The 50 Best Movies on HBO Right Now

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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Right Now

HBO  hasn’t lost much lately, but, to everyone’s surprise, has added even better titles: First Man, Widows, The Favourite, Frantic and, just recently, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Out of Sight, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Robocop and Big Trouble in Little China. So, to help make sure you get the most out of your subscription, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO right now, including a bunch of our favorites from last year (in addition to the aforementioned titles), Paddington 2, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, A Star Is Born and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

You can also check out our guides, some more updated than others, to the best movies on other platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, On Demand, and The Best Movies in Theaters. Visit the Paste Movie Guides for all our recommendations.

Here are the 50 best movies on HBO right now:

despicable-me-movie-poster.jpg 50. Despicable Me
Year: 2010
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Followed by three more franchise flicks—one of which, 2013’s Despicable Me 2, is so old-timey racist and unabashedly violent and culturally tone-deaf it’s legitimately detrimental to the health of young children—the original Despicable Me shines best by flattening the dichotomy between good guys and bad guys, removing all but the most heart-strings-tugging stakes from what would otherwise be a minefield of superhero and spy thriller movie tropes. In the world of career super villain Gru (Steve Carell, playacting a mouthful of an Eastern European accent), good guys are boring state-subsidized bureaucrats, and bad guys aren’t all that bad, just ambitious pseudo-scientists with big ideas and healthy competitive natures. They don’t actually want to hurt anybody. So, really, once Gru begins unwittingly step-fathering three young orphan girls (the youngest voiced adorably by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) he sheds all of his sociopathic tendencies to become an ersatz Good Guy replete with brand new nemesis, Vector (Jason Segal). Though the two sequels and standalone Minions vehicle needlessly complicate the DM mythos, further muddying Gru’s lineage and giving the Minions personalities (the funniest joke in this first film is how Gru talks to each Minion as if they are an individual being, giving them normie names, even though they are impossible to distinguish)—which then means we have to ask questions about how Minions procreate and/or go to the bathroom—the first Despicable Me movie is a pleasantly pure distillation of family-friendly values, slapstick and indifferent character designs, bolstered by a good joke or two. If only it ended there. Instead, we must wonder, in 2019: If a Minion with its pants around its ankles has no genitals, is it really naked? —Dom Sinacola


the-predator-movie-poster.jpg 49. The Predator
Year: 2018
Director: Shane Black
There was no need for The Predator, a vague sequel to iconic action potboiler Predator and 1990’s dated, vulgar bloodbath, Predator 2, starring Danny Glover as Lt. Mike Harrigan, a weird old man who has no friends but does have a healthy obsession with oversized handguns and phallic metaphors that illustrate he might actually not know how penises work. As with most things in 2018, there was no need for a reboot, or sequel, or whatever, yet it exists anyway, and in the more-than-capable imagination of Shane Black, The Predator works—it works hard—to hybridize the many foundational successes of the Predator franchise. Aping the plot structure, humid aura of testosterone and ‘80s action-thriller chops of the original, as well as the meta-violent, tone deaf vulgarity of 2, The Predator is a funhouse of “fuck”-leaden witticisms and grotesque CGI bloodletting, an old-fashioned franchise staple infused with Black’s voracious knack for crafting the best the Hollywood machine has to offer. Which also means that it’s too often barely coherent, that it ends with obvious intentions for a sequel and a closing line that so shamelessly does not give a shit about anything you might leave the theater feeling like you just got royally trolled. Still, it’s difficult to deny that the film is a loud, bloated mess, wistful about everything in the Predator series except for the movie that began it all, John McTiernan’s bare-bones-and-sinew ode to the Platonic ideal of the male body, smeared in mud and galloping through the jungle. The Predator, instead, is an ode to the success of that first movie, to making movies simply because one can, not because one should. Here’s to hoping they make another. —Dom Sinacola


early-man-movie.jpg 48. Early Man
Year: 2018
Director: Nick Park
With Early Man, Nick Park has made his first feature since 2005’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit—and his first non-Wallace and Gromit film since 2000’s Chicken Run—and it’s a sly, unexpectedly emotional comedy with lots of goofy laughs and the occasionally inspired bit of business. But fair or not, it’s hard not to compare this prehistoric laugher to Aardman’s (and Park’s) brilliant past. In this stop-motion film, we’re introduced to Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), a kindly caveman who thinks his tribe, led by Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall), needs to stop settling for rabbits to hunt and instead go after bigger game. But their peaceful, albeit meager existence is interrupted by an invading Bronze Age army, which kicks them out of their valley homeland and condemns them to live in the inhospitable Badlands. As a way to return to the valley, Dug offers the Bronze Army’s snooty Lord Nooth (voiced by Tom Hiddleston) a deal: If his tribe can beat Nooth’s elite athletes in a soccer match, they can remain in the valley. If they lose, Dug and his friends will have to work in Nooth’s grueling mines. Chicken Run, which Park co-directed with Aardman co-founder Peter Lord, succeeded in part because of its cheeky tweaking of the prison-breakout movie. Early Man cycles through a few genres—Park reportedly pitched the film as a mixture of Gladiator and Dodgeball—but it’s primarily an underdog sports movie, pitting our lovable losers against a superior squad, the whole film building to the finale’s big game. What’s consistently funny about Early Man is its characters’ discomfort—at being mocked, of saying the wrong thing, of losing the big match—which lends Park’s film a humanity and vulnerability that undercut the splashy razzle-dazzle of other, bigger-budgeted animated fare. —Tim Grierson


jane-fonda-five-acts-movie-poster.jpg 47. Jane Fonda in Five Acts
Year: 2018
Director: Susan Lacy
In Susan Lacy’s comprehensive new documentary, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, the legendary Hollywood actress and activist opens up for the cameras. Fonda is unnervingly candid with her own narration, talking through her history of eating disorders, her mistakes during her radical period and her childhood, which was privileged but deeply troubled. From her bombshell period during the release of Barbarella to her burgeoning political awakening in the ‘Nam era, the HBO-made doc probes into both the familiar and unfamiliar with an earnest and judicious use of nonfiction resources. The five acts in question are divided cleverly by Lacy into a chronological structure based on the definitive men in Fonda’s life: her father Henry, to start, and several of her husbands. If this might raise a quizzical eyebrow, it is in fact a telling deconstruction of Fonda’s glamorous and cloistered existence. Although her life, image and star persona were forever set to be owned and judged by men, Fonda has spent decades living and working on her own terms. Now 80 years old, seeing Fonda examine her long public life—acknowledging the mistakes she has made along the way—is unmissable. With its many talking heads and archival footage, the film is not exactly groundbreaking, but it is well-crafted, allowing Fonda’s frankness and courage in the face of an industry and an era set to work against her to stand out most of all. —Christina Newland


hate-u-give-movie-poster.jpg 46. The Hate U Give
Year: 2018
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
During the sobering, somber opening scene of The Hate U Give, an emotionally rousing and vital drama about police brutality against people of color, the smart and resourceful Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is barely in grade school when she’s given The Talk—in which African American parents must instruct their children on how to act when they’re pulled over by the police so they won’t get shot—by her loving father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby). Upon reaching her high school years, Starr’s protective mother Lisa (Regina Hall) sends her to Williamson, a prep school in an affluent neighborhood, mainly as a way to provide a brighter—and whiter—future for her daughter while keeping her away from the violence inherent in their predominantly black neighborhood of Garden Heights. Starr’s voice-over, handled honestly as a way to insert the audience into Starr’s psyche (and not as a narrative crutch), informs us that Starr has to act as non-black as possible when she’s at Williamson. Meanwhile, her white classmates can appropriate her culture as much as they desire, as much as they can consume through mainstream media. Back in Garden Heights, she might feel like she’s allowed to be herself, but her neighbors see her as too white and snobby. Then, Starr’s life turns upside down. One of her best friends (Algee Smith) from childhood is shot by a cop who “mistook” his hairbrush for a gun. Starr witnesses the event and has to decide between keeping her mouth shut in favor of maintaining the “non-threatening black girl” illusion at Williamson, or come out to the public regarding what she saw and be branded a “troublemaker.” Casting Amandla Stenberg to carry the project was an inspirational choice: She’s luminous and always captivating in the part, delivering a natural performance that allows easy access to Starr’s soul. —Oktay Ege Kozak


happy-death-day-2u-movie-poster.jpg 45. Happy Death Day 2U
Year: 2019
Director: Christopher Landon
Back in 2017, Happy Death Day, Christopher Landon’s delightful horror romp, looked like a closed circuit. Much as its heroine, Tree (Jessica Rothe), found a way to cut off the time loop that caused her, Groundhog Day style, to relive ad infinitum a birthday that ended with violent death at the hands of a masked killer, Landon appeared to have crafted that rarest thing: a franchise-proof slasher. When Happy Death Day wraps up, Tree’s would-be murderer is dead, she has her life figured out, and she doesn’t have to do the time warp again. Fin! But no film’s fully inoculated against the primal drive for more money, so here’s Happy Death Day 2U. The sequel opens on Ryan (Phi Vu), roomie of and pal to Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree’s love interest across timestreams, awakening in his car and running afoul of angry dogs, angry homeless people and angry students on his way back to his dorm. He goes about his day, takes a knife to the chest from a new Babyface killer, then wakes up to relive these mundane events. Turns out he’s responsible for that whole time loop thing. He’s a science nerd! For whatever baffling reason, he and fellow nerds Samar (Suraj Sharma) and Dre (Sarah Yarkin) have access to a crazy sci-fi plot device capable of —wait for it—creating quantum nonsense that births time loops. Ryan screws everything up afresh, forcing Tree to relive the same day again again, with a few key differences, and thus die more times than she has digits to save the day. Happy Death Day 2U makes deliberate moves away from horror, adding both science fiction and comedy to muddle the original mixture for better and also worse. For better: The film is even more of a gas than its predecessor. For worse: It’s not as much of a horror movie. Happy Death Day 2U has been made once before, back in 2013, when Joseph Kahn dropped Detention on the world and blew minds by breaking formula. But Landon’s version is still pretty damn good, further evidence that Rothe is a superstar in the making and that even the most anti-franchise film can produce a surprisingly strong sequel with enough enthusiasm and brash creativity. —Andy Crump


the-mule-movie-poster.jpg 44. The Mule
Year: 2018
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Early in Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial feature—somewhere around his 70th film—shambling Everyman Earl Stone (Eastwood) explains to a young person he’s just met the stickers that litter the back window of his equally shambling pickup, decals telling of the everywheres he’s been, man, comparable to the Johnny Cash song we’ll later hear him sing along to in the film. “That’s right, 41 states,” he recalls, then adds, “out of 50.” Most viewers would not need such a clarification—perhaps it’s a subtle nod to Earl’s casual racism, which the film will explicate further farther on, as in this case he’s talking to a Mexican man who will introduce him to the lucrative late-in-life career of drug muling, or perhaps Eastwood simply said that, because he’s acting, and left it in, because why not? Let’s move on, he seems to be saying. Let’s not get hung up on it.

2018 was an odd year for the 88-year-old director, mostly because of The 15:17 to Paris, in which Eastwood followed Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos as they played themselves reenacting their thwarting of the 2015 Thalys train attack, though Eastwood mostly seemed to want to tag along as they reenacted the European trip which led up to the heroic event. Their knowledge of Hitler’s suicide is questioned, their selfies are documented, their ordering of gelato detailed for much longer than any director, any viewer, would expect. And The Mule beautifully throws its much weirder predecessor into focus: In the twilight of his career, Clint Eastwood celebrates the things he loves about life, which happens to be driving, and pulled pork, and the American Southwest, and flowers, and big round butts, and the industriousness of working hard in order to enjoy the aforementioned everything, without judgment. Because Earl Stone, estranged from his family and definitely a bad father/husband, can somehow get an erection at such an advanced age, which Eastwood implies by having Stone engage in at least two threesomes. We’re not supposed to wonder how, but instead not get hung up on it—sex is good, and sex with more than one person, especially with more than one person who has a big round butt, is better. That doesn’t make you a bad person; it makes you a person who enjoys life before it’s gone. Ordering gelato, driving through the desert listening to Johnny Cash, making millions off of the illegal drug trade—that’s part of the mundane wonder of life, a life which must thrive against the forces of an American economy that in the past decade or so no longer leaves room for such pleasures, or understands that when a man is casually racist, it’s not because he’s actually racist, it’s because even at 88 he has so much more to learn, and that’s why life is worth pushing long past the point at which pushing seems futile. Does that make sense? Let’s move on. —Dom Sinacola


hurt-locker-poster.jpg 43. The Hurt Locker
Year: 2008
Director: Kathryn Bigelow 
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty may have been more ambitious in its step-by-step chronicle of the efforts to find and kill Osama bin Laden, but her preceding War on Terror film, The Hurt Locker, remains the more resonant achievement. It’s essentially a character study in the guise of an action movie, with Bigelow’s subject Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), a devil-may-care maverick who not only has a knack for disarming bombs, but loves doing it to a reckless degree. Beyond its hair-raising action and suspense set pieces, much of the film’s drama is driven by the tensions James’s hot-dog tendencies create between himself and everyone around him. But perhaps the film’s most noteworthy achievement lies in the way Bigelow uncannily inhabits James’s perspective while also standing outside of it. When, in its quiet epilogue, James finds himself immediately bored by suburban life and itches to return to the adrenalized theater of war, after nearly two hours of relentless nerve-wracking tension, we in the audience feel the same sense of stagnation he does. “War is a drug,” says journalist Chris Hedges in a quote that opens the film. In The Hurt Locker, Bigelow makes us understand that perspective in the most visceral way possible, to truly revelatory effect. —Kenji Fujishima


lego-movie-2-movie-poster.jpg 42. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Year: 2019
Director: Mike Mitchell
Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s original translated the all-access everything of young people’s lives in 2014 into an overstimulated smorgasbord of pop cultural detritus. Everything is awesome when everything is accessible, Ninja Turtles and Batman and Harry Potter and Gandalf ripe for some intermingling, the raw materials of imagination at one’s tiny fingertips. Not romanticizing nostalgia so much as manifesting it, The Lego Movie looks back to one’s childhood with bright, belligerent joy at the simple act of making: of pulling from everything one loves to create new worlds, of trying and seeing what happens, of rebuilding. The guys who rebooted 21 Jump Street as a meta-comment on all art as reassembly then assembled a kids’ movie literally about the process of making that art. It was a revelation. Its sequel? Less so, but in the past half-decade (and two similar Lego movies later) there’s hardly a shred of anything original left that hasn’t been commodified into oblivion. So The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part blasts off into that oblivion, attempting to grow up with the younglings it once courted while, as well as it can given its hyperkinetic guiding koan of “everything is awesome is everything at once,” shooting for unexpected shades of nuance. Written by Lord and Miller, but directed by dependable animated studio hand Mike Mitchell, the second episode in the ongoing saga of Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and the citizens of Bricksburg starts only minutes after the first film, but feels like a lifetime separated. Lord and Miller seem to feel it too. Is everything still awesome? Short answer: No. Longer answer: Definitely not. But everything isn’t so bad either. How could it be when everything is everything? Perhaps this is the lesson on which kids can glom amongst this admittedly overlong, overwhelming experience: Yoda was wrong; trying is what matters. It’s a lovely lesson, and a lovely movie. It’s OK to be angry and sad and hurt by the world, because it will hurt, but you shouldn’t give up. You shouldn’t break things when you can build them. —Dom Sinacola


rescue-dawn-movie-poster.jpg 41. Rescue Dawn
Year: 2006
Director: Werner Herzog 
As PG-13 as a war movie can get, Werner Herzog’s cinematic re-creation of his own documentary (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) feels as if, like any Herzog film can, it was re-created on the fly. Rescue Dawn avoids a strict adherence to the truth of Dieter Dengler’s ordeal, in which he served as a pilot for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, shot down over Laos then captured and tortured for months before escaping. It’s also historically inaccurate, as only any Herzog film can be, for the benefit of the more “ecstatic” truth the director was attempting to reach, ignoring the complaints of Dengler’s fellow prisoners’ accounts, which mostly have to do with how heroically Herzog portrays Dengler (Christian Bale) and how pathetically he imagines the others. Herzog saw himself in the real Dengler anyway—they were both born poor in Hitler’s Germany—and Bale seems to intuit the director’s projection, playing Dengler as an endlessly fascinating hybrid of wide-eyed innocent and arrogant American, fully committed to the freedom and opportunities for self-aggrandizement that being an American affords. And yet, Rescue Dawn doesn’t defend Dengler’s patriotism, or really have anything poignant to offer about American’s checkered military past. Instead, Herzog is concerned as ever with the tyranny of Nature and all powers like it, which happen to include war, America, the ambition of Man, whatever—an idealistic guy like Dieter Dengler can only suffer, survive and then tell his story later to a director who will warp its facts to keep the true extent of the man’s suffering from the cold, calculating judgment of the MPAA. —Dom Sinacola


land-before-time-movie-poster.jpg 40. The Land Before Time
Year: 1988
Director: Don Bluth
It’s hard to overstate what a major development it was for Don Bluth to leave Disney in 1979 to form his own studio. Working during the actual reign of Walt Disney, starting as an in-betweener—the crucial artist whose job it is to fill in the frames of animation that add detail to the movement between poses—in 1955, he chafed under the cutbacks that hit the company in the ’70s just as he was about to direct films of his own. Ultimately he, Gary Goldman and 14 other animators jumped ship to start Don Bluth Productions. An American Tail (1986), the heartbreakingly true and important story of an immigrant family coming to America, was an incredible success from the standpoint of animation and storytelling. The company marketed the hell out of it and, for an animated film, it pulled decent numbers. It set the stage for The Land Before Time two years later in 1988, but already, the studio was struggling: Tail may have reached eyeballs and won acclaim, but it didn’t turn the studio a profit. Setting any story in the age of the dinosaurs is asking for tragedy, but you can still tell some tales of that era without focusing on the unavoidable fact that all their hopes and dreams and everything that they ever were is destined to be washed clean by nature. So what did Bluth and his team decide to do? Set the story during the end of days, of course.

Beginning with a wonder-filled tour of the prehistoric landscape through which we’ll be roaming, The Land Before Time introduces our hero, a baby dino named Littlefoot (voiced by Gabriel Damon), paired with narration that tells us his herd is dying and the plants are shriveling. Bluth’s creative team and their financiers fought over the tone of the movie, and it’s easy to see why the money men were alarmed. Who wants a light-hearted kid’s movie to grapple with childhood orphaning and abandonment, all set while the inevitable end of the world plays out? Littlefoot is orphaned in the first few minutes of the film when a T-Rex violently kills his mother, then is joined on his journey by other orphaned or abandoned dino babies with their own neuroses. Littlefoot struggles at the head of his little band to keep the faith and continue plodding onward toward the legendary Great Valley when every circumstance along the way taunts them with doubt. The Land Before Time clearly wanted to be a movie that was about coping with loss, being changed by it, but it ended up an adventure movie with a happy ending that leaves most of that solemnity as weighty subtext. It’s debatably one of Bluth’s best movies, and I’d even argue one of the best animated movies of the ’80s. It was also one of the last bright spots of Don Bluth’s film catalogue. —Ken Lowe


grosse-pointe-blank-movie-poster.jpg 39. Grosse Pointe Blank
Year: 1997
Director: George Armitage
In the role that probably set the foundation for High Fidelity’s Rob, John Cusack plays Martin Q. Blank as a vaguely charming, vaguely confident, vaguely organic hitman—the kind of guy one would never suspect is good at killing people for a living. Except: Blank is from the vaguely wealthy Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, which means that he’s one of many formless Michigander schlubs who go one to do things no one has ever expected of them. Before the 2008 Recession, Oakland County, one of Detroit’s surrounding counties, a very popular member of the Metro Detroit family, was among the absolute richest counties in the country. Like Orange County rich. And still no one seems to really remember that—back in even 1997, when the car companies were slaying, no one expected much from a Michigander. Grosse Pointe Blank epitomizes that befuddling state-wide middle child complex in John Cusack’s thoroughly, anxiously casual performance. —Dom Sinacola


halloween-2018-movie-poster.jpg 38. Halloween
Year: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green 
A blessing that David Gordon Green’s Halloween is so good, a curse that it made a pile of money: Likely that means no matter what Michael Myers’ fate was by film’s end, he will be back in further sequels. Even if those yet-unannounced (but almost inevitable) movies turn out as well as Green’s, they’ll keep 2018’s Halloween from perfectly bookending John Carpenter’s original 1978 masterpiece, the best in its genre and the chagrined sire to a slew of follow-ups, each progressively worse than the movies preceding them. You could toss the entirety of the Halloween franchise, save ’78 and ’18, and you’d have a great horror duo untainted by the exponential awfulness of the trash separating them both over the course of decades.

Green’s Halloween does so well what Carpenter’s does perfectly: present Michael as an unstoppable and inscrutable force, a monster of method rather than brutality. He’s strong enough to embarrass just about anyone fool enough to get within reach of his kitchen knife, but he’s silent and implacable, and Haddonfield, having been established as a grid of suburban idyll by its architects, is a hunting ground made just for him. The film’s best strength, ahead of its shocking and clever applications of violence, is distance. Like Carpenter’s classic, Green’s Halloween is about the act of seeing, and voyeurism, and the disquieting sense of responsibility the movie puts on us. Through the benefit of the camera’s lens, we catch glimpses of what the characters don’t, such that we feel compelled to cry out for their safety and denied the opportunity to do so by the screen. The effect is unnerving. But more than merely fearsome, 2018’s Halloween is also hilarious, and a master class in finding subtle, economical ways to make the audience care about Michael’s kill fodder through comedy. There’s a balance between character and horror here that’s rarely seen in modern slashers, and in slashers writ large, where the purpose of the exercise is usually just to watch folks get offed in creatively agonizing ways. Here, death matters, whether it’s that of a couple of cops, a babysitter or the doctor in charge of Michael’s behavioral healthcare (who turns out to be more of a loony tune than Michael, at least in some ways). Halloween ’18 shows us that there’s still gas in the slasher tank, as long as smart, talented filmmakers are given a chance at taking the wheel. —Andy Crump


upgrade-movie-poster.jpg 37. Upgrade
Year: 2018
Director: Leigh Whannell
Lovers of high-concept, low-budget sci-fi cinema would have been perfectly content were Upgrade not much more than a narratively streamlined, giddily hyper-violent vigilante revenge fantasy, sort of a Death Wish: Cyberpunk Edition. Turns out it’s also sophisticated enough to leave the audience with some intriguing questions about how much power we can give artificial intelligence before it decides that we’re a nuisance, taking full control. Of course, the premise of AI as existential threat is the bedrock for plenty of science fiction, with the most recent example in Alex Garland’s great Ex Machina. With Upgrade, we get a Cliff’s Notes version of this concept, examined in an understandably superficial but original way, and we get to watch a bad guy’s head split in half. That’s the textbook definition of a win-win. Writer/director Leigh Whannell has proven to be an efficient genre storyteller, having been the Bernie Taupin to James Wan’s Elton John, writing for Wan’s Saw and Insidious franchises, even directing the third Insidious. Here, he pushes the limits of his hard-R confines when it comes to painting the walls with the gooey crimson stuff. As the writer of three Saw movies, Whannell spent a good chunk of his professional life coming up with increasingly messed up ways to off people, and he demonstrates that expertise here. It’s always fun to see an action flick with full-blown horror gore, especially when said gore is achieved through practical effects and top-notch choreography. With Upgrade, he confirms he’s a formidable voice in modern b-movies. —Oktay Ege Kozak


hail-caesar.jpg 36. Hail, Caesar!
Year: 2016
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
The period zaniness of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Hail, Caesar! is an ode to old Hollywood—and much more—as only they can do, tracing the efforts of James Brolin’s studio scandal fixer through a parade of 1950s soundstages, back lots and actors. His latest potential headline concerns the abduction of a Biblically epic movie star—George Clooney having a helluva good time doing his best Chuck Heston/Kirk Douglas amalgam—by what turns out to be a tea sandwich-serving think tank of communists. Other subplots have Scarlett Johansson’s starlet plotting out her unwed motherhood in the public eye and the screen makeover of an unsophisticated cowboy by Ralph Fiennes’ debonairly enunciating director, Laurence Laurentz. There are dueling gossip columnist twins (Tilda Swinton pulling double duty), a hapless film editor (Frances McDormand) and scattered movies-within-the-movie, which even pauses midway through for a thoroughly enchanting—and cheeky—Gene Kelly-styled song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum as a heavily made-up matinee star with controversial extracurricular activities. Most of the main characters/performances take blatant inspiration from Hollywood legends of yore, and the cast seems to have as much fun as the Coens. Hail, Caesar! is by no means their best work, but it’s characteristically gorgeous, spiritedly acted and rife with political, religious and creative (sub)text for moviegoers as thoughtful and dorky as Joel and Ethan themselves. —Amanda Schurr


when-the-levees.jpg 35. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
Director:   Spike Lee  
Year: 2006
Part indictment of FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, part celebration of the unfailingly resilient spirit of New Orleans, Spike Lee’s four-hour-long look at “The City That Care Forgot” a year after the near-obliteration of Hurricane Katrina is an exhausting, comprehensive, worthwhile experience. There’s a reason so many residents refer to the catastrophe as the “Federal flood” and not Katrina itself—Lee’s Peabody-winning doc examines the systemic failure at all levels of government to maintain the storm barriers and deal with the consequences of their negligence. It’s political, it’s racial, it’s accusatory and it’s utterly compelling viewing. It’s also inspiring, thanks to the resolute locals shown struggling to survive and rebuild in the disaster’s aftermath. This is very much a Spike Lee joint; don’t expect anyone in the Dubya administration to come away without a tongue-lashing. But the heart and soul of the doc is the people of New Orleans, and they won’t let you down—on the contrary. —Amanda Schurr


miseducation-cameron-post-movie-poster.jpg 34. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Year: 2018
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Maybe one would not have guessed it from word of mouth or a logline, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of the funniest films of the year. With a sense of humor that is knowingly in debt to Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, though more subtle, Desiree Akhavan’s second feature length functions as a teen film about challenging authority first and a film about conversion therapy second. Chloe Grace Moretz’s Cameron and her friends, Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) are clear-eyed about both the ridiculousness and the terrifying consequences at the gay conversion camp they’re all forced to attend. And in spite of their situation, they must find solace where they can, be it on the kitchen tables singing 4 Non Blondes or in the backwoods smoking weed. Cameron Post has, above all, a clear, lived-in perspective about being a teen, being queer and what trauma can mean in the context of both. —Kyle Turner


kid-who-would-be-king-movie-poster.jpg 33. The Kid Who Would Be King
Year: 2019
Director: Joe Cornish
What better time to retell the King Arthur origin story as a witty, charming and rousing family fantasy/adventure? The Kid Who Would Be King reminds its core audience—and perhaps even some adults—that we might still find hope in our future leaders if passé values like compassion, chivalry, compromise, virtue and honor are remixed back into society. Any creative tasked with reinvigorating a public domain myth would do well to take notes from writer-director Joe Cornish’s thrillingly fresh take on the Arthurian legend. The legend tells, in the form of boisterous opening narration accompanied by some colorful children’s textbook animation, that Arthur and his brave knights were able to defeat Arthur’s evil sister, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), and cast her into the bowels of hell. However, Morgana vowed to come back and cover the land in darkness when the land is once again bitterly divided the way it was before Arthur’s time. Cut to post-Brexit England, where half the country despises the other half, which Morgana understandably takes as an invitation to unleash her army of minions to take back the land. Will a hero of Arthurian stature show up to challenge her once again? That hero, in true ’80s-style children’s fantasy fashion, comes in the form of a meek but pure-of-heart 12-year-old named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, an 11 on the instant adorability meter), who not only has to contend with the surrounding culture and media constantly reminding him how his country’s about to implode, but has to defend himself and his even nerdier best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), against school bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). Those familiar with the Arthurian legend might predict where this story’s going simply by looking at the character names, but Cornish’s specialty, as evidenced by his terrific London alien invasion adventure Attack the Block, lies is in applying sci-fi/fantasy tropes to invigorating new settings. The Kid Who Would Be Kid hits the family classic trifecta: Spectacular fun for kids and adults, full of important themes and a rebellious attitude in regard to the wide range of things grownups are messing up. —Oktay Ege Kozak


aquaman-movie-poster.jpg 32. Aquaman
Year: 2018
Director: James Wan
Paying environmental catastrophe lip service is an expected thematic conceit for movies in 2018, but no one (hypothetically) wants to pay to sit in a damp two hours and 20 minutes of guilt when every film in this Universe to come before was either suffocatingly grim or unfairly tasked with shouldering the entire weight of Hollywood’s misogyny. All Wan had to do was deliver a blisteringly colorful spectacle. Aquaman is dumb and loud and really dumb and too long and dumb but also wonderfully creative and shameless; it’s both the superhero film we need, and the one we deserve.

The plot, as is the case in almost every DCEU entry, is as bloated as it is messy and predictable, a whale carcass washed up on shore sliced in half by Atlantean plasma lasers during a Two Towers-league battle with an army of crab people. Those action scenes, though. Revolutionary at best, innovative at worst, Wan and his team have taken what Justice League incapably worked around—talking/interacting/fighting/living underwater—and transformed that obstacle into a marvelous strength, using the omnidirectional freedom of subterranean saltwater violence to make up for the “everyone is flying” bullshit of Zack Snyder’s wet dreams while never abandoning the unique physics (limitations) of all that wetness. A late film battle scene between Orm’s hordes and the aforementioned talking crustaceans is astounding: a feat of design and imagination for which James Wan should understand that this is most likely why he’s on this Earth. Likewise, while the surface scenarios featuring Arthur and Mera searching for a lost trident that holds the key to saving the world just add needless fat to an already drowning runtime, one rooftop, wall-obliterating sequence shines, a demonstration of Wan’s formidable grip on action grammar, pushing long takes and swooping crane shots to establish a seamless, real-time geography for Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur (Jason Momoa) and Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to just wreck each other’s day. Bell towers explode; the living rooms and privacy of more than two Sicilian grandmothers are violated. Granted, the scene exists for its own sake, devoid of narrative stakes and sense, but that’s hardly ever been a valid argument against any contemporary studio movie anyway. If Justice League was a self-aware course correction, then Aquaman is course correction as business model, a denial of much of what Snyder established, leaning hard into Momoa’s charm and Wan’s old-school fantasy proclivities. May Martha bless us, everyone. —Dom Sinacola


funny-games-poster.jpg 31. Funny Games (US)
Year: 2007
Director: Michael Haneke
One does not watch Funny Games—one sits miserably bearing witness to Funny Games, understanding what is going on, terrified that the solution to the puzzle it poses is so simple. About two teenager-ish boys, upper crust and polite—referring to one another as Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt)—who, with dead eyes and well-mannered propriety, work their way into the vacation home of a family the two systematically and remorselessly torture to inevitability, Funny Games toys with chronology, with narrative, with the audience’s many expectations, fulfilling all but resolving none. In 2007, Haneke remade his own film, shot for shot, for American audiences (purposely casting the recognizable personalities of Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), litigating our notions of cinema and violence and the nexus of both within the ways we understand such horror narratives to end. Because, unlike the original’s dependence on the ordinariness of its actors to convey the ordinariness of such depravity, the point is that we recognize these faces as famous, and so we familiarize ourselves with them immediately—and in that comfort, our nightmares are most realized. Funny Games is far from a traditional horror film, but it is, without a doubt, one of the scariest things you will see through to the end, all the while hoping that won’t be exactly how you know it will. —Dom Sinacola


darkman-movie-poster.jpg 30. Darkman
Year: 1990
Director: Sam Raimi 
After failing to get the rights to classic superheroes like the Shadow and Batman, Sam Raimi did what came naturally: He created his own. Cobbled together from the detritus of radio drama, noir, crime-leaden comic books and all kinds of chiaroscuro pop culture churning beneath the surface of whatever illusions of morality people cling to in order to sleep at night, Darkman is Raimi purging every dusty corner of his brain. More than a trial run for Raimi’s Spider-Man series, Darkman is as weird and ghoulish as anything the director accomplished with his Evil Dead flicks, though obviously tailored for more of a mainstream reception. If Marvel is building their MCU empire on the backs of directors who find their cinematic egos perfectly satisfied by their assigned lot in the universe, then Raimi’s creepy origin story of a super-scientist (Liam Neeson) whose synthetic skin can only bear 100 minute’s worth of sunlight demonstrates that the director had their formula figured out decades ago. —Dom Sinacola


thoroughbreds-movie-poster.jpg 29. Thoroughbreds
Year: 2018
Director: Cory Finley
The line separating thrillers and horror films is razor thin. In the case of Cory Finley’s feature debut, Thoroughbreds, the former fits more suitably than the latter, but to take a page from Potter Stewart, I know horror when I see it, and Thoroughbreds toes that line with macabre confidence. The film isn’t particularly frightening, but makes up for that with suspense to harrow the soul. Thoroughbreds rattles us by pitting posh cultivation against human nihilism: When you’re scared, you tend to be scared in the moment. When you’re rattled, there’s no telling how long you’ll stay that way. That’s Thoroughbreds in a nutshell: A sobering, beautiful movie that’ll haunt you for weeks after watching it. Lily (horror queen ascendant Anya Taylor-Joy) is the epitome of high breeding: Impeccably dressed and made up, unflappably well-mannered, academically accomplished with a bright future ahead of her. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is her polar opposite, a social outcast, friend to no one, possessed of a barbed tongue and a caustic temperament. They’re childhood chums who became estranged from one another over years, an everyday occurrence spurred by an incident involving Amanda’s family horse and an act of casual butchery. That all happens in the film’s past tense. In its present tense, the girls reconnect, Lily acting as Amanda’s tutor, and as they do the latter begins to rub off on the former and draw out her dark side. Lily and Amanda’s grim candor is couched in limited settings, primarily the grand house Lily lives in with her stepdad Mark (Paul Sparks) and her mother, but Thoroughbreds’ sense of confinement is a necessary component for its success as genre. Finley creates a space from which they can both break out, a gorgeous veneer akin to limbo. Within reason we can’t blame them for wanting to escape. Finley does a lot with very little apart from the raw talent of his leads. If this is what he’s capable of as a first-timer, we should rightfully dread his follow-up. —Andy Crump


a-star-is-born-movie-poster.jpg 28. A Star is Born
Year: 2018
Director: Bradley Cooper 
Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born reminds us that clichés exist for a reason: They embody a whiff of universal truth that can hit us right between the eyes when it becomes our reality. This latest remake of a perennial Hollywood story doesn’t offer many new insights, but it reaffirms what we know—or what we think we know—about relationships, artistry, the trappings of fame and the demands of the entertainment industry. Its comforting familiarity is both its greatest limitation and its appeal—there are certain songs we love hearing over and over again, and A Star Is Born’s tale of “making it” is one we apparently never tire of. Cooper, who makes his directorial debut and also co-wrote the adaptation, stars as Jackson Maine, a roots-rocker of considerable popularity. But not all is right with the man: Tinnitus is robbing him of his hearing, and his addiction to drink and drugs is becoming worrying to those around him. One night after a show, he goes looking for a bar, stumbling upon a performance from Ally (Lady Gaga), who belts out an impassioned rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” Jackson is captivated by this aspiring singer-songwriter. She tells him she’s been told she’s not pretty enough to make it in the music business. He tells her she’s beautiful. A Star Is Born quickly throws these two mismatched souls together, as Jackson brings her onstage at his next sold-out show to duet with him on an arrangement he’s put together of one of her songs. The performance goes viral. Ally suddenly is in huge demand. The two become lovers. You know every word by heart. His Cooper acknowledges the clichés of his setup while asserting that there’s something eternal and cyclical about their underlying tenets. Yes, we’ve seen all manner of stories about fading stars, rising stars, the toxicity of ego and the struggle to balance career and romance—as you watch this new movie, you feel like you’ve known its contours all your life—but the predictability is part of these characters’ tragedy. —Tim Grierson


old-man-and-gun-poster.jpg 27. The Old Man & the Gun
Year: 2018
Director: David Lowery 
Of the many things that David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun does right, staying fixated on Redford’s face is the smartest. Redford, in what he has said is his last performance (though he’s since backtracked from that), plays Forrest Tucker, who, we learn at a calm, leisurely pace, is a lifelong bank robber. And I really mean lifelong: He’s still at it in his eighties in the year 1981, with a small, equally elderly crew (played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits!), hitting banks across the Southwest with precision, intelligence and, more than anything else, a disarming politeness. (All his victims keep remarking how friendly he is.) Meanwhile, a Texas cop (Casey Affleck), dissatisfied with his career, trails him and becomes part of a cat-and-mouse game, with Tucker leaving him playful notes and even, in one terrific scene, popping in on him in the bathroom. The lifelong rogue, who has spent most of his life being sentenced to prison and then busting out, also comes across a widow named Jewel (Sissy Spacek), and they have a gentle, wistful courtship. He clearly cares for her … but he’s a bank robber, and he’s never going to stop. Lowery pushes the story on with a style that’s both lively and laconic, like his star himself; the movie has the rhythm of a fun ’70s laid-back thriller but a certain undeniable mournfulness about the passage of time, of growing old, of lessons learned. (There’s a scene with Redford and Spacek talking on the porch about how their younger lives feel like different people all together that leaves a warm haze that never lifts for the rest of the film.) Lowery wrote the script, and it shares several thematic similarities to his last film, A Ghost Story, also starring Affleck. That film was obsessed with the passage of time, to the point that time itself became almost the main character of its story, eternity’s indifference both awing and moving in equal measure. This film is much lighter and straightforward than that movie, but that idea of identity, and how it evolves and stays constant throughout the decades, is foregrounded here, as well. The story of both is the story of time, how it tricks us, and jolts us, and moves us, the person we are the same we have always been, but also not. The Old Man & the Gun is a jaunty joyride, a valedictory for a beloved American icon and a giddy true story. But Lowery ties it all together at the end: It’s a story about how the years go by, and who we are. It’s a story about all of us. —Will Leitch


teen-titans-go-movie-poster.jpg 26. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies
Year: 2018
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
With Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, the long-running Cartoon Network series joins the ranks of still-running animated series that were deemed popular enough to get a movie of their very own. Much like The Simpsons Movie and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the show’s creators use the opportunity to distill and put on display what has made the show so popular in the first place. The result is one of the funniest “superhero” films of the year, and one that allows Robin and company to join Deadpool—Statler and Waldorf style—on the balcony poking fun at the clichés, blindspots and foibles of the current Big Genre on Campus. When Teen Titans Go! debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013, its chibi design, juvenile humor and overall zany approach drew mixed reactions from fans of the source material. For some, it stemmed from the disappointment of not getting a renewed “serious” series. (The original Teen Titans animated series had ended seven years earlier.) For others, the succession of booty jokes—or any joke hammered at relentlessly for 10-11 minutes—quickly grew tiresome. In Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, creators Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath pull off what we’ll call a “reverse-Hobbit,” showing how the characters from those 11-minute bursts of mayhem stand up just fine to the “rigor” of an 88-minute theatrical release. (Granted, they have more than 200 episodes to draw from and no dearth of tired tropes to target.) The premise of “Robin wants his own movie. What must he do to get one?” is all the framework directors Horvath and Peter Rida Michail need to support a sustained skewering of the current frenzy of superhero moviemaking. —Michael Burgin

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