The 100 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now

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The 100 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now

Hulu has been quietly expanding and updating its film catalog ever since its deal ended with Criterion all those long years ago, before Filmstruck and before the Criterion Channel and before the vast, choked-out landscape of streaming content became yet another sign of the end times. Now the best movies on Hulu feature an unexpected variety of classics, indie gems and recent blockbusters—everything from a few picks on our Best Anime Movies of All Time list, to a healthy portion of our favorite movies from 2018, to very recent titles from our Best Movies of 2019 (so far) list, including The Beach Bum, which just hit the service.

Although Hulu is known for its variety of TV, don’t be fooled into thinking it can’t stand metaphorical toe to metaphorical toe with services like Netflix or Amazon Prime—especially since Hulu and Amazon seem to lap up anything Netflix has recently discarded.

Here are the 100 best movies on Hulu right now:

power-rangers-2017-movie-poster.jpg 100. Power Rangers
Year: 2017
Director: Dean Israelite
The Power Rangers franchise was never in need of a gritty reboot (Joseph Kahn saw to that with a short film and James Van Der Beek in 2015), and director Dean Israelite obviously never had one in mind. Instead, his big budget Power Rangers re-focuses the early ’90s Mighty Morphin TV series on the five misfit teenagers coming to grips with the ways in which their new, vaguely defined superpowers can maybe make their troubled young adult lives better—or just exacerbate the problems they already have. The Red Ranger, Jason (Dacre Montgomery), is hell-bent on wrecking his guaranteed athletic route out of small-town Angel Grove, while the Blue Ranger, Billy (RJ Cyler), confesses he’s on the spectrum, and so has trouble making friends, what with his inability to identify most social cues. Yellow Ranger, Trini (Becky G), is the new girl at school, her outsider status compounded by her questions over her sexuality; Pink Ranger, Kimberly (Naomi Scott), is a popular cheerleader, but suffering some major social blowback; and Zack (Ludi Lin), the Black Ranger, suppresses the fear of his ailing mother’s impending death by living on the fringe. Brought together by the discovery of a secret alien lair, lorded over by giant floating head Zordon (Bryan Cranston, able to make anything work), and the powers they’re gifted because of that happenstance, the newly appointed Power Rangers go on to learn how to harness their abilities and, above all, work as a team to defeat cosmic menace Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, delightfully chewing walls). Amidst the explosions and kaiju battles, Israelite never looks away from the lives of his multicultural pubescent posse, so that by the time their town really does seem like it’s in peril—soundtracked by Brian Tyler’s pretty-awesome Tron: Legacy-like score—we’re fully invested in the fates of these kids, whether their outcast status seems chosen by committee or not. —Dom Sinacola


year-spectacular-men-movie-poster.jpg 99. The Year of Spectacular Men
Year: 2017
Director: Lea Thompson
“Bubbly, clear-eyed sex comedy” is the last pitch a studio would expect from a writer shopping around a movie about depression, but The Year of Spectacular Men has a nifty hook: It’s a family affair, authored by and starring Madelyn Deutch, co-starring her younger sister Zoey and directed by their mom, Lea Thompson, focusing her daughters’ raucous sibling banter through paralytic sadness. Family is all about taking the bad with the good, the giddy, wisecracking banter and sororal love with the behavioral health troubles and personal tragedy. Paying for the lows alongside the highs feels like a bargain. Madelyn plays Izzy, older sister to Sabrina (Zoey), the adult children of Deb (Thompson). Their story isn’t totally unhappy. Sabrina is hitting her career stride and passionately committed to her boyfriend, Sebastian (Avan Jogia), while Deb has found love with a much younger woman, Amythyst (Melissa Bolona), years after the death of the girls’ father. Madelyn, in contrast to Sabrina and Deb, flounders, scraping through college by the skin of her teeth and exiting her relationship with her boyfriend Aaron (Jesse Bradford) by falling flat on her ass. The Year of Spectacular Men is a film about imperfection and the beauty of failure. It’d be a stretch to say the Deutch sisters and Thompson embrace or advocate for failure, but more that they, and the movie they’ve made, understand that nobody knows who they are, where they’re going, or what they want out of life when they’re in their 20s, newly sprung from an upbringing predominantly spent in school. Narratives about the world’s Izzys tend to look at them unflatteringly, writing them off as brats or know-nothings, or generally treating them like disposable punchlines. The Year of Spectacular Men wants us to laugh at her, no doubt about that, but as the film builds we realize we’re laughing with her. —Andy Crump


the-hero-210.jpg 98. The Hero
Year: 2017
Director: Brett Haley
One of the pleasures of Brett Haley’s previous film I’ll See You in My Dreams was its elevation of Sam Elliott to romantic leading-man status. The relish with which Elliott (a veteran who has mostly been typecast as cowboys and authority figures throughout his career) tackled this rare dreamboat role was sparklingly palpable throughout, and his performance exuded seemingly effortless charisma and gravitas in equal measure. It was enough to make us all wonder why it had taken so long for anyone, in Hollywood or outside of it, to see his potential in movie romances. In his follow-up, The Hero, Haley gives Elliott a showcase all his own, and he comes through with a performance that is similarly dazzling in its easy authority and emotional breadth. This shouldn’t be a surprise, really, especially because of the way Haley has drawn on the actor’s own life in conceiving of Lee Hayden, the character Elliott plays here. First introduced in a soundstage repeating the same voiceover line for a beef commercial, one immediately senses that Lee is, to some degree at least, meant to be reflective of Elliott himself, especially once we get to know the character more. Lee is an actor who is still being celebrated for the iconic Western roles in his past—in particular, his performance in the motion picture that gives Haley’s film its name—even as he enters his twilight years and finds parts harder to come by. The Hero is Haley’s second film in a row to focus on the physical and emotional struggles of elderly protagonists, and it confirms that he has a knack for doing so with empathy, sensitivity and affection. If anything, he could be accused of having a bit too much affection. Most questionable is the May-December romance he introduces, as Lee develops a romantic affection for the much younger Charlotte (Laura Prepon), the friend of his neighbor/former co-star/weed dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman). Though Haley treats this potentially dicey plot development sensitively (with Lee himself commenting at one point about how “weird” the relationship is), his best efforts don’t quite banish the sense that the film is essentially a male fantasy, with a self-pitying mess of a central figure at its heart. Still, if The Hero works at all, it’s because Elliott brings a measure of emotional truth to even the most sentimental of plot developments, and because Haley exudes such warm patience for his lead actor’s rhythms and cadences. Perhaps the real hero here is Haley himself, who deserves plaudits for giving veteran actors like Elliott opportunities to address their age and mortality with grace and beauty. —Kenji Fujishima


vox-lux-movie-poster.jpg 97. Vox Lux
Year: 2018
Director: Brady Corbet
A film about Lady Gaga that’s better than the film that stars the shape-shifting pop icon? In the same year? Maddening, but true. Once a darling of Euro auteurs, Brady Corbet turned his focus to filmmaking with a 2014 debut called The Childhood of a Leader, and returned with Vox Lux, auspiciously subtitled “A Twenty First Century Portrait,” a bifurcated Faustian portrait of a singer whose relationship with cultural tragedy is an intimate part of her identity and career. After surviving a school shooting in 1999, Celeste (played in the first act by Raffey Cassidy) rises from the ashes to pen an anthem that catapults her to fame. Her background is illustrated as such: “Celeste was born in America in 1986.” And in 2017, Celeste’s (now played by Natalie Portman) star threatens to dim, but her cultural reach is enough to inspire terrorists in Croatia to use masks reminiscent of the ones featured in her first music video. She has survived personal and public shame, and she is ready to reemerge with her new studio album. Maybe to heal herself, or provide solace for the ones around her, or her legions of fans. She’s ready to be watched. “They wanted a show, I gave ‘em a show.” Corbet provocatively connects the fall of western culture and the music machine to one pop star who rises to fame after a cultural and national tragedy, but the most audacious thing in Vox Lux is its ambivalence—that Celeste can be a product of tragedy and trauma, that the culture that created her is sick and has grown sicker, that, in spite of all this, her art and her work can still be a valid way to feel and be felt. Celeste’s identity, as person and as artist, is so heavily defined by trauma that it becomes the DNA guiding her music. One could say the same of Gaga. If A Star is Born has, to whatever degree, an antagonistic view of pop, Corbet’s Vox Lux is not only a tonic, but a film as much about Lady Gaga as the former. It asks: What if she’s telling the truth and pop music is the format in which she can be most sincere? What if artifice can reveal authenticity after all? What if a pop star could be both goddess and mortal? —Kyle Turner


i-am-divine.jpg 96. I Am Divine
Year: 2014
Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Jeffrey Schwarz’s I Am Divine covers the life of Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) from his early childhood in conservative Baltimore through his rise to fame as the “most beautiful woman in the world.” As I watched the documentary unfold, all my opinions and preconceived notions about Divine slowly vanished. What Schwarz uncovers in his movie—or at least, what he illuminates—is how kind, quiet and generous Milstead was, despite his outrageous alter ego. Through a series of interviews with former collaborators, friends and family, Schwarz helps paint a picture of an extraordinary boy who lived so far outside what was considered “normal,” he had no choice but to blaze his own trail. The story of Divine is intertwined with the story of the Dreamlanders—Divine’s adopted family. This was a group of people who, like Divine, joined forces to create a safe space to express who they were without fear of judgement from the rest of the world. I Am Divine leaves one with was a sense that all things are possible. After all, John Waters and Divine—without experience, without contacts, without money—accomplished what Hollywood continually fails to do. They created iconic, timeless movies that are as powerful now as they were in the 1970s. —Leland Montgomery


joshy.jpg 95. Joshy
Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Baena
In the movies, when a bunch of bros meet up at a vacation house for some R&R, it usually results in a weekend blast of bacchanalia or somebody getting killed. Or both. Thankfully, Joshy isn’t like most movies. Yes, it has the trappings of a buddy hangout film, but it’s far more mature than the genre it leans on, and more entertaining, too. With five main characters, a host of cameos and a precipitous balance between comedy and darkness, Joshy gets a lot done, and does it very well. Writer-director Jeff Baena doesn’t have us thinking about partying at first. The title character (Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch) arrives home to his fiancée, unaware that by night’s end their relationship will meet its harsh, abrupt end. Months later, with the deposit to their Ojai bachelor party house in the balance, Joshy invites his pals to get together anyway. Only three show up, and they’re a study in contrasts: Ari (Adam Pally) is a stoner who’s married with a new baby, Adam (Alex Ross Perry) is a hesitant nerd, and Eric (Nick Kroll) is an overconfident, overly outspoken partier. Sure, there’s drinking and drugs and silliness in Joshy, but they’re rarely the focal point of the action. They’re a natural part of the environment, which makes sense once you’re in your thirties and dealing with the realities of life. For as much as I enjoy a good Seth Rogen pukefest, it doesn’t have to be the cinematic blueprint of what it means to hang with the guys. —Norm Schrager


i-trapped-devil-movie-poster.jpg 94. I Trapped the Devil
Year: 2019
Director: Josh Lobo
Merry Christmas! Have some family dysfunction and possibly an untimely visit from the Prince of Darkness. The man locked up in Steve’s (Scott Poythress) basement might well be Satan himself. He might also be an innocent man, or at least a man innocent of being the devil, but Steve’s brother, Matt (AJ Bowen) and sister-in-law Karen (Susan Burke) don’t really know what to make of Steve’s situation. Is he deluded, or still grieving a loss that at first goes unspoken and later is made explicit? Or does he really genuinely have Old Scratch imprisoned in his home? Director Josh Lobo toes the slow-burn line, doing very little at the start to meaningfully terrify viewers, but he rapidly layers I Trapped the Devil with mood and dread, his finger looped through the pin of a grenade in every interaction Steve has with Matt and Karen, as if at any moment their tentative atmosphere could descend into straight-up chaos. The film’s central question hangs over all until, at long last, Lobo gives an answer, but the answer is so chilling that we might wish he’d kept us in the dark all along. —Andy Crump


standoff-sparrow-creek-movie-poster.jpg 93. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
Year: 2018
Director: Henry Dunham
Rarely do movies show potential viewers as much consideration as Henry Dunham’s The Standoff at Sparrow Creek does through title alone. Everything a viewer needs to know about the plot, the story, and the setting is baked right in the name in just five words: There’s a creek, there’s a standoff happening by the creek, and the creek somehow relates to passerine birds. The details left out of the title are small potatoes compared to the basic structure outlined by the film’s self-summarizing appellation, not just to a prospective audience but to Dunham himself. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is as stripped down as thrillers get: An ex-cop turned militiaman meets up with his fellow militiamen after hearing of a shooting at a police funeral ostensibly perpetrated by one of their number. Packed into one confined space, each grows suspicious of the others and increasingly keen on saving their own asses. Resist the temptation to compare The Standoff at Sparrow Creek to Reservoir Dogs, or even The Hateful Eight—one-room movies populated by characters severely lacking trust in one another. Dunham doesn’t exhibit Tarantino’s flair for colorful, punchy dialogue and pop culture referentialism but nor should he, necessarily—this is a film anchored to here and now, unfolding so briskly that borrowing Tarantino’s elements of style would rob the experience of immediacy. Desperation is oxygen to The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, not snappy, cuss-laden banter. Dunham’s carves out his aesthetic in sudden, tense silences, where viewers can smell paranoia and see the air crinkling between his characters. In the tradition of all great crime dramas, from Heat to Mean Streets to Fargo, the wicked pleasure of The Standoff of Sparrow Creek is the time spent with dangerous people; accordingly, the movie’s masculine energy is off the charts. Everyone metaphorically paws the ground in every verbal altercation, ready to charge at his cohorts with the slightest provocation. But Dunham’s filmmaking remains disciplined throughout, building pressure within that’s eventually released in explosive violence. That’s what the title promises, after all. But that promise doesn’t blunt the jolting effect of The Standoff at Sparrow Creek’s storytelling or the gutpunches dealt in its climax. —Andy Crump


eating-animals-movie-poster.jpg 92. Eating Animals
Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Dillon Quinn
Documentaries tend to inhabit a spectrum that runs from “aesthete” to “infomercial” and from “Here’s what happened” to “Here’s what’s happening or going to happen, and we have a call to action for you.” Eating Animals is firmly on the latter end of that axis: While reasonably artful it is not about the art. While its production sensibility is perfectly fine, that probably isn’t what you’ll notice. Its narrative is coherent, its editing is fine, and its choices around interview subjects are wise (and include a fabulous and thoroughly classic outburst from the inimitable Dr. Temple Grandin on the subject of “ag-gag” legislation). But this film is basically 100% about message, and that message is a dire one. Eating Animals is less about the death of animals than the death of a way of life. Factory farming is unhealthy for animals, including people. There’s really no debating that. We can quibble about degrees, though I’d argue against going to the trouble. We are biological omnivores, like chickens, bears or rats. This does not mean we must eat animals; it means we can if we need to. We have decided that we need to, and in unsustainably large quantities. This film strongly suggests giving some thought to what you’re really buying at the grocery store, and using your food budget consciously. No arguments here. —Amy Glynn


ghost stories 2018 poster (Custom).jpg 91. Ghost Stories
Year: 2017
Director: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Ghost Stories, a joint directorial effort by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, who adapted the movie from the successful stage play they wrote together back in the late 2000s, isn’t workaday horror hackery. For most of its duration, it’s confidently made, atmospheric and deliciously macabre, a movie that feels like a throwback to yesteryear’s horror without consciously acting like a throwback. Those acquainted with horror history might detect echoes of Nicolas Roeg, Robin Hardy, Michael Powell and the productions of Hammer Films, that beloved British outlet of all things gothic and spooky, but even knowledgeable horror geeks must trace Ghost Stories’ influences on a molecular level. They’re ingrained instead of inserted. It’s the difference between knowing homage and unconscious referencing. Nyman and Dyson love horror. You can sense that love in Ghost Stories’ embrace of classic multi-narrative structure, wrapping a triptych of horror subcategories around the labors of its lonely hero, Professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman), a man who tasks himself with exposing paranormal charlatans. (Think John Edwards, Theresa Caputo, or Ed and Lorraine Warren.) It’s tough being the guy who charges the stage during televised psychic readings to rain on the audience’s parade, but that’s Goodman’s life. Then he gets a letter from Charles Cameron, a famed paranormal investigator and Goodman’s boyhood idol. Now decrepit and living alone in a van by the ocean, Cameron challenges Goodman to explain three supernatural cases he couldn’t solve himself. We’re off to the races, but we always come back to sad sack Goodman, who throughout his investigations can’t help noticing weird phenomena in between visiting subjects (notably recurring and increasingly abrupt encounters with an ominous parka-clad figure). He’s haunted, too, but mostly by his memories of growing up with his rigid, borderline abusive and presently deceased father. That’s the hook on which Ghost Stories hangs its ghastly musings, the thing we expect the film to circle back to once Goodman completes his inquiries and renders his verdict on the authenticity of each incident. As an abstraction, that sounds like a stairway leading to Frank Capra levels of sentimentality: By wrestling with his skeptical biases, Goodman will confront his buried feelings about his dad and reconcile with his past. Maybe it’s for the best that the movie never goes there. —Andy Crump


ITonya-poster.jpg 90. I, Tonya
Year: 2017
Director: Craig Gillespie
The triple axel was Tonya Harding’s greatest trick—and making an audience think that it’s a comedy of some sort is I, Tonya’s. Craig Gillespie’s infuriating and entrancingly brilliant biopic gives its subject control, and with fury, glibness, regret and a smirk, Tonya (Margot Robbie) and the many others in her life spin her story, detailing the ways that trauma (and class marginality) has affected and shaped her. Scenes of abuse—in which Tonya is often pummeled by both her mom (Allison Janney) and her husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan)—are bracingly uncomfortable but cut with snark, and the film then has the gall to ask why you could possibly be laughing at such a horrible thing. I, Tonya dares to embody a camp aesthetic and immediately rebuke it, making sure that everything about it, from its skating scenes—dizzingly filmed as if her skill should be admired, but without actually detailing the technical aspects of what she’s doing, as if to mimic white queer men and how they talk about character actresses—to its genre packaging (part wannabe gangster film, part confessional documentary), smears the ironic quotation marks of its framework with blood, sweat and tears: a roar and a snarl and a declaration of defiance. —Kyle Turner


29-Netflix-Docs_2015-ballet-422.jpg 89. Ballet 422
Year: 2015
Director: Jody Lee Lipes
In Ballet 422, director Jody Lee Lipes (who recently served as DP on Manchester by the Sea) does something remarkable: He cuts himself out of the equation entirely. He’s barely a fly on the wall in his own documentary, which chronicles New York City Ballet soloist and choreographer Justin Peck’s attempt to architect the company’s 422nd production. Lipes’s approach to capturing his subjects is about as modest as humanly possible, though describing his results as “modest” would be totally unfair. Ballet 422 lacks the traditional hallmarks of most standard documentary films, eschewing talking head interviews and recurring streams of title cards crafted to hand-hold the audience through learning, and that’s what makes it such a gem. —Andy Crump


wolfpack.jpg 88. The Wolfpack
Year: 2015
Director: Crystal Moselle
Imagine a small, dingy Manhattan apartment; imagine you can’t leave; and imagine: The only contact you have with the outside world is through movies. Growing up like this, anyone could imagine that things could get pretty weird—and the Angulo family, a literal band of brothers raised in isolation by their paranoid parents, are indeed an interesting bunch. Their only outlet for creativity, undertaken as a way to basically stave off boredom, is to recreate their favorite films (like Reservoir Dogs, The Dark Knight and The Grand Budapest Hotel), crafting costumes out of cereal boxes, yoga mats and whatever other resources they can get their pale hands on. In The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle has nearly unlimited access to the Angulo brothers; at one point they inform her that she is the only person who has ever been invited over to their home, and is the only guest they’ve ever had. Sad and strange, funny and touching, powerful and unsettling, it is so wholly unusual, The Wolfpack may be like no truth you’ve ever seen before. —Brent McKnight


dancing-in-jaffa.jpg 87. Dancing in Jaffa
Year: 2014
Director: Hilla Medalia
It would be impossible for a single documentary to capture and explain all that has occurred in conflict areas in the Middle East. However, award-winning Dancing in Jaffa director Hilla Medalia goes in through the side door, using children’s ballroom dancing classes in Israel as a lens through which to understand the complex political, religious, and racial issues that still prevail. Following renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine, Dancing in Jaffa falls into many narratives categories, as a film about the healing power of art, the resilience of the young, and one amazing teacher who transforms a community. That it is a true story, makes it all the more incredible. Pierre Dulaine returns to his hometown of Jaffa, Israel, for the first time in decades to accomplish the impossible. In an area still rife with conflict, hatred and protests, he wants to bring Palestinian and Jewish children together for a ballroom dance competition. Even those of us who believe that art can change a young person’s life will be astounded at the visible effects of Dulaine’s work. But the film also paints an honest portrait of the long journey, and there are many troubling moments. War and violence is a fairly common subject in the schools, and the division between the Israeli-Palestinians and the Jews is very real. Children learn from their parents and from school administrators to distrust the “other” side. It is Dulaine who comes in and tries to create trust through dance, but this is beyond difficult, and he is not always successful. And just as the children are discussing war in the classroom—and appear to be of a world and time so outside of our own—one of them cracks a Justin Bieber joke, and it becomes clear that this is a contemporary story. And so the message of Dancing in Jaffa is twofold—at this very moment we should know that there are people fighting a war; and at this very moment we should also know that there are others dancing for peace. —Shannon M. Houston


clovehitch-killer-movie-poster.jpg 86. The Clovehitch Killer
Year: 2018
Director: Duncan Skiles
Life in small-town Christian America can have a stultifying effect on a person, sucking out all personality and vitality, replacing all individual identity with better living through dogma. In The Clovehitch Killer, director Duncan Skiles replicates this bait-and-switch through cinematographer Luke McCoubrey’s camera. The film is shot stock-still, the camera more or less fixed from one scene to the next, as if affected by the vibe of routine humming throughout its setting of Somewhere, Kentucky. Almost none of the characters we meet in the movie have a spark; they’re drones tasked with maintaining the hive’s integrity against interlopers who, god forbid, actually bother to be somebody. Caught up in this dynamic is Tyler (Charlie Plummer), awkward, quiet and shy, the son of Don (Dylan McDermott), a handyman and Scout troop leader, which brings no end of unexpressed consternation to Tyler as a Scout himself. On the surface, Don looks and acts like an automaton, too, with occasional hints of humor and warmth in his capacity as father and Scoutmaster. Beneath, though, he’s something more, at least so Tyler suspects: The Clovehitch Killer, a serial killer who once tormented their area with a horrific murder spree long completed. Or maybe not. Maybe Don just has a real kink fetish and keeps rope around for fun in the bedroom. Either way, fathers aren’t always who or what they appear.

Horror movies  are all about the squirm, the nerve-wracking build-up of tension over time that, done properly, leaves viewers crawling out of their skin with dread. In The Clovehitch Killer, this sensation is wrought entirely through craft instead of effects. That damn camera, motionless and unstirred, is always happy to film what’s in front of it, never one to pan about to catch new angles. What you see is what it shows you, but what it shows you might be more awful than you can stomach at a glance. This is a devilish movie that does beautifully what horror films are meant to—vex us with fear—through the most deceptively simple of means. —Andy Crump


gemini-movie-poster.jpg 85. Gemini
Year: 2017
Director: Aaron Katz
With Gemini, director Aaron Katz is more than willing to divulge his already obvious Raymond Chandler influences and entertain his more oneiric Persona pulls to proclaim—pitch-perfectly balancing nervousness and some seriously confident swagger—his love for L.A., his home of the past four years. Appropriately, cinematographer Andrew Reed cushions Katz’s every manicured shot in somnambulance, while Keegan DeWitt’s score romanticizes the city’s smoggy haze. Katz pestle’d his name in the crucible of mumblecore, which keeps Gemini so assured in its looseness, as famous person Heather (Zoe Kravitz) and her assistant/best friend Jill (Lola Kirke) drive around a city seemingly built for them, their casual conversations juxtaposing woozily against pristine mansions and too-expensive vacation cabins. Katz might be exploring his own feelings about his new home, never judging the bougie nature of his characters, especially of Heather, whose celebrity has cocooned her from the reality of her privilege, even when that privilege plops Jill in the middle of a prototypical noir narrative, Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho) on her trail. Cho’s is an inscrutable character, as is much of Gemini’s tone, steeped in fantasy despite the dread that seems to hang over every moment. Which is maybe Katz’s impression of what it’s like to be famous, what it’s like to leave Portland behind for a place like L.A. Katz has said that he let Cho decide what his character really thinks about the truth of the case he’s assigned to, and in turn, Cho plays Ahn as suspiciously aloof. It’s not hard to imagine Katz trying to get over that suspicion himself so that he can keep making pretty movies with actors like Zoe Kravitz and Lola Kirke and John Cho in them. —Dom Sinacola


brink-movie-poster.jpg 84. The Brink
Year: 2019
Director: Alison Klayman
What could possibly possess anyone with a camera to tail Steve Bannon, that sentient cancerous tumor, across the United States during the build-up to the 2018 midterms and throughout Europe on a “unite the fascists” tour, buttressed from his unctuousness only by cinematic providence and the power of the lens? Alison Klayman is either the bravest or brashest documentarian to release new work this year, stoically shouldering the contentious but perhaps essential task of giving Bannon a stage equipped with rope enough to hang himself. The Brink is The Steve Bannon Show™, unfiltered for the most part, though Bannon being a shrewd manipulator and a filmmaker himself, he’s adept at tailoring his image enough to strike a disarming fascist figure. (Calling him a “filmmaker” feels like an insult to Klayman, so let it be said that he is a “filmmaker” the way that Kylie Jenner is “self-made.”) Watching The Brink will leave most with a powerful need to take a shower. It isn’t the filthiest movie of the year to date, but it’s the most repugnant, a naked look at the levers and pulleys Bannon maintains access to at different levels and in different environments of power. The man is a cockroach. No matter how many nukes the world drops on his head, the bastard won’t die, he won’t shut up, he won’t go away, and though he will try out green smoothies for health purposes, he’d probably be happier burrowing into a pack of Twinkies. Klayman’s disciplined anti-vanity approach keeps her from tainting the narrative she forms around Bannon—or rather, that Bannon forms around Bannon. Yes, he’s grimily charming if short on witty turns of phrase. (A fun but perilous drinking game: Take a shot whenever he utters the phrase “a rose between two thorns” to flatter fans, or potential donors, or allies.) Yes, he’s self-deprecating. No, none of this offsets or obfuscates his pro-fascist agenda, and Klayman makes no moves to stem the tide of his hideous politics. She wants us to see. Whether viewers want to watch is another question, but there’s no doubting the sheer unobtrusive balls of her filmmaking here. The Brink isn’t just necessary. It’s damn near heroic. —Andy Crump


baskin poster (Custom).jpg 83. Baskin
Year: 2016
Director: Can Evrenol
It is telling that the single scariest image in Baskin emphasizes creeps over carnage. It’s a shot of a boy standing alone in his living room, illuminated only by the static glow of his family’s television set, which has inexplicably turned itself on in the middle of the night. Nothing about the scenario is overtly terrifying—at least until he shuts the TV off—but it is memorably real in a film where it’s difficult to distinguish what is and isn’t imagined. Grand guignol-level spectacle where every character in the frame is streaked with viscera? That’s one thing. Domestic peculiarities that invoke nocturnal aberrations, though, are another thing entirely. But filmmaker Can Evrenol is pretty fixated on that guignol stuff, and so Baskin is best characterized as an off-kilter bloodbath by consequence. That’s great news for any horror fan with a fondness for displays of unbridled cruelty. Baskin indulges in nightmares and constructs itself from the disassembled pieces of the human form, arrayed across the screen in whichever artful ways Evrenol deems best. The film evokes the artistic sensibilities of both Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento with its lurid color palette, but it carves a gore-streaked path all its own. Baskin is a roundly unhinged film. Maybe Evrenol is a fully hinged person, but figuring out what, exactly, is happening in his movie is a fool’s errand. Where does reality begin and surreality end? How much of what we see on the screen in Baskin is actually happening? How much of it is spun from the characters’ memories and emotional phantasms? Is there any hope of untangling this genre movie Möbius strip? That last question is easy to answer: Not even a little. But if you’re trying to yank logic out of the film, you’re doing it wrong. —Andy Crump


36. honeymoon (Custom).jpg 82. Honeymoon
Year: 2014
Director: Leigh Janiak
The cool thing about horror is that if you just have the vision, you can make something like Honeymoon with no more resources than an empty cabin and a few weeks of spare time. The film only has four actors, and two of them barely appear, leaving everything on the shoulders of the two young stars, Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadway. This is the right decision to make: If you’ve got a few solid, young actors, why not let the film just become a statement of their talents? The story is extremely simple, with a newlywed couple going on their honeymoon in a remote cabin in the woods. When Bea, the wife, wanders away one night and has some kind of disturbing event in the woods, she comes back changed, and it begins to affect both her memory and sense of identity. The next hour or so is a slow-burning but well-acted and suspenseful journey for the two as the husband’s suspicions grow and the warning flags continue to mount. By the end, emotions and gross-out scares are both running high. —Jim Vorel


experimenter.jpg 81. Experimenter
Year: 2015
Director: Michael Almereyda
Watching Experimenter is to realize how little life is in most biopics. Which is odd: Despite being based on a real life, the standard biopic feels freeze-dried, narrative conventions calcifying the subject matter and strangling any spontaneity out of the material. Most such movies carry the stench of rigor mortis, but Experimenter is alive and alert from its first moment. Where other biopics seem to have made up their minds about their famous figures before the opening credits roll, this remarkable study of social psychologist Stanley Milgram remains curious, exploring and questioning his life, career and findings. The man’s work may be more than 50 years old, but a film about his work couldn’t be timelier—partly because of that work’s still-resonant lessons, and partly because writer-director Michael Almereyda has crafted a bracing, daring drama that extrapolates it into every crevice of modernity. Many biopics simplify great lives; Experimenter enriches and enlarges one. —Tim Grierson


alchemist cookbook.jpg 80. The Alchemist Cookbook
Year: 2016
Director: Joel Potrykus
About a third of the way into The Alchemist Cookbook, Sean (Ty Hickson) dares his friend Cortez (Amari Cheatom) to eat a can of cat food. Cortez takes him up on the challenge, and even though he clearly can’t stand the taste on his first bite, he tries his best to hide this from his friend and takes an even bigger batch for his second helping, only for him to finally give up soon after. This moment is not only one of the most hilarious scenes I’ve seen in a movie in quite a while, but it’s also a pretty good encapsulation of writer/director Joel Potrykus’s methods, with Cortez’s commitment to a blatantly ridiculous dare a miniature version of Potrykus’s own ruthless commitment to chronicling the strangest of human behavior. Thankfully, condescension is as far from Potrykus’s black-comic sensibility as one could imagine. That is not to say, however, that his oddball protagonists—Sean here, and the characters Joshua Burdge played in the director’s previous two features, Buzzard and Ape—are likable characters by any means. Buzzard centered around a slacker named Marty Jackitansky who made it a badge of honor to try to scam the capitalist system in his own small ways, and who spent much of his free time perfecting a Freddy Krueger-like “Power Glove” with knives sticking out of it. Never does Potrykus try to make this main character appealing any more than he lets Sean off the hook for his increasingly crazy behavior out in the woods. And yet, Potrykus’s films seem animated by a genuine fascination with his eccentric main characters: a sincere desire to dissect them, to understand them, to present them to us in all their unadorned loopy glory for either our amusement or disdain. Potrykus’s directorial style is crucial to expressing this perspective. As Dave Kehr once noted about Luis Buñuel and the great Spanish filmmaker’s Simon of the Desert, he’s able to find exactly “how much realism is required in surrealism.” Perhaps The Alchemist Cookbook is also, in part, a religious allegory: a depiction of a man trying to understand a supreme being who is perhaps ultimately unfathomable. It’s a universal quest that, in this particular case, brings its seeker to the point of cheating Death before order is restored. —Kenji Fujishima


grace-jones-documentary-poster.jpg 79. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
Year: 2017
Director: Sophie Fiennes
Not a conventional beat-by-beat historical recap, and not a valedictory straining to extol the artist’s brilliance, Sophie Fiennes’s profile of Grace Jones is, instead, a rather frank assessment of show business—with the “show” element dedicated to the singer’s magnetic stage presence and the “business” revolving around the nitty-gritty negotiations that go into cultivating a career as a performer and professional survivor. Bloodlight and Bami travels with the now-70-year-old performer as she spends time with her family in Jamaica, these snapshots offering an impressionistic glimpse of the elements that helped shape her. Meanwhile, the angry hotel-room conversations, focused studio sessions, casual phone calls in taxis and tense TV shoots present a tapestry of Jones’s daily working life without adornment. The movie demystifies the singer while leaving her fundamental inscrutability intact—and the concert footage will remind you that her hits still have plenty of kick. —Tim Grierson


overnight.jpg 78. The Overnight
Year: 2015
Director: Patrick Brice
Making new friends isn’t easy when you’re grown-up and married. It’s that kind of anxiety first felt by the leads in Patrick Brice’s sophomore feature, The Overnight, a dizzying, debauched, excruciatingly funny film about knitting new connections through discomfort. Brice has made the trend-forward sprawl of suburban Los Angeles his backdrop, and his story begins as one of displacement: Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), freshly uprooted from Seattle, are strangers in a strange, meticulously chichi world, and they’re in desperate need of guiding companionship. After presenting its preamble, The Overnight introduces our yuppie heroes to Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a man so painfully hip that he might as well be the mayor of the entire damn burg. Like Brice’s debut film, the two-man found-footage horror show Creep, The Overnight is a cautionary tale of stranger danger. The film offers tonal breeziness and terrific performances, especially from Schilling and Schwartzman, who vibe well together and stand out on their own. She’s our audience surrogate, surveying the narrative’s kink with her typical wild-eyed disbelief; he’s a larger than life bohemian stereotype whose charm lets Schwartzman wear his crown as the king of amicable jerks more snugly than he has in his last half dozen roles. They make up part of the picture’s backbone, with explorations of masculine insecurity, the crumbling infrastructure of a marriage and the truth of what really goes on behind the closed doors of the wealthy comprising the rest of the film’s whole. —Andy Crump


sisters-brothers.jpg 77. The Sisters Brothers
Year: 2018
Director: Jacques Audiard
The Sisters Brothers, Jacques Audiard’s eighth, and first English-language, film as director, begins with violence of mythical, gunslinger proportions—the voice of Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) declaring the title of the film as a warning, followed by the yellow flash of gunshots between the opaque blackness of the American frontier—only to pull apart that myth as the film winds down to a warm end. A deconstructionist take on the Western is nothing starkly new, but Audiard pays careful attention not just to the moral repugnance at the heart of American expansionism, but to the physical repugnance as well, filling The Sisters Brothers with bad teeth, horse death, vomit full of spiders, sweaty surgery and the general sentiment that living in the Oregonian and Californian wilderness in 1851 was a mostly difficult, dangerous, gross-ass endeavor. For Charlie and Eli (John C. Reilly) Sisters, the West fits their lawless acumen well, at least to the extent that indiscriminate murder, bounty hunting, projected daddy issues and nature tracking provide them with a living wage. Though Charlie thrives in the outlaw lifestyle, drinking and whoring through one tiny town after another, Eli hopes for better things, whatever that may be—a family, perhaps, with the school teacher who gave him the red handkerchief he wears around his neck—fed up with fearing for their lives and sleeping on the ground and nursing his brother’s hangovers, despite how good they’ve become at what they do. Handsomely, Audiard finds salvation for the brothers via camaraderie and femininity (Carol Kane appears, as if from a half-remembered dream), which isn’t so much subversive as it is refreshing, his Western anti-Western gently lulling into something that operates less like a genre flick and more like Oscar bait. Too often, Eli speaks of his brother as someone who needs to change, who is changing, who has changed; the old ways are dying, and Charlie’s too easily trapped within a cycle of violence and degradation. Audiard wants to offer a way out—for his characters, and for us, too—but his way out is much too traditional to make a difference. —Dom Sinacola


skate-kitchen-poster.jpg 76. Skate Kitchen
Year: 2018
Director: Crystal Moselle
Crystal Moselle’s first film, The Wolfpack, is a work of observation: She mostly captures life in progress, that life being confined to an apartment in New York City’s Lower East Side. A fascinating enough premise, but the film says very little about it. Moselle’s follow up, Skate Kitchen, is similar in nature, a film borne from her real life encounters with real life characters, but here she architects a plot and furnishes it with a narrative about young Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a lonely girl who stumbles upon an all-girl skateboarding crew (Skate Kitchen, in case you can’t guess) via Instagram and joins their number. Her friendships with the crew pressures her relationship with her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and her eventual flirtation with a boy (Jaden Smith) from a rival crew jeopardizes her friendship with Skate Kitchen. The movie orbits relationships between women more than it focuses on skateboarding as an art an an aesthetic; it’s character based rather than action based. Still, the skating we do see is as real as the camaraderie and chafing we see more of, and both lead to their own kinds of injury—physical for the former, emotional for the latter. (We see Camille get “credit carded” at the start of the film, which frankly looks infinitely less preferable to workaday tiffs with your besties. You decide.) Moselle’s style is loose and unanchored, fostering an easy hangout vibe and a sensory experience. Watching Skate Kitchen, you can smell NYC’s summer air (a combination of sun baked trash, burnt rubber and gasoline), feel the heat rising off the asphalt and the sweat trickling down your back, taste the endless smorgasbord of the city’s food culture. More than Moselle’s evocation of New York, though, you’ll be struck by the raw honesty of the characters she’s culled from the city’s streets. —Andy Crump


border-movie-poster.jpg 75. Border
Year: 2018
Director: Ali Abbasi
With Tom Alfredson’s Let the Right One In and now Border, it’s honestly astonishing and exciting that the work of Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist is being adapted to create a space within queer cinema for stories of intersex and genderqueer people. Border is Right One’s mirror image: a film about the discovery of one’s own otherness, and one’s own power. Though she has struggled to assimilate into the rest of Swedish society, particularly as a Border Patrol agent, Tina’s (Eva Melander) developing relationship with another one of her own kind, Vore (Eero Milonoff), becomes more complicated as he forces her to reconcile with the crimes that humans have wrought upon their people. She’s caught in a liminal space of wanting to belong but having no relationship with her own kind. Its commitment to taking Tina’s erotic and personal journey seriously is striking, as is its dialogue with Let the Right One In and the question of what place the marginalized have in society that tosses to them to the margins in the first place. —Kyle Turner


independence-day-movie-poster.jpg 74. Independence Day
Year: 1996
Director: Roland Emmerich
They pretty much don’t make action movies like Independence Day anymore, although if you ask someone who caught Independence Day: Resurgence, they’ll tell you that’s probably a good thing. Regardless, there’s a certain sheen to this particular brand of FX-driven pre-2000s disaster blockbuster, an earnestness of conviction in terms of clear-cut characters like Jeff Goldblum’s “David Levinson”—call it a willingness to believe that the audience will be 100 percent on board with a protagonist from the very beginning, rather than questioning his methods. As for the rest of the cast, we get a who’s who of ’90s delights, whether it’s an ascendant, wisecracking Will Smith—one year before Men in Black would cement him as leading man material—or Bill Pullman as the flyboy American president ready to deliver one of cinema’s greatest jingoistic addresses. Independence Day doesn’t shy away from its inspirations as pulp (it might as well be a remake of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers as far as the alien motivations are concerned) but it dresses up its Saturday morning cartoon plot with undeniably ambitious spectacle, even when viewed 20-plus years later. That exploding White House, not to mention the effortless camaraderie of Goldblum and Smith in all their scenes together, cement Independence Day among the most rewatchable sci-fi action films of the past two decades. —Jim Vorel


tickled-movie-poster.jpg 73. Tickled
Year: 2016
Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
It’s safe to assume that most people have never heard of “competitive endurance tickling,” so when David Farrier, a New Zealand-based television reporter and actor, was sent a link to a bizarre video of young men tickling other men for “sport,” it was only natural that it piqued his curiosity. So, he did what any other reporter would have done: He sent a Facebook message to Jane O’Brien Media, the U.S.-based company that produced the aforementioned videos. While his inquiry was routine, the response he received from company representative Debbie Kuhn was anything but. In fact, it was jaw-droppingly hostile. She wrote, “To be brutally frank, association with a homosexual journalist is not something that we will embrace,” and then continued, assuring Farrier that Jane O’Brien Media would pursue legal action should he take his inquiry any further. So begins the fascinating documentary Tickled, directed by Farrier and Dylan Reeve, the latter largely remaining off-camera. What might have been a tongue-in-cheek examination of a subculture—a fluff piece of the kind on which Farrier’s built his career—quickly becomes a trek down the fetish rabbit hole, the filmmakers uncovering a larger, more nefarious operation. With hidden cameras, ambush interviews and Dateline-esque gotcha segments, the film segues into a bona fide thriller as they explore the dark, seamy corners of the internet, hunting for the Keyser Söze of the competitive tickling world. —Christine N. Ziemba


radiant-city.jpg 72. In the Radiant City
Year: 2017
Director: Rachel Lambert
n In the Radiant City, director Rachel Lambert and producer Jeff Nichols put Michael Abbott Jr.’s character Andrew before our gaze, create a sense of mystery around his past and his purpose for returning home, and then just let Abbott go to work. It’s a risky move, but their faith in Abbott is well-founded: his face is—seemingly against his will—a deep reservoir of emotion, capable of conveying how he’s pulled from all sides by the impossible situations his character faces. He reminds me of a young Matthew McConaughey, with a bit of John Hawkes thrown in. It’s always impressive when an actor can play the lead in a movie where nothing much happens in the plot, and turn in a performance you can’t look away from. Director Rachel Lambert has obviously learned well from her producer, the director Jeff Nichols, as she builds the film’s tension around untold mysteries and intense performances. —Michael Dunaway


their-finest.jpg 71. Their Finest
Year: 2017
Director: Lone Scherfig
War flicks and romantic comedies don’t have much by way of surface crossover, but The Finest casually argues that maybe there should be. Director Lone Scherfig, in adapting Lissa Evans’ 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, finds the common quality that links these two genres together, courage, perhaps better defined as “pluck” in the case of the rom-com, and as “grit” in the case of the war picture; maybe we watch these kinds of films for different reasons, but maybe stick-to-it-iveness and steely determination aren’t really all that different if you’re not the type to split hairs over vocabulary. Their Finest runs on both, and so leaves us no hairs to split. Scherfig could no more tell this story without its characters’ moxie than she could without its characters’ gut-deep bravery, which leaves her with something of a conundrum: How best to balance the breezy jubilance of the rom-com with the harrowing gravity of the war movie. To her great credit, she doesn’t bother balancing them, so much as she marries them, presenting these dueling details as two sides of the same coin, and in a film like Their Finest, how could they be anything else? It’s a rom-com wrapped up in a war picture, or perhaps the other way ‘round, depending on your perspective. The very idea of fitting the circumstantial dramas of the former within the marital dramas of the latter makes perfect sense for telling the tale of two seemingly mismatched people falling in love against the backdrop of the Blitz. Their Finest is a joy to watch, if not for Scherfig’s direction than for Gemma Arterton’s leading performance, a mixture of affronted gumption, feminine stoicism and vulnerability that adds up to towering portraiture. —Andy Crump


burden.jpg 70. Burden
Year: 2017
Directors: Timothy Marrinan, Richard Dewey
In Los Angeles—the city where he lived much of his life until his death in 2015 at the age of 69—Chris Burden is closely identified with Urban Light, a majestic collection of light poles displayed outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that’s quickly becoming one of the metropolis’s most photographed locations. Many who visit Urban Light for selfies, engagement photos or a place to wow out-of-town guests have little idea that, just a few decades ago, Burden was among modern art’s most combative practitioners, eliciting visceral responses from violent avant-garde projects which featured, say, having a friend shoot him in the arm at close range. How Burden went from provocateur to beloved cultural institution is one of the compelling threads in a documentary that goes beyond greatest-hits regurgitation, seeking an emotional through-line for a remarkable life. Burden doesn’t reach the heights of definitive artist portraits like Crumb, but it’s frequently inquisitive and nuanced, showing us where the man faltered even when the work captivated. Making their feature-length debut, directors Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey do a superb job of suggesting what drove Burden to craft such combative works without trying to psychoanalyze the man. Marrinan and Dewey spent some time interviewing Burden in his later years as he lived in happy seclusion in the hills just north of Los Angeles. Without trying to explain why, the movie presents us with a Burden who softened with age—the indecipherable half-smile still evident, though. His recent installations, including 2008’s Urban Light, don’t provoke, but they’re equally engrossing, Burden as per norm encouraging the observer to feel connected to what he sees. That the same man could have made such different pieces is a riddle Burden has the good sense not to entangle. Better, as always, to let the work speak for itself. —Tim Grierson


pilgrimage.jpg 69. Pilgrimage
Year: 2017
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Quest films are best when they understand that, like in the tales of King Arthur, the journeys they chronicle are often designed to destroy the questers through the very thing they seek. Glory, purity, power—there’s an ironic end to them all. In Brendan Muldowney’s Pilgrimage, when a band of Irish monks is recruited to escort an ancient holy relic across the post-Crusade island occupied by factions whose conquering lust has not yet been sated, we know this group was meant to be tested from the beginning. The main party is made up of rookie Brother Diarmuid (Tom Holland), a mute (Jon Bernthal), foreigner Brother Gerladus (Stanley Weber) and veteran Brother Ciaran (John Lynch). Pilgrimage draws its religious doubt from a cultural and historical well, rather than from the suffering and torture sprung from the clash between the two forces as they vie for superiority. Christianity is dominant here, which alters the typical religious narrative of the personal protection of and struggle with faith, transforming into a broader action epic in a world that, from the characters’ perspectives, depends on them. Meanwhile, Pagan religions—polytheistic myths of nymphs and spirits—flood the screen with supernatural hints while cinematographer Tom Comerford shoots the film with such wide-eyed awe of nature that it’s easy to buy into a mystical world beneath the island’s gray-green moss. Contrasted with this natural aesthetic are devout monks dressed in their light hewn robes, passively resisting the primal calls of war and barbarism. The film’s quest eventually absorbs, then loses, the kind of divine intervention that answers exactly what characters have asked without feeling sappy or campy, but truly mystical. The moment, the split second of divinity, between its appearance and removal is the moment the film was built for: a split second of utter belief. —Jacob Oller


the-oath-movie-poster.jpg 68. The Oath
Year: 2018
Director: Ike Barinholtz
The Oath is a cutting indictment of all sides, reserving the most resentment for itself—or at least for writer-director Ike Barinholtz, who makes a dark comedy about a news-obsessed upper-middle-class woke white man, an identity which many of us both claim and resent ourselves for claiming. Which is why, even if you don’t fulfill all of the preceding quantifiers, the film can feel so painfully, hilariously relatable: It’s about being angry all the time when you have no real reason to be—about seeing the world so cynically you make the lives of everyone around you, everyone you love, just that much more miserable. Chris isn’t a bad guy, either. Barinholtz plays him in The Oath as he did the dad in Blockers: a genuine person just trying to do what’s right for his family, bound every now and then to lose control, to make mistakes, but otherwise a decent adult human being. Chris witnesses the world around him fall into political madness, goes to protests every now and then and goes to his office job every day, addicted to his phone and cable news, wishing everything weren’t so wrong and unfair and generally flabbergasted when other people, especially his family members, don’t agree. Still, he’s got a loving wife (Tiffany Haddish, whose performance consistently grounds the movie’s hyperbole), a bright daughter (Priah Ferguson) and a beautiful suburban house big enough to host his family over Thanksgiving—a holiday which happens to fall on the day before the deadline for signing the so-called “Loyalty Oath,” declaring one’s fealty to the faceless President of the United States. Barinholtz seems to understand—especially in how quickly his naturalistic studio comedy devolves into bleak violence—that not only are many of us pretty much terrified of how closely disaster looms, but that such a contrived situation, overtly fascistic but hilariously couched as a way to get some easy tax benefits, would have five years ago seemed too ridiculous to ever happen. Today? Sure, why not. He directs the film with compassion and a trust in his actors that allows scene after scene to breathe, settling in for a peaceful moment or holding the cut for one extra uncomfortable beat to let an awkward encounter linger. More than anything, The Oath buzzes with fatigue, with the knowledge of one’s inevitable responsibility to do something, anything, to stem the tide of unpleasantness to come—and Barinholtz captures so well, with only his first film, that specific exhaustion of being alive in 2018. —Dom Sinacola


woman-at-war-movie-poster.jpg 67. Woman at War
Year: 2019
Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
Let Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War teach his peers a valuable lesson: Movies need more Greek choruses. In Erlingsson’s case, that’d be an Icelandic chorus, shadowing choir conductor and amateur eco terrorist Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) as she carries out her one-woman campaign against metal and mining corporation Rio Tinto. She’s a tenacious, clever foe, loosing arrows over power lines to cut electricity to the company’s aluminum plants, job producers to some, warts upon Iceland’s pristine landscapes to others, meaning mostly to Halla. The band following her as she goes about her business never comments on her actions in words, just in music. Maybe they’re on Halla’s side. Rio Tinto’s industrial impact on the gorgeous Icelandic expanse lovingly captured by Erlingsson’s cinematographer, Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson, is offensive to the eye. Maybe they’re appalled by Halla’s motivations, muddied by both her virtue and her selfishness. It’s possible that fighting for a greener world in Halla’s way, causing havoc for the ostensible greater good, incurs consequences that extend beyond Rio Tinto. Woman at War takes no firm position on matters of environmentalism, which is to the film’s benefit. Halla’s crusade against the rape of Iceland’s natural beauty is noble. “I know these people,” exclaims Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson), Halla’s ministry man on the inside during one surreptitious meeting. “I’m surrounded by those psychopaths all day long.” Baldvin reminds Halla, and the audience, that Rio Tinto is run by bad people, and so she remains the hero. Yet, the chorus scores her plots and plans with encouragement as much as with judgment. Halla routinely evades the long arm of the law, but justice has to grab someone, and that someone, nearly without fail, is Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada), a tourist with a knack for being in the wrong place (the site of one of Halla’s crimes) at the wrong time (the moment the police swoop in to arrest her). Making the repeat arrest of a minority into a successful recurring joke takes both a deft hand and wicked chutzpah. Erlingsson has both. Poor Juan. The joke is on him, but the moral imperative is on Halla. Every move she makes has a ripple effect. In turn, Erlingsson keeps Woman at War’s tone balanced between dark humor and cultural critique. The film directs a bitter, humorous eye at the complications between embracing activism and functioning in society, especially in an era of increased global commerce and tech surveillance. How much is activism worth when there are eyes in the sky everywhere and conglomerates at the ready to swoop in to undo your efforts? Erlingsson shrewdly withholds easy answers to the question, and the band plays on. —Andy Crump


planes-trains.jpg 66. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Year: 1987
Director: John Hughes
Anyone who’s ever endured holiday traffic on their way home for Thanksgiving can relate to this John Hughes tale—although hopefully you’ve never had to endure the sheer number of transportation mishaps (not to mention some accidental spooning) Neal Page and Del Griffith go through. Planes, Trains and Automobiles pits a petulant Steve Martin (Neal) against the usually mirthful John Candy (Del) as they travel home for the holidays. Weather and time are stacked up against them, so they end up traveling together with some disastrous results. Of course, nothing goes according to plan as Thanksgiving gets closer and closer. —Bonnie Stiernberg and Pete Mercer


thelma-movie-poster.jpg 65. Thelma
Year: 2017
Director: Joachim Trier
Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a meek and quiet young woman who moves away from her strict Christian parents (Henrik Rafaelsen, Ellen Dorit Petersen) for the first time in her life in order to study Biology in a Norwegian university. Though she’s devoted to her faith and doesn’t indulge in alcohol, drugs or other earthly desires, all of that changes when she sits next to Anja (Kaya Wilkins), a warm-hearted and empathetic schoolmate, during a study session. The two don’t even know each other yet, but Thelma’s close proximity to a girl she feels an intense attraction toward is enough to trigger a violent seizure. This doesn’t stop Thelma from initiating a friendship with Anja, and the obvious burgeoning attraction between the two forces Thelma into further incontrollable convulsions that might be the result of her intense rejection of her feelings, spurned by her religion’s denunciation of homosexuality. Director Joachim Trier’s filmography is chock full of deft, honest, insightful examinations of common problems that young people face. His terrific Oslo, August 31st was a story told in real time, about a recovering drug addict struggling to put his demons behind him in order to move forward with an at least nominally happy existence. In many ways, Thelma treats her attraction toward Anja as an addiction she’d like to shake off, yet it predictably persists. With subtle yet internally passionate performances by the two leads, Thelma would have worked fine as a straight drama about the protagonist’s inner conflict and journey towards hopefully acknowledging her nature. What makes it special is in the way Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt wrap this already palpable drama around a fairly downplayed supernatural horror premise with surgical precision. Trier’s patient and subdued unraveling of the story’s horror angle, which cleverly relies on building more mystery than it clears up as the narrative moves along at a fairly hypnotic pace, makes for a unique, genre-bending experience. —Oktay Ege Kozak


ingrid-goes-west.jpg 64. Ingrid Goes West
Year: 2017
Director: Matt Spicer
In her post-Parks and Rec career—wherein the crux of her performance was rolling her eyes—and relegated to typecasted roles like Life After Beth and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Aubrey Plaza has gone as far as she can with that kind of material. But in Ingrid Goes West she finds a seed of something so much more complicated, her talents are able to elevate the script to a new plane. Playing Ingrid, whose mental illness allows her social media activity to consume her life and the lives of those around her, Plaza unearths curious, complicated gradations in the character, one that could be easily written off as a weirdo freak. What Plaza senses in Ingrid, as the character desperately tries to become something else, hiding her vulnerability beneath layers of social (media) performance, is the ostensibly monstrous morphed into the deeply human. Plaza’s facial contortions alone, swooning with desperation and desire, lift her performance, and the film, to the ranks of the great queer personality-swap films like Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. —Kyle Turner


gospel-according-to-andre-movie-poster.jpg 63. The Gospel According to André
Year: 2017
Director: Kate Novack
Oh, to spend a day with legendary, luminously sincere fashion editor André Leon Talley. For most of us poor unfortunates, that day will never come. For Kate Novack, that day came in 2016, lasted the entire year, and provided the structure of her new film, The Gospel According to André, a portrait of Talley and his irresistible grandeur. Partway through, an acquaintance describes him as “a towering pine tree of a guy,” which doesn’t quite do justice to his folkloric image. The Gospel According to André is very much about Talley’s experiences, being his life, times and philosophies, and less about his experience, being his accomplishments as a journalist and fashion icon. Novack never shies away from opportunities to bask in his warm presence and the obvious joy he takes in his profession. He’s a man full of stories. At 68 years old, he’s practically made of them. And Novack could have focused the film on fashion alone. But late in the film she throws a gut punch in there, a hushed sequence from November 9th, as Talley watches the morning news in silence, then goes for a shave and a haircut. His eyes are liquid with words unspoken. He is cleaned up in keeping with his code, its own form of stoic defiance. We cut to him live-blogging the inauguration with Maureen Dowd, back to work but in somber context. Beauty and style retain meaning, and yet the film’s lingering message cares for neither. Talley rose above Jim Crow as a young man. Novack’s documentary leaves us with the sobering thought that decades later, still he must rise. —Andy Crump


beach-rats-movie-poster.jpg 62. Beach Rats
Year: 2018
Director: Eliza Hittman
Two consistent elements mark Eliza Hittman’s two features to date, It Felt Like Love and now Beach Rats. First is the highly sexual nature of the maturity both films chronicle, with prepubescent Lila (Gina Piersanti) in It Felt Like Love trying to basically force her way into her sexuality, while Frankie (Harris Dickinson) in Beach Rats struggles with his sexual identity, cruising for older men online while trying to maintain a heterosexual relationship with Simone (Madeline Weinstein). The other steady characteristic of Hittman’s films is her style: an intuitive approach that seemingly snatches moments of offhand beauty from the air. That roving eye for the ineffable can be seen not only in the way fireworks in Coney Island explode behind characters in the air, or vape smoke wafts into the ether in slow-motion, but in the way cinematographer Hélène Louvart, shooting in grittily textured 16mm, captures male bodies in motion. Beach Rats often recalls Claire Denis’s 1999 masterpiece Beau Travail in its overt homoeroticism, with Agnès Godard’s capturing of topless army men engaging in calisthenics finding an equivalent in Frankie and his three male friends walking down the Brooklyn streets or doing impromptu pull-ups on a subway train. Frankie is surrounded by machismo, which makes his struggle to come to terms with his homosexuality all the more understandable without Hittman turning the film into a heavy-handed “issues” movie. Dickinson, in his film debut, almost makes this familiar narrative feel fresh. Like Hittman’s filmmaking to some degree, the young actor manages to convey a lot about Frankie’s anguished inner life through purely physical means: the tense way he carries himself around his male friends, as if afraid he’ll betray hints of his inner homosexual desires, or the soft-spoken line readings which tremble with inarticulate internal tensions. There’s a sense of mystery about him that lends Beach Rats an aura of emotional impenetrability. —Kenji Fujishima


non-fiction-movie-poster.jpg 61. Non-Fiction
Year: 2019
Director: Olivier Assayas
What can’t writer-director Olivier Assayas do? Looking for a supernatural character study? Say hello to Personal Shopper. Want an enigmatic tale about art and identity? No problem, Clouds of Sils Maria is here for you. Epic biopic? Period generational portrait? Bittersweet family saga? He’s got you covered. Now comes Non-Fiction, a romantic roundelay that feels so frilly until you start to realize how sobering it is underneath. The story concerns a married couple—a TV actress (Juliette Binoche) and a book publisher (Guillaume Canet)—who are navigating their midlife crises by pursuing separate affairs. (She’s sleeping with one of his authors. He’s shacking up with a tech-savvy younger employee.) That setup lays the groundwork for one of Assayas’ funniest films—The Force Awakens becomes an unexpected running joke—but it’s also a swallow-hard commentary on a world that’s been radically transformed by the internet. Non-Fiction studies how everything from our personal lives to our creative spheres have been affected, rarely for the better, and yet the film is lighter than air, measuring these characters’ unhappiness while retaining a contented tone. Without breaking a sweat, Assayas tells us that modern life is rubbish—but, if you look at it just right, also still pretty darn wondrous. —Tim Grierson


transporter-movie-poster.jpg 60. The Transporter
Year: 2002
Director: Louis Leterrier
Before The Transporter, Jason Statham was, as far as most audiences knew, more cockney thug than lithe action beast, but after The Transporter came the frenetic shitstorm of Crank, followed by War, which pitted him against none other than Jet Li—so we can pretty much thank Louis Leterrier for believing in Statham’s martial arts prowess enough to give him both the right playground to inhabit and the license to take it apart. Imagine him a gruffer cousin to Jean-Claude Van Damme, just as given to finding himself shirtless, but more apt to preserve his mopey loner status—at least until some beautiful upstart maiden enters his life and throws herself at him. In that sense, Statham’s Frank Martin is the ideal distillation of Eastern martial arts archetypal heroes into the glossy neons of a Western action spectacle: Soundless, sexless and merciless, his physicality leaves no room for personality. Watch only the scene in which Frank tip-toes on bicycle pedals through an oil slick, roundhousing every dumb face in his impressive radius to propel body after body away on inky skids, to witness a lovable killing machine portrayed in as empirical—as perfect—a way as we can ever expect out of The Transporter’s more traditional Asian forebears. —Dom Sinacola


DestroyerPoster.jpg 59. Destroyer
Year: 2018
Director: Karyn Kusama
There’s a superb 90-minute movie woven through Destroyer’s two-hour run time, tight-knit and tense, free of excess flab and much, much meaner by consequence. We don’t have that movie. The movie we do have is a solid expression of Kusama’s talent (if not quite on the level of to her 2016 chiller, The Invitation). In Destroyer, Nicole Kidman plays Erin Bell, an LAPD detective whose undercover placement during her younger years on the force ended in disaster that’s defined not only her career but her personality nearly two decades later. In Destroyer’s present, Erin looks sandblasted and stretched thin, like leather left to tan for 20 years; she’s cracked and peeled on the outside, but her interior’s worse, crumbled and deprived of compassion since her undercover operation. The film sets her on the path to redemption and perhaps revenge, when Silas (Toby Kebbell), the ringleader of the gang she infiltrated with her partner-cum-lover (Sebastian Stan), emerges from hiding to taunt her anew. His return gives her purpose. Kidman’s performance gives her pathos. Destroyer raises questions of identity that Kusama doesn’t satisfy—is Erin really just the opposite side of the coin from Silas?—but Kidman’s work her holds the movie together. —Andy Crump


crime-punishment-doc-movie-poster.jpg 58. Crime + Punishment
Director: Stephen Maing
Which is the greater feat? Convincing a handful of NYPD officers, minorities all, to appear in a documentary film so that they may speak out about how the system pressures them (specifically, among all other officers) into making unlawful arrests to meet unspoken (and totally fucking illegal) quotas? Or being a minority officer of the NYPD, standing up to the very system on which your livelihood, dignity and selfhood hinge? Director Stephen Maing believes in the admirable, sensitive nature of the latter, though accomplishes the former, crafting Crime Punishment, one of 2018’s essential documentary films, as celluloid proof that the clock never runs out on covering racism perpetuated by the very institutions meant to, in theory, staunch its spread. Maing’s talent is undeniable, but it’s Crime Punishment’s grasp of the daring, the bravery, of its subjects in conveying their complicated realities which ultimately makes the film both address and transcend this moment—which makes it a document that will endure for years to come. —Andy Crump


superbad poster.png 57. Superbad
Year: 2007
Director: Greg Mottola
Every generation of teens has its generation of teen movies, and Greg Mottola’s Superbad is the epitome of mine. In Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), my friends and I had a mirror for our own insecurity and awkwardness—they were our modern-day Anthony Michael Halls. In Fogell/McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), we had an icon of weird who somehow ended up a winner, a sort of photonegative of Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick). And in Superbad’s constant dick jokes (care of a script by namesakes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), we had an accurate representation of the way we all talked, maturity be damned. The film would join the pantheon of mid-2000s comedies—most notably Anchorman and Step Brothers—that created a white-adolescent-boy language made up entirely of lewd, absurd references. It’s a rom-com in many respects, but unlike its predecessors, Superbad is a romance between two buddies, a story wherein the ostensible sex drive is secondary to Platonic need. Most of John Hughes’ ’80s oeuvre centers on the cringe-worthy struggle of X character getting Y other character to notice their existence in order to have Y inevitably fall for X. No matter what else Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink have to say, their endgame remains Molly Ringwald getting with the correct Good Guy. Ditto Amy Heckerling’s iconic contributions to the genre, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, and the literary reimaginings (Ten Things I Hate About You, et. al.) that followed in the latter’s wake. In Superbad, Seth and Evan’s versions of the Good Guy aren’t Jules (a precocious Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac): they’re each other. In the film’s denouement, with the two leads snuggled up close in sleeping bags, Seth literally says, “I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream, ‘I love my best friend, Evan.’” For teenage boys struggling with anxiety over the seeming hopelessness of losing their virginity, Superbad provides a welcome respite, an acknowledgement that focusing your entire life upon your dick is pointless when there’s fulfillment to be had by your side the entire time. —Zach Blumenfeld


goodbye-first-love.jpg 56. Goodbye First Love
Year: 2011
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Goodbye First Love is a small, sweet film that tells an old story with some new twists. While many films embrace the theme of young love, French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve takes an almost dispassionate approach; her characters are not especially precocious or quirky, or even exceptional. Instead, they really are “just” a couple of kids in love, making the story all the more relatable. With a gentle, hands-off approach, Hansen-Løve gives us a love story of modest (rather than epic) proportions. In the beginning of the film, Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) are heading for a break-up because they are teenagers and that’s what teenagers (and, to be fair, lots of adults) do. In terms of character, Camille is all of the wrong things, but appropriately so. She seldom wears a bra, but always wears a frown. She is angsty, but without the love for dead poets or punk rock. Instead, she has one, single interest: Sullivan, her boyfriend who has (naturally) many other interests. When Sullivan leaves to backpack across South America, Camille (after being severely depressed for a time) eventually becomes a real person with real interests. Her narrative deepens when she begins studying architecture, learning to construct buildings as she begins to construct her own sense of self. Camille’s independence is complicated with Sullivan’s return. One cannot help but root for him, as he is now up against a more independent Camille who is also in a serious relationship with her professor. With the help of cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (A Prophet) and music consultant Pascal Mayer (Incendies), Hansen-Løve manages to evoke some true emotion in her third feature film. The mood and tone of Goodbye First Love is palpable—sharp, moving, and intense even where the actors are not. Camille and Sullivan are somewhat difficult to connect with, individually. The film is ultimately successful in its care for the small, lovely things. Goodbye First Love is “just” a love story, but in that, it is enough. —Shannon M. Houston


young-beautiful.jpg 55. Young & Beautiful
Year: 2013
Director: François Ozon
When we first meet Isabelle (Marine Vacth), she doesn’t seem much different than most 16-year-olds. Yes, she’s strikingly beautiful in a bikini, but the adolescent uncertainty and hormonal urges are quite recognizable and universal. Once this French girl loses her virginity to an older German guy, however, her behavior changes in ways that neither we nor anyone close to her could have imagined. Young & Beautiful tracks a year in the life of Isabelle, and filmmaker François Ozon’s strongest creative choice is to never answer precisely what’s going on inside that pretty head of hers. Liberated of her virginity, Isabelle is then seen a few months later, now 17 and entering a hotel room in an outfit only worn by respectable hookers: high heels, too short skirt, a business jacket in the hopes of not calling attention to what she’s really there to do. We’ll eventually get an inkling about how this unlikely transformation took place, but only an inkling, because Ozon and Vacth show but don’t tell in this character piece. It elevates what could be just another ballad-of-a-hooker drama into something far more mysterious. Even at the film’s finale, where the possibility of closure presents itself, Ozon gracefully sidesteps the easy resolution. With her stunning looks and inscrutable manner, Isabelle is the type of gal who will break a lot of hearts. For the audience, she also messes with our mind. —Tim Grierson


kiki-poster.jpg 54. Kiki
Year: 2017
Directors: Sara Jordenö
With the help of model/activist Twiggy Pucci Garçon (who gets co-screenwriting credit here, in addition to appearing prominently), Sara Jardenö returns to the voguing scene Jennie Livingston so memorably captured in the legendary 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. What she finds is perhaps less immediately revelatory than it was almost 30 years ago, when Livingston first brought the voguing scene to a wider audience through her film. Which is probably to be expected, because much has changed since then, with AIDS no longer the scourge it once was, and with trans people of color becoming more visible. But as Kiki poignantly demonstrates—and as the real world constantly reminds us now in the midst of the Age of Trump—much more work still needs to be done. Thus, Jardenö’s greater focus on personal stories here is welcome, showing us an array of figures, some of whom are in the stages of gender transition, some who are trying to help others in the community and keep the voguing scene a safe space for them to fully express themselves. Kiki may be more of an activist documentary than Paris is Burning was, but it is no less affecting for it. —Kenji Fujishima


mother-movie-poster.jpg 53. mother!
Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky 
Try as you might to rationalize Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, mother! does not accept rationalization. There’s little reasonable ways to construct a single cohesive interpretation of what the movie tries to tell us. There is no evidence of Aronosfky’s intention beyond what we’ve intuited from watching his films since the ’90s—as well as how often Aronofsky loves to talk about his own work, which is usually worth avoiding, because Aronofsky likes thinking the movie is about everything. The most ironclad comment you can make about mother! is that it’s basically a matryoshka doll layered with batshit insanity. Unpack the first, and you’re met immediately by the next tier of crazy, and then the next, and so on, until you’ve unpacked the whole thing and seen it for what it is: A spiritual rumination on the divine ego, a plea for environmental stewardship, an indictment of entitled invasiveness, an apocalyptic vision of America in 2017, a demonstration of man’s tendency to leech everything from the women they love until they’re nothing but a carbonized husk, a very triggering reenactment of the worst house party you’ve ever thrown. mother! is a kitchen sink movie in the most literal sense: There’s an actual kitchen sink here, Aronofsky’s idea of a joke, perhaps, or just a necessarily transparent warning. mother!, though, is about everything. Maybe the end result is that it’s also about nothing. But it’s really about whatever you can yank out of it, its elasticity the most terrifying thing about it. —Andy Crump


eight-days-a-week.jpg 52. Eight Days a Week
Year: 2016
Director: Ron Howard 
The best documentaries, regardless of subject, give us something new. They teach us. They offer fresh perspective. That is really, really hard to do when you’re making a documentary about the Beatles. After more than 50 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone unfamiliar with the story of the Fab Four. Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary, focuses exclusively on the band’s touring years, from 1962-1966—and while it certainly doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a fun retelling of the band’s meteoric rise. What it does feature are new interviews with surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as a generous amount of archival interviews with John Lennon and George Harrison. Previously unseen, fan-recorded concert footage and some revealing studio outtakes are littered throughout, and while the film hits all the major points you’d expect it to (Beatlemania was crazy!), it’s so enjoyable you’re reminded there’s a reason this well keeps getting re-tapped. Just like the Beatles’ records will continue to spin across the world, from generation to generation until the end of time, we’ll keep poring over footage of these lads and talking about how they changed music—and pop culture as a whole—forever. —Bonnie Stiernberg


weiner.jpg 51. Weiner
Year: 2016
Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
“Why did you let me film this?” This simple question, posed at the end of Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner, is as baffling to the movie’s subject as it is to everyone else. Anthony Weiner gave a documentary crew incredible behind-the-scenes access to his 2013 New York mayoral campaign while his political career crumbled and his personal life turned to a shambles. He campaigned on (and the crew filmed on), refusing to acknowledge that he sunk himself by making the exact same mistake that sunk his career years earlier—maybe because he’s an egotist and couldn’t bear being out of the spotlight, or maybe because he’s an idealist, believing that people would see past his online indiscretions and vote based on his ideas. Or maybe he’s nothing more than a self-destructive glutton for punishment. Whatever the truth, the public will remember Weiner for his scandals, which fell from the sky like a host of divine gifts to late-night comedy. Directors Kriegman and Steinberg so superbly convey the sweeping excitement Weiner could generate that it makes things all the more depressing when he can’t even get five percent of the vote. The movie shifts from energetic editing, showing people’s love for the candidate, to a claustrophobic, drawn-out humiliation. If the filmmakers had an agenda besides studying Weiner’s character, they did a great job of hiding it. Weiner shows many facets of his personality: He can be charming and funny, but he can also be a petulant, entitled jerk. The veneer wears off as the stress mounts, making things increasingly uncomfortable—it’s excruciating to watch this man try to salvage respect from certain humiliation, but it makes for a devilishly intimate look into the madness of modern politics. —Jeremy Mathews


i saw the devil poster (Custom).jpg 50. I Saw the Devil
Year: 2010
Director: Kim Ji-woon
I Saw the Devil is a South Korean masterpiece of brutality by director Kim Ji-woon, who was also behind South Korea’s biggest horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters. It’s a truly shocking film, following a man out for revenge at any cost after the murder of his wife by a psychopath. We follow as the “protagonist” of the film makes sport of hunting said psychopath, embedding a tracker in the killer that allows him to repeatedly appear, beat him unconscious and then release him again for further torture. It’s a film about the nature of revenge and obsession, and whether there’s truly any value in repaying a terrible wrong. If you’re still on the fence, know that Choi Min-sik, the star of Park Chan-Wook’s original Oldboy, stars as the serial killer being hunted and turns in another stellar performance. This is not a traditional horror film, but it’s horrific in both imagery and emotional impact. —Jim Vorel


existenz-movie-poster.jpg 49. eXistenZ
Year: 1999
Director: David Cronenberg
From its first moments—during which a hotshot digital designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) introduces her newest virtual reality “game” to a congregation of fans that eerily resemble an AA meeting gone bust, not moments before an ersatz assassin shoots her in the shoulder with a monstrous gun that uses human teeth as bullets—until its last, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a discernible line between reality and the virtual, eXistenZ never lets up. This is the closest David Cronenberg will ever get to making a first-person shooter or survival horror video game, and for that, it’s more than we could have ever hoped. Gross, absorbing and breathlessly paced, eXistenZ exists in the trenches between action movie clichés and weird B-movie trash, between cyberpunk and political thriller, between sense and absolute nonsense—lecturing its audience on the real consequences of violence in “games” without losing sight of just how much fun that violence can be. —Dom Sinacola


12-oclock-boys-movie-poster.jpg 48. 12 O’Clock Boys
Year: 2014
Director: Lotfy Nathan
An elegant mix between a scrappy visual bildungsroman of a 13-year-old Baltimore youth and a cursory glance at the dirt-bike and four-wheeler culture that’s risen to near legendary status in the city, 12 O’Clock Boys is a gorgeously shot testament to the social climate that has made Baltimore such a focus for racial and institutional tension in the past two weeks. But don’t dare compare this to The Wire—Nathan’s documentary is almost totally removed from any particular time. Instead, it’s concerned more with the quotidian, how the City’s youth live for their bikes, for the thrill of testing their physical limits, for the freedom and personality such machines afford them in a place that rarely allows them to ever express the same. Baltimore’s problems have been indelible to its personality for so long, and yet, as embraced by Pug—our protagonist, the boy who obsesses over joining the 12 O’Clock Boys, Baltimore’s so-called biker gang—the City is a complex web of thoroughfares and blank slates ready to be etched into stone by anyone with a motor and a death wish. Between goose-pimply vignettes of the 12 O’Clock boys posturing for the camera—popping wheelies and grinning wildly—and sobering passages in which Pug’s family (and friends) face one tragedy after another, the film is moored to the foundation of Pug’s dream: That one day he will be legend too. —Dom Sinacola


7-The-way-back-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 47. The Way Back
Year: 2011
Director: Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s WWII-era survival movie may be based on a disputed “true story,” but it holds indisputable truths about man’s perseverance in impossible odds. A prison break movie that soon morphs into an epic travelogue, The Way Back displays a bountiful variety of scenery, as a disparate group of POWs and political undesirables escapes from a Soviet gulag to trek 4,000 miles across Asia, from ice-blanketed Siberia through dusty Mongolia and on to lush India, the final destination getting always further away as the group discover how far the tyrannical communism they flee has spread. It’s one of Weir’s less remarkable films, but even Weir in a minor key is still compelling entertainment, and as usual he casts to a T: the top-drawer ensemble includes Ed Harris as a grizzly American engineer, Saoirse Ronan as a Polish stray who joins the escapees on their pilgrimage and, best of all, a wonderfully scuzzy Colin Farrell as a feral Russian gangster who’s spent so long imprisoned he hasn’t a clue what to do with freedom. —Brogan Morris


friday-13th.jpg 46. Friday the 13th
Year: 1980
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
The Friday the 13th film that started them all. Years after two summer camp counselors are offed while they’re getting it on, a new group with similar extracurricular activities arrives at Camp Crystal Lake. Hack, slice. A pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon (one of the series’ many casting gems) gets lucky and then immediately gets an arrowhead through the back of the throat. Bummer. It’s a competent and formative slasher flick, though it barely resembles the series it spawned, in ways both positive and negative. Its impact, however, can’t be argued, and it’s the film most singularly responsible for properly kicking off the slasher boom of the ’80s. Jason makes only a brief, but extremely memorable appearance. And the ending reveal is among the most shocking in horror history. —Jeffrey Bloomer


life-itself-poster1.jpg 45. Life Itself
Year: 2014
Director: Steve James
Life Itself may tell the story of a remarkable life, but it’s at its most enlightening when dealing with death. Steve James’s documentary on Roger Ebert naturally chronicles its subject’s exploits, trials and triumphs as he became the most recognizable film critic in the United States, but it weaves his life story around footage shot during the last months of his life, as we see the effect his impairments and mortality have on him and his loved ones. While the director’s best-known works like Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters mainly use location footage and naturalistic interviews shot by James himself, the historical segments of Life Itself take on a slick production quality that would be more closely associated with Ken Burns—complete with old photos and archival footage. While the movie jumps around chronologically, its contemporary footage is the pivot on which it all turns. But James is most at home while working with his own footage, and that’s where the movie really shines. Shooting began a few months before Ebert’s death, but no one knew that the end would come so soon. Ebert had been publicly battling cancer for several years, after all; surgeries and subsequent complications in 2006 left him with no jaw, nearly unrecognizable and unable to eat without tubes or speak without a computer. When James joins him, Ebert is doing even worse after breaking his hip. It’s fitting that Ebert often professed his love for documentaries that unfold in a way the filmmakers couldn’t have predicted when production began. He would have loved this one. —Jeremy Mathews


colossal-movie-poster.jpg 44. Colossal
Year: 2017
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Colossal is simply a much darker, more serious-minded film than one could possibly go in expecting, judging from the marketing materials and rather misleading trailers. It blooms into a story about sacrifice and martyrdom, while simultaneously featuring an array of largely unlikable characters who are not “good people” in any measurable way. I understand that description sounds at odds with itself—this film is often at odds with itself. But in the cognitive dissonance this creates, it somehow finds a streak of feminist individuality and purpose it couldn’t have even attempted to seek as a straight-up comedy. What Nacho Vigalondo has created in Colossal is a truly unusual, sometimes head-scratching aberration, a film with tonal shifts so jarring that the audience’s definition of its genre is likely to change repeatedly in the course of watching it. Aspects of the film defy explanation, but one thing is clear: Nobody was stifling the writer-director, and we’ve been given one of the most interesting films of 2017. Vigalondo takes aim at the cliches of film festival dramas before smashing them under a giant, monstrous foot. —Jim Vorel


duke-burgundy-movie-poster.jpg 43. The Duke of Burgundy
Year: 2014
Director: Peter Strickland
Even the kinkiest couples have to work to keep the spark alive. That’s the message at the heart of the hypnotic, erotic The Duke of Burgundy, which weaves quite a spell out of repetition and mystery. A midnight movie for the smart set, this 2014 film from In Fabric filmmaker Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, too) is a beautiful puzzle. The deception begins from the opening frames. Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) rides her bike to the house of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a slightly older woman who addresses her gruffly, expecting Evelyn, who’s a maid, to clean her home to her exacting standards. (Even worse for poor Evelyn, she’s late on her first day.) But after criticizing Evelyn, Cynthia ends up in bed with the woman. It turns out this isn’t their first encounter: In fact, it’s part of an elaborate game of role-play for these longtime lovers, and it appears that it’s actually Evelyn who’s calling the shots, writing scripts for them to act out. From that clever opening, The Duke of Burgundy proceeds to explain (but not explain) the couple’s relationship. Setting most of the action within the walls of the house—except for brief scenes from a conference for butterfly enthusiasts—Strickland has crafted a claustrophobic portrait where we observe the characters’ actions without always understanding them. Such mysteries are common for Strickland. His debut, Katalin Varga, chronicled the strange odyssey of a woman who travels to the home of the man who raped her and got her pregnant. Berberian Sound Studio concerned a sound mixer slowly losing his mind—or was the studio where he’s working haunted? Utilizing intense, impressionistic sound designs, Strickland makes films as if they were headphone symphonies, enveloping the viewer in his quietly unsettling moodscapes. The Duke of Burgundy is less outwardly ominous than Strickland’s previous two films, but not by a lot. Easily it’s his funniest. The movie’s setup—lesbians, S&M—suggests all types of naughty sights, but Strickland both plays into those assumptions and subverts them. Strickland filters his characters’ desires through homages to Nicolas Roeg and Ingmar Bergman, never once giving us a traditional sex scene but always filling the frame with a steamy undercurrent. (The most provocative moment happens off-screen.) The movie is all tease, but it can sometimes be a really fun tease: A particularly engrossing sequence is inspired by the dark shadow between a woman’s thighs. Because Strickland doesn’t make conventional stories, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they end on deeply ambiguous or unresolved notes. Like the filmmaker, The Duke of Burgundy’s lovers understand their world better than we ever will, so the allure is entering it for a few hours, trying to make sense of what we see. —Tim Grierson


district-9.jpg 42. District 9
Year: 2012
Director: Neill Blomkamp 
Let’s begin with a number: 30 million. That’s how much money Neill Blomkamp spent to make District 9, a movie small in scale but great in ambition, look like it cost four times that amount. Years later, Blomkamp’s career hasn’t realized the full promise shown in District 9, but here, he looks like a guy knows what he’s doing all the same. A genre stew blended from varying measurements of Alien Nation, Watermelon Man, Independence Day, The Fly and RoboCop, District 9 treads familiar territory in an unfamiliar place, through an unfamiliar lens, splicing documentary-style filmmaking together with stomach-churning body horror and, by the end, high-end action spectacle. Nine years ago, the end results of Blomkamp’s mad sci-fi cocktail felt revelatory. Today they feel disappointing, a remark on what he could have been and where his career might have taken him if he’d not lost himself in the morass of Elysium or turned off even his more devoted followers with Chappie. All the same, District 9 remains a major work for a first-timer, or even a third-timer, polished and yet scrappy at the same time; the film tells of an artist with something to say, and saying it with electric urgency. —Andy Crump


Whose-Streets-poster.jpg 41. Whose Streets?
Year: 2017
Director: Sabaah Folayan
Following the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis examine the American media’s biased, racist coverage of the tragedy and the protests in response. Whose Streets? asks that—rather than if black lives matter to prosecutors, or State’s Attorneys or the American police (all culprits in the teen boy’s modern-day lynching)—viewers place their faith in those real heroes, like activists Brittany Farrell and David Whitt. You might go into Whose Streets? expecting to simply see a film about the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the people behind it. And if you are of the opinion that black lives do matter, you might expect to be moved and motivated to either continue on in your activism, or take to the streets for the first time in your life. I, for one, anticipated another powerful, but difficult, film, similar to 13th and this year’s equally excellent The Blood is on The Doorstep. And while I was right, I also had no idea how deeply personal the protestors’ stories would get. The directors frame the film around the very young children of the activists they follow, but Whose Streets? is one of those rare and wonderful experiences in which a piece’s framing manages to both enhance and intensify the central narrative. “Whose Streets?” refers to the protest chant encouraging people to take back their neighborhoods from the cops and racist, classist policies that would seek to destroy them, but the answer to the question is actually more devastating: These streets—whether they’re covered in the blood of slain, unarmed black people, or humming with protestors both peaceful and riotous, or swarming with members of the national guard in tanks, sent in to militarize an entire city—these streets are always seen and experienced through the eyes of those with the least ability to change it, and the most to lose. By personalizing the experiences of their activist subjects, and demanding viewers see how the subjects’ choices and sacrifices directly impact their children and families, Whose Streets? becomes all about the kids and, therefore, all about the the future. And so much of that future, the film seems to insist, is dependent on the emotion and anger that keeps the film’s subjects in the streets, and the cameras in the hands of the filmmakers who also put their own bodies on the line. A political documentary that dares acknowledge rage as a tool as useful as hope or faith: That is one that [Black] America will surely need in 2017, and beyond. —Shannon M. Houston


river-grass-movie-poster.jpg 40. River of Grass
Year: 1994
Director: Kelly Reichardt
When it comes to discussing the films of Kelly Reichardt, most people tend to forget about River of Grass, her debut feature from 1994, a whole 12 years before her sophomore effort, Old Joy, would put her on many critics’ radars. Certainly, anyone expecting the social consciousness of Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Night Moves will be thrown for a loop by the purely genre-based leanings of River of Grass. It’s essentially a variation on lovers-on-the-run pictures, with a noirish mystery thread revolving around cop Jimmy Ryder (Dick Russell), the oblivious father of one of the escaped lovers, Cozy (Lisa Bowman). The key to Reichardt’s vision in River of Grass lies in Cozy’s character—her voiceover narration, especially. A 30-year-old housewife who still lives with her father, she frequently gives herself over to her daydreams, imagining a life outside her dead-end environment. Reichardt doesn’t signal this with any fantasy sequences; all one needs to do is hear her dryly delivered faux-poetic musings—“Murder is thicker than water,” she says at one point—and see the cheerleader-like routines she does out of the blue to grasp her essential immaturity (one scene featuring a dreamy slow dance is especially mesmerizing). Though Reichardt maintains a deadpan distance from her and the rest of the characters, Cozy’s desperation and her subsequent excitement at getting caught up in all of this intrigue register with enough force that, toward the end, when the much less glamorous reality of her situation dawns on her, the revelation also hits us with a devastating punch. —Kenji Fujishima


force-majeure.jpg 39. Force Majeure
Director: Ruben Östlund
Year: 2014
Hidden behind this uncomfortably snickering fable about modern masculinity is something with no real patience for heteronormative nonsense. Though Force Majeure is mostly about a seemingly good dad who makes a bad split-decision while on vacation with his seemingly perfect family, the film would rather question the more primeval forces that bind us: monogamy, safety, companionship, blood and lust. This isn’t about a father who, in a brief moment of weakness, failed to protect his family, it’s about the dynamics of any relationship: Can we ever know the people we love most? Östlund asks this over and over, wreaking sickly funny havoc upon his male protagonist’s ego as he builds to a sweet little climax wherein this beaten-down bro revels in the chance to show his family his true colors. —Dom Sinacola


BPM-movie-poster.jpg 38. BPM
Year: 2017
Director: Robin Campillo
What did it look like before it was hashtagged and a selling point, branded on buttons and books? For Robin Campillo, it looked like: a handful of people disrupting a meeting of suits to call attention to oppression, abuse and malpractice, only to have everything go awry when someone throws a balloon of fake blood, complicating the intended political effects. It looked like: a couple dozen people in a badly lit room, ostensibly gathering for the same beliefs, shouting at one another, trying to negotiate what the best way would be to get the attention of the government so that lives can be saved. It looked like: a “die in,” a political action that describes when people’s mode of protest is to stop in the streets, in plain sight and full visibility, playing dead on the ground to represent the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been affected by ignorance and unhelpfulness from the government. Robin Campillo—by (semi-fictionally) documenting the Paris chapter of ACT UP, the HIV/AIDS activist group that grew out of New York in the mid 1980s, and how its members deal with pharmaceutical companies, actions, sex, love, hate, community, dancing and death—shows us what defiance and, yes, what resistance looks like. In BPM, Campillo understands better than almost any filmmaker that, for the marginalized, even the molecular is political. —Kyle Turner


marston-wonder-women-movie-poster.jpg 37. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Year: 2017
Director: Angela Robinson
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of two married psychology professors at Radcliffe College, Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), a couple who grew up together and are deeply in love but also restless and eager for discovery. While attempting to invent a lie detector test—they eventually create one but never patent it—they meet an eager, beautiful student named Olive (Bella Heathcote) who’s the daughter of a feminist icon and as desperate for knowledge and new experiences as they are. They eventually all fall in love and live together as a menage a trois before their university finds out, fires the couple and forces them to all go live together, now with their children, to find some sort of work. The work turns out, we learn in an unnecessary narrative flash-forward sequence, to serve as the basis of Bill’s increasing interest in comic books, creating a character, based on the two women in his life and based in his feminist ideals, who is strong, smart, truthful, heroic and, well, into bondage. The love story of this family turns out to be the origin story of Wonder Woman herself. This is a fascinating story, particularly as we see little moments in the lives of the Marston clan reflected in the Wonder Woman mythos. (Olive wears metal wristbands all the time, the lasso is like the lie detectors Elizabeth and Bill invent, so on.) But writer-director Angela Robinson makes sure to keep it focused on the emotions involved, which is especially tricky considering all three characters are all so academically oriented—not to mention obsessed with deciphering the human mind and why we make the decisions we do—and are thus constantly questioning their own value systems. We really do believe that these three people love each other, and that they’re all better off together, but Robinson never tries to make this overly prudish and sanitized. The movie isn’t buttoned-up and restrained, but it isn’t brash and in your face either; it’s affably sexy, if such a thing is possible. And it never loses sight of its central premise of equality and acceptance—this movie’s heart is firmly in the right place. —Will Leitch


ninja-scroll.jpg 36. Ninja Scroll
Year: 1993
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajira
Set during the Tokugawa era of Japan, Ninja Scroll follows the story of Jubei Kibagami, an itinerant samurai warrior (partly inspired by the real-life folk hero, Jubei Yagyu) who is recruited by a government agent to defeat the Eight Devils of Kimon, a cabal of demonic ninja who conspire to overthrow the Tokugawa regime and plunge Japan into destruction. Along the way he meets Kagero, a beautiful and mysterious poison eater, and is forced to confront the demons of his past as he fights to preserve the present. Produced during the boom of anime’s foreign markets, Ninja Scroll was one of the first titles released by Manga Entertainment in the West. Its well-defined animation, unflinching hyper-violence, and impressively creative fight sequences made it a requisite gateway title for early anime fans and is rightfully looked upon as a cult classic to this day. The film qualifies as a time capsule for one of anime’s heyday periods, with exquisite production values married to impeccably crafted set pieces. Ninja Scroll pushed the boundaries of excess, with unflinching depictions of sensuality and sexual violence shown alongside showers of gore and decapitation. The film was front-and-center for the argument that anime “wasn’t just for kids” in the mid-’90s, and qualifies today as a must-see title for a serious anime fan. Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll is the quintessential anime chanbara action film, no question. —Toussaint Egan


the-square.jpg 35. The Square
Director: Ruben Östlund
The Square starts with a hangover and ends with a headache, but don’t feel too bad for the well-meaning fool suffering from them. His ailments are entirely his own damn fault. This is what happens when you try to shoulder the combined weight of the world’s problems by yourself without shrugging: You buckle. In the case of our well-meaning fool, Christian (Claes Bang), that burden is made heavier by hubris, pomp, the kind of commodifiable liberal arrogance that dupes people into thinking they’re helping by responding to mass shootings and natural disasters with hashtags. Christian’s intentions are good—grand even—but he’s just one person. One person can’t wash away humanity’s woes, especially when that person is an inveterate asshole. If you know the movies of Ruben Östlund, though, this won’t come as a surprise: Crummy examples of manliness are his bread and butter. Östlund’s last movie, 2014’s superb Force Majeure, a biting satire of disgraced masculinity, is all about dissecting gender roles and finding sympathy for its protagonist following an act of humiliating cowardice. The Square explores similar thematic pursuits but couches them in an equally biting satire of the art world, and if you’re taking the mickey out of the art world, you’re taking the mickey out of the world at large. Art, after all, is innately political, and The Square has politics in its DNA. —Andy Crump


hunt-for-wilderpeople.jpg 34. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Year: 2016
Director: Taika Waititi
Bella’s (Rima Te Wiata) first encounter with Ricky (Julian Dennison), the new foster child she’s agreed to take on, doesn’t inspire confidence, especially with her clumsy jokes at the expense of his weight. In turn, with child-services representative Paula (Rachel House) painting Ricky as an unruly wild child, one dreads the prospect of seeing the kid walk all over this possibly in-over-her-head mother. But Bella wears him down with kindness. And Ricky ends up less of a tough cookie than he—with his fondness for gangsta rap and all that implies—initially tried to project. An adaptation of Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople thrives on upending preconceived notions. The director shows sympathy for Ricky’s innocence, which is reflected in the film’s grand-adventure style. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne’s sweeping, colorful panoramas and a chapter-based narrative structure gives Hunt for the Wilderpeople the feel of a storybook fable, but thanks to the warm-hearted dynamic between Ricky and Hec (Sam Neill), even the film’s most whimsical moments carry a sense of real underlying pain: Both of these characters are outsiders ultimately looking for a home to call their own. —Kenji Fujishima


minority-report-poster.jpg 33. Minority Report
Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg 
The more we become connected, the more any sense of personal privacy completely evaporates. So goes Steven Spielberg’s vision for our near future, couched in the signifiers of a neo-noir, mostly because the veil of safety and security has been—today, in 2002 and for decades to come—irrevocably ripped from our eyes. What we see (and everything we don’t) becomes the stuff of life and death in this shadowed thriller based on a Philip K. Dick story, about a pre-crime cop John Anderton (Tom Cruise) whose loyalty and dedication to his job can’t save him from meaner bureaucratic forces. Screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen’s plot clicks faultlessly into place, buoyed by breathtaking action setpieces—metallic tracking spiders ticking and swarming across a decrepit apartment floor to find Anderton, the man submerged in an ice-cold bathtub with his eyes recently switched out via black market surgery, immediately lurches to mind—but most impressive is Spielberg’s sophistication, unafraid of the bleak tidings his film prophecies even as it feigns a storybook ending. —Dom Sinacola


dirty-rotten-scoundrels.jpg 32. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Year: 1988
Director: Frank Oz
The story of two rival con men working a wealthy heiress is a comedy classic for two reasons: Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Watching Martin’s American street hustler Freddy Benson try to learn from and outwit his reluctant mentor, Caine’s refined British Lawrence Jameson, while they both desperately attempt to win a bet of swindling $50,000 from their agreed mark (Glenne Headly as Janet Colgate), offers plenty of laughs, even if the plot is fairly conventional. With Benson reduced to playing the dimwit Ruprecht, Steve Martin is in his physical comedy prime. —Josh Jackson


bull-durham.jpg 31. Bull Durham
Year: 1988
Director: Ron Shelton
I believe in ridiculous names like Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh. I believe in romantic comedies about giving up on a certain phase of your life where characters stand up and deliver cliched “I believe” speeches that, despite being borderline cheesy, somehow ring completely true. And yes, I too believe there should be a Constitutional Amendment banning Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in Bull Durham, anchored by Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon, a film that does its part to engender a love for the game and the people who court it. In fact, it may be the most engaging presentation of the minor-league life on film—and a pretty salute to baseball, in general—this first installment in the unofficial Costner Baseball Trilogy that proved baseball could equal big box office. —Bonnie Stiernberg & Michael Burgin


color-purple-movie-poster.jpg 30. The Color Purple
Year: 1985
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Today, Spielberg is respected as a dramatic director as much as a maestro of crowd-pleasing blockbusters, but when he decided to bring Alice Walker’s emotional gut-punch of a novel to the big screen, he was taking quite a career risk. Not only did he not have any straight dramatic work in his portfolio up until that point, but the thought of a white male filmmaker known for making movies about aliens and whip-cracking archeologists tackling a beloved female-centric African-American story didn’t help anything. Yet Spielberg took great advantage from some spectacular performances, The Color Purple’s success relying heavily on Spielberg’s intrinsically empathetic and humanist nature, as well as the perspectives of his stars. In Celie, portrayed with heartbreaking naturalism by Whoopi Goldberg, we can relate to powerlessness and feeling worthless, as she does at the hands of her abusive husband (Danny Glover). Granted, Spielberg omitted some of the more intimate parts of the novel, such as the relationship between Celie and a singer (Margaret Avery), which represents Celie’s first step towards empowerment (an omission the director admitted he regretted after the fact), but the film’s lasting power is still undeniable.


meeks-cutoff.jpg 29. Meek’s Cutoff
Year: 2011
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Leave it to Kelly Reichardt to reclaim the genre for women. Western movies tend to be seen as “guy” affairs, less so now in 2017 than in years past; they are manly products about manly men doing manly things and pondering manly ideas, though that’s an oversimplified critique that erases the impact women have had on Westerns in front of and behind the camera. What Reichardt does in Meek’s Cutoff is shunt the men to the side and confront the bullshit macho posturing that is such an integral component of the Western’s grammar (the only man here worth his salt is Stephen Meek [Bruce Greenwood], and even he is kind of an incompetent, entitled scumbag). So it’s up to Emily Tetherow, played by the great and luminous Michelle Williams, to challenge his self-appointed authority and take responsibility for the people in the caravan he has led so far astray from their path. Meek’s Cutoff is a stark, minimalist film, which is to say it’s a Kelly Reichardt film. The stripped-down, simmering austerity of her aesthetic pairs perfectly with the sensibilities of Western cinema. —Andy Crump


support-the-girls-movie-poster.jpg 28. Support the Girls
Year: 2018
Director: Andrew Bujalski
As Hooters fades more and more from the American consciousness, locations closing everywhere and the urges of its typical past patrons transmogrified into more sinister, shadier proclamations online, the concept of the “breastaurant,” a bygone signifier once as prevalent off highways as a Cracker Barrel, provides for yet another sign of service industry jobs in decline—and a perfect subject for Andrew Bujalski, a filmmaker emerging as America’s great bard of the working class. Over the course of one harrowing day at Double Whammies, Manager Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall, bastion) goes about her run-of-the-mill duties—standing up to volatile customers, training new waitresses, dealing with a seemingly inept cable guy—in addition to organizing a car wash fundraiser for an employee and her shitty boyfriend, serving as whipping girl to the restaurant’s shitty owner (James LeGros, male insecurity personified) and generally navigating the exhausting reality of what her job is and what it represents. Isn’t she better than this? Bujalski, wonderfully, answers “no,” because she’s very good at her job, and her staff adores her—led by magnanimous performances from Haley Lu Richardson and rapper/artist Junglepussy—and work is work is work. And what are any of us supposed to do when increasingly the fruits of our labor are taken from us, devalued or dragged through the street, squashed or screamed into oblivion, our jobs both defining us and dooming us to a lack of any real definition? Support the Girls understands the everyday pain of those contradictions, without judgment standing by our side, patting us on the back. One has to do what one has to do anymore. —Dom Sinacola


sorry-to-bother-you-movie-poster.jpg 27. Sorry to Bother You
Year: 2018
Director: Boots Riley
Sorry to Bother You has so many ideas busting out of every seam, so much ambition, so much it so urgently wants to say, that it feels almost churlish to point out that the movie ends up careening gloriously out of control. This is rapper and producer Boots Riley’s first movie, and it shows, in every possible way—good, bad, incredible, ridiculous—as if he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to make another one, so he threw every idea he ever had into this. There are moments in Sorry To Bother You that will make you want to jump giddily around the theater. There are also moments that will make you wonder who in the world gave this lunatic a camera. (Some of those moments are pretty giddy too.) The former far outnumbers the latter. Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius, a good-hearted guy who feels like his life is getting away from him and thus tries his hand at telemarketing, failing at it (in a series of fantastic scenes in which his desk literally drops into the homes of whomever he is dialing) until a colleague (Danny Glover, interesting until the movie drops him entirely) recommends he use his “white voice” on calls. Suddenly, Stanfield sounds exactly like David Cross at his most nasally and has become a superstar at the company, which leads him “upstairs,” where “supercallers” like him go after the Glengarry leads. That is just the launching off point: Throughout, we meet a Tony Robbins-type entrepreneur (Armie Hammer) who might also be a slave trader, Cassius’s radical artist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson), who wears earrings with so many mottos it’s a wonder she can hold up her head, and a revolutionary co-worker (Stephen Yeun) trying to rile the workers into rebelling against their masters. There are lots of other people too, and only some of them are fully human. It’s quite a movie. —Will Leitch


jiro-sushi.jpg 26. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Year: 2012
Director: David Gelb
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about one of the greatest masters of the culinary world, one of whom casual foodies have never even heard. Although Jiro’s work—literally, the dishes he so effortlessly prepares, and then the act of watching him as he watches his customers eating the dishes—is ostensibly the film’s focus, the story is truly propelled by the chef’s relationship with his two sons: The youngest started his own restaurant, and the oldest, at the age of 50, continues to work with his father, training to one day take over Jiro’s infamous restaurant. Devoid of the typical familial jealousy you may expect (and so devoid, arguably, of much conflict at all), Jiro Dreams of Sushi is only a beautifully filmed documentary about three men who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of perfection. Which in itself is conflict enough—as the film airily asks: Where do style, artistry, practice and perfection meet? —Emily Kirkpatrick


beach-bum-movie-poster.jpg 25. The Beach Bum
Year: 2019
Director: Harmony Korine
Witness Matthew McConaughey, transcending. Revel in it, because this has got to be as high as he goes. As Moondog, the opposite, arch nemesis perhaps, to the Matthew McConaughey of the Lincoln commercials—on TV the interstitial, nonchalant pool shark and connoisseur of fine leather everything, a man to whom one whispers courteously, in reverence between network shows—Matthew McConaughey realizes the full flat circle of his essence. The actor bears multitudes, and they all converge upon the befuddled Moondog, consummate inhuman and titular hobo of the southern sands of these United States. One could claim that Moondog’s hedonism represents a moral imperative to consume all that’s truly beautiful about life, and Moondog says as much even if he’s plagiarising D.H. Lawrence (which he admits to his best friend Lingerie, who’s carried on a long-time affair with Moondog’s wife, and who’s played by Snoop Dog in a career best performance). Speaking of Lawrence, Martin also gives a career-best performance as Captain Wack, dolphin lover; the film slides effortlessly into absurdity. One could claim, too, that Moondog’s little but a self-destructive addict somehow given a free pass to circumvent basic human responsibility altogether. One could claim that director Harmony Korine doesn’t believe in basic human responsibility anyway. He doesn’t claim much in the way of explicating Moondog’s whole way of being, doesn’t reserve any judgment for the man’s mantra and blissful lurch towards oblivion. Or annihilation. The uniform for which is casual, including JNCO jeans, brandished by Flicker (Zac Efron), with whom Moondog escapes the court-mandated rehab that seemingly does nothing to pierce the armor of intoxication Moondog’s spent his life reinforcing. Whether he’s protecting himself from any serious human connection or from the crass hellscape of capitalistic society—whether he’s deeply grieving a tragedy that occurs halfway through The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine’s masterpiece of feeling good in the face of feeling the worst, or avoiding all feeling completely—he’s still a bad dad. Or he’s an artist. Or a saint. Or he’s from a different dimension, as his wife (Isla Fisher) explains to their daughter, as she most likely always has, against a breathtaking vista followed not long after by a heartbreaking sunset, both photographed by Benoît Debie, in Miami of all places, all magnificent and hollow, the film a hagiography for the end of history. —Dom Sinacola


spaceballs.jpg 24. 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


minding-gap-movie-poster.jpg 23. Minding the Gap
Year: 2018
Director: Bing Liu
In a year rich with slice-of-life glimpses at pubescence in flux care of the arrested development of skateboard crews, Minding the Gap is undoubtedly the best of its cinematic ilk—not because it’s “real,” but because it’s so clearly focused on interrogating the toxicity that keeps these kids from truly growing up. In Rockford, Illinois, just a smidge too far outside of Chicago to matter, three kids use Liu’s camcorder to chronicle their days spent avoiding responsibility and the economic devastation suffered by so many Rust Belt cities of its kind: Zack, a cute and reckless elder of the crew, about to embark on fatherhood with his (noticeably younger) girlfriend Nina; Keire, a seemingly always-grinning black kid who stays stiffly quiet whenever Zack claims that he has permission to use certain racial epithets, or when another kid insists that white trash kids have it the same as black kids; and Bing, the director himself, one of the few from his friend group able to escape Rockford. Splicing nostalgic footage of their time skating with urgent documents of their burgeoning adult life, Liu builds a portrait of the modern male in Middle America, lacing ostensibly jovial parties and hang-outs with shots of Rockford billboards vilifying absentee parents and pleas from Nina not to tell Zack that she admitted on-camera he’s hit her. As Liu discovers more and more about the abuse indelible to the young lives of his two friends, he reveals his own story of fear and pain at home, terrorized by his stepfather up until the man’s death, pushing him to confront his mother in the film’s climax about what’s been left unsaid about their mutual tormenter. It all breathes with the nerve-shaking relief of finally having these burdens exposed, though Liu is careful to ground these moments with the harsh reality of Rockford and those towns like it: Billboards beg men not to leave, not to hit their family members, not to take out their deep-seated emotional anxiety on their loved ones, because it will happen anyway. Zack, who was abused, will pass on that abuse. We hope he won’t, because we see simultaneously how he skates, how all of his friends skate together, the act less about being great at skating (though a sponsorship could help their pocketbooks), and more about finding respite from the shackles of their worlds. That Liu shoots these scenes—especially the film’s opening, set to a stirring classical score—with so much levity and beauty, with so much kinetic freedom, only assures that, for as much as Crystal Moselle and Jonah Hill love their subjects, Liu lives with them. He’s shared the weight of that. —Dom Sinacola


12. hellraiser (Custom).jpg 22. Hellraiser
Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and they’re indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in the film version of Hellraiser, an icky story of sick love and obsession. —Rachel Haas


das-boot-movie-poster.jpg 21. Das Boot
Year: 1981
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
One can watch it as a feature—either the 150-minute theatrical iteration or the 208-minute director’s cut—or, should you have the time, in its original uncut form, or worse, as a five-hour miniseries. But in any version, Das Boot is the finest submarine movie in all of cinema. Only, “movie” seems an inadequate description: Wolfgang Peterson’s breakout is an experience, a thing to endure alongside the solemn, silly, cynical men of the U-96. We spend the days down there in the depths with the crew, stalking enemy vessels and tensing up under hull-busting pressure, petrified at the sound of approaching depth charges, elated at successfully escaping through into safe waters. Author Lothar-Gunther Buchheim considered his novel butchered, with Petersen’s film an unrealistic “re-glorification” of the German combatant in WWII, but there seems nothing glorious or inauthentic about Peterson’s adaptation. To the viewer, the U-96 crew’s excursions into fear and madness seem like perfectly reasonable responses to an unimaginable situation. —Brogan Morris


airplane-movie-poster.jpg 20. Airplane!
Year: 1980
Director: Jim Abrahams
The writing trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (ZAZ) defined a genre with their disaster movie spoof in 1980. Jokes fly fast and furious, from the “Who’s on First” confusion of a crew that includes Roger and Captain Oveur (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”), to Oveur (Peter Graves) asking a kid in the cockpit, “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”, to an old lady translating jive (“Jive-ass dude don’t got no brains anyhow! Shiiiiit!”) to “stop calling me Shirley!” Ridiculous and ridiculously quotable, it’s the funniest spoof film of all time. —Josh Jackson


evolution-2015-poster.jpg 19. Evolution
Year: 2015
Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic
Hadžihalilovic’s gorgeous enigma is anything and everything: creature feature, allegory, sci-fi headfuck, Lynchian homage, feminist masterpiece, 80 minutes of unmitigated gut-sensation—it is an experience unto itself, refusing to explain whatever it is it’s doing so long as the viewer understands whatever that may be on some sort of subcutaneous level. In it, prepubescent boy Nicolas (Max Brebant) finds a corpse underwater, a starfish seemingly blooming from its bellybutton. Which would be strange were the boy not living on a fatherless island of eyebrow-less mothers who every night put their young sons to bed with a squid-ink-like mixture they call “medicine.” This is the norm, until Nicolas’s boy-like curiosity begins to reveal a world of maturity he’s incapable of grasping, discovering one night what the mothers do once their so-called “sons” have fallen asleep. From there, Evolution eviscerates notions of motherhood, masculinity and the inexplicable gray area between, simultaneously evoking anxiety and awe as it presents one unshakeable, dreadful image after another. —Dom Sinacola


let-the-shunshine-in-criterion.jpg 18. Let the Sunshine In
Year: 2017
Director: Claire Denis
Making love is better when you’re in love. For Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a painter living in Paris, the former comes easily and the latter vexes her. She has no trouble meeting men, falling for them, sleeping with them. They practically stumble into her orbit, then into her embrace, and she into theirs. When your sex life is rich but your love life poor, life itself tends gradually to lose overarching meaning, and the search for meaning is the engine driving Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, an ostensible romantic comedy that’s light on both but rich with soulful ennui. Not to say that Denis and Binoche don’t make us laugh, mind you, but what they’re really after is considerably more complicated than the simple pleasures the genre has to offer. Let the Sunshine In is a sexy film, a free, loose, yet rigorously made film, and yes, it’s occasionally a funny film, but primarily it’s a painful film, that pain deriving from primal amorous cravings that unfailingly slip through Isabelle’s fingers like so much sand. The film strikes us as straightforward when boiled down to its synopsis, but Denis layers conflicting human longing upon its rom-com framework. The blend of artistry and genre is breezy and dense at the same time, a film worth enjoying for its surface charms and studied for its deeply personal reflections on intimacy. You may delight in its lively, buoyant filmmaking, but you’ll be awed by the breadth of its insight. —Andy Crump


mission-impossible-fallout-movie-poster.jpg 17. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Year: 2018
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
At some point midway through Mission: Impossible – Fallout—the sixth entry in the franchise and director Christopher McQuarrie’s unprecedented second go at helming one of these beasts—CIA brute Austin Walker (Henry Cavill) asks his superior, CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett), how many times she thinks Übermensch Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) will put up with his country screwing him over before he snaps. Walker’s question is rhetorical, intended to convince Sloane that Hunt is actually John Lark, the alias of a shadowy conspirator planning to buy stolen plutonium whom he and Hunt also happen to be chasing, but the question is better put before Cruise, the film’s bright, shining star. It’s a question that hangs over this dependably mind-blowing action flick more obviously than any installment to come before: How long can 56-year-old Cruise keep doing this before he, truly and irrevocably, snaps? Fallout never offers an answer, most likely because Cruise won’t have one until his body just completely gives out, answering for him by default. Fallout shows no real signs of that happening any time soon. What it does show is a kind of blockbuster intuition for what makes our enormous action brands—from Fast and the Furious to the MCU—thrive, behind only Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol as the best of the now 22-year endeavor. Where Bird leaned into the franchise as a literalization of its title, redefining the series by balancing the absurdity of what Cruise was impossibly doing (the Burj Khalifa scene is one of the greatest action sequences ever) with the awe of bearing witness to what a human person could accomplish if devoid of all Thetans, McQuarrie considers the two pretty much the same thing. The only reaction worthy of such absurdity is awe—and the only American tentpole films worth our awe anymore are those deemed Mission: Impossible. It’s all so goddamned beautiful. I love these movies. —Dom Sinacola


point-break-210.jpg 16. Point Break
Year: 1991
Director: Kathryn Bigelow 
There are plenty late ’80s/early ’90s action flicks anyone could cite, but few epitomized the near-paradoxical dudebro melodrama of the era with as much heart and sincerity as Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. Johnny Utah—played by the only one on this Earth who could believably play a human being named that, Keanu Reeves, with the sedate gusto that would further vaunt him to action star fame—is an FBI agent who must learn how to be an X-treme surfer in order to infiltrate a cadre of bank robbers led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze in peak hunk form). Inevitably, Johnny and Bodhi bond—and then clash—over their mutual thirst for salt water, high-stakes adventure and the love of a strong woman (Lori Petty, a wonderfully anti-typical blockbuster love interest), climaxing in the now-iconic scene of Reeves, consumed by X-treme angst, hollering and firing his gun into the sky, a scene so cemented in the cinematic canon that any aging, pacifist Millennial who has never fired a gun before still secretly wet-dreams about having the chance to do the same before their time runs out. —Dom Sinacola


columbus-poster.jpg 15. Columbus
Director: Kogonada
Kogonada takes us on a tour of Columbus, IN and all of its glorious, beautiful, occasionally surreal architecture, from the Columbus Learning Center to the Second Street Suspension Bridge. He highlights these landmarks in tribute to his setting, but the greatest monument on display here is Haley Lu Richardson’s striking, towering performance. The places and things Kogonada includes in his frame are important for drawing us into Columbus’s world, but it’s Richardson who gives that world its shape, supplying her director’s clean, static compositions, captured in long shots, with aching humanity molded by doubt and disappointment. “Do you think he’s got a chance to recover, even if it’s just enough to go back to Seoul?” Casey asks Jin (John Cho) as she takes a drag off her cigarette. “God,” he mutters, “I hope not.” She’s stricken by the acidic tone of his reply, as if Jin’s ambivalence has fractured the veneer covering her world. It’s a great moment in a movie littered with them, and most of them belong to Richardson’s poise. Through the figurative lens of Richardson’s performance and the literal lens of Kogonada’s camera, we see Columbus for what it is: A moral lesson about keeping ourselves in neutral. The more time we spend living in the same spot, the more we take that spot, and ourselves, for granted. —Andy Crump


shoplifters-movie-poster.jpg 14. Shoplifters
Year: 2018
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
The Shibatas—Osamu and Nobuyo (Lily Franky and Sakura Ando), daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), son Shota (Kairi Jo) and grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiri)—live in tight quarters together, their flat crowded and disheveled. Space is at a premium, and money’s tight. Osamu and Shota solve the latter problem by palming food from the local market, a delicately choreographed dance we see them perform in the film’s opening sequence: They walk from aisle to aisle, communicating to each other through hand gestures while running interference on market employees, a piano and percussion soundtrack painting a scene out of Ocean’s 11. It’s a heist of humble purpose. Once they finish, Shota having squirreled away sufficient goods in his backpack, father and son head home and stumble upon little Yuri (Miuy Sasaki) huddling in the cold on her parents’ deck. Osamu invites her over for dinner in spite of the Shibata’s meager circumstances. When he and Nobuyo go to return her to her folks later on, they hear sounds of violence from within their apartment and think better of it. So Yuri becomes the new addition to the Shibata household, a move suggesting a compassionate streak in Osamu that slowly crinkles about the edges as Shoplifters unfolds.

The obvious care the Shibatas, or whoever they are, have for one another forestalls or at least deflects a building dread: Even in squalor, there’s a certain joy present in their situation. It’s not magic, per se—there’s nothing magical about poverty—but comfort, a sense of safety in numbers. But for a few stolen fishing rods, the Shibata clan is content with what it has, and Kore-eda asks us if that’s such a crime in a world both literally and figuratively cold to the plight of the unfortunate. He doesn’t sugarcoat the truth of the Shibatas, aware of the legal ramifications of plucking a kid from her home in the dead of night, even with domestic abuse in the picture. Shoplifters tempts the audience with cozier illusions of life as a Shibata: Kore-eda shoots as if we’re in their apartment with them, cramped in a corner, thirsting for privacy, desperate for shampoo, and yet enjoying a certain snug intimacy regardless of the grunge and grime. Hardship is the price paid to be spared outsiders’ scrutiny. But Shoplifters is held up by the strength of its ensemble and Kore-eda’s gifts as a storyteller, which gain with every movie he makes—even in the same year. —Andy Crump


beale-street-movie-poster.jpg 13. If Beale Street Could Talk
Year: 2018
Director: Barry Jenkins
Time for our characters elliptical, and the love story between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) the rhythm we’ll return to over and over. As our narrator, Tish speaks in both curt statements and koans, Barry Jenkins’ screenplay translating James Baldwin’s novel as an oneiric bit of voyeurism: When the two finally consummate their relationship after a lifetime (barely two decades) of friendship between them and their families, the mood is divine and revelatory. Do people actually have sex like that? God no, but maybe we wish we did? And sometimes we convince ourselves we have, with the right person, just two bodies alone, against the world, in a space—maybe the only space—of their own. The couple’s story is simple and not: A cop (Ed Skrein) with a petty score to settle against Fonny connives a Puerto Rican woman (Emily Rios) who was raped to pick Fonny out of a lineup, even though his alibi and all evidence suggests otherwise. In the film’s first scene, we watch Tish visit Fonny in jail to tell him that she’s pregnant. He’s ecstatic; we immediately recognize that unique alchemy of terror and joy that accompanies any new parent, but we also know that for a young black couple, the world is bent against their love thriving. “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass,” Tish says. Do they hope? James and Layne’s performances, so wondrously in sync, suggest they must, one flesh with no other choice. As Tish’s mother, Regina King perhaps best understands the wickedness of that hope, playing Sharon as a woman who can’t quite get what she wants, but who seems to intuit that such progress may be further than most in her situation. Beleaguered but undaunted, she’s the film’s matriarch, a force of such warmth that, even in our fear watching as Tish’s belly grows and her hope wanes, Sharon’s presence reassures us—not that everything will be alright, but that everything will be. The end of If Beale Street Could Talk is practically a given—unless your ignorance guides you throughout this idiotic world—but there is still love in those final moments, as much love as there was in the film’s symmetrical opening. There’s hope in that, however pathetically little. —Dom Sinacola


terminator.jpg 12. The Terminator
Year: 1984
Director: James Cameron 
James Cameron’s first Terminator (and second feature) is less of a pure-popcorn action flick than its upscaled sequel, but that makes it all the more terrifying of a movie—dark, somber, replete with a silent villain who calmly plucks bits of his damaged face off to more precisely target its victims. The task in front of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) seems so insurmountable—even with a soldier from the future, going after the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger, duh) with modern weapons is so ineffectual, it’s nearly comical. It’s as if Schwarzenegger is playing entropy itself—entropy seemingly a theme of The Terminator series, given the time-hopping do-overs, reboots and retreads since. You can destroy a terminator, but the future (apparently driven by box office receipts) refuses to be changed. —Jim Vorel


johnny-guitar.jpg 11. Johnny Guitar
Year: 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Johnny Guitar is a film that barely hangs onto its genre trappings—and is one of the strangest and rarest of fifties Westerns. Nicholas Ray specialized in borderline-hysterical, hyper-magnified psychological drama, regardless of the setting. Here, he pits tough saloon keeper Vienna (a hard-faced Joan Crawford) against wrathful rival Mercedes McCambridge. Sterling Hayden sidles in as Vienna’s love interest and the catalyst for the witch hunt, but he’s hardly the driving force of the film. That showdown belongs to the women of Johnny Guitar—and the fearsome, small-minded community that surrounds them. —Christina Newland


akira-movie-poster.jpg 10. Akira
Year: 1988
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
The sum total of anime cinema from the early ’90s to present day is marked by the precedent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Adapted from the early chapters of Otomo’s landmark manga series, Akira was the most expensive animated film of its time and a cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Taking place 31 years after after World War III was sparked by a massive explosion that engulfed the city of Tokyo, Akira is set in the sprawling metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of the former and teetering precariously on the cusp of social upheaval. The film follows the stories of Kaneda Shotaro and Tetsuo Shima, two members of a youth motorcycle gang whose lives are irrevocably changed one fateful night on the outskirts of the city. While clashing against a rival bike gang during a turf feud, Tetsuo crashes into a strange child and is promptly whisked away by a clandestine military outfit while Kaneda and his friends look on, helplessly. From then, Tetsuo begins to develop frightening new psychic abilities as Kaneda tries desperately to mount a rescue. Eventually the journeys of these two childhood friends will meet and clash in a spectacular series of showdowns encircling an ominous secret whose very origins rest at the dark heart of the city’s catastrophic past: a power known only as “Akira.” Like Ghost in the Shell that followed it, Akira is considered a touchstone of the cyberpunk genre, though its inspirations run much deeper than paying homage to William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Akira is a film whose origins and aesthetic are inextricably rooted in the history of post-war Japan, from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the “Anpo” student protests of that era to the country’s economic boom and the then-nascent counterculture of Bosozoku racing. Akira is a film of many messages, the least of which a coded anti-nuclear parable and a screed against wanton capitalism and the hubris of “progress.” But perhaps most poignantly, at its heart, it is the story of watching your best friend turn into a monster. Akira is almost single-handedly responsible for the early 1990s boom in anime in the West, its aesthetic vision rippling across every major art form, inspiring an entire generation of artists, filmmakers and even musicians in its wake. For these reasons and so many more, every anime fan must grapple at some point or another with Akira’s primacy as the most important anime film ever made. —Toussaint Egan


heathers.jpg 9. Heathers
Year: 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
As much an homage to ’80s teen romps—care of stalwarts like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe—as it is an attempt to push that genre to its near tasteless extremes, Heathers is a hilarious glimpse into the festering core of the teenage id, all sunglasses and cigarettes and jail bait and misunderstood kitsch. Like any coming-of-age teen soap opera, much of the film’s appeal is in its vaunting of style over substance—coining whole ways of speaking, dressing and posturing for an impressionable generation brought up on Hollywood tropes—but Heathers embraces its style as an essential keystone to filmmaking, recognizing that even the most bloated melodrama can be sold through a well-manicured image. And some of Heathers’ images are indelible: J.D. (Christian Slater) whipping out a gun on some school bullies in the lunch room, or Veronica (Winona Ryder) passively lighting her cigarette with the flames licking from the explosion of her former boyfriend. It makes sense that writer Daniel Waters originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his script: Heathers is a filmmaker’s (teen) film. —Dom Sinacola


se7en-movie-poster.jpg 8. Se7en
Year: 1995
Director: David Fincher 
It’s hard to think of a ’90s movie that did more short-term damage to the length of your fingernails than David Fincher’s Se7en. Sticking close to detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and almost-retired William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of John Doe, a murderer who plans his kills around the seven deadly sins, the film allows us to watch Somerset teach a still-naive Mills valuable life lessons around the case, which has morally charged outcomes aimed at such victims as a gluttonous man and a greedy attorney. For all the disturbing crime scenes considered, Se7en’s never as unpredictable or emotionally draining as in its infamous finale, in which Mills and Somerset discover “what’s in the box” after capturing their man. —Tyler Kane


tangerine-poster.jpg 7. Tangerine
Year: 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Shot entirely with an iPhone, Sean Baker’s Tangerine is a near perfect execution of raw realism juxtaposed against fleeting yet profound moments of vulnerability and tenderness. Writer-director Baker wastes no time flinging viewers into his story’s cacophonous premise: a delirious misadventure focusing on the fractured but luminous lives of transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Such immediacy helps set up the fast-paced, heartfelt journey that follows. When Sin-Dee and Alexandra reunite following the former’s release from her month-long prison sentence, we learn that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been seeing another woman. The news ignites a nearly two-hour chase around the streets of L.A. to locate and handle the “issue.” Within the story’s backdrop of the wild and dingy Los Angeles cityscape, Tangerine’s rule-defying characters thrive. Though it could easily devolve into an exploitative revenge porn drama, Tangerine shirks its expectations, becoming an aggressive examination of human complexity and a bold refusal to judge a book by its cover. That goes not only for its approach to characterization, but just about every narrative aspect of the work—from the way Baker develops his larger plot to how he sequences his shots, carefully upholding its characters’ sharply divisive existence. The deeper we go into the world of these two sex workers, the more we forget our assumptions of those who inhabit it. In the end, Tangerine is about discovering that our roughest edges can be both our most colorful and meaningful. —Abbey White


annihilation-poster.jpg 6. Annihilation
Year: 2018
Director: Alex Garland
Annihilation is a movie that’s impossible to shake. Like the characters who find themselves both exploring the world of the film and inexplicably trapped by it, you’ll find yourself questioning yourself throughout, wondering whether what you’re watching can possibly be real, whether maybe you’re losing it a little yourself. The film is a near-impossible bank shot by Ex Machina filmmaker Alex Garland, a would-be science fiction actioner that slowly reveals itself to be a mindfuck in just about every possible way, a film that wants you to invest in its universe yet never gives you any terra firma on which you can orient yourself. This is a film that wants to make you feel as confused and terrified as the characters you’re watching. In this, it is unquestionably successful. This is a risky proposition for a director, particularly with a big studio movie with big stars like this one: a movie that becomes more confusing and disorienting as it goes along. Garland mesmerizes with his visuals, but he wants you to be off-balance, to experience this world the way Lena (Natalie Portman) and everyone else is experiencing it. Like the alien (I think?) of his movie, Garland is not a malevolent presence; he is simply an observer of this world, one who follows it to every possible permutation, logical or otherwise. It’s difficult to explain Annihilation, which is a large reason for its being. This is a film about loss, and regret, and the sensation that the world is constantly crumbling and rearranging all around you every possible second. The world of Annihilation looks familiar, but only at first. Reality is fluid, and ungraspable. It can feel a little like our current reality in that way. —Will Leitch


rosemarys-baby-movie-poster.jpg 5. Rosemary’s Baby
Year: 1968
Director: Roman Polanski
The banality of evil isn’t a concept new to the horror genre, but in Roman Polanski’s troubled hands, that banality is an unadulterated expression of institutionalized horror, one so ingrained in our society it becomes practically organic. With Rosemary’s Baby, the body of young Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is the institution through which Satan’s malice gestates, a body over which everyone but Rosemary herself seems to have any control. At the mercy of her overbearing neighbors (played by a pitch-perfect Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), her Ur-Dudebro husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and the doctor (Ralph Bellamy) recommended by her high society cadre of new friends, Rosemary is treated as if she’s the last person who knows what’s best for her and her fetus—a position she accepts as a matter of fact. She’s only a woman, a homemaker at that, so such is her lot. The worse she feels and the more fraught her pregnancy becomes—as well as the recurring flashes of a ghastly dream she can’t quite shake in which a ManBearPig mounts her, its glowing yellow eyes the talismans of her trauma—the clearer Rosemary begins to suspect she’s an unwilling pawn in something cosmically insidious. She is, is the absurd truth: She is the mother of Satan’s offspring, the victim of a coven’s will to worship their Dark Lord much more fruitfully. More than the director’s audacious Hollywood debut, not to mention the omen of what New Hollywood would be willing to do to tear down tradition, Rosemary’s Baby is a landmark horror film because of how ordinary, how easy, it is for everyone else in Rosemary’s life to crush a woman’s spirit and take her life. The baby has “his father’s eyes” it’s said; what of the mother’s does he have? —Dom Sinacola


star-trek-ii.jpg 4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Year: 1982
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Come for the “KhaaAAHHHHHN!” and stay for the surprisingly emotional treatise on aging without wisdom—as well as one hell of a potent, humbling gut punch of an ending. Anyone arguing for any other film in the Trek franchise will find themselves speaking into a black hole chewed in the matte canvas by exquisitely potent villain, played by Ricardo Montalban. That director/co-writer also Nicholas Meyer somehow coaxes a performance from William Shatner that’s only barely un-Kosher makes this movie a space opera with broad, lasting appeal. —Scott Wold


rushmore.jpg 3. Rushmore
Year: 1998
Director: Wes Anderson 
Rushmore introduced the world to Jason Schwartzman and helped pivot Bill Murray’s career from broad comic to art-house juggernaut. In it, an unlikely inter-generational love triangle leads to one of the most entertaining feuds in filmdom. Schwartzman’s Max Fischer, an ambitious yet academically underachieving student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy in Houston, meets Bill Murray as wealthy industrialist Herman Blume, the two striking up an unexpected and unconventional friendship, before both falling for Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), a teacher at Rushmore. When Max goes too far in trying to prove himself to Ms. Cross by breaking ground on a new building without the school’s permission, he’s finally expelled and ends up in a soul-crushing public school. To make matters worse, he finds out that Herman has begun dating the object of his desire. As with Bottle Rocket, Rushmore was co-written by Owen Wilson who, like Max, was expelled from a prep school. He and Anderson began work on the script long before Bottle Rocket was filmed, and Rushmore contains even more of the DNA found in the rest of Anderson’s catalog. Perhaps still Anderson’s best, this one just keeps getting funnier two decades later. —Josh Jackson


3. let the right one in (Custom).jpg 2. Let the Right One In
Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Some vampire films are scary. Some are gory. Some are visually striking. Some are cerebral. Some are emotionally resonant. A select few embody two or three of these qualities. Let the Right One In is the full package. As unnerving as it is heartfelt, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s adaptation of his own vampire-centric coming-of-age tale feels as though it should be rife with contradictions and tonal shifts. Instead, it’s a film that expertly captures both the isolation of childhood and the blush of first love. Tracking the relationship between a lonely young boy (Kåre Hedebrant) and the mysterious young vampire girl (Lina Leandersson) with whom he becomes infatuated, the film takes what, in lesser hands, could easily have just been a perverse subversion of puppy love and explodes it into something as emotionally honest and universal as any movie that graces the Oscar stage. Though director/co-editor Tomas Alfredson emphasizes the bleak, cold hues of the Stockholm suburbs, he tempers this dour melancholy by directing some of the warmest, most true-to-life interactions between children ever to be captured on screen. And if all this ranting makes the story seem like little more than an arty drama, rest assured that Alfredson still takes time to include all manner of gore and badass vampire action. Most vampire flicks are happy to transcend their horror trapping and become something that traditional audiences can appreciate as a satisfying thrill ride. Let the Right One In transcends such expectations. Yes, it’s an unquestionably a great horror film, but, much more than that, it’s a flat-out cinematic masterpiece. —Mark Rozeman


Silence-Lambs-Criterion.jpg 1. The Silence of the Lambs
Year: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme
The camera hugs her face, maybe trying to protect her, though she needs no protection, and maybe just trying to see into her, to see what she sees, to understand why seeing what she sees is so important. Not even 30, Jodie Foster looks so much younger, surrounded in The Silence of the Lambs by men who tower over her, staring at her, flummoxed by her, perhaps wanting to protect her too, but more likely, more ironically, intimidated by a world that would allow such a fragile creature agency, that would let her freely wander the domain of monsters. As Clarice Starling, FBI agent-in-training, Foster holds her performance in suspension, an innocent who’s seen more than any of us could ever imagine, and a warrior who seems unsure of her prowess. That Jonathan Demme—a director who came up under the tutelage of Roger Corman; a journeyman capable of helming the greatest concert film ever made (Stop Making Sense) as adroitly as a screwball thriller/rom-com (Something Wild), adopting then immediately shedding genres at whim—corners Starling within the confines of a “Woman in Peril,” only to watch her shrug off every label thrown at her, is a testament to The Silence of the Lambs as a feminist masterpiece, not because it so thoroughly inhabits a female point of view, but because its violence and fear is clearly the stuff of masculine toxicity. Demme’s film is only the second to adapt Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lector novels to the screen (the first being Michael Mann’s hyper-stylized Manhunter, a brutal dream unto itself), but it’s the first to draw undeniable lines between the way men see Clarice Starling and the way that serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) projects his neuroses onto his victims.

Harris obviously has a fascination with the idea of “seeing” and how that manifests maliciously in those whose self-perception is already mangled by traumatic experiences, but Demme’s film is the only iteration of Harris’s stories which links seeing to transformation to one’s need to consume, all pursued through a gendered lens, represented by the seemingly omniscient perspective of Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), a borderline asexual cannibal who literally consumes those over whom he holds court. Buffalo Bill is a monster, and so is Lector, but the difference is that Lector does not attempt to possess Clarice Starling, though he sees her, because he is past transformation, is in control of that which he consumes. Buffalo Bill isn’t, because as a man he believes that by consuming femininity he can become it, too stupid and too self-absorbed to realize that to consume it is to delete that femininity—to admit that the world is a dangerous, predatory place, and that to protect a woman is only a matter of admitting that the World of Men is a weak and evil failure of the very ideals it strives to preserve. —Dom Sinacola

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