturing of a C-tier villain (Mysterio), Spider-Man: Far from Home is (relatively) small, sincere and funny, and has more than your usual MCU allotment of post-credit bombshells. Though a comparatively recent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is already Tom Holland’s fifth film as Spider-Man in three years. Like so many other casting decisions made in the MCU, he’s proven himself near perfect in the role. No Golden Age lasts forever, and the MCU will eventually stumble—but as long as they can spin box office (and audience) gold from relatively the Mysterios and Vultures of Spidey’s rogues gallery, it won’t be Holland’s Spider-Man that is the first to stumble. —Michael Burgin


29. Out of Sight

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Year: 1998
Director: Steven Soderbergh

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As through Jim Jarmusch’s eyes in Only Lovers Left Alive, Detroit via Steven Soderbergh is a metropolis equal parts romance and history, both a place where people can escape their typical lives for a time and a place that people want to escape to leave behind the suffocating weight of centuries of human industry. Though he photographs the city in the cobalt blues of cold temperatures and the biting grays of colorless winter, Soderbergh seems to revel in the weird sprawl of Metro Detroit, fascinated by how the violence of boxing matches at the State Theater can so quickly—as if it were only a matter of changing a green screen—lapse into the wealthy compounds of Bloomfield Hills or the crystalline hotel rooms of the Renaissance Center, where you can eat a $25 burger listening to gun shots in the street below. Out of Sight is by far the best Elmore Leonard adaptation, the only one to truly embrace Leonard’s hometown as a place far more magical—far more dangerous and upsetting and beautiful and enchanting—than any director has ever admitted before. The rollicking yarn about a bank robber and consummate prisoner Jack Foley (George Clooney) who meets U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) mid-prison-break and then entertains dreams of going clean to weirdly woo her, the film’s dedicated to its Michigan metropolis because no other locale has similarly, best and marvelously charmed its way to the bottom. —Dom Sinacola


28. Airplane!

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Year: 1980
Director: Jim Abrahams

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The writing trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (ZAZ) defined a genre with their disaster-movie spoof in 1980. The jokes fly fast and furious, from the “Who’s on First” confusion of a crew that includes Roger and Captain Oveur (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”) to Oveur (Peter Graves) asking a kid in the cockpit, “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” to an old lady translating jive (“Jive-ass dude don’t got no brains anyhow! Shiiiiit!”) to “stop calling me Shirley!” Ridiculous and ridiculously quotable, it’s the funniest spoof film of all time. —Josh Jackson


27. Starship Troopers

starship-troopers.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven

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Glistening agitprop after-school special and gross-ass bacchanalia, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers delights in the ultraviolence it doles out in heavy spurts—but then chastises itself for having so much fun with something so wrong. Telling the story of a cadre of extremely attractive upper-middle-class white teens (played by shiny adults Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Nina Meyers, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris) who get their cherries popped and then ground into hamburger inside the abattoir of interstellar war, Verhoeven cruises through the many tones of bellicose filmmaking: hawkish propaganda, gritty action setpieces and thrilling adventure sequences, all of it accompanied by plenty of gut-churning CGI, giant space bugs and human heads alike exploding without shame or recourse or respect for basic physics and human empathy. As much a bloodletting of Verhoeven’s childhood trauma, forged in the fascist mill of World War II Europe, as a critique of Hollywood’s cavalier attitude toward violence and uniformly heroic depictions of the military, the sci-fi spectacle can’t help but arrive at the same place no matter which angle one takes: geeked out on some hardcore cinematic mayhem. —Dom Sinacola


26. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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Year: 1998
Director: Terry Gilliam

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Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was harshly criticized upon its release: It was dubbed too incoherent, without enough character development, too indulgent in its sickening display of excess—though critics had to concede that it was surprisingly faithful adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name. So for those fans of Thompson’s writing, Fear and Loathing feels right—how else to capture the hallucinatory nightmare of the original work? Gilliam and his collaborators create a staggeringly baroque vision of Las Vegas able to easily induce in any viewer the feeling that he or she has been huffing some of the same detrimental vapors inhaled onscreen. Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro are appropriately unhinged as Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo, respectively, and other recognizable faces (Cameron Diaz, Flea, Gary Busey) flit in and out of the film as if in a dream. It may be an incoherent mess, but it’s a one-of-a-kind mess, capturing the seductive incoherency at the heart of its source material. —Maura McAndrew


25. Millions

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Year: 2004
Director: Danny Boyle

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Maybe more than any other modern-day director, Danny Boyle has turned his attention to nearly every genre, from black comedy to horror to sci-fi to biopic to psychological thriller. Tucked in among that filmography is the delightful family dramedy Millions, his only non-R-rated film. The story follows Damien, a quiet, kind and naïve Catholic school boy who finds a bag of money while hiding out in his makeshift cardboard fort. While his brother uses the money for his own gain, Damien looks for ways to help the poor. The money—British pounds slated to be destroyed after the U.K.’s conversion to Euros—was stolen from a train going through town, and the robbers want it back. In the place of Hallmark platitudes and sentimentality, you have real characters and gripping storytelling. It’s a story about family, generosity and doing the right thing—a rarity for films that are this well made. —Josh Jackson


24. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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Year:2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino

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


23. L.A. Confidential

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Year: 1997
Director: Curtis Hanson

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This sumptuous adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel never visits Roman Polanski’s preferred corner of Los Angeles, but it rivals Chinatown in both quality of filmmaking and cynicism of spirit. This film not only announced Hanson as a filmmaker well beyond his previous work (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), but endeared Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce to American audiences by giving them their first signature roles. This tabloid version of the City of Angels celebrates all the sex, corruption and other seedy circumstances the superficial city can provide. It offers a string of unforgettable sequences, from Bud White’s Yuletide raid to Exley’s interrogations to the final shootout where the film’s utterly Ellroy perspective on police morality is (quite literally) executed with masterful precision. At the time of its release, L.A. Confidential was praised as a throwback, a smeared portrait of the 1950s embracing the spirit of crime noirs (and even westerns) of the 1970s. That was more than 20 years ago. Here’s hoping some young punk or frustrated journeyman is ready to dust off these storytelling tropes again to produce something this timeless. —Bennett Webber


22. Do the Right Thing

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Year: 1989
Director: Spike Lee

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Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee’s brutally direct masterpiece about America’s fraught race relations, compacted within a block of Bed-Stuy during the hottest day of a 1989 summer, might be hypnotically entrenched in late ’80s aesthetic and style, but its tragic breakdown of racial conflict is timeless. Like a master manipulator of tone and tension, Lee meticulously turns up the heat until the inevitable explosion tears apart the society with which Lee’s spent the course of the movie making us fall in love. Tragedy expands tenfold. Powered by amazing performances from a great ensemble cast—from established heavy hitters like Ossie Davis, Danny Aeillo and Ruby Dee, to then-newcomers Martin Lawrence, Samuel L. Jackson and John Turturro—and Ernest Dickerson’s scorching cinematography, Do The Right Thing is one of those rare achievements that manages to be equal parts hilarious and devastating. It’s certainly one of a handful of quintessential American films. —Oktay Ege Kozak


21. The Fountain

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Year: 2014
Director: Darren Aronofsky

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Some people want to build a better mousetrap. Darren Aronofsky had to build a better spaceship. “There is no reason a spaceship would be built like a giant truck in space,” argued the filmmaker, not unreasonably. He had cause to debate the issue. His ambitious cosmic fable, The Fountain, traces a love story across a thousand years, from 16th-century Spain to contemporary America to interstellar space—which is where the spaceship comes in. As Aronofsky sees it, Hollywood’s imagination—driven by pulpier visions of the world of tomorrow—has been sorely lacking in this regard. And so Hugh Jackman’s 26th-century astronaut floats in—garbed as if bound for a yoga retreat in a pristine Zen-like biosphere, complete with an ancient tree that bleeds immortality-giving sap—as he approaches a distant star and a final revelation about that mysterious wellspring: the Fountain of Youth. The Fountain, which veers from hard science to utopian myth, delves into cutting-edge neuroscience, Mayan creation lore, the Spanish Inquisition, avant-garde botany and the crafting of fine stationery, among other things, all rather seamlessly interlaced. Maybe, just maybe, Aronofsky has built a better spaceship.—Steve Dollar


20. Little Women

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Year: 2019
Director: Greta Gerwig

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Problems with plot lines and coinciding facts have been points of contention among scholars, critics and fans of the cherished book for the better part of 150 years. Little Women has been adapted for TV, film, radio and the stage dozens of times, the most notable version (until now, arguably) being Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 film starring Winona Ryder as an especially hot-headed Jo. But even that down-to-earth rendition—one that introduced Little Women to a whole new generation of bookish girls who were raised on American Girl, I might add—doesn’t approach these inconsistencies and questionable romances with as much rhythm and vibrance as Greta Gerwig’s spunky, magical Little Women. Like Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, (which also starred Saoirse Ronan as its lead), it has an uninhibited appreciation for life. Jo (a wisecracking, wonderful Ronan), like any good Jo, is fiercely independent, except when it comes to her sisters: She dotes on sweet Beth (Eliza Scanlen, who puts a wise spin on the doomed girl), reveres the poised Meg (an accurately cast Emma Watson) and brawls with feisty Amy (played by Florence Pugh, who breathes new life into the oft-detested character). Marmee (the earnest Laura Dern) is the whole family’s moral compass, constantly encouraging her children to do the most good. I can’t say I’ve seen every single Little Women adaptation ever made, but Gerwig, who also wrote the script, weaves the women’s storylines together in a more clever and effective manner than that of any of those I have seen. She doesn’t just flip Little Women’s narrative arc on its head—she cracks it open and scrambles it. It’s such an engrossing experience that looking back at the film’s events in the rearview feels more like remembering a mood rather than recalling a sequence of scenes. Each actress brought such color to her role that all the moments have since swarmed together in my mind, leaving me with a content glow. Gerwig has a way of making her audiences feel something different at every beat. Maybe Little Women isn’t the radical feminist pamphlet we all want it to be; maybe it was never progressive and never will be. But its triumphs are the little ones: a gust of sandy wind covering Jo and Beth as they cling to each other on the beach, Marmee taking the scarf off her neck to give to a weary father who has lost his sons to the war, the poor John Brooke (James Norton) giving up a new suit so his wife Beth can have a fancy dress. These moments of compassion relay new meaning in Gerwig’s film, even if we’ve seen them 100 times before. —Ellen Johnson


19. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

crouching-tiger.jpg Year: 2000
Director: Ang Lee

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Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning epic is not only the highest-grossing foreign film ever in America (still), but it also happens to be a film that changed the cinematic landscape: an old-school wuxia flick, with pulpy soul and a romantic heart, that reinvigorated the genre for a whole new audience. Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi play 19th-century warriors whose loyalty and vitality are tested by a series of events that lead each to contemplate their many decisions that brought them together. Beyond the entrancing and lyrical storytelling, Crouching Tiger stands as a rare, beautiful beacon of hope: a foreign film that was actually universally embraced by Western audiences. Here’s to hoping that happens more often, though it’s been almost two decades and nothing has had the same impact since. —Jeremy Medina


18. 21 Jump Street

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Year: 2012
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

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Against all odds, 21 Jump Street—a movie based on a Fox television series remembered mainly for helping launch the career of Johnny Depp and briefly reminding the world that Dom DeLuise had a son—is an immensely enjoyable, frequently hilarious film. The premise is unchanged. Two youthful-looking (and since this is a comedy, spectacularly incompetent) police officers are assigned to a special division that places undercover agents in schools in an attempt to stop illegal activity. For officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), fresh out of the academy, this is not so much an opportunity as a richly deserved exile. Their mission, as delivered by a purposefully prototypical Angry Black Police Captain (Ice Cube): Contain the spread of a dangerous new drug that has shown up at a local high school. For Jenko, the return to high school represents a return to his glory days. For Schmidt, it’s more of a return to the scene of a crime where the body outlined in chalk looks suspiciously like his own. Unlike so many comic remakes, reboots and long-delayed sequels, 21 Jump Street doesn’t overly rely on nostalgia to generate its laughs. Hill isn’t doing anything he hasn’t done before, but that doesn’t make his deadpan-acerbic delivery any less funny, especially alongside the earnest doofus-ness of his partner. Hill and Tatum are supported by a strong ensemble of recognizable faces, including Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper and Chris Parnell. But though “ensemble piece” usually refers to cast and crew, 21 Jump Street is even more impressive when viewed as an ensemble of comedic approaches. There are laughs to suit all tastes—from sarcastic jibes to pratfalls, from pokes at film conventions (“I really thought that was going to explode.”) to exuberant, undeniably infectious, juvenile displays. And each is conveyed in a measure appropriate to its form. As a result, there’s just not much time spent watching 21 Jump Street without at least a smile on one’s face. —Michael Burgin


17. Spider-Man 2

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Year: 2004
Director: Sam Raimi

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Sam Raimi’s second turn at the franchise helm yielded what at the time was arguably the best superhero film ever, and one that, as its ranking on this list shows, holds up well a decade later. Spider-Man 2 relies on the same formula which made the first so well-received—non-intrusive fan service/call backs to the classic comics coupled with a faithful-enough rendition of a classic Spider-Man villain. Though his origin drifts a bit from the comics, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus is a delight, giving the film an emotional resonance on both sides of the classic hero/villain dichotomy even as it provides the wall crawler with an intelligent, deadly foe. The film also features one of the best fight scenes in the history of comic book films, made even better by the emotional punch of its conclusion, as an unconscious Spidey is supported and protected by the New Yorkers he has saved. Sadly, this effort would prove the apex of the Raimi/Maguire/Sony collaboration—and the best of the Spider-Man films thus far—though with the webslinger’s inclusion in the MCU, there’s hope.—Michael Burgin


16. Apollo 13

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Year: 1995
Director: Ron Howard

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Text books tend to focus on the .1 percent of the time when everything goes according to plan and the missions are accomplished without a hitch, ignoring the 99.9 percent of instances where they fail miserably. An insanely high level of malfunction and breakage is the name of the game when it comes to space travel, though, where even the slightest miscalculation can result in disaster. A seemingly endless series of failures, inspiring more and more tenacity in those involved with the program, is how we got to the stars in the first place. Ron Howard’s classic procedural/thriller centered on the Apollo 13 moon mission that ended in a race for time to save the astronauts onboard after a malfunction with their pod showcases these brave scientists’ go-for-broke inventive spirits while presenting a captivating thriller in the process. The attention to detail as far as the scientific solutions for the problem are concerned create a realistic setting, while the heartfelt performances led by Tom Hanks’ astronaut hero Jim Lovell provided the irresistible Oscar-bait.—Oktay Ege Kozak


15. The Thin Red Line

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Year: 1998
Director: Terrence Malick

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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


14. Tremors

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Year: 1990
Director: Ron Underwood

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Thirty years after the original hit theaters, the Tremors series refuses to go to its grave, as a sixth installment, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, arrived in 2018. Faded from the public consciousness at this point is the Kevin Bacon- and Fred Ward-starring first Tremors, an odd little fusion of monster movie and action comedy that first introduced us to Michael Gross’s “Burt Gummer,” who went on to become the de facto hero of the franchise in subsequent installments, minus one Reba McEntire. Tremors is likely a bit more visceral a film than one may remember, a fairly gory, silly yarn about the giant worms known as Graboids that infest the deserts of Nevada and threaten Ward’s ability to score a date with attractive young seismologists. It effectively transplants the psychology of a Jaws-like creature feature to dry land, wondering what exists just outside of our sight. This is most memorably demonstrated in the sequences wherein our cast is trapped on a series of boulders, the Graboids patrolling the edges: As in films like Night of the Living Dead or Cujo, the film creates claustrophobia by confining its characters to a small island of safety that is rapidly becoming untenable. —Jim Vorel


13. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Year: 2019
Director Marielle Heller

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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


12. Amour

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Year: 2012
Director: Michael Haneke

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Amour simultaneously illuminates the horrors and beauty of aging. Who would not wish to live until their twilight years like Georges and Anne, comfortably enjoying their last decade of life? On the flip side, who would not be ruined by seeing one’s spouse reduced to incoherent babbling and incontinence? Haneke lets it play out gently and without exploitation; this relationship and the events occurring onscreen feel real and relatable, but poetic all the same. An occasional nightmare infiltrates the proceedings, a disquieting interlude in the upper middle class comfort that Georges and Anne have existed in for most of their lives. Haneke uses no soundtrack music, allowing the brief moments of classical piano even greater impact and beauty. Amour is truly a great film, one that leaves the viewer feeling unsettled, but also pondering what it means to truly love and care for someone. —Jonah Flicker


11. Crazy Heart

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Year: 2009
Director: Scott Cooper

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Jeff Bridges’ performance as country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart arrives with “preordained best actor frontrunner” written all over it, thanks to the pundits whose business it is to phone the two or three Academy members they know every five minutes and keep us abreast of the shifting breezes in Bel Air. This kind of attention is both blessing and curse: Blessing in that it’ll actually draw a significant audience to a modest “music movie” (to invoke the least commercial of genres) which was rumored to be headed for home video before cooler and more Oscar-minded heads prevailed. The curse comes in how difficult it may be to get lost in the pleasures of his characterization without thinking, “Oh, that’ll make a nice clip on the Globes,” if you suffer from awards-season ADHD like me. —Chris Willman


10. Paranormal Activity

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Year: 2007
Director: Oren Peli

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Here’s a statement: Paranormal Activity is the most wrongly derided horror film of the last decade, especially by horror buffs. That’s what happens in the wake of massive overnight success, and immediately derivative, inferior sequels: The original gets dragged down by its progeny. The original Paranormal Activity is a masterful piece of budget filmmaking. For $15,000, Oren Peli made what is probably the most effective “for the price” horror movie ever released, surpassing The Blair Witch in terms of both tension and narrative while pulling off incredibly unnerving minimalist effects. Yes, there are some stupid, “I’m in a horror movie” choices by the characters, and yes, Micah Sloat’s “get out here so I can punch you, demon!” attitude is irritating, but it’s calculated to be that way. Sloat is a reflection of the toxic “man of the house” attitude, a guy who would rather be terrorized than accept outside help. Meanwhile, Katie Featherston’s realistic performance as a young woman slowly unraveling is a thing of beauty. But beyond performances, or effects, Paranormal Activity is a brilliant case study in slowly building tension, and in raising an audience’s blood pressure. I know: I saw this film in theaters when it was still in limited release, and I can honestly say I’ve never been in a movie theater audience that was more terrified. How could I tell? Because they were so loud in the moments of calm before each scare (the most dead giveaway of all: when a young man turns to his friends to assure them how not-nervous he is). This was just such an event—there were actually ushers standing at the entrance ramps throughout the entire film, just watching the audience watch the movie. I’ve yet to ever see that happen again. Deride all you want, but the arrival of Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of us. —Jim Vorel


9. Bridget Jones’s Diary

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Year: 2001
Director: Sharon Maguire

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Diehards may have been initially miffed at her casting, but Renée Zellweger was crucial to the movie’s success, boundlessly charming as Bridget, the British singleton who falls for Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver and (eventually) Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy. From her appallingly bad public speeches to lip-syncing sad F.M. songs in her pajamas, Zellweger refutes every crusty expectation anyone might have had. —Jeremy Medina


8. Steel Magnolias

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Year: 1989
Director: Herbert Ross

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Based on a stage play by Robert Harling, this story chronicles the bonds among a group of women in Louisiana. Occasioned by the death of the playwright’s sister from diabetes complications, it touches on the quotidian (but life-altering) dramas of friendship and love, marriage and parenthood, illness and lives cut short. Steel Magnolias stars Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts and is generally acknowledged to have initiated Roberts into stardom, though Sally Field’s performance is probably the standout. Not an overwhelmingly clever film, it is certainly a compassionate one, and it presents a humble and kind-spirited testimony to the sustaining power of female friendship. —Amy Glynn


7. The Orphanage

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Year: 2007
Director: J.A. Bayona

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It seems safe to say that director J.A. Bayona was more than a little influenced by Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone when he laid out The Orphanage, but the film also channels a more stately, gothic brand of horror rather than the dusty, dingy realism of del Toro’s Spanish Civil War ghost story. Here we have something with a bit more grandeur—a crumbling, seaside mansion that would look out of place if it didn’t have a ghost. Belén Rueda is fantastic as Laura, a woman who moves into the orphanage where she grew up with her husband and young son, before being drawn into the secret history of both the house and the other former orphans who once lived there alongside her. Deep-seated emotion and the impossible desire to protect loved ones from the inevitable permeate the film, but once the home’s restless spirits become active, it’s also quite chilling. Tomás (Oscar Casas), the sack-masked young boy you’ll no doubt see on the DVD cover of The Orphanage, cuts an iconic figure among child ghosts, but it’s the things left unseen that make The Orphanage chilling. In particular, the scene featuring a reprise of the knock-knock game once played by the orphans is almost unbearably tense. —Jim Vorel


6. Heat

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Year: 1995
Director: Michael Mann

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Those first watching Michael Mann’s L.A. crime masterpiece should view it with a clean slate—and from then on dissect it in great detail, with all of its separate elements pulled apart to determine how they eventually came together to complete such an intricately constructed work of storytelling. Anything in between would seldom do this sprawling (yet taut) epic justice. Exploring the concept of the cop and the robber on opposite sides of the same coin is a premise that pretty much every crime drama has delved into in one way or another, yet Mann manages to create the dichotomy’s epitome. By implementing, with surgical precision, an impressively pure vision of a grand, boastful and larger-than-life crime story, Mann delivers a culmination of his previously tight, deliberately stylized work (namely, Thief and Manhunter). With its hauntingly cold cinematography, moody score, terrific performances by a slew of legendary stars and character actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer) and—let’s not forget—the mother of all cinematic shoot-outs in its center, it more than likely represents the peak of Mann’s ever-shifting career. —Oktay Ege Kozak


5. Good Will Hunting

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Year: 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant

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The story of a genius janitor capable of solving the world’s most difficult mathematical problems, Will (Matt Damon) is both exasperating and lovable as the Boston boy reluctant to live up to his true potential. Robin Williams takes the oft-clichéd mentor paradigm and turns it into a wholly original character as Will’s therapist Sean. But what’s special about this film is the way Gus Van Sant captures the existential angst and, ultimately, the frustrated striving of a brilliant boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star in their own breakthrough roles as best friends closer than even blood brothers. Though the movie touches on heart-wrenching topics like childhood abuse and heartbreak, the sarcastic humor and witty banter are just as memorable. Effortlessly charming and never overwrought. —Amy Libby


4. Titanic

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Year: 1997
Director: James Cameron

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Almost 20 years after its theatrical debut, James Cameron’s blockbuster epic is still so ubiquitous in the pop culture zeitgeist, its filmmaking marvels are drowned out by young Kate-and-Leo nostalgia and that damned Celine Dion caterwaul (not to mention the now late James Horner’s iconic score). Cameron’s ear for dialogue may be woefully leaden, but he’s a shrewd storyteller, plunking a Romeo-and-Juliet redux aboard the doomed ocean liner and flanking the fictional romance with historical details, groundbreaking special effects and jaw-dropping visuals. The narrative lapses are at times dumbfounding-let’s face it, old Rose, who tosses a priceless artifact into the abyss after waxing ad nauseam about herself, is a thoughtless jerk—and the aforementioned dialogue is awful (to say nothing of Billy Zane doing his best mustache-twirling silent movie villain) but Titanic remains a painstaking testament to the all-in Hollywood spectacle.—Amanda Schurr


3. Friday the 13th

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Year: 1980
Director: Sean S. Cunningham

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The Friday the 13th film that started them all. Years after two summer camp counselors are offed while they’re getting it on, a new group with similar extracurricular activities arrives at Camp Crystal Lake. Hack, slice. A pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon (one of the series’ many casting gems) gets lucky and then immediately gets an arrowhead through the back of the throat. Bummer. It’s a competent and formative slasher flick, though it barely resembles the series it spawned, in ways both positive and negative. Its impact, however, can’t be argued, and it’s the film most singularly responsible for properly kicking off the slasher boom of the ’80s. Jason makes only a brief, but extremely memorable appearance. And the ending reveal is among the most shocking in horror history. —Jeffrey Bloomer


2. Stand By Me

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Year: 1986
Director: Rob Reiner

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Stephen King has referred to Stand By Me as one of the best-adapted films, which is curious, because it’s such a sincere film, hitting only some of the author’s signature themes. Still, it really captures some of the mythological aspects of childhood—the way the junkyard dog’s fearsome reputation can’t possibly stand up to reality, or how friendship can be a source of healing or how friendships change after innocence is lost. Gordie Lachance’s (Wil Wheaton) group of friends are the kinds of pals one has as a child: They come from very different worlds, but haven’t yet learned that they’re not supposed to hang out together. Would that real-life friendships could persist and reflect these ones more often. —Jim Vorel


1. Inside Out

inside-out.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Pete Docter

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When Pixar is at its best, the studio’s films aren’t just massively entertaining and wonderfully funny—they’re almost piercingly emotional, touching on universal sentiments with such clarity, such honesty you feel they’re speaking directly to you, and you alone. (This may be why people’s favorite Pixar films are so fiercely defended: We take these movies personally.) Inside Out may be the best Pixar has released in a while, especially after a string of disappointing and underwhelming efforts, but what’s most cheering about the film—and most like Pixar’s celebrated classics—is that it’s so emotionally astute. You cry because it makes you happy, and you cry because it makes you sad, and you cry because it’s all true. —Tim Grierson

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