The 50 Best Thrillers on Netflix

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The 50 Best Thrillers on Netflix

The thriller has been a cinema staple ever since Alfred Hitchcock kept us in suspense with his silent serial killer film The Lodger in 1927. The story may be fictional, but if the telling is masterful enough, the tension we feel is real. From tales of the supernatural to spy chases to psychological dramas, the thriller is a broad and hard-to-define genre—you’ll see overlap with our Best Dramas on Netflix, Best Action Movies on Netflix, Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix and Best Horror Movies on Netflix lists—but the key element is keeping an audience member on the edge of their seat.

So, we’ve officially defined a thriller as anything that Netflix calls a thriller (excepting a few wildly mislabeled films), and any complaints or concerns can be directed to one of Netflix’s insufferable first-person Twitter accounts.

Here are the 50 best Thrillers on Netflix right now:

the babysitter poster (Custom).jpg 50. The Babysitter
Year: 2017
Director: McG
The Babysitter is a little guileless in its overt desire to be lovingly described as an ‘80s slasher homage, but simultaneously effective enough to earn a good measure of that approval it craves. With twists of Fright Night and Night of the Demons, it’s at its best not when trying to slavishly recreate a past decade but when letting its hyper-charismatic teenage characters run wild. Stylish, gory and profane to a fault, The Babysitter features a handful of bang-up performances by Judah Lewis as a late-blooming 12-year-old, Robbie Amell as a nigh-invincible football jock and Samara Weaving as the title character, the girl of Lewis’ dreams—right up until she tries to sacrifice him to the devil. Fast-moving (only 85 minutes!) and frequently hilarious, it’s probably the best unit of popcorn horror entertainment that Netflix has managed to put out so far. The Babysitter’s character chemistry actually justifies a second go-round, which I’d be happy to watch. —Jim Vorel


lavender.jpg 49. Lavender
Year: 2017
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Lavender’s building blocks are so well worn—mysterious discoveries, creaky houses, darting specters—they might well be invisible were it not for another of its defining features: the efficiency and assuredness with which the whole affair is presented. The movie is streamlined to the point that you have to admire its dedication to offering, without so much as a wink, a ghost story about the gradual opening of a locked memory and the catharsis that awaits its heroine. The film opens with a brief prologue in 1985 on an expansive rural property and the immediate aftermath of a murder scene in a family home. Shift to 25 years later, and we see Jane (Abbie Cornish) toting her school-age daughter Alice (Lola Flanery) on long drives through the countryside so she can take photographs of empty houses, most of them set back quite a way from the road. Jane has a romantic’s fascination with the houses, seeing them as epitaphs to the lives that once inhabited them. There’s a restlessness to Jane, and she’s distracted by her own preoccupation with houses, becoming enthralled with one in particular. Jane soon becomes caught up in a mystery surrounding these small white boxes wrapped in red ribbon. For a while it’s unclear whether their contents are intended as clues, or as methods of torment for her. Compounding Jane’s confusion are a car accident, a long-lost relative, and a hospital psychiatrist (Justin Long) with dubious motives. While it succumbs to a lot of clichés that blunt its impact, Lavender shows that there are interesting ways to apply genre elements beyond the bump and chills, and in the service of story about memory, trauma, and resolution. —Anthony Salveggi


velvet buzzsaw poster (Custom).jpg 48. Velvet Buzzsaw
Year: 2018
Director: Dan Gilroy
With 2014’s chilling Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo created a potent critique of the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Four years later, the same team is back with Velvet Buzzsaw in order to ostensibly skewer the shallowness and materialism of art profiteering, told through a gaudy blend of pretentious B-horror and on-the-nose satire. Nightcrawler’s solidly structured and thematically laser-focused existence makes Velvet Buzzsaw that much of a baffling experience, since what we get from Gilroy here is the exact opposite: A muddled, morally confused and, worst of all, woefully predictable genre rethread with a laughably transparent art house veneer. Hidden underneath Gyllenhaal and Russo’s scenery-chewing cartoon versions of highfalutin art expert types, the premise of a mysterious collection of apparently haunted paintings killing all those who try to profit from it presents not much more than a typical slasher flick. Whenever a character is left alone every 20 minutes or so, you can bet they’ll be toast or mince meat—in one case literally—by the time the scene’s over. One can expect such a flimsy narrative used solely to prop up a series of exuberantly gory set-pieces from a medium-grade giallo auteur of the ’70s, but more cohesive work is expected from the likes of Gilroy and his powerful cast. If you’re a horror fan who’s in it only for the blood, go for it. Other buyers, beware. —Oktay Ege Kozak


the perfection poster (Custom).jpg 47. The Perfection
Year: 2019
Director: Richard Shepard
What should horror movies be judged by? Airtight narrative logic, or imaginatively deranged imagery? Scores matter, scripts matter, but by the end of the movie what tends to matter most are the visuals, and Richard Shepard’s new movie, The Perfection, sears its visuals into the viewer’s mind like branding on livestock, right up to its final shot, one of the genre’s most indelible since horror became the taste of the day in the mid 2010s. It’s a twisted kind of miracle that anyone who watches The Perfection will never be the same, and a testament to horror’s power to bend minds and spur nightmares with a single picture. But the movie also reminds us that as much as pictures often come first, plotting usually should come a very close second. The film begins promisingly enough: After abandoning her career to care for her dying mother, cello prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) returns to the music world to reclaim her standing as the Bachoff Academy of Music’s star pupil, which means sabotaging the current title holder, Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte reaches out to her old teachers, Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman), travels to Shanghai as Bachoff selects its latest student, and cozies up to Lizzie. They flatter each other. They flirt. They drink, go partying, then make passionate love in a hotel, filmed with cinematographer Vanja Cernul’s lurid gaze. Maybe Charlotte bears Lizzie no grudge. Maybe they really do admire each other to romantic heights. And then they travel to rural China, where Lizzie grows increasingly sick, starts puking up bugs, discovers yet more bugs dithering about under the skin on her arm, and, when offered a butcher’s cleaver by Charlotte, chops off her hand. This is the climax to The Perfection’s first half hour, ruined by a single viewing of the trailer. It’s also where Shepard springs the first of several fakeouts, stealing a page from Michael Haneke’s playbook. At its best, The Perfection is an homage to 1970s horror movies and 1980s thrillers, a glorious, multi-hewed mind screw. When Shepard sticks to this aesthetic, the movie soars on grotesque wings. When he commits the cardinal sin of demystifying the mysterious, it’s a major drag. A little ambiguity goes a long, long way in horror. —Andy Crump


equilibrium.jpg 46. Equilibrium
Year: 2002
Director: Kurt Wimmer
In Equilibrium, Taye Diggs plays a future fascist law enforcement officer named Brandt, and near the climax of the film, Brandt gets his face cut off. That’s his whole face, impeccably separated from his head, hair- to jawline. This follows a kind of lightning-quick, future samurai sword fight in which Christian Bale’s character, the heroically named John Preston, has singlehandedly massacred his way, gun in one hand and sword in the other, through one law enforcement officer after another, determined to wrench humanity from the binds of a totalitarian state that has outlawed—you guessed it—feelings. Much like Taye Diggs’ face, Equilibrium is quite pretty in its action, very symmetrical. But also like his face, the fact that I just gave away a meaty part of the climax should be easily disconnected from whether or not you should still watch Equilibrium. You should: it’s all as simultaneously bonkers and well-mannered as the moment in which Taye Diggs’ face slides off the front of his head like salami from a meat slicer. —Dom Sinacola


in-order-disappearance.jpg 45. In Order of Disappearance
Year: 2014
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Like Fargo—a film which shares in the stark whiteness of a snow-bleached landscape, eking out a particular corner of humanity’s own little tabula rasaIn Order of Disappearance is a certifiable “black” comedy. What sets it apart from the American tale (other than Moland’s allegiance to Tarantino as much as to the Coens) is that this grim, brisk thriller finds at its core a darkness as opaque as the gravity-slurping middle of a black hole. That black hole is obviously death—the center around which the film revolves, each murder one more push of centripetal force, the whole plot spiraling into a nihilistic conclusion. While Disappearance is overt about its themes—revenge, responsibility, fatherhood, masculinity—it rarely reserves breath for any form of judgment, instead just sort of watching as an upstanding Norwegian citizen (the always great Stellan Skarsgård) works his bloody way up the food chain to figure out who’s behind his son’s death. Sleazebags with stupid ponytails abound, and everyone pretty much gets what’s coming to him, whether one’s sins are still fresh or long ago buried beneath the snow. And then there’s a final shot (fueled by a demise that also echoes Fargo’s climax) which is so unbelievably goofy it may throw into question the entire film you just watched. In a good way…I guess. —Dom Sinacola


hush poster (Custom).jpg 44. Hush
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Mike Flanagan’s Oculus was a pleasantly ambitious surprise for horror fans when it landed a wide distribution release in 2013, so looking at his new Netflix-exclusive Hush, one sort of wonders if he’s taking a step back by directing a fairly classical home invasion thriller with limited cast and locations. There are, however, just enough twists on this especially trope-laden subgenre, starting with our heroine, who is deaf. That one disability, coupled with her remote residence in the woods, makes for a uniquely frightening handicap in repelling the masked intruder who comes calling. Unavoidably evoking The Strangers and Funny Games in particular, Hush nevertheless carves out its own spot in the niche. Our lead is an unusually intelligent, resourceful (but realistic) protagonist for this sort of setting, and her reactions to each new horror ring with truth. The stakes and tension rise in a palpable, organic way that has no need to resort to further gimmickry or a third act twist. It’s simply a battle for survival, featuring a character who is impressively well developed, considering that she never “speaks” a word. —Jim Vorel


mudbound.jpg 43. Mudbound
Year: 2017
Director: Dee Rees
Director Dee Rees uses the uneasy partnership between a white family and a black family in postwar Mississippi as a bruising metaphor for modern-day America. In Mudbound, Jason Clarke is the patriarch of a recently relocated Tennessee clan that must work together with the Jacksons (led by Mary J. Blige) to cultivate farmland, but the poisonous economic, racial and social atmosphere surrounding them constantly threatens the crops they’re trying to sow. This somber, despairing film sees the world plainly: War veterans aren’t given the care they need when they return, bigotry runs rampant, and good people are outnumbered by the small-minded. And the performances are stellar—especially Garrett Hedlund, as a bomber pilot who’s a shell of himself now that he’s home, and Jason Mitchell as a black soldier who finds that America still won’t accept him, even though he fought valiantly for his country. —Tim Grierson


thumper-movie-poster.jpg 42. Thumper
Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Ross
Breaking Bad had Badger. Thumper has Beaver. Hard drugs make lovable saps out of all its low-level dealers named after furry critters—this innocuousness isn’t a mistake. To put it broadly, as of late, crime entertainment has been slowly dismantling the romanticized idea of cooks, kingpins and high-level dealers, instead emphasizing the unrewarding workaday nature of its entry-level employees. These dealers, recruited out of high school or younger, become indentured servants to their drug, their social circle or both: It’s the only way out of their circumstances and it’s certainly the only way to keep getting a fix. Thumper, a film about such a community, withholds its primary plot device until it visually explains its environment, its town and its drugs. The hard-nosed drama begins by building the lives it touches before introducing the idea that we’re seeing such drama from inside of a performance. Beaver (Daniel Webber), a high schooler roped into the dealing scene, isn’t Thumper’s main character at all; rather, the main character is the girl Beaver invites to get drunk at an abandoned factory, a date which tells you more about the working class town than its unemployment percentage. She’s Kat Carter (Eliza Taylor)—well, not really. She’s actually an undercover Narc, 21 Jump Street-ing in the most dangerous circles to try to find out the origin of the community’s disproportionate amount of overdose deaths. Over the course of her investigation into Beaver’s ring, led by a war veteran cook played by Pablo Schreiber in one of the most effortlessly frightening performances ever to make me still feel sorry for the character, facades keep building up and breaking down. As the investigation draws closer and closer to capturing the cook, director/writer Jordan Ross knows exactly how to crank up the pressure, turning mundane conversations into nightmares of hate. Ross allows us the specificity and space to both understand his films’ stakes and then draw hypothetical conclusions. Because of that, Thumper is a heart-in-throat drama wherein you know what will happen, and it’s all the more dreadful for it. Inevitability grows like the shadow of the setting sun. Its climax covers us with darkness. —Jacob Oller


nymphomaniac-vol-1.jpg 41. Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Year: 2014
Director: Lars von Trier 
“Which way do you think you’ll get the most out of my story—believing me or not believing me?” asks the central character in writer-director Lars von Trier’s new film. She’s an emotionally broken, physically beaten sex addict recounting her life less ordinary to an ascetic bachelor with a passion for fly-fishing, but the words might as well be from the filmmaker himself. In Nymphomaniac: Volume I, he’s inviting viewers to come along on a lurid trip, to submit to a survey of longing (emotional as much as sexual) threaded with intellectual riffs big and small, and allusions to dozens of other works. The movie’s sex scenes are indeed the fulcrum on which the movie turns. But the film’s graphic sequences are only shocking, really, insofar as how well they abut and serve the more discrete stories the narrator tells. —Brent Simon


rover-movie-poster.jpg 40. The Rover
Year: 2014
Director: David Michôd
In director David Michôd’s speculative fiction drama, which strips all artifice from the post-apocalyptic genre to the point of neo-realism, we’re ten years past a global economic collapse. The world isn’t Mad Max quite yet, but it’s hurtling there at great speed. Guy Pierce is Eric, a quiet and broken man who’s hell-bent on retrieving his car from a gang of murderous thieves. He kidnaps one of the thieves’ (Scoot McNairy) brother, the mentally challenged Rey (Pattinson), as leverage. Both men cling desperately to their last connection to humanity in a world devoid of it. For Eric, it’s whatever he has left in his car. For Rey, it’s the belief that his brother loves him, and will eventually save him. As Rey gradually figures out how alone and unprotected he really is, volatile anger and confusion begins to bubble up to the surface. At first sight, it looks like Pattinson’s merely engaging in Billy Bob Thornton/Sling Blade cosplay, but there’s unique empathy and vulnerability in the performance, more than enough to make Pattinson’s casting as Batman more believable than one might think. —Oktay Ege Kozak


wind-river.jpg 39. Wind River
Year: 2017
Director: Taylor Sheridan
2017’s Wind River marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and it stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert—a veteran tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service. After discovering the dead body of a young Native American woman, he joins Elizabeth Olsen’s jane Banner, an FBI Agent, on a quest for answers and, for Lambert, personal redemption for something that happened in his past. What follows is nearly two hours of pure white-knuckle tension as the duo tries to solve the murder. It is a sparse, desolate thriller—a snow-covered neo-western—where violent acts bring about violent repercussions. In a land where hope hasn’t existed for a while, or maybe it was never there to begin with, heinous acts go unpunished. Lambert and Banner want to fix that, trying to bring justice and redemption to the condemned few on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The film flirts with the all too real problems of life on Native American reservations, the blind-eye America turned to their once-perpetrated genocide and the real fact that the rape of young Native American women is a crime that rarely sees the perpetrator convicted. Wind River’s thematic resonance and tonal texture is nearly post-apocalyptic in its spatial desperation and tangible sorrow. It is a quiet, methodically paced thriller where a metaphorical kettle is at a constant near boil until it reaches a fever-pitch punctuated by extreme violence, and one of the tensest and most nerve-wracking stand-offs in cinematic history. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s somber score interrupt the film’s haunting silence with equally haunting melody. Sheridan proves himself a capable director who frames most of the film in striking wide shots that capture the sheer nothingness of the landscape, and when lead starts flying, he keeps the camera steady—all of the action remains in frame, adding to the sense of desperation, sloppiness and overall pointlessness that each outburst of violence seems to harbor. As a whole, it may fall victim to an all-too-common “white savior complex,” but it’s a thriller that feels as necessary as it is riveting. —Cole Henry


layer-cake-movie-poster.jpg 38. Layer Cake
Year: 2004
Director: Matthew Vaughn
“Everyone likes to walk through a door marked ‘private.’” So narrates Daniel Craig’s unnamed criminal protagonist (designated “XXXX” by IMDb) at the start of the dense and propulsive Layer Cake, the confident debut that launched Matthew Vaughn’s career. Since then, the director has gone on to helm the screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, the ultraviolent superhero spoof Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and the two Kingsman movies. In other words, Vaughn is clearly drawn to the quixotic and the cartoonish, a tendency that Layer Cake doesn’t evince—not at first, anyway. The film’s lineage most obviously incorporates gritty gangland pictures like Goodfellas, whose interest in pulling back the curtain on criminal operations is shared by Layer Cake from its very first scene. There, a montage takes us through the supply chain of the mobsters for whom XXXX works as a middleman; his superiors include big brass Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham) and a couple lower-level associates, Morty (George Harris) and Gene (Colm Meaney). Craig, in a casual voiceover accompanied by music that wouldn’t feel out of place in a hotel lobby, gives us the rundown via the well-rehearsed, vaguely self-satisfied spiel of a man who knows the ropes and is aware of it. In mood, this introductory segment pulls as much from Soderbergh as it does Scorsese, revealing that, for XXXX and the movie he holds together, the modus operandi is calm, cool and collected. On paper, the film sounds like it’s about gangsters, but it’s really about a panicked babysitter trying to keep a mob of children in line. The catch: These are tough-as-nails man-babies who would pump you full of lead at the drop of a hat. In other words, the film’s a riotous comedy about one man’s life turning into a nightmare, with the greatest punchlines being Craig’s expressions of incredulity—everything from exasperated shouting to blank staring—when his management efforts backfire. In the end, Layer Cake is all about delivery—of drugs into the hands of eager buyers, but also, on the part of XXXX, of an attitude of cool that will both reassure his clients of his reliability and, reaching beyond the proverbial fourth wall, invite viewers into an elite, rarefied position from which they can look down on some shenanigans. Through his candid, confiding narration, XXXX waves us into the milieu of organized crime—while remaining above it all. No wonder Craig ended up being tapped for the new Bond. —Jonah Jeng


i-dont-feel.jpg 37. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
Writer-director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonally audacious genre outing unafraid to slip for a moment or two into the sweet relief of magical realism. Blair’s premise is simple—Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, cast to perfection), a quiet loner, comes home to find her house robbed, and when the police won’t help, she seeks vigilante justice with equally socially inept neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood)—but his ever-increasingly sprawling plot is fueled by a myopic moral perspective rendered in black and white. Ruth wonders aloud why everyone is an asshole (moreso, why assholes so easily get away with being assholes), and Blair seemingly wonders the same thing, punctuating his mundane neo-noir with gruesome violence and unexpected physical comedy (a projectile vomit scene, in particular, rivals the classic back-alley puke-fest from Team America). Blair’s worked extensively with his friend Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room), so the two share a startling sense of pace and a knack for making even the most sloppy action sequences feel precise, but Saulnier is so much bleaker, whereas Blair allows each of his film’s supposed assholes a chance to redeem, or at least explain, themselves. A crappy cop is going through a messy divorce; a delinquent son acts out against the specter of an absentee father; a guy whose dog craps on your lawn just wasn’t really paying attention—as Ruth struggles to confront the callousness of her cold world, she realizes that we’re all pretty much doing the same thing too: We’re struggling. —Dom Sinacola


creep-2-movie-poster.jpg 36. Creep 2
Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
Creep was not a movie begging for a sequel. About one of cinema’s more unique serial killers—a man who seemingly needs to form close personal bonds with his quarry before dispatching them as testaments to his “art”—the 2014 original was self-sufficient enough. But Creep 2 is that rare follow-up wherein the goal seems to be not “let’s do it again,” but “let’s go deeper”—and by deeper, we mean much deeper, as this film plumbs the psyche of the central psychopath (who now goes by) Aaron (Mark Duplass) in ways both wholly unexpected and shockingly sincere, as we witness (and somehow sympathize with) a killer who has lost his passion for murder, and thus his zest for life. In truth, the film almost forgoes the idea of being a “horror movie,” remaining one only because we know of the atrocities Aaron has committed in the past, meanwhile becoming much more of an interpersonal drama about two people exploring the boundaries of trust and vulnerability. Desiree Akhavan is stunning as Sara, the film’s only other principal lead, creating a character who is able to connect in a humanistic way with Aaron unlike anything a fan of the first film might think possible. Two performers bare it all, both literally and figuratively: Creep 2 is one of the most surprising, emotionally resonant horror films in recent memory. —Jim Vorel


killing-ground.jpg 35. Killing Ground
Year: 2016
Director: Damien Power
The term “slow burn” is most often applied to movies where nothing of note happens for about the first hour, and everything happens in the last ten to twenty minutes. But Damien Power holds our attention throughout Killing Ground. It’s build-up is essential to the pay-off. Really, this isn’t a slow burn at all: It’s a really well-made genre movie, the product of a smart, obviously skilled filmmaker with a good sense of economy. Power treats every beat in the narrative as an opportunity for disquieting his viewers, using a collection of techniques to progressively raise the hairs on our arms, but more importantly he maintains an enduring harmony across multiple plot threads and perspectives without losing either himself or us. The film begins with our designated protagonists, married couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), and slowly, precisely expands to include two other involved parties. They’re on a camping trip, heading for a waterfall on New Year’s to celebrate, take a load off and maybe even get engaged. As soon as they arrive at their destination, they notice that someone else has beaten them there, setting up their own campsite at the same spot Ian and Sam had in mind.Killing Ground’s grand artistic statement isn’t made until its final image, so just enjoy the film as an exemplary exercise in tension as you wait for Power to suck out your soul. Power hasn’t re-invented the Australian outback thriller, but he has put his personal stamp on it, and in so doing distinguished his works from similar fare, a’la Wolf Creek and Wake in Fright. Killing Ground doesn’t burn slowly. It just burns. —Andy Crump


creep poster (Custom).jpg 34. Creep
Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice
Trust is a valuable commodity online. Though the connective power of the Internet has made our world smaller, believing in what you can’t see is risky business. In Creep, Patrick Brice makes a mercurial study of these fears through the veneer of found footage. As genre niches go, the found footage conceit wore out its welcome in a deluge of Paranormal Activity imitators over the span of the past eight years. In Brice’s hands, the technique works: Unlike its low-fi kin, Creep is made with attention to detail and a dedicated consideration of motive. There’s a reason the camera stays on from scene to scene. If the web invites harm, Brice’s lens almost acts like a shield. Nothing bad can happen while we’re rolling, at least until it does. Even a casual horror fan knows the destination on Creep’s narrative itinerary, but Brice has a knack for making us second-guess ourselves at almost every juncture. The film stars Brice as Aaron and his comrade, mumblecore guru supreme Mark Duplass, as Josef. Aaron is down on his luck and looking for fast, easy cash. Josef is a vibrating ball of pent-up, charismatic energy. He’s also slowly dying, the victim of an aggressive, untreatable brain tumor. Hence Aaron, whom Josef has hired as his personal videographer. Josef wants to record a single day in his life for his unborn son, whom he may never get to meet. So the two men strike out on an adventure through hill and dale, which sounds fine and dandy except that Josef is weird. Really weird, in fact, and not the quirky, precious kind of weird that indie audiences find endlessly endearing. And Brice has a deft hand at fostering sustained terror. He’s equally as good at coaxing a chuckle out of us at the right moment to subvert our expectations. Creep is as intensely frightening as it is humorous, but Brice doesn’t use gags to let the air out of the room. Rather, he treats them as bait, and anticipation as a red herring, executing his many misdirections brilliantly. Even when the film ticks down to its final minutes, we can’t help but hope for a happy ending. —Andy Crump


a-most-violent-year.jpg 33. A Most Violent Year
Year: 2014
Director: J.C. Chandor
A Most Violent Year marks writer/director J.C. Chandor’s third feature film in four years. Aside from demonstrating Chandor’s remarkably prolific nature, the film also further establishes the New Jersey-bred filmmaker as one of the most versatile on the market. Indeed, A Most Violent Year may be his most conventional outing to date, but that’s only because his debut film (Margin Call) centered on the complex machinations of the recent financial crash while his follow-up (All is Lost) was basically a one-man show with little to no dialogue. This time around, Chandor turns his eye to the corrupt, violence-filled New York City of the early ’80s. The story centers on Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant-turned-aspiring-heating-oil-magnate whose attempts at expanding his business land him in hot water with the government, the banks and the local Mafia. As the central character, Isaac is nothing short of extraordinary, channeling the kind of subtle, yet evocative characters perfected by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in their ’70s heydays. Equally great is the supporting cast, which boasts Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo and an unrecognizable Albert Brooks. While the film’s deliberate pacing and understated nature may belie its suspense, those who lean into their patience will be rewarded with a beautifully crafted, if chilling portrayal of how the pursuit of the American Dream can slowly transform into a nefarious journey into the heart of darkness. —Mark Rozeman


brick.jpg 32. Brick
Year: 2005
Director: Rian Johnson
High-school sleuths may be popular genre protagonists on TV—Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name a few, presaged the rise of properties like Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars, for example. Social cliques and hormonal tensions coupled with deceptively blasé suburban backdrops tend to refresh gumshoe maneuvers, even as murderous intrigue adds zap to all the Clearasil melodrama. But Brick, director Rian Johnson’s crackling debut, shook up our neo-noir expectations all while indulging our familiarity with it and justifying his exercise’s existence as so much more than that. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, the smart, loner kid whose broken heart leads him to the local teenage underworld when his ex-girlfriend (Lost’s Emilie de Ravin) goes missing. The extremely mannered dialogue evokes the clipped lingo of Philip Marlowe, cross-wired with David Mamet: Southern California kids who look too affluent for their age drop slang like “duck soup” (easy pickings) and “bulls” (cops) as if they were studying James Ellroy in English class. Like those punches that lunge across the screen and send Brendan reeling toward his next clue, Brick is a left-field surprise, and an assured first time for a director who’d go on to top the world of genre filmmaking. —Steve Dollar


geralds game list poster (Custom).jpg 31. Gerald’s Game
Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Director Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game trims fat, condenses and slims, stripping away some of the odder quirks of Stephen King’s novel to get at the heart of themes underneath. The result is a tense, effective thriller that goes out of its way to highlight two strong actors in an unfettered celebration of their craft. This is nothing new for Flanagan, whose recent output in the horror genre has been commendable. It’s hard to overlook some of the recurring themes in his work, beginning with 2011’s Absentia and all the way through the wildly imaginative Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. Every one of these films centers around a strong-willed female lead, as does Gerald’s Game. Is this coincidence? Or is the director drawn to stories that reflect the struggle of women to claim independence in their lives by shedding old scars or ghosts, be they literal or figurative? Either way, it made Flanagan an obvious fit for Gerald’s Game, an unassuming, overachieving little thriller that is blessed by two performers capable of handling the lion’s share of the dramatic challenges it presents. —Jim Vorel


Beasts-of-No-Nation-Poster-1.jpg 30. Beasts of No Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs. —Alice Barsky


cam-movie-poster.jpg 29. Cam
Year: 2018
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
As so many films in 2018 have shown us, the identities we create online—that we digitally design, foster and mature, often to the detriment of whatever we have going on IRL—will inevitably surpass us. The horror of Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, based on the Isa Mazzei’s script (in turn, based on her real experiences as a sex worker), is in this loss: that no one is ever truly in control of these fabricated identities; that the more real they become, the less they belong to the person most affected. Welcome Alice (Madeline Brewer), an ambitious camgirl who compensates for the exhausting rigor of online popularity (and, therefore, economic viability) with gruesome stunts and a rigorous set of principles dictating what she will, and won’t, do in her capacity as female fantasy. She’s successful, tossing funds to her mom (Melora Walters) and brother (Devin Druid) without being totally honest about her job, but she could be more successful, trying whatever she can (within reason) to scale the ranking system enforced by the site she uses to broadcast her shows. With dexterous ease, Mazzei’s script both introduces the exigencies of camgirl life while never stooping to judge Alice’s choice of employment, contextualizing an inevitable revelation to her family not as one of embarrassment, but as an impenetrable morass of shame through which every sex worker must struggle to be taken seriously. So much so that when someone who looks exactly like Alice—who operates under her screen name but is willing to do the things Alice once refused—gains leaps and bounds in the camgirl charts, Goldhaber and Mazzei derive less tension from the explanation and discovery of what’s really going on rather than the harsh truth of just how vulnerable Alice is—and we all are—to the cold, indifferent violence of this online world we’ve built for ourselves. —Dom Sinacola


tucker and dale vs evil poster.jpg 28. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards. —Michael Burgin


everybody-knows.jpg 27. Everybody Knows
Year: 2018
Director: Asghar Farhadi
The mixture of plot twists and moral shading, the focus on flawed characters and irresolvable pasts: Fans of writer-director Asghar Farhadi have come to cherish these trademark elements in his films. Everybody Knows is the Iranian filmmaker’s first work in Spanish, starring Penelope Cruz as Laura, a wife and mother who returns to the village where she grew up after years of living in Argentina with her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin). The reason for the reunion is her sister’s wedding, which brings joy but also anxiety for Laura. While she’s happy to see her family after being gone for so long, there’s an overriding tension: Why has she been so absent? Also making things complicated is that this is the first time in a decade that she’s seen Paco (Javier Bardem), who owns a vineyard and was once Laura’s lover. Though that’s seemingly all in the past since he’s now happily married to Bea (Barbara Lennie). Of course, anyone who’s seen a Farhadi film—including A Separation, The Past and The Salesman—knows that old lovers and complicated families don’t go quietly. Those ingredients are the basic building blocks of Farhadi’s dramas, and once Everybody Knows gets rolling, we raise our antennae, preparing for the shockwaves to come. Amidst a superb cast, Bardem and Cruz are both strong playing characters who haven’t let go of the past—a familiar affliction in Farhadi’s films. Which is maybe why Lennie is Everybody Knows’ true knockout. Sexy and smart, Bea is a vital life force who’s captured Paco’s heart. But once Laura returns—and Irene goes missing—she starts to understand that there are whole lifetimes of her husband’s existence that she’s never fully appreciated. Her tragedy may be that, suddenly, it could be too late to do anything about it, and Lennie displays the flurry of anger, sadness and panic that accompany such a profound test of her marriage. As Farhadi skillfully moves his protagonists around the chessboard, only Lennie feels fully untethered, her wild card of a character refusing to be reined in by her husband—or even Farhadi’s narrative maneuvering. —Tim Grierson


under-shadow-movie-poster.jpg 26. Under the Shadow
Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris


train-to-busan.jpg 25. Train to Busan
Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that I sadly hadn’t yet seen when I wrote the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


high-rise.jpg 24. High-Rise
Year: 2016
Director: Ben Wheatley
High-Rise begins with the past tense of Wheatley’s traditional mayhem, settling on tranquil scenes of extensive carnage and brutal violence inflicted before the picture’s start. Dashing Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) wanders waste-strewn halls. He goes to have a drink with his neighbor, Nathan Steele (Reece Shearsmith), who has enshrined a dead man’s head within a television set. Seems about right. But the film’s displays of squalor and viscera are a ruse. Spoken in the tongue of Wheatley, High-Rise is a tamer tale than Kill List or Sightseers. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you go into Wheatley films anticipating unhinged barbarity, you may feel as though the film and its creator are trolling you here. High-Rise is based on English novelist’s J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, a soft sci-fi dystopian yarn fastened to a through line of social examination. In context with its decade, the book’s setting could be roughly described as “near future England,” and Wheatley, a director with a keen sense of time and place across all of his films, has kept the period of the text’s publication intact, fleshing it out with alternately lush and dreggy mise en scène. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that High-Rise is a lost relic of 1970s American cinema. —Andy Crump


16.jpg 23. The Hateful Eight
Year: 2015
Director: Quentin Tarantino
 The Hateful Eight is a sprawling film with an intimate core and too much necessary material to trim. There’s a pomp and grandiosity to the weight of the film, and to Quentin Tarantino’s ambition in making it his way, that’s hard not to admire. More so than most marquee movies and tentpoles claiming to be “epic,” The Hateful Eight actually lives up to the word. With this whodunit—or who’s-gonna-doit—Tarantino is chiefly interested in the exchanging of barbs and threats more than he is in action. Make no mistake, The Hateful Eight is insanely violent, but it’s fixated around violent talk and violent reverie before physical violence. Tarantino may lay his timely allegory on thick, but The Hateful Eight bears it out in subtle ways, too: With distrust as the film’s prevailing manner, the notion that you cannot truly know the people with whom you’re having dinner takes on increased gravity and meaning, particularly in the climactic showdown, when all is revealed and we see the film’s various humans for who they truly are. Frontier justice does quench our thirst, but the themes of social justice that drive the film are more satiating by far. It all adds up to a towering work, as profound as it is profane. —Andy Crump


cop-car-movie-poster.jpg 22. Cop Car
Year: 2015
Director: Jon Watts
A lean, rugged neo-noir that tweaks genre conventions by putting two young boys at the center of its attention, Cop Car opens with credits shimmering like police lights. Cut to snapshots of writer-director Jon Watts’ rural Colorado milieu, a place defined by barren storefronts, abandoned playgrounds, dilapidated trailer parks, and flat, dusty plains. Across the vast, barren land walk 10-year-olds Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford): Travis utters curse words that Harrison dutifully echoes in a kind of casual call-and-repeat bonding ritual, and from the first sight of the duo—orchestrated by Watts as one gorgeous, unbroken tracking shot which captures them dwarfed by the country’s big sky, even when they make their away through a barbed wire fence—it’s clear that the boys are on an odyssey of some sort, albeit one of initially undefined purpose. And it’s clear that Watts (co-scripting with Christopher Ford) wants Cop Car to serve as a downbeat commentary about the futility of escape. Coming upon a tree-shrouded area, the two are surprised to discover a county sheriff’s cruiser. They decide that the car has been abandoned. Up to no good, finding the driver’s side door unlocked and the keys inside, Travis and Harrison opt to take a joy ride. Apparently having both run away from home, the two speed around the cow-populated landscape like juvenile delinquents unconcerned about the potentially serious consequences of their actions. Such uninhibited, devil-may-care recklessness gives the material an immediate jolt of peril, even before Watts rewinds his tale to reveal the origins of the car and its owner. As it turns out, the car was left in this out-of-the-way locale by Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), its remote parking spot chosen so that the officer wouldn’t be seen hauling a body out of its trunk and onto a tarp, and then dragging it to a hole to be unceremoniously dumped. That corpse’s identity is left as vague as Kretzer’s reason for committing this apparent murder. Suffice it to say, when the sun does finally set on these characters, what’s left is a bleak portrait of the hopelessness of trying to change one’s circumstances, and the often-brutal punishment doled out by fate to those foolish enough to think they can alter who they are, where they come from, or where they’re going—even when those in question are just a couple of ne’er-do-well runaways looking for some mischievous kicks. —Nick Schager


the sixth sense poster (Custom).png 21. The Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Featuring revitalizing and star-making performances by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, respectively, along with a legitimately chilling atmosphere, The Sixth Sense was nothing short of a phenomenon when it hit multiplexes in 1999. Critical examination aside, it truly is a frightening film, from the scene in which Cole (Willis) is locked in a box with an abusive ghost to such little moments as when all the kitchen cabinets and drawers open at once while off-screen. For better or worse, though, this is the defining film of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, and its success was a double-edged sword: It bestowed the “brilliant young director” label on him, but also pigeonholed his personal style to the extent that his next five features at least were all reshaped by the aftershocks of The Sixth Sense. Rarely has the danger of success been so clearly illustrated for an artist—Shyamalan crafted a scary film that still holds up today, and then spent most of the next decade chasing that same accomplishment with rapidly diminishing returns that have only recently been rehabilitated with the likes of The Visit and Split. —Jim Vorel


the-american-movie-poster.jpg 20. The American
Year: 2010
Director: Anton Corbijn
The American casts George Clooney’s stolid hermit as a symbol of Anton Corbijn’s America. Or, at least, of a successful America: ultra-stylized, disciplined, über-masculine, totally humorless. This is super-serious Clooney, Michael Clayton without the swagger. He’s tattooed as if his skin is his dress uniform, he works out the same way daily, visits the same prostitute, has sex at the same inexorable pace, never smiles—in these patterns he conditions every fiber of his being to act excluded from everything around him. He’s like Alain Delon in Le Samourai or Ghost Dog in Ghost Dog, a shadow of a shadow of some deeply inscribed archetype that may or may not be American, but definitely represents that to which America aspires. And he’s a hitman. Or he’s just really good with guns, and by default good at killing people. We’re never really told which is which. Which is how murder works in The American: with the utilitarian grace of someone who lists it on his resume, right alongside “building guns,” which we learn is what Clooney’s character is doing as his final “job,” and which he treats as sacredly as a samurai treats respect, ritual and tradition. The gun is definitely this man’s tool of choice, and wrapped up in the movie’s long scenes of a scowling George Clooney meticulously crafting a weapon, brow leaden with concentration, is the all-American phallus, penetrating the frontier, toughness and vigilance and solitude one’s only means of survival. He spends a lot of time seemingly doing nothing, and we surmise he’s waiting for something to happen. No wonder Corbijn cites Sergio Leone as a major influence, even directly referencing him inside the film; Corbijn’s movie is as starkly stylized, hushed and palled with dread as any of Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. Clooney’s American is entirely boring and ordinary outside of his inhuman precision. He’s macho impulse and mechanized calculation, and that’s pretty much it. Similarly boring assassins try to kill him. (What kind of elite assassin drives a Ford Focus hatchback?) Maybe he feels that life can be lived no other way for a man like him; in a godless universe he finds form within chaos and survives. But it’s a shallow and stupid way of living, especially for such a supposedly, deeply intelligent character. And as a movie ready to fit itself into a discussion of America’s epic machismo on an international scale, The American is a deeply singular meditation on the total uselessness of the kind of ego it takes to be a really lonely human being. —Dom Sinacola


the-endless-movie-poster.jpg 19. The Endless
Year: 2017
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Brotherhood’s a trip. Just ask Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the horror filmmaking duo responsible for 2012’s Resolution, the “Bonestorm” segment in 2014’s VHS: Viral, and, in the same year, the tender creature romance Spring. Their latest, The Endless, is all about brotherhood couched in unfathomable terror of Lovecraftian proportions. The movie hinges on the petulant squabbles of boys, circular arguments that go nowhere because they’re caught in a perpetual loop of denial and projection. If the exchanges between its leads can be summed up in two words, those words are “no, you.” Boys will be boys, meaning boys will be obstinate and stubborn to the bitter end. Though, in The Endless, the end is uncertain, but maybe the title makes that a smidge obvious. Brothers Aaron and Justin Smith (played, respectively, by Moorhead and Benson, who gel so well as brothers that you’d swear they’re secretly related) were once members of a UFO death cult before escaping and readjusting to life’s vicissitudes: They clean houses for a living, subsist primarily on ramen, and rely so much on their car that Aaron’s repeated failure to replace the battery weighs on both of them like the heavens on Atlas’ shoulders. Then, out of the blue, they receive a tape in the mail from their former cultists, and at Aaron’s behest they revisit Camp Arcadia, the commune they once called home. Not all is well here: Bizarre bonelike poles litter Arcadia’s outskirts, flocks of birds teleport from one spot to another in the time it takes to blink, Aaron and Justin keep having weird déjà vu moments, and worse: There’s something in the lake, a massive, inky, inexplicable presence just below the surface. (Its image is only seen on camera once, but once is enough to make an impression.) Woven through the film’s eldritch dread are Moorhead and Benson. Their characters are locked in a cosmic struggle with a nameless adversary, but the narrative’s gaze is focused inward: On the Smiths, on brothers, on how far a relationship must stretch before it can be repaired. Intimacy is a staple element of Moorhead and Benson’s filmograpy. Here, the intimacy is fraternal, which perhaps speaks to how Moorhead and Benson feel about each other. They may not be brothers themselves, but you can’t spend your career making movies with the same person over and over again without developing an abiding, unspoken bond with them. —Andy Crump


conjuring.jpg 18. The Conjuring
Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


enemy-movie-poster.jpg 17. Enemy
Year: 2015
Director: Denis Villeneuve
The chance to portray twins or at-odds characters in a single film is catnip for actors of a certain level of ambition, though not without potential pitfalls. The impulse to chew scenery or present grand differentiation is often difficult to resist. Enemy, though, which reteams Jake Gyllenhaal with Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve (though it was actually shot before that film), finds the actor trading in similarly subdued and thoughtful tones as he did in that kidnapping drama. Adapted from the late Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s 2004 novel, The Double, the film offers up more than just a meaty pair of roles for Gyllenhaal. A woozy, danger-infused rumination on identity that triggers tripwires of personal panic and awakened sexual compulsion, Enemy is like a cold glass of water to the face of cinematic formalism. Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal) is a glum and distracted history professor at a small-time Canadian college whose relationship with his girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), seems to be winding down, locked as he is in the throes of dark proclivities he can’t express. Watching a movie recommended by a coworker, he spots a bit-part actor named Anthony Clair (Gyllenhaal again) who looks exactly like him. At once confused and oddly bewitched, Adam goes to great lengths to track down Anthony, who lives in another city with his pregnant wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon), and seems to have quit acting. Then he contacts him. A complex psychosexual game ensues that has consequences for all. Through it all, Villeneuve exudes a masterful sense of control and purpose. The sound design, by Oriol Tarragó, luxuriates in quiet expanses, giving plenty of eerie space to original music from composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, which incorporates throbbing drops of bass mixed with icy piano notes. Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, meanwhile, embraces a desaturated visual palette that at times feels splashed with brown mustard, which in turn complements austere production design by Patrice Vermette. Of course, none of this would much matter if Enemy was hung on the peg of an actor with less command of his craft than Gyllenhaal. As fantastical as Enemy is at certain moments, Gyllenhaal, along with Villeneuve, brings the stark horror of this psychological grappling match to life. And it’s utterly absorbing. —Brent Simon


invitation-movie-poster.jpg 16. The Invitation
Year: 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
The less you know about Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, the better. This is true of slow-burn cinema of any stripe, but Kusama slow-burns to perfection. The key, it seems, to successful slow-burning in narrative fiction is the narrative rather than the actual slow-burn. In the case of The Invitation, that involves a tale of deep and intimate heartache, the kind that none of us hopes to ever have to endure in our own lives. The film taps into a nightmare vein of real-life dread, of loss so profound and pervasive that it fundamentally changes who you are as a human being. That’s where we begin: with an examination of grief. It’s remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. The film starts in earnest as Will (Logan Marshall-Green in top form) arrives at a dinner party his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), is throwing at what once was their house. He has brought his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), along with him. But something is undeniably off at Eden’s place, and because Will is the lens through which Kusama’s audience engages with the film, we cannot tell what that something is. There is oh so much more to be said about The Invitation, especially its climax, where all is revealed and we see Will’s fears and Eden’s spiritual affirmations for what they are. Until then you’ll remain on tenterhooks, but to Kusama, jitters and thrills are sensations worth savoring. Where we end is obviously best left unsaid, but The Invitation is remarkable neither for its ending nor for the direction we take to arrive at its ending. Instead, it is remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. —Andy Crump


night-moves-movie-poster.jpg 15. Night Moves
Year: 2013
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Director Kelly Reichardt makes intimate character studies that are less interested in plot than they are in observing individuals in a specific time and place, whether it’s middle-aged men trying to reconnect on a camping trip in Old Joy or a group of settlers heading West during the 19th century in Meek’s Cutoff. Perhaps that’s why Night Moves feels so startling. Though Reichardt’s usual close attention to character and atmosphere is intact, her fifth feature is surprisingly suspenseful. By her understated, incisive standards, it’s practically an action movie. The Oregon-set Night Moves introduces us to three people: Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), a soft-spoken, highly intelligent young man; Dena (Dakota Fanning), an impressionable but impassioned friend of his; and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), a former Marine who’s older than his companions. At first, we’re not sure what has brought them together to buy a small speedboat and a large supply of fertilizer, but soon it becomes clear that they’re not focused on recreation or farming. Led by Josh, these extreme environmentalists are going to blow up a nearby dam in the middle of the night, hoping to send a message to the community about respecting the earth and curbing the spread of rapid industrialization. Collaborating with her frequent screenwriting partner Jon Raymond, Reichardt gives us a meticulous overview of precisely how Josh and his cohorts will go about their act of terrorism. We watch as each step in their process is carried out with care—after all, they don’t want to arouse suspicion from local authorities—but Night Moves isn’t so much a pseudo-heist movie as it is a study in human behavior, drawing much of its suspense from its ability to ground the proceedings in a realistic, everyday world. Much like Meek’s Cutoff or Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves is compelling not because of its story’s startling originality but because of its bone-dry simplicity, goosed along by Jeff Grace’s softly anxious score. Practically a procedural in its dispassionate handling of the material, Night Moves would rather observe than editorialize, although as usual Reichardt is interested in how people are both attracted to and at odds with the untamed mystery of the natural world. Her increasingly intense and troubling moral thriller is a portrait of thwarted idealism that’s suffused with guilt and regret. The characters may be able to get away with their plot, but they can’t outrun themselves. —Tim Grierson


nocturama-poster.jpg 14. Nocturama
Year: 2016
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Nocturama trusts its audience—more, even, than its audience may want to be trusted. Throughout, director Betrand Bonello folds timelines, indulges in flashbacks and replays moments from different perspectives, rarely with any warning but hardly without precision or consistency, investigating the comparatively small world of his film from every angle while implying that a much bigger, much more complicated world exists outside of its admittedly limited view. Bonello’s tact offers no explanations; his story follows a gaggle of beautiful Parisian teens, seemingly representing a broad swath of life, participating in a terrorist act, from planning through meticulous execution, and then, in the aftermath of the explosions, to the high-end department store where the teens hide out to watch the City respond. Bonello never allows these kids a monologue or conversation or anecdote to explain why they’ve gone to such extremes—their political understanding is about as sophisticated as that of a college student who’s only recently discovered Noam Chomsky, and even these beliefs they mumble to one another without much dedication. Instead, Nocturama is all surface, all watching: the faces of these innocents as they silently go about their terror, the tension that arises from knowing there is so much obscured behind those faces but also seeing so much so clearly in those faces, and then knowing that we will never know. Because these teens seem fine, even existentially so. They seem middle class, comfortable, unburdened by the wiles of puberty, free to do what they want, be with whom they want, say what they want—and only in the department store, amongst designer clothes and expensive, pointless home goods, do they yearn for more, potentially blowing up Paris not to protest anything, but to beg to be a part of the elite who define it. This is terrorism not against capitalism, but for it. Bonello trusts his audience to know the difference. —Dom Sinacola


a-dark-song-movie-poster.jpg 13. A Dark Song
Year: 2016
Director: Liam Gavin
In Liam Gavin’s black magic genre oddity, Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grief-stricken mother, and the schlubby, no-nonsense occultist (Steve Oram) she hires devote themselves to a long, meticulous, painstaking ritual in order to (they hope) communicate with her dead son. Gavin lays out the ritual specifically and physically—over the course of months of isolation, Sophia undergoes tests of endurance and humiliation, never quite sure if she’s participating in an elaborate hoax or if she can take her spiritual guide seriously when he promises her he’s succeeded in the past. Paced to near perfection, A Dark Song is ostensibly a horror film but operates as a dread-laden procedural, mounting tension while translating the process of bereavement as patient, excruciating manual labor. In the end, something definitely happens, but its implications are so steeped in the blurry lines between Christianity and the occult that I still wonder what kind of alternate realms of existence Gavin is getting at. But A Dark Song thrives in that uncertainty, feeding off of monotony. Sophia may hear phantasmagorical noise coming from beneath the floorboards, but then substantial spans of time pass without anything else happening, and we begin to question, as she does, whether it was something she did wrong (maybe, when tasked with not moving from inside a small chalk circle for days at a time, she screwed up that portion of the ritual by allowing her urine to dribble outside of the boundary) or whether her grief has blinded her to an expensive con. Regardless, that “not knowing” is the scary stuff of everyday life, and by portraying Sophia’s profound emotional journey as a humdrum trial of physical mettle, Gavin reveals just how much pointless, even terrifying work it can be anymore to not only live the most ordinary of days, but to make it to the next. —Dom Sinacola


green-room.jpg 12. Green Room
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years. —Kenji Fujishima


okja-movie-poster.jpg 11. Okja
Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chet Betz


35-Netflix-Docs_2015-brothers-keeper.jpg 10. Brother’s Keeper
Year: 1992
Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
There’s an alleged crime at the center of Brother’s Keeper: whether or not Delbert Ward, a 59-year-old farmer from Munnsville, New York, is guilty of murdering his older brother William. But that’s not really what Brother’s Keeper is about. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky instead focus on the wide fissure between urban and rural American cultures in the late-1980s and early-1990s, examining the way the three remaining Ward brothers, essentially outcasts in their community prior to William’s death, are increasingly embraced by Munnsville as the media descends upon the town to report on Delbert’s trial. The mystery here is not about whether or not William was murdered; the mystery is what lies at the heart of community bonds and national identity, and how allegiances change as communities grow larger. —Mark Abraham


personal-shopper-poster.jpg 9. Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas
The pieces don’t all fit in Personal Shopper, but that’s much of the fun of writer-director Olivier Assayas’s enigmatic tale of Maureen (Kristen Stewart, a wonderfully unfathomable presence), who may be in contact with her dead twin brother. Or maybe she’s being stalked by an unseen assailant. Or maybe it’s both. To attempt to explain the direction Personal Shopper takes is merely to regurgitate plot points that don’t sound like they belong in the same film. But Assayas is working on a deeper, more metaphorical level, abandoning strict narrative cause-and-effect logic to give us fragments of Maureen’s life refracted through conflicting experiences. Nothing happens in this film as a direct result of what came before, which explains why a sudden appearance of suggestive, potentially dangerous text messages could be interpreted as a literal threat, or as some strange cosmic manifestation of other, subtler anxieties. Personal Shopper encourages a sense of play, moving from moody ghost story to tense thriller to (out of the blue) erotic character study. But that genre-hopping (not to mention the movie’s willfully inscrutable design) is Assayas’s way of bringing a lighthearted approach to serious questions about grieving and disillusionment. The juxtaposition isn’t jarring or glib—if anything, Personal Shopper is all the more entrancing because it won’t sit still, never letting us be comfortable in its shifting narrative. —Tim Grierson


zodiac.jpg 8. Zodiac
Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher 
I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


the-stranger-movie-poster.jpg 7. The Stranger
Year: 1946
Director: Orson Welles 
Orson Welles’ third film follows a UN War Crimes Commission agent, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who’s hunting down fugitive Nazi Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). Kindler has moved to a small New England town and married the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, teaches at a prep school, essentially erasing every possible trace of his former identity, save one: a longtime obsession with clocks. As Wilson finds more and more proof of Kindler’s identity, Kindler goes to greater and greater lengths to conceal it. Though John Huston was originally supposed to direct The Stranger, Welles got the job because of an ill-timed military tour that took Huston (literally and figuratively) out of the picture. Because he hadn’t directed a film in four years, Welles was so eager for the work he took a contract stipulating that if he went over budget he’d be paying the studio out of pocket. In turn, it’s possible that Welles’ inventiveness was partially forged by the constraints under which he found himself working on all of his early films. Dogged by cut-happy producers (it’s not even clear how much footage was removed but Welles was relieved of the first 16 pages of his script before principal photography even started) and contrarian casting/location choices—Welles wanted Agnes Moorehead to play the investigator, but the studio cast Robinson; likewise he got a budget-driven “no” on filming the prep school scenes at The Todd School in Illinois, his own alma mater—Welles’ desire to personalize this film despite so many interventions were probably fundamental to the development of The Stranger’s nightmare-like tone. Perhaps most striking is Welles’ use of actual footage from concentration camps, which are still shocking today but exceedingly potent in the 1940s when large numbers of Americans still did not understand that the camps really existed. In typical Welles-versus-studio fashion, the producers backed out at the last minute on the promise of a four-picture deal to follow this film. They had become convinced it would run at a loss and Welles was incapable of directing a mainstream hit movie. As it turned out, it was Welles’ only significant box office success, and remains a canonized film noir. —Amy Glynn


33.JackieBrown.NetflixList.jpg 6. Jackie Brown
Year: 1997
Director: Quentin Tarantino
“AK-47! The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes,” boasts cocky gangster Ordell Robbie in what is easily Tarantino’s most underrated film. It was clear from Pulp Fiction that Tarantino had found his muse in Jackson, but it was their second collaboration that really solidified their bond. There were so many ways this character—the chief antagonist to Pam Grier’s slick and smart, titular flight attendant shaking up the world of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster)—could have gone horribly wrong. On paper and upon first look, he comes across as a spoof of a blacksploitation cliché. Yet while Jackson effortlessly delivers those cocksure Tarantino lines with expected gusto, he gradually adds layers to Ordell Robbie, revealing the inherent insecurity and fear hiding under his insatiable ego. By the time he’s cornered in the third act, Robbie is a psychopath who earns your pity. —Oktay Ege Kozak


strangers-on-a-train-movie-poster.jpg 5. Strangers on a Train
Year: 1951
Director: Alfred Hitchcock 
Everyone has their favorite Hitchcock movie, and Hitchcock’s body of work has so much breadth and variation that no two cinephiles are likely to have the same favorite. Some people gravitate toward either The Birds or Psycho for their unmistakable iconography. Others might be inclined toward North by Northwest or The 39 Steps, or maybe Saboteur or Foreign Correspondent, Vertigo or Rebecca, as chief exemplars of the American thriller in its many forms. Me, I’ll take Strangers on a Train, one of Hitchcock’s minor efforts, any day of the week. By 1951, he’d been working in the movie biz for roughly thirty years and had to use two hands to count the number of hits he’d put out in between the new decade and the ’30s, and his nonchalant mastery over his medium shows in the film’s every frame. There’s nothing fantastical or outlandish about Strangers’ premise; it isn’t a movie driven by the imaginary but rather the imaginable, an immaculately crafted exercise in creeping dread where the antagonist is good old fashioned human immorality. That it handily evokes the political turmoil of its time without having mention the America’s Red Scare by name is remarkable, and the key to the film’s timelessness. It’s the perfect response to any oppressive political climate in any era. —Andy Crump


under-the-skin-poster.jpg 4. Under the Skin
Year: 2013
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Under the Skin is unified in purpose and in drive. It is a biting examination of sexual politics and a dissertation on the bodies we inhabit—how those bodies create a paradigm of ownership. Scarlett Johansson plays the alien avatar, the predator, the cipher whose weakness is her awakening humanity. When she looks in a mirror, lost in a gaze at her own body, it’s a reminder to us to find some remove from our weary familiarity with ourselves, to think, “Golly, what strange things we are.” The film’s tragic conclusion is an assertion that we achieve some positive ideal of what it is to be human when we accept a state of vulnerability, when we forsake the power position in our sexual communication. When we allow for the reality of our frailty, we can care for the frailty in all around us—and this is a very dangerous thing to do. Especially in a world riddled with corruption and malice that seeks to press its advantage. Under the Skin shows us these truths with images that are impossibly beautiful, terrifying and ultimately haunting. There is no exposition, only voids which suspended shells of victims float in, laser sharp lights piercing darkness, menacingly stoic bikers, snowflakes falling into lenses. There is a scene on a beach that plays out like a Bergman or Haneke set-piece and is just as heartbreaking as that would entail. Under the Skin is a soul-crushing work and yet, somehow, the film reiterates that we must continue working towards finding our souls. An artful cascade of multiple exposures of random people, about midway through the film, would seem to symbolize the birth of empathy in Johansson’s femme fatale, and while this is the beginning of the end for her, it can’t help but resonate in Under the Skin with all the radiance of beatitude. These are scenes, statements, questions that are only possible within the framework that the film’s science fiction aspect provides, for these are not the thought processes bound by what is real, but what could be. —Chad Betz


burning-movie-poster.jpg 3. Burning
Year: 2018
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Eight years after critical hit Poetry, Korean director Lee Chang-dong translates a very brief and quarter-century old story by Japanese master novelist Haruki Murakami into something distinctly Korean, distinctly contemporary (spoiler warning: there’s a news clip of Trump) and distinctly Lee Chang-dong. But also: into something that utterly captures the essence of Murakami. Lee Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is an aspiring young writer who quits his menial job to tend to his incarcerated father’s farm (a storyline the film takes from William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning,” after which Murakami—as referential as ever—named his own story). Jong-su encounters a childhood acquaintance, Shin Hae-mi (Jong-seo Joon), who apparently he interacted with just once as a kid by calling her “ugly.” Anyways, Hae-mi’s all grown up and claims to have had plastic surgery; she and Jong-su strike up a relationship. It’s unusual and unnerving: Hae-mi is erratic and inscrutable, possibly a compulsive liar, while Jong-su can barely do more than gape and breathe. Nonetheless, Lee couches this set-up in exquisite details and rich observation. Spontaneously (as is her wont), Hae-mi asks Jong-su to watch her perhaps imaginary cat while she takes a trip to Africa to learn about physical (“small”) hunger and existential (”great”) hunger. That’s not critical embellishment, that’s an actual plot-point. When Hae-mi returns to Korea, she—to Jong-su’s suppressed chagrin—has a rich new boyfriend in tow. His name is Ben, and he’s played as a bored but semi-cheerful sociopath by Steven Yeun (who has never been better).

The way the film’s story flows into uncharted terrain is part of its spell. Something of a love triangle develops, some disturbing idiosyncrasies are revealed (not just about Ben) and some bad stuff happens. Murakami writes about that which he cannot grasp; he embraces the ineffable, inhaling and exhaling a cloud of unknowing. So, too, does Burning, while also managing to give us Lee Chang-dong’s signatures: visual lucidity and artful morality. It’s the rare symbiotic triumph between singular source material and singular cinematic vision. And while the film is a slow-burn, it expands the meaning of the term: You might never quench the flames it sparks within you, flames that send fumes up and away to a thundering, obscuring cloud. —Chad Betz


No Country_Cover.jpg 2. No Country For Old Men
Year: 2007
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
What is it about the Coen Brothers’ inconsolable No Country for Old Men that still chills the blood, even under the South Texas sun? No doubt its inscrutability plays a role: Is it a Western, a noir or a morality play? And the Academy Award-winning performance by Javier Bardem disturbs because he himself remains a mystery: Is Anton Chigurh a merciless hitman or the Angel of Death? The story of a drug deal gone wrong soon reveals its true theme—the futility of being good and just in the face of abject evil—but the Coens also meditate on the faltering of the physical body. “Age’ll flatten a man,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell esteems, and for this Texan, the evocation of my childhood landscape—right down to the tiniest detail—means that the specter of Chigurh will haunt not only the end of my life but stomp through its earliest remembrances as well. —Andy Beta


the-third-man.jpg 1. The Third Man
Year: 1949
Director: Carol Reed
Vienna has rarely looked more richly cinematic than it does in Carol Reed’s noir touchstone, with Robert Krasker’s expressionistic camerawork capturing the feel of a city—of the mind of a man perceiving it—distorted. Joseph Cotten’s Western writer Holly Martins arrives in that chiaroscuro city after hearing about a job from his friend, Harry. Holly is promptly shocked to discover that Harry was killed in a car accident but, suspicious of the shady details, begins to investigate his friend’s death. This all of course builds to both a bravura performance from Orson Welles on a Ferris wheel and an iconic, thrilling final-act foot chase through glistening stone sewer corridors. —Mark Rozeman

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