The 50 Best Movies on Starz

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The 50 Best Movies on Starz

Starz continues to fly under the radar among its bigger premium cable and streaming competitors, but the Colorado-based channel has amassed more than 1,200 movies available to its subscribers. (HBO may have the prestige, but Starz has the much-better-curated lineup of flicks.) From giving us recent hits like Spider-Man Homecoming to one of last year’s best under-the-radar films, The Rider, not to mention a bundle of Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla movies 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. *batteries not included

Year: 1987
Director: Matthew Robbins
Old people and aliens partner to fight gentrification for the crowd-pleasing win! Spouses both on and off the screen, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn play a couple who are among the low-income residents of an apartment building at odds with The Man, who goes so far as to hire a local gang to vandalize the couple’s downstairs diner and further drive out the tenants. As luck would have it, a pair of friendly flying saucers dubbed “the Fix-Its” are in town, and squat on the top of the building while repairing anything and everything there in miraculous time. Oh, and the UFOs aren’t just do-gooding Fix-Its, they’re fertile, family-minded Fix-Its at that. Exec produced by Steven Spielberg and co. and with a script co-penned by Brad Bird (his first feature screenplay), *batteries not included is smart and cute, in the best sense of that term—the Fix-Its are positively adorbs. The cast (which also includes Elizabeth Peña) is pitch-perfect, especially the sprightly Cronyn. There’s a childlike innocence to the whole thing, and darned if it doesn’t charm you. —Amanda Schurr

49. Bloodsport

Year: 1988
Director: Newt Arnold
There are tomes to be written and classes to be taught on the perplexing existence of Bloodsport—purportedly our current President’s favorite movie, if one were to fast-forward through the talking parts, directed by an adult man named Newt—but perhaps the film is best summarized in one moment: the infamous Scream. Because in these 40 seconds or so, the heart and soul of Bloodsport is bared, with little concern for taste, or purpose, or respect for the physically binding laws of reality—in this moment is a burgeoning movie star channeling his best attributes (astounding muscles; years of suppressed rage; the juxtaposition of grace and violence that is his well-oiled and cleanly shaven corporeal form) to make a go at real-live Hollywood acting. Although Bloodsport is the movie that announced Jean-Claude Van Damme and his impenetrable accent to the world—as well as serving as the crucible for (seriously) every single plot of every Van Damme movie to come—it’s also a defining film of the decade, positioning martial arts as certifiable blockbuster action cinema. Schwarzenegger and Stallone? These were beefy mooks that could believably be action stars. Van Damme set the bar higher: his body became a better and bloodier weapon than any hand-cannon that previous mumbling, ’80s box-office draws could ever wield. —Dom Sinacola

48. The Transporter

Year: 2002
Director: Louis Leterrier
Before The Transporter, Jason Statham was, as far as most audiences knew, more cockney thug than lithe action beast, but after The Transporter came the frenetic shitstorm of Crank, followed by War, which pitted him against none other than Jet Li—so we can pretty much thank Louis Leterrier for believing in Statham’s martial arts prowess enough to give him both the right playground to inhabit and the license to take it apart. Imagine him a gruffer cousin to Jean-Claude Van Damme, just as given to finding himself shirtless, but more apt to preserve his mopey loner status—at least until some beautiful upstart maiden enters his life and throws herself at him. In that sense, Statham’s Frank Martin is the ideal distillation of Eastern martial arts archetypal heroes into the glossy neons of a Western action spectacle: Soundless, sexless and merciless, his physicality leaves no room for personality. Watch only the scene in which Frank tip-toes on bicycle pedals through an oil slick, roundhousing every dumb face in his impressive radius to propel body after body away on inky skids, to witness a lovable killing machine portrayed in as empirical—as perfect—a way as we can ever expect out of The Transporter’s more traditional Asian forebears. —Dom Sinacola

47. Wall Street

Year: 1987
Director: Oliver Stone
Like many fine actors before and after him, Michael Douglas will be remembered for taking home an Oscar for a role that’s probably not his best work. Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko may be too showy, too much of a representation of 1980s greed to be a flesh-and-blood person. (And on a nit-picky level, he’s not even the lead character: That’s Charlie Sheen’s impressionable Bud Fox.) But it’s the kind of strapping, swaggering bit of gusto that Douglas could execute with that slightly oily charm of his. If his other performances from the time suggested that such strutting men had weaknesses, Gekko threw cold water on our hopes: Even when the character finally gets his comeuppance, there was a sense that he remained master of the universe. It’s an iconic performance that unfortunately still feels all too relevant. —Tim Grierson

46. Foxy Brown

Year: 1974
Director: Jack Hill
One of two Pam-Grier-led exploitation classics from the early 1970s, Foxy Brown and Coffy are pretty much interchangeable, if only because Brown was supposed to be a direct sequel to Coffy before Roger Corman’s American International Pictures, which produced a considerable majority of blaxploitation films, decided that the two films should be “different.” Hence, in Coffy, we watch a hot nurse going undercover as a prostitute to bring down the drug cartel that destroyed her community and killed her sister, while Foxy Brown is about a hot person who is not a nurse who goes undercover as a prostitute to bring down the drug cartel that destroyed her community and killed her boyfriend. Regardless of negligible plot differences, it’s downright impossible to deny Grier’s effortless charm and presence. Every single gaudy one-liner lands like a swift kick to her enemies’ groins, Grier always owning the screen with a commanding blend of unwavering self-confidence and empathy. There’s a reason Grier’s is the first name that will come to anyone’s mind when female-led blaxploitation films are mentioned. —Oktay Ege Kozak

45. Twelve Monkeys

Year: 1995
Director: Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam takes Chris Marker’s La Jetée and makes it grimier. Beginning in post-apocalyptic Philadelphia in 2035, Twelve Monkeys glimpses Earth’s surface as contaminated by a virus that forces survivors to hide underground. Cole (Bruce Willis) must travel back to the ’90s to collect information on this deadly virus, but, of course, nothing goes as planned. While Cole questions his sanity, he must not only find a way to escape the mental institution in which he’s been placed, but he must also race against fate to undo his ultimate undoing. A cauldron of plot twists, excellent performances and environmentalism, Twelve Monkeys makes an inarguable case for inevitable human doom. —Christian Becker

44. The Unforgiven

Year: 1960
Director: John Huston
For a genre steeped in racism and misogyny, among other unfortunate Western signatures, John Huston’s 1960 film was ahead of its time in its progressiveness, albeit ambivalently so. Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn play siblings living in the Texas panhandle; their father was killed by the Kiowa tribe, leaving Lancaster’s Ben as the head of the household (which also includes brothers Audie Murphy and Doug McClure, along with Lillian Gish as the matriarch). When news come to light that Hepburn’s Rachel may not in fact be Ben and his brothers’ biological sister—and in the words of her suitor’s bigoted mother, a “dirty Indian” taken from the Kiowa—neighboring ranchers shun the family, and violence ensues. The film’s message of tolerance is half-assed at best (take Hepburn’s casting, for starters), but it was nonetheless an enlightened entry in a film canon whose anti-Native American sentiments are frustratingly pervasive. —Amanda Schurr

43. The Hunt For Red October

Year: 2012
Director: John McTiernan
Just because Sean Connery hung up his Walter PPK for good in 1983 didn’t mean he couldn’t keep the action films coming. For once, he got to play for the other team in The Hunt For Red October as a rogue Soviet submarine captain. What could be considered both the first and best adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel stars Alec Baldwin as the now-iconic Jack Ryan in a cat-and-mouse game with both the Russians and the Americans seeking Red October, serving up a thrilling undersea adventure. —Josh Jackson

42. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Year: 2007
Director: Jake Kasdan
Although Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story claims to be a spoof of biopics and their extreme depictions of artists—especially musicians—biopics’ exaggerations are a reflection of the frailties and eccentricities of the artists which they profile, so it’s hard to distinguish a satire about biopics from a satire about musicians. Regardless of what category the film falls into, Walk Hard does not really tow the fine line of being clever so much as it provides a fun and absurd romp with heaps of laughs. John C. Reilly, who plays rising and troubled music star Dewey Cox, skillfully presents a dopey-yet-conniving and shallow-but-sincere character with a heart of fool’s gold. Looking something like Johnny Cash crossed with Tom Waits, Cox has multiple addictions, wives and musical phases. Aspiring to a level beyond greatness after he accidentally kills his brother by splitting him in half with a machete when they are young boys growing up in Alabama, Cox is compelled to compensate for the loss of his brother, leading to a life of excess and indulgence. But Reilly isn’t the only star of the film. Kristen Wiig shines as Cox’s frustrated wife and the mother of their seemingly infinite amount of children; as Cox’s other frustrated wife and duet partner, Jenna Fischer is superb. Tim Meadows is hysterical with a stand out performance as Cox’s bandmate who can’t seem to stop doing or introducing Cox to increasingly heavy drugs. Additionally, cameos from Jack White (Elvis Presley), Jack Black (Paul McCartney), Paul Rudd (John Lennon), Jason Schwartzman (Ringo Starr), Justin Long (George Harrison), Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne and Lyle Lovett make the film even more ridiculous. Like most films of its ilk, Walk Hard may go too over-the-top to prove itself, but there is something charming about it, underscored by its genuine love of music and affinity for musicians. It is also obvious from one of the first lines in the film (“Guys, I need Cox!”) that this project neither takes itself too seriously nor asks the same of its viewers. —Pamela Chelin

41. The Wrestler

Year: 2008
Director: Darren Aronofsky
American filmmakers may have rediscovered emotional realism, but no conversion is more surprising than Darren Aronofsky’s. His unadorned portrait of a pro-wrestling has-been is built around a fantastic, physical performance by Mickey Rourke, captured with a documentary style that renders his dingy world all the more strange, funny and heartbreaking. In his own words, he’s “a broken-down piece of meat,” and Rourke, back from actor purgatory, brings ample baggage to the role—including his bulked-up, modified body, his sandpapered larynx and his craving for an unlikely comeback. Randy “The Ram” Robinson can’t keep doing pile drivers forever, especially as the game evolves into something even more brutal, but what else is there? He’s distant from his daughter, but he has a flirtatious, tentative relationship with an aging stripper (Marisa Tomei) who’s facing the same injustice of the ticking clock. The movie, with its dime-store romance, breezy dialogue and telegraphed emotion, feels a bit like a grungier Rocky, but at times the understated attitude, grime and destitution are closer to Raging Bull. —Robert Davis

40. Manhunter

Year: 1986
Director: Michael Mann
Received at the time to mixed reviews, its hyper-aestheticized allure surprisingly a bit too much for audience tastes in the mid-’80s, Manhunter more than 30 years later represents (maybe ironically) what the mid-’80s felt like to those who can’t quite remember it concretely. In other words, it’s a movie unstuck in time, a product of a decade that’s long past but so surreal and steeped in symbolism and superbly manicured that it seems to hide generations of terror inside it. The first of many adaptations of Thomas Harris’s novels, Manhunter crafted the model and set the dead-serious stakes for every iteration to follow, mooring dream-like imagery to a careful police procedural, attempting to depict the harrowing emotional experience of being an FBI profiler while never skimping on the melodrama. All the while, Mann draws big abstruse lines around the serial killer at the core of the film—a laconic lurch of a man, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), the so-called “Tooth Fairy”—who inhabits every scene with the foreboding promise that he is a person whose reality is a fragile delusion. Brian Cox haunts the fringes of the film, the first actor to inhabit Hannibal Lecktor (for some reason, first spelled that way), the manifestation of Agent Will Graham’s (William Peterson) Id, a foil to the “good guy” and a psychopath whose lack of empathy makes all the starker Mann’s intuitive sense of framing. Abetted by DP Dante Spinotti’s willingness to treat color like he’s lighting a giallo as much as a Miami Vice-minded crime thriller, in Manhunter Mann found an early career balance between the gritty minutiae of investigative police work and the abstract, cerebral violence of the investigations themselves. Dollarhyde wants only to be wanted, so he kills to be truly “seen” by his victims, which then, in his mind, transforms him into something powerful. Manhunter acts in much the same way, growing stronger the harder you stare into it. —Dom Sinacola

39. Clueless

Year: 1995
Director: Amy Heckerling
The Beverly Hills reboot of Jane Austen’s classic Emma was a sleeper smash in 1995 and, much more importantly, gave the phrase “As if!” to pop culture. Alicia Silverstone is Cher, a pretty, vain, superficial LA teen who goes on a mission to turn ugly-duckling classmate Tai (Brittany Murphy) into a Superswan, only to find herself eclipsed and adrift. A soft-edged satire of nouveau-riche Angeleno culture and simultaneously of the teen rom-com genre, Clueless is neither the most subtle nor the most hard-hitting film of its era, but it’s surprisingly seductive, in large part thanks to Amy Heckerling’s scrupulously researched script, which captured a dialogue style that both represented and influenced teen-speak of the time. —Amy Glynn

38. Roman Holiday

Year: 1953
Director: William Wyler
Start by casting the male lead with one the most honorable, decent leading men in the history of American cinema. Then cast the female lead with one of the most graceful, beguiling women ever to appear on screen. Add one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the music of Cole Porter and you’ve already got a world-beater of a film. But the tentative, demure performances by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, and the greatest bittersweet romantic ending this side of Casablanca, seal the deal. —Michael Dunaway

37. Babe: Pig in the City

Year: 1998
Director: George Miller
Three franchises mostly define George Miller’s almost five-decade career: Mad Max, Happy Feet and Babe—the latter comprised by the two films Miller wrote about the talking pig who thinks he’s a sheepdog. Miller has kept such a distinct visual language throughout these 50- some years, we can draw a direct aesthetic line between Fury Road’s lavish colors depicting the grotesque beauty of a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and Babe: Pig in the City’s old-school fairy-tale world, equally wondrous and deadly. Pig in the City is a textbook example of solid sequel-making: Instead of blindly recreating the charming family drama of Babe, following the titular pig hell-bent on defying his social place in his world, Miller dials the story’s fantasy to 11 to take us to an awe-inspiring metropolitan city that’s a hodgepodge of the most beautiful and recognizable urban spots in the world. Pushing human characters even more to the background, Miller’s film tells of Babe’s latest exploit leading a group of plucky and downtrodden animals in their quests for freedom and dignity. Like so many classic children’s entertainments, in Pig in the City, horrors lurk around every corner but the possibilities of life’s wonders similarly shine. —Oktay Ege Kozak

36. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Year: 2017
Director: Jon Watts
It’s simultaneously easy and impossible to forget that Spider-Man: Homecoming is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Easy, because unlike most every MCU film before it, with the partial exception of Doctor Strange, it manages to extricate its characters (and especially its scope) from the world-ending catastrophes faced by The Avengers to tell a story that is a little bit more “close to the ground,” to use Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) own words. Impossible because, well, Tony Stark is in this. Quite a bit, actually. Nevertheless, Homecoming manages to pull off the most difficult feat for just about any franchise installment: It justifies its own existence. Briskly paced and charming to a fault, it’s a Spider-Man movie that fully embraces both its source material and the perils of 21st century teenage life. Much of that praise is owed to Tom Holland, who is playing the first iteration of Peter Parker who, damnit, actually feels like a high school student—more or less. Holland is simply a likable face, a near-perfect blend of awkwardness, uncertainty and charisma exemplified by the simple physical comedy of putting on the Spider-Man costume. That act, in itself, summarizes the film. Previous Spider-Men would simply have suited up effortlessly and gone out to fight crime. This humanistic Peter Parker fumbles and yanks and tugs his suit into position, just as surely as he awkwardly realizes there’s nothing appropriate to swing on as he’s trying to move through a suburban area. It’s not hard to imagine this version of the character resonating with an under-21 age demographic in a much more profound way than any of his predecessors. It’s equally impressive that such a self-assured film would come from a relatively unproven director in Jon Watts, whose 2015 indie thriller Cop Car was received warmly enough, but whose only other feature was the patently absurd 2014 horror movie Clown. —Jim Vorel

35. Call Me By Your Name

Director: Luca Guadagnino
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 who you are. 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. Ghost World

Year: 2001
Director: Terry Zwigoff
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

33. Coming To America

Year: 1988
Director: John Landis
If this Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall classic, care of their team-up with John Landis (Blues Brothers), consisted only of the barbershop scenes inside of My-T-Sharp and nothing else, it would still be one of the greatest comedies of all time. As Prince Akeem from the fictional African country of Zamunda, Murphy travels to the great United States of America to evade his arranged marriage and find true love (in Queens, obviously). Akeem encounters all of the wonders of black America, saturated with satirical twists—the black preacher (via Hall as the incomparable Reverend Brown), the club scene, the barbershop, hip-hop culture and Soul Glo, it’s all here—but cameos from actors like Cuba Gooding Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Louie Anderson and Murphy’s Trading Places co-stars Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy take the Coming to America experience to a whole new level. An excellent comedy and a great tribute to New York City, this story of a prince just looking to be loved is a must-see for everyone—including those of us who’ve already seen it. —Shannon M. Houston

32. Rachel Getting Married

Year: 2008
Director: Jonathan Demme
Jonathan Demme’s unexpected foray into low-budget filmmaking may have made the case for pure and simple films better than the practitioners of Dogme 95 ever did. Written by Jenny Lumet, the ebullient and turbulent Rachel Getting Married is mostly about Kym (Anne Hathaway). She’s a complicated individual, funny and bitter, a recovering drug addict, and also something of a drama queen and crisis magnet who constantly reminds her friends and relatives of her damage. Most of them wouldn’t say that to her face, but when she returns home for her sister’s wedding, things are said, and Demme captures them like a nervous documentarian huddling with a hand-held camera. The film’s greatness flows from the authentic heart and soul of a wonderfully diverse family of characters. Demme seems to want it all to work out, and he celebrates that impulse in the wedding ceremony, which seems to swell outside the film’s bounds, suddenly featuring performances from Robyn Hitchcock and Fab 5 Freddy. It’s weird, and it surely breaks some kind of storytelling rule that says you can’t diffuse everything with a party. But sometimes you can. Sometimes you have to. —Robert Davis

31. The Red Turtle

Year: 2016
Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit
Wordless, The Red Turtle is an attempt to find new ways to communicate old truths—or old new ways, ways that feel new but aren’t. There is one word in The Red Turtle, but its isolation amongst the loud non-language of the rest of the film—the ever-present, somnambulant waves; the fauna of the film’s tiny “deserted” island; Laurent Perez del Mar’s score, which itself feels tuned to the natural rhythm of the world emerging within Michaël Dudok de Wit’s animated film—makes us question if it is actually a word at all. “Hey!” our nameless main character yells, otherwise carrying on a lifetime of subverbal communication, but it’s uttered so often amidst de Witt’s carefully built soundscape that it’s not all that impossible for the director to convince you there are no words in his film. Perhaps, a man of both Dutch and British descent, de Wit finds language a barrier between the audience and the emotional breadth of his (admittedly pretty archetypal) story, further inspired to ditch dialogue altogether by the film’s joint Japanese-French funding, and by the fact that if there’s any feature-length cinematic medium more forgiving of having no words, it’s animation. Consider that one simple example among many of the film’s power: Just as The Red Turtle could make you doubt whether a word you’ve known your whole life is actually that, so does it leave you with plenty of wonder—whether all animated films could be so lovely, so careful, so obviously the work of one person who’s given his everything to a single story because he might not have an opportunity to do so ever again. —Dom Sinacola

30. The Social Network

Year: 2010
Director: David Fincher
The Social Network is a befitting look at 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. Timberlake, as the flamboyant and cocky Parker, gives yet another notable portrayal. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a dysfunctional genius desperate to fit a month of ideas into a single moment. Throughout the film he displays an intense stare that masks and reveals his inner thoughts at the same time. Although he becomes one of the wealthiest men in the world (in his early 20s) his satisfaction comes from winning, with money merely being used as a measuring stick. Like Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, greed is still king and the wolves are at the door. —Tim Basham

29. Gallipoli

Year: 1981
Director: Peter Weir
Director Peter Weir has always been a master heartstring-puller; whatever his subject matter, he takes a very emotion-forward approach. That said, please understand that Gallipoli will not tug at your heart: It will flat out break it. A group of young men from rural Australia enlist in the Army during WWI and are sent to the Gallipoli peninsula in present-day Turkey to participate in the campaign that culminates in the tragic Battle of the Nek in 1915. This is a story about idealistic young men-primarily Archie Hamilton (Mike Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) losing their innocence about the real meanings and purposes of war. It’s a dissertation on futility and senselessness and no, there is not a happy ending. It’s also, like many films of the Australian New Wave, a coming-of-age story about Australia itself—a depiction of a young country trying to understand its identity. Weir’s always been a master at creating sympathetic characters whom we bond with as they bond with each other. In this film that emotional investment cruelly underlines the devastation of war. —Amy Glynn

28. American Psycho

american psycho movie poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron
There’s something wrong with Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—really wrong. Although he writhes within a Christopher Nolan-esque what-is-a-dream conundrum, Bateman is all-around evil, blatantly expressing just how evil he is, unfortunately to uncaring or uncomprehending ears, because the world he lives in is as wrong, if not moreso. Plus the drug-addled banker has a tendency to get creative with his kill weapons. (Nail gun, anyone?) Like anybody needed another reason to hate rich, white-collar Manhattanites: Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ is a scintillating portrait of corporate soullessness and disdainful affluence. —Darren Orf

27. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Year: 2006
Director: Larry Charles
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

26. Moonrise Kingdom

Year: 2012
Director: Wes Anderson
Where much of Wes Anderson’s past work can come off as chilly and detached, Moonrise Kingdom exudes a warmth and innocence generated by the earnest adolescent romance at its core. The year is 1965, and the sleepy New England island of New Penzance is stirred to action when Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and local resident Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) run away together. Sam is gone by the time we arrive, so all the expository characterization we learn is from what others say about him: His fellow Scouts dislike him, and his foster parents don’t want him back. By the time we catch up with him, he certainly looks the part of an “emotionally disturbed” orphan: slight of frame with heavy black glasses, a coonskin cap and a shadow on his upper lip, his uniform plastered with merit badges, both official and homemade. But Sam is full of surprises: He’s a quite skilled outdoorsman, and when he reunites with the mod girl with whom he’s been exchanging letters for a year, he matter-of-factly hands her a bouquet of wildflowers and begins imparting survival tips. Likewise, Suzy is an unexpected rebel with a volatile streak that upsets the balance among her lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and three little brothers. Delightfully, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola avoid clichés at every opportunity. The forces that would typically work to tear Sam and Suzy apart instead rally behind them, perhaps infected by the conviction of their love, which never wavers, even in argument: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Moonrise Kingdom is whimsical and, yes, precious, but it is so in the very best sense of the word. —Annlee Ellingson

25. Serial Mom

Year: 1994
Director: John Waters
Ever the prescient scumbag sophisticate, John Waters presaged America’s true crime fixation—in the wake of the Menendez brothers and the Pamela Smart trials, before, even, Gus Van Sant’s groundbreaking To Die For, and in the glow of the OJ Simpson murders—with the tongue-through-cheek Serial Mom. Farce at the fore, Waters fully understands the power of having Kathleen Turner play the titular murderer, a woman whose attractiveness, domesticity and class status allow her the unearned sympathy and forgiveness her despicable crimes require in order to continue, but never shies away from juxtaposing the friendliness of Beverly Sutphin’s (Turner) demeanor with the putrid nature of her psyche, producing a film as upsetting as it is hilarious about the corrupt core of society’s cravings for such shitty stuff. Even as her family attempts to curb her homicidal ways, Beverly succeeds in ending the lives of those whose lives she wants to end, her husband (Sam Waterston) and daughter (Ricki Lake) and son (Matthew Lillard) helpless against the tide of ratings and Nielsen numbers working to thwart them. With little room for debate, Waters lays the blame for such blithe misery at our feet, insisting that with every bit of reality TV wretchedness we consume, we encourage another psychopath to take that extra step toward their own 15 minutes of sinister stardom. —Dom Sinacola

24. Attack the Block

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Cornish
Written and directed by Joe Cornish, the sci-fi action comedy centers on a gang of teenage thugs—particularly their disgruntled leader, Moses, remarkably underplayed by a young John Boyega—and their housing project in South London. When the defiant juveniles take their crime to a new level and mug an innocent nurse (a delightful Jodie Whittaker), they immediately find themselves plagued by alien invaders. These hideous creatures, with their jet black fur and glowing blue fangs, want nothing more than to destroy the boys and their tower block. In the spirit of Spielberg—even more so than J.J. Abrams’ Spielberg ode of the same year, Super 8—Cornish uses alien beings as the catalyst to bring supernatural redemption to a person and a community. He focuses specifically on London’s socioeconomic bottom half and the turmoil surrounding them, exposing the lies that society’s youth buy into that prolong cultural discontinuity. A comical scene, in which Moses tries to make sense of the aliens while giving excuses for his criminal behavior, highlights this cleverly—he doesn’t just blame the government for violence and drugs in his neighborhood, he blames the government for the whole alien invasion. Cornish, however, doesn’t simply confront this hopeless attitude, he points toward hope—most vividly in the way Moses battles the aliens, his fight rapt with symbolic implications. Though he tries to escape the beasts through running and avoidance, he realizes he must inevitably face them, but not on his own. In Attack the Block, the alien invasion becomes one giant metaphor for the darkness that binds Moses, his friends and his block—a threat that can only be countered with the pivotal power of community. —Maryann Koopman Kelly

23. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Year: 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman
There’s no real need for the film’s credit-limned intro—a nature-documentary-like sequence in which the alien spores soon to take over all of Earth float through the cosmos and down to our stupid third berg from the Sun—because from the moment we meet health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and the colleague with whom he’s hopelessly smitten, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), the world through which they wander seems suspiciously off. Although Philip Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers begins as a romantic comedy of sorts, pinging dry-witted lines between flirty San Franciscan urbanites as Danny Zeitlin’s score strangely lilts louder and louder overhead, Kaufman laces each frame with malice. Oddly acting extras populate the backgrounds of tracking shots and garbage trucks filled with weird dust fluff (which we eventually learn spreads the spores) exist at the fringes of the screen. The audience, of course, puts the pieces together long before the characters do—characters who include Jeff Goldblum at his beanpole-iest and Leonard Nimoy at his least Spock-iest—but that’s the point: As our protagonists slowly discover that the world they know is no longer anything they understand, so does such simmering anxiety fill and then usurp the film. Kaufman piles on more and more revolting, unnerving imagery until he offers up a final shot so bleak that he might as well be punctuating his film, and his vision of modern life, with a final, inevitable plunge into the mouth of Hell. —Dom Sinacola

22. Night of the Living Dead

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Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
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

21. Office Space

Year: 1999
Director: Mike Judge
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

20. The Rider

Year: 2018
Director: Chloé Zhao
A dream dissipating. The Rider begins with flashes of a horse, in close-up, so intimately observed we immediately abandon all assumptions of symbolism or pretention of deeper meaning. Chloé Zhao’s second film invites social commentary and political dissection—it’s about the obsolescence of a certain way of life; about the death of toxic masculinity as exigency of a frontiersman’s spirit of adventure; about the failure of rural America to embrace an obvious socioeconomic future—but there’s nothing clearer, or more devastating, in The Rider than the bond between cowboy and horse. Said cowboy, and aforementioned dreamer, is Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young, lithe South Dakotan rodeo rider still recovering from a head injury during one of his eight-second stints, a blurry accident we re-watch with Brady via YouTube video on his phone. With a cast of non-professionals basically playing themselves, Zhao rarely pushes her actors to too riskily delve into melodrama, or anything, for that matter, that might make them uncomfortable. Instead, in Jandreau and his family, Zhao discovers a beautiful, intuitive sense of calm, which she reflects in long, mournful shots of Dakotan vistas, so unhurried and unhindered by the boundaries of the screen that each interstitial segment—often of Brady contemplating the world before him as he stands, his hip cocked, before a magnificent sunset—feels overwhelming. What cinematographer Joshua James Richards can do with a camera bears the weight of countless filmmakers in thrall to the pregnant possibility of this marvelous continent. Every frame of this film speaks of innumerable lives—passions and failures and tragedies and triumphs—unfolding unfathomably. —Dom Sinacola

19. Up

Year: 2009
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
The public hadn’t balked at a Wall-E, a film whose first two acts were essentially dialogue-free. How would it react to a film whose protagonist is an elderly widower with a hearing aid, dentures and back pain—who looks like and is voiced by Ed Asner? Thank God for Pixar and good storytelling. Asner’s character, Carl Fredericksen, isn’t just the grumpy, old man we expect, but a kind-hearted and devoted husband adrift after the loss of his wife. His first 78 years are condensed into the film’s beautiful first ten minutes, as we see a young boy with dreams of adventure fall in love with a fellow dreamer. Though childless, the couple live full lives until Carl is left alone. After his wife’s death, he clings on to every memory of her, including a house that stands stubbornly in the way of a high-rise development. He has a single regret (an unfulfilled promise of a trip to Paradise Falls), but even less purpose, and when cornered, he does what any wistful balloon-maker would do: Fly his house to South America. The resulting Andean adventures snap him from his self-pitying funk by providing him with a goal to pursue, but it’s not his childhood dream that provides ultimate fulfillment. In a culture that devalues its elders, tucking them away in nursing homes and occupying their time with leisure pursuits, it’s refreshing to be reminded that, regardless of age, meaning can always be found in both relationships and story—that glorious struggle to overcome adversity in the pursuit of justice. That the reminder comes in the form of a cartoon would be more surprising if not for the depth of Pixar’s track record. Sure, the film has its adorable characters for the kids—the dogs with innovative collars that allow their thoughts to be communicated through speech, the wilderness scout who tags along for the ride, some cute baby birds. But it also offers kids (and grown-ups) hilarious sight gags and dialogue, which my children were quoting all the way home. But what makes Up such a satisfying film is the story of an old man deciding that he still has life left to be lived. And that life is an adventure. —Josh Jackson

18. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Year: 1986
Director: John Hughes
John Hughes’ zeitgeist-y, fourth wall-busting ode to rich, entitled suburban youth vs. killjoy authority announced Matthew Broderick as a bona fide star, and gave us a chillingly prescient glimpse at Charlie Sheen’s future in an admittedly funny bit role. Breakfast Club aside, out of all of Hughes’ decade of teen-centric movies set in the Chicago area, Bueller has almost certainly endured the best, and without all that tortured pretentiousness. —Scott Wold

17. Toni Erdmann

Year: 2016
Director: Maren Ade
And now, a high concept comedy from the country that invented comedy, Germany, in which a career woman’s ambition is pitted against her free-spirited dad’s waggishness. Maren Ade’s third feature film is light on its feet and sick in its heart, a discontent story about the danger capitalism poses to the human soul in our increasingly globalized corporate landscape. Its indelible dryness belies both the anger that seethes beneath its cool exterior as well as its cheeky, off-kilter humor, defined in large part through awkward silences and bizarre but childishly endearing pranks. You may walk away from Toni Erdmann wishing you had a father who cared as much about your well being as Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) cares about his daughter Ines’s (Sandra Hüller). Alternately, you may be grateful that your sire doesn’t make a habit of dressing up in big, inexplicable monster costumes that suggest the lovechild of E.T. and Chewbacca. In either case, Toni Erdmann is a marvelous effort from Ade, a 162-minute film that feels half as long and which makes classic parent-child reconciliation tropes feel new again. It won’t necessarily leave you with the warm and fuzzies, but that’s okay: Happiness is, after all, a very strong word. —Andy Crump

16. Gosford Park

Year: 2001
Director: Robert Altman
Robert Altman’s ambitious murder mystery aptly demonstrates his signature style of filmmaking. He assembles a large cast of superb actors and allows them to act out their roles, in some cases even improvising, while the cameras roll. The result is an Agatha Christie-whodunit meets a post-modern exploration of the dying class system in England. Not unlike the British Sam Mendes’ treatment of American suburbia in American Beauty, no one but an outsider can so acutely skewer a culture’s idiosyncrasies as Altman does here. And only this famed “actors’ director” could have attracted such an illustrious and talented cast, who can make the tautly written lines sing and the emotionally fraught scenes hum with intrigue and tension. —Emily Riemer

15. Broadcast News

Year: 1987
Director: James L. Brooks
One of the sharpest written, best-acted romantic comedies of the ’80s, Broadcast News soars on the performances of Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Albert Brooks. Sure, it says things about the state of media—some of which are pretty prescient—but watching the film’s three leads inhabit their characters is a joy in and of itself. —Michael Burgin

14. Carrie

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Year: 1976
Director: Brian De Palma
The tropes and individually famous scenes of Carrie are so ingrained into our pop cultural consciousness that one might not even really need to see the original film to understand what makes it significant. But Carrie is much more than a precariously balanced bucket of pig’s blood: De Palma’s classic vacillates between darkly humorous and legitimately disturbing, mean-spirited and cruel, with a tone set immediately by what happens to poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in her high school’s locker room. Rarely has abject terror and helplessness been so perfectly captured, Spacek desperately, pathetically clinging to her classmates in terror of her first menstruation, only to be derided and pelted with tampons as she lies in a screaming heap. There’s simply no coming back from the kinds of humiliations she suffers, and none of her peers care to find out that Carrie’s home life is even more abusive. Spacek was rightly rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her performance in this, the first film adaptation of a Stephen King work, as was Piper Laurie as her mother—this is back in the ’70s when not one but two actresses from a horror film could actually receive Academy Award nominations (my how things have changed). Carrie is a brisk film which thrives on those two strong, central performances, building to the gloriously cathartic orgy of revenge we all know is coming. Still, there’s joy in watching the irritating P.J. Soles get bumped off yet again. —Jim Vorel

13. Days of Heaven

Year: 1978
Director: Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick recreated the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah as an American myth as expansive as the Texan vistas it fills. Following the tradition of the French New Wave and other independent American pictures from the ’70s, director of photography Nestor Almendros rejected artificial lighting as much as he could, wreathing Richard Gere, Sam Shepard and Brooke Adams in stunning cinematography as romantic as it is authentic, the perfect complement to their characters’ love triangle. The result is a period picture that feels like nothing else from the period. With Badlands Malick found how to make a film, but it was with Days of Heaven that he found his style, and since then he’s used the same elliptical, minimalist storytelling and improvised scenes in practically everything he’s done, each successive picture maturing, but still competing with the grandeur he discovered in this film. —Sean Gandert

12. Midnight Cowboy

Date: 1969
Director: John Schlesinger
In this film by British director John Schlesinger, Jon Voight plays a Texan with a troubled past who comes to the big city trying to make a career as a gigolo. Enter his pal, Ratso Rizzo, played by the great and grating Dustin Hoffman. Midnight Cowboy was rated X upon release for homosexual content that would hardly raise an eyebrow today, and remains the only film of that category to ever win an Oscar, much less the Best Picture award it captured in 1970. (The only other X-rated film to be nominated was Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.) Second on the list of the decade’s greatest actors is Dustin Hoffman. Along with Midnight Cowboy, he starred in the seminal The Graduate, the western epic Little Big Man, Sam Peckinpah’s terrifying classic Straw Dogs, the controversial Lenny (a hopeless Best Picture nominee in the 1974 class with The Conversation and The Godfather, Part II), All the President’s Men, Marathon Man and Kramer vs. Kramer. But his incredible turn as Ratso Rizzo is still the greatest performance of his career, and the chemistry between him and his physical opposite is one of the best and most unusual friend dynamics in film history, hilarious and ultimately heartbreaking. —Shane Ryan

11. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Year: 2000
Director: Ang Lee
Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning epic is not only the highest-grossing foreign film ever, but it also happens to be yet another foreign film that changed the cinematic landscape: a kung fu flick with pulpy soul and a romantic heart. 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 life decisions that brought them to that point. 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. —Jeremy Medina

10. Away from Her

Year: 2007
Director: Sarah Polley
Few diseases feel so cruel as Alzheimer’s, ripping mind and memory away from loved ones, and director Sarah Polley’s film Away From Her captures that sense of loss in devastating ways. Told from the perspective of loving-if-not-always-devoted husband Grant Anderson (Gordon Pinsent), the film shows Fiona (Julie Christie) slowly lose her faculties, but not before Christie gives the audience a glimpse of her vitality and charm. Based on Alice Munro’s short story for The New Yorker, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” Away From Her is sad and lonely and beautiful and will likely stay with you as long as your memory holds. —Josh Jackson

9. Shane

Director: George Stevens
Year: 1953
Shane is another of the great Hollywood westerns and probably the most archetypal and mythical in its execution. The heroes are truly good, the villains badder than bad. It explores one of the classic Western expansion themes, cattle ranching—or the freedom and lawlessness of the open ranch—versus farming, which eventually leads to civilization and settling down in one place, bringing families and the laws of the city into play. Visually a character straight out of the Old Testament, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is a shaggy bearded cattle baron hell-bent on driving farming families from the land he considers his. A mysterious rider named Shane (Alan Ladd) arrives in the nick of time to bolster the courage of a group of homesteaders led by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Shane and Ryker, along with their cohorts, are relics of the past, ultimately doomed to extinction once the wives and children move in. Unlike Ryker, Shane knows this, and spells it out in their final showdown. The future of the West is in cities and communities. There is no place for lawless men like them in these new frontiers. All these years later, we know that Shane was wrong. Killing and lawlessness still abound in the cities, and big business still tramples the rights of the common man. The film is a reminder, though, that if communities band together, holding strong in faith and trusting one another, they can take back what is rightfully theirs and shape a collective destiny. —Joe Pettit Jr.

8. Miller’s Crossing

Year: 1990
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
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

7. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Director: Sergio Leone
Year: 1966
Arguably the greatest of the Italian Westerns, but also one of the finest Westerns ever made. Leone’s penchant for turning the genre’s sacred themes and obsessions inside out goes full tilt here. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are back for this third Dollars movie, but the addition of Eli Wallach adds a significant amount of caustic humor and even more cynicism to the mix. Set during the Civil War, though in a dry, barren landscape resembling the surreal panels of a Krazy Kat cartoon more than historical reality, Leone’s epic is the sublime, gloriously cinematic creation that he was always gunning for. Composer Ennio Morricone’s score ties it all together, particularly in the orgasmic “Ecstasy of Gold” finale. The director may have gone even more baroque with his subsequent Once Upon a Time in the West, but this is still his greatest achievement. Pop culture and the genre were never the same. —Derek Hill

6. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Year: 1962
Director: John Ford
In the hands of any director other than John Ford, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would probably read as Western navel-gazing. This is a film that directly interrogates the themes and tropes that give the genre its identity while celebrating both at the same time. On paper that sounds self-indulgent to the point of abhorrence. In practice, at least under the mastered hand of Ford, it plays. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the last great Westerns to come out of Hollywood in the genre’s classic mode, one with clearly drawn good guys and bad guys who resolve their frontier beef in the designated courtroom of their time and place: their town’s main drag. But Ford isn’t interested in boilerplate cowboys and varmints having a good old-fashioned shootout as bystanders look on like a crowd watching a tennis match. He wants to do more than pit revolver against revolver. With The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he instead presents a clash of ideologies at the center of a changing world, all while dissecting the mythmaking that is so central to what makes Westerns so satisfying. It’s a contest between the rule of law vs. rule of arms, discourse against brute force. You can savor the performances of James Stewart and John Wayne, co-starring alongside each other in a Western for the first time, or Lee Marvin, a man seemingly born to play ruthless and brutal heavy types; you can relish the supporting efforts by the film’s excellent secondary cast, which includes the likes of Woody Strode, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef and Edmond O’Brien. But the names, big and small alike, all fall under the umbrella of Ford, who asserts himself as the film’s true principal with the authority of his peerless craft. —Andy Crump

5. Rosemary’s Baby

Year: 1968
Director: Roman Polanski
The banality of evil isn’t a concept new to the horror genre—look to recent shock-plagued entries like The Eyes of My Mother, or, say, Mickey Keating’s interminable Psychopaths to watch bad things happen for no other reason than that they can—but in Roman Polanski’s troubled hands, that banality is an unadulterated expression of a deep-seated, institutionalized horror, one so ingrained in our society it becomes practically organic. With Rosemary’s Baby, the body of young Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is the institution through which Satan’s malice gestates, a body over which everyone but Rosemary herself seems to have any control. At the mercy of her overbearing neighbors (played by a pitch-perfect Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), her Ur-Dudebro husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and the doctor (Ralph Bellamy) recommended by her high society cadre of new friends, Rosemary is treated as if she’s the last person who knows what’s best for her and her fetus—a position she accepts as a matter of fact. She’s only a woman, a homemaker at that, so such is her lot. Of course, the worse she feels and the more fraught her pregnancy becomes—as well as the recurring flashes of a ghastly dream she can’t quite shake—the clearer Rosemary begins to suspect she’s an unwilling pawn in something cosmically insidious. She is, is the absurd truth: She is the mother of Satan’s offspring, the victim of a coven’s will to worship their Dark Lord much more fruitfully. More than the director’s audacious Hollywood debut, not to mention the omen of what New Hollywood would be willing to do to tear down tradition, Rosemary’s Baby is a landmark horror film because of how ordinary, how easy, it is for everyone else in Rosemary’s life to crush a woman’s spirit and take her life. “It’s alive!” Rosemary screams, echoing Frankenstein with outsize aplomb, her declaration hardly one of triumph, but of disbelief that such a nightmare is the life she’s just going to have to accept. —Dom Sinacola

4. Godzilla

Year: 1954
Director: Ishiro Honda
Early in Godzilla, before the monster is even glimpsed off the shore of the island of Odo, a local fisherman tells reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) about the play they’re watching, describing it as the last remaining vestige of the ancient “exorcism” his people once practiced, sacrificing a young girl to the calamitous sea creature to satiate its hunger and cajole it into leaving some fish for the people to enjoy, at least until the next sacrifice. Ishiro Hondo’s smash hit monster movie—the first of its kind in Japan, the most expensive movie ever made in the country at the time, not even a decade after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is, after 20-something sequels over three times as many years, a surprisingly elegiac exorcism of its own, a reminder of one nation’s continuing trauma during a time when the rest of the world jonesed to forget. As J Hoberman describes in his essay for the film’s Criterion release, much of Honda’s disaster imagery is “coded in naturalism,” a verite-like glimpse of the harrowing destruction wrought by the beast but indistinguishable from the aftermath of the Americans’ attacks in 1945, especially when the U.S. and Russia, among other powers, were testing H-bombs in the Pacific in the early 1950s, bathing the Japanese in even more radiation than that in which they’d already been saturated. And yet, Godzilla is a sci-fi flick, replete with a “mad” scientist in an eye patch and a human in a rubber dinosaur suit flipping over model bridges. That Honda handles such goofiness with an unrelentingly poetic hand, purging his nation’s psychological grief in broadly intimate volleys, is nothing short of astounding. Shots of Godzilla trudging through thick smoke, spotlights highlighting his gaping maw as the Japanese military’s weapons do nothing but shock the dark with beautiful chiaroscuro, have been rarely matched in films of its ilk (and in the director’s own legion of sequels); Honda saw gods and monsters and, with the world entering a new age of technological doom, found no difference between the two. —Dom Sinacola

3. Once Upon a Time in the West

Year: 1968
Director: Sergio Leone
Let’s get this out of the way: Once Upon a Time in the West is as great as they come, and one of the most influential Westerns of its day. But after the film’s opening 20 minutes or so dribble by, it’s hard not to wonder how the remaining 150 will match them. Sergio Leone’s film is so deliberately paced and so unhurried in getting where it needs to that as soon as the moment passes when we first meet Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing gunman, we feel as though we’ve already sat through an entire feature. That doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but Leone’s talent for stretching seconds into minutes and minutes into hours is made all the more amazing by how little we feel the passage of time. Once Upon a Time in the West is truly cinematic, a wormhole that slowly transports us into its world of killers and tycoons, bandits and landowners, revenge and rightness. There’s a reason that Leone’s masterpiece is considered one of the greatest movies ever made and not just one of the great Westerns: Once Upon a Time in the West is an enduring monument of its era, its genre and filmmaking itself. —Andy Crump

2. The Deer Hunter

Year: 1979
Director: Michael Cimino
Ah, The Deer Hunter, a movie of grand ambition and messy politics, one that critics exalt for its thoughtful depiction of working class Pennsylvanians while in the same breath condemning it for its racist one-sidedness and ponderous ambiguity. But despite Michael Cimino’s shortcomings, with The Deer Hunter he created a film truly unlike any other, an episodic saga that captures what Pauline Kael eloquently called “poetry of the commonplace” while also boiling over with anti-war sentiment and palpable rage regarding American troops’ experiences in Vietnam. The film’s first hour alone is a work of art, a fly-on-the-wall documentation of life in a Pennsylvania steel town (with eastern Ohio mostly standing in), as a group of friends including Nick (Christopher Walken), Michael (Robert De Niro) and Julie (Meryl Streep) prepare for two key events: a large, raucous Russian Orthodox wedding and the imminent departure of the men for Vietnam, where they realize their lives will forever be changed. The film’s shocking second act, with its POW Russian Roulette games and Nick’s torturous break with reality, is of course its most memorable. But the scenes that bookend that horror ground its most ghoulish and surreal sequences in the real sense of despondency that threatened to drown many communities in the wake of the war. —Maura McAndrew

1. Do the Right Thing

Year: 1989
Director: Spike Lee
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

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