The 75 Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now (July 2021)

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The 75 Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now (July 2021)

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. A third of this list left the service this July, as Paramount+ made its move and made sure its films were available only on its streaming service. Not to worry, though: There were plenty of great movies waiting to take their place…we just had to dig them up.

Here are 75 of the best movies available to stream on Amazon Prime right now:

1. One Night in Miami

one-night-in-miami-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Regina King
Stars: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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A barebones summary of One Night in Miami sounds like a dude’s delight movie: Four men out on the town, no attachments to keep them in line, and a limit to their evening revelry that extends skyward. But the four men are Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and most of all Malcolm X; the town is actually the Magic City; and the specific evening is February 25, 1964, when heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston crossed gloves with Clay and lost his title in an upset. Subjects crossing the characters’ lips include, of course, boxing, and women, and rowdiness, but they’re joined by other, more important subjects like Black American identity, American identity, and how the two interact with one another. But that doesn’t rob One Night in Miami of the “delight” clause, thanks in no small part to crackling performances by a cast comprising a cadre of exceptional young actors (Eli Goree, Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir), and directed with cool confidence by Regina King in her feature debut. Her adaptation of Kemp Powers’ stage play is a historical document written to presuppose what conversations these fellows might’ve had in private and away from prying ears, a compelling fiction rooted in reality. It’s also thoroughly entertaining, witty, and exuberant. This isn’t a film about meaningless carousing. It’s about conversations that actually matter. —Andy Crump


2. Alien

alien-1979-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Conduits, canals and cloaca—Ridley Scott’s ode to claustrophobia leaves little room to breathe, cramming its blue collar archetypes through spaces much too small to sustain any sort of sanity, and much too unforgiving to survive. That Alien can also make Space—capital “S”—in its vastness feel as suffocating as a coffin is a testament to Scott’s control as a director (arguably absent from much of his work to follow, including his insistence on ballooning the mythos of this first near-perfect film), as well as to the purity of horror as a cinematic genre. Alien, after all, is tension as narrative, violation as a matter of fact: When the crew of the mining spaceship Nostromo is prematurely awakened from cryogenic sleep to attend to a distress call from a seemingly lifeless planetoid, there is no doubt the small cadre of working class grunts and their posh Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) will discover nothing but mounting, otherworldly doom. Things obviously, iconically, go wrong from there, and as the crew understands both what they’ve brought onto their ship and what their fellow crew members are made of—in one case, literally—a hero emerges from the catastrophe: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the Platonic ideal of the Final Girl who must battle a viscous, phallic grotesque (care of the master of the phallically grotesque, H.R. Giger) and a fellow crew member who’s basically a walking vessel for an upsetting amount of seminal fluid. As Ripley crawls through the ship’s steel organs, between dreams—the film begins with the crew wakening, and ends with a return to sleep—Alien evolves into a psychosexual nightmare, an indictment of the inherently masculine act of colonization and a symbolic treatise on the trauma of assault. In Space, no one can hear you scream—because no one is listening. —Dom Sinacola


3. Vertigo

vertigo-poster.jpg Year: 1958
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones
Genre: Thriller
Rating: PG
Runtime: 128 minutes

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Alfred Hitchcock made a lot of great films, but I don’t think there’s a single one, not even Rear Window, that can match Vertigo for sheer tour de force factor. A riveting noir thriller shot beautifully on location in San Francisco, the film is Hitchcock’s most intense treatment of his signature preoccupation: Erotic obsession. Complex and a bit surreal, it features a particularly phenomenal performance by Jimmy Stewart, who shucks his aw-shucks good guy persona to become an icy, neurotic, and haunted ex-detective with a serious obsession with the enigmatic Kim Novak. This film introduced the dolly zoom, which Hitchcock used to induce a sense of disorientation and dizziness-it’s still remarkably effective. A gripping story, killer performances, and a famous obsessive’s ultimate meditation on obsession, sexual politics, and the sheer gravitational force of the past. —Amy Glynn


4. Big Fish

Thumbnail image for big-fish-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 125 minutes

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It is hard to take a dysfunctional father/son relationship and make it into a magical fantasy world, but that’s just what Burton did in Big Fish. The director takes viewers on a journey of the life of Edward Bloom, an ordinary man who through his own storytelling has lived an extraordinary life. In just two hours Burton addresses death, infidelity and the feelings of estrangement with ease, but he never loses his sense of fantasy. By the end of the movie, Burton has you seeing magic in even the most mundane events and believing in the impossible.—Laura Flood


5. Signs

signs-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 106 minutes

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M. Night Shyamalan is one of Pennsylvania’s most loyal filmmakers, having shot every single one of his films at least partially in the state. And while not all of them feel particularly connected to place, 2002’s Signs exudes Pennsylvania-ness. The film opens on a lonely farm in Bucks County, PA (actually Doylestown, just north of Philadelphia), where former Episcopalian priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lives with his children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin), his baseball-star-turned-gas-station-attendant brother (Joaquin Phoenix), and the shadow of his deceased wife, whose death in an accident months earlier prompted Graham’s crisis of faith. Strange things begin occurring on the farm: complex crop circles, footsteps on the roof, aggression from the family dogs. Soon, the family is in the middle of a full-blown, global alien invasion. Bucks County is a place where everyone knows each other, and business owners speak disdainfully of “city people,” but this is not the kind of story where a small town bands together. It’s far from a warm community, and in fact it feels empty, judgmental and ever so slightly off in that uncanny Twilight Zone-esque way. And like The Twilight Zone before it, Signs finds its horror not in the aliens themselves (who, as many complained at the time of the films’ release, are pretty lame) but in the deep, unmooring sorrow that’s swallowing this family whole—an enemy not so easily defeated.—Maura McAndrew


6. Rear Window

rear-window-poster.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr
Genre: Thriller
Rating: PG
Runtime: 112 minutes

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There’s an element of voyeurism inherent in the act of watching a film, and in the act of making one. Hitchcock was crystal clear on that. And in the entire canon of Hitchcock films, Rear Window might be the ultimate exemplar of his fascination with the subject. It’s probably not an accident that the row of windows we can see across that courtyard even resemble a strip of celluloid. Shot in a single room and almost entirely from the point-of-view of Jeff (Jimmy Stewart), an injured photographer confined to his apartment, it almost makes the audience feel as though they too have been spying on something. From the rear window of his apartment, Stewart discovers a world he never thought to explore until he was stuck in the apartment: His neighbors’ windows provide a gallery of characters who have no idea they’ve become subjects of Stewart’s cabin-fever documentary. It goes from humorous to creepy and then Stewart becomes convinced he’s witnessed a murder, and—let’s just say things Get Real. Brooding and obsessive, the film is a meditation on boundaries and confinement, curiosity and specifically the tipping point where the human hunger for knowledge and understanding meets the appeasement of boredom or flows past that into something prurient and debasing. Add a stunning, edge-of-your-seat denouement and the killer acting chops of James Stewart and you have a film that deepens and broadens every time you watch it. —Amy Glynn


7. School Daze

school-daze-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Larry Fishburne, Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

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For his second feature, Lee focuses on the cultural and political rifts—class and lightness of skin color, for example—between African-American youth. Taking place in historically black Mission College, School Daze is an exuberant yet grounded exploration of how college-educated and non-college-educated African-American youth can turn against one another, only to hopefully find some common ground. The film carries some passionate performances from Laurence Fishburne and Giancarlo Esposito as two rivals at the university, but Lee’s ending is too on the nose and over the top. Perhaps we should chalk that up to Lee still not having brushed off his film school daze.—Oktay Ege Kozak


8. Not Another Teen Movie

not-another-teen.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Joel Gallen
Stars: Chris Evans, Jaime Pressly, Randy Quaid
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Chris Evans may have gone on to bigger and better things, but his blisteringly self-effacing performance as a deluded jock in subgenre parody Not Another Teen Movie was an early peak for Captain America. Bolstered by plenty of quotable lines and an expertly sliced cookie-cutter aesthetic from director and Comedy Central staple Joel Gallen, Not Another Teen Movie is a hilarious, barbed response to the wave of convoluted teen sex comedies that ran from the ‘80s to its 2001 release. Basically, this film did to teen rom-coms what Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story did to music biopics: the parody is so good that, after watching it, it’s hard to take earnest entries seriously. Raunchy yet sharp, the movie straddles low and high-brow with plenty of success—with a pissed-off Molly Ringwald capping it all in a perfect cameo.—Jacob Oller


9. Manchester by the Sea

manchester-by-sea-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Genre: Romance
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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Loss and grief—and the messy, indirect ways people cope with the emotional fallout—were the dramatic linchpins of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s first two films, You Can Count on Me and Margaret. And so it is again with Manchester by the Sea, a commanding, absorbing work in which the sum of its impact may be greater than any individual scenes. As opposed to the intimate, short-story quality of You Can Count on Me, Manchester by the Sea bears the same sprawling ambition as Margaret, Lonergan draping the proceedings in a tragic grandeur that sometimes rubs against the film’s inherently hushed modesty. Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler is quietly magnetic as a man who can’t express himself at a time when he really needs to step up and be the patriarchal figure. Lucas Hedges and Kyle Chandler are also both quite good, their characters buried deep in the man’s-man culture of the East Coast communities in which the film is set. But especially terrific is Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife, who has played haunted wives before, in Brokeback Mountain and Shutter Island. Here, though, she really pierces the heart: Her character never stopped loving Lee, but her brain told her she had to if she was ever going to move on with her life. In this film, she’s actually one of the lucky ones. Tragedies drop like bombs in Manchester By the Sea, and the ripple effects spread out in all directions. The movie’s ending isn’t exactly happy, but after all the Chandlers have gone through, just the possibility of acceptance can feel like a hard-earned victory. —Tim Grierson


10. The French Connection

the-french-connection-poster.jpg Year: 1971
Director: William Friedken
Stars: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

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


11. The Big Sick

big-sick.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Michael Showalter
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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The Big Sick can sometimes be awfully conventional, but among its key assets is its radiant view of its characters. Based on the first year in the relationship of married screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, this indie rom-com has a mildly risky structure and some trenchant observations about the culture clashes that go on in immigrant families living in America. But what cuts deepest is just how profoundly lovable these people are. That’s not the same as being cutesy: Rather, The Big Sick is defiantly generous, understanding that people are horribly flawed but also capable of immeasurable graciousness when the situation requires. So even when the film stumbles, these characters hold you up. Nanjiani plays a lightly fictionalized version of his younger self, a struggling Chicago stand-up who is having as much success in his career as he in his dating life. Born into a Pakistani family who moved to the United States when he was a boy, he’s a dutiful son, despite lying about being a practicing Muslim and politely deflecting the attempts of his parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) to set him up in an arranged marriage. That’s when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), an American grad student with whom he’s instantly smitten. She swears she doesn’t want a relationship, but soon they fall for one another—even though Kumail knows it can’t work out. What’s most radical about The Big Sick is its optimistic insistence that a little niceness can make all the difference. —Tim Grierson


12. 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
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


13. Snatch

snatch-poster.jpg Year: 2000
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Brad Pitt, Jason Statham, Benicio del Toro, Dennis Farina, Jason Flemyng, Vinnie Jones
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Love or hate him, Guy Ritchie has redefined the gangster genre with his hyper-stylized touch. Snatch may be a lesser remix of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but it boasts a multifaceted plot, frenzied action and dazzling eye candy. And how can you not love characters with names like Franky Four Fingers, Bullet Tooth Tony and Doug the Head?—David Roark


14. Adaptation

adaptation-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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As utterly gonzo as Kaufman’s characters and stories are, they’re only as outrageous as the errant, obsessive rhythms of thought going clickety-clickety-click inside our own heads. It’s just that Kaufman has more immediate access to all those idiosyncratic brainwaves. He can’t stop himself. Kaufman—not unlike his anxious, lovestruck and artistically fraught heroes—compulsively thinks outside the box. And then he builds a bigger box. Adaptation is an adaptation of New Yorker writer Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief that centers on a Hollywood frustrated screenwriter’s efforts to adapt the book into a movie. —Steve Dollar


15. Small Axe: Alex Wheatle

small-axe-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Johann Myers
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 65 minutes

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Alex Wheatle is a coming of age story based on the early life of the eponymous award-winning YA author and is the penultimate film of McQueen’s Small Axe collection. Set in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, we follow Alex from his childhood in an orphanage of Dickensian cruelty to his Brixton youth, where he connects with his Blackness, to his being nurtured by a paternalistic Rastafarian cellmate in prison. Alex Wheatle is accomplished and devastating, with dynamic cinematography, a phenomenal soundtrack and a heartbreaking central debut performance from Sheyi Cole. In many ways, it feels like a melding of the other four Small Axe films: The systemic racism of Mangrove, the musical escapism of Lover’s Rock, the daddy issues of Red, White & Blue and the childhood cruelty of Education. But in its thematic overlapping, Alex Wheatle undermines its own significance. It doesn’t have the distinct identity of the other films and, while it’s always a pleasure to watch filmmaking at McQueen’s level, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression.—Leila Latif


16. An American Werewolf in London

american werewolf poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
Stars: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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


17. I Am Not Your Negro

not-your-negro-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck
Genre: Documentary
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


18. Stop Making Sense

stop-making-sense.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Jonathan Demme
Genre: Documentary, Musical
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


19. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

last-black-man.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Joe Talbot
Stars: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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In Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, white people are the harbingers of annihilation. The film centers on Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails), the proverbial Last Black Man who attempts to reclaim his family’s old home in San Francisco’s Fillmore neighborhood, once called “The Harlem of the West,” by trespassing on the property to do banal bits of upkeep: painting the trim, tending to the flowers. He tries desperately to keep and save the house. Outside, the zombies are well-meaning, old white people, hipster girls and disgusting tech bros invading the city. Opening with images of apocalypse—a street preacher barking about repentance, and men in HazMat suits trying to clean up the pollution in the Bay—The Last Black Man in San Francisco winks at gentrification as an extinction-level event—for Black people in the city, at least. A shrewd inversion of racist tropes, we see the white owners yell at Fails to get off their property, knowing Fails is the real caretaker of the house, and the white residents are, even in their neoliberal good intentions, the villains, the invaders. —Geoff Nelson


20. Ran

ran-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, Hisashi Igawa, Yoshiko Miyazaki
Rating: R
Runtime: 162 minutes

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A quintessential Kurosawa epic with the grandest of visions, supported by exhilarating color cinematography and some of the most breathtaking battle sequences ever committed to film, Ran is, like Throne of Blood, another Shakespeare adaptation, this time a fairly loyal take on King Lear. Compared to the morbidly dark and personal Throne, Ran is a lavish visual feast, deftly depicting an old warlord’s (Tatsuya Nakadai in maybe the greatest performance of his career) fall from glory at the hands of his greedy and selfish sons, who are really only responding to their father’s ruthless rule. The circle of human fallacy and cruelty continues.—Oktay Ege Kozak


21. We Need to Talk About Kevin

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-australian-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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We Need To Talk About Kevin concerns the experience of a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggling with the aftermath of a school massacre carried out by her son (Ezra Miller). In its narrative construction, it draws upon two key tropes: that of the “whydunnit” thriller, in which the mystery of the perpetrator’s motivations are a driving factor, and that of the family horror, in which some dark element tears a traditional household apart. Indeed, the real horror is not that a teenager chose total negation over the banality of normative family life—it’s that these appeared to be the only two choices available. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in the starring role as a mother who grapples with guilt about what her son has done and reflects on his childhood, wondering what, if anything, could possibly have been done differently when one gives birth to a “bad seed.” The heartbreaking nature of the film is perfectly encapsulated by the scene wherein Kevin as a child briefly drops his sociopathic tendencies while ill, giving Swinton’s character a brief chance to feel like a cherished mother, only to emotionally shut her out again as soon as his physical health returns, dashing her hopes that some kind of breakthrough had been made. —Donal Foreman


22. The Wrestler

the-wrestler.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Todd Barry
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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


23. Chicken Run

chicken-run-poster.jpg Directors: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Stars: Julia Sawalha, Lynn Ferguson, Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson
Rating: G
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Wallace and Gromit are perhaps Aardman’s sweetest stop-motion creations, but the clay poultry of Chicken Run might be their best. Riffing on prison bust movies like The Great Escape with kid-friendly flavor and slapstick that’s both hilarious and genuinely exciting, the farm-fleeing animated film is formally impressive and warmly winning to boot. It’s the best of the Disney ethos—talking animals helping along classic plot material, bolstered by a downright dreadful villain—with the added comic edge, elegant silent movie-like setpieces and brainy references of its sharp British creators. The plucky action/comedy even features one of the better Mel Gibson performances, with the added benefit of not having to look at him while enjoying it.—Jacob Oller


24. Husbands

husbands-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1970
Director: John Cassavetes
Stars: Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, David Rowlands
Genre: Drama, Comedy
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


25. Small Axe: Red, White & Blue

small-axe-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: John Boyega, Steve Toussaint
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 80 minutes

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What Red, White & Blue has going for it are two extraordinary performances from John Boyega and Steve Toussaint. Boyega is charming as the fiery and conflicted Leroy Logan, a Black scientist who—following on a racist police attack on his father—decides to join the force to reform it from the inside. His father is played with equally compelling ferocity and dignity by Toussaint. There is so much to love in this film, as McQueen leans into his skill at suspense—ratcheting up the tension with incomparable style—and brings out performances that are able to convey so much without saying a word. However, the script doesn’t match the rest of the film, with clunky exposition and uncharacteristic sentimentality weighing down the actors. At its core, Red, White & Blue is not about police reform. In fact almost all of Logan’s fascinating career accomplishments take place long after the film’s credits roll. Rather, Red, White & Blue is focused on a complicated father/son relationship. Viewed through that lens (and likely through the lens of your own specific paternal hang ups) it soars.—Leila Latif


26. Hale County This Morning, This Evening

hale-county-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: RaMell Ross
Genre: Documentary
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


27. Small Axe: Education

small-axe-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Kenyah Sandy, Sharlene Whyte, Tamara Lawrance, Naomi Ackie
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Education is McQueen’s most personal and tender work, focused on the education of Black children in the 1970s. McQueen, now broadly recognized as a creative genius, was repeatedly told as a child by his teachers that he would never be capable of doing more than basic manual labor. In Education, he reopens those old wounds through Kingsley, a bright young boy who dreams of being an astronaut. Thanks to institutional racism and undiagnosed dyslexia, Kingsley is sent to a “special school” where he is placed alongside white children with intense and apparent learning disorders and other Black children who have no discernible reason for being there. Of all the films he has made, this one is scrubbed clean of most of McQueen’s stylistic signatures: The whole thing resembles a film actually made in the 1970s rather than a modern film in a ‘70s setting. By making a film rooted in his own memories, McQueen entirely transports us there. The film’s heroines are based on the real-life Black activists who fought for West Indian children’s futures and created the Saturday schools that nurtured McQueen. Education serves both as a beautiful tribute to their achievements across the community and in recognizing the talents of one of Britain’s most gifted artistic visionaries.—Leila Latif


28. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

2-Master-and-Commander.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 138 minutes

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The pilot for one of the greatest movie franchises that never was, Peter Weir’s Napoleonic War adventure plays a long game of cat-and-mouse over two oceans, between a French vessel and the British HMS Surprise. The film takes great pleasure in old ways: it luxuriates in the myths and salty humor of Georgian mariners, gets swept up in the pre-WWI mentality of war as a flag-waving lark and, in a brief excursion to the Galapagos Islands, pines for the days of analog exploration. This is a feel-good film with a high body count—Weir and his cast of character actors take great pains to ensure the dozens of seamen are keenly and affectionately drawn to a man, so that each limb-endangering injury, each fatality is felt—thanks in large part to the squabbling chemistry between Russell Crowe as the ship’s driven Captain Aubrey, and Paul Bettany as its stern doctor. Through them it very nearly becomes a buddy movie, with the pair constantly nit-picking and bantering, but at the end of the day always reaffirming their friendship with a violin/cello jam. A match this good deserved a sequel, but the one movie we got is good enough to savor. —Brogan Morris


29. Small Axe: Lovers Rock

small-axe-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 70 minutes

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In Lovers Rock, McQueen untethers himself from a conventional narrative and leans into style, movement and feeling set over the course of a single house party in Notting Hill—an area of London that (in 1980) was largely populated by the West Indian community, but has since become one of the most expensive neighborhoods on the planet. This film is based generally on the parties the Black community held for themselves, as they were not welcome in London’s bars and nightclubs at the time. At the center of this film are Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), a middle-class British Christian with Jamaican roots and the dreamy code-switching mechanic Franklyn (Micheal Ward). Released in a time of quarantines and social distances, the film had a rapturous reception, bringing a warmth into our homes and a longing to return to an evening of such possibilities. A single scene where the dance floor sings along to “Silly Games” by Janet Kay is McQueen at his greatest and most joyful, transporting the audience into a giddy hypnotic ecstasy. In many ways Lovers Rock is McQueen’s smallest film, but may end up being his most beloved.—Leila Latif


30. Small Axe: Mangrove

small-axe-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings, Jack Lowden
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Mangrove is McQueen’s greatest film not only because it is an exceptional piece of filmmaking, but because it shows off virtually every one of McQueen’s strengths. The first half looks at the state-sponsored terrorizing of the Mangrove restaurant, a Notting Hill restaurant opened by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) in 1968 that became a hub for the West Indian community and British Black Panthers. After a demonstration protesting the Mangrove’s treatment is swarmed by the racist police force, nine of the participants (including Crichlow himself) are framed for inciting a riot. The second half of the film follows their trial and the toll it takes on them. From start to finish, McQueen fires on all cylinders, shining a light on a largely forgotten piece of history and drawing exceptional performances out of the entire cast (but in particular Parkes and Malachi Kirby). Many of Mangrove’s most beautiful moments, including its climax, hold tight on Parkes’ face and let us experience intense pain, rage, fear, joy and relief through the bottomless wells of his soulful brown eyes. And it is thrilling: The earlier scenes of police, skulking down streets like apex predators, both disturb and terrify. But McQueen is able to accomplish seamless tonal shifts, with those same police officers’ interrogation in a later courtroom scene proving absurd and hilarious. Particular praise must also be given to cinematographer Shabier Kirchner. The use of camera in this film is as unpredictable as it is beautiful, making every moment visceral and riveting. McQueen picks out unusual shots and angles to give every scene the thoughtful composition of a Vermeer. There is a pure poetry to Mangrove, and an implicit footnote: The bravery of these activists will eventually be captured by a Black filmmaker and turned not only into his greatest work (so far), but perhaps the best British film of the decade.—Leila Latif


32. Sound of Metal

sound-of-metal-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Darius Marder
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is challenged by his rehab sponsor: Sit in a room completely silent. If you’re unable to do that, write about what’s going through your mind. As a recovering addict and blossoming rockstar, this is difficult to do by itself. But with Ruben’s rapidly deteriorating hearing, he fears the silence like no other. The Darius Marder-directed Sound of Metal explores a musician’s struggle with identity due to his new disability. An experiment of sound design paired with a stellar lead performance makes for a captivating film. Along with his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), Ruben co-leads the metal band Blackgammon. They travel to gigs in their Winnebago and bond over the open road. Ruben loses his hearing in a sudden way, causing concern. Afraid, he goes to an audiologist to discover his hearing loss is pretty advanced. Concerned about his sobriety being in jeopardy from the shocking news, Lou convinces Ruben to go to a community retreat for the deaf. While there, he balances the warring feelings of learning to live and love himself as a deaf person and wishing for his old life. Boasting a solid story about profound loss (or is it simply profound change?), knockout performances by Ahmed and Paul Raci in a supporting role, and award-worthy sound design, Sound of Metal cuts through the clutter. But most importantly, it does so by prioritizing the deaf/hard-of-hearing community through its hiring of deaf talent, its use of deaf consultants and captions throughout the film. Marder’s film is the kind of movie that could’ve easily gone in the wrong direction (for all the right reasons). Instead, it sticks the landing.—Joi Childs


33. Fat City

fat-city-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: John Huston
Stars: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrell, Candy Clark
Genre: Drama, Sports
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


34. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

tucker and dale vs evil poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards. —Michael Burgin


35. His Girl Friday

his-girl-friday-poster.jpg Year: 1940
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Genre: Drama, Comedy
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


36. Burn After Reading

burn-after-reading.jpg Year: 2008
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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


37. Pumping Iron

pumping-iron-cover.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Robert Fiore, George Butler
Rating: PG
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Behold arrogance anthropomorphized: A 28-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, competing for his sixth Mr. Olympia title, effortlessly waxes poetic about his overall excellence, his litanies regarding the similarities between orgasming and lifting weights merely fodder between bouts of pumping the titular iron and/or flirting with women he can roll up into his biceps like little flesh burritos. He is both the epitome of the human form and almost tragically inhuman, so corporeally perfect that his physique seems unattainable, his status as a weightlifting wunderkind one of a kind. And yet, in the other corner, a young, nervous Lou Ferrigno primes his equally large body to usurp Arnold’s title, but without the magnanimous bluster and dick-wagging swagger the soon-to-be Hollywood icon makes no attempt to hide. Schwarzenegger understands that weightlifting is a mind game (like in any sport), buttressed best by a healthy sense of vanity and privilege, and directors Fiore and Butler mine Arnold’s past enough to divine where he inherited such self-absorption. Contrast this attitude against Ferrigno’s almost morbid shyness, and Pumping Iron becomes a fascinating glimpse at the kind of sociopathy required of living gods. —Dom Sinacola


38. 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
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


39. Chinatown

chinatown-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

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When you look at Jack Nicholson’s run of films in what I’ll call the “New Hollywood” era, starting with Easy Rider in 1969 and ending with The Shining in 1980, it’s truly astounding. There’s barely a dud on the list, so it’s really saying something that Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s crime classic, stands out among the best. The central mystery is bold for its complexity, revolving around water rights in 1930s Southern California—a plot that remains relevant today—and was undoubtedly an influence for the second season of True Detective. Like much of Polanski’s work, an ominous atmosphere works alongside the plot, shadowing every character in doubt and undermining the possibility of a clean conclusion. In Polanski’s world, the mere fact that a mystery is solved doesn’t mean there’s a happy ending, and his incredible powers of ambiguity have never been so strong as in Chinatown. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won the Oscar for Robert Towne’s original screenplay. Add Nicholson at his most essential, along with a young Faye Dunaway and an aging John Huston, and this is truly one of the classics of American cinema. —S.R.


40. 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
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


41. Election

Election285x400.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Genre: Comedy, Drama
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


42. Heathers

heathers.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Kim Walker
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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As much an homage to ’80s teen romps—care of stalwarts like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe—as it is an attempt to push that genre to its near tasteless extremes, Heathers is a hilarious glimpse into the festering core of the teenage id, all sunglasses and cigarettes and jail bait and misunderstood kitsch. Like any coming-of-age teen soap opera, much of the film’s appeal is in its vaunting of style over substance—coining whole ways of speaking, dressing and posturing for an impressionable generation brought up on Hollywood tropes—but Heathers embraces its style as an essential keystone to filmmaking, recognizing that even the most bloated melodrama can be sold through a well-manicured image. And some of Heathers’ images are indelible: J.D. (Christian Slater) whipping out a gun on some school bullies in the lunch room, or Veronica (Winona Ryder) passively lighting her cigarette with the flames licking from the explosion of her former boyfriend. It makes sense that writer Daniel Waters originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his script: Heathers is a filmmaker’s (teen) film. —Dom Sinacola


43. The African Queen

the-african-queen-poster.jpg Year: 1952
Director: John Huston
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley
Genre: Romance, Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 105 minutes

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The madcap, screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s helped set the template for the battle-of-the-sexes comedies that would populate American cinemas for years to come (and still do, to some extent). Writer/director John Huston’s genius in making The African Queen was taking the feuding couple out of the metropolitan areas for which they’d often been associated with and instead placing them square in the middle of an inhospitable jungle. With the added element of survival driving their journey, the flirtatious banter between classy widow Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) and crass boatman Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) crackles all the more, making for a rom-com as vicious as it is sweet. —Mark Rozeman


44. 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
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


45. 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
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


46. 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


47. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

e-t-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action & Adventure
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

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Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship which resonates with children and adults alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time and the moment Spielberg’s career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains today perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. —Michael Burgin


48. Four Lions

four-lions-poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Chris Morris
Stars: Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Riz Ahmed
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Four Lions proves once again that great comedy can be extracted from the dodgiest and most painful subjects, mixing slapstick with dry British humor to tell the story of four would-be radical Islamic terrorists hell-bent on bringing down the evil capitalist heathen of the West. Only one problem (well, a couple of them): They have no real connections, skills, or ability to plan anything, suffering from varying degrees of resolve when it comes to blowing themselves up for their cause. In other words, they are terrible at their dream jobs. As unrelenting as Four Lions can be in the way that it pokes fun of its central four characters, they film never adopts a farcical tone, instead never shying from the dangerous ramifications of their actions, no matter how incompetently they go about them. Deftly executed by co-writer/director Christopher Morris, who should be known States-side as the neurotic boss during the first season of The IT Crowd, and a pre-mopey, pre-The Night Of Riz Ahmed in a hilarious leading turn, Four Lions demonstrates a careful, masterful directorial hand. Plus it contains the best line about suicide bombing in any movie: “His soul will reach heaven before his head hits the ceiling.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


49. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

19-best-movies-stream-a-i-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


50. The Descent

descent-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2005
Director: Neil Marshall
Stars: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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True camaraderie or complex relationships between female characters isn’t so much “rare” in horror cinema as it is functionally nonexistent, which is one of the things that still makes The Descent, nominally about a bunch of women fighting monsters in a cfave, stand out so sharply all these years later. But ah, how The Descent transcends its one-sentence synopsis. The film’s first half is deliberately crafted to fill in the personalities of its group of women, while slowly and almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the sense of dread and foreboding. As the characters descend deeper into the cave, passageways get tighter and the audience can feel the claustrophobia and dankness creeping into their bones—and that’s before we even see any of the resident troglodytes. Neil Marshall’s screenplay makes masterful use of dubious morality, infusing its protagonists, particularly the duo of Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), with numerous shades of gray. Not content to simply paint one of the two as flawed and the other as resourceful and ultimately vindicated, he uses a series of misunderstandings to illustrate human failing on a much more profound and universal level. Ultimately, The Descent is as moving a character study as it is terrifying subterranean creature feature, with one hell of an ending to boot. —Jim Vorel


51. 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
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


52. Johnny Guitar

johnny-guitar.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady
Genre: Western
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


53. The Farewell

the-farewell-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Lulu Wang
Stars: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Family, falsehood and farce: all the comforts expected of a funeral—when the funeral isn’t a funeral but a wedding. Yes, two people do end up getting p= married, but no one cares about matrimony as much as saying goodbye to the family matriarch, stricken by a diagnosis with an inevitably fatal outcome. Here’s the trick: No one told her about it. She thinks all of the hoopla is just about the bride and groom to be. The Farewell, Lulu Wang’s sophomore film, is many things. It’s a meteoric leap forward from the tried-and-true rom-com formula of her debut, Posthumous. It’s a story made up of her own personal roller coaster of loss. It’s a neat and, 26 years after the fact, unexpected companion piece to Ang Lee’s underappreciated masterpiece The Wedding Banquet. Mostly, it’s a tightrope walk along the fine line between humor and grief. Chinese-American Billil (Awkwafina) travels to China to see her grandmother (Zhao Shuzen) one last time, as grandma’s just received a death sentence in the form of terminal lung cancer, but the clan keeps mum because that’s just what they’d do for anybody. A wedding is staged. Cousins and uncles and aunts are convened. Masks, the metaphorical kind, are donned. Wang knows how to find the perfect tonal sweet spot from scene to scene in a sterling example of having one’s cake while also eating with gusto. With exceptions, moments meant to be uncomfortable and prickly on the surface are hilarious beneath, and moments meant to make us laugh tend to remind the viewer of the situation’s gravity. It’s perfect alchemy, yielding one of 2019’s most intimate, most painful and most satisfyingly boisterous comedies. —Andy Crump


54. 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
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


55. Sunset Boulevard

sunset-boulevard.jpg Year: 1950
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim
Genre: Drama
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


56. Raging Bull

raging-bull-poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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The best film of the 1980s contains one of the all-time-great feats of directing and one of the all-time-great feats of screen acting. The status that Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull has achieved in the years since its release is completely earned. Watching it is a fully felt experience. Over the years, much has been made of the weight Robert De Niro gained while filming Raging Bull to authentically capture the physical transformation of boxer Jake LaMotta. While it’s a great symbol of his commitment, the pounds don’t begin to explain the depths of the character portrait he and Martin Scorsese created. The film looks unforgivingly at a fragile, insecure man who communicates his need for love with jealousy, anger and violence. Scorsese’s shots convey the overly suspicious workings of LaMotta’s head, then back out to coldly observe the horrific violence that ensues. Then there are the boxing scenes. Scorsese deserves endless praise for finding such lively, inventive ways to capture the experience inside the ring. But what’s really amazing is that he goes beyond a great sports scene. Each fight serves as a window into LaMotta’s soul. The camera movement, the quick edits, the sudden shifts in speed all reflect his mental state, his need to damage himself or cause damage to others. Such expressive, visceral filmmaking has rarely been equaled. —Michael Burgin


57. Invasion of the Body Snatchers

body-snatchers-1978-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright
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


58. The Apartment

the-apartment-poster.jpg Year: 1960
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray
Genre: Comedy
Rating: NR
Runtime: 125 minutes

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Filmmaker Billy Wilder had perhaps one of the greatest, most diverse track records in film history from 1944 to 1960. In this period, he tackled an Oscar-winning drama about alcoholism (The Lost Weekend), two well-regarded film noirs (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard), a war drama (Stalag 17), two light-hearted rom-coms (Sabrina, Seven Year Itch) a gripping murder-mystery (Witness for the Prosecution) and perhaps the funniest American movie of all time (Some Like It Hot). Yet, of all these golden credits, one Wilder’s most beloved and memorable achievements was 1960’s The Apartment. Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, an ambitious office worker who, desperate to climb the corporate ladder, allows his bosses to use his apartment to carry on discreet affairs with their mistresses. Things get complicated, however, when he discovers that his office crush, quirky elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), is one of his bosses’ mistresses. While it actually gets quite dark at times, The Apartment strikes a perfect balance between laugh-out-loud comedy and emotionally honest drama. Following the career highlight that was his drag-heavy performance in Some Like It Hot, Lemmon here proves that he can play the low-key, straight man with equal dexterity. Likewise, MacLaine’s charming portrayal as the damaged, yet lovable Kubelik would provide the model for manic pixie dream girls for years to come. —Mark Rozeman


59. Shane

shane-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: George Stevens
Stars: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin
Runtime: 118 minutes

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


60. Hot Rod

hot_rod_poster_netflix.jpg Year: 2007
Director: Akiva Schaeffer
Stars: Andy Samberg, Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, Bill Hader, Jorma Taccone, Danny McBride, Sissy Spacek
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 87 minutes

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The Lonely Island has a fantastic track record of producing great comedies that somehow fail to find an audience in theaters, between 2007’s Hot Rod, 2016’s Popstar, and 2010’s Lonely Island-adjacent MacGruber. Hot Rod is the only one of them currently on Netflix, and it’s absolutely worth watching if you’d like to see a formulaic mainstream Hollywood comedy framework punctured by the absurd, anti-comedy spirit that arose on the internet in the ‘00s. Like most of the Lonely Island’s work, Hot Rod is fundamentally upbeat and goofy; sure, Andy Samberg’s daredevil wannabe is a stilted, wayward manchild, but the movie doesn’t look down on him or his friends (played fantastically by Danny McBride and Bill Hader in early roles, and fellow Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone). Even the closest thing it has to a villain, Ian McShane’s detached, judgmental stepfather, is fully redeemed before the movie’s close.—Garrett Martin


61. Night of the Living Dead

24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Judith O’Dea, Duane Jones, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, Keith Wayne
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 96 minutes

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


62. The Assassin

assassin-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Stars: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Fang-yi Sheu
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure
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


63. The Wailing

the-wailing.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
Stars: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee
Rating: NR
Runtime: 156 minutes

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The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, yes, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as “horror.” He isn’t out to terrify us. He’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. The Wailing unfolds in Gokseong County, an agricultural community nestled among South Korea’s southern provinces. It’s a lovely, bucolic setting that Na and his cinematographer, the incredible Hong Kyung-pyo, take fullest advantage of aesthetically and thematically. The hushed serenity blanketing The Wailing’s opening images creates an atmosphere of peace that Na is all too happy to subvert (similar to how he subverts Bible verses). The film’s first full sequence shatters the calm as Sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won, turning in a knockout performance) is called to the scene of a savage multiple murder. When Jong-gu shows up, all is bedlam; people are screaming and crying, emergency workers litter the area like ants at a gory picnic, and the killer sits in a stupor, unaware of neither the mayhem nor the vicious boils coating their skin. This is an incredibly creepy and oft-unsettling film, but Na finds the tug of disbelief far more upsetting than the sight of bodies cut apart and blood splattering the wall. What do you do when your holy authority figures fail you? What do you do when you can’t trust your perception? Na has made these ideas, though hardly new in the horror canon, his film’s full purpose, and his conclusions are devastatingly bleak. When The Wailing arrives at its final, spectacular half hour, you’ll vow never to ask these questions about your own life, ever. You may not leave the theater scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


64. The Lighthouse

lighthouse-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman
Genre: Drama, Horror
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


66. 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
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


67. 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
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


68. Zoolander

zoolander-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Farrell, Christine Taylor
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Zoolander was a landmark comedy in 2001, thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as a pair of male models. Wilson’s Hansel cares more about what bark is made out of and idolizing Sting (not for his music, but for the fact the he’s out there doing it) than his rivalry with Ben Stiller’s Zoolander. Eventually, the two supermodels must work together to try and bring down Mugatu (Will Ferrell), after he brainwashes Zoolander with the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song “Relax.”—Ryan Bort


69. 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
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


70. 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
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


71. One Child Nation

one-child-nation-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Nanfu Wang, Lynn Zhang
Genre: Documentary
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


72. 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
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


73. 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
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


74. Vivarium

vivarium-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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A quirky real estate story, where first-time homeowners Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) get a lot more than they bargained for, Vivarium is a low-key sci-fi nightmare of the mundane in the vein of early David Cronenberg. Director Lorcan Finnegan’s film also functions as a relationship allegory, where Tom and Gemma find themselves stuck in a trendy neighborhood of cookie-cutter homes where starting a family isn’t just an expectation but something foisted upon them. It isn’t as grisly as something like Shivers, but more affecting in its surreal design and hopelessness. Eisenberg and Poots own the screen as a disintegrating couple coping in distinct ways to their newfound terrarium where they are observed, manipulated, and—perhaps most disturbingly of all—objectively provided for by unseen and undefinable forces. Its 2020 release feels especially fitting as repetition and hopelessness become permanent residents of the couple’s home. Genre elements seep into the film, accelerating in hiccups and starts that are as arresting as the film’s intentionally artificial design. Startling sound dubbing, odd colorizing, and a few genuine “Oh shit” moments make Vivarium a tight, nasty fable that would fit in with the best Twilight Zone episodes. —Jacob Oller


75. 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
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 career, 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

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