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

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The 25 Best Movies on Cinemax Right Now (October 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 October 2021.

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

1. City of God

city-of-god.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lun
Stars: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga, Seu Jorge
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Originally released in January 2003 to critical praise, Fernando Meirelles’ masterful yet brutal City of God receded from view until Miramax re-released it for Oscar consideration. And while it failed to even garner a foreign-language-film nomination that year, the alternately intense and intimate depiction of Rio’s desperate favelas has only grown in stature and power. Based on the novel by Paulo Lins (and adapted by Bráulio Mantovani), Meirelles turned an unflinching eye on a world forgotten by the wealthy and powerful, ignored by police and indifferent to law and order. City of God set the template for other shocking urban films to follow (not to mention a revival of “favela funk” by music-marauders like Diplo and M.I.A.), but whereas other cinematic studies like Gomorrah (about modern Sicily) and the documentary Dancing with the Devil wallow in such viciousness, this film plunges deeper, grips harder, and yet always allows glints of humanity into such darkness. City of God’s harrowing depiction of daily violence in the favelas exemplifies in shocking detail the Hobbesian view of life as “nasty, brutish and short,” but the film never casts judgment. While chaos and bloodshed rule the world of protagonist Rocket and those of his generation—psychotic druglord Li’l Zé, groovy playboy Benny and solemn Knockout Ned (singer Seu Jorge, in his breakout role)—City of God elucidates an underlying symmetry, exhibiting if not poetic justice, then the street version of the same. —Andy Beta


2. 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


3. Defending Your Life

defending-your-life-poster.jpg Year: 1991
Director: Albert Brooks
Stars: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant, and Buck Henry
Rating: PG
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Miller wakes up in a version of the afterlife, a place called Judgment City, where he has five days to defend his life in a court-like proceeding involving two judges, a prosecutor and his own defender, played to a tee by Rip Torn. 1991’s Defending Your Life, Brooks’ fourth directorial effort, gave a comforting picture of a regular man in the afterlife and sifted through the idea that we all live fear-plagued lives. Defending Your Life which only made around $16 million at the box office but garnered critical acclaim, features understood staples of Brooks’ earlier work and his films still to come: Opening scene speeches, plenty of cameos (or bit parts by known actors) and time spent driving, and a central relationship surrounding Brooks and a woman he (desperately) needs. As always, Brooks skewers a version of himself, exposing parts of his own psyche and personality that negatively impact him and others he loves. Defending Your Life remains Albert Brooks’ directorial peak, a signal that the filmmaker matured beyond the lighter satire of Modern Romance and his Esquire article, each with a decade of progress between them. It contains a sweet combination of relatability and story singularity that Brooks learned from his early projects yet struggled to capture again. His comedy was refined, not relying on physicality or manic energy to find a laugh, thanks in part to his own subtle performance. Defending Your Life becomes worthy of near-endless rewatches, packed with comfort, Brooksian wit, understated acting and an example of a filmmaker evolving in his ability to resonate with audiences. In a diverse career filled with peaks for Brooks as actor, director and writer—who else could pull off both Drive and Finding Nemo?—Defending Your Life becomes one for the three’s intersection, an endearing portrait of the afterlife by a man working at the height of his powers.


4. The High Note

the-high-note-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ice Cube, June Diane Raphael, Zoe Chao, Eddie Izzard, Bill Pullman, Diplo
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 113 minutes

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The entertainment industry is not kind to women over 40. Often movies, including the recent biopic Judy, love to tell the story of an aging star clinging to her (it’s almost always her) last grasps of fame. Oh, let’s all look on her with pity. How sad that she cannot accept her fate and fade gracefully away. Delightfully, The High Note is not that kind of movie. Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a megastar. Yes she’s over 40 with no recent hits, but she still performs to sold-out crowds and is coming off her extremely successful tenth world tour. Caesars Palace wants to lock her in for a decade-long residency. The movie doesn’t necessarily view a Vegas residency as selling out, but it’s definitely not a desired outcome (sorry Mariah, Celine, et. al.), and she is also keenly aware that only five women over the age of 40 have ever had a number one hit. Enter Grace’s assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), or Margaret as Grace insists on calling her: a walking encyclopedia of music trivia, but what Maggie really wants to do is produce and she’s secretly produced an alternate version of Grace’s live album. Happily, a burgeoning romance takes a backseat to the main thrust of the story—the friendship and working rapport between Grace and Maggie. Professional fulfillment for both Grace and Maggie is the crux of the conflict. How often does a movie just allow a woman’s career aspirations to take center stage? Light, fluffy and sugarcoated, The High Note feels like a throwback to another time when studios produced movies with the sole purpose of putting a little spring in viewer’s step. That we would all leave the movie theater (or, as is the case now, the virtual movie theater) smiling. That also makes it seem a little more like a Hallmark movie and less like a major theatrical release, but it still comes close to dependably hitting the right note, even if it doesn’t quite end on the high. —Amy Amatangelo


5. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

killer klowns poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1988
Director: The Chiodo Brothers
Stars: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, Royal Dano, John Vernon
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Stephen, Charles and Edward Chiodo are a trio of siblings who have spent most of their careers working in practical movie effects, on everything from Critters to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but to horror fans they’ll always be known as those guys responsible for Killer Klowns From Outer Space. The titular monsters are actually aliens—it appears to be a series of incredible coincidences that everything about them is related to clowns. As in, their spaceship is a giant circus tent. Or the fact that they turn people into cotton candy before eating them. Or the fact that they’re all wearing floppy shoes and red ball noses. Coincidences, beautiful coincidences. The movie is a darkly comic story that never legitimately attempts to frighten—it’s saccharine faux-horror fun as silly and colorful as the clowns themselves. Today, it’s mostly worth seeing for the impressive makeup and FX work that the Chiodos managed to pull off on a small budget. Particularly memorable is the “shadow puppets” sequence, wherein one of the clowns uses what can only be described as Clown Magic to create a shadow T-Rex that first entertains, then devours, a crowd of onlookers. —Jim Vorel


6. 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


7./8. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure / Bill &Ted’s Bogus Journey

movie poster bill and ted.jpg Year: 1989 / 1991
Director: Stephen Herek / Pete Hewett
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Bernie Casey, Amy Stock-Poynton; William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier
Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes / 98 minutes

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In the end we just can’t pick between these two. Both movies are classics, but for different reasons. Both movies are part celebration and part knowing parody of the California party dude stereotype that was so popular in the ‘80s, and although Excellent Adventure might be the more beloved movie today because of its historical set pieces and the simple fact that it came first, Bogus Journey is the stronger, smarter, and, yes, more challenging movie. It’s a surreal trip through the afterlife that at times feels like Tim Burton with more edge, succeeding at both low brow, crowd-pleasing humor and slightly deeper, more philosophical material. (Yeah, today’s pretentious Rick & Morty Redditors probably love this movie.) Both are far better than they need to be, two hilarious bookends that prove that sequels can be great, actually.—Garrett Martin


9. 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


10. 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


11. 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


12. 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


13. 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


14. 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


15. 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


16. Emma.

emma-2020-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Miranda Hart
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rating: PG
Runtime: 132 minutes

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Shot as though each frame were a frothy realist painting, scored as though it were a Chaplin-esque silent film and pulled together by a cast of comedically impeccable performances, Autumn de Wilde’s feature-length debut, Emma., is made up almost entirely of thrillingly executed moments. More comedy of manners than straight romance, both Jane Austen’s novel and de Wilde’s film take as their subject a happily single Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), the “handsome, clever, and rich” mistress of an English country estate, as she fills her days as by mounting a series of ego-driven (if well-intentioned) matchmaking schemes. Signaled by the film’s opening in the soft dawn hours of the village’s latest Emma-orchestrated wedding day, these schemes have a history of being remarkably successful—successful enough, at least, that on one side, Emma has her co-dependent, doom-and-gloom father (a charming, if anxious, Bill Nighy) cautioning her not to start any schemes that might take her away from him, while on the other, she has the Woodhouses’ handsome family friend, Mr. Knightley (a refreshingly fiery Johnny Flynn), cautioning her against riding so high on her previous matchmaking coups that she starts an audacious scheme even she can’t pull it off. Beyond creating what would be a solid moviegoing experience in any context, the warm, boisterous sense of community this deep attention to detail works to build is, as Paste’s Andy Crump highlights in his thoughtful interview with de Wilde and Taylor-Joy, exactly what any 2020 take on a 205-year-old comedy of manners needed to cultivate. With our current cultural moment so defined by protracted digital isolation—and its cousin, anonymity-enabled cruelty—the best thing de Wilde’s Emma. could do was lean so hard into the sublimity of Austen’s original that, for the entirety of its gloriously phone-free two-hour runtime, its audience might feel, collectively, transported. —Alexis Gunderson


17. Pariah

pariah-movie.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Dee Rees

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The first feature by Spike Lee protégé Dee Rees tells the story of teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye), a dutiful and accomplished daughter from a religious household in Brooklyn. As she struggles to find a proper expression of her sexuality, she follows her out friend Laura (Pernell Walker) into a scene of African-American lesbians whose brash liveliness proves a bit unsettling. When Alike’s mother introduces her to Bina (Aasha Davis), Alike contends with both her own sexuality and the ways that her identity ties her to a community she doesn’t quite fit in with. Shot in Brooklyn in a vivid palette of deep primary colors, Pariah is evocative of Spike Lee at his best. However, in content, the film is distinctive in its engagement with characters who seek to belong. Eschewing both hipster navel-gazing and pat clichés, Pariah instead lets its characters exist in a beautiful human ambiguity, on the edge of society but also finding their own place at that edge. The result is a thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining addition to the canon of modern queer film. —Nick Mattos


18. Kill Bill Vol. 1

kill-bill.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Quentin Tarantino

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The greatness of Kill Bill Vol. 1 was in its finely tuned balance between acting as an homage to classic martial arts movies (both Chinese and Japanese) and as a blistering entry into the genre canon on its own visceral, offbeat merits. In the early 2000s, there was perhaps no cinematic experience like it (well, at least until Vol. 2 arrived). The gory but graceful tea house battle with the Crazy 88; the intensely claustrophobic kitchen showdown—these are only two excellent examples of everything that makes a martial arts movie superb. That Tarantino filled two movies with this stuff of greatness makes for some truly transcendent viewing.—K. Alexander Smith


19. 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


20. 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


21. Amistad

amistad-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Steven Spielberg

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As a group of slaves, led by the strong-willed Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), fight back against their captors with fully warranted violence, the opening sequence to Amistad becomes a testament to Spielberg’s full command of his unique visual language. The torrential rain represents a force of blind revenge, the pitch black surface of the slave ship lit only with sparks of thunder: Once again, the director makes sure what we can’t see is just as effective as what we can. After this terrific hook, Amistad settles into a patient and emotionally potent courtroom drama wherein a group of white men decide whether or not a group of Black men have any claim to being considered human beings. In the ’90s, Spielberg still couldn’t deny his nature, to pull heartstrings by any means necessary, so we get some moments of unearned sentimentalism (the “Give us free” scene). Nevertheless, it’s one of the director’s most striking dramas—beginning with that harrowing opening sequence, which may’ve been a dress rehearsal for the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, released less than eight months later.—Oktay Ege Kozak


22. Lincoln

lincoln.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 149 minutes

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Steven Spielberg boasts one of the most accomplished bodies of work in American cinema and, to this day, steadily builds upon that dominant track record. From the breathtaking 3D action sequences of The Adventures of Tintin to the comic-yet-poignant reconciliation scene in War Horse, one doesn’t have to look back decades to find Spielberg’s particular genius at work. Still, for filmgoers either too young to have been bowled over by Spielberg’s transcendent initial decade or two—or for those who perhaps just take his signature style for granted—Lincoln shows just how good he is. Thanks to a strong cast and a smart story that’s historically, morally and politically rich, Lincoln is yet another of Spielberg’s many accomplishments. —David Roark


23. In the Heat of the Night

in-the-heat-of-the-night-criterion.jpg Year: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison

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The racial animosity depicted in director’s Norman Jewison’s Best Picture Oscar winner, about Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), an African-American homicide detective from Philadelphia who stumbles upon a murder mystery in a podunk Mississippi town, tips over into a poignant commentary on art imitating life. Poitier refused to shoot on location, fearing retaliation from southern racists, and even a quick pickup shoot in Tennessee was cut short after Poitier began receiving threats. The genius in Sterling Silliphant’s adaptation of John Ball’s novel, then, is in the borderline anal manner in which he balances social commentary and plot progression. Pretty much every scene contains a new piece of information towards solving the murder case, as well as a damning portrait of racial animosity. The contentious working relationship between Virgil and the local chief of police, Gillespie (Rod Steiger), never resolves cleanly; In the Heat of the Night is smart enough to know that prejudices entrenched within multiple generations will not disappear overnight, if at all. Even moments of bonding between colleagues never steer clear of the racial divide between them. There’s a glimmer of hope in the very final moments, but Jewison always has a handle on his uncompromising tone.—Oktay Ege Kozak


24. 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


25. 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