The 30 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (June 2021)

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The 30 Best Movies on Paramount+ Right Now (June 2021)

Paramount+, the streaming service that is to ViacomCBS what HBO Max is to WarnerMedia, is finally here. The company (and the studio that streamer takes its name from) is stuffing its library online. CBS All Access, which it is replacing, is dead. Yes, it’s another streamer and yes, it’s another streamer with a at the end of its name. But hear us out: Paramount might be the new kid on the block, but it’s a heck of a deal. Either $9.99 a month for the ad-free tier or $4.99 for ads gets you “2,500 movie titles,” and that’s not even mentioning the slew of TV shows that’re coming along for the ride.

Between the Comedy Central Roasts, stand-up specials and seemingly endless documentaries, it can be hard to sift through. Never fear, though, because we’re here to sort through it all and find the cream of the crop—updating every month. The plethora of dramatic classics, martial arts movies, Indiana Jones films, Star Trek entries and forgotten favorites make Paramount+ worth checking out—especially considering its relatively low price point.

Now a few months into its existence, Paramount+ lost a good half dozen movies from this list in June, but it’s keeping up pace with its additions and—if its announcements are to be believed—it’ll have 1000 new movies on the way.

Here are the 30 best movies available to stream on Paramount+ right now:

The Big Boss

big-boss.jpg Year: 1971
Director: Lo Wei
Stars: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien, Nora Miao
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

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This is where it all started for a young man named Bruce Lee, his first starring vehicle in a Hong Kong action movie. Set in contemporary time, this isn’t some Shaolin temple period piece but a pretty grimy, modern crime movie that just happens to feature some martial arts. James Tien was ostensibly supposed to be the film’s star power, but it was clear that Bruce Lee had a magnetism that made him lightning in a bottle—you can’t look away when he’s on screen. The action isn’t quite fully developed, but you can just see the raw, seething potential in him, both as an actor and the most famous martial artist who’s ever lived. The film is more than a little goofy and its low-budgetness can make it a little bit tougher to watch today, but it’s worthwhile to see the birth of the legend. —J.V.


The Phantom

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Year: 1996
Director: Simon Wincer
Stars: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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One of the better “comic strip/pulp era” heroes brought to the big screen, The Phantom holds up pretty well as a realization of its source material (even if it will never be considered among the best superhero films). The plot—the leader of a nefarious brotherhood seeks to control a mystical item that will bring him absolute POWER!—is pure pulp goodness. Billy Zane is beefy and believable as the 21st Phantom out to avenge the death of his dad (the 20th), and I sort of wish Catherine Zeta-Jones had spent more of her career playing rogue-ish femme fatales who lead a squadron of female mercs. —M.B.


Zodiac

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Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

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I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


Raiders of the Lost Ark

raiders-of-the-lost-ark.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Wolf Kahler, Ronald Lacey
Genre: Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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A near-perfect distillation of the excitement and fun of the radio and pulp serials of yesteryear, Raiders of the Lost Ark established Harrison Ford’s wookie-free leading man credentials once and for all (with an assist from Blade Runner). The film also raises the question: Has anyone had a more impressive, more industry-transformative five-year run than Spielberg and Lucas did from 1977-1982? —Michael Burgin


Beavis and Butt-Head Do America

beavis_butt-head_do_america_poster_netflix.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Mike Judge
Stars: Mike Judge, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Robert Stack, Cloris Leachman
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Mike Judge was at the top of his powers in the mid to late ‘90s, when he was juggling Beavis and Butt-Head with King of the Hill and also developing Office Space. Although it lacks the music video commentary that was often the funniest part of the MTV series, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America is the rare feature-length adaptation of a TV show that’s actually better than the source material. A higher budget resulted in the best animation ever associated with Beavis and Butt-Head, while the extra length of a movie let Judge and his co-writer Joe Stillman take the cultural satire the show was known for in deeper and wider ranging directions. It also features Robert Stack’s best animated performance since that time he got to cuss in the Transformers movie.—Garrett Martin


Chinatown

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Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
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.


eXistenZ

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Year: 1999
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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From its first moments—during which a hotshot digital designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) introduces her newest virtual reality “game” to a congregation of fans that eerily resemble an AA meeting gone bust, not moments before an ersatz assassin shoots her in the shoulder with a monstrous gun that uses human teeth as bullets—until its last, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a discernible line between reality and the virtual, eXistenZ never lets up. This is the closest David Cronenberg will ever get to making a first-person shooter or survival horror videogame, and for that, it’s more than we could have ever hoped. Gross, absorbing and breathlessly paced, eXistenZ exists in the trenches between action movie clichés and weird B-movie trash, between cyberpunk and political thriller, between sense and absolute nonsense—lecturing its audience on the real consequences of violence in “games” without losing sight of just how much fun that violence can be. —Dom Sinacola


Children of Heaven

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Year: 1997
Director: Majid Majidi
Stars: Mohammad Amir Naji, Amir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqi
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG
Runtime: 89 minutes

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There are few better ways to introduce your child to a film with subtitles than this Iranian nominee for Best Foreign Film Oscar. The film follows a pair of impoverished siblings after the brother Ali loses his sister’s pink shoes in the market. He and his sister Zahra decide to share Ali’s shoes so his parents, already under the weight of financial struggles, won’t have one more thing to worry about. Roger Ebert summed it best, saying that Children of Heaven “lacks the cynicism and smart-mouth attitudes of so much American entertainment for kids and glows with a kind of good-hearted purity.” The perfect antidote for the bratty kids populating our TV and movie landscape.—Josh Jackson


Trainspotting

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Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Based on the gritty Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this early film from the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Millions follows a thuggish group of heroin addicts in Scotland and features brilliant performances from young Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald and Robert Carlyle. At times funny, gripping and nightmarishly haunting, Trainspotting is not an easy movie to forget. —Josh Jackson


Wheels on Meals

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Year: 1984
Director: Sammo Hung
Stars: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Biao Yuen
Genre: Action
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Wheels on Meals is a silly, silly movie, but damn is the action amazing. As far as trios go, it’s harder to get better than Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, although Hung’s role in this one is minimal. Rather, it all 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 thrilling scene, it might be the best one-on-one fight scene of Chan’s career—and Benny the Jet is just as good as Chan. 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,” where a missed spin kick generates such force that it blows out all of the lit candles on a candelabra several feet away. You really have to see it to believe it. Oh, and Wheels on Meals also features a story about a kidnapped girl. —Jim Vorel


Election

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

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


The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

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Director: Tim Hill
Year: 2021
Stars: Tom Kenny, Awkwafina, Matt Berry, Snoop Dogg, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Tiffany Haddish, Carolyn Lawrence, Mr. Lawrence, Keanu Reeves, Danny Trejo, Reggie Watts
Runtime: 91 minutes

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There are many reasons why SpongeBob SquarePants has endured more than two decades of steadfast love and pop culture relevance. Part of it is the enduring positivity and ridiculousness of SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and the entire populace of their world. The characters are self-referential, consistent to their defining traits and the writers have always created a duality of experience: Silliness for kids and a sly ascendance of wit that appeals directly to the older viewers. The mode in which the funny is served needs to have all of that present to work. Director/writer Tim Hill (who also wrote 2004’s original The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie) understands that in this first, all-3D presentation. Hill and his team of artists—including Mikros Image, which is responsible for the CGI animation—play it smart by introducing a subtle transition for the view in the opening of Sponge on the Run. Gorgeous, photorealistic CGI of the underwater world transitions to the familiar color palette and stylized look of Hillenburg’s corner of the ocean, just with more presence and tactile flourishes. From Gary’s snail slime coming across as tangible goop to scratches in Sandy Cheeks’ breathing dome, the movie doesn’t aim to overwhelm audiences with overt tech bells and whistles. Instead, it presents the characters and world as an opportunity to experience the familiar in a new light, like appreciating the miniscule scale of a 3D-generated Plankton in comparison to his explosive rage—which makes him all the more hilarious. As another evolution in the ongoing SpongeBob universe, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is a graceful and well-executed dip of the yellow toe into 3D waters. There’s overall respect for the characters and tone, and artistic merit to how they integrate the medium into the show’s standards for presenting the surreal and strange. Does it push the sponge forward? Probably not, and that’s ok. There’s something timeless about Bikini Bottom remaining as it is, with spin-offs and new series serving as the appropriate playgrounds for new outlets of storytelling. Sponge on the Run lovingly splits the difference, but doesn’t take anything away from what many know and love.—Tara Bennett


Super 8

super-8-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: J. J. Abrams
Stars: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Super 8 is a film that ultimately feels more deeply tied to its subtext and inspirations than anything within its own plot—ostensibly a story about a rogue alien on the loose in a small Midwestern city in the 1970s, ‘ala E.T., it often seems curiously disinterested in the literal extraterrestrial. Instead, this is a story about a young group of friends coming together to achieve their goals, sprinkled with social awkwardness and the grieving process for young protagonist Joe (Joel Courtney), even as his sexuality is awakening in the presence of peer Alice (Elle Fanning, in her debut). These exchanges between young teenage characters are the true heart of the film, evoking the emotional vulnerability of the characters in something like Stand By Me, and ultimately proving more interesting than the alien hijinks propelling the plot forward. Every time Super 8 is simply about a group of 14-year-olds trying to make the best damn zombie movie they can, it becomes oddly endearing. —Jim Vorel


The Elephant Man

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Year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Stars: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 124 minutes

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David Lynch melds history and art in the true story of severely disfigured John Merrick, known as “The Elephant Man,” and his physician Frederick Treves. Abandoned by his parents and exhibited as a side-show freak, Treves rescues Merrick from squalor, educates him, and allows him to become the toast of London. Filmed in black and white, the film is a triumph of cinematography as well as prosthetic makeup design. By film’s end, we feel Merrick’s exhaustion and depression as he gently slips away, reminding us that there are many kinds of exploitation. —Joan Radell


Roman Holiday

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Year: 1953
Director: William Wyler
Stars: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn
Genre: Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 minutes

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Roman Holiday is the gold standard for the American romantic comedy, and quite possibly one of the most charming films ever made. Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor both turned down the lead roles, and thank God they did, because it’s hard to imagine William Wyler could have gotten this jewel without the absolutely exquisite Audrey Hepburn (in her debut American role), playing opposite Gregory Peck, whose performance prompted my little sister to write to Peck begging him to take her to Prom. Hepburn plays Ann, a young princess fed up with the strictures of her diplomatic tour escaping her unspecified country’s embassy in Rome to explore the world. Peck is Joe Bradley, ex-pat reporter, who finds her asleep on a bench and takes her home without realizing who she is. Once he does, it’s safe to say that Hijinks Ensue. The third principal character in this film is of course the city of Rome, whose imagistic power could have easily overwhelmed a less charismatic star-crossed odd couple than the princess and the newspaper man. End-to-end gorgeous and lovably funny, Roman Holiday is an exemplar of the difference between sweet and hokey. I’m sure there are critics who would pick at this film for being lightweight (it’s supposed to be), or for Hepburn “over-acting” (it got her the only Oscar of her career), or predictable (it’s a love story?)—however, the pacing, the interlocking moments of poignancy and comedy, and the sheer adorable-bomb factor of Peck and Hepburn would make it tough for even the most hardened cynic to turn it off. —Amy Glynn


Dragon Lord

dragon-lord-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Jackie Chan
Stars: Jackie Chan, Mars, Hwang In-Shik, Tien Feng
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 minutes

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By 1982, Jackie Chan was fairly well known to Hong Kong audiences as an ascendant performer who, along with the likes of Sammo Hung, was introducing a new dimension of comedic martial arts films. An absolutely superior athlete and stunt coordinator, he had already starred in more traditional kung fu comedies such as the original Drunken Master, and was now experimenting with expanding his stunt action sequences in a period setting. The fanatical director brought an insane work ethic to projects such as Dragon Lord, which quite honestly features one of the more silly, childlike premises in the genre’s history: Chan’s character gets mixed up with a bunch of thugs after the kite he’s flying accidentally gets away from him and lands in their headquarters. It’s absolutely absurd, but the stunt work is Chan at his hyperkinetic best. —J.V.


Minority Report

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Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 140 minutes

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The more we become connected, the more any sense of personal privacy completely evaporates. So goes Steven Spielberg’s vision for our near future, couched in the signifiers of a neo-noir, mostly because the veil of safety and security has been—today, in 2002 and for decades to come—irrevocably ripped from our eyes. What we see (and everything we don’t) becomes the stuff of life and death in this shadowed thriller based on a Philip K. Dick story, about a pre-crime cop John Anderton (Tom Cruise) whose loyalty and dedication to his job can’t save him from meaner bureaucratic forces. Screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen’s plot clicks faultlessly into place, buoyed by breathtaking action setpieces—metallic tracking spiders ticking and swarming across a decrepit apartment floor to find Anderton, the man submerged in an ice-cold bathtub with his eyes recently switched out via black market surgery, immediately lurches to mind—but most impressive is Spielberg’s sophistication, unafraid of the bleak tidings his film prophecies even as it feigns a storybook ending. —Dom Sinacola


Big Night

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Director: Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci
Year: 1996
Stars: Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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“Sapienza” is Italian for “knowledge” and this spirited and completely adorable ensemble piece is all about the gap between what you know and what you know. Primo and Secondo (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci) lead a sparkling ensemble cast in this tale about a floundering Italian restaurant that’s on the brink of collapse because Primo (Shalhoub) is a high-octane chef who refuses to “give the people what they want” and insists on his integrity to the point of collapsing his business, while across the street, the hideous Pascal’s Italian Grotto, helmed by Ian Holm (who really shines in evil restauranteur roles) and Isabella Rossellini, packs ’em in with pure cheese (and I don’t mean cave-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano). Holm’s Pascal helps to kill Primo’s restaurant by persuading the brothers to spend their last dollars on a meal they’re told will be attended by jazz great Louis Prima. Of course Prima never shows, and of course in the meantime, dinner at the Paradiso that night is a life-changing experience for several people. Under its lighthearted, slightly neurotic exterior, this film has subtle and wonderful depths, speaking about foodways and the American immigrant experience, about the conflict between artistry and hustle, about sibling rivalry and family support, about food as a shorthand language for art and love and approval and moxie. It’s about know-how, and how it both is, and is not, enough. —Amy Glynn


Seconds

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Director: John Frankenheimer
Year: 1966
Stars: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Setting the tale from coast to coast in prosperous ’60s America, John Frankenheimer casts an eye through a thin veil of science fiction to what he sees as a failingly lonely way of life. Approached by a mysterious outfit known as “the Company,” middle-aged family man Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is given the opportunity to fake his death and start over as bohemian California-based painter Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Tapping away to the existential core, however, “Tony” only finds his new life as hollow as his old one, a construct populated by Company actors and other “reborns” who just want to sustain the illusion. James Wong Howe’s shadow-infused cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith’s anxious horror score apply the paranoid sheen to what is really a bleak examination of the contemporary domesticated worker—bleak because, minus the presence of the elusive, amoral Company, Seconds’ dystopian Earth is really our own. —Brogan Morris


To Catch a Thief

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

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


Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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Year: 1956
Director: Don Siegel
Stars: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Don Siegel’s film is the first of several adaptations of Jack Finney’s 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, and although it lacks some of the more stomach-churningly weird sights of Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake (like that man-faced dog!), it makes up for it with solid performances and its uniquely bright, complacent portrayal of human society being destroyed from within. As so many others have observed since the film’s first release, it’s the ultimate Red Scare-era parable for the coming conflict of East vs. West, emotionless collectivist vs. passionate individualist cultures, tapping into the simmering fear that the nation’s very identity was being secretly undermined by outsiders. The fact that the assimilations and “pod people” creations happen while we sleep only deepens the metaphor, implying the need for constant, ceaseless vigilance. Of course, these themes have kept Invasion of the Body Snatchers painfully relevant at any time in American history when xenophobia is running rampant, today being no exception. Embroiled as we are in another culture war revolving around oft-racist accusations of “un-American” behavior, there’s never been a better time to revisit the film than right now.—Jim Vorel


Nacho Libre

nacho_libre_poster.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Jared Hess
Stars: Jack Black, Héctor Jiménez, Ana de la Reguera
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 40%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Jared and Jerusha Hess’s follow-up to Napoleon Dynamite wasn’t the pop culture phenomenon that their first movie was, which is both a good and bad thing. It means Nacho Libre’s rep might be a little bit worse than it should be, but it also means it doesn’t feel as ancient and utterly played out as the extravagantly memed Dynamite. Nacho Libre isn’t a great comedy—the Hesses’ fixation on weirdness for weirdness’s sake remains a crutch, Jack Black can be a little too unhinged, and there’s a queasiness surrounding its depiction of Mexican culture—but there is some genuine hilarity to be found here. It’s one of the best showcases for Black’s peculiar talents. It’s a must-watch for wrestling fans, too.—Garrett Martin


A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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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


Mission: Impossible

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Year: 1996
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Yup—stop for a minute and contemplate that the first M:I film was directed by Brian De Palma. A guy known more for art house thrillers and anti-heroes helms the first in a possible franchise starring an A-list actor (before Hollywood was only interested in franchises), not to mention the first film Cruise ever produced, a risk in and of itself. And yet, it all worked: Mission: Impossible is a plot-heavy, intelligent, patient action film, establishing a cypher of an action star who would go on to perfectly serve every single director to come. By now, it’s expected that with every new film in the franchise, Tom Cruise will step up his stuntman game, and every new director will be given the chance to interpret Ethan Hunt as he (or she, we can only hope) sees fit. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise asserts himself as perhaps the world’s most prominent asexual action hero, but 20 years ago no one had any idea what kind of conceptual framework he was putting into place. Mission: Impossible was a new breed of blockbuster action film, and the franchise’s longevity is clear evidence that, no matter what’s happened since, Tom Cruise is a guy whose risks seem to always pay off.—Dom Sinacola


Infernal Affairs

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Year: 2002
Director: Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak
Stars: Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Chapman To, Lam Ka Tung
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Infernal Affairs left such an impression on Martin Scorsese that he translated the pulpy cop drama almost wholesale into The Departed’s Oscar gold, dialing down the original’s operatic tendencies and embracing the kind of hardcore nihilism that’s apparently supposed to make films like his seem more award-worthy. While the two are identical plot-wise, what Scorsese misses in his version is the gracefulness of gunplay through the eyes of those who treat each criminal transaction like a kind of artful dance. Scorsese’s action is blunt and unforgiving; Lau’s is kind of attractive and, at times, bracing with portent. If you ever watch a mob movie and wonder what characters find so seductive in such ugly lifestyles, Infernal Affairs answers your curiosities with crime that pays—in luxury, in respect, in the kinesthetic satisfaction of a job well done. And while both films follow two men as they wade through the gray area between organized crime and those who want to disorganize it, Infernal Affairs stays truer to that gray area. There’s nothing ambiguous about The Departed. Most notably, Scorsese’s ending is bleaker, and in its bleakness, is indefatigably black and white: Violence is wrong, police are good, but nothing—including justice—truly matters. Who really wants an action movie like that?—Dom Sinacola


An Inconvenient Truth

an-inconvenient-truth.jpg
Year: 2006
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Al Gore proved himself a better narrator than a campaigner, with an Oscar for a consolation prize after losing the Presidency in 2004. Director Davis Guggenheim laid out a convincing point-by-point case for the reality of climate change and the need to ensure that responsible development throughout the world. And despite having its scientific conclusions questioned, the film gave the issue of global warming a voice much louder than an audible sigh.—Josh Jackson


The Ruins

the-ruins-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Carter Smith
Stars: Jonathan Tucker, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Laura Ramsey
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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The Ruins is a swift and vibrant tale that’s been impressively concocted from recycled material. It’s a collage of pasted pieces, but it proves once again that the flow of a dance is not always in its originality but in its grace. The plot follows four beautiful Americans—two guys and two girls—vacationing in Mexico when they decide to take a trip off the map to see a rumored archaeological dig. Blah, blah, blah. The film doesn’t waste much time explaining the unnecessary lore, but it carefully lays out the important details—the maps, the jeep, the personalities, the locations. After some efficient setup, things quickly get creepy, then gross, then both creepy and gross. Director Carter Smith alternately reconfigures his elements—torches, pulleys, out-of-control plants and backwoods emergency surgery—for a series of increasingly gruesome, weirdly creative set pieces. It’s the kind of film that Sam Raimi might have directed 20 years ago, except that Carter plays it straight, even though he seems to assume the audience won’t, offering them ample opportunities to shriek and hoot at the wounded heroes. (Screenwriter Scott B. Smith wrote Raimi’s film A Simple Plan, and cinematographer Darius Khondji has shot films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michael Haneke and Wong Kar-Wai. This helps.) Just when The Ruins begins to feel too inert, too tied to its little mound, too hemmed in by an intractable problem, it leaps free of its bounds. —Robert Davis


Sunset Boulevard

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


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

the-last-crusade.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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After the mindfreak that was Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom left a bad taste in audiences’ mouths (creating the PG-13 rating in the process), Steven Spielberg and his collaborators went back to the drawing board, crafting a film that would retain the simpler tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like a rehash of that Oscar-nominated adventure. After filing through several different pitches and drafts (Spielberg even admitted at one point he felt he was “too old” for some of the stories), Spielberg and producer/writer George Lucas settled on a story about the search for The Holy Grail. Spielberg’s stroke of genius, however, was not only his decision to incorporate Indiana’s Jones estranged father into the plotline but to cast Sean Connery to fill the role. The dramatic dynamic between father and son lends the film an emotional heft that is noticeably absent from the more lightweight Raiders. In this way, one could perhaps even hold up Last Crusade as the superior story (emphasis on “perhaps”). Plus, as an added bonus, the film offers a prologue featuring the late, great River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones. —Mark Rozeman


Tales From the Darkside: The Movie

31. tales from the darkside (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: John Harrison
Stars: Deborah Harry, Christian Slater, David Johansen, William Hickey, James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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The spiritual successor to the first two Creepshow films was the Tales from the Darkside feature film, also an anthology. The stories are a bit ridiculous and cartoonish, even moreso than Creepshow, but fun in their own zany way. The highlight is probably “Cat From Hell,” a segment that was originally supposed to be featured in Creepshow 2 about a seemingly evil cat tormenting and stalking a wheelchair-bound old man to punish him for his past misdeeds. Although honestly, my favorite aspect of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is the anthology framing story, which involves a child chained up in the kitchen of a witch (none other than Blondie herself, Debbie Harry) who is planning on cooking him for dinner. Like some take on The Thousand and One Nights, the kid plays Scheherazade and distracts the witch by telling horror stories until he can engineer his escape. It’s like something from an overgrown episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?Jim Vorel

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