The 50 Best Movies on Starz

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The 50 Best Movies on Starz

Starz got our attention with the upcoming series American Gods, a delightful and faithful adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved fantasy book. But as we took a closer look, we realized that Starz also has a surprisingly deep movie catalog. We’ve selected our favorites movies streaming on Starz, which is available via your cable operator, via the Starz streaming app or online for an additional $8.99 for Amazon Prime subscribers. Selections include great films from the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Fernando Meirelles, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincer, Steve James and Sofia Coppola.

Here are the 50 Best Movies on Starz:

50. Ant-Man

Year: 2015
Director: Peyton Reed
Compared to the two Marvel films that immediately preceded it, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man provides a welcome respite from extinction-level threats and superhuman bombast. Instead, and in what can only be considered power-set-appropriate, everything feels smaller and more human. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a smart guy whose act of Robin Hood-flavored corporate thievery lands him in prison. Upon his release, he just wants to earn an honest living and be a good dad to his young daughter, but darn if that isn’t difficult to do on the outside. Perhaps one last score? By now, the plotting and expectations of such a setup are practically embedded in a moviegoer’s DNA. But much as the ’70s spy thriller got a boost when injected with some Super Soldier Formula in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so too does the heist genre benefit from prolonged exposure to Pym Particles. In much the same way Guardians of the Galaxy was powered by the charisma and affability of Chris Pratt, Ant-Man is buoyed by the charm of Rudd. The combination of a charismatic lead, a solid supporting cast, and the debut and dramatization of a new (to moviegoers) superpower (or two) has proved a winning formula for Marvel Studios for the last, oh, 10 or so films now, and it’s no different here. —Michael Burgin

49. Step Brothers

Year: 2008
Director: Adam McKay
Following the tradition of Dumb and Dumber, Step Brothers’ premise is simple. When an adult couple marries, their two live-at-home middle-age sons end up as step brothers. Equally juvenile, the two begin as enemies but eventually become best friends when they realize that aside from a few surface differences, they’re pretty much the same person. Trouble besets them when, after a particularly goofy fight, their parents force them to search for work and eventually decide to break up due to the difficulty of living with such a deranged family. Really, the plot is just window dressing. You can’t get much simpler than this, and that’s the point. The more complex it is to get from point A in the story to point B, the less you’re paying attention to the characters and the jokes. The comedic timing is impeccable and when the movie is on, it’s really on. Recommending Step Brothers to anyone who’s not already a Ferrell supporter is pointless. It doesn’t offer anything different from before, and even longtime fans may be a bit disappointed with how utterly paper-thin the premise is. But as far as sheer laughs go, Step Brothers is an undeniable success. —Sean Gandert

48. Chasing Amy

Year: 1997
Director: Kevin Smith
Anyone who has listened to enough hours of Kevin Smith’s podcasts or lengthy Q&A sessions knows that, behind his perpetual potty-mouth and flashes of egomania, Smith is a big softie at heart. After two films that reveled in crass slackerdom lifestyles (Clerks and Mallrats), Smith honed his writing voice for his third feature, Chasing Amy. The film stars Ben Affleck as an amateur comic book artist named Holden whose life is thrown awry when he meets a beautiful and vibrant girl named Alyssa (played by Smith’s then-girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams) and instantly falls in love. The problem? Alyssa is a lesbian. Crushed but still determined to spend time with her, Holden develops a close friendship with Alyssa, eventually telling her how he feels with the kind of speech that anyone who has ever experienced a hurtful bout of unrequited love has tossed around in their minds but never found the words to express. —Mark Rozeman

47. In Bruges

Year: 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
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 ?lm excels, painting its story through the extreme juxtaposition of its subjects, with each contrasting plot element not only understood but felt visually. This technique pits staccato violence against the surreal camera pans of Bruges’ fairy-tale cityscape, projecting the internal con?ict of hired killers Ken and Ray against their new, pacifying environment. The ?lm’s visual appeal complements irreverent and hilarious dialogue—timed brilliantly with the Anglo-Saxon bravado of Fiennes, Farrell and Gleeson—to produce one of this holiday season’s most pleasant dark-horse dramadies. —Sean Edgar

46. About a Boy

Year: 2002
Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
No stranger to romantic comedies, Hugh Grant delivered perhaps his best performance ever in About a Boy, a different kind of rom-com. Through his relationship with a young teenager, Grant subtly transforms from notorious womanizer into, well, a man capable of loving the beautiful Rachel Weisz. Grant’s relationship with the boy is tender and thoughtful, much like the film itself. —Jeremy Medina

45. Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life

Year: 1983
Directors: Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam
Transgressive humor was just one of the tricks that Britain’s iconic comedy troupe had up its sleeve during the heydays of The Flying Circus. But when they made a movie in the early ‘80s, it was the primary card they played, satarizing Catholics, Protestants, consumer culture and anyone or anything else who felt some sort of certainty where life’s deepest questions were concerned. Plus, who can forget the exploding diner? This is Monty Python at its most irreverent and, at times, as funny as ever. —Josh Jackson

44. Searching for Sugar Man

Year: 2012
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
“The Story of the Forgotten Genius” is such a well-worn formula for music documentaries that it was already being parodied more than three decades ago in This is Spinal Tap. In Searching for Sugar Man, as Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul begins to tell the story of Rodriguez—the Dylanesque folk rocker who released two apparently brilliant albums in the early 1970s, then disappeared—it appears he’s traveling a familiar road. But that road takes a sharp left turn when we learn that bootleg recordings catapulted Rodriguez to stratospheric heights of fame in apartheid-era South Africa. (When a record-store owner is asked if Rodriguez was as big as the Rolling Stones, he matter-of-factly replies “Oh, much bigger than that.”). In fact, his uncensored depictions of sex and drugs were so thrilling to South African musicians that he became the patron saint of the Afrikaner punk movement, which in turn laid the groundwork for the organized anti-apartheid movement that eventually brought the regime down. It’s just a shame that Rodriguez never lived to see it—he burned himself to death onstage in the middle of a show. Or overdosed in prison. Or shot himself alone in his apartment. Or… could he still be alive? Bendjelloul’s film manages to create an aura of mystery and suspense around a search that actually unfolded 14 years ago—a “detective documentary” set in the very recent past. —Michael Dunaway

43. The Hustler

Year: 1961
Director: Robert Rossen
It’s hard to believe this classic Paul Newman/Jackie Gleason movie about pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson is over a half-century old. That might be why it was just nudged out of the elite eight of our Best Sports Movies bracket by White Men Can’t Jump. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, but Newman had to wait 25 years to win an Oscar as Felson for the film’s eventual sequel, The Color of Money. —Josh Jackson

42. Patton

Year: 1970
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Watching Patton, Franklin J. Schaffner’s colossal biographical ode to one of World War II’s most renowned and most controversial military figures, you get the sense that George S. Patton would likely dig Schaffner’s work; the film doesn’t apologize for itself or for its subject’s actions and attitudes, much as Patton didn’t make a habit of apologizing for either unless directly ordered to by his superiors. There may be no more appropriate way to honor the man’s memory than that, such as Patton can be narrowly described as an “honor.” The film doesn’t exactly flatter the general, per se, but straddles a line between hero worship and sober representation, letting Patton, and by extension George C. Scott’s commanding and iconic portrait of him, speak for himself without fear of condemnation or reprisal. As Patton is about Patton, so, too, is it about Scott, which makes sense: If you make a movie and name it after its central character, you’re also making it about its central performance, and so it’s good that Scott was up to the task of reincarnating the late general in all his egotistical, violent, callous, and shockingly vulnerable glory. Patton is a war movie, make no mistake, but it uses the war movie blueprint for housing a character study of its protagonist. The results, almost half a century later, remain completely singular in the genre. —Andy Crump

41. The Magnificent Seven

Year: 1960
Director: John Sturge
Although it never entirely reaches the genius of Akira Kurosawa’s three-hour samurai epic Seven Samurai on which it’s based, The Magnificent Seven is no doubt a classic American western in its own right. Boasting an all-star class that offers up Yul Bryner, Eli Wallach, James Coburn and Charles Bronson, John Sturgess’ film does justice to Kurosawa’s story of a group of ragtag samurais who band together to defend a terrorized town, switching out feudal Japan for Mexico and the samurais for rogue cowboys. Though nearly an hour shorter than Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven manages to hit all the proper beats and set pieces. To make things even cooler, it’s all soundtracked brilliantly by Elmer Bernstein, delivering some of the best work of his career. —Mark Rozeman

40. Jerry Maguire

Year: 1996
Director: Cameron Crowe
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

39. Thank You For Smoking

Year: 2006
Director: Jason Reitman
Before Juno and Up In the Air, Jason Reitman’s penchant to revel in small details was on display in his first film, Thank You For Smoking, a witty, biting satire with insight and soul. Based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, the film follows Nick Naylor—head lobbyist for Big Tobacco—and his journeys across America as he spins on behalf of his industry while still trying to be a role model for his 12-year-old son. Supported by a wonderful cast that includes Maria Bello, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Adam Brody, Rob Lowe and Sam Elliott, Aaron Eckhart perfectly captures Naylor’s unique combination of cleverness, confidence, moral slickness and persistent likability. —Tim Regan-Porter

38. The Natural

Year: 1984
Director: Barry Levinson
Baseball has inspired more movies than any other sport, but the greatest of them all is The Natural. Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a promising, young prospect with a bright career ahead of him in the 1930s when a troubled femme fatale guns him down at age 19. Sixteen years after the fact, he isn’t ready to let go of his love of the game, getting signed to a fictional scrub team called the New York Knights. It’s more than a story about baseball; it’s about a middle-aged man living his dream despite the naysayers. It’s a tale about a guy distracted by the glitzy glamorous babes all famous people gravitate towards, only to discover a happier life with his high-school sweetheart (Glenn Close). But when Hobbs hits the big two home runs—the one that breaks the clock, and the showstopper at the end that kills the lights, literally—and Randy Newman’s beautiful score triumphantly takes over, you know this is the ultimate take on the summer classic. —Joe Shearer

37. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

Year: 2003
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill Vol. 1 was both a great movie and a great martial-arts movie that paid homage to a ton of classic martial-arts flicks (both Chinese and Japanese) to make a really visceral, offbeat cinema experience unlike any other (well, at least until Vol. 2 came out). Scenes like the incredibly gory but artistic tea house battle with the Crazy 88 or the intensely claustrophobic kitchen showdown are excellent examples of everything that makes a martial-arts movie great and when combined with Tarantino’s usual hallmarks, the results are truly transcendent. —K. Alexander Smith

36. Gangs of New York

Year: 2002
Director: Martin Scorsese
This one split critics and audiences, but for all the times that the story about Leo and Cameron Diaz’s characters drains momentum from the movie, Daniel Day Lewis’ star turn as William Cutter, also known as the meat cleaver-wielding Billy the Butcher, really ratchets everything up to 11. Every villain deserves a grand entrance. Not many get better than Bill the Butcher’s. Within the opening scene, we are treated with a bloody brawl. From there, the character’s disturbed psychosis only spreads until its reaches one of the greatest climaxes in Martin Scorsese’s career. Oh, also Daniel Day Lewis. Did we mention that? —Paste Staff

35. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

close-encounters-3rd.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Steven Spielberg
The plot may crawl along a little slowly. The visual effects may be a little dated. But Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed the dreamier side of a director who’d broken through with Jaws and helped science fiction move beyond B-movie fare into the mainstream. Made for $18 million, the film grossed more than $300 million, tapping into our collective fascination with life beyond our world. Richard Dreyfus is excellent as a blue-collar worker who’s obsession with UFOs takes a toll on his family but ultimately leads to his own alien encounter. —Josh Jackson

34. Easy Rider

Year: 1969
Director: Dennis Hopper
Perhaps no movie captures the time of hippies—or at least its darker side—than Easy Rider. Denis Hopper’s gritty and twisted film is about chasing freedom, but it flips that concept on its head into a critique of American culture that doesn’t actually cherish those who are free. With a cast that includes Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Hopper himself, this is 1969 counterculture incarnate—plentiful drugs, free love, a commune and a cross-country motorcycle ride. Grossing $60 million at the box office, Easy Rider helped establish the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s, influencing a decade of filmmaking. —Josh Jackson

33. Red River

Year: 1948
Director: Howard Hawks
Howard Hawks’ first Western pitted seasoned rancher John Wayne against his adopted son Montgomery Clift in what screenwriter Borden Chase described as Mutiny on the Bounty with saddles and stirrups. Wayne’s Tom Dunson is a tortured, stubborn antihero, whose early decision to leave his ladylove results in her death, and a lifetime of regret. He takes a young boy, the sole survivor of the Indian attack that claimed his sweetheart, under his wing and, accompanied by his wagon master, continues on, spending almost 15 years growing a cattle empire in South Texas. Following the Civil War, Dunson figures its time for a thousand-mile drive north—with some 10,000 cattle on what would be known as the Chisholm Trail—but the taskmaster’s grown son (Clift) comes to challenge his authority, to mounting peril. A divisive climax notwithstanding (Chase and Clift hated it), Red River is the quintessential Western, marked by a colonial “tough shit” approach to how Dunson takes his territory and a Shakespearean scope. It’s a grand journey rooted in the most deep-seated of human drama. In his first screen role, Clift exudes an intense, neurotic charisma that pushed Wayne to newfound complexity on screen—the tension between generations, values, notions of masculinity and acting methods is palpable, to the film’s benefit. (For another much-discussed relationship, The Celluloid Closet makes the case for a homoerotic subtext between Clift’s character and John Ireland’s Cherry Valance.) Cinematographer Russell Harlan expertly stages such majestic set pieces as the epic stampede, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s classic score swells. Expansive, enduring filmmaking. —Amanda Schurr

32. The Ice Storm

Year: 1997
Director: Ang Lee
In 1997 Ang Lee followed up his Oscar-winning Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility with yet another literary adaptation—Rick Moody’s acclaimed, if more obscure, 1994 novel, The Ice Storm. Set primarily around Thanksgiving 1973, the film explores the misadventures of a suburban Connecticut family as they attempt to cope with the alienation and confusion of the times through drugs, extramarital affairs and swinging “key parties.” Featuring phenomenal performances from Joan Allen, Kevin Kline and a teenage Christina Ricci—not to mention luminous cinematography courtesy of DP Frederick Elmes— The Ice Storm may very well stand as the greatest film Lee has ever made. —Mark Rozeman

31. Gandhi

Year: 1982
Director: Richard Attenborough
Ben Kingsley gives an amazing performance as the Indian lawyer who became an icon of using non-violent protest to bring about change. Attenborough’s film is appropriately epic in scope to capture the incredible life of Mohandas Gandhi and his struggle for Indian independence. The film earned 11 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for Attenborough and Best Actor for Kingsley. —Josh Jackson

30. Spaceballs

Year: 1987
Director: Mel Brooks
Originally perceived as one of writer/director Mel Brooks’ lesser works, this loving send-up of the sci-fi/fantasy genre (specifically, Star Wars) has, over the years, wormed its way into the hearts of a new generation of fans who caught it on video. “May the Schwartz be with you,” “Ludicrous Speed,” “Mawg”—if these are all terms that mean nothing to you then it’s high-time you checked this movie out and see what all the fuss is about. —Mark Rozeman

29. Big

Year: 1988
Director: Penny Marshall
If you ignore the problematic issues inherent in a man with a 13-year-old’s mind entering into a relationship with a thirtyish woman, Big remains as charming as it was at the time of its release. Tom Hanks is an absolute joy to watch as the central boy-man and the iconic scene where he and Robert Loggia perform “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” on a foot-operated keyboard is enough to warm the cockles of even the most cynical viewers’ hearts. —Mark Rozeman

28. Dirty Pretty Things

Year: 2002
Director: Stephen Frears
Avoiding familiar common postcard views of London, Stephen Frears makes Dirty Pretty Things a tour through shady dealings and sufferings that could be set in any big city on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a contemporary nightmare. We are drawn into the daily desperation of overworked immigrants—legal and otherwise—who survive by doing the world’s dirty work. Frears, who surprises us with something new every time, cleverly dodges the curse of social dilemma films. Weaving threads of classic thrillers through this gritty realistic context, he satisfies our desire for a good story—for intrigue, suspense, humor, big revelations and a tantalizing possibility of romance—even as he educates us about the evils occurring right under our noses. Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor, stoic and slow-burning) is a Nigerian immigrant—a doctor in his home country—hiding from immigration police while he works several wearying jobs. His tour of hell begins with a David Lynch-ian discovery—a human heart clogging a hotel toilet. Ugly secrets lie at the heart of the matter—passports, blood, betrayal—and Okwe and his beautiful co-worker (Audrey Tatou) get in over their heads. In Frears’ bleak depiction of a compassionless society, no charitable agency rescues the persecuted. No God hears their prayers; they can turn only to each other for fragments of kindness. —Jeffrey Overstreet

27. The Fifth Element

Year: 1997
Director: Luc Besson
The Fifth Element is the ultimate display of what would happen if someone with the sci-fi enthusiasm of a teenage boy wrote a big-budget Hollywood script, which is exactly the case here. Set in 23rd century New York City, taxi driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) gets wrapped up in saving the world with his passenger Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), the fifth and final piece that is needed to protect earth. Entertaining, thrilling, and visually fantastical, The Fifth Element is worth every minute of your time. —Caitlin Colford

26. 3:10 to Yuma

Year: 1957
Director: Delmer Daves
Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s iconic short story, 3:10 to Yuma draws heavily on noir and rebellious youth pictures. Glenn Ford’s Ben Wade is one cool and composed outlaw. Sexy and assured, he seduces a local bartender shortly after his gang has robbed a bank stagecoach, killing the driver in the process. His casual dalliance leads to his capture. However, he doesn’t go easy despite his easygoing manner. He’s psychologically astute, steadily probing the weaknesses of the small band of townspeople committed to bringing him to justice by getting him on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. Wade never wavers in his confidence that his gang will be there to bust him free, and his sure faith in this inevitable outcome slowly undermines the will of almost everyone on the side of justice, exposing underlying motives of self-interest and thinly concealed cowardice. Only rock-solid rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin) keeps towing the line despite hefty temptations offered up by the charismatic outlaw. A tight screenplay and solid, at times almost overwrought, performances keep the ticking-clock action suspenseful and engaging. The 2007 remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale reprising the respective leads is a great modern-day interpretation of the source material and deserves to be seen in its own right. —Joe Pettit Jr.

25. The Visitor

Year: 2008
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Part of what made Thomas McCarthy’s first film, The Station Agent, so enjoyable was that McCarthy had such affection for his characters that he was perfectly content to put them together and watch them behave. The same is true of his warm and humorous second film The Visitor, but to his credit, the stakes are significantly higher this time. Simply keeping his characters together without vilifying anyone is an achievement that pays ample dividends in The Visitor. Character actor Richard Jenkins plays Walter, an economics professor and widower who seems disinterested in his academic work and bored by his solitary life. Maybe he’ll learn to play the piano or spend more time in New York City, but to reveal where the story goes robs it of some of its beauty; it’s about a late bloomer, good people working through difficult problems, finding people you love, and immigration. The Visitor shifts its object from scene to scene, and McCarthy’s sensitivity to class and culture is rare. The beautifully restrained performance by Jenkins is the anchor of a film built around complex characters and quiet moments. —Robert Davis

24. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Year: 2000
Director: Jim Jarmusch
After making Dead Man, a Western film about a meek Ohio accountant and a Native American warrior, indie auteur Jim Jarmusch blended Oriental philosophy with gangster reality in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Forest Whitaker plays the title character, a hit man who adopts the code of the Hagakure, a training manual for 18th-Century would-be samurai. —Josh Jackson

23. Glengarry Glen Ross

Year: 1992
Director: James Foley
Surely somewhere on the Internet there’s a catalog of all the potboiler plays that have been turned into lifeless movies; wherein the minimal settings came off as flat rather than intimate or claustrophobic, and the surgically written prose came off as stilted rather than impassioned. Glengarry Glen Ross is the exception and the justification for all noble stage-to-screen attempts since. This adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play about workingman’s inhumanity to workingman still crackles today, and its best lines (and there are many) have become ingrained in the angrier sections of our collective zeitgeist. James Foley directs the playwright’s signature cadence better than the man himself, and the all-star cast give performances they’ve each only hoped to match since. Mamet, for his part, managed to elevate his already stellar material with his screenplay, adding the film’s most iconic scene, the oft-quoted Blake speech brilliantly delivered by Alec Baldwin. This is a film worthy of a cup of coffee and, as we know, coffee is for closers only. —Bennett Webber

22. Rocky

Year: 1976
Director: John G. Avildsen
Rocky may be the one of the most inspirational films of all time. The movie poses the question: What happens when a small-time boxer from Philadelphia gets a one-in-a-million shot at the World Heavyweight Championship? All Rocky Balboa wanted to do was prove that he wasn’t a bum and that he could go the distance with Apollo Creed. With a budget under 1 million dollars, Rocky would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976 and spawn the ultimate sports movie series. —Gregory Eckert

21. Groundhog Day

Year: 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Bill Murray, director/co-writer Harold Ramis and screenwriter Danny Rubin take a Twilight Zone-esque comedic premise—a self-centered weatherman gets stuck experiencing February 2 again and again—and find unexpected profundity. A more conventional film would have love resolve the chronological predicament, but instead, it falls to Murray to become the best man he can possibly be. A Hollywood comedy that challenges middle-class Americans to better themselves, Groundhog Day doesn’t just elicit laughs, but leaves audiences more deeply moved than they ever expected. —Curt Holman

20. The Constant Gardener

Year: 2005
Director: Fernando Meirelles
In The Constant Gardener, diplomacy is overstepped by both those with corrupt intentions and those who see it as a bureaucratic divide to human charity. Combining the oft-convoluted storytelling of novelist John Le Carré and the violently dazzling visuals of Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God), its message is emboldened by the failure of its well-intentioned characters to intervene in the robbed lives of others. —Cameron Bird

19. Moulin Rouge!

Year: 2005
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Moulin Rouge has its detractors, but no one other than Baz Luhrmann could have delivered a spectacle like this. Early-19th-century Paris is brought to life with rich color, dazzling choreography, and a curiously modern soundtrack that includes songs by Nirvana, David Bowie and T. Rex. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor star in a standard tragic love story told with endless imagination. —Josh Jackson

18. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Year: 2015
Director: J.J. Abrams
The Force Awakens will remedy the near-terminal Prequel-itis of fans. J.J. Abrams and company have accomplished this act of restorative cinema primarily through a return to the “dirty future” aesthetic that made the Original Trilogy feel so real (no matter how absurd the dialogue being delivered by the characters). That’s not to say CGI is lacking, but whereas budget and technology constraints helped the first three films and an overabundance hurt the next three, the balance between practical and special effects in The Force Awakens feels near perfect. I say “primarily” not to take away from other factors, such as casting. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver are all solid, and Oscar Isaac brings a palpable vigor to his role. Ultimately, The Force Awakens just feels right in ways the Prequels never did. —Michael Burgin

17. Being John Malkovich

Year: 1999
Director: Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze’s true gift is creating moments of the truly unexpected. Just as he did in music videos like Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” where he got his start, Jonze proves that the true essence of wit is to never go for the obvious. And Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays follow that same mind-bending motto. —Tim Sheridan

16. Trainspotting

Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Based on the gritty Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this early film from the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Millions follows a thuggish group of heroin addicts in Scotland and features brilliant performances from young Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald and Robert Carlyle. At times funny, gripping and nightmarishly haunting, Trainspotting is not an easy movie to forget. —Josh Jackson

15. The Conversation

Year: 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The really incredible fact about this film is that Coppola made it as a side project between Godfather movies (which I’ve left off purposefully despite their greatness). Starring Gene Hackman, it’s the story of a surveillance technician coming face to face with the implications of his job, and the paranoia of being watched at every moment. It was nominated for Best Picture in 1974, an award that went to The Godfather, Part II. It’s one of the rare times in film history when a director has lost to himself. —Shane Ryan

14. Glory

Year: 1989
Director: Edward Zwick
Glory tells story of the first U.S. Army unit made up entirely of African American soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, as they not only fight Confederate soldiers but the racism prevalent on their own side. Starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman, it’s an inspiring look at a rarely examined chapter in the Civil War. —Josh Jackson

13. Fight Club

Arriving on HBO Go: 12/15
Year: 1999
Director: David Fincher
Based on the mind-bending novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the film version of Fight Club improves on its source. Thank you, David Fincher. Both Brad Pitt and Edward Norton can chalk their performances up as “best role” material. It’s a gritty thriller that features violence as a tool to cope with life’s mundanity, and the dangers that accompany that line of thinking. Most people who didn’t read the book were probably just as surprised about the ending as they were when Meat Loaf popped up in the film. Fight Club is one of the best movies of the ‘90s. Period. If you have a problem with that, then maybe we should step outside. —Shawn Christ

12. Hoop Dreams

Year: 1994
Director: Steve James
Seldom has a film, narrative or documentary, so probingly explored the American Dream. In this case, the version of the dream that young William Gates and Arthur Agee have bought into is redemption (and fortune and fame) through athletic achievement. That the odds are stacked so heavily against those dreams ever coming true only makes their dearest hopes that much more poignant. Steve James famously spent nearly eight years making the film, and despite its nearly three-hour running time, it doesn’t feel long at all. Every frame feels essential. —Michael Dunaway

11. Before Midnight

Year: 2013
Director: Richard Linklater
Before Midnight concludes one of cinema’s great trilogies—assuming it stays a trilogy. Nine years from now, director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke could well revisit their characters from 1995’s Before Sunrise. But as it stands, they have built a beautiful study of life and love, each chapter of which stands on its own while adding emotional resonance to the other two. 2004’s Before Sunset saw Jesse and Celine re-connect in Paris for the first time since their magical night in Vienna, searching again for that rare, deep connection between two humans. Before Midnight spends another day with the characters, this time in Greece, but things are a little different. While they are still extremely connected to one another, additional people also command their attention and somewhat limit their personal time together. Which doesn’t mean the two leads don’t converse. The series’ trademark intense, thoughtful and personal conversations remain. An early scene holds on one perfectly acted two-shot in a car for 13 minutes. The discussions are often as hilarious as they are engaging. Hangups, regrets and doubts have have become a greater part of Jesse and Celine’s lives, and the film reflects that. But it also reminds us what made the couple such a lovable pair that they could hold our interest for 20 years. —Jeremy Mathews

10. Dead Man Walking

Year: 1995
Director: Tim Robbins
Any film that addresses one of the big, divisive issues of our day (abortion, immigration, homosexuality, etc.) runs the risk of being preachy. But the subject of this death-penalty film isn’t some wrongly accused saint. Sean Penn’s Matthew Poncelet is a murderer and the point of view of the victims’ family isn’t belittled. Still, the story’s heroine, the nun played by Susan Sarandon, finds empathy for all involved, and seeing that play out in all its cosmic difficulty is wonderfully redemptive. —Josh Jackson

9. Lawrence of Arabia

Year: 1962
Director: David Lean
They don’t get more epic than David Lean’s three-and-a-half-hour, seven-time Academy Award-winning biopic/adventure, which dropped Peter O’Toole in the middle of the Arabian desert circa World War I. O’Toole cemented his screen legend as vibrant hero T.E Lawrence, a headstrong British Army Lieutenant and reluctant recon grunt-turned-conflicted intermediary-turned-guerilla leader and rebel, as much at odds with his superiors as he is their professed enemy, the Turks. O’Toole is never better, nor, seemingly, more himself—a point (one of many) of debate among historians, who argued the real Lawrence’s high-profile stature was more occupational hazard than it was deliberate showboating. Little matter: O’Toole’s characterization is necessarily commanding and complex, a larger-than-life presence amid a gorgeous, Super Panavision 70-amplified expanse of sand and period detail. The sheer scale of the onscreen exploits is awe-inspiring: train wrecks, windstorms, camel attacks (!), and other set pieces specific to the exotic locales (the film was shot in Jordan, Morocco and Spain). Just as grand are Maurice Jarre’s (Doctor Zhivago, Ghost) score and the supporting cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains. Come for the romantic spectacle, not for the facts. —Amanda Schurr

8. Chinatown

Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
When you look at Jack Nicholson’s run of films in what I’ll call the ‘New Hollywood’ era, starting with Easy Rider in 1969 and ending with The Shining in 1980, it’s truly astounding. There’s barely a dud on the list, and so it’s really saying something that Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s crime classic, stands out among the best. The central mystery is bold for its complexity, revolving around water rights in southern California—a plot that remains relevant today—and was undoubtedly an influence for the second season of True Detective. Like much of Polanski’s work, an ominous atmosphere works alongside the plot, shadowing every character in doubt and undermining the possibility of a clean conclusion. In Polanski’s world, the mere fact that a mystery is solved doesn’t mean there’s a happy ending, and his incredible powers of ambiguity have never been so strong as in Chinatown. Add Nicholson at his most essential, along with a young Faye Dunaway and an aging John Huston, and this is truly one of the classics of American cinema. —Shane Ryan

7. Reservoir Dogs

Year: 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Reservoir Dogs’ debut at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival launched not only the career of one Quentin Tarantino but an American indie genre unto itself characterized by extreme violence, profane dialogue, nonlinear storytelling and a curated soundtrack. Many have tried, but none of his imitators has achieved the visual and aural poetry at work in Tarantino’s oeuvre, particularly his magnum opus Pulp Fiction, upon whose release in 1994 newly minted fans went back to discover the aftermath of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White’s botched diamond heist (but not the heist itself). This is where it all began. —Annlee Ellingson

6. The Last Temptation of Christ

Year: 1985
Director: Martin Scorsese
Few things stir up controversy like a sexualized Messiah. Nonetheless, Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Jesus ranks of one of the most human and relatable Christs ever depicted on film. (The performances of Harvey Keitel as Judas and Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene are first-rate, as well.) Along with Dafoe’s performance, Martin Scorsese’s film (and Paul Schrader’s screenplay) combine to present a fresh, compelling take on the Son of God. —Michael Burgin

5. Ratatouille

Year: 2007
Director: Brad Bird
On paper, the story of a French rat who dreams of being a five-star chef sounds ridiculous. On screen, it’s still a little ridiculous. But, that’s part of Ratatouille’s delectable charm. There are some startlingly profound themes within Brad Bird’s Parisian romp—namely, that dreams are tenable no matter who you are or where you come from (and this even applies to rodents, too). Joyful and preternaturally wise, the film is Pixar’s smartest and best-written film to date. —Jeremy Medina

4. Lost in Translation

Year: 2003
Director: Sofia Coppola
Fueled by Bill Murray’s impeccable performance, Sofia Coppola delivered a picture of sublime nuance for her sophomore effort. The physical and emotional unavailability of spouses, words left unspoken, life’s missing purpose, an affair devoid of sex—absence is the looming presence here, and Coppola perfectly captured the ineffable human conditions of dislocation and ennui. Lost in Translation is a testament to the power of a raised eyebrow, a gentle touch and a parting whisper. —Tim Regan-Porter

3. Five Easy Pieces

Year: 1970
Director: Bob Rafelson
Jack Nicholson in the 1970s has an argument for the best stretch by an actor who’s ever worked in film. But Five Easy Pieces, directed by Bob Rafelson, is the best. It’s the story of a talented upper-class wanderer who can’t get his life together and hurts a lot of people because of a selfish and noncommittal streak. A bland description, but the energy and passion of Nicholson, who was still new to the world of cinema and clearly hungry for the fame that would soon come his way, was anything but bland. In fact, he was electrifying, and in combination with the excellent screenplay and the inimitable Rafelson style (distracted, poignant, poetic), the film is a tour de force through the beaten-down America of the ’70s. Where else could you find the indelible image of Nicholson on the back of a moving truck, playing an old piano in a traffic jam? And I won’t test your patience by copying the entire dialogue of the hysterical diner scene, but I highly recommend you find it on YouTube. As for Rafelson, he’d go on to direct The King of Marvin Gardens, another classic featuring Nicholson in one of his few straight man roles, and slowly watch his career devolve over three decades into making short erotic films and video tributes to Lionel Richie. In some ways, his rise and decline is a perfect symbol of the New Hollywood. —Shane Ryan

2. City of God

Year: 2003
Director: Fernando Meirelles
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 only wallowed in such viciousness, this film plunged deeper, gripped harder, and yet always allowed 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. #8212;Andy Beta

1. Fargo

Year: 1996
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
In exploring the unsavory implications of “Minnesota nice,” the Coen Brothers created one of the most beloved, acclaimed and quotable films of all time. “Fargo” explores the tension that accompanies polite social norms and the quiet desperations they often mask, and many scenes are awkward enough to make your skin crawl. The emotional restraint displayed by Jerry Lundegaard and Mike is a thin and disingenuous veil over yearnings for money or companionship. The foil to this, obviously, is Marge Gunderson, who just really is that nice and hardworking and downright normal. Because of her and her husband’s gentleness, the movie makes you appreciate the art behind postage stamps as much as it makes you cringe at the sound of a wood chipper. —Allie Conti