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 channel (that many add onto Amazon accounts for extra offerings) has amassed a slew of movies available to its subscribers. HBO may have the prestige, but Starz has the much-better-curated lineup of flicks. From recent hits like Little Women to underrated classics like Blue Collar—not to mention a bundle of Quentin Tarantino 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. Borat

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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


49. 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


48. Office Space

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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


47. 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


46. Shane

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Year: 1953
Director: George Stevens
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.


45. Miller’s Crossing

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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


44. Big Hero 6

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Year: 2014
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
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
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
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. Predator

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Year: 1987
Director: John McTiernan
A slasher film where battle-hardened soldiers replace the traditional nubile teens. Sounds like a recipe for a good time. And, indeed, Predator delivers on all fronts, from its cheesy approximation of “manly” dialogue (“I ain’t got time to bleed”) to the dated-yet-still-impressive special effects to the abundance of gory, creative violence. Subsequent installments in the sci-fi franchise have never truly captured the original’s meathead appeal. Besides, as any frequent viewer of VH1’s I Love the ‘80s can attest, the decade just wouldn’t have been the same without it.—Mark Rozeman


40. The Fly

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Year: 1986
Director: David Cronenberg
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. Coraline

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Year: 2009
Director: Henry Selick
Director Henry Selick matches the Gothic whimsy of Nightmare Before Christmas and adds even more compelling emotional content with this adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella. An unhappy little girl discovers an alternate reality that seems to offer all the magic and wonder her real home lacks, only to discover the sinister implications behind the candy-colored exteriors. Gaiman’s inventive approach to fairy-tale rules matches Selick’s luminescent colors and blend of everyday emotions and dream-like wonders. Perhaps the greatest stop-motion film ever, it even looks great in 3D. —Curt Holman


38. 9 to 5

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Year: 1980
Director: Colin Higgins
You can debate 9 to 5’s feminist bona fides, but you can’t deny its quality. This classic unites three women that everybody everywhere should be afraid to mess with—Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin—and then pits them against one of the all-time classic on-screen assholes, Dabney Coleman. Its pro-woman, pro-worker politics are largely indirect but still unmistakable, and it’s hard to imagine a major Hollywood studio and some of the biggest stars in entertainment making a comedy like this today. Compare it to Horrible Bosses, where the stars are all men, the sexism has been turned into a fratty slutshaming joke about an oversexed Jennifer Aniston, and the comedy is pretty much completely stripped of all politics. 9 to 5 holds up better than almost any comedy from 1980 should, and although that’s great for the movie’s reputation, what it says about the world we live in, and how little it’s changed over the last 40 years, is terrible.—Garrett Martin


37. National Lampoon’s Animal House

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Year: 1978
Director: John Landis
Times change. A lot of what might’ve been acceptable when Animal House came out 40 years ago is absolutely not today. Even when I first saw it in the early ‘90s John Belushi’s peeping tom act felt uncomfortable and outdated, to say nothing of using statutory rape as a punchline. Animal House might be hard to get into for younger generations, but if you can set aside the miserable sexual politics (which were probably not that unrealistic for a group of college boys in the ‘60s [or ‘70s, or ‘80s, or ‘90s, or ‘00s…]) you’ll find a comedy that otherwise deserves its classic reputation, and one whose influence on Hollywood comedies is almost incalculable. Animal House is an endlessly quotable movie full of memorable set pieces, the prototypical Boomer soundtrack, and an all-time great performance by Belushi, and that’s why we’re recommending it today.—Garrett Martin


36. Don’t Think Twice

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Year: 2016
Director: Mike Birbiglia
One of the most appealing aspects of Don’t Think Twice is the sense of close-knit community it depicts among its main characters, all of them members of a fictional New York City-based improv troupe named the Commune. They’re so attached to each other that they regularly spend their Saturday nights with each other watching Weekend Live, the Saturday Night Live-like late-night comedy show that represents the endgame for which they’ve devoted so many of their years toiling in relative obscurity. When one of the Commune members, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), finally reaches that aforementioned pinnacle and becomes a new member of Weekend Live, the ascension brings out into the open the sense of cutthroat competition that was perhaps always underlying the surface camaraderie. As close-knit as he, his mentor Miles (director Mike Birbiglia), Jack’s girlfriend Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and the rest are, they’re all vying for the same highly coveted spots; no surprise that an unspoken sense of jealousy soon develops after Jack is picked. Therein lies Don’t Think Twice’s most poignant insight into this particular creative world: This “frenemies” dynamic takes place in an environment so brutal that it forces those who don’t make it to the top to wonder if they ever had the talent to begin with.—Kenji Fujishima


35. The Naked Gun

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Year: 1988
Director: David Zucker
The final hoorah from the comedy trio David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker—ZAZ for short—The Naked Gun is so stupid it’s hilarious. This, of course, was ZAZ’s secret weapon in films like Airplane!, and in Leslie Nielsen’s stone-faced imbecility they found their muse. A former dramatic actor, Nielsen rejuvenated his career by playing Frank Drebin, a hapless L.A. police detective trying to prevent the assassination of Queen Elizabeth. (And in his courting of possible femme fatale Priscilla Presley, he taught us the importance of wearing full-body condoms.) A wonder of slapstick and deadpan silliness, The Naked Gun makes jokes about terrorists, gay panic, boobs, even “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There’s a character named Pahpshmir. Good lord, it’s all so gloriously idiotic. —Tim Grierson


34. Elf

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Year: 2003
Director: Jon Favreau
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. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

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Year: 1989
Director: Stephen Herek
Not Neo, not Johnny Utah, not John Wick—there will never be a more perfect role for Keanu Reeves than kind-hearted time traveling slacker “Ted” Theodore Logan. Joined by his intrepid best friend Bill (Alex Winter—wearing a surprisingly acceptable muscle shirt sans mid-riff), the two peruse the whole of Western Civilization in their time-skipping phone booth to kidnap historical figures, use them to keep from flunking History and ensure—yaddah yaddah yaddah—the safety of the human race. For many of us, this was a formative film: a conflation of pop culture and History for Dummies; a reason to pay attention in class; the first time we ever tried to figure out what “69” meant. Technical rules don’t much apply here; instead, the message is clear: a good friend will stick with you until the end of time.—Michael Burgin


32. Men in Black

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Year: 1997
Director: Barry Sonenfeld
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. Burn After Reading

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Year: 2008
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
This Coen Brothers favorite has an unsurprisingly incredible cast, but can we take a moment to give all of the awards and props to Frances McDormand? Her Linda Litzke is one of the strangest, most hilariously bizarre characters to ever appear in a film, and yet there’s something completely familiar about her. She’s pursuing her own version of the American Dream, and the mess she leaves in her wake makes up the crux of this very black, very funny comedy. That she does so while all the other members of this ensemble do the same, and manage to entangle their own personal dramas with hers, makes this movie an entertaining way to spend an evening. Along with McDormand, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins (who plays the tragically adorable Ted) all give fantastic turns—unrecognizable, in many ways, from their typical fare which makes the story all the more enthralling.—Garrett Martin


30. Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Year: 2019
Director: Jon Watts
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

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. Sideways

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Year: 2004
Director: Alexander Payne
Sideways is a pretty great buddy comedy (featuring a hilariously brazen performance from Thomas Haden Church), but it’s an even better romantic comedy. At its heart is the tender relationship between Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Maya (Virginia Madsen), two bruised divorcees who forge a tenuous connection to each other. From both of their beautiful speeches expressing their love of Pinot Noir to the wonderfully poignant open-ended knock at the door, their romance is note-perfect.—Jeremy Medina


27. Young Frankenstein

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Year: 1974
Director: Mel Brooks
One of the best comedies of all time and one of the 10 or so films I can quote almost entirely from memory, Young Frankenstein is a classic of the genre. At once a spoof of traditional Universal horror films and a loving tribute, with a surprising number of deep references to Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein in particular, Mel Brooks and his immensely talented cast have created a timeless film. It follows Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (played by Gene Wilder) as he finally gives into continuing his grandfather’s (the Frankenstein) experiments. A classic for all ages, Peter Boyle’s take on Frankenstein’s monster is more playful than scary—after all, it’s hard to see a kid being terrified by a tap-dancing monster, even if he is “puttin’ on the ritz.” —Mark Rabinowitz


32. An American Tail

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Year: 1986
Director: Don Bluth
This beautiful story of a young Jewish immigrant from Imperial Russia, Fievel Mousekewitz, seems even more relevant now than its release in 1986. Separated from his parents on the journey, Fievel ends up in New York in 1885, searching for his family. Conned, taken advantage of and sold to a sweatshop, Fieval undergoes trials that illustrate how a country built on immigrants has never been completely welcoming towards those seeking a better life on our shores. Don Bluth had left Disney with several fellow animators to start his own production company, producing The Secret of NIMH. An American Tail was his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, which resulted in two successful franchises, including The Land Before Time. An American Tail would result in four feature films (all available on Netflix), several books, videogames and a TV spinoff, but none would quite capture the magic of the original. —Josh Jackson


25. Jackie Brown

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Year: 1997
Director: Quentin Tarantino
“AK-47! The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes,” boasts cocky gangster Ordell Robbie in what is easily Tarantino’s most underrated film. It was clear from Pulp Fiction that Tarantino had found his muse in Jackson, but it was their second collaboration that really solidified their bond. There were so many ways this character—the chief antagonist to Pam Grier’s slick and smart, titular flight attendant shaking up the world of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster)—could have gone horribly wrong. On paper and upon first look, he comes across as a spoof of a blacksploitation cliché. Yet while Jackson effortlessly delivers those Tarantino lines with expected gusto, he gradually adds layers to Ordell Robbie, revealing the inherent insecurity and fear hiding under his insatiable ego. By the time he’s cornered in the third act, Robbie is a psychopath who earns your pity. Even though it’s an early Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown is such an insightful and empathetic character piece that it comes across as the kind of measured and patient material a master filmmaker would put out in their later years. Perhaps that’s due to this being an adaptation of Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, and Tarantino’s very faithful adaptation reads like a filmmaker who was content with leaving aside his ego—one can guess how hard that was for Tarantino—and serve whatever attracted him to the source material. Jackie Brown contains a fairly complicated heist plot amidst Tarantino’s usual toying with non-linear structure, but it’s essentially a film about the regrets and fatigue one finds oneself in one’s advanced years. It must be Leonard’s influence on Tarantino that keeps most of the director’s self-serving instincts at bay, delivering dialogue that feels more natural than grandstanding. Even the trademark Tarantino-esque monologues carry an underlying feeling of uncertainty and self-doubt, infusing his characters with more depth than ever found in a Tarantino joint. —Oktay Ege Kozak


24. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

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Year:2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino
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. Pulp Fiction

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Year: 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Still Quentin Tarantino’s greatest accomplishment, Pulp Fiction rehashes a handful of great genre movies—from gangster to grindhouse with shades of everything in between—to form a modern masterpiece. In a full-circle plot of double-crossings and complications, this smart aleck of a movie takes us on an ultra-violent and ultra-funny ride with John Travolta at his best and Samuel L. Jackson using an f-bomb like an artist. —David Roark


22. No Country For Old Men

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Year: 2007
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
What is it about the Coen Brothers’ inconsolable No Country for Old Men that still chills the blood, even under the South Texas sun? No doubt its inscrutability plays a role: Is it a Western, a noir or a morality play? And the Academy Award-winning performance by Javier Bardem disturbs because he himself remains a mystery: Is Anton Chigurh a merciless hitman or the Angel of Death? The story of a drug deal gone wrong soon reveals its true theme—the futility of being good and just in the face of abject evil—but the Coens also meditate on the faltering of the physical body. “Age’ll flatten a man,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell esteems, and for this Texan, the evocation of my childhood landscape—right down to the tiniest detail—means that the specter of Chigurh will haunt not only the end of my life but stomp through its earliest remembrances as well. —Andy Beta


21. The Untouchables

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Year: 1987
Director: Brian De Palma
Al Capone and Eliot Ness—the quintessential gangster and the original G-Man—lock horns during Prohibition in one of the greatest American cop movies ever made. The all-star cast is great, but it’s Sean Connery as Ness’s sidekick, Jim Malone, who elevates this film from standard shoot-em-up to high drama. Director Brian DePalma juxtaposes the stylized and slick with the violent and vulgar, and the contrast serves to heighten our awareness of each. The costumes are rich, the dialogue is a pulp-writer’s dream, and the fact that Capone is brought down by the office nerd makes everyone feel great. —Joan Radell


20. Little Women

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Year: 2019
Director: Greta Gerwig
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. Dead Ringers

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Year: 1988
Director: David Cronenberg
In Dead Ringers David Cronenberg reins in the extremities of his earlier genre works into something resembling a chamber drama—except there’s always a catch with Cronenberg, and this time he almost cruely toys with the identities of identical twins, gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (very loosely based on Stewart and Cyril Marcus), played by a Jeremy Irons who is doubled on himself through black movie magic. Cronenberg also plays with the audience’s perception of the duo, taking steps to establish Beverly as the “good” twin (more sensitive) and Elliot as the “bad” one (more bullish) before eventually degrading those categorizations and blurring the lines between the two characters, in more ways than one. A troubled relationship with actress-patient Claire Niveau (a fierce Genevieve Bujold) creates fissures in the relational dynamic of the twins, which in turn creates fissures in their minds; things get to a point where freakish gynecological tools are created due to imagined mutation spreading. The later scenes of the film take on a haunting quality as Elliot and Beverly become untethered from each other and, thus, their reality. They do manage to find each other again, but this is a David Cronenberg joint; don’t expect a happy ending. Dead Ringers is a brooding rumination on the external realities we use to define ourselves, what happens when our duality is divided and the subconscious ways in which we plant the seeds of our own destruction. More, it’s about doubling our Jeremy Irons intake in one sitting, which is always a worthy cause. —Chad Betz


18. Wayne’s World

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Year: 1992
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Ever since the genesis of the duo on SNL, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar were always proud broadcasters from “Cable 10 Public Access in Aurora, Illinois,” and those Midwestern sensibilities lie at the very heart of both the sketches and the two feature films. Wayne is exactly the sort of genial, goodhearted but fairly dim everyman slacker so often lampooned in other shows of the same period based in the Midwest (most notably MST3k). He still lives in the basement of his parents’ suburban home, the big fish in an extremely small pond of local broadcasting, without any real ambitions even to expand the scope of Wayne’s World. One might actually say his lack of vision or ambition is presented as a virtue: Wayne and Garth are just simple people, happy with what they have, where Rob Lowe’s antagonist character, Benjamin, is an upwardly mobile schemer. These are exactly the roles you expect to see characters play when set in the realistic, somewhat milquetoast setting of Illinois suburbia.—Jim Vorel


17. Spider-Man 2

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Year: 2004
Director: Sam Raimi
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. King Kong

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Year: 2005
Director: Peter Jackson
Everything about Peter Jackson’s King Kong screams “passion project,” from the elongated runtime to the way the screenplay eventually turns the giant ape into the de facto protagonist of the film. The success of The Lord of the Rings essentially guaranteed Jackson a blank check, and he spent it in pursuit of an epic retelling of what many consider to be the greatest monster movie of all time. And at its heart, Jackson’s King Kong is a resonant success on an emotional level, with a stellar performance from Andy Serkis in the motion-captured title role, even if the Skull Island segments often seem particularly bloated 15 years later. Still, as a pure creature feature this film is often packed with legitimate nightmare fuel, particularly in the sequence when Carl Denham’s crew is half devoured alive by giant insects—material more genuinely disturbing than Jackson’s own early career horror phase. This King Kong is rife with monster-on-human violence. —Jim Vorel


15. The Thin Red Line

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Year: 1998
Director: Terrence Malick
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. The Omen

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Year: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake. It has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of the juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people, he’s full of guile, deceit and, scariest of all, patience. He knows that he’s playing the long game—it will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The film is brooding, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence. In particular are the infamous scene wherein a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or the fate of Damien’s nurse in the film’s opening. The Omen can genuinely can get under your skin, especially if you’re a parent. —Jim Vorel


13. Blue Collar

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Year: 1978
Director Paul Schrader
Much like Detroit, Paul Schrader’s had a pretty rough past couple of years. The native Michigander can’t seem to get a good movie made to save his life anymore, still stinging from the weird debacle of The Canyons and getting the final cut of The Dying of the Light ripped from his hands—but back in 1978, Schrader was a wunderkind. Having written genre-defining scripts for Sydney Pollack, Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese, he was given the chance to direct Blue Collar, which he wrote with his brother Leonard. A dour and pessimistic film about three friends (Yaphet Kotto, Harvey Keitel and Richard Pryor) who work the assembly line in a major Detroit auto plant, battling poverty as much as they tussle with corruption in both their management and auto workers’ union, Blue Collar is as notable for Pryor’s swaggeringly melancholic performance as it is for behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Filming in Kalamazoo and throughout the Detroit area—at the Checker plant; on the bridge to Belle Isle; at the Ford River Rouge plant—the three leads and director could barely stand each other, eventually leading, Schrader claimed, to a mental breakdown in the midst of principal photography. (It’s been said, too, that a drug-fueled, gun-toting Pryor threatened Schrader one day on set.) Though Schrader’s time filming with such volatile actors set the tenor for his career to come, Blue Collar is an often overlooked treasure of grit and tension, plying the racial and socio-economic issues of a waning late-’70s Detroit to figure out just how broken the City was. Thirty years later, and not much has been fixed. —Dom Sinacola


12. Amour

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Year: 2012
Director: Michael Haneke
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
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. Far From Heaven

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Year: 2002
Director: Todd Haynes
Moore certainly has an Old Hollywood presence that conveys not only the glitz and glamour of the era’s stars, but also the melancholic presence hiding beneath. That’s why her turn as a housewife who finds solace in her African-American gardener (Dennis Haysbert) after finding out that her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay is the ultimate Julianne Moore performance. Director Todd Haynes, working with Moore again after Safe, pushes his Douglas Sirk melodrama tribute to the max, employing Sirk’s tone and the opulent Technicolor look of the era, right down to the style of the credits. This creates a time portal for Moore, as she possesses the soul of her mid-20th Century doppelgänger, the illustrious Deborah Kerr, who also played her part in the 1955 version of The End of The Affair. Here is a powerhouse of a performance that follows in the footsteps of old school melodrama, a showcase for Moore’s strengths as an actress.—Michael Burgin


9. The Aviator

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Year: 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
With Howard Hughes’ larger than life personality and those action-packed scenes of him flying (and crashing) planes, it’s hard not to first think of the famous businessman and aviator as a sort of superhero: a man capable of almost any feat, of withstanding any sort of struggle. But a movie that only captures that side of Hughes’ life would be an incomplete one. A hollow one. What makes The Aviator one of the greatest biopics of all time is that it shows Hughes’ vulnerabilities as well, most notably of which was his battle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hughes at his lowest, during Hughes’ anxiety-ridden spirals is far more compelling and suspenseful than the Beverly Hills plane crash scene itself.—Anita George

8. Wet Hot American Summer

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Year: 2001
Director: David Wain
A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 15 years later and with a Netflix series on lock, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst. —Dom Sinacola


7. The French Connection

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Year: 1971
Director: William Friedken
Winner of Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing and Acting (Gene Hackman), The French Connection isn’t so much a deeply felt drama or meticulous procedural as it is a nearly perfectly executed exercise in inertia, mood and the obsession with both. Friedken’s film is all aesthetic, all carapace: this is New York at its grossest, and Hackman (as the gruff Popeye Doyle) at his most vicious. As the only character with any hint of depth, Doyle is the audience’s vessel from one chase to another—or, rather: throughout the giant chase that is the whole movie—a man as relentless as the filth and violence of the City that he struggles to defend, one drug bust at a time. In that sense, The French Connection is a defining film of the ’70s, unyielding in its depiction of an America hungover from the facile free love movement, still mired in the Vietnam War and the depravity of unmitigated urban expansion. But even moreso, the film is a lean action classic, all movement and no second wasted.—Dom Sinacola


6. True Grit

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Year: 1969
Director: Henry Hathaway
When you think of The Duke, what’s the first image that pops into mind? I’ll bet you he’s wearing an eye patch and a cowhide leather vest. Rooster Cogburn is arguably John Wayne’s most iconic role. The crusty, hard-drinking, hard-living, one-eyed U.S. marshal was launched into the Western film lexicon in 1969 in Henry Hathaway’s classic adaptation of Charles Portis’ classic novel. Chances are pretty good that Wayne’s portrayal will remain the definitive characterization despite an admirable and brilliant turn by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 remake by the Coen brothers. At times woodenly acted and downright dated by modern standards, the 1969 True Grit nevertheless has a primal power. It’s a coming-of-age story for young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), a sharp-tongued quick-witted teenager, on a quest for revenge for her murdered father. She hires Rooster Cogburn to track down his killer, who has fled into Indian territory. Rooster admires her spunk, seeing reflections of himself in her stubbornness. Despite their prickly off-camera relationship, Wayne and Darby put aside those challenges and let the characters do the talking. Much of the movie’s beauty is in the deepening of their relationship, in Rooster’s protectiveness toward “Little Sis,” his appreciation and downright enjoyment of her pluck, and in Mattie’s wide-eyed admiration for her champion, a man with true grit. Never mind the many times he lets the bottle let her down. By the time Cogburn hauls snake-bitten Mattie on a desperate all-night journey through the wilderness, it’s hard not to be touched by his devotion and sheer determination to save Miss Ross’ life. The remake is a fine movie in its own right. It has a smoother flow, is truer to the spirit of the novel, and feels grittier to our modern sensibilities. Yet at its best, it can’t escape the shadow of the original and often feels like it is emulating its elder. Isn’t that the sincerest form of flattery, though? —Joe Pettit Jr.


5. Good Will Hunting

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Year: 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant
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
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. Psycho

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Year: 1960
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
The big one. The biggest one, perhaps, though if not, it’s still pretty goddamn big. 57 years after Alfred Hitchcock unleashed Psycho on an unsuspecting moviegoing culture, finding new things to say about it feels like a fool’s errand, but hey: We’re fools. Five decades and change is a long time for a movie’s influence to continue reverberating throughout popular culture, but here we are, watching main characters lose their heads in Game of Thrones, their innards in The Walking Dead, or their lives, in less flowery language, in films like Alien, the Alien rip-off Life, and maybe most importantly Scream, the movie that is to contemporary horror what Psycho was to genre movies (and to the movies in total) in its day. That’s pretty much the dictionary definition of impact right there (and all without even a single mention of A&E’s Bates Motel). But now we’re talking about Psycho as a curio rather than as a film, and the truth is that Psycho’s impact is the direct consequence of Hitchcock’s mastery as a filmmaker and as a storyteller. Put another way, it’s a great film, one that’s as effective today as it is authoritative: You’ve never met a slasher (proto-slasher, really) like Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and no matter how many times the movies try to replicate his persona on screen, they’ll never get it quite right. He is, like Psycho itself, one of a kind. —Andy Crump


2. Chinatown

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Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
When you look at Jack Nicholson’s run of films in what could be referred to as the “New Hollywood” era, starting with Easy Rider in 1969 and ending with The Shining in 1980, it’s truly astounding: There’s barely a dud on the list, so it’s really saying something that Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s crime classic, stands out among the best. The film’s central mystery is bold for its complexity, revolving around water rights in 1930s Southern California—a plot that remains relevant today, alongside which, like in much of Polanski’s work, an ominous atmosphere creeps, shadowing every character in doubt and undermining the possibility of a clean conclusion. In Polanski’s world, the mere fact that a mystery is solved doesn’t mean there’s a happy ending, and his incredible powers of ambiguity have never been so strong as in Chinatown. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won for Robert Towne’s original screenplay; add Nicholson at his most essential, along with a young Faye Dunaway and an aging John Huston, and this is more than an excellent film noir, but an American cinematic triumph. —Shane Ryan


1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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Year: 1969
Director: George Roy Hill
The top-grossing film of 1969 and four-time Oscar winner was an anachronistic wonder that poked at the stoic bravura of the traditional Western: Consider the broad buddy humor between its pitch-perfect leads, Paul Newman and Robert Redford; the poppy, Burt Bacharach-Hal David-penned score and that theme song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”; and William Goldman’s wry, self-aware script. From the first sepia-saturated moments of George Roy Hill’s take on the Old West, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rewrote history, literally: Author Goldman famously wanted to tell the story of the titular outlaws’ flight to South America but didn’t want to do sufficient research for a novel-length treatment. And thus, “Most of what follows is true,” the film winks at its start. Gorgeously shot by Conrad Hall, the film is a deftly balanced mix of reverential genre elegy and sometimes deadpan, sometimes slapstick comedy. At its heart is then box office superstar Newman and comparatively small-potatoes actor Redford, the latter taking over after Steve McQueen backed out, balking over whose name would be billed first in the credits. As the Kid’s girlfriend, Katharine Ross complicates the duo’s relationship and lends nuance to what is essentially a love story. Curiously, Butch and Sundance’s posse, the Hole in the Wall Gang, was known as the Wild Bunch in real life but was changed for the screen to avoid confusion with another Western set for release a few months prior to its own premiere. —Amanda Schurr

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