The 25 Best Movies on Cinemax Right Now (July 2021)

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The 25 Best Movies on Cinemax Right Now (July 2021)

HBO Max may have begun dominating the Max title among movie streaming apps since its release, but before it burst onto the scene, Max Go was one of the premium ways to watch movies. While its website is still active, the Cinemax streaming companion has since taken a backseat to the HBO parent streamer. That doesn’t mean, however, that Cinemax isn’t still offering up hundreds of great movies. From great action flicks, war movies, and westerns to comedy and drama, the premium channel still has the hits. In our curation efforts, we’ve skipped over Max After Dark options, so those after “Skinamax” offerings will have to venture into that territory on their own. Let us know whether Bikini Avengers or College Coeds vs. Zombie Housewives need to make the list.

This list covers the best on offer, up to date for July 2021.

Here are the 25 Best Movies on Cinemax and Max Go:

25. Ad Astra

ad-astra-poster-low.jpg Year: 2019
Director: James Gray

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Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut from a “future near to ours,” who, when we meet him, is somehow surviving an explosion from an international space station by using his preternatural ability to control his heart rate and his breathing, remaining calm in the face of mortal peril. The explosion was caused by a series of solar flares that, it’s learned, may be caused by an experiment years before led by Roy’s father, Griffin (Tommy Lee Jones), who was thought to have died but may be alive and in fact may have sabatoged the mission. Government officials, fearing the flares could end up destroying all life on planet Earth, want Roy to send a message to Griffin’s ship, hopefully persuading him to halt the flares and come back home. Roy, who hasn’t seen his father since he was a teenager, isn’t sure the mission’s going to work…but he’s haunted by his own demons, demons not entirely disconnected from his father. If this sounds like an exciting space yarn, know that director James Gray is in a much more meditative state here: The film is more about the mystery of the soul of man than it is about the mystery of the universe, or even about some big spaceship fights. The universe is the backdrop to the story of a man and his thwarted issues with his father, and his inability to connect with anyone else in the world because of it. Like many of Gray’s films, Ad Astra is about the depths one can find within oneself, how far down anyone can climb and hide. Pitt wouldn’t seem like the ideal actor for a part like that—charisma drips off him so effortlessly that it leaves a trail behind him wherever he goes—but he’s impressive at playing a man who doesn’t understand himself but suspects the answer to the riddle that has vexed him his whole life must be in this man who gave him life but whom he never really knew. There’s a reserve here that Pitt draws on that works well for him; it’s a serious performance, but it never feels showy. He is searching for something, knowing full well he probably won’t find it. Gray does provide some thrills on the journey of father to find son, and they are extremely well-crafted, particularly a battle with space pirates on the moon that takes place in a world without both gravity and sound. And in Pitt he has a solid emotional center that the audience will still follow anywhere, even if it’s to the ends of the solar system just to confront his daddy issues. —Will Leitch


24. Beasts of the Southern Wild

beasts-of-the-southern-wild-poster.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Benh Zeitlin

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Fantasy meets reality in this apocalyptic coming-of-age fable whose art-imitating-life—or is that vice versa?—production put it in immediate contact with the BP Deepwater Horizon; the oil rig exploded the first day of filming just offshore of New Orleans, in Terrebonne Parish. Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis—one of many cast members culled from bayou country—is extraordinary as 6-year-old Hushpuppy, a force of nature in the fictional, self-sustained fishing isle of “The Bathtub,” so named because of its below sea-level, levee-created geography. Her hard-drinking father Wink’s health is in rapid decline as a hurricane nears the community—along with prehistoric creatures newly unfrozen from Arctic waters. As Hushpuppy and her dad (played by fellow non-actor Dwight Henry, who like Wallis would later appear in 12 Years a Slave) face peril both internal and external, Beasts becomes surreal post-Katrina folklore, and unforgettably gorgeous lore at that. Director Benh Zeitlin, who co-wrote the screenplay with playwright Lucy Alibar, offers a mythic observation on climate change and the disappearing coastal wetlands, a fast eroding natural barrier against storm surges that, along with levees in various states of disrepair and outright neglect, pose an ongoing threat to the state. But it’s hardly sociopolitical soap-boxing. Told through Hushpuppy’s POV of fright and awe, the film is a powerful testament to the abiding resilience of the region and its residents—joyous to live, defiant to return, proud to remain, home.—Amanda Schurr


23. Ouija: Origin of Evil

oujia-origin-of-evil-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Doug Jones, Lin Shaye, Annalise Basso
Genre: Horror
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 99 minutes

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While the first Ouija was a workmanlike, paint-by-numbers cash grab without a single original touch, its prequel, directed by tried-and-true horror fan and prolific genre filmmaker (with three quality releases in 2016 alone) Mike Flanagan, bears the aesthetic of ’60s horror. From the use of the era’s Universal logo to a faded, sepia-pastel look, Origin of Evil bears witness to Flanagan having fun with the creative possibilities of the project. As intriguing as all that stuff is for genre purists and cinephiles, the whole thing would still crumble if the overall tone and performances didn’t match Flanagan’s ambitions. Thankfully, he delivers a wholly satisfying piece of PG-13 horror that deftly mixes the modern sensibilities of the genre with tried-and-true stylistic approaches from its, er, origins. —Oktay Ege Kozak


22. Belly

belly--movie-poster.jpg Year: 1998
Director: Hype Williams

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Every hip-hop fan over the age of 25 has a particular era of rap that they consider to be untouchable, and for me it’s the late ‘90s/early 2000s. 1998, though, is an especially magical year: DMX dropped not one, but two great albums (his debut being a classic, and both going on to make him the first rapper to release two number one albums in one year). It’s also the year he starred in Belly alongside Nas and Method Man. The film’s soundtrack now stands not only as a great reflection of the gritty and simultaneously flashy Hype Williams movie, but also as one of the best examples of what hip-hop had become at the time. This was back when, for many of us, Roc-a-Fella records and the Ruff Ryders ruled the world. Putting DMX, Jay Z, Beanie Sigel and Ja Rule (before he started singing) all on one album would have been plenty, but when you throw in both a Wu-Tang track and a soulful and lyrically gangsta D’angelo favorite, along with one of the most intoxicating reggae/rap collaborations in history (I dare you to try and listen to “Top Shotter” just once), you have a classic. The Belly soundtrack (with production credits from the great Swizz Beatz, Poke & Tone, Diddy, Irv Gotti and others) functions like any great collection, in that it transports the listener back to the exact time and place it was created—it’s, like Williams’ film, timeless and, simultaneously, so specific to its time. At the risk of sounding like just another old head: We’ll never have something like this again, something, like the hip-hop that fills it, that will probably never be as brilliant, dark and untouchable as we got in Belly. —Shannon M. Houston


21. Before Sunset

before-sunset-poster.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Richard Linklater

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It’s not every day that a sequel earns its right to exist both in the context of and independent from its predecessor, but this human-scale little drama pulls it off. Richard Linklater’s meditation on romance and inspiration follows Ethan Hawke’s novelist Jesse on a European book tour, where he’s reading from the book inspired by his run-in with Celine (Julie Delpy) almost a decade ago-and spending one out-of-time day with her to try and figure out what might’ve been. Linklater makes intelligent use of languorous long takes to underscore how little time the characters have to find some kind of closure—how little time any of us have, really. It’s not easy to make a film that relies on things like idealism and emotional generosity. But I’m glad people still try. When it’s successful, the result can be kind of stunning. Before Sunset is wistful without schmaltz, thoughtful without ponderousness, and fundamentally kind. Not a given with films about writers! And kind of a treat.—Amy Glynn


20. Her Smell

her-smell-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Alex Ross Perry

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Her Smell chronicles the fall and rise of Elisabeth Moss’s Becky Something, a Courtney Love surrogate and frontwoman of the punk rock band Something She; Becky talks like a Wonderland character but acts like an uncaged animal. Moss being an actress whose greatest asset is her eyes, and Perry being a filmmaker who fixates on the human gaze, Becky spends the movie staring either at other characters or into the camera. Her eyes burn like toxic twin moons. The movie’s first three quarters light the match of her self-immolation. In the punk rock world there’s little more stultifying than commercial success; add in a poisonous personality and an enthusiastic drug habit and Becky’s unmaking—by her own hand—is assured. Yet, the film’s final act redeems her, such as Perry’s movies redeem anyone. In contrast to his other work, Her Smell is compassionate, even tender; Becky, later seen sober, washed up and repentant for her years as a monster fed on abusing her ex-husband (Dan Stevens), her bandmates (Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin) and her mother (Virginia Madsen), sings a devastatingly moving cover of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to her daughter in a moment equally as gentle as it is painful. Even in the recovery phase, Her Smell delicately walks a perilous tightrope and arrives on the other side as the masterpiece of Perry’s career. —Andy Crump


19. Bloodsport

bloodsport poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1988
Director: Newt Arnold

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


18. Wristcutters: A Love Story

wristcutters.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Goran Dukic

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Most people are afraid to say the word “suicide” in polite company, not to mention making a film that engages the subject directly. But Goran Dukic had no reservations about adapting Etgar Keret’s novella Kneller’s Happy Campers—the story of an afterlife created exclusively for suicide victims—into the dark comedy Wristcutters: A Love Story. Starring Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon and Tom Waits, (with a cameo from Will Arnett), the movie somehow approaches suicide with both humor and compassion. “Everything’s the same here; it’s just a little worse,” main character Zia says after cutting his wrists and then finding himself in an unexpectedly familiar afterlife. “I’ve thought about suicide again, but I’ve never tried it. I didn’t want to end up in a bigger shit hole than this one.” Dukic’s characters work at pizza joints, live in apartments and shop for groceries. They’re in dysfunctional relationships, and they face everyday struggles. We even see an entire family of suicide victims—mother, father and two sons. Since the characters are so realistic, Dukic made a few distinct adaptations to the story to emphasize the absurdness of a world populated only by suicide victims. There are no stars in the sky of this Great Beyond, and nobody smiles. The suicide flashback scenes uncomfortable to watch, to say the least, but essential for understanding the characters and the idea that we can’t escape our problems without working through them. —Kate Kiefer


17. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

never-rarely-sometimes-always-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Eliza Hittman
Starring: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Eggold
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 95 minutes

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I keep thinking about the suitcase: Skylar (Talia Ryder) packs sweaters and a pair of jeans into an oversized travel bag (oversized, at least, for what is supposed to be a day-long trip). The next morning, Skylar and her cousin Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) board a bus from their hometown in rural Pennsylvania to New York City. When they get to Manhattan, the cousins take turns carrying the large bag, guarding it, rolling it on the sidewalk, lugging it up and down steep subway stairs. The pair has carefully planned a trip to New York so that Autumn can get an abortion without her mom (Sharon Van Etten) and stepdad (Ryan Eggold) knowing, since Pennsylvania requires parental consent for the procedure. The bag is the burden they carry; Never Rarely Sometimes Always—in emotive close ups, creating intimacy as if the viewer gets a chance to see the world through Autumn’s often solemn, stoic gaze—chronicles Autumn’s tortuous and convoluted path just to take agency over her body, studying the patience and perseverance that women often need to navigate the world. It’s a film punctuated by waiting, for one appointment or the other, or for the promise of safety. There are, however, brief moments that remind audiences that Autumn and Skylar are just kids—playing arcade games, or enjoying the thrill of an unfamiliar city—and these scenes, provide, at least, glimmers of respite or perhaps windows into what life could be if like if they didn’t have to work so hard for bodily autonomy. —Isabella Bridie DeLeo


16. Witness

witness-poster.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Peter Weir

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In any discussion of Pennsylvania’s cultural eccentricities, we’d be remiss to leave out the Pennsylvania Dutch, otherwise known as the Amish, whose population still tops 300,000 to this day. Peter Weir’s Witness is, surprisingly, still the only mainstream cinematic treatment of the Amish, a group that’s often the butt of jokes and general misunderstanding in popular culture. Witness takes an open-minded approach, depicting the Amish as a group of people who, though they live according to a rigid set of beliefs, are not terribly different from the rest of us where it counts. That said, this is very much a film of the Reagan era, playing up the juxtaposition between a city rife with depravity and the quaint, simple life of the Amish. Harrison Ford (in the role that garnered him his only Oscar nomination) plays John Book, a police officer forced to hide out with an Amish widow, Rachel (Kelly McGillis), when her son (Lukas Haas) witnesses one of Book’s fellow officers (Danny Glover) commit a murder. The Philadelphia of Witness is almost cartoonishly corrupt and conspiratorial, but the film balances this with its sensitive rendering of its characters. Raised in the Amish community, Rachel is generally naïve to a lot of American culture, but she’s still a mature, fully formed human being, and the film doesn’t take the easy way out by “rescuing” her from her Amish life. John and Rachel share a crucial understanding, but in the end they step back into their own worlds, unable to bridge the gulf. —Maura McAndrew


15. The Invisible Man

invisible-man-2020-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Aided by elemental forces, her exquisitely wealthy boyfriend’s Silicon Valley house blanketed by the deafening crash of ocean waves, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) softly pads her way out of bed, through the high-tech laboratory, escaping over the wall of his compound and into the car of her sister (Harriet Dyer). We wonder: Why would she run like this if she weren’t abused? Why would she have a secret compartment in their closet where she can stow an away bag? Then Cecilia’s boyfriend appears next to the car and punches in its window. His name is Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and according to Cecilia, Adrian made a fortune as a leading figure in “optics” (OPTICS!) meeting the self-described “suburban girl” at a party a few years before. Never one to be subtle with his themes, Leigh Whannell has his villain be a genius in the technology of “seeing,” in how we see, to update James Whale’s 1933 Universal Monster film—and H.G. Wells’ story—to embrace digital technology as our primary mode of modern sight. Surveillance cameras limn every inch of Adrian’s home; later he’ll use a simple email to ruin Cecilia’s relationship with her sister. He has the money and resources to peer into any corner of Cecilia’s life. His gaze is unbroken. Cecilia knows that Adrian will always find her, and The Invisible Man is rife with the abject terror of such vulnerability. Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio have a knack for letting their frames linger with space, drawing our attention to where we, and Cecilia, know an unseen danger lurks. Of course, we’re always betrayed: Corners of rooms and silhouette-less doorways aren’t empty, aren’t negative, but pregnant with assumption—until they aren’t, the invisible man never precisely where we expect him to be. We begin to doubt ourselves; we’re punished by tension, and we feel like we deserve it. It’s all pretty marvelous stuff, as much a well-oiled genre machine as it is yet another showcase for Elisabeth Moss’s herculean prowess. —Dom Sinacola


14. Hot Fuzz

hot-fuzz.jpg Year: 2007
Director: Edgar Wright

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The second chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (before there was ever such a thing), Hot Fuzz is clear evidence that Edgar Wright is capable of anything. A blockbuster action flick, a thriller, a pulp plot, a winking noir, a commentary on classism in an increasingly urbanized society—the movie is all of these things, down to the marrow of its very existence. Moreso than Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End, Hot Fuzz inhabits its influences with the kind of aplomb to which any cinephile can relate: Somewhere between fascination, revulsion and pure visceral joy there walks the Michael Bays, the Don Simpsons, the John Woos, the Jerry Bruckheimers, and Wright gives each stalwart his due. Plus, he does so with total respect, showing that he understands their films inside and out. And in that intimate knowledge he knows even better that filmmaking is a conflagration: Best to burn it all down and see what remains than build it from the ground up. —Dom Sinacola


13. A Hidden Life

a-hidden-life-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Terrence Malick

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You can see where this is going. It’s not prognostication, or a hunch. Director Terrence Malick, with his 10th film, draws fine lines from the quotidian—in this case that of peasant farmer Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) and their family and their small, intimate rural community in 1930s Austria—to the extraordinary tragedy that waits at the end of the film. We understand the inevitable, can sense the sweep of Malick’s story within both the historical context he provides (that this is based on a real person) and the traumatic iconography we seem to take for granted in 2019. We know what terror lurks in the sound of planes overhead, lost in the echo of the Alps, or what it feels like to witness someone you thought you knew saying things you never thought possible. Malick conflates history and intuition to wrap a simple message in the folds of overwhelming emotion. He has nothing complicated to offer philosophically in contemplating one’s personal responsibility to oppose growing global fascism, and the repeated argument between Franz and literally everyone—that he should just pledge an oath to Hitler to keep his family safe, because an oath obviously means nothing compared to his life, let alone compared to the outcome of the war—becomes so redundant it takes on Biblical proportions. Instead, the director grasps with both hands, with stunning clarity, Franz’s life up until the moment he chooses his fate. Jörg Widmer films, in ceaseless handheld and cyclical movements, the boring work outdoors, the mundane chores, the rule-less games with his children, the long, ordinary walks to nowhere as luscious vistas limn practically every shot. We realize that such inevitability is the stuff of an existence filled with deep, lived-in affection: Scored by James Newton Howard, earning every ounce of that melodrama, Malick wants us understand not what happened, but why. Why this man refused paradise. Why paradise was his to refuse. A Hidden Life offers little consolation, but hope enough—that such courage can be more of an end that a means to one, the result of an increasingly rare time had on Earth, spent in the throes of honesty and love. —Dom Sinacola


12. Dressed to Kill

dressed-to-kill-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Brian De Palma

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Dressed to Kill is as much an over-the-top, transphobic, atonal mess of an attempt at putting a Hitchcockian twist on an ’80s erotic thriller as it is a compulsively watchable exercise in pure style and tension. Which means it might be the quintessential Brian De Palma joint. Sure, he may have practically parodied his own work in Raising Cain, but if you’re looking for a much earlier expression of his most iconic traits—in a more straightforward thriller, wrapping sensationalistic sexual content around a pulpy noir plot—this is the best place to start. Dressed to Kill is essentially two short films spliced into one, the first act concerning the sexual yearning of an unhappily married woman (Angie Dickinson), infused with enough unease to the film’s much more violent and explicit remainder. Considering De Palma’s obsession with remaking parts of Psycho during the ’70s and early ’80s (see: Sisters), one can easily guess what happens to the married woman before we find ourselves in a straight horror/thriller about a transgender murderer stalking a high-priced prostitute (Nancy Allen) with a razor. The fact that the killer is transgender isn’t a twist in the film, but his identity is, and if you keep following the Psycho connections, it’s very easy to guess. De Palma may have tried to dissuade his film from controversy by including a levelheaded interview with a trans war reporter on TV, watched by two characters during a split-screen sequence, but that hardly matters when De Palma has admitted to creating his own version of Jekyll and Hyde, essentially turning a trans person into a monster. Problematic but emblematic of a great director, this sleazy flick is still worth checking out. —Oktay Ege Kozak


11. Ready or Not

ready-or-not-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

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Eat the rich—or at least defeat them with some good ole Judeo-Christian magic. Weird that Ready or Not made it through the right-wing cultural abattoir while The Hunt was taken apart—maybe the latter sacrificed itself for the former—because Ready or Not is very much about how rich people are all psychopaths when confronted with the limits of their money and power, willing to indulge in whatever games, traditions or ancient blood rites proscribed by Satan they have to in order to stay on top. We know the Le Domas family is a hive of grotesque villainy from the beginning, before the true nature of her in-laws is ever revealed to Grace (Samara Weaving) on her wedding night: Ready or Not begins with people in gowns and tuxedos engaged in a violent chase through lavish hallways and gilded passageways, offering a brief, brutal glimpse of this family’s past matrimonial gatherings. No matter how kind or protective her new husband Alex (Mark O’Brien) is, we know he’s still a part of the Le Domas clan. He’s always bound to disappoint us. —Dom Sinacola


10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

the-curious-case-of-benjamin-button-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: David Fincher

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Though far from David Fincher’s best work, his typically painstaking attention to detail and shrewd decision to transplant the original F. Scott Fitzgerald short story from Baltimore to New Orleans nab this film—the second shot in the Crescent City after Hurricane Katrina (after the 2006 Denzel Washington vehicle Déjà Vu)—a spot on the list. Fincher was motivated to move the production thanks to Louisiana’s generous tax incentives for filmmakers—the state isn’t called “Hollywood South” for just its versatile locations. But by setting Brad Pitt’s aging-in-reverse timeline from November 1918 through the sirens blaring of the storm’s August 2005 landfall, he and screenwriter Eric Roth (in full Forrest Gump mode again) mine a fantastical metaphor of a city that’s as old as it is ageless. “The circumstances of my birth were… unusual,” Pitt’s Benjamin Button begins—the same fate could be said of New Orleans, and everything of both since. (Pitt has become something of an ambassador for the still-recovering town through his philanthropic foundation’s efforts to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward.) The sprawling odyssey—Pitt called it a “love letter”—elegizes a city then barely three years removed from near destruction, its often sepia-cast vignettes showcasing the Garden District, Mid-City, the French Quarter and beyond.—Amanda Schurr


9. Midnight Cowboy

midnight-cowboy-poster.jpg Year: 1969
Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 113 minutes

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


8. The Others

the-others-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Alejandro Amenábar


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The Others is a stately ghost thriller that is classical in structure, sumptuous in appearance and somewhat familiar in its plotting. Borrowing heavily from the modus operandi of gothic horror literature and Hammer horror productions of the ’60s, it’s hard not to look at Nicole Kidman here and see her as doing an impersonation of Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, except playing a mother rather than “governess.” Still, The Others takes the bones of that kind of story, in the mold of The Turn of the Screw and adds a few more modern layers—an absent husband who mysteriously returns; a pair of servants who seem to know more than they let on; a few genuinely creepy scenes involving the children. It was rightly praised upon release as a stylish throwback in an era that was considerably more dominated by monsters and slashers, and its period piece setting gives it a certain timeless quality, 20 years later. The best ghost stories age well, and The Others is doing exactly that. —Jim Vorel


9. Phantom Thread

phantom-thread-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

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Phantom Thread is a movie that is so wonderfully made, so meticulous in its construction, so deeply felt in execution, that you can almost overlook how prickly and scabrous it is. This has to be the most luscious-to-watch film, ever, that is in large part about how self-centered and inflexible the world of relationships can be, how we can only give up so much of ourselves and it’s up to our partner to figure out how to deal with that, if they want to at all. This is an uncompromising movie about two uncompromising people who try to live with one another without losing too large a part of themselves, and the sometimes extreme lengths they will go to get their way. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a world-famous dressmaker who clothes celebrities, royalty and, sometimes to his chagrin, déclassé wealthy vulgarians. Almost everything that doesn’t meet his exacting standards is vulgarian, until one day while in the English countryside, Reynolds comes across a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who both meets Reynolds’ physical requirements (specifically so he can make dresses for her) and has a certain pluck that he instantly finds fascinating. Both of the principals of Phantom Thread are absurd and insane in their own ways, and one of the many thrills of the film is watching them bounce off each other, and then collide again. It’s the oddest little love story, so odd that I’m not even sure it’s about love at all. My colleague Tim Grierson said this first, but it’s too good an observation to ignore: This movie is in large part about the absolute unknowability of other people’s relationships. From the outside, it makes no sense that Reynolds and Alma would have this sort of connection with each other; it’s difficult to tell what either person is getting out of it. But what’s unfathomable about it is also what makes it so powerful. —Will Leitch


8. The Girl With All the Gifts

girl-with-all-gifts-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Colm McCarthy
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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M.R. Carey’s novel The Girl With All the Gifts plays coy with its zombie (or “hungries,” as they’re called here) trappings, drawing readers in for dozens of pages before revealing its flesh-eating premise. The film adaptation, released last year in the U.K. before making its U.S. debut in February, bares its teeth right away. If viewers aren’t burnt out on zombie offerings (and they shouldn’t be, with such recent standouts as 2016’s Korean hit Train to Busan proving that the genre has plenty of life left in it), they’ll find that The Girl With All the Gifts is less concerned with the initial overwhelming outbreak than with the moral lines survivors in the military and scientific community are willing to cross. Director Colm McCarthy, working from a screenplay by Carey himself, doesn’t skimp on the swarming carnage, often rendering attacks in brutal, fully lit scenes, but the most frightening tension comes from a menacing, single-minded Glenn Close as a scientist with few scruples. Young actress Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the “hungry” most in control of her impulses, gives the crowded zombie genre one of its only truly heroic performances, enshrining The Girl With All the Gifts as the bloody heir to George Romero’s misunderstood-at-the-time classic Day of the Dead. —Steve Foxe


5. The Evil Dead

evil-dead.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Sam Raimi

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Infamously pieced together from $350,000 and an exceptional amount of goodwill, The Evil Dead, when looking back at it, seems to have created a kind of horror unto itself. Sam Raimi’s debut, of course, is notable for so much more than that: like how it was edited by Joel Coen; or how Stephen King’s rabid interest caught the attention of a major studio, giving Raimi and close bud Bruce Campbell the chance to pour everything they knew about slashers, slapstick, camp, pulp and fantasy into Evil Dead II, a kind of sequel/reboot hybrid. But the real gauge of The Evil Dead’s tenor is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that its 2013 remake was something of a sickening feast for gore-hounds. For those familiar with Evil Dead II and the even sillier Army of Darkness, the fact that the original film was more of a straightforward genre affair feels somehow off; behold cognitive dissonance in full effect. And yet, somehow this rudimentary story of five Michigan State students who unwittingly unleash ancient demons in a cabin in the woods is still surprisingly, mercilessly skin-crawling. Leave it to Sam Raimi to stretch a dollar so far the sound of it snapping has the same effect on our stomachs as a classic bump in the night. —Dom Sinacola


4. La La Land

la-la-land-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Damien Chazelle

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La La Land’s exhilarating and nearly unflagging energy strives to inspire in viewers an equally bold appreciation for all the things it celebrates: the thrill of romantic love, of dreams within reach, of what we call “movie magic.” In this, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash, an opening scene blooms into an ambitious song-and-dance number set in the midst of a Los Angeles traffic jam. It’s there our protagonists, Sebastian and Mia (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), will have a terse encounter foreshadowing their destiny as lovers, but not before a flurry of acrobatic dancing and joyful singing erupts around them, as if heralding their own flights of fancy to come. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s camera guides us through the excitement, weaving and spinning among drivers who’ve left their cars to execute a stunning sequence of choreography which appears to have been performed in a long, unbroken take. The combination of song and visual is how Chazelle renders the joy of being in love and the way love transforms the geography around those in its sway. —Anthony Salveggi


3. Punch-Drunk Love

punch-drunk-love.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

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It may be hard to recall now that we’ve all rallied around his talent—allowing him to transcend the stigma of his Netflix deal while he still profits ludicrously off it—but there was once a time when the world doubted Adam Sandler. Long before the Safdies or even Noah Baumbach got their time getting tight with the Sandman, we have P.T. Anderson to thank for inspiring such hope. Compared to the scope of There Will Be Blood, or the melancholy of Boogie Nights, or the inexorable fascination at the heart of The Master, or the obsession and obfuscation of Phantom Thread, Punch-Drunk Love—a breath of fresh, Technicolor air after the weight of Magnolia—comes off like something of a lark for Anderson, setting the stage for the kind of incisive comic chops the director would later epitomize, and complicate, with Inherent Vice. A simple love story between a squirmy milquetoast (Sandler) on the verge and the woman (Emily Watson) who yanks him back to life, Punch-Drunk Love is as confounding as it is a delight, an expression of unmitigated, sputtering passion—sad and febrile and, most importantly, optimistic about what anyone is truly capable of doing. This might be as sincere as Anderson gets. —Dom Sinacola


2. All the President’s Men

all-the-presidents-men.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Alan J. Pakula

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When watching any contemporary film about journalism, one can more often than not sense the influence of All the President’s Men, the film based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s bombshell 1974 book on the Watergate break-in. It’s journalism at its most compellingly watchable, with sequences that have since become entrenched in our cinematic language: Woodward meeting Deep Throat (played with terse dignity by Hal Holbrook) in a barely-lit parking garage, cigarette smoke curling around them as they whisper; Woodward blasting a Rachmaninoff concerto in Bernstein’s apartment, typing out the words “SURVEILLANCE” and “BUGGING”; and the film’s scathing final sequence, in which we watch Nixon’s inauguration via a newsroom television, then cut to a teletype, which pitilessly delivers the news of each subsequent trial, conviction and resignation. Pakula, whose early career thrived on films about paranoia and conspiracy, directs with a light, precise hand, allowing the script (aided by Hoffman and Redford’s performances), with its mounting series of tense encounters, small victories and larger setbacks, to carry itself. What results is an unsentimental, yet wholly engrossing, glimpse into what was a very cynical time in American history, but an optimistic one for investigative journalism.—Maura McAndrew


1. Misery

misery-1990-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Rob Reiner

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Although most writers are more likely to experience “misery” over the persistent belief that no one cares about their work, Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel reminds us that sometimes there is an upside to obscurity. James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, author of a popular series of Regency bodice-rippers featuring a protagonist named Misery Chastain. Eager to embark on a more serious phase of his career and leave Misery behind (as it were), he’s knocked unconscious in a snowstorm car crash and wakes up in the remote home of a nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who’s rescued him. And by rescued I mean abducted. Annie’s not such a nice lady, as it turns out, and being stuck with broken legs in the remote hideaway of a violent stalker-superfan has some disadvantages. Reiner is better known as a director of comedies, and even in a horror film he’s not shy about grabbing a cheap laugh: Sometimes it’s hard to tell how seriously we’re supposed to take Bates as a monster, as she careens from sledgehammer-wielding psychopath to Liberace-adoring…um, psychopath. Overall, though, it’s a powerful trope, being helpless and at the mercy of someone who might snap at any second. Stephen King’s written a lot of horror stories, many of which have become commercially successful films, but this one just might be the best of his adaptations, in part due to the stellar performances by Caan and Bates (who won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of the unhinged Annie), but it’s also pretty fabulous as a meta-meditation on the nature of fame, isolation and obsession, especially if you happen to be a writer. It’s not a terribly profound film, but it has some serious audacity and a kind of simultaneously cerebral and visceral tension that reminds us that sometimes the real horrors aren’t paranormal—sometimes the mundane monsters are the truly scary ones. —Amy Glynn

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