The Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now (September 2020)

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The Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now (September 2020)

Amazon Prime is a teeming streaming treasure trove of some of the most esoteric, wonderful and underseen cinema of the past 80 years, though good picks can feel nearly impossible to cull from the sometimes overwhelming glut of weirdly terrible titles buried in Prime’s nether regions. And that’s not to mention the counterintuitive, migraine-inducing browsing, or the service’s penchant for dropping a title unexpectedly only for it to reappear under a different link just as unexpectedly. Who can keep track of any of this stuff?

Well, we can. Or, at least, we try. Two sci-fi classics new in the past month or so: Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Man Who Fell to Earth, not to mention a whole slough of spectacular titles that seem to have only just surfaced, including Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart, John Huston’s Fat City, Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China, Christopher St. John’s Top of the Heap and Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Or maybe they’ve been there all along. Who knows! Behold:

Here are 65 of the best movies available to stream on Amazon Prime right now:

Top of the Heap

top-of-the-heap-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Christopher St. John
Stars: Christopher St. John, Paula Kelly, Florence Saint Peter, Almeria Quinn, Richard M. Dixon
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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George Lattimer (Christopher St. John) is a Washington D.C. cop with a cigarette set sternly in his jaw and a penchant for reminding his white colleagues that “I’ll do whatever I goddamn want.” He’s angry, really angry, which makes sense: His fellow cops don’t trust him because he’s the only Black cop in the department—a point of pride that’s long lost its lustre—and his friends and family hate him for turning his back on their community by policing it. He’s pissed that his wife gives him so much grief about his job whenever she’s not pestering him to talk to their teenager daughter (Almeria Quinn) about sex and drugs and the danger of the Nation’s Capitol. He’s pissed that his daughter actually is on drugs and doing sex and roaming the streets of the Nation’s capitol with that Fernandez boy. He’s pissed that he knows that no matter how well he does on the exam, he’ll never get that sergeant promotion, and he’s pissed that his dipshit cracker partner doesn’t get that. Or doesn’t want to. He’s so pissed he retreats into oneiric fantasies about being one of the first astronauts—not just the first Black astronaut, but the first astronaut, his skin never a factor in his job prospects. And these wild, cathartic fantasies only piss George off even more, to the point that he needs to unwind and get high and strip naked and remind himself of who he really is with his mistress, the synecdochal Black Chick (Paula Kelly), before he has to return to the real white world where he can’t take the bus without confronting the violent duality of being a Black cop in Washington D.C. Similarly, Top of the Heap, Christopher St. John’s first and last film, presents itself as blaxploitation, feigning at violence and pulp, and sometimes even reveling in both, but then veering hard towards psychedelia and sci-fi when its tension feels most palpable. It’s an act of grace that it all holds together so strikingly—or an act of transcendent rage. —Dom Sinacola


Close Encounters of the Third Kind

close-encounters-third-kind-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Terri Garr, Bob Balaban, François Truffaut
Genre: Drama, Science-Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 135 minutes

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Close Encounters was the personal project Spielberg wanted to pull off when he was able to establish himself as a Hollywood power player. The massive success of Jaws gave him the opportunity to realize his character-based, big budget, special-effects-driven science-fiction tale about humanity’s place in the galaxy, a rare optimistic and benign chronicle of first contact. The story of a father (Spielberg alter-ego Richard Dreyfuss) abandoning his family through obsession allowed Spielberg to deal with the inner demons related to his career, his own family and his upbringing by looking outward, boundlessly exploring the cosmos with outsized awe. —Oktay Ege Kozak


The Man Who Fell to Earth

man-who-fell-to-earth-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Nicholas Roeg
Stars: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry
Genre: Science-Fiction & Fantasy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes

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Imbued with newfound poignancy and melancholia after the passing of its mercurial lead Starman, David Bowie, Nicholas Roeg’s impressionistic, ravenous, experiential masterpiece is one of the rare films about aliens that feels as exotic in its form as its content. Filled with Roeg’s characteristically discursive, paradoxically symmetrical but nonlinear cutting and violently sensual imagery, The Man Who Fell to Earth is as much about subverting the very nature of human experience as it is about offering an outside window into our culture. As the “secretive, but not private” Thomas Jerome Newton—a meteoric billionaire industrialist whose knowledge allows him to skip decades of scientific stranglehold at a mere moment—Bowie’s version of a universal traveler is less about a misunderstanding of the world than a semantic confusion of the pronunciation of words, or an inability to reinforce his own externalized narrative. Even as Newton leaps every known scientific hurdle, his life force is slowly being wrung out by competitors and friends alike who are so consumed with success they’re unable to see the big picture, or recognize the importance of Newton’s own interest in returning to his family. In what both represents and replicates the experience of watching a Roeg film, Newton obsesses over dozens of televisions, attempting to collectively view reality as one congealed experience. As he explains, “Television shows you everything, but it doesn’t tell you everything.” Moving decades in single frames, Newton can’t escape this misery of his own making, basking in the death of his memories over endless gins as he experiences seemingly multiple lifetimes in a single event. Referring to his eternal imprisonment, Rip Torn’s traitorous Nathan Bryce asks, “Are you mad that we did this?” On the verge of passing out, Newton responds, “We’d have probably treated you the same if you came over to our place.” Even aliens aren’t immune to our vices of apathy and despair. —Michael Snydel


The Royal Tenenbaums

royal tenenbaums poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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While Wes Anderson’s first two films took place in the Texas of his youth, The Royal Tenenbaums moves to his adopted city of New York to tell a story that bridges childhood and adulthood and the tremendous effects one has upon the other. The title refers to Gene Hackman’s character, Royal Tenenbaum, the patriarch of a family of childhood prodigies: Chas (Ben Stiller), a math genius with a head for business; Richie (Luke Wilson), a tennis star; and adoptive daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a playwright. The movie begins with Royal announcing his separation from his wife, Etheline (Anjelica Huston), before picking up years later with the children having gone on to great success (and great failure). As Etheline prepares to marry her longtime accountant (Danny Glover), Royal announces that he has stomach cancer and attempts to reconcile with the family he abandoned. The dysfunction and struggle for redemption would become hallmarks of Anderson’s oeuvre, but here, with a talented cast that also included frequent collaborators Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Kumar Pallana, the auteur’s gift for wringing humor out of hopelessness is unmatched. As every piece of set dressing, every item of clothing and every symmetrical camera frame seems painstakingly managed, the characters are spiraling out of control; their despair is deeply felt, and their redemption serves as a euphoric release. —Josh Jackson


I Am Not Your Negro

not-your-negro-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Raoul Peck focuses on James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, a work that would have memorialized three of his friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. All three black men were assassinated within five years of each other, and we learn in the film that Baldwin was not just concerned about these losses as terrible blows to the Civil Rights movement, but deeply cared for the wives and children of the men who were murdered. Baldwin’s overwhelming pain is as much the subject of the film as his intellect. And so I Am Not Your Negro is not just a portrait of an artist, but a portrait of mourning—what it looks, sounds and feels like to lose friends, and to do so with the whole world watching (and with so much of America refusing to understand how it happened, and why it will keep happening). Peck could have done little else besides give us this feeling, placing us squarely in the presence of Baldwin, and I Am Not Your Negro would have likely still been a success. His decision to steer away from the usual documentary format, where respected minds comment on a subject, creates a sense of intimacy difficult to inspire in films like this. The pleasure of sitting with Baldwin’s words, and his words alone, is exquisite. There’s no interpreter, no one to explain Baldwin but Baldwin—and this is how it should be. —Shannon M. Houston


Stop Making Sense

stop-making-sense.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Jonathan Demme
Genre: Documentary, Musical
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Lester Bangs once wrote an essay about “Heaven,” the Talking Heads song that in so many ways epitomizes and holds aloft Jonathan Demme’s concert film. In it, Bangs fixated on one of David Byrne’s iconic lines: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever really happens.” Heaven, he explained, is—to Byrne’s coke-addled mind—a way of life where all of the stimuli of modern society couldn’t reach him. Couldn’t affect him. Couldn’t whip him up into a frenzy. This, according to both Bangs and Byrne, is truly Nirvana. Stop Making Sense happened over two nights at the Pantages Theater in 1983, and the second song on the setlist is “Heaven,” set against a bare stage on the cusp of a drastic remodel. From there, the set, as well as the band, builds itself—instruments and writhing bodies and elaborately weird backdrops are added, one upon another, until the stage is absolutely seething with life. And so, not only was Stop Making Sense a document of a legendary band at the height of their powers, but it even today seems like an unheralded synergy of movement and sound, of image and artist—so much so that the band allows us to watch as they destroy, and then re-do, their own idea of Heaven. —Dom Sinacola


Putney Swope

putney-swope-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1969
Director: Robert Downey Sr.
Stars: Arnold Johnson, Stan Gottlieb, Allen Garfield
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Supposedly inspired by director Robert Downey’s experiences in advertising, Putney Swope would be a bleakly cynical expectoration of the bile inherent to the machinations of capitalism—that is, were it not so funny. In Downey’s most popular film, life means nothing next to the rhythms of language and the poetry of farce, telling the story of an agency in thrall to a complete overhaul care of the new democratically chosen Chairman of the Board, token African American Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson, with Downey dubbing in his comical voice, adding an extra shade of cartoon chaos to an already surreal scenario). Swope purges the company of most of its “lilys,” replacing them with Black Panther acolytes and Five Percenters and assorted blue collar Black workers to resist the tide of empty corporatism taking over America. In turn, Swope takes on the personae of various revolutionaries—sometimes dressing in NOGE garb, sometimes suiting up like a Castro impersonator—navigating the many strains, violent and not, of anti-establishment thinking at the tail end of the ’60s, but ultimately unable to escape the lure of capitalist power. Swope is a bad leader, in other words, stealing ideas from his underlings and generally embracing every hypocritical behavior he can, but the genius of Downey’s vision is that his idea of corruption corrupts absolutely, no regards for race or inequality. A sort of pre-Zucker Brothers bounty of slapstick and absurdity, Putney Swope portrays people floundering through these many layers of power (and, therefore, oppression), unsure of how best to get what they want from society—unsure if that’s even possible. Replete with a series of offensive, uncomfortable and super-weird commercial spots seemingly tapped into America’s horrifying Id, Putney Swope has a lot to say, but doesn’t really seem all that concerned with being heard. —Dom Sinacola


Ghost in the Shell

ghost-in-the-shell.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Stars: Mimi Woods, Richard George, William Frederick
Genre: Anime, Science-Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: R
Runtime: 82 minutes

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It’s difficult to overstate how enormous of an influence Ghost in the Shell exerts over not only the cultural and aesthetic evolution of Japanese animation, but over the shape of science-fiction cinema as a whole in the 21st century. Adapted from Masamune Shirow’s original 1989 manga, the film is set in the mid-21st century, a world populated by cyborgs in artificial prosthetic bodies, in the fictional Japanese metropolis of Niihama. Ghost in the Shell follows the story of Major Motoko Kusanagi, the commander of a domestic special ops task-force known as Public Security Section 9, who begins to question the nature of her own humanity surrounded by a world of artificiality. When Motoko and her team are assigned to apprehend the mysterious Puppet Master, an elusive hacker thought to be one of the most dangerous criminals on the planet, they are set chasing after a series of crimes perpetrated by the Puppet Master’s unwitting pawns before the seemingly unrelated events coalesce into a pattern that circles back to one person: the Major herself. When Ghost in the Shell first premiered in Japan, it was greeted as nothing short of a tour de force that would later go on to amass an immense cult following in the states. The film garnered the praise of directors such as James Cameron and the Wachowski sisters (whose late-century cyberpunk classic The Matrix is philosophically indebted to the trail blazed by Oshii’s precedent). Everything about Ghost in the Shell shouts polish and depth, from the ramshackle markets and claustrophobic corridors inspired by the likeness of Kowloon Walled City to the sound design, evident from Kenji Kawai’s sorrowful score, to the sheer concussive punch of every bullet firing across the screen. Oshii took Shirow’s source material and arguably surpassed it, making an already heady science-fiction action drama nto a proto-Kurzweilian fable about the dawn of machine intelligence. Ghost in the Shell is more than a cornerstone of cyberpunk fiction, more essential in this day and age than it was over 20 years ago: a story about what it means to craft one’s self in the digital age, a time where the concept of truth feels as mercurial as the net is vast and infinite. —Toussaint Egan


Who Killed Captain Alex?

who-killed-captain-alex-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Nabwana IGG
Stars: Kakule William, VJ Emmie, Bukenya Charles, Kasumba Isma, G. Puffs, Faizat Muhammed, Bisaso Dauda, Sseruyna Ernest
Genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 70 minutes

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Since 2005, or thereabouts, Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana has filmed high-octane action films on budgets rarely (and reportedly, facts of the director’s methods now sublimated into the realm of myth) surpassing $200 with casts made up of family members and various denizens of his home neighborhood Wakalinga, a slum of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Nabwana IGG’s studio, dubbed Wakaliwood with full reverence for the ’80s icon-led action flicks that primarily influenced him—your Rambos, your Commandos and Cobras, your Lethal Weapons, your Bloodsports and Kickboxers—has produced a blessed bounty of “da best of da best movies,” maniacally violent smorgasbords of shoot-outs and children who practice kung fu, all narrated by VJ Emmie, whose voiceover commentary explains some of the exigencies of the Wakaliwood universe but mostly just gets hype on all the mayhem. The earliest available of Nabwana IGG’s opuses is Who Killed Captain Alex?, the story of exceptional Uganda People’s Defense Force officer Captain Alex (Kakule William) and his nemesis, a leader of the Tiger Mafia only called Richard (Sseruyna Ernest), fighting out a rivalry that leads to Alex’s murder (natch) and the emergence of Alex’s brother, Bruce U (Bukenya Charles), as a local martial arts hero. VJ Emmie explains all of this, as well as the origins of Bruce U’s skills and Captain Alex’s sexual reputation, in vibrant exultation throughout. It’s insanely infectious; more than an enthusiastic showcase for DIY filmmaking, Who Killed Captain Alex?—and all the Wakaliwood films, for that matter—is an ebullient celebration and welcome exception to everything you thought you knew about what makes a movie, action or otherwise, really any good. —Dom Sinacola


Knife + Heart

knife-plus-heart-movie-poster.jpg Director: Yann Gonzalez
Stars: Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moran, Nicolas Maury, Khaled Alouach
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Yann Gonzalez’s gleeful genre mashup Knife Heart is a queer provocation, a delirious journey through celluloid mirrors, daring to assert that pornography is as ripe for personal catharsis as any other art form. In the wake of a breakup with her editor Loïs (Kate Moran) and the murder of one of her actors, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) sets to make her masterpiece, one saturated with her rage and heartbreak. She sends a clear message to her lover etched into a reel of dailies, one of her performers’ head back in ecstasy as if in Warhol’s Blow Job: “You have killed me.” As her cast and crew are killed off one by one, Anne pushes on, driven to put herself in her work, literally and figuratively, the spectre of doom for her shared community growing ever closer. Gonzalez’s film pulsates with erotic verve and a beating broken heart, as if giving yourself up to cinema is the only thing that can keep you alive. When the lights go down and the wind screams through the room, it’s as if Knife Heart, and by extension all film, is the last queer heaven left. —Kyle Turner


Husbands

husbands-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1970
Director: John Cassavetes
Stars: Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, David Rowlands
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 142 minutes

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Men begin as boys. Generally, they find that they like being boys, so they make a concerted effort to stay boys, even when they’ve grown old enough to be married, own homes, have kids, watch their friends die. All the trappings, in other words, that make aging so damn suffocating. So what do men (who are, at heart and in action, really just boys) do when forced to stare down the barrel of their own mortality? They indulge their inner boys. John Cassavetes’ Husbands is about that painful, immature reaction to witnessing death up close, as three pals—Harry (Ben Gazzara), Archie (Peter Falk) and Gus (Cassavetes)—bid their chum Stuart (David Rowlands) their finale farewells and unravel over the course of 140-something prolonged minutes. They fly to London. They play dress-up in suits and bow ties. They gamble. They try to fuck women much younger than them. None of it goes well, nor does it go quickly. Husbands draws out its drama to the point of what feels like forever, which is the point, because the agony these men feel is the kind of agony that escalates the more time passes. The results of Cassavetes’ devotion to driving home his thesis require real effort to endure, overwhelming and teeth-grinding effort. But that’s Cassavetes: Sit through the suffering, be rewarded with authentic, honest-to-goodness (or badness, really) portraits of life in free-fall. —Andy Crump


Kickboxer

kickboxer.jpg Directors: Mark DiSalle, David Worth
Year: 1989
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michel Qissi, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Rochelle Ashana
Genre: Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 30%
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Like an unofficial sequel to 1988’s Bloodsport—but more a refining than a new adventure for that movie’s Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme)—Kickboxer is meatier, meaner, and sweatier than its comparatively tame predecessor. In the course of two years, Van Damme had starred in four action films, his less dependable two (Black Eagle and the inimitable Cyborg, directed by Albert Pyun, who’d go on to helm the sequel) sandwiched between a pair of nearly identical films that pretty much soldered Van Damme’s fully-formed cinematic persona to his blocky, unblemished, well-bred Belgian forehead. It could be said that every Van Damme movie is pretty much every other Van Damme movie, but Kickboxer claims this idea isn’t such a bad one. If time is just a flat circle, let us relish the moment that Van Damme’s mutantly macho Kurt Sloane high-kicks the smarmy grin off the face of psychotic rapist Tong Po (Michel Qissi)—over and over and over again. As if it were only the first time. —Dom Sinacola


Hale County This Morning, This Evening

hale-county-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: RaMell Ross
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 76 minutes

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In Hale County This Morning, This Evening, seeing truly is believing, or at least comprehending, because putting what filmmaker RaMell Ross has done into words is as close to impossible as writing about film can get. A portrait of Alabama’s Hale County—a place named for Deputy to the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States and career racist Stephen F. Hale—as well as a glimpse into the lives of Ross’s family, friends and neighbors, the film defies documentarian conventions through structure and language: There are no talking heads, no bland expositional devices, only stream of consciousness storytelling occasionally interspersed with intertitles that playfully, but soberly, fill in the names of Ross’s subjects, or provide context we would certainly lack without them. In its interior, free-associative way, Hale County This Morning, This Evening is thrilling, a word not often used for characterizing slice-of-life documentaries. (In line with that: If possible, it must be seen on the big screen, too.) Ross boils down lifetimes and the passage of days, weeks, months, perhaps even beyond, into 70 minutes, and, as a result, the movie ultimately lives in between the passage of seconds. Rather than feel compressed, Hale County This Morning, This Evening emerges sweeping and grand, an elusive, awesome American fable. —Andy Crump


Red River

red-river-wayne-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1948
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan
Genre: Drama, Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 132 minutes

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Howard Hawks’ first Western pitted seasoned rancher John Wayne against his adopted son Montgomery Clift in what screenwriter Borden Chase described as Mutiny on the Bounty with saddles and stirrups. Wayne’s Tom Dunson is a tortured, stubborn antihero whose early decision to leave his ladylove results in her death, and a lifetime of regret. He takes a young boy, the sole survivor of the Indian attack that claimed his sweetheart, under his wing and, accompanied by his wagon master, continues on, spending almost 15 years growing a cattle empire in South Texas. Following the Civil War, Dunson figures it’s time for a thousand-mile drive north—with some 10,000 cattle on what would be known as the Chisholm Trail—but the taskmaster’s grown son (Clift) comes to challenge his authority, to mounting peril. A divisive climax notwithstanding (Chase and Clift hated it), Red River is the quintessential Western, marked by a colonial “tough shit” approach to how Dunson takes his territory and a Shakespearean scope. It’s a grand journey rooted in the most deep-seated of human drama. In his first screen role, Clift exudes an intense, neurotic charisma that pushed Wayne to newfound complexity on screen—the tension between generations, values, notions of masculinity and acting methods is palpable, to the film’s benefit. (For another much-discussed relationship, The Celluloid Closet makes the case for a homoerotic subtext between Clift’s character and John Ireland’s Cherry Valance.) Cinematographer Russell Harlan expertly stages such majestic set pieces as the epic stampede, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s classic score swells. Expansive, enduring filmmaking. —Amanda Schurr


Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!

dont-let-the-riverbeast-get-you-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Charles Roxburgh
Stars: Matt Farley, Sharon Scalzo, Kevin McGee, Elizabeth Peterson, Jim McHugh
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Charles Roxburgh and Matt Farley’s microbudget magnum opus—a Creature from the Black Lagoon-ish monster B-movie synthesized through a hyperliterate small-town farce, or something like that—Don’t let the Riverbeast Get You! wears the broad colors of its teensy cost, too often lumped in, like much of Farley and Roxburgh’s work, with the stuff of Tommy Wiseau, Frank D’Angelo, Neil Breen, guys who make good-bad movies because they’re incompetent, not because they have a specific aesthetic or tone they’re compelled to realize on screen. The world of Motern Media, instead, is never anything less than entirely, uniquely sincere, occupied by recurring non-actors more than willing to do their best with Farley and Roxburgh’s mouthfuls of dialogue, long sentences part koan and part practical assessment and all-imbued with a warmth often belied by its full-bodied dopiness. “Butternut squash is not to be shared,” a local friend tells super-tutor Neil (Farley), recently returned to his hometown after leaving in disgrace, the sole vocal witness of the fabled Riverbeast, a big wet monster no one in town’s willing to admit haunts the banks of their only recreational water source. Neil has a lot going on, actually: He’s a silent minority, an outsider because of his experience with the scaly reptilian danger stalking townsfolk, plus he’s taken on the cumbersome duty of tutoring athletic celebrity Frank Stone’s (Kevin McGee, magnificent) daughter, precocious teenager Allie (Sharon Scalzo), who happens to have her own scandal going on, what with the evidence she’s gathered against a professor given to surreptitiously ogling young ladies sunbathing down by the same river where too many people are otherwise mysteriously dying. All of this culminates in a punch-out pitting Neil and Frank against the terrible menace, and a closing line that only grows in brilliance the more one looks back on the film. As is the case with much of Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!: The more you revisit it, the more it reveals whatever it is, something so much more, so much unlike, whatever else you figured it was. —Dom Sinacola


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

star-trek-ii.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Come for the “KhaaAAHHHHHN!” and stay for the surprisingly emotional treatise on aging without wisdom—as well as one hell of a potent, humbling gut punch of an ending. Anyone arguing for any other film in the Trek franchise will find themselves speaking into a black hole chewed in the matte canvas by exquisitely potent villain, played by Ricardo Montalban. That director/co-writer also Nicholas Meyer somehow coaxes a performance from William Shatner that’s only barely un-Kosher makes this movie a space opera with broad, lasting appeal. —Scott Wold


Grizzly Man

2-Netflix-Docs_2015-grizzly man.jpg Year: 2005
Director: Werner Herzog
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Leave it to Werner Herzog to take on a subject as peculiar and tragic as that of Timothy Treadwell, the bear enthusiast who, along with his girlfriend, was killed by his wild obsession in 2003. A sing-songy, pleasant, dangerously deluded man who believed his beloved grizzly companions knew and trusted him, Treadwell, over the course of 13 summers spent in Alaskan national parks, approached bears with both a religious reverence and folksy casualness—the latter of which arguably cost him his life. Treadwell self-anoints himself “kind warrior” and, alternately, “samurai,” and at one point tellingly declares that animals rule, but “Timothy conquered.” Rooted in Treadwell’s own footage, Grizzly Man will divide camps between those who find him a reckless idiot and those who enjoy him as a kooky nature lover, or both. For his part, Herzog is a sympathetic yet level-headed narrator, his even voice and expositional asides setting the tone for a restrained, expertly crafted film. Far from exploitative—existing audio footage of the couple’s death is not heard onscreen, just reacted to and discussed—Grizzly Man is a sensitive, supremely fascinating glimpse of the primal forces within us and apart from us, and what happens when they can’t be reconciled. —Amanda Schurr


Days of Heaven

days-of-heaven.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Terrence Malick
Stars: Richard Gere, Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 93 minutes

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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


Fat City

fat-city-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: John Huston
Stars: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrell, Candy Clark
Genre: Drama, Sports
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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John Huston, a brawling, drinking, macho old-school film director if ever there was one, turned his hand to an adaptation of boxing novel Fat City—and the result was perhaps one of the greatest movies on the subject of pugilism ever made. The soul of the sport lies in folks from the margins—the violent, the criminal, the immigrant poor, the racial minority—and the film’s characters (played by the likes of Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges) are not big-timers, just aspirational men in a dead-end town, feeling left behind by the rest of the world. Huston never shies from the reality of small-time fight game: broken, bruised men with little hope and even fewer prospects, spending their best physical years taking beatings for a living. —Christina Newland


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

mission-impossible-ghost-protocol-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist
Genre: Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 96 minutes

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While Christopher McQuarrie continues to codify Tom Cruise as the asexual ubermensch of our action franchise dreams, it took an animator to realize what wonders could be unleashed when directing the superstar like one would a cartoon character. Tom Cruise can do things normal people can’t, maybe because normal people won’t, though Tom Cruise might just say that normal people don’t, the man’s career providing ample evidence that he believes he can do things normal people can’t because he does them. His impossible mission is himself; Brad Bird understood this. The fourth Mission: Impossible movie, then, is a testament to Tom Cruise’s logic, to having him do astounding things because he’s doing them, for us, to both show us what we could do if only we were doing it, and to entertain us, because he’s nothing if not a consummately entertaining performer. When Ethan Hunt (Cruise) clambers over the exterior of the Burj Khalifa, Bird captures Cruise with the open-faced awe of a director who can’t believe the malleable specimen he’s got in his grasp. When the Kremlin implodes with more than a hint of disaster porn footage, or when Ethan Hunt’s outrunning an all-consuming sandstorm, or when Ethan Hunt’s escaping from a maximum security prison in Moscow, Bird’s imagination spews from every spectacle, America’s favorite ridiculous leading man at the heart of it all, looking chiseled and genial but also like he doesn’t understand human touch. This is Cruise’s gift to Bird, and this is Bird’s gift to us, paying it forward. —Dom Sinacola


His Girl Friday

his-girl-friday-poster.jpg Year: 1940
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Special effects have become so sophisticated that many of us have probably forgotten how much pure amazement you can wreak with a great story and a script that doesn’t let up for one second. This amazing, dizzyingly paced screwball comedy by Howard Hawks stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and takes us back into two of the decade’s hallmark preoccupations: The “remarriage comedy” and the intrigue and obsessiveness of the newspaper world. The minute Russell’s Lindy Johnson stalks into the newspaper office run by her ex-husband Walter Burns (Grant), you know it’s to tell him she’s getting remarried and leaving journalism to raise a family, and you know that’s not how it’s going to end. No high-suspense mystery here. What puts you on the edge of your seat in this film is how you get there. Hilariously acted and expertly filmed, His Girl Friday derives much of its comedic impact from the incredibly clever and lightning-fast banter of the characters. Don’t even think about checking your phone while you’re watching this. In fact, try to blink as little as possible. —Amy Glynn


The Virgin Suicides

virgin-suicides-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner, James Woods, Giovanni Ribisi, Josh Hartnett
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Set in the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, The Virgin Suicides is yet another Detroit-area, ’70s-era film obsessed with death. That its quintet of young protagonists—sisters played to unnervingly angelic perfection by Kirsten Dunst, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall, Leslie Hayman and Chelse Swain—all commit suicide in the end is far from a surprise, of course: What is a surprise is that we never know why. In fact, the film is almost an oneiric procedural, in which the neighborhood boys who become infatuated with the strange daughters pick apart, piece by piece, detail by detail, the befuddling lives behind the objects of their affection. As such, The Virgin Suicides gracefully attempts to remember what it’s like to be a suburban teenager, comfortable in Middle America but uncomfortable with one’s body. Yet, the brilliance of Sofia Coppola’s direction (on even her first film) is in the way she laces such a seemingly innocent story with malice and melancholy, fixating on details that don’t matter or moments that have no consequence. That the narrator (Giovanni Ribisi) refers throughout to the decaying of the auto industry in Detroit makes the film as much a ghost story about Southwest Michigan as it is a tale of unrequited love: Try as hard as we might, we’ll probably never be able to trace the tragedy of Detroit back to its source. —Dom Sinacola


First Reformed

first-reformed-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Paul Schrader
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Gaston, Philip Ettinger
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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What makes a man start fires? What if that person were a man of God? Paul Schrader, now 71, has perhaps spent his entire career as a filmmaker attempting to ask that question, to breach the impenetrable truth of whatever that question’s answer could be, beginning with Blue Collar, a story of auto workers and union members in Detroit compromising their values to survive in the shadow of forces too large and too immovable to compromise themselves. With First Reformed, Schrader’s 20th feature as director, that question absorbs the whole film—not through cries of nihilism, as in his previous, garbage Dog Eat Dog, but as a sustained act of faith: What must the devout do for a world God has abandoned? The question lingers wetly in Ethan Hawke’s eyes as he carries every frame of Schrader’s film. Playing Father Ernst Toller—a minister who in a former life had a wife and a son and a military career, an end brought to all three by that son’s death in Iraq—Hawke has spent the past 20 or so years sublimating the radical tendencies of his iconic slackerdom into a fiercely simmering anxiety, as if the purposelessness of his past malaise has left him stewing on how little he can or could do to change anything in this world. Not only does First Reformed directly butt heads with Dog Eat Dog, but it indulges melodrama without losing its calm. It works in obvious metaphors not for their own sakes, but as seamless extensions of theme. It’s a gorgeous film, mourning the impossibility of being alive as it celebrates that which binds us, a conscious-rattling, viscera-stirring piece of art. And ultimately, it’s a shocking film, powerful images gripping even more powerful fires within the bodies of those unequipped, as we all are, to put them out. —Dom Sinacola


Once Upon a Time in China

once-upon-time-in-china-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1991
Director: Tsui Hark
Stars: Jet Li, Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan, Jacky Cheung, Kent Cheng
Genre: Action & Adventure, Martial Arts
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes

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Tsui Hark’s renowned masterpiece and a high-water mark for historical Asian action movies—among his many films—Once Upon A Time In China is a story of epic scope told through small moments and even smaller gestures. In barely 10 years, Tsui had established himself as an incomparable master of the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema; in this, the effortless beauty of some of Tsui’s images, scattered generously throughout this film, provide irrefutable evidence of his magnanimous vision. Even within its opening credits, which quietly observe folk hero Wong Fei-hung (Jet Li) as he trains a militia to defend his homeland from an impending Western menace, Tsui’s knack for finding near spiritual grace in the rigors of martial arts training is obvious: the golden sun, the reflective sand, the silhouettes of healthy bodies against the surf—this is only one tiny glimpse of Tsui’s visual prowess. That we then later get the privilege of watching Jet Li, in a short-brimmed straw sunhat, fight off a gang of thugs with an umbrella is a many-splendored thing. —Dom Sinacola


Memories

memories-otomo-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Directors: Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura
Stars: Tsutomu Isobe, Hideyuki Hori, Gara Takashima
Genre: Anime, Science-Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 116 minutes

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After wrapping production on Akira in 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo returned in 1995 to helm his third anthology collection of short films, titled Memories. Initially scripted around the theme of the collection’s namesake, the anthology eventually yielded a series of three shorts, each fronted by one of three of the most acclaimed directors working at the time, Otomo included. The first segment, “Magnetic Rose,” is unanimously praised as the anthology’s best, and for good reason: Directed by Koji Morimoto and scripted by Satoshi Kon, “Magnetic Rose” is emblematic of the themes of perception, identity and uncertainty, which exemplify Kon’s work at its most incisive, depicting the terrifying story of a deep space salvage cruise’s ensnarement in the siren wiles of an aristocratic opera singer. The anthology’s other two installments, Tensai Okamura’s “Stink Bomb” and Otomo’s “Cannon Fodder,” are worth the price of admission as well, the former a crassly comedic take on an extinction-level crisis and the latter a wartime parable animated with an intriguing Terry Gilliam-esque art style (framed as one long take). Whatever your palate as anime film-goer, Memories is not to be missed. —Toussaint Egan


Knives Out

knives-out-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 130 minutes

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Knives Out is the type of movie that’s not so much a dying breed as one that just occurs uncommonly “in the wild.” Hollywood seems to release a new take on the classic (i.e., Agatha Christie-imprinted) murder mystery “who dunnit”—where an eccentrically mannered detective attempts to figure out who amongst a roomful of suspects has committed murder most foul—every five-to-10 years. For most viewers, the pleasures of such movies go beyond trying to figure out the killer before the detective does—there’s also typically a star-studded cast chewing up the scenery. Beyond dependable Christie fare like Death on the Nile (1978) and Murder on the Orient Express (2017), there’s Clue (1985), Gosford Park (2001) and now Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. Johnson’s latest starts out in classic who-dunnit fashion—acclaimed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead by apparent suicide the night after gathering his family together and delivering a series of unpopular messages. Enter the local police (led by Lakeith Stansfield’s Det. Lt. Elliott) and eccentrically mannered (there we go!) private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Suspects are interrogated. Secrets are revealed. Then, right as the viewer is gearing up to lay some Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot/Encyclopedia Brown-level discernment on all this, Johnson reveals what happened to the elder Thrombey. This flips the entire experience for the viewer, as they go from trying to figure out what happened to wondering if the truth will be discovered. Much as he did with Dashiell Hammett-style noir in his debut, Brick, Johnson shows both a reverence for and a willingness to tinker with the tropes and formula underpinning his story. It’s all delightful to watch. If, ultimately, Knives Out accomplishes what it sets out to do—which might sound like faint or even damning praise with another film or in another genre—here it’s meant as the sincerest of plaudits. —Michael Burgin


Election

Election285x400.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Tom Perrotta writes novels that strip the veneer from polite and “civilized” mid-American suburban life to expose it as the Starbucks-ian jungle that it is: The most reptilian impulses of human nature can strike at any time to dismantle the weak ones in the pack, or to at least flirt with pure narcissistic and hedonistic behavior. In fact, two great films based on his work outline this thematic connection—in Todd Field’s Little Children, the sexual indiscretions of small town characters are narrated like an old school National Geographic documentary, and in Alexander Payne’s Election, the soundtrack blares with a screeching, angry tribal chant whenever a character feels slighted, preparing for an attack to socially destroy an enemy. Perrotta and Payne’s narrative covers a rift between a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who isn’t self-aware enough to realize how much of a selfish prick he really is, and a student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the embodiment of blind and ruthless ambition, during the election to appoint the new student body president. Underneath this simple story rides a precise and nimble exploration about the lengths anyone might go to on the road to success to protect their fragile ego while stabbing many backs. Witherspoon’s now-iconic take on Tracy Flick is the embodiment of that person we’ve all encountered who will do and say literally anything to get ahead in life. However, Broderick’s seemingly caring and guiding teacher also succumbs to his own basest desires. Which one perishes, and which one comes out on top depends not on any preconceived cosmic hierarchy of good morals (or ethics—what’s the difference?), but on who can be the shrewdest and cleverest animal in the pack. —Oktay Ege Kozak


Don’t Look Now

dont-look-now-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1973
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Don’t Look Now is one of horror cinema’s great treatises on grief, an emotionally devastating film that likewise functions as a masterclass on the use of visual and aural leitmotifs. After a married couple (Julie Christie and a typically unhinged Donald Sutherland) loses their daughter to a drowning accident, they travel abroad while trying unsuccessfully to cope, until the wife is contacted by a psychic who claims to be able to speak with their deceased daughter. What follows is a descent down a rabbit hole of faith, doubt and precognition, which tests the limits of Sutherland’s character’s sanity in particular. Highly atmospheric, and making spectacular use of the natural canals and bridges of Venice, Don’t Look Now winds through dark streets both visually and symbolically in search of answers to its burning questions. Famous in its time for a fairly explicit sex scene (that has long since been surpassed ), Don’t Look Now instead deserves to be remembered for its performance by Sutherland as the truth-seeking father, his mania driving him into a conclusion that will haunt your nightmares. If ever anyone has beseeched you to not spoil a film’s ending, Don’t Look Now would be the film in which warnings are best heeded. —Jim Vorel


In the Year of the Pig

in-the-year-of-the-pig-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Emile de Antonio
Genre: Documentary, War
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Consider this a companion piece to Hearts and Minds, a dedicated investigation into the political and social context that somnambulantly found America embroiled in a disastrous war effort during a time when it felt as if America was capable of anything but staying out of the business of others. Sharing a few key interviews and footage with Peter Davis’s film, Antonio’s bleakly atonal documentary expresses nearly identical contempt for the inscrutability of American actions. And yet, In the Year of the Pig is the better glimpse into Vietnamese culture at the time, and so is one side of an equation that Hearts and Minds would rather complete with a film about America—all of it—during the same era. Today, Antonio’s more experimental editing choices feel a little too obvious—especially the sequence in which he pairs “patriotic” music with a blatantly jingoistic recruitment film for anti-communist North Vietnamese—but on the whole In the Year of the Pig is no less incendiary: frank, full of rage and so scrappy it might as well be an introduction to the reality of our supposedly time-tested democracy for every young idealistic American—if such a thing exists anymore. —Dom Sinacola


The Neon Demon

neon-demon-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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If Nicolas Winding Refn—anthropomorphic cologne bottle; asexual jaguar—is going to make a horror film, Nicolas Winding Refn will make a horror film about the things that scare Nicolas Winding Refn most: asymmetry, sex, fatherhood. In The Neon Demon, every character is either someone’s daughter or a deranged daddy figure, both thirsty for the kind of flesh only Los Angeles can provide, the roles of predator and prey in constant, unnerving flux. Part cannibal-slasher movie and part endlessly pretty car commercial, Refn’s film about a young model (Elle Fanning) making it in the fashion industry goes exactly where you think it’s going to go, even when it’s trying as hard as it can to be weird as fuck. But despite his best efforts, Refn sustains such an overarching, creeping atmosphere of despair—such a deeply ingrained sense of looming physical imperfection, of death—that it never really matters if The Neon Demon doesn’t add up to much of anything more than a factory showroom of the many gorgeous skins it inhabits, violently or not. —Dom Sinacola


Inside Llewyn Davis

inside-llewyn-davis-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Oscar Isaac, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is not a good man; he tells his nephew as much, as if he’s long ago resigned himself to that reality. How long ago isn’t clear—time, when you’re crashing from couch to couch and so relentless in your artistic idealism that your problems become everyone else’s, is malleable. Has a tendency to fall back on itself, to rewind and re-begin. In 1961, Llewyn is a staple in New York’s emerging folk scene, having scored some minor attention for an album he recorded with a former partner, that partner now a success-shaped hole in Lewyn’s life. His solo album isn’t doing so well—hasn’t even been officially released by a label—though Llewyn knows he’s good, perhaps even great, despising any other artist (played by the likes of Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver and Carey Mulligan) not calibrated to his particular standards for what constitutes ethical, incisive music-making. We’re convinced that he’s good too, given long scenes of Isaac fully performing often heart-wrenching songs, Bruno Delbonnel’s camera glimpsing these forgotten images through a soft, muted haze, somehow both romanticizing and judging our memories of what that part of history could have been. Llewyn’s talent hardly matters, though; he’s lost a part of himself that could connect with an audience. If Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen brothers’ rumination on what it would mean for their partnership to end, it’s a deeply personal confession of vulnerability and fear. If the film is a love letter to a mythologized era that may have never existed, then it is about whether or not Llewyn actually is a good man, whether or not what he represented actually means anything—whether or not he will be remembered as anything more than a Llewyn-shaped hole in the lives of all the people he let down. —Dom Sinacola


The Handmaiden

handmaiden-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Kim Tae-ri, Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 145 minutes

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There are few filmmakers on Earth capable of crafting the experience of movies like The Handmaiden so exquisitely while maintaining both plot inertia and a sense of fun. (Yes, it’s true: Park has made a genuinely fun, and often surprisingly, bleakly funny, picture.) The film begins somberly enough, settling on a tearful farewell scene as Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is carted off to the manor of the reclusive and exorbitantly rich aristocrat Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), where she will act as servant to his niece, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). But Sook-hee isn’t a maid: She’s a pickpocket working on behalf of Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a conman scheming to get his mitts on Hideko’s assets. (That’s not a euphemism. He only wants her for her money.) The reveal of Sook-hee’s true intentions is just the first of many on The Handmaiden’s narrative itinerary. Park has designed the film as a puzzle box where each step taken to find the solution answers one question while posing new ones at the same time. But you’re here to read about the sex, aren’t you? It’s in the sex scenes between the two Kims that Park shows the kind of filmmaker he really is. The sex is sexy, the scenes steamy, but in each we find a tenderness that invites us to read them as romance rather than as pornography. We’re not conditioned to look for humanity in pantomimes of a sexually explicit nature, but that’s exactly when The Handmaiden is at its most human. There’s something comforting in that, and in Park’s framing of deviance as embodied by the film’s masculine component. We don’t really need him to spell that out for us, but the message is welcome all the same. —Andy Crump


Detour

detour-criterion.jpg Year: 1945
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Stars: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Mystery & Suspense
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 68 minutes

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A Poverty Row staple with an unknown cast peering into the post-war dark night of the soul, Detour has come to embody the best film noir has to offer—namely, that budget and schedule concerns indirectly enriched the artistic product, paring down a weightier script and even more bloated source novel into a precise, exquisitely sharp bit of storytelling economy. Trapped within the sweaty mind of always-broke jazz pianist Al Roberts (Tom Neal) as he heads West from New York to settle down with his girlfriend (Claudia Drake), a symbol of stable life for Roberts who absconded with his heart to try to “make it” in Hollywood, we’re stuck with only the unlucky guy’s version of events throughout his increasingly desperate trip. After all, his hitchhiking journey seems doomed to fail from the start, but it grows damn near bleak with the accidental cadaver-ing of a gregarious Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) following a whirlwind buddy meet-cute, and then completely hopeless with the introduction of Vera (Ann Savage), an iconic femme fatale who doesn’t have to try hard to ensnare Roberts, by that point so far out of his league he’s got his pants pulled up well past his nipples. As much an efficient encapsulation of its genre as it is a noir drowning entirely within its own hell-bent nightmare, Detour is most impressive for how gracefully Ulmer can get the most out of so little. —Dom Sinacola


Aguirre, the Wrath of God

aquirre-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Klaus Kinski, Elena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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The Rosetta Stone to understanding the relationship between director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski is contained within watching the way Herzog sees Kinski as Aguirre, the Conquistador circa 1560 who, through the sheer power of his belligerence, led a small army of Spaniards to their certain doom. In Kinski’s disturbing, hobbled presence, Aguirre is delusion manifest, his need to find the lost City of Gold while trekking through the unforgiving rain forests of Peru so corrupt and surreal it appears to be crippling his body from the inside out, crawling free from his heart and escaping his bug-eyes. Herzog exploits that delusion when he casts Kinski—known IRL for his self-aggrandizing optics and unbelievable cruelty—and in Aguirre, the Wrath of God is no purer sense of just how wholly Herzog knows Kinski’s true nature, letting it seep into—infect—the reality of the film itself: “Based on a true story” wasn’t so debased a cinematic term until Fargo took up the challenge decades later. Which is pretty much how Herzog treats true stories anyway—his documentary subjects he’s known to openly manipulate, and even Paul Cronin’s Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed book, a series of conversations amounting to a career retrospective, Cronin prologues with a lengthy explanation for how involved Herzog was in editing and rewriting his own interviews. What’s left in lieu of fealty to the story of Gonzalo Pizzaro’s ill-fated expedition is something so much more visceral: A reenactment of the story’s—and therefore History’s—pain, absurdity and grand illusion. —Dom Sinacola


Annihilation

annihilation-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Annihilation is a movie that’s impossible to shake. Like the characters who find themselves both exploring the world of the film and inexplicably trapped by it, you’ll find yourself questioning yourself throughout, wondering whether what you’re watching can possibly be real, whether maybe you’re going a little insane yourself. The film is a near-impossible bank shot by Ex Machina filmmaker Alex Garland, a would-be science fiction actioner that slowly reveals itself to be a mindfuck in just about every possible way, a film that wants you to invest in its universe yet never gives you any terra firma on which to orient yourself, a film hoping you’re as confused and terrified as the characters you’re watching, these characters played by big stars (Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh) backed by a big movie studio, a film that becomes more confusing and disorienting as it goes along. In this, it is unquestionably successful. Garland mesmerizes with his visuals, but he wants you to be off-balance; like the alien (I think?) of his movie, Garland is not a malevolent presence, but simply an observer of this world, one who follows it to every possible permutation, logical or otherwise. It’s difficult to explain Annihilation, which is a large reason for its being. Loss, and regret, and the sensation that the world is constantly crumbling and rearranging all around you every possible second: The world of Annihilation feels familiar, but only at first. Reality is fluid, and ungraspable. A little like our current reality in that way. —Will Leitch


The Act of Killing

act-of-killing.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing focuses on one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century, speaking to some members of the Indonesian death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women in 1965 and ’66. These people don’t live in the shadows, though—instead they’re treated like royalty in their native land, celebrated as heroes who helped “save” Indonesia from communism. The film is so shocking and depressing that its subjects’ utter disconnection from morality would almost be funny if it wasn’t so frightening. Oppenheimer amplifies those conflicting reactions further by introducing a daring gambit: In the process of interviewing these butchers—who brag about raping and killing their victims (including the occasional beheading)—the director asked if they would be interested in re-creating their murders through fictionalized, filmed scenes. The men—most notably a gentleman named Anwar Congo, who was one of the death squad leaders—leapt at the chance. What follows is a literally nauseous glimpse into the minds of men who have spent decades mentally escaping the inescapable. —Tim Grierson


The Fits

the-fits.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Anna Rose Holmer
Stars: Royalty Hightower, Da’Sean Minor
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 72 minutes

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It’s not difficult to imagine a different cut of Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits that hews closer to the arc of a traditional sports story. Hers has the makings of a familiar one, about a misfit who wants more than anything to compete—but unlike most stories of inspirational audacity, The Fits is as much about discomfort as the catharsis that comes with achievement. In it, Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old who has more experience with stereotypically male pursuits like lifting weights and punching speed bags than the usual interests of a pre-teen girl. She spends nearly all of her time at the Lincoln Recreation Center alongside her boxer brother, Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), pushing her body to the limit. While she shows a remarkable aptitude for the ascetical devotion required for boxing, she still dreams about competing on the dance team, “The Lincoln Lionesses.”

Framed with a rigid sense of space by cinematographer Paul Yee, and backed by the groaning score from veteran composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, The Fits is infused with such dread that one can’t help but imagine that characters’ muscles and bones could break or shatter at any moment. The film’s most explicit example of which may be Toni pulling off a temporary tattoo, but The Fits is firmly a story of metaphysical body horror, an allegory about our greatest fears of physical fragility shot brilliantly through a feminist lens. With that, the film manages to reinvent the sports story as something both brainy and physically pure. —Michael Snydel


High Life

high-life-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Claire Denis
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, André Benjamin
Genre: Drama, Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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High Life begins with a moment of intense vulnerability, followed immediately by a moment of immense strength. First we glimpse a garden, verdant and welcoming, before we’re ushered to a sterile room. There we realize there’s a baby alone while Monte (Robert Pattinson), her father maybe, consoles her, talking through a headset mounted within his space helmet. “Da da da,” he explains through the intercom; the baby starts to lose her shit because he’s not really there, he’s perched outside, on the surface of their basic Lego-piece of a spaceship, just barely gripped on the edge of darkness. They’re in space, one supposes, surrounded by dark, oppressive nothingness, and he can’t reach her. They’re alone. Next, Monte empties their cryogenic storage locker of all the dead bodies of his once-fellow crew members, lifting their heavy limbs and torsos into space suits, not because it matters, but maybe just because it’s something to do to pass the time, as much a sign of respect as it is an emotional test of will. Monte looks healthy and capable, like he can withstand all that loneliness, like he and his daughter might actually make it out of this OK, whatever this is. High Life lives inside that juxtaposition, displaying tenderness as graphically as violence and anger and incomprehensible fear, mining all that blackness surrounding its characters for as much terror as writer-director Claire Denis can afford without getting obvious about it. Pattinson, flattened and lithe, plays Monte remarkably, coiled within himself to the point that he finishes every word deep in his throat, his sentences sometimes total gibberish. He doesn’t allow much to escape his face, but behind his eyes beams something scary, as if he could suddenly, and probably will, crack. He says as much to Willow, his kid, whispering to her while she sleeps that he could easily kill them both, never wanting to hurt her but still polluting her dreams. He can’t help it, and neither can Denis, who, on her 14th film (first in English), can make an audience believe, like few other directors, that anything can happen. Madness erupts from silence and sleep, bodily fluids dripping all over and splattering throughout and saturating the psyches of these criminal blue collar astronauts, the overwhelming stickiness of the film emphasizing just how intimately close Denis wants us to feel to these odd, sick fleshbags hurtling toward the edge of consciousness. —Dom Sinacola


Johnny Guitar

johnny-guitar.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady
Genre: Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Johnny Guitar is a film that barely hangs onto its genre trappings—and is one of the strangest and rarest of fifties Westerns. Nicholas Ray specialized in borderline-hysterical, hyper-magnified psychological drama, regardless of the setting. Here, he pits tough saloon keeper Vienna (a hard-faced Joan Crawford) against wrathful rival Mercedes McCambridge. Sterling Hayden sidles in as Vienna’s love interest and the catalyst for the witch hunt, but he’s hardly the driving force of the film. That showdown belongs to the women of Johnny Guitar—and the fearsome, small-minded community that surrounds them. —Christina Newland


Mission: Impossible – Fallout

mission-impossible-fallout-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan
Genre: Action & Adventure, Mystery & Suspense
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 147 minutes

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At some point midway through Mission: Impossible – Fallout—the sixth entry in the franchise and director Christopher McQuarrie’s unprecedented second go at helming one of these beasts—CIA brute Austin Walker (Henry Cavill) asks his superior, CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett), how many times she thinks Übermensch Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) will put up with his country screwing him over before he snaps. Walker’s question is rhetorical, intended to convince Sloane that Hunt is actually John Lark, the alias of a shadowy conspirator planning to buy stolen plutonium whom he and Hunt also happen to be chasing, but the question is better put before Cruise, the film’s bright, shining star. It’s a question that hangs over this dependably mind-blowing action flick more obviously than any installment to come before: How long can 56-year-old Cruise keep doing this before he, truly and irrevocably, snaps? Fallout never offers an answer, most likely because Cruise won’t have one until his body just completely gives out, answering for him by default. Fallout shows no real signs of that happening any time soon. What it does show is a kind of blockbuster intuition for what makes our enormous action brands—from Fast and the Furious to the MCU—thrive, behind only Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol as the best of the now 22-year endeavor. Where Bird leaned into the franchise as a literalization of its title, redefining the series by balancing the absurdity of what Cruise was impossibly doing (the Burj Khalifa scene is one of the greatest action sequences ever) with the awe of bearing witness to what a human person could accomplish if devoid of all Thetans, McQuarrie considers the two pretty much the same thing. The only reaction worthy of such absurdity is awe—and the only American tentpole films worth our awe anymore are those deemed Mission: Impossible. It’s all so goddamned beautiful. I love these movies. —Dom Sinacola


You Were Never Really Here

never-really-here-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Judith Roberts, Alex Manette, Alessandro Nivola
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Lynne Ramsay has a reputation for being uncompromising. In industry patois, that means she has a reputation for being “difficult.” Frankly, the word that best describes her is “unrelenting.” Filmmakers as in charge of their aesthetic as Ramsay are rare. Rarer still are filmmakers who wield so much control without leaving a trace of ego on the screen. If you’ve seen any of the three films she made between 1999 and 2011 (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin), then you’ve seen her dogged loyalty to her vision in action, whether that vision is haunting, horrific or just plain bizarre. She’s as forceful as she is delicate. Her fourth film, You Were Never Really Here—haunting, horrific and bizarre all at once—is arguably her masterpiece, a film that treads the line delineating violence from tenderness in her body of work. Calling it a revenge movie doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like a sustained scream. You Were Never Really Here’s title is constructed of layers, the first outlining the composure of her protagonist, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix, acting behind a beard that’d make the Robertson clan jealous), a military veteran and former federal agent as blistering in his savagery as in his self-regard. Joe lives his life flitting between past and present, hallucination and reality. Even when he physically occupies a space, he’s confined in his head, reliving horrors encountered in combat, in the field and in his childhood on a non-stop, simultaneous loop. Each of her previous movies captures human collapse in slow motion. You Were Never Really Here is a breakdown shot in hyperdrive, lean, economic, utterly ruthless and made with fiery craftsmanship. Let this be the language we use to characterize her reputation as one of the best filmmakers working today. —Andy Crump


Sunset Boulevard

sunset-boulevard.jpg Year: 1950
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: G
Runtime:111 minutes

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Billy Wilder’s meta noir is a doozy, an unfailingly cynical critique of showbiz and a portrait of postwar alienation projected on the microcosm of Hollywood. It’s also wickedly funny in Sahara dry fashion, from the opening words of our dead narrator—floating facedown in his killer’s swimming pool—to Norma Desmond’s concluding descent down her staircase, and the rabbit hole. Gloria Swanson is magnificent and sad as Ms. Desmond, a fading beauty of the silent screen who manipulates broke, hackish screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) into becoming her boy toy. Theirs is a fated relationship from the get-go, she of the wordless era, he dependent on them for his very livelihood. They’re on the outs with their industry, and each other, yet coexist out of desperation. Wilder, who co-wrote with Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman Jr., layered the script with in-joke upon self-referential wink, perhaps the least of which is Desmond’s passion project, about that OG of femme fatales, Salome. There’s a parade of Hollywood cameos, namechecks, and behind-the-scenes instances of “art imitating life” (and vice versa); for example, Erich von Stroheim, who portrays Desmond’s former director/first husband-turned-still lovestruck butler Max, directed Swanson in 1929’s Queen Kelly (excerpted here) before she as the film’s producer fired him, much like her Sunset Blvd. character discards his. Many of these nods were in less-than-good fun, so it’s no shock that Sunset Boulevard met with local disdain, yet Wilder doesn’t flinch. Norma, Joe, Max … they’re all unwanted souls who, try as they might to live in the past, have succumbed to the present—in Joe’s case, most finally. The smoke and mirrors of Tinseltown, of life, don’t do the job anymore (though cinematographer John Seitz, who also lensed Double Indemnity, most certainly did, sprinkling dust into the air for the lights to catch). Desmond may be a seductress past her sell-by date, but Hollywood is the ultimate femme fatale, who chews suckers up and spits them out. Sunset Boulevard gives L.A. its close-up, alright. —Amanda Schurr


Park Row

park-row-movie-poster copy.jpg Year: 1952
Director: Samuel Fuller
Stars: Gene Evans, Mary Welch, Bela Kovacs, George O’Hanlon, Herbert Heyes, Forrest Taylor
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 83 minutes

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A love letter to journalism as an ideal of physical, blue collar, all-American labor—a eulogy to a time when “the news” was a violent calling, something to a fight and maybe even die for—Samuel Fuller’s Park Row unabashedly begins like a hagiography for Johannes Gutenberg and Benjamin Franklin, the two patron saints whose statues lord over the titular sacred street in Manhattan. The story of two feuding newspaper magnates, one a rich sophisticate (Bela Kovacs) who inherited the biggest newspaper in town from her dad and one a savvy newspaperman through and through (fired from his rival’s paper for loving the truth just too damn much), Fuller’s film is less a procedural dignifying the meticulous craft of reporting and more a take akin to Werner Herzog’s approach to documentaries: It’s OK to manipulate the facts just as long as they serve something greater. Whatever that may be, whatever “greater” good to which Fuller feels his grease-stained characters aspire, Fuller finds absolution in the grace of his compositions, favoring long takes of people getting dirty—pulling all-nighters and fighting and fraternizing with riff-raff—while making myths of his unrelenting heroes. —Dom Sinacola


American Gigolo

american-gigolo-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Paul Schrader
Stars: Richard Gere, Bill Duke, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%
Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes

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In 1980’s American Gigolo, Richard Gere’s high-priced escort Julian knows what he’s good at, and proud of it, too. His clients are predominantly older women, women whose husbands, in his understanding, have forgotten them, or whose desires and need for pleasure have been discarded. His ability to satisfy them—he calls this “a challenge” he is up to—gives him fulfillment, the implication of meaning in his life. That life, otherwise, is organized; there is a routine to his actions. His home is modern, defined by the intentional affectation of someone putting on appearances. That’s what he does for a living: He puts on appearances. Julian’s image aspires to be the most charming and eligible man, even when he’s playing naïve, as he does with one client. He feigns stupidity, though when he does so as a simple chauffeur, he exudes the kind of sex appeal that’s only natural because it’s so practiced. He works out, sculpts himself. When he places his clothes on the bed (they’re Armani), he crafts the best version of himself to sell to others. Julian has standards when it comes to tricks: no kink, no fag stuff. But those standards, and the secrets he’s kept so well for the women that have employed him, fall apart when he becomes embroiled in a murder case, the victim being one of his tricks. As he loses all sense of himself and the control he once thought he had over his world, the meticulously created artifice of his life dissolves rapidly. Though Julian is (ostensibly) heterosexual, American Gigolo is a queer film by virtue of its form. Schrader imbues the film with queer aesthetics, its Californian, neon-painted fakeness, its kitschy set design (the loudest furniture juxtaposed against the most austere symmetry) and its little dose of Blondie, “Call Me” blaring at the beginning of the film. One of his pimps, Leon (Bill Duke) is gay and black, and the affair he carries on with Michelle Stratton (Lauren Hutton), the wife of a well-known politician, feels like a stiff fantasy. Masculinity is a prison, the film almost seems to suggest, as the masculine self Jules so dutifully crafted begins to sour and fall apart. His world sinks, and he’s left with almost no one. The men in Paul Schrader’s films are undone by the feeble attempts to preserve restrictive ideals of masculinity: One event sets off a chain reaction, a domino effect for the undoing of the self. The curated acts, the sculpting, that Julian commits to are flimsy, revealing that, once one peels back each layer of “manhood,” inside is something vacant, an abyss of loneliness and anxiety. —Kyle Turner


Knockabout

knockabout poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1979
Director: Sammo Hung
Stars: Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung,
Genre: Action & Adventure, Martial Arts, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Knockabout is the perfect template for a Sammo Hung movie: simply plotted, crowd-pleasing, good-natured and infinitely rewatchable—Hong Kong martial arts comfort food. Hung directs and co-stars as a “fat beggar,” very much in the vein of Drunken Master’s Beggar So, without the intoxication. Really, though, Knockabout is truly a showcase for Yuen Biao, one of the “Seven Little Fortunes” that included Jackie Chan and Hung, beloved by genre fans but not nearly well known enough to international audiences, which was and is a real shame. Like Chan, Yuen’s lithe athleticism and comedic chops make him instantly likable, but in terms of physicality he might be an even more acrobatic (if not intimidating) fighter. In Knockabout, he trains with Hung in order to hunt down the man who killed his brother (fresh idea!), but hey, it gives us an excuse for some phenomenal training montages featuring monkey style kung fu and an amazing jump rope sequence. —Jim Vorel


Brawl in Cell Block 99

brawl-cell-block-99-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: S. Craig Zahler
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Don Johnson, Jennifer Carpenter, Marc Blucas, Rob Morgan, Udo Kier
Genre: Thriller, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 132 minutes

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In which we bask in Vince Vaughn’s hugeness, witnessing S. Craig Zahler’s pitch-perfect ode to grindhouse cinema draw the best of extremes out of an actor who’s had a rough couple years crawling out from under the parody of himself. This is not Vince Vaughn playing Bradley Thomas, stolid brute willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family, it is the silhouette of Vince Vaughn, silent and bigger than everyone else in the room, a spectre of bruised flesh—so much flesh—descending circle by circle into Hades, his odyssey heralded by the likes of Don Johnson and Udo Kier (both seemingly born to be in this endlessly compelling, awfully fucked-up movie) and soundtracked by soul/RnB icons like the O’Jays and Butch Tavares. It confirms that Zahler—along with Bone Tomahawk—is on some Tarantino levels of modern genre filmmaking—which could honestly be a pejorative, were Brawl in Cell Block 99 less finely tuned, less patient and less breathlessly violent. By the time Bradley lurches into irrevocable action, foreshadowed by an opening scene in which he rips apart a car with his bare hands, which is exactly as that sounds, every life force he snuffs out with maximum barbarity also comes with pure satisfaction, the Id of anyone who’s into this kind of thing stroked to completion. —Dom Sinacola


Zama

zama-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Lucrecia Martel
Stars: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín, Daniel Veronese
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 115 minutes

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Early in Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, her dreamy intent and languid images begin to nestle into place. First we witness Spanish corregidor (“mayor”) Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho, whose eyes bear lifetimes of disappointment and resignation) on the shore of a nondescript river, in charge of a desolate Spanish colonial outpost in the middle of nowhere South America, though he seems to be more inhabiting it than litigating its quotidian. Catching a group of native women bathing, he steals a glance but is immediately found out, chased from the beach. Slapping one of the women to assert his dominance, Zama’s violent reaction feels preposterous, the response of a person with no control over himself, or his lot in life. This land rejects this sad man.

Director Lucrecia Martel and cinematographer Rui Poças (whose worked with Miguel Gomes and, recently, with João Pedro Rodrigues on the exquisitely pretty The Ornithologist) dedicate nearly every frame to Zama’s melancholy maundering, though rarely allowing him the dignity to ever be the most interesting figure in any particular shot, that is, when they aren’t up close, searching his lined mug for something representing courage or assertiveness. Stranded in a thankless government job, not so much forgotten by the system as just avoided, Zama is a colonist renounced by both the colonized and colonizers. Zama is literally post-colonial: Colonists negate Diego de Zama’s colonialism by negating him, an equation Martel and Poças externalize by photographing with foreboding beauty the jungle around the pathetic man, reducing him to a meaningless, replaceable figure amidst effortlessly mighty landscapes. “Do you want to live?” Zama’s asked at the end of the film. He doesn’t respond. With her third film, Lucrecia Martel wonders, in wide swathes of unmitigated wilderness and weird, inexplicable poetry, just how far one’s wants can go. Bewitching and masterfully rendered, Zama is an elegant, ravishing, often delightfully strange achievement. It is reportedly the result of an interminable production process, of a difficult and substantial edit, of a novel that resists adaptation. It wants little more than to reach out in all directions, to peer into the void, knowing deep down that the void can’t be bothered to peer back. —Dom Sinacola


A Field in England

a-field-in-england-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Reece Shearsmith, Julian Barratt, Richard Glover
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

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In the 17th century, amidst the buffered explosions and death rattles of the English Civil War—that always seems just over the ridge—three men meet a fourth who feeds them psychotropic mushrooms and then herds them to a fifth, who forces them to search for buried treasure in the middle of A Field in England. Co-written with partner Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley’s fourth film fails the Bechdel Test so tremendously it practically suffers Ego Death, obliterating all barriers—physical and temporal and whatever else—to be as much about the relentlessly stupid nature of masculine power dynamics as it is about the experience of losing oneself within the sensation of total loss. In an otherwise incoherent tale of men abusing men, Wheatley strips back elemental layer after layer, revealing emptiness within emptiness. Story, logic, none of it seems to matter, nothing matters, everything is mutable and transigent and malcontent—except for a hair of sympathy threaded through everything, the sense that were all of these men to give up on each other entirely, whatever’s going on would spin out beyond all recognition. And so, a man called Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) offers to inspect the genital warts (which we get to inspect too!) of his new vagabond friend Trower (Julian Barratt), out of the kindness of Whitehead’s heart, while a man called Friend (Richard Glover), upon his death, confesses his love for his wife’s sister, describing the manner in which they had sex to his recently close companions with unexpected, moving intimacy. Skirting the madness, Blanck Mass’s score sweeps from baroque ditties to vast and sparkling soundscapes, especially arresting for how strangely Wheatley uses them, willing to show the characters in his film how easily, how meaninglessly, he can bend the world around them to his pointless will. A man on a leash running out of a tent in slow-motion? Is that a Waiting for Godot reference? Mesmerized for mesmerization’s sake, one weeps at the beauty. —Dom Sinacola


The Assassin

assassin-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Stars: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Fang-yi Sheu
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin is a gorgeous creation, a martial arts movie that willfully withholds and subverts the primary pleasures of the genre to get at something more beautiful, mysterious and timeless. One doesn’t watch The Assassin so much as fall under its sway. The Taiwanese director’s first film since 2007’s Flight of the Red Balloon, The Assassin takes us back to ninth-century China as the Tang dynasty is beginning to unravel. Shu Qi plays Nie Yinniang, whom (we learn in an opening crawl) was abducted by a nun when she was only 10 and trained in martial arts. Years later, Nie has been ordered to return to her homeland to assassinate Tian (Chang Chen), a warlord to whom she had been promised in marriage as a child. The Assassin’s story is somewhat simplistic but, as depicted by Hou, also incredibly complicated, with scenes of throne-room intrigue littering the film’s first half. If the plot machinations are hard to follow, frequent Hou cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bing makes it all look arresting. With scenes often taking place indoors at night, The Assassin can feel almost dreamlike, an impression heightened by the fact that the filmmaker often places in between his camera and the actors thin, billowing curtains, which create the sensation that we’re watching half-remembered incidents or eavesdropping on top-secret meetings. The martial arts film has similarities to the Western, and The Assassin could be seen in some ways as Hou’s version of an Unforgiven, in which narrative tenets and character types are in service to a higher purpose, a more audacious form of art. The violence isn’t the point of The Assassin: The words and action that lead to violence are. Consequently, The Assassin strips away any notion of escapism: Fight scenes are just another form of politics in Hou’s movie. The film is so immaculately constructed—Hou has worked on The Assassin for years—that it’s all of a piece, a diamond that inspires awe and gasps. —Tim Grierson


Blood and Black Lace

blood and black lace poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1964
Director: Mario Bava
Stars: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Blood and Black Lace plays like a missing link between Psycho or Peeping Tom and the classic “body count” slashers of the early 1980s, with a significantly more misanthropic attitude reveling in its on-screen violence. Perhaps the single most influential giallo film ever made, it codified some of the early tropes of a nascent film genre, innovated a few new ones of its own and did so with a sumptuous visual aesthetic that proved difficult for any of its imitators to match. In a career full of classics, it is perhaps Bava’s prettiest and most drum-tight film. The action takes place in a cavernous fashion house where high-end models are dressed, primped and prepared to don their haute couture and walk the runway, offering ample opportunity for the camera to both leer at a bevy of young women and examine the way they’re degraded by their industry, which treats them as little more than domesticated animals. When one of the company’s girls is violently murdered, it throws the entire organization into an uproar, with suspicion landing on almost every person employed in the building. What are we to make of the fact that none of the deaths can be traced to any individual? Bava ultimately uses a variety of simple (but effective) tricks to divert the audience’s suspicions until his big reveal. It’s the set-up for an old-fashioned murder mystery, but Blood and Black Lace also deviates from its forebears by being less concerned about the mystery and suspects on hand than it is with the killings themselves. This truly feels like a ground zero for the pulpy, grindhouse aesthetic that prioritizes cinematic death sequences, and the manner of the deaths, above all else. The unfortunate crew of models in the film bite the dust in all manner of ways, both inventive and notably grisly for the time, whether it’s burned to death by being pushed against a hot furnace, drowned in the bathtub or being stabbed through the face with a spiked glove. The film makes it clear: You are there to watch people die, and die in the most stylish way possible. —Jim Vorel


The Lighthouse

lighthouse-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Sometimes a film is so bizarre, so elegantly shot and masterfully performed, that despite its helter-skelter pace and muddled messaging I can’t help but fall in love with it. So it was with the latest film by Robert Eggers. An exceptional, frightening duet between Robert Pattinson and Willam Dafoe, The Lighthouse sees two sailors push one another to the brink of absolute madness, threatening to take the audience with them. Fresh off the sea, Thomas Wake (Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) arrive at the isolated locale and immediately get to work cleaning, maintaining and fixing up their new home. Everything comes in twos: two cups, two plates, two bowls, two beds. The pair work on the same schedule every day, only deviating when Thomas decides something different needs Ephraim’s attention. Like newlyweds sharing meals across from one another each morning and every evening, the men begin to develop a relationship. It takes a long time for either of the men to speak. They’re both accustomed to working long days in relative silence. They may not possess the inner peace of a Zen monk, but their thought processes are singular and focused. Only the lighthouse and getting back to the mainland matters. Eggers uses the sound of the wind and the ocean to create a soundscape of harsh conditions and natural quarantine. The first words spoken invoke a well-worn prayer, not for a happy life, or a fast workday, but to stave off death. A visceral ride, The Lighthouse explores man’s relationship to the sea, specifically through the lens of backbreaking labor. Thomas and Ephraim’s relationship is like a Rorschach test. At times they are manager and worker, partners, enemies, father and son, competitors, master and pet, and victim and abuser. In many ways Eggers’ latest reminds of Last Tango in Paris, which explored a similar unhealthy relationship dynamic. Just as captivating, The Lighthouse shines. —Joelle Monique


Leave No Trace

leave-no-trace-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Debra Granik
Stars: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Dale Dickey, Dana Millican, Jeff Kober, Alyssa Lynn
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 109 minutes

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


The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

discreet-charm-of-bourgeoisie-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Luis Buñuel
Stars: Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Buñuel’s most commercially successful film (it even bested Belle de Jour), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie took the 1973 Oscar for Best Foreign Film and top honors from the National Society of Film Critics. Like many of his films, this surrealist comedy revels in Buñuel’s preoccupations with ideas of social status, ego and human veneer, structured as a thematically linked succession of thwarted dinner parties and four characters’ dreams, wherein violence and banality coexist seemingly unaware of one another, facades and fears engage in complex interplay, and Buñuel deploys his obsession with bondage in some magnificently weird ways. The grotesque and the flat-out ridiculous collide again and again throughout the virtually plotless The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which uses the cynical juxtaposition of opulent and horrific images to give us a classic surrealist commentary on social charades. —Amy Glynn


Transit

transit-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Christian Petzold
Stars: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman, Maryam Zaree, Matthias Brandt, Barbara Auer
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

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In Christian Petzold’s Transit, based on Anna Segher’s WWII-based novel of the same name, the writer-director strips all context from his story, but not by pulling it out of time. Instead, Petzold’s limned his adaptation in modern technologies and settings—contemporary cars line the streets of today’s Marseille; flat screens hang unimpressively in bars; military police dress in black riot gear, not a swastika in sight—though no one uses a cell phone or a computer, doomed to repeat themselves in bureaucratic offices and waiting in endless lines, all while the enemy, an occupational force, quickly sweeps across France. Odd and surprisingly high-concept, though never pleased with itself, Transit removes context by confusing it, treating its characters as if they’re in a kind of existential wartime limbo, forever fated to keep looking: for escape, for a lost loved one, for some food to eat or a bed to lie in, for a reason to keep enduring. Transit could’ve been a sci-fi drama were its characters ever shown an alternate reality. One character, Georg (Franz Rogowski) is a German refugee scratching his way through his adopted country, tasked with delivering letters and documents to a writer named Weidel, but, upon arriving, discovers the writer’s committed suicide (leaving an awful mess for the hotel staff). Hearing that the German forces are quickly consuming France, Georg travels to Marseille, where he hopes to make accommodations to leave before the Axis powers arrive, taking with him the identity of Weidel and an omnipresent narrator (Matthias Brandt) who speaks of Dawn of the Dead and Georg’s every emotion even though the narrator never hides that he’s the bartender of the bar Georg silently frequents, piecing together this long forlorn story Georg’s woven for him. Georg isn’t aloof or indifferent or even remotely manipulative, just adrift, and not long after he sets up camp in Marseille, he realizes the beautiful and strange woman who floats through the streets and consulates tapping men on the shoulder is Marie (Paula Beer), Weidel’s widow, looking for her husband. Only Georg knows he’s dead; Georg falls in love with Marie. Though touch screen technology obviously exists in its world, characters do not use phones, can’t Google anything or dig up maps or get immediate confirmation that a loved one has died. Instead, they walk, and they carry letters to one another, and find happiness in individual, brief moments—because maybe they know of nothing better out there, or maybe because that is what defines them. Defines us. Transit is a powerful film, equally celebrating, mourning and fascinated by the ability of people to keep going. At one point, Georg describes to a Mexican official a short story about a waiting room in which denizens take turns entering hell, only to discover that the waiting room is hell. Knowing this, we still sit there. It takes a magnificent spirit to keep waiting. —Dom Sinacola


Midsommar

midsommar-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren
Genre: Horror, Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes

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Christian (Jack Reynor) cannot give Dani (Florence Pugh) the emotional ballast she needs to survive. This was probably the case even before the family tragedy that occurs in Midsommar’s literal cold open, in which flurries of snow limn the dissolution of Dani’s family. We’re dropped into her trauma, introduced to her only through her trauma and her need for support she can’t get. This is all we know about her: She is traumatized, and her boyfriend is barely decent enough to hold her, to stay with her because of a begrudging obligation to her fragile psyche. His long, deep sighs when they talk on the phone mirror the moaning, retching gasps Pugh so often returns to in panic and pain. Her performance is visceral. Midsommar is visceral. There is viscera, just, everywhere. As in his debut, Hereditary, writer-director Ari Aster casts Midsommar as a conflagration of grief—as in Hereditary, people burst into flames in Midsommar’s climactic moments—and no ounce of nuance will keep his characters from gasping, choking and hollering all the way to their bleakly inevitable ends. Moreso than in Hereditary, what one assumes will happen to our American 20-somethings does happen, prescribed both by decades of horror movie precedent and by the exigencies of Aster’s ideas about how human beings process tragedy. Aster births his worlds in pain and loss; chances are it’ll only get worse.

One gets the sense watching Midsommar that Aster’s got everything assembled rigorously, that he’s the kind of guy who can’t let anything go—from the meticulously thought-out belief system and ritual behind his fictional rural community, to the composition of each and every shot. Aster and his DP Pawel Pogorzelski find the soft menace inherent to their often beautiful setting, unafraid of just how ghastly and unnatural such brightly colored flora can appear—especially when melting or dilating, breathing to match Dani’s huffs and the creaking, wailing goth-folk of The Haxan Cloak. Among Midsommar’s most unsettling pleasures are its subtle digital effects, warping its reality ever so slightly (the pulsing of wood grain, the fish-eye lensing of a grinning person’s eye sockets) so that once noticed, you’ll want it to stop. Like a particularly bad trip, the film bristles with the subcutaneous need to escape, with the dread that one is trapped. In this community in the middle of nowhere, in this strange culture, in this life, in your body and its existential pain: Aster imprisons us so that when the release comes, it’s as if one’s insides are emptying cataclysmically. In the moment, it’s an assault. It’s astounding. —Dom Sinacola


Invasion of the Body Snatchers

body-snatchers-1978-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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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


Honey Boy

honey-boy-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Alma Har’el
Stars: Shia LeBeouf, FKA Twigs, Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Honey Boy, to the ear, rings of stunt filmmaking, a redemption tale for freeing Shia LaBeouf from actor prison. In his case, “prison” is more a matter of public opinion than actual industry cancellation, but the truth is that Honey Boy is the truth: LaBeouf wrote the film’s screenplay as part of his rehab treatment after flying so far off the rails over the course of the decade, and in turn the screenplay wound up in the hands of Israeli-American filmmaker Alma Har’el. She sees, in LaBeouf’s story, a portrait of tormented American manhood, passed down like a volatile heirloom from father to son. In turn, she approaches the telling delicately, with compassion and even love for James (LaBeouf), the father, and empathy for Otis, the son, alternately played by Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges as Har’el cuts from past to present and back again.

There’s harsh, guiding realism in Honey Boy, no better articulated than in one key moment where Jupe plays interpreter for James and his mother (voiced by Natasha Lyonne) in a shouting match staged by phone. Caught between James in person and mom in his ear, young Otis does what he does best—performing—as he dictates his parents’ words to one another. The scene cuts deep. Imagining boys and girls like Otis, forced to play referee between squabbling guardians, is made easy by the frankness of Har’el’s filmmaking. But she uses actual realism as a path toward magical realism, the aesthetic in which she resolves the movie, and in so doing resolves Otis’s (and LaBeouf’s) complicated feelings toward dad. Honey Boy is undoubtedly a redemptive film, but it isn’t redemptive at the expense of honesty and accountability. This is perhaps the best apology for bad behavior any celebrity captured in headlines has ever offered, and an extraordinary act of self-examination. —Andy Crump


One Child Nation

one-child-nation-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Nanfu Wang, Lynn Zhang
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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The idea of the perfect family unit, its presence on television or in advertisements or in books, is a kind of propaganda. Everyone knows this, knows that idea embeds itself into political and cultural consciousnesses, knows that propaganda becomes an integral part of the identity, of the very notion of “family.” In Nanfu Wang and Lynn Zhang’s blistering One Child Nation, Wang digs deep into her past, comprised of the artifacts of propaganda that allowed the “One-Child Policy” in China to flourish. The film strikes a balance between investigative journalism and memoir, interrogating both the cultural texts that propagated the policy’s importance—its “benefits”—as well as the people in her life who were complicit in its consequences. It’s a documentary that cuts close to the bone, its rawness never undermining its commitment to challenging the institutions that allowed such a destructive policy to operate. As Wang questions her own connection to family and policy, the film unearths how politics can so easily shape family life itself. —Kyle Turner


Ash Is Purest White

ash-is-purest-white-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Jia Zhangke
Stars: Tao Zhiao, Fan Liao
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 136 minutes

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Ash Is Purest White’s story spans decades, a staggeringly beautiful epic, as comedic as it is heartbreaking, that stills feels impossibly intimate—confined, even, and not by space or imagery, but by emotion. China, over the decades through which the film sweeps, tumbles amidst modernization with little care for those who can’t afford to change with the times. Then there is love, passion and crime: At its heart, Ash Is Purest White is a romance between two criminals, Qiao (Tao Zhao) and Bin (Fan Liao). They are serious people with serious demeanors, their day-to-day lives oscillating between the nothingness of a routine lifestyle and violence. Yet, the violence is rarely ever seen—though when it is, Zhangke Jia directs it with a sense of relentless desperation and urgency—and most of the violence of the emotional sort. Yet, there is also a grand sense of human comedy that hangs over the film’s proceedings, as the stories of Jia’s core characters reflect China at large: Everything is changing, nothing is sacred, the past pales in comparison to the rapidly approaching future. Reality can be fought, but time is inescapable—always encroaching and always passing us by. —Cole Henry


Les Diaboliques

les diaboliques poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Stars: Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Simone Signoret
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques through the lens of the modern horror film, especially the slasher flick—replete with un-killable villain (check); ever-looming jump scares (check); and a “final girl” of sorts (check?)—one would not have to squint too hard to see a new genre coming into being. You could even make a case for Clouzot’s canonization in horror, but to take the film on only those terms would miss just how masterfully the iconic French director could wield tension. Nothing about Les Diaboliques dips into the scummy waters of cheap thrills: The tightly wound tale of two women, a fragile wife (Véra Clouzot) and severe mistress (Simone Signoret) to the same abusive man (Paul Meurisse), who conspire to kill him in order to both reel in the money rightfully owed the wife, and to rid the world of another asshole, Diaboliques may not end with a surprise outcome for those of us long inured to every modern thriller’s perfunctory twist, but it’s still a heart-squeezing two hours, a murder mystery executed flawlessly. That Clouzot preceded this film with The Wages of Fear and Le Corbeau seems as surprising as the film’s outcome: By the time he’d gotten to Les Diaboliques, the director’s grasp over pulpy crime stories and hard-nosed drama had become pretty much his brand. That the film ends with a warning to audiences to not give away the ending for others—perhaps Clouzot also helped invent the spoiler alert?—seems to make it clear that even the director knew he had something devilishly special on his hands. —Dom Sinacola


Bisbee ’17

bisbee-17-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Robert Greene
Genre: Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Robert Greene opens his essential new documentary, Bisbee ’17, with a quote from American writer Colin Dickey’s 2016 book, Ghostland: “Cities that are haunted … seem to straddle past and present as though two versions of the same city are overlaid on top of each other.” He’s talking about haunted manors littering the United States specifically and not the Arizona burg of Bisbee, but the town Greene acquaints us with indeed straddles its past and present, and something more—a collision between the two in the form of theater. In 1917, at the height of World War I, Bisbee was a critical hub in the war effort, not just a copper town but the copper town churning out minerals and profits. Then the miners went on strike, demanding safer work conditions and railing against campwide discrimination. To quash protests, Bisbee’s sheriff deputized a small army of locals, rounded up strikers in the early morning of July 12th, stuck them on cattle cars, and dropped them off in the New Mexico desert in an effort by the Phelps Dodge mining company and Bisbee’s law to halt dissent and restore order to their bottom line. Greene comes into the story 100 years later, as Bisbee’s current residents, prepping for the Bisbee Deportation’s centennial, decide they must recognize the evils of Bisbee yesteryear. How best to do so? By putting on a reenactment, casting townsfolk as miners, as the sheriff’s posse, as witnesses to the travesty. This is Greene’s jam: He blends traditional documentary techniques, talking head interviews and appraisals of primary sources, with the artifice of feature narrative. Greene’s craftsmanship invites awe as easily as the reenactment itself, scrappy but successfully harrowing in execution. The players get into their roles with more than professional enthusiasm—their performances exhibit a relish and zeal both shaped by an underlying desperation to observe the truth when for so long Bisbee has lived with truth unspoken. As the crimes of the deportation haunt Bisbee and its inhabitants, so, too, are we haunted by them through the filter of Greene’s lens. But that experience, the experience of being haunted, proves vital. Maybe it’s necessary to let history haunt us. —Andy Crump


Wheels on Meals

wheels-on-meals-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Sammo Hung
Stars: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao
Genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: N/A
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Wheels on Meals is a silly, silly movie—but damn is its action amazing. Hong Kong trios don’t get better than Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, although Hung’s role in this one is minimal. Rather, everything comes down to some incredible fight scenes featuring Chan and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, a real-life American kickboxing champion who makes the perfect dance partner for Chan in several high-octane brawls. Their final confrontation isn’t just a great scene, it might be the best one-on-one fight of Chan’s caree, with Benny proving he’s Jackie’s match. In fact, it’s The Jet who pulls off one of the coolest fight scene feats I’ve ever seen, the supposedly unintentional (and unfaked) “candle kick,” in which a missed spin kick generates such force that it blows out all of the lit candles on a candelabra several feet away. The film’s backbone is a story about a kidnapped Spanish heiress, but its kicks are far more fascinating. —Jim Vorel


To Catch a Thief

to-catch-a-thief-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, John Williams
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 106 minutes

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But really—he didn’t do it. Cary Grant plays John Robie, a retired jewel thief who’s enjoying his golden years tending vines on the French Riviera. Just when the Grenache is hitting the perfect Brix level, a series of copycat heists put Robie back in the thiefly limelight. Seeking to clear things up, he compiles a list of locals who are known to have heistable jewels, and being a smart and wily guy, he starts tailing a very, very pretty one (Francie, played by Grace Kelly). Budding romance can be an accidental side-effect of these things, but when Francie’s ice does go missing, she suspects John and it sours their relationship, as one might expect. John goes on the proverbial lam to get to the bottom of it. Talk about jewels! Nothing ever sparkled quite like Cary Grant and Grace Kelly onscreen together, especially with the legendary Edith Head on costume design—and their peerless charisma is in amazing hands here. The film itself is a bauble, unapologetically so: light and frothy and absolutely not Rear Window (none of which is an indictment). Sometimes it’s enough for something to simply be charming and beautiful. This film proves it. —Amy Glynn

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