The Best Free Movies on Peacock (May 2021)

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The Best Free Movies on Peacock (May 2021)

Peacock might have an unassuming name compared to the beefy energy drink title that is HBO Max or the clear branding of Amazon, but the NBCUniversal streamer isn’t slouching with its offerings. The quality of films in its vast library are by and large quite good (that’s what happens when a studio starts its own streaming service), with the added bonus that it has a free, ad-supported tier—which is even better than the likes of Hulu, which still charges a monthly fee in addition to running commercials. And its free TV isn’t bad either.

Hiding behind the paywall (or the week-long trial subscription, if you want to binge some movies) are collections including animated classics—like Chicken Run—and Alfred Hitchcock favorites—Rope, Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo and more—but on the free side of things, the pickings certainly aren’t slim. Tons of well-loved filmmakers are represented, from Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg to Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg. May saw a half dozen films leave the service, and we’ll mourn the loss of Fences and more by watching An American Tail AND its western sequel.

Whether it’s horror, drama, documentary, or westerns, Peacock has enough to keep you satisfied—and we’ll be updating this list every month to keep you apprised of the latest and greatest.

Here are the best free movies on Peacock right now:


Dead Ringers

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Year: 1988
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

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In Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg reins in the extremities of his earlier genre works into something resembling a chamber drama—except there’s always a catch with Cronenberg, and this time he almost cruelly toys with the identities of identical twins, gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (very loosely based on Stewart and Cyril Marcus), played by a Jeremy Irons who is doubled on himself through black movie magic. Cronenberg also plays with the audience’s perception of the duo, taking steps to establish Beverly as the “good” twin (more sensitive) and Elliot as the “bad” one (more bullish) before eventually degrading those categorizations and blurring the lines between the two characters, in more ways than one. A troubled relationship with actress-patient Claire Niveau (a fierce Genevieve Bujold) creates fissures in the relational dynamic of the twins, which in turn creates fissures in their minds; things get to a point where freakish gynecological tools are created due to imagined mutation spreading. The later scenes of the film take on a haunting quality as Elliot and Beverly become untethered from each other and, thus, their reality. They do manage to find each other again, but this is a David Cronenberg joint; don’t expect a happy ending. Dead Ringers is a brooding rumination on the external realities we use to define ourselves, what happens when our duality is divided and the subconscious ways in which we plant the seeds of our own destruction. More, it’s about doubling our Jeremy Irons intake in one sitting, which is always a worthy cause. —Chad Betz


3:10 to Yuma

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Year: 2007
Director: James Mangold
Stars:
Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Peter Fonda
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Adapted from the Elmore Leonard short story of the same name and the original 1957 3:10 to Yuma follows Dan Evans (Christian Bale), a poor rancher who attempts to keep wanted criminal Ben Wade (Russell Crow) in his custody before the titular train arrives to take him to prison. Meanwhile, his ever-loyal gang waits for the opportunity to set their leader free. (Ben Foster is wonderfully evil and despicable as Wade’s unfailingly loyal lieutenant Charlie Prince.) While the townsfolk struggle against the outlaws, they also encounter attacks from Native Americans forced from their homeland and railroad workers intent to dispense their own form of justice. Director James Mangold turns the trip into a mini-epic on the historical changes of the old west. As the relationship between Wade and Evans transforms, the fine line between good and evil is well played, serving as a just tribute to earlier, classic westerns such as The Searchers and, more recently, Unforgiven. The film hurtles toward the inevitable climax at the train station where it comes close to imploding from the weight of its own cleverness. —Tim Basham


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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Year: 2004
Director: Michel Gondry
Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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In what might be Charlie Kaufman’s finest script, boy meets girl, unaware that they might be living out a doomed eternal recurrence. A brain-wipe firm allows its clients to erase choice people or events from their memory. Turns out, Joel (a repressed Jim Carrey) and Clementine (a vibrant Kate Winslet) have done this before. Technology is the Great Enabler and, perhaps, a secret destroyer—except that the science fiction aspect of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is just an auxiliary to the core relational dynamic. Stripped of fantasy, the film’s theme is no Luddite cautionary tale but rather just a melancholy observation of human relationships. This is how it’s always been. We’re quite accomplished at failing each other…and ourselves.

There’s nothing so condemnatory as that statement in Eternal Sunshine, a film that watches and weeps at a whimsical circus breaking down. It immerses us in Joel’s mind, Gondry’s in-camera effects and nearly experimental editing taking us tumbling through the increasingly tragic process of removing Clementine. When I first saw this film in the theater in 2004, I swore I would never do the thing that Joel does to try to heal himself, but I’ve lived some life since then and now I’m not sure I can say the same. I’ve deleted phone numbers and pictures on Facebook, had about a month where I was vigilantly untagging myself; I’m sometimes scared to even look at my feed. It doesn’t matter what the social environment is, humans will use whatever’s available to mitigate pain, especially emotional pain. But sometimes we need the thing we want to be rid of; there’s no actualization without vulnerability, risk, and, inevitably, hurt. The final shot of Eternal Sunshine lingers in my memory, always on loop: Joel and Clementine, stumbling in play away from the camera, on a snowy beach in Montauk. It seems like an extrapolation of the final shot of The 400 Blows: “Stuck in stasis” has become “stuck in repeat.” And, yet, in that shot is acceptance, possibly even hope. There are no spotless minds, but perhaps some still can shine. —Chad Betz


Wet Hot American Summer

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Year: 2001
Director: David Wain
Stars: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd
Runtime: 96 minutes

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A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 18 years later and with two Netflix seasons in the can, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst. —Dom Sinacola


In Bruges

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Year: 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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You know you’ve tripped into the ambiguous realm of Postmodernism when medieval Europe, midget jokes and ultraviolence converge into a seamless whole. Theater auteur Martin McDonagh’s debut feature, In Bruges, thrives on these stylistic clashes with its narrative of two sympathetic hitmen who seek refuge in a European wonderland full of tourists and irony. The film’s visual appeal complements irreverent and hilarious dialogue—timed brilliantly with the Anglo-Saxon bravado of Fiennes, Farrell and Gleeson—to produce one of a most pleasant dark-horse dramedy.—Sean Edgar


James White

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Year: 2015
Director: Josh Mond
Stars: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Kid Cudi, Ron Livingston
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Eventually while watching James White, you’ll decide you simply cannot get a bead on its main character. The sooner you do, the better: Like no movie in recent memory, the feature debut of writer-director Josh Mond is a small marvel of even-handed empathy. Played by Christopher Abbott, James White has a restless energy, a self-destructive streak, a bratty sense of entitlement, and a fierce devotion to those he loves. So, what does that make him, exactly? A cautionary tale? Utterly insufferable? A misunderstood romantic? James White never quite decides, which isn’t the same as not having strong opinions about its central figure. Mond has nothing but feelings for White, and they’re compellingly complicated. Loosely based on Mond’s own life, James White spans about five months, but the jaggedness of the telling makes the movie feel like the scenes are simply ripped-out patches in a much larger quilt of a life. There’s a looseness to the film that’s attuned to White’s own twitchy psyche, but Mond constructs his story with care, keeping an eye on its emotional through line. White’s life is in tumult when we first meet him, but we soon get the impression that his life is always fraying—it’s just that, this time, his distant father has died and now that’s become the central focus of his personal whirlwind. White isn’t so much grieving the loss—he hardly knew the man—but, rather, is concerned about his divorced mother Gail (a terrific Cynthia Nixon), who has stage 4 cancer and doesn’t need the additional emotional blow. The second half of James White is given over to Gail’s unalterable condition, and Abbott and Nixon hunker down as their characters travel down a road that only has one final destination. Even then, though, Mond refuses to give in to sentimentality or easy takeaways. To call James White a coming-of-age tale is simplistic—plus, it creates an expectation that its protagonist actually grows in some sort of quantifiable, conventional way. Maybe White will turn over a new leaf later after the credits roll, but it will take more than an 85-minute film for such a change to occur. —Tim Grierson


Bernie

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Year: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Shirley MacLaine
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk. —Tim Basham


Bring It On

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Year: 2000
Director: Peyton Reed
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford
Runtime: 98 minutes

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The first in one of the most unlikely film franchises ever (seriously, there have been six of these movies), Bring It On isn’t just the best of its ilk, but one of the few late ‘90s / early ‘00s Hollywood teen comedies that still holds up to any appreciable degree today. It’s a breezy, self-aware bit of slick studio product that doesn’t fully condescend or pander to its audience. It also recognizes class and racial disparities in a way that basically no other teen comedy of its day did. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s smarter and funnier than it has any need to be.—Garrett Martin


Body Bags

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Year: 1993
Directors: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
Stars: Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Twiggy, Robert Carradine
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Sometimes, even anthologies with less-than-stellar stories can get by on sheer charming commitment to gross-out delights, and that’s John Carpenter’s Body Bags for you. Originally conceived as a gorier, more grotesque spin on the Tales From the Crypt formula for Showtime, the series was cancelled after only a few potential episodes had been filmed. Not wanting to lose the material, Carpenter simply assembled his favorites into a feature film. Each segment isn’t particularly memorable, except for the closer, which features Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses an eye and then gains the eye of a serial killer via a donation. You can guess where things go from there. What is memorable about Body Bags is the goofy wraparound segments, which feature Carpenter himself as a Crypt Keeper-esque mortician who gleefully hacks apart bodies and drinks formaldehyde, showing a much lighter hearted personality than you’d expect from the director of dour films like The Thing or Prince of Darkness. It’s fun to watch Body Bags today for the not-so-subtle genre references (“Another grisly murder in Haddonfield today…”) and the incredible array of character actors and cameos that were lined up, including the likes of Wes Craven as a leering perv, Stacy Keach as a guy receiving miracle hair transplants, Charles Napier as a baseball manager, Twiggy as a housewife (reuniting these two from The Blues Brothers), Roger Corman as a doctor, Tom Arnold as a mortician and Sam Raimi as a corpse. —Jim Vorel


Being John Malkovich


being_john_malkovich_poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich
Runtime: 112 minutes

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The feature film debut from director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman is a long, absurd joke whose punchline is its final shot: the view of a man who whimpers as he’s forced to watch his loved ones forget he’s ever existed. Being John Malkovich admits, with sad clarity, that our lives are totally out of our control. In the film, we follow street puppeteer Craig (John Cusack, looking like a small, humming pile of hair) as he confronts the economic viability of his chosen occupation by getting an admin job on the 7 ½ floor of building that also happens to hide a tiny door which leads, if one crawls through cobwebs and puddles, to the inside of John Malkovich’s head, wherein for 15 minutes the brain tourist can vicariously live through famous actor John Malkovich’s eyes before getting spit up into a ditch off the New Jersey Turnpike. Having had his way with marionettes for years, Craig slowly understands how to control Malkovich while inside his head, crouching in the man’s sewer of an unconscious to hide away from the requisite 15-minute limit, but not before falling in love with a coworker (Catherine Keener) who seems to be falling in love with Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), but only via various liaisons through John Malkovich’s manipulable corpus. Throughout, Jonze and Kaufman only afford as much logic as is needed to movie the story from one weird scenario to another, but never letting the bleak heart of the film’s happenings overtake how goofily the plot unfolds. Visual detritus litters Jonze’s shots: A chucked can from a speeding car bounces off Malkovich’s head, the culprit recognizing Malkovich in time enough to call him out by name, though why John Malkovich poorly disguised in a ball cap and covered in ectoplasm would be on the side of the road in Jersey is anyone’s guess; a documentary features Brad Pitt briefly only to ignore him; an alternate universe Charlie Sheen embraces his receding hairline. Ideas pile atop more ideas, until the whole thing collapses in on itself, the film’s centerpiece basically John Malkovich singing his own name to himself over and over, attempting to seduce John Malkovich into accepting what we don’t really understand. —Dom Sinacola


An American Tail

an-american-tail.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Don Bluth
Stars: Phillip Glasser, Erica Yohn, Nehemiah Persoff
Runtime: 80 minutes

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This beautiful story of a young Jewish immigrant from Imperial Russia, Fievel Mousekewitz, seems even more relevant now than its release in 1986. Separated from his parents on the journey, Fievel ends up in New York in 1885, searching for his family. Conned, taken advantage of and sold to a sweatshop, Fieval undergoes trials that illustrate how a country built on immigrants has never been completely welcoming towards those seeking a better life on our shores. Don Bluth had left Disney with several fellow animators to start his own production company, producing The Secret of NIMH. An American Tail was his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, which resulted in two successful franchises, including The Land Before Time. An American Tail would result in four feature films (all available on Netflix), several books, videogames and a TV spinoff, but none would quite capture the magic of the original. —Josh Jackson


Buried

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Year: 2010
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Stars: Ryan Reynolds
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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A film that spends its entire 95-minute runtime with a central protagonist who has been buried alive? Yeah, that’ll activate some triggers with the claustrophobics in the audience. Ryan Reynolds plays a man trapped in a fairly hopeless situation in this thriller, abducted and buried alive by terrorists seeking a ransom. Its cinematography gets creative in keeping an audience engaged for an hour and a half of a man trapped inside a small wooden box.—Jim Vorel


Nosferatu the Vampyre

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Year: 1979
Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz, Roland Topor, Walter Ladengast
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Werner Herzog recreates the cornerstone of vampire cinema (and German expressionist filmmaking, for that matter) through an ever-mounting nightmare of unsettling, disjointed vignettes. Which isn’t anything new for the German director, but his methods and sensibility do lend themselves naturally to the language of phantasmagoria, as he tells a well-known story via one subconscious-upending image after another. As in any Herzog film, the story is never intended to hold together flawlessly—only barely logically—but to imprint indelibly upon the insides of the viewers’ eyelids the stark silhouette of evil borne absurdly from the primeval fear in all of us. That Klaus Kinski also plays Count Dracula means that madness bristles at the edge of every manicured line of chiaroscuro: Nosferatu revels in the beauty of horror. In fact, Roger Ebert said, “Here is a film that does honor to the seriousness of vampires. No, I don’t believe in them. But if they were real, here is how they must look.” —Dom Sinacola


Mystery Men

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Year: 1999
Director: Kinka Usher
Stars: Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 121 minutes

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Mystery Men, commercial filmmaker Kinka Usher’s first and only foray into feature directing, is a production ahead of its time in the most literal sense possible. The movie opened in 1999, just a few years before the start of the 2000s superhero boom, back when comic book films weren’t an industry unto themselves. These were the days when no one took superheroes seriously and most representatives of the classification were straight-up garbage, so intrinsically bad that they well near spoofed themselves. A dedicated send-up didn’t make a lot of sense then, but it makes more sense now, and if Mystery Men is outdated compared to the modern crop of superhero flicks, and if it is in fact the same kind of trash as the period-specific movies it was made to mock, it still does the job of showing off just how goofy the superhero concept is by its very nature. (You also can’t refuse a movie where Wes Studi speaks in chiasmus.) —A.C.


The Bourne Identity

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Year: 2002
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper
Genre: Action/Thriller
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 118 minutes

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The years immediately following 9/11 shifted American action movies away from fireworks shows like Independence Day, and toward muddy uncertainty. The Bourne Identity kicked that movement off in earnest, telling a tightly paced story of a single amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), as he comes to the realization that he’s the result of some shadowy government program built to eliminate politically inconvenient targets. At its core the story is one of woeful incompetence and hubris, as the g-men immediately assume losing contact with Bourne must ipso facto mean he has defected or snapped. Rather than talking to him, they hurl every resource available at trying to just kill him, and the fun is in watching them be undone by their own wayward pawn’s absurd hyper-competence. The Bourne Identity can be blamed in part for the put-the-camera-in-a-blender school of action movie filming that would define the years immediately following, but it also put Damon’s star power and Chris Cooper’s exacting character acting opposite one another in a straightforwardly exciting action drama that delivered again and again in the years to come. As the first installment of the Bourne trilogy of the ‘00s, it’s also the foundation of a remarkably consistent story. The sharp-eyed will note that even something as fleeting as a glimpse at the name on one of Bourne’s alias passports comes up again in subsequent sequels, and every time a character reprises his or her role in the films years later, the original actor returns. It’s great craft in service of solid films. —Kenneth Lowe


Frost/Nixon

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Year: 2008
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Rebecca Hall
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

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A small-scale film with a large purview, Frost/Nixon strategically captures the interview as journalistic art, as we watch David Frost (Michael Sheen) attempt to destabilize the most difficult of subjects, Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon (Frank Langella, in a captivating performance). The film doesn’t much dig into David Frost personally, other than to indicate that he’s an entertainer above all, used to coasting on his natural charisma and not quite prepared for the potentially career-ruining interview he’s signed himself up for. There are some fun, awkward scenes with Frost and his research team (featuring the always-enjoyable Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt), meeting and greeting the former president, too. But most of Frost/Nixon’s running time is dedicated to what Nixon dubs a “duel,” and it is exhilarating to watch Frost, initially pummeled by the pro opposite him, come back to life in the final round.


The Prince of Egypt

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Year: 1998
Directors: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells

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The scene where Moses parts the seas in this animated musical is a truly epic moment. An adaptation of the Book of Exodus, the biblical DreamWorks release follows Moses in his climatic quest to free the slaves from Egypt—all of which can be summed up by the line “Let my people go!” The score was composed by Hans Zimmer, who collaborated with Stephen Schwartz on “When You Believe,” which won Best Original Song at the 1999 Academy Awards. Disclaimer: Kids might argue plot lines are factual history at a later date. —Alexa Carrasco


Short Term 12

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Year: 2013
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Alex Calloway, Lakeith Stanfield
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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As it progresses, Short Term 12 remains rigorously structured in terms of plot; yet it never feels calculated. In fact, the film serves as a fine example of how invisible screenwriting can be. By allowing his characters’ irrational emotions to influence events and instigate key turning points, Cretton capably masks the film’s finely calibrated story mechanics. And while everything seemingly comes to a head during a key crisis, it’s only fitting that the story ends with a denouement that bookends its opening. Cretton’s clear-eyed film is far too honest to try and convince us that there’s been any sort of profound change for Grace or anyone else. Instead, it’s content to serve as a potent reminder that tentative first steps can be every bit as narratively compelling as great leaps of faith. —Curtis Woloschuk


Highlander

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Year: 1986
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Stars: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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The premise is delightfully bananas: In this world, a small group of people who are immortal wander the Earth in competition for a vague “Prize.” Unable to have children, they regenerate all bodily harm unless decapitated—whereupon some weird electromagnetic life force is transferred to the victor of the duel in an explosive phenomenon known as “The Quickening.” With each Quickening, an immortal gains the knowledge and power of his defeated foe. The last non-headless man left standing at the end of “The Game” claims “The Prize.” Immortals have a weird ability to sense one another when they get closer—probably because there would be no other way to easily identify one another otherwise. The only specific prohibition on their bloody bouts seems to be that fighting on holy ground of any kind is forbidden. (Why? Who enforces it if somebody violates the rule, the Immortal Police?) This seems pretty promising: Fighters who grow in strength and power, exponentially, with each successive victory, until only the two absolute baddest remain. They’d probably be throwing Kamehameha waves and kicking over buildings after thousands of years of accumulated power, right? Nope, it just comes down to two dudes with swords clanging away at one another in a poorly lit, abandoned, vaguely industrial setting. Despite this, the film has endured with a gritty story, Sean Connery goofing around, an unforgettably crass and vile villain and Queen on the soundtrack. Australian director Russell Mulcahy’s background was in music videos—Highlander has that same kind of stylized, operatic, overblown nature. —Kenneth Lowe


Inside Man

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Year: 2006
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Many may forget how masterful Lee can be when it comes to constructing prime entertainment with a solid structure and intense build-up. Aside from some commentary on post-9/11 New York, Inside Man endeavors to be little more than an ultimately engaging heist movie. Clive Owen and Denzel Washington share some nice chemistry as the sleek bank robber with an ingenious secret plan (Owen) and the world-weary cop (Washington) tasked to stop him, while the film’s non-linear structure methodically leads us to its clever climactic twist. Produced by Brian Grazer, this big budget genre exploit feels like a gun-for-hire job for Lee, but it’s nonetheless a fun cinematic lark with signs of serious underpinnings.


Crank 2: High Voltage

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Year: 2009
Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Stars: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam
Genre: Action
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Beginning with cinema’s most obvious dick joke and ending on the its two directors burning everything, including its anti-hero, to the ground, the sequel to Crank is as much of a mindfuck as its predecessor, but beholden to absolutely nothing but the unfiltered expunging of their most loathsome impulses on behalf of directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, two unrepentant dude-bros who, considering the movies they made together, seem to have parted ways, perhaps on bad terms or perhaps because the two grown men who made Gamer and Ghost Rider 2 just had nowhere left to go together. Like any good follow-up, Crank 2 is everything that Crank was, but launched irretrievably down a hellish K-hole, amping up all the public sex, murder, violence, gratuitous nudity, nihilism and genre-bending fuck-all spirit that made the first such a potential point of cult fascination. Here, Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios has transformed into full-on superhero—minus the “hero” connotation—an invulnerable, inhuman cyborg who must regularly pump enough electricity into his body to kill a herd of elephants just to keep his battery-powered heart beating as he chases after the Chinese mobsters who stole his original God-given ticker and (almost) the big ole monster between his legs. There is nothing subtle about Crank 2; there is only submission. —Dom Sinacola


Jerry Maguire

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Year: 1996
Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., Renée Zellweger
Runtime: 138 minutes

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Besides acting as the megahit blockbuster of 1996, Jerry Maguire also quickly achieved the status of the modern day romantic-comedy done right. Certainly, between Say Anything and Almost Famous, writer/director Cameron Crowe has never been one to hide his inner softie. Jerry Maguire is no different, featuring career-best performances from Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. as well as litany of memorable lines still quoted to this day. And, let’s face it, whoever doesn’t get at least a little bit teary-eyed when Renee Zellweger proclaims, “You had me at hello,” is probably a Cylon spy who should be blasted away at once. —Mark Rozeman


The Deer Hunter


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Year: 1979
Director: Michael Cimino
Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 183 minutes

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Ah, The Deer Hunter, a movie of grand ambition and messy politics, one that critics exalt for its thoughtful depiction of working class Pennsylvanians while in the same breath condemning it for its racist one-sidedness and ponderous ambiguity. But despite Michael Cimino’s shortcomings, with The Deer Hunter he created a film truly unlike any other, an episodic saga that captures what Pauline Kael eloquently called “poetry of the commonplace” while also boiling over with anti-war sentiment and palpable rage regarding American troops’ experiences in Vietnam. The film’s first hour alone is a work of art, a fly-on-the-wall documentation of life in a Pennsylvania steel town (with eastern Ohio mostly standing in), as a group of friends including Nick (Christopher Walken), Michael (Robert De Niro) and Julie (Meryl Streep) prepare for two key events: a large, raucous Russian Orthodox wedding and the imminent departure of the men for Vietnam, where they realize their lives will forever be changed. The film’s shocking second act, with its POW Russian Roulette games and Nick’s torturous break with reality, is of course its most memorable. But the scenes that bookend that horror ground its most ghoulish and surreal sequences in the real sense of despondency that threatened to drown many communities in the wake of the war. —Maura McAndrew


They Live

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Year: 1988
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Roddy Piper, Keith David
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Like most of John Carpenter’s movies, They Live can be read however one pleases—they are, after all, mostly about pleasing you. A sharp commentary on consumerism carved gleefully with a dull knife, or maybe something closer to a concerned embrace of the bourgeois joys inherent in dumb violence, or maybe just a weird-ass sci-fi action movie with a weird-ass leading man: They Live is, almost inherently, a joy to watch. It’s as if Carpenter’s tapped into some sort of primordially aligned pleasure axis along your spine, giving you the tingles as he balances insight and idiocy throughout his tale about a drifter (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who, with the help of magic sunglasses, discovers that the rich and powerful are just as grotesque as he’d always assumed. Every one of Carpenter’s odd plot choices click into place as if preordained, so that when Piper’s in a completely pointless, six-minute fight scene with Keith David, one can’t help but love that Carpenter’s in on the punchline with all of us, which just happens to be that there is no punchline. The fight scene exists for its own sake—as maybe much of They Live does. Carpenter’s a goddamn genius. —Dom Sinacola


Public Enemies

public-enemies-poster.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Michael Mann
Stars: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes

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Public Enemies is shot and edited in a stable, classical style so that in those instances when the picture zips up a woman’s bare leg, or seeks purchase on the floor of a crowded club, or whips and zooms at a moment of discovery, it tells us that something important has happened: the modern world has seeped into an old story, or vice-versa. There’s more to the film than its technical details. It stars two of Hollywood’s strong leading men, actors of diametrically opposed styles, and they both take the job seriously. Johnny Depp isn’t impersonating any skunks or rock stars, and Christian Bale isn’t shouting needlessly or speaking in an unusually low register. They’re acting, they’re doing it well, and I only wish they’d been able to share the screen instead of stewing and smirking in two counter-posed worlds. Depp is bank robber John Dillinger, on the lam, and Bale is FBI agent Melvin Purvis, on the hunt. Rarely, but inevitably, the twain shall meet. The story in Public Enemies has already been told, sometimes in films more exciting but rarely more thoughtful than this one. Purvis says he’s going to transform the FBI with new scientific methods and new technology, but technology can’t suppress human nature, and when he’s pressured Purvis resorts to beating confessions out of people like they did in the old days. With its application of visibly new technology, Public Enemies could nestle comfortably alongside Peter Watkins’ La Commune, a faux video report about a 19th century event, but this time it’s the style of an unperfected, 21st century medium that reveals the pancake make-up of its actors but also conveys a star-crossed romance that endures, in part because we associate it with a colorful era. Like the sexiness of a swagger and the unfortunate allure of torture, it’s timeless.—Robert Davis


An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

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Year: 1991
Director: Don Bluth
Stars: Phillip Glasser, James Stewart, Erica Yohn
Rating: G
Runtime: 75 minutes

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Legendary animator Don Bluth was replaced by a Disney veteran Phil Nibbelink and newcomer Simon Wells for the follow up from Steven Spielberg’s animation studio Amblimation. Our young Jewish-Ukranian immigrant Fievel Mousekewitz keeps getting farther from home, once again separated from his family, this time in the old American West. Featuring Jimmy Stewart as dog-sheriff Wylie Burp in his final film, along with Dom DeLuise, John Cleese and Jon Lovitz, this is a fine-if-uninspired sequel to an animated classic, vastly superior to the direct-to-video spin-offs that followed. —Josh Jackson


Nightbreed


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Year: 1990
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charlie Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Nightbreed is an odd duck of a movie, stranded somewhere between legitimate horror film and dark fantasy story. Clive Barker directs, only a few years after Hellraiser, but here his ambition perhaps got the best of him. It’s pretty clear that he wanted Nightbreed to be something akin to a horror epic, a movie with a profound message about identity, acceptance and community. In execution, though, it has a hard time picking what tone it’s supposed to be emanating. Sometimes it’s darkly humorous. Sometimes it’s legitimately spooky. Other times you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to be taking the action on screen seriously or not. One thing that is spectacular throughout is the art direction, sets, costuming and makeup. Some of the character designs may come off as “silly,” but just as many of them are likely to end up in your nightmares. Nightbreed is a mixed bag, a would-be inspiring story about monsters trying to build a safe community to peacefully live their lives, but lacking the iconic nature of Barker’s most famous creations. —Jim Vorel


The Wiz

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Year: 1978
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor
Runtime: 133 minutes

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With all respect to Judy Garland and the technicolor dreamworld of Oz, Diana Ross will always and forever be my Dorothy. The Wiz, the 1978 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that makes the beloved L. Frank Baum tale Blackity-Black as it were, is the first film I can ever remember watching. How lucky am I? The story’s central meditations on finding a place/home of one’s own and finding the courage/wit necessary to traverse life’s obstacles take on new resonance when they are considered by Black characters. Additionally, the film’s dance sequences and iridescent colors—which pop off of the brown skin of extras and main characters alike—is visually stunning. It invites you to luxuriate in it. There is not a performance in this film that flops or falters. Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell’s Tin Man and Ted Ross’ Cowardly Lion? Chef’s kiss to all. There is not a curl out of coil or a choice which doesn’t flutter down and land with ease in this film. Eveline, The Wiz’s Wicked Witch, has her villainous ways grounded in exploitative labor practices rather than an exaggeration of her features or the ogre-tinge of her skin. The disappointment when the wonderful Wiz (Richard Pryor), the omnipotent savior of the damned and discarded, is outed as fake takes on a newer and more startling dramatic weight. And there are few moments in cinema guaranteed to bring me to tears as easily as Diana Ross’ rendition of “Home.” If you love yourself, watch this movie.—Adesola Thomas


The Blues Brothers

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Year: 1980
Director: John Landis
Stars: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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For an intensely absurd, farcical comedy, The Blues Brothers is so much more sincere than one would ever expect it to be, both in its adoration of classic blues and R&B and the way it captured a moment in the life of the city of Chicago. Indeed, this John Landis classic lovingly shows off a Chicago that no longer exists in several instances, most notably the Maxwell Street Market, Chicago’s great open-air flea market where one could buy just about anything, legal or illegal, and also gave birth to both Chicago blues and the famed Maxwell Street Polish sausage before the city forcibly moved the market to make room for university housing among other things. It doesn’t try to put a shine on the city, showing both the high-rent (the Richard J. Daley Center) and the low (Elwood’s flophouse, numerous low-income neighborhoods) right alongside one another. This is just one of those films that completely changes the popular conception of a cityscape—if you go to Chicago, you will start picking out things from The Blues Brothers. Trying driving on Lower Wacker Drive without thinking about the Bluesmobile rocketing along and police cars smashing into one another in absurdly spectacular pile-ups. It can’t be done. It might be Chicago’s single most beloved cinematic representation.—Jim Vorel


Black Christmas

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Year: 1974
Director: Bob Clark
Stars: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, Andrea Martin, John Saxon
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Fun fact—nine years before he directed holiday classic A Christmas Story, Bob Clark created the first true, unassailable “slasher movie” in Black Christmas. Yes, the same person who gave TBS its annual Christmas Eve marathon fodder was also responsible for the first major cinematic application of the phrase “The calls are coming from inside the house!” Black Christmas, which was insipidly remade in 2006, predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years and features many of the same elements, especially visually. Like Halloween, it lingers heavily on POV shots from the killer’s eyes as he prowls through a dimly lit sorority house and spies on his future victims. As the mentally deranged killer calls the house and engages in obscene phone calls with the female residents, one can’t help but also be reminded of the scene in Carpenter’s film where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) calls her friend Lynda, only to hear her strangled with the telephone cord. Black Christmas is also instrumental, and practically archetypal, in solidifying the slasher legend of the so-called “final girl.” Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is actually among the better-realized of these final girls in the history of the genre, a remarkably strong and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself in both her relationships and deadly scenarios. It’s questionable how many subsequent slashers have been able to create protagonists who are such a believable combination of capable and realistic. —Jim Vorel


Prom Night

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Year: 1980
Director: Paul Lynch
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens, Anne-Marie Martin, Antoinette Bower
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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It is perhaps odd to think, in the post-Jason Voorhees era of slasher villains, that slasher killers of the early ’80s were often weirdly justified in their slayings. Sure, there are some “escaped maniacs on the loose,” but many are basically avenging angels, punishing groups of young people for a terrible crime they tried to sweep under the rug, with Prom Night standing as one of the classic examples. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her first slasher role after Halloween, Prom Night knows it’s trying to cash in on that earlier film’s success, but it also manages to stand on its own, inspiring imitations all the way to I Know What You Did Last Summer. Portions of the film are kind of rote, and even the best-looking versions you can find today have a soft, gauzy quality that makes the picture look a little strange, but when Prom Night is good, it’s great. Oddly, it’s not really Curtis who gets the best sequences, but actress Eddie Benton as Wendy, who participates in one half of what is maybe the best (and certainly most formative) chase sequence in the history of the horror genre. Stalked by an axe-wielding killer in a ski mask, the frenzied, eight-minute scene spools out for an eternity as Wendy is chased through the locked, echoing halls of the high school, illuminated in impressionistic, Argento-esque shafts of red light. Not all of Prom Night can live up to it (the disco dance sequences are dreadful), but the chase alone makes it a classic. —Jim Vorel


Sleepaway Camp

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Year: 1983
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Stars: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Of all the camp-based Friday the 13th rip-offs, Sleepaway Camp is probably the best one that isn’t The Burning. Our main character is Angela, a troubled girl who absolutely everyone picks on for no good reason. Seriously—it’s one of those ’80s era movies with a main character who is an “outsider” constantly harassed by dozens of people, but without any impetus or explanation—it’s just Angela’s lot in life. Everyone who meets her immediately hates her guts and subjects her to cruel taunting. But soon, the people at the camp who were mean to Angela start getting knocked off. The movie seems calculated to come off as a straight horror film, but the death scenes are often so outlandish that it veers pleasurably into horror comedy, as well. Highlights include the lecherous camp cook, who gets a giant vat of boiling water dumped on his face, or the kid who gets a beehive dropped into the outhouse with him. If you love classic slashers, it’s a must-see, especially for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but Sleepaway Camp can proudly lay claim to one of the most shocking, WTF endings in slasher movie history. —Jim Vorel


Children of Men

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Year: 2006
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 109 minutes

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We remember the dread most—the sense of relentless, inevitable doom, from its literally explosive opening moments to its breathlessly ambiguous final seconds, the whole of Children of Men shot through with dismal grayscale, as if the human race were still coming to terms with its combustion though everyone waded through the ashes. In 2027, beleaguered former activist and current bureaucrat, Theo (Clive Owen), wanders amongst the increasing civil unrest fueled by British armed forces clamping down on refugees fleeing the rest of the world’s civilizational decline. Cynical and cornered by death at every turn, Theo can’t help but assist his estranged ex wife (Julianne Moore), taking on the protection of Kee (Clare Hope-Ashitey), a Virgin Mary figure and the last known pregnant woman on Earth. Theo’s odyssey takes him through the last vestiges of a broken world, director Alfonso Cuarón staging terrible spectacles—an assault on a car, a nightmarish refugee camp, a wartorn urban battlefield—often in long takes (or digitally edited to appear as long takes) and weighted with unbelievably visceral stakes. Yet, despite all of Cuarón’s technical bravura, what remains long after Children of Men’s ended is its refusal to resolve Theo’s journey, to ascribe to what he’s accomplished any hope, hopeful that there is still time, but hopeless that there’s anything left we can do. The apocalypse has never felt so immersive. —Dom Sinacola


The Kids Are All Right

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Year: 2010
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Stars: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Everything is seemingly perfect in the lives of Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening). They both have successful careers, a 20-year-long marriage and two happy—but totally typical—teens, Joni and Laser. But when the kids, conceived through artificial insemination, decide to seek out their biological father and sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), unbeknownst to their parents, that pristine family life gets complicated… fast.

Somehow this film, from director Lisa Cholodenko, manages to address nearly every modern family trope in its hour and 45 minutes of run time. Such a grand tackling of the larger “family” narrative could have easily led to overgeneralizations and a superficial development of the film’s universally resonant themes, particularly with its lesbian leads. Luckily, the endearing, arresting performances from Moore, Bening and Ruffalo turn this drama into a candid look at how deeply we embed biology and blood into our notions of family and identity, and ultimately how little either matters as long as you’re loved. By pulling apart the concept of “family values” from nearly every angle, the film considers how we find and define our families. Lauded as a realistic and touching take on the changing face of the nuclear unit, The Kids Are All Right is a timeless deconstruction of family discourse. —A.W.


Prince: Sign ‘o’ the Times

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Year: 1987
Directors: Prince, Albert Magnoli
Stars: Prince
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Prince’s 1987 concert documentary is one hour and 24 minutes of a generation’s greatest musical performer at the peak of his career (sorry, Boss). With his touring band that included Sheila E. on drums, Miko Weaver on guitar, Levi Seacer Jr. on bass, Eric Leeds on sax, Boni Boyer and Dr. Fink on keyboards, and Cat Glover dancing, the film pulls mostly from his 1987 double-album Sign O’ the Times, with hits like the title track, a piano interlude of “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look.” It was filmed at two European shows, but much of the music was re-recorded later at Paisley Park. Still, it has an urgency that only Prince can deliver, in multiple outfits, of course. Released theatrically in the States, the film received more love after it left theaters. Now it’s one of the best ways to see what the big deal is about a Prince concert. —Josh Jackson

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