The 75 Best Movies on Hulu Right Now (October 2021)

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.

Although Hulu is known for its variety of TV, don’t be fooled into thinking its selection of movies 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. A slew of movies left in October, but they’re replaced with all the Star Trek films.

Here are the 75 best movies on Hulu right now:

1. Parasite

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Year: 2019

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Stars: Song Kang Ho, Lee Sun Kyun, Yeo-Jeong Jo, Choi Woo-sik, Park So Dam, Lee Jung Eun

Genre: Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%

Rating: R

Runtime: 132 minutes

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“That’s so metaphorical,” exclaims the son of the Kim family, Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik), holding with childlike reverie a large rock sculpture, a wooden base solidifying its aesthetic and cultural value. The pointedly nice object stands apart from the basic keepsakes in the Kims’ fairly dingy and cramped home, inhabited by unemployed driver father, Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), unemployed mother, Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin), and not-in-art-school daughter, Ki-jeong (Park So-dam). Brought to them by Ki-woo’s wealthy friend, the rock is supposed to foretell great financial wealth to whatever family keeps it in their home. Irritated at their own situation, at the lack of space, at the lack of immediate value the rock has, Chung-sook mutters, “Could’ve brought us food.” In Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, those that live with a stark awareness of inequality operate with a sense of cognitive dissonance. It’s this paradox of thought that allows Ki-woo to be both naively worshipful towards what a rock sculpture could bring them, but also understand, at other times, that wandering around isn’t how one ascends into power. At the behest of said wealthy friend, he becomes the English tutor for the daughter, Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), of the grotesquely affluent Park family: astute patriarch (Lee Sun-kyun), dim matriarch (Cho Yeo-jeong), manic artsy son, Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon), and severely loyal housekeeper, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun). But as the Kim and Park families grow increasingly closer, both the differences and similarities between them blur beyond discernment. Bong’s interest in income inequality and class has spanned the majority of his career, examining the ways it impacts the justice system (Memories of Murder, Mother), the environment (Okja) and the institutions responsible for both the exacerbation of wealth inequality and failing to protect those most marginalized by that inequality (Snowpiercer, The Host). For Parasite, Bong takes a slightly different angle—he’s no less interested in inequality’s consequences, but here he sees how class as performance manifests, particularly when people are plucked from one echelon of society and put in another. As we watch both families act in different, but intersecting, pieces of social/anthropological theatre, Bong cuts through their mutual hunger, and what ultimately and tragically separates them, with a jaundiced eye and an acidic sense of humor. Laughing during Parasite feels like choking on rust. (Cho, especially, finds the perfect amount of absurdity as the somewhat doltish mother, truly a testament to rich ladies being easily knocked over by a feather.) But Bong is not interested in metaphor, and not the kind written on rocks. Even through its absurdist, bleakly satirical lens, Bong understands that social inequity is not just theatre, but lived experience. Sometimes the rock is just a shit-stained rock. —Kyle Turner


2. Akira

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Year: 1988

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Stars: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama

Genre: Animation, Science-Fiction

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Rating: R

Runtime: 124 minutes

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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 cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Set thirty-one 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 the 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 singlehandedly 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. Long Live Akira! —Toussaint Egan


3. Sputnik

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Year: 2020

Director: Egor Abramenko

Stars: Oksana Akinshina, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Pyotr Fyodorov, Anton Vasiliev

Rating: NR

Runtime: 113 minutes

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The good news is that, three years later, at least one of Alien’s descendants have figured out that borrowing from its forebear makes far more sense than lazily aping Scott, which explains in part why Egor Abramenko’s Sputnik works so well: It’s Alien-esque, because any film about governments and corporations using unsuspecting innocents as vessels for stowing extraterrestrial monsters for either weaponization or monetization can’t help evoke Alien. Abramenko has that energy. Sputnik’s style runs somewhere in the ballpark of unnerving and unflappable: The movie doesn’t flinch, but makes a candid, methodical attempt at making the audience flinch instead, contrasting high-end creature FX against a lo-fi backdrop. Until the alien makes its first appearance slithering forth from the prone Konstantin’s mouth, Sputnik’s set dressing suggests a lost relic from the 1980s. But the sophistication of the creature’s design, a crawling, semi-diaphanous thing that’s coated in layers of sputum equally audible and visible, firmly anchors the film to 2020. Let the new pop cultural dividing line be drawn there. —Andy Crump


4. Mad Max

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Year: 1979

Director: George Miller

Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Rating: R

Runtime: 93 minutes

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George Miller’s first foray into the dystopian world of Mad Max is distinctly less fantastical than the more colorful and grandiose films that would follow, ala Beyond Thunderdome—the original Mad Max by comparison is lean, mean, grounded and misanthropic in its aims. The world hasn’t quite to an end yet in this universe—rather, we are witnessing its death throes, which is actually significantly more disturbing. It’s a sentiment that feels frighteningly timely in just about any era, as mankind has nearly always felt perched on the brink of chaos in the last century. Mad Max pessimistically illustrates what that might look like, when all of our worst instincts are left to run roughshod over the ineffective handful of people who would defend us, but can’t even defend their own families. Failing that, all that’s left is bloody, spectacular revenge, which the film dishes out with some incredible car stunts and crashes that set a tough standard to surpass. —Jim Vorel


5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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Year: 2020

Director: Céline Sciamma

Stars: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami

Genre: Drama, Romance

Rating: R

Runtime: 119 minutes

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French director Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire revels in the far-reaching history of women—their relationships, their predicaments, the unrelenting bond that comes with feeling uniquely understood—while also grappling with the patriarchal forces inherent in determining the social mores that ultimately restrict their agency. The film, which takes place sometime before the French Revolution in the late 18th century, introduces us to Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an artist commissioned to paint the portrait of an aristocratic young woman named Heloïse (Adèle Hannel), which, once completed, will be sent to Milan—where her suitor will covet it until his betrothed arrives. Completely resistant to the idea of marriage, Heloïse has sabotaged previous attempts, leaving Marianne with a difficult assignment. She must not reveal to Heloïse that she has been tasked with painting her, instead posing as a companion for afternoon walks, memorizing the details of Heloïse’s features and toiling on the portrait in secret. The class distinctions between Marianne and Heloïse point to an interesting exploration of the power dynamics at play within the muse/artist dichotomy, but even more beguiling about the relationship is that it is somewhat emblematic of Sciamma’s relationship with Hannel—the two publicly announced their relationship in 2014, amicably separating shortly before the filming of Portrait. Take another recent film that draws from a director’s real-life romantic relationship, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Loosely based on Anderson’s marriage to Maya Rudolph, the film, although subverting many clichés of depicting artist/muse relationships, ultimately concludes with the power dynamic intact. Sciamma has no interest in following the oft-petty conflicts between creative types and their romantic partners, instead opting to present a bigger picture of a relationship forged out of the climactic act of knowing another person, not just feeling inspired by what they mean for one’s art. —Natalia Keogan


6. Let the Right One In

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Year: 2008

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Stars: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, Peter Carlberg

Rating: R

Runtime: 114 minutes

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Vampires may have become cinema’s most overdone, watered-down horror villains, aside from zombies, but leave it to a Swedish novelist and filmmaker to reclaim frightening vampires by producing a novel and film that turned the entire genre on its head. Let the Right One In centers around the complicated friendship and quasi-romantic relationship between 12-year-old outcast Oskar and Eli, a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of an androgynous (although ostensibly female) child who looks his same age. As Oskar slowly works his way into her life, drawing ever-closer to the role of a classical vampire’s human “familiar,” the film questions the nature of their bond and whether the two can ever possibly commune on a level of genuine love. At the same time, it’s also a chilling, very effective horror film whenever it chooses to be, especially in the absolutely spectacular final sequences, which evoke Eli’s terrifying abilities with just the right touch of obstruction to leave the worst of it in the viewer’s imagination. The film received an American remake in 2010, Let Me In, which has been somewhat unfairly derided by film fans sick of the remake game, but it’s another solid take on the same story that may even improve upon a few small aspects of the story. Ultimately, though, the Swedish original is still the superior film thanks to the strength of its two lead performers, who vault it up to become perhaps the best vampire movie ever made. —Jim Vorel


7. Star Trek: First Contact

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Year: 1996

Directors: Jonathan Frakes

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 111 minutes

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First Contact wasn’t the first Star Trek film incorporating time-travel, though the plot device was used only sparingly on the show—it’s not really kosher with the Prime Directive. But we’ll take the Next Generation crew and The Borg over the whale watchers in the fourth movie, A Voyage Home. While the first film from this iteration of space explorers—the crossover Generations—got a little mired in the novelty of having two Enterprise crews together, First Contact let Patrick Stewart and company tackle their most iconic villain on their own. When the Borg create a temporal vortex to conquer Earth before humanity discovers they’re not alone in the galaxy, the Enterprise rides its wake and must preserve the timeline or face extinction. It’s a tight story carrying the weight of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s personal abduction and assimilation by the Borg, driving him with an Ahab-like determination. It also conveys a hope for humanity in the wake of world war that would have made Gene Roddenberry proud. —Josh Jackson


8. The Act of Killing

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Year: 2012

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

Rating: NR

Runtime: 122 minutes

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Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing focuses on one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century, speaking to some members of the Indonesian death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women in 1965 and ’66. These people don’t live in the shadows, though—instead they’re treated like royalty in their native land, celebrated as heroes who helped “save” Indonesia from communism. The film is so shocking and depressing that its subjects’ utter disconnection from morality would almost be funny if it wasn’t so frightening. Oppenheimer amplifies those conflicting reactions further by introducing a daring gambit: In the process of interviewing these butchers—who brag about raping and killing their victims (including the occasional beheading)—the director asked if they would be interested in re-creating their murders through fictionalized, filmed scenes. The men—most notably a gentleman named Anwar Congo, who was one of the death squad leaders—leapt at the chance. What follows is a literally nauseous glimpse into the minds of men who have spent decades mentally escaping the inescapable.—Tim Grierson and Dom Sinacola


9. Snatch

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Year: 2000

Director: Guy Ritchie

Stars: Brad Pitt, Jason Statham, Benicio del Toro, Dennis Farina, Jason Flemyng, Vinnie Jones

Rating: R

Runtime: 102 minutes

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Love or hate him, Guy Ritchie has redefined the gangster genre with his hyper-stylized touch. Snatch may be a lesser remix of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but it boasts a multifaceted plot, frenzied action and dazzling eye candy. And how can you not love characters with names like Franky Four Fingers, Bullet Tooth Tony and Doug the Head?—David Roark


10. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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Year: 2001

Director: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 146 minutes

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


11. Nomadland

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Year: 2020

Director: Chloé Zhao

Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Rating: R

Runtime: 108 minutes

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A devastating and profound look at the underside of the American Dream, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland turns Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (and some of its subjects) into a complex folk song about survival, pride and the beauty of getting by on the open road. Focusing on older Americans who’ve somehow either abandoned or been forced from stationary traditional homes into vans and RVs, the film contemplates all that brought them to this point (an ugly, crammed Amazon warehouse looms large over the movie’s otherwise natural landscapes and sweeping vistas) and all that waits for them now that they’re here. Some of Bruder’s sources make appearances in the film, threatening to steal the show from the fictional Fern (Frances McDormand) at every turn—and McDormand turns in one of the best performances of the year. That’s just how honest and compelling Linda May and Swankie are. As the migrating community scatters to the wind and reconvenes wherever the seasonal jobs pop up, Zhao creates a complicated mosaic of barebones freedom. It’s the vast American landscape—a “marvelous backdrop of canyons, open deserts and purple-hued skies” as our critic put it—and that mythological American promise that you can fend for yourself out in it. But you can’t, not really. The bonds between the nomads is a stiff refutation of that individualistic idea, just as Amazon’s financial grip over them is a damnation of the corporation’s dominance. Things are rough—as Fern’s fellow travelers tell campfire tales of suicide, cancer and other woes—but they’re making the best of it. At least they have a little more control out here. The optimism gained from a reclaimed sense of autonomy is lovely to behold (and crushing when it comes into conflict with those angling for a return to the way things were), even if its impermanence is inherent. Nomadland’s majestic portrait puts a country’s ultimate failings, its corrupting poisons and those making the best of their position by blazing their own trail together on full display.—Jacob Oller


12. Predator

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Year: 1987

Director: John McTiernan

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura

Genre: Action

Rating: R

Runtime: 107 minutes

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A slasher film where battle-hardened soldiers replace the traditional nubile teens. Sounds like a recipe for a good time. And, indeed, Predator delivers on all fronts, from its cheesy approximation of “manly” dialogue (“I ain’t got time to bleed”) to the dated-yet-still-impressive special effects to the abundance of gory, creative violence. Subsequent installments in the sci-fi franchise have never truly captured the original’s meathead appeal. Besides, as any frequent viewer of VH1’s I Love the ‘80s can attest, the decade just wouldn’t have been the same without it.—Mark Rozeman


13. Attack the Block

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Year: 2011

Director: Joe Cornish

Stars: Adam Buxton, Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega

Rating: R

Runtime: 88 minutes

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Written and directed by Joe Cornish, the sci-fi action comedy centers on a gang of teenage thugs—particularly their disgruntled leader, Moses, remarkably underplayed by a young John Boyega—and their housing project in South London. When the defiant juveniles take their crime to a new level and mug an innocent nurse (a delightful Jodie Whittaker), they immediately find themselves plagued by alien invaders. These hideous creatures, with their jet black fur and glowing blue fangs, want nothing more than to destroy the boys and their tower block. In the spirit of Spielberg—even more so than J.J. Abrams’ Spielberg ode of the same year, Super 8—Cornish uses alien beings as the catalyst to bring supernatural redemption to a person and a community. He focuses specifically on London’s socioeconomic bottom half and the turmoil surrounding them, exposing the lies that society’s youth buy into that prolong cultural discontinuity. A comical scene, in which Moses tries to make sense of the aliens while giving excuses for his criminal behavior, highlights this cleverly—he doesn’t just blame the government for violence and drugs in his neighborhood, he blames the government for the whole alien invasion. Cornish, however, doesn’t simply confront this hopeless attitude, he points toward hope—most vividly in the way Moses battles the aliens, his fight rapt with symbolic implications. —Maryann Koopman Kelly


14. In & Of Itself

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Year: 2021

Director: Frank Oz

Stars: Derek DelGaudio

Genre: Documentary

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 90 minutes

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How do you translate In & Of Itself—a stage meditation on identity and the self that needs to be a profound, shared experience—into something someone watches passively on a screen? If you’re Frank Oz and Derek DelGaudio, you do it by pulling off another great piece of “magic”—figuring out via performance, lens and subtle editing how to transmute the heart of the show without sacrificing the emotion that those two summoned 552 unique times inside that black box theater. Like Oz, DelGaudio is a multi-hyphenate performer, writer and magician—and the antithesis of what that last word usually conjures in the mind. He doesn’t use jazz hands, or sport gaudy tattoos or flashy clothes. Oz captures him as the play presents him: An understated, sad-eyed everyman who knows how to tell a compelling story. And he does just that. In the same space and format of the stage show, he conjures six wildly different stories/puzzles/tricks that take the viewer on an existential journey. Each one is almost deceptively simple, but the payoffs are bold and contingent on the participant being present and open to the gifts that DelGaudio bestows. Miraculously, it all manages to still translate through our seemingly impersonal screens.—Tara Bennett


15. Election

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Year: 1999

Director: Alexander Payne

Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein

Rating: R

Runtime: 102 minutes

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Tom Perrotta writes novels that strip the veneer from polite and “civilized” mid-American suburban life to expose it as the Starbucks-ian jungle that it is: The most reptilian impulses of human nature can strike at any time to dismantle the weak ones in the pack, or to at least flirt with pure narcissistic and hedonistic behavior. In fact, two great films based on his work outline this thematic connection—in Todd Field’s Little Children, the sexual indiscretions of small town characters are narrated like an old school National Geographic documentary, and in Alexander Payne’s Election, the soundtrack blares with a screeching, angry tribal chant whenever a character feels slighted, preparing for an attack to socially destroy an enemy. Perrotta and Payne’s narrative covers a rift between a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who isn’t self-aware enough to realize how much of a selfish prick he really is, and a student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the embodiment of blind and ruthless ambition, during the election to appoint the new student body president. Underneath this simple story rides a precise and nimble exploration about the lengths anyone might go to on the road to success to protect their fragile ego while stabbing many backs. Witherspoon’s now-iconic take on Tracy Flick is the embodiment of that person we’ve all encountered who will do and say literally anything to get ahead in life. However, Broderick’s seemingly caring and guiding teacher also succumbs to his own basest desires. Which one perishes, and which one comes out on top depends not on any preconceived cosmic hierarchy of good morals (or ethics—what’s the difference?), but on who can be the shrewdest and cleverest animal in the pack. —Oktay Ege Kozak


16. The Nice Guys

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Year: 2016

Directors: Shane Black

Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Keith David

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Rating: R

Runtime: 116 minutes

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Good performances can polish average movies with just enough elbow grease they end up looking like gems. Think Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, or Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Every advance that Shane Black’s The Nice Guys takes toward quality is made on the strengths of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Black is as quick with action scenes as with punchlines. The Nice Guys is funny. It’s exciting. If you find yourself growing tired of wordplay, Black will turn things around and slide in some Three Stooges slapstick. If you get tired of that, he’ll set off a gun or throw a few punches, though it is impossible to imagine anybody finding the clownish sight of Gosling tumbling off of balconies or crashing through plate glass tiresome. Gosling and Crowe are a great pair, so great that their team-up should justify funding for a buddy picture series where Holland and Jackson undertake jobs that spiral out of hand and above their pay grades. Crowe plays it straight and grumpy, and you half expect him to declare that he’s too old for this shit at any given moment. Gosling, on the other hand, shapes Holland through boozy tomfoolery and pratfalls. They’re a standout odd couple, but Black’s films are defined by great odd couples as much as they are by great scripting. In The Nice Guys, he leaves it up to Gosling and Crowe to use the former to fill in the gaps left behind by the lack of the latter.—Andy Crump


17. If Beale Street Could Talk

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Year: 2018

Director: Barry Jenkins

Stars: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Teyonah Pariss, Aunjanue Ellis

Genre: Drama, Romance

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

Rating: R

Runtime: 117 minutes

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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


18. Rushmore

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Year: 1998

Director: Wes Anderson

Stars: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams

Rating: R

Runtime: 93 minutes

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Rushmore introduced the world to Jason Schwartzman and helped pivot Bill Murray’s career from broad comic to art-house juggernaut. An unlikely inter-generational love triangle leads to one of the most entertaining feuds in filmdom. Schwartzman’s Max Fischer is an ambitious yet academically underachieving student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy in Houston, and Bill Murray plays wealthy industrialist Herman Blume. The two strike up an unexpected and unconventional friendship, but both end up 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, Ruhsmore 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. Few films remain re-watchable into the double digits, but this one just keeps getting funnier. —Josh Jackson


19. Office Space

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Year: 1999

Director: Mike Judge

Stars: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman

Rating: R

Runtime: 89 minutes

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Great comedy almost always has a dark heart. (The flipside is also true of great horror: It almost always teeters on the edge of farce). But this makes sense: Laughter is our response to absurd and unexpected contradictions; comedy needs its darkness to fully flourish. Mike Judge, the writer/director of Office Space, knows this well. His humor concerns the lowest, saddest schmucks on the corporate ladder (thus 99% of us can relate) who mostly feel dead inside, turning to Kung Fu films and cheap beer to escape. It’s a subject as old as capitalism itself: Most of us are unhappy, not doing what we want, feeling our dreams escaping us more and more with each passing day. For protagonist Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), his goal is a subversive joy: Independently, from no wellspring of societal angst (unlike, say, The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock), he wants to do nothing. And besides being a hilarious antidote to scores of predictable, cookie-cutter hyperactive hero-protagonists, his needs feel absolutely real, and is what the corporate rat race deserves in an anti-hero. The do-gooder replaced by the do-nothing. It also helps that Judge has a cast perfectly on board with his tone. Together, they turn caricature into depth, a cartoon into vivid life. —Harold Brodie


20. Sorry to Bother You

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Year: 2018

Director: Boots Riley

Stars: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Stephen Yeun, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Terry Crews, Danny Glover

Genre: Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Rating: R

Runtime: 105 minutes

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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


21. Johnny Guitar

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Year: 1954

Director: Nicholas Ray

Stars: Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge, Sterling Hayden, Scott Brady

Genre: Western

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Rating: PG

Runtime: 110 minutes

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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


22. Shoplifters

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Year: 2018

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Stars: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jo, Miyu Sasaki, Kirin Kiki

Genre: Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%

Rating: R

Runtime: 121 minutes

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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. 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. —Andy Crump


23. The Assistant

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Year: 2020

Director: Kitty Green

Stars: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfayden, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Rating: R

Runtime: 87 minutes

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The nameless, faceless boss hiding behind closed doors in Kitty Green’s exceptional The Assistant can be easily read as a Harvey Weinstein stand-in. The truth is that Harvey Weinstein isn’t or, now that he’s in prison, wasn’t the only man in the film industry with a habit of abusing his position and privilege by preying on women in his office, either through coercion or through brute force, he is, or was, the most notorious of them. So yes, The Assistant can be thought of as “the Harvey Weinstein movie,” but it really should be thought of as the best contemporary movie to act out patriarchal rape culture dynamics on screen. Regardless, take Weinstein out of your interpretation of The Assistant and the film will still throttle you slowly, packing suffocating pressure into each of its 87 minutes. Green’s primary tool here is stillness: Static shots dominate the production, stifled frame after stifled frame, with the camera, manned by Michael Latham, often left hovering above Green’s star, Julia Garner, as if he means to leave space for her unanswered silent prayers to hang over her head. She plays the title’s long-suffering assistant, silent witness to her boss’s bullying and wanton lasciviousness, helpless to stop it. She spends the film unraveling over the course of a day, confronting her complicity in his sexual predation with no tangible hope of ending the cycle. Because there is no hope in The Assistant, no chance the film’s central evil will meet his punishment, or that the system built to facilitate his evil will collapse. What Green has done here is brutal and unsparing, but it’s also flawlessly made and necessary. —Andy Crump


24. Melancholia

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Year: 2011

Director: Lars von Trier

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård

Genre: Drama, Science-Fiction

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

Rating: R

Runtime: 135 minutes

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If you want a really, really disturbingly beautiful apocalypse, you can’t go wrong with Lars von Trier. Melancholia is the second of a trilogy of films in which the director dives into the nature of depression. It revolves around two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg)—after a staccato series of prologue images set to Wagner (if you’ve ever experienced severe depression you’ll recognize the choppy, distanced, “underwater” quality of this first section), we open on Justine’s wedding reception. There is something seriously wrong with these people. Or is there? It seems like Justine’s boss is actually harassing her for ad copy in the middle of her own wedding toast. It seems like her father is a raging narcissist and her mother is “honest” in a way that makes you want to never take a phone call from her, ever. Everything seems off. And that’s before anyone realizes a runaway planet called Melancholia might be on a collision course with Earth. —Amy Glynn


25. Booksmart

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Year: 2019

Director: Olivia Wilde

Stars: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte

Genre: Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Rating: R

Runtime: 105 minutes

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Booksmart, the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, is another journey down the halls of a wealthy high school days before graduation, but it’s different enough to be endearing. Written by an all-female writing team—Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman—it centers on life-long besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they attempt to party one time before the end of high school. Wilde and company draw from a whimsical, rainbow palate to explore friendship at diverging roads. Feldstein and Dever shine as an odd couple. Molly wants to be the youngest person ever elected to the Supreme Court, while Amy seeks to discover what possibilities life may open up for her. Easily feeding off of one another’s energy, as Amy and Molly travel around town, jumping gatherings, trying to reach the ultimate cool kids’ party, they cross paths with a diverse array of students also attempting to hide their painfully obvious insecurities. As the night progresses, those masks begin to slip, and the person each of these students is striving to become begins to emerge. The pendulum of teen girl movies swings typically from Clueless—girl-powered, cutesy, high-fashion first-love-centered—to Thirteen, the wild, angry, depressed and running from all genuine emotion kind of movie. Most of these films lay in the space of heteronormative, white, upper or middle class, and able-bodied representation. Even in films centered on otherness, like Bend It Like Beckham, the white best friend is given equal space in the advertising of the film, and the original queer angle was written out in favor of a love triangle. Visit nearly any segment of the internet visited by Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z women, and the cry for better representation is loud and clear. There’s a fresh-faced newness of raw talent in Booksmart that begs to be a touchstone for the next generation of filmmakers. Like Wes Anderson’s Rushmore or Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides, Booksmart is an experience cinema enthusiasts will revisit again and again. —Joelle Monique


26. Plan B

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Year: 2021

Director: Natalie Morales

Stars: Kuhoo Verma, Victoria Moroles, Michael Provost, Myha’la Herrold, Jolly Abraham, Jay Chandrasekhar

Rating: NA

Runtime: 108 minutes

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The meeting of past and present is on full display in Plan B which puts a new spin on one of the tried and true plots of the genre—the road trip. Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) is a responsible student trying to do everything right. Her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) seems to walk more on the wild side, but it’s really just bravado hiding some inner insecurity. When Sunny’s mom Rosie (Jolly Abraham) goes out of town for a real estate convention, Lupe convinces Sunny to throw a party to get the attention of Hunter (Michael Provost). “Who plays hockey in a cardigan? He’s like an athletic librarian,” Sunny sighs. But after one too many shots of some very questionable alcoholic punch (pickle juice is involved), Sunny has sex for the first time with the super religious and super geeky Kyle (Mason Cook from the late, great TV series Speechless). The next morning, to her horror, Sunny discovers the condom and its contents have been inside her all night long. The quest for the Plan B pill begins. All films require a willing suspension of disbelief and Plan B does need its viewers to not ask too many questions. Suffice to say a lot of Sunny and Lupe’s problems could have been solved by a simple Google search on their phones. But once you set aside any lingering doubts, the movie is a delight. That’s in large part due to first-time director Natalie Morales. Morales, known for her roles on Parks & Recreation, The Middleman and Dead to Me, clearly understands these characters and the emotional angst of high school. Perhaps because Morales is an actress herself, she’s even more conscious of ensuring that the female leads are treated with the respect they deserve.—Amy Amatangelo


27. Heathers

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Year: 1989

Director: Michael Lehmann

Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Kim Walker

Genre: Dark Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Rating: R

Runtime: 102 minutes

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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


28. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Year: 2016

Director: Taika Waititi

Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Rhys Darby

Genre: Comedy, Adventure

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 101 minutes

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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


29. Personal Shopper

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Year: 2016

Director: Olivier Assayas

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie

Rating: R

Runtime: 106 minutes

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


30. Let the Sunshine In

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Year: 2017

Director: Claire Denis

Stars: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Laurent Grévill, Josiane Balasko, Bruno Podalydès, Philippe Katerine, Alex Descas, Gérard Depardieu

Genre: Drama, Romance

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 96 minutes

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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


31. Colossal

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Year: 2017

Director: Nacho Vigalondo

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell

Rating: R

Runtime: 110 minutes

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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 clichés of film festival dramas before smashing them under a giant, monstrous foot. —Jim Vorel


32. The Sisters Brothers

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Year: 2018

Director: Jacques Audiard

Stars: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Carol Kane, Rutger Hauer

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

Rating: R

Runtime: 121 minutes

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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


33. Minding the Gap

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Year: 2018

Director: Bing Liu

Genre: Documentary

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 93 minutes

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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


34. The Beach Bum

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Year: 2019

Director: Harmony Korine

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Martin Lawrence, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill

Genre: Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56%

Rating: R

Runtime: 95 minutes

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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 plagiarizing 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


35. Support the Girls

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Year: 2018

Director: Andrew Bujalski

Stars: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, Brooklyn Decker

Genre: Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

Rating: R

Runtime: 90 minutes

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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


36. Force Majeure

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Year: 2014

Director: Ruben Östlund

Stars: Johnnes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju

Genre: Drama, Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Rating: R

Runtime: 120 minutes

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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


37. The Way Back

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Year: 2011

Director: Peter Weir

Stars: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong

Genre:

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 133 minutes

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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


38. Love & Mercy

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Year: 2015

Director: Bill Pohlad

Stars: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks

Genre: Drama, Music Biopic

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 121 minutes

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There is a curious, oft times transcendent harmony to the dissonance at the heart of Love & Mercy. In taking a page from his subject’s life and music, director Bill Pohlad (best known for producing credits like 12 Years a Slave and Into the Wild) largely rejects sentimentality in chronicling a reluctant pop star who wants to craft something more than shiny, happy hooks. (In one scene, Wilson argues the Beach Boys’ true “surfer” cred with his bandmates, knowing better.) Sure, that’s kind of the story—at least on the surface—but his approach unearths the layers of Wilson’s genius and torment. Seemingly straightforward classics like “In My Room” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” take on new meaning as the extent of his struggles come into devastating focus. (Read the full review here.) —Amanda Schurr


39. Meek’s Cutoff

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Year: 2011

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Stars: Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan

Genre: Western, Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Rating: PG

Runtime: 104 minutes

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Leave it to Kelly Reichardt to reclaim the Western 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


40. Happiest Season



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Year: 2020

Director: Clea Duvall

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Mary Holland, Dan Levy, Burl Moseley, Aubrey Plaza

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

Rating: R

Runtime: 102 minutes

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The grounded sobriety of Happiest Season lasts long enough for a reprieve from the still-present cornball Christmas melodrama, which director/co-writer Clea Duvall stages with the relish of someone who appreciates that melodrama in spite of themselves. But frankly, if every Hallmark movie was this over-the-top hilarious, they’d all at least be watchable as background noise, but then we’d have less reason to appreciate Duvall’s appropriation of their core components in Happiest Season. Kristen Stewart, continuing to prove wrong all the smug remarks about her one-dimensional dourness starting around 2008, remains a treasure. She’s lively, lovely, and having a wonderful time vibing with Mackenzie Davis. The latter ends up shouldering juicier theatrical speeches and breakdowns as her character, Harper, unravels under the dual pressure of being the daughter she thinks her parents want and being the girlfriend she wants to be to Stewart’s Abby. The ensemble keeps things fresh throughout these conventional plot beats, with Mary Holland coming out ahead as Duvall’s friction-seeking SRBM. Anytime the atmosphere chafes, Holland flies into the room and annihilates it with adorable, well-meaning awkwardness. She’s a gift, but the whole cast glitters in this holiday fare. Everyone’s tuned to Duvall’s wavelength, playing their human sides while keeping the mood appropriately hammy and saccharine—just sweet enough without killing the pancreas. And that’s the film’s secondary message: It’s okay to like Christmas schmaltz. The greater message, of course, is that it’s okay to struggle with the sometimes-bruising process of coming out. Duvall dovetails the seasonal pap with her characters’ pain, treating it like ointment for their mellowing emotional stings. The message isn’t just about liking Christmas. The message is that everybody deserves a Christmas movie.—Andy Crump


41. Hell or High Water

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Year: 2016

Director: David Mackenzie

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham

Genre: Western

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Rating: R

Runtime: 97 minutes

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David Mackenzie’s film gets the balance between genre and plot so right that, after a while, I forgot I was watching a genre film and simply found myself immersed in the lives of these characters. That is a tribute to not only the performances and Mackenzie’s direction, but also to Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay, which finds seemingly boundless amounts of colorful human detail and unexpected humor in what, on the surface, stands as a clichéd narrative. Hell or High Water is essentially a cops-and-robbers tale, with grizzled soon-to-retire veteran sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his deputy, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), going after a brotherly duo of bank robbers: Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) Howard. Sheridan’s characters are so fully imagined that, combined with actors and a director sensitive to the nuances in the script, we ultimately respond to them as flesh-and-blood people. But Sheridan—who tackled the moral difficulties of the drug war with his script for Sicario—has even bigger thematic game in mind. Hell or High Water is also meant to be a topical anti-capitalist lament, being that it takes place in a west Texas town that looks to have been decimated by the recent economic recession, with big billboard signs of companies advertising debt relief amid stretches of desolation, and with Toby driven in large part by a desire to break out of what he sees as a cycle of poverty for his loved ones, to provide a better life for his two sons and ex-wife. —Kenji Fujishima


42. Amazing Grace

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Year: 2019

Director: N/A

Stars: Aretha Franklin, C.L. Franklin

Genre: Documentary, Music

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%

Rating: G

Runtime: 87 minutes

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A few years after the Apollo 11 mission, a different type of cosmic occurrence occurred at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Over two nights in January 1972, Aretha Franklin (just shy of her 30th birthday) recorded what would become the greatest-selling gospel album of all time—and arguably her finest album, period. The record Amazing Grace has been with us ever since, but the record of that night, shot by a young filmmaker named Sydney Pollack, has been kept away from public view for myriad reasons. Sadly, it took Franklin’s death last year at the age of 76 for that film to finally come to light. Though Amazing Grace was probably destined to be one of those much-rumored “lost” films that could never live up to its legend once the world got to see it, it’s a titanic vision of a performer whose extraordinary gift is self-evident, and the movie simply lets her be her magnificent self. Not credited to any director but completed by music producer Alan Elliott (and shot by Sydney Pollack), Amazing Grace is a straightforward presentation of archival materials without contemporary context or insights. But that’s enough, because history roars to life in this film, especially whenever Franklin opens her mouth and that incredible voice pours out. And, among its many attributes, Amazing Grace brings back the young Aretha Franklin who’s a human being rather than the totemic figure she became. She’s touchingly vulnerable, hesitant, normal in between songs, as if she’s just living her life, not consciously delivering an iconic album. And while the music critic in me will note that it’s a tad disappointing that the film peaks early, with her excellent version of Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy” as the night’s first song, Amazing Grace hums with the thrill of lightning being captured in a bottle—a thrill that’s as much a treat for the eyes as the ears. —Tim Grierson


43. Possessor

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Year: 2020

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Tuppence Middleton

Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Rating: R

Runtime: 104 minutes

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The barren, lonely, modest urban landscapes of Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor reflect a familiar perspective. Brandon is, as you either already know or have surely guessed, David’s son; he shares his father’s interest in corporeal grotesquery, physical transformation representing mental transformation, and an unnerving, topical preoccupation with viruses. Brandon cuts deeper than daddy, though, if not (yet) with the same incisiveness, then with a clinical precision that only intensifies the oneiric oddness coursing intractably through Possessor. This disturbing horror/thriller follows Tasya (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin working for a shady organization that carries out its hits via remote cerebral link between assassin and unwitting host—in this case Colin (Christopher Abbott). Cronenberg charts a horrific journey from mind to mind, plotted along neural pathways but predictably expressed along physical routes. It veers off into an arterial journey, the narrow vessels containing the stuff of life—and death—in a larger body. The film has the feel of a grand sci-fi spectacle shrunk down to a dark, dingy miniature; its crude efficiency belies the potency of Cronenberg’s ruminations on the theme of a foreign invader corrupting a wayward soul in a poisonous society.—Paddy Mulholland


44. We Need to Talk About Kevin

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Year: 2017

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

Genre: Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Rating: R

Runtime: 111 minutes

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A pitch-black drama from writer/director Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fascinating study of a sociopath, a family, and the former’s effect on the latter. While it allows Ezra Miller to showcase his alienesque abilities as a problem child, the film’s richest element is the evolving relationship between his parents (John C. Reilly and Tilda Swinton). Reilly and Swinton construct a fractured window into a marriage, with one (possibly evil) rock thrown square through it. Gripping and disturbing, Ramsay’s effort (co-written by Rory Stewart Kinnear) strikes at a vague yet central parental fear through its horrifying specificity: what happens if I screw this up? —Jacob Oller


45. The Host

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Year: 2006

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Stars: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung

Rating: NR

Runtime: 119 minutes

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Before he was breaking out internationally with a tight action film like Snowpiercer, and eventually winning a handful of Oscars for Parasite, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades—the mutated creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome in practice than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer and Parasite) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk. —Jim Vorel


46. Shane

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Year: 1953

Director: George Stevens

Stars: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin

Rating: TV-G

Runtime: 135 minutes

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Shane is another of the great Hollywood westerns and probably the most archetypal and mythical in its execution. The heroes are truly good, the villains badder than bad. It explores one of the classic Western expansion themes, cattle ranching—or the freedom and lawlessness of the open range—versus farming, which eventually leads to civilization and settling down in one place, bringing families and the laws of the city into play. Visually a character straight out of the Old Testament, Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is a shaggy bearded cattle baron hell-bent on driving farming families from the land he considers his. A mysterious rider named Shane (Alan Ladd) arrives in the nick of time to bolster the courage of a group of homesteaders led by Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Shane and Ryker, along with their cohorts, are relics of the past, ultimately doomed to extinction once the wives and children move in. Unlike Ryker, Shane knows this, and spells it out in their final showdown. The future of the West is in cities and communities. There is no place for lawless men like them in these new frontiers. All these years later, we know that Shane was wrong. Killing and lawlessness still abound in the cities, and big business still tramples the rights of the common man. The film is a reminder, though, that if communities band together, holding strong in faith and trusting one another, they can take back what is rightfully theirs and shape a collective destiny.—Joe Pettit Jr.


47. Signs

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Year: 2002

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Stars: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 106 minutes

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M. Night Shyamalan is one of Pennsylvania’s most loyal filmmakers, having shot every single one of his films at least partially in the state. And while not all of them feel particularly connected to place, 2002’s Signs exudes Pennsylvania-ness. The film opens on a lonely farm in Bucks County, PA (actually Doylestown, just north of Philadelphia), where former Episcopalian priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lives with his children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin), his baseball-star-turned-gas-station-attendant brother (Joaquin Phoenix), and the shadow of his deceased wife, whose death in an accident months earlier prompted Graham’s crisis of faith. Strange things begin occurring on the farm: complex crop circles, footsteps on the roof, aggression from the family dogs. Soon, the family is in the middle of a full-blown, global alien invasion. Bucks County is a place where everyone knows each other, and business owners speak disdainfully of “city people,” but this is not the kind of story where a small town bands together. It’s far from a warm community, and in fact it feels empty, judgmental and ever so slightly off in that uncanny Twilight Zone-esque way. And like The Twilight Zone before it, Signs finds its horror not in the aliens themselves (who, as many complained at the time of the films’ release, are pretty lame) but in the deep, unmooring sorrow that’s swallowing this family whole—an enemy not so easily defeated.—Maura McAndrew


48. Ali

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Year: 2001

Director: Michael Mann

Stars: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight

Rating: R

Runtime: 157 minutes

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Michael Mann’s ambitious attempt to chronicle the sprawling and wildly admired life of Muhammad Ali is respectable, if not enthusiasm-inducing. Certainly it’s Will Smith’s finest moment as a serious screen presence. He and the director spent exacting periods of time closely studying Ali’s fights and hours of candid footage, resulting in plenty of technical accuracy but a slightly mechanical feel overall. Still, Mann’s films hits all the biopic beats and its first hour or so is compelling, never shying away from the glamour, controversy, or flaws of egotism. The main trouble, in the end, lies with the difficulty of capturing Ali’s quicksilver, larger-than-life charm. That’s a mean feat for any filmmaker.—Christina Newland


49. Ninja Scroll

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Year: 1994

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajira

Stars: Stephen Apostolina, Dean Elliott, Wendee Lee, Richard Epcar

Genre: Anime, Action

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 94 minutes

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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


50. Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

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Year: 2021

Director: Questlove

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 117 minutes

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The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is the subject of Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson’s debut documentary feature, Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). More specifically, the documentary examines how this six-week summer festival, which featured many of the most revered Black musicians of all time— including Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and Gladys Knight—went largely unrecognized in America’s cultural consciousness. Featuring an immense catalogue of footage that sat in a basement virtually untouched for 50 years, Summer of Soul acts as an interrogation of what the absence of these materials has meant for the subsequent generation of Black artists, including Questlove himself. Despite the apparent cultural amnesia that followed the event (at least among non-Black Americans), the Harlem Cultural Festival easily overshadowed a ubiquitous moment in American history: The 1969 moon landing. Archival interviews with several attendees reveal that for many Black Americans, the moon landing was not seen as a boundary-pushing event worth celebrating. Catching Stevie Wonder’s set, on the other hand, was. Considering the undeniable essence of colonialism that space travel entails, who can blame them? 300,000 music lovers descended on Mount Morris Park that summer—hardly a negligible amount, especially when compared to Woodstock’s 500,000 attendees. While Woodstock may have been emblematic of the power of counter-culture, the predominance of white spectators in the crowd cemented the event as an artistic awakening. Meanwhile, the equally hyped Harlem Cultural Festival was relegated to the sidelines of historical preservation due to its predominantly Black audience and centering of Black acts on stage. Summer of Soul was easily one of the most successful films at this year’s Sundance, earning the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the documentary section. But Questlove was never in it for the acclaim, a sentiment made evident in some of the first words the filmmaker uttered during his remote acceptance speech: “I didn’t even know this was a competition, yo!” The documentary was quickly picked up by Searchlight, with a streaming release on Hulu imminent. Whether interested in unraveling an overshadowed cultural event or eager to experience awe-inspiring performances from beloved artists at their best, Summer of Soul surely won’t disappoint.—Natalia Keogan


51. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

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Year: 1982

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Stars: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei

Rating: PG

Runtime: 113 minutes

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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


52. Another Round

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Year: 2020

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang

Genre: Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 115 minutes

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In Thomas Vinterberg’s new film Another Round, camaraderie starts out as emotional support before dissolving into male foolishness cleverly disguised as scientific study: A drinking contest where nobody competes and everybody wins until they lose. Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a teacher in Copenhagen, bobs lazily through his professional and personal lives: When he’s at school he’s indifferent and when he’s at home he’s practically alone. Martin’s closest connections are with his friends and fellow teachers, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) and Peter (Lars Ranthe), who like many dudes of a certain age share his glum sentiments. To cure their malaise, Nikolaj proposes putting Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s blood alcohol content theory to the test: Skårderud maintains that hovering at a cool 0.05% BAC helps people stay relaxed and loose, thus increasing their faculty for living to the fullest. As one of the day’s preeminent screen actors, Mikkelsen finds the sweet spot between regret and rejoicing, where his revelries are honest and true while still serving as covers for deeper misgivings and emotional rifts. Sorrow hangs around the edges of his eyes as surely as bliss spreads across his face with each occasion for drinking. That balancing act culminates in an explosive burst of anger and, ultimately, mourning. Good times are had and good times always end. What Another Round demonstrates right up to its ecstatic final moments, where Mikkelsen’s sudden and dazzling acrobatics remind the audience that before he was an actor he was a dancer and gymnast, is that good times are all part of our life cycle: They come and go, then come back again, and that’s better than living in the good times all the time. Without a pause we lose perspective on all else life has to offer, especially self-reflection. —Andy Crump


53. Ingrid Goes West



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Year: 2017

Director: Matt Spicer

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olson, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Rating: R

Runtime: 97 minutes

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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


54. Gretel & Hansel

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Year: 2020

Director: Oz Perkins

Stars: Sophia Lillis, Samuel Leakey, Alice Krige

Genre: Horror

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%

Rating: PG-13

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Director Oz Perkins’ first two features, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, are meticulously constructed examples of slow burn horror, favoring ever-building, chilling atmosphere over quick scares. He begins Gretel & Hansel with a traditional fairy tale structure, only for it to degenerate into an otherworldly, hopeless tone, Perkins liberally playing with space and time. Accordingly, production and costume designs borrow from multiple time periods—slightly resembling medieval Europe—while characters speak in Shakespearean prose, their body language still distinctly modern. Instead of the usual sea of white faces for such a tale, different races that seem to have equal social standing populate this world. Perkins purposefully juxtaposes Galo Olivares’s classically picturesque cinematography, imbued with the illusion of natural light, against Robin Coudert’s synth-heavy score that resembles Wendy Carlos’s work for Stanley Kubrick. The film thrives within a dream-logic vibe, especially in Olivares’ cinematography, with its heavy emphasis on symmetrical framing, stark contast and lush use of yellows and blues, evoking subliminal terror. Gretel & Hansel continues the director’s streak as a unique voice in modern horror filmmaking. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


55. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

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Year: 2010

Director: Jalmari Helander

Stars: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Per Christian Ellefsen, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen

Rating: R

Runtime: 82 minutes

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Of all the films that have attempted to tackle Christmastime mythology through the lens of horror, none have done it with half the gonzo weirdness of Finland’s Rare Exports. Although the subject of Krampus became popular horror fodder in the back half of this decade, the Fins were definitely laying some foundations here, dredging up the figure of Joulupukki, the so-called “Christmas goat” of Scandinavian folklore, who like Krampus punishes wicked children for their sins instead of dispensing candy and gifts. We see this particular story through the eyes of rural Finnish kids and their destitute parents, their livelihoods trampled by the engine of economic progress and consumerism, in a message that reflects the cynicism of Joe Dante’s Gremlins. It seems fitting, then, that it’s a government research team that dredges up horrors from beneath the crust of the Earth, representing the greed of adult children as they do. With a magical Nordic setting that perfectly suits its fantastical vibe, Rare Exports settles in alongside chilly, Scandinanvian horror contemporaries such as Let the Right One In or Dead Snow, although it never strives for the emotion or gravity or the former. It does, however, build to a formidable conclusion, giving us perhaps the most oddly unique origin story for Santa Claus that has yet been brought to the horror genre.—Jim Vorel


56. Mother

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Year: 2009

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Stars: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Ku Jin, Je-mun Yun

Genre: Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

Rating: R

Runtime: 128 minutes

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Mother, director Bong’s fourth film, sustains his usual themes but skews much darker amid the slapstick. It’s driven by Kim Hye-ja’s performance as the film’s namesake, a seemingly meek and long-suffering figure whose devotion to her only child knows no bounds. Her character (also named Hye-ja) is an herbalist and unlicensed acupuncturist who has raised a mentally disabled son by herself. Do-joon (Bon Win) is an indulgent, infantile 27-year-old who is the village idiot in their provincial town, subjected to mockery and casual violence, yet also prone to drunken antics and misdemeanors. Hye-ja’s relationship with her boy exceeds the usual mother-son norms, creepily epitomized in a scene where she tilts a bowl of broth to her son’s lips as he stands urinating on a street corner. The smother-love goes into overdrive when Do-joon is jailed for the rape and murder of a local schoolgirl, whose body is found near a bar Do-joon had been kicked of the previous night. More so than Bong’s other films, Mother takes the audience’s sympathies and expectations to surprising places. You can easily question if the director’s caricatures of the town’s characters undermine his purpose, or decide that his melodramatic plot twists are too much to sensibly abide. There’s no intellectual rigor behind the curtain, as with, say, the Coen Brothers, probably the closest American analogue to Bong’s filmmaking style. The whole shebang rides on the whirlwind force of Kim’s performance, something no one else is likely to soon repeat. —Steve Dollar


57. Leave No Trace

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Year: 2018

Director: Debra Granik

Stars: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Dale Dickey, Dana Millican, Jeff Kober, Alyssa Lynn

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG

Runtime: 109 minutes

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It takes all of Leave No Trace before anyone tells Will (Ben Foster) he’s broken. The man knows, perhaps ineffably, that something’s fundamentally wrong inside of him, but it isn’t until the final moments of Debra Granik’s film that someone gives that wrongness finality, that someone finally allows Will to admit—and maybe accept—he can’t be fixed. Why: Granik affords us little background, save tattoos and a few helicopter-triggered flashbacks and a visit to the hospital to acquire PTSD meds all implying that Will is a military vet, though what conflict he suffered and for how long remains a mystery. As does the fate of Will’s deceased wife, mother to teenage girl Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). As does the length of time Will and his daughter have been living off the grid, hidden within the more than 5,000 acres of Portland’s Forest Park, a damp, verdant chunk of the city’s northwest side overlooking the Willamette River. As does the pain at the heart of Leave No Trace, though it hurts no less acutely for that. Toward the end of this quietly stunning film, Tom shows her father a beehive she’s only recently begun to tend, slowly pulling out a honeycomb tray and tipping a scrambling handful of the insects into her cupped palm without any fear of being stung. Will looks on, proud of his daughter’s connection to such a primal entity, knowing that he could never do the same. Will begins to understand, as Tom does, that she is not broken like him. Leave No Trace asserts, with exquisite humanity and a long bittersweet sigh, that the best the broken can do is disappear before they break anyone else. —Dom Sinacola


58. Honeyland

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Year: 2019

Directors: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov

Genre: Documentary

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 85 minutes

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With great warmth and reverence, Honeyland mourns a fading way of life—a way through which we’re introduced to Hatidzhe, whose whole life resonates, on some primordial level, with beekeeping. She climbs steep heights and navigates narrow ledges of rural Macedonia until she brings us to a honeybee colony she’s discovered deep in the face of a mountainside. She takes a few combs, carefully wraps them for the slow journey home. She lives without electricity in a village all but abandoned were it not for her bedridden mother, whose head’s half-wrapped with a scarf to hide a wound or large sore, it’s not clear, whose only company when Hatidzhe walks to town to sell jars of honey are the flies she attracts. Hatidzhe tends to her bees—only taking “half” the honey, leaving the rest for the burgeoning colony—in the ruins of what might have once been a thriving town, and her mother sleeps, occasionally rising to eat honey, or a banana, just a little. This is how their days pass, until a big family of neighbors rolls up with a camper, some cattle and a desperate ambition to make something out of all that land. One can easily catch metaphors about mass-market industrialization, or conjure up less material parables about humans’ insatiable urge to annihilate everything in their paths. Honeyland resists the tendency to sprawl out. Instead, Hatidzhe must accept what’s happened and move on. We do the same. —Dom Sinacola


59. Collective

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Year: 2020

Director: Alexander Nanau

Genre: Documentary

Runtime: 109 minutes

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Alexander Nanau’s documentary unfolds like a procedural so efficiently, his access so surprisingly unfettered, one can’t help but begin to doubt the horrors exposed. Like three seasons of The Wire adulterated into two hours, Collective begins with the aftermath of a nightclub fire in Bucharest in 2015, which killed 27 people and wounded nearly 180, as parents of victims—both those who perished that night and (many of) those who died in hospitals soon after—begin to gather and question how the Romanian government, top to bottom, seems to be at the heart of such tragic dysfunction. Nanau shows us startling clear video from that night, unflinching and terrible, and then continues to not look away as a group of journalists begin to uncover the corruption that led to so much suffering. Meanwhile, Nanau follows survivors and activists, and then the newly appointed Health Minister (after the other guy resigned for gross incompetence), young and idealistic, as the system crushes every moral step he tries to make, buffeted on all sides by conservative propaganda and the bourgeois class, who have long profited from so much death and misery. The cruelty and perversion of Romania’s governing class should come as no surprise, nor should the results of the election that closes out the film, but Nanau doesn’t frame his drama around the explication of wrongdoings and the punishment of such wrongdoers. He eschews interviews and talking heads for incisive observation, sometimes so intimate it feels like empathy; he returns over and over to the vulnerable people who must endure—their courage, their fear, and the marginal hope they provide the rest of us by simply doing their jobs. It is a testament not to the power of journalism, but to its necessity, one of the last bastions civilization has against normalizing this nightmare here at the End of History. —Dom Sinacola


60. The Mole Agent

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Year: 2020

Director: Maite Alberdi

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Runtime: 90 minutes

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The basis of The Mole Agent is as odd as it is purely heartwarming as we watch the residents of the senior home throw in-person parties and gently taunt one another. But director Maite Alberdi’s movie is smart enough to organically recalibrate from amusing spy saga into something drastically more melancholy: A portrait of bulletproof sympathy for the elderly Chileans who have been conveniently forgotten in their final years of life. Though Sergio is outfitted with various eccentric 007-ready gadgets—a pen with a micro-camera, spy glasses and a musical score splitting the difference between John Barry and Michael Giacchino—it’s part and parcel with the movie’s ironies that his most efficient tool is the empathy he shows for the home’s abandoned denizens. Sergio’s mission is to observe and report back any neglect he might witness, and so Sergio does. However, over time, the neglect he becomes most sympathetic toward is the absence of loved ones coming to visit their elderly relatives. Despite Romulo—the M to Sergio’s James Bond—advising his spy to keep a low profile, Sergio spends his afternoons going into his fellow residents’ rooms, getting to know them and passing along messages of concern for as many as he possibly can. Later, he sends back a report about how he was “elected” king of the nursing home during its anniversary celebration, and while the amusing development was likely influenced by the presence of the cameras, it nonetheless reflects Sergio using his agency to be empathetically present for the abandoned residents—all the while doing everything but keeping a low profile. Sergio fashions himself into a friendly counselor for some of the home’s residents, a watchful eye for others, a truthful advocate for others still. Alberdi follows his lead, as The Mole Agent gently exchanges its espionage-inspired score for gentle piano melodies, indicating a movie tuning itself to its subject. It becomes a more multi-dimensional, satisfying and even incriminating documentary because of that adjustment—and the images are enough to make you want to visit an older relative the moment the pandemic has ended.—David Lynch


61. Palm Springs

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Year: 2020

Director: Max Barbakow

Stars: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, June Squib, Conner O’Malley, Jena Friedman

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

Rating: R

Runtime: 87 minutes

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Imagine living the same day of your life over and over, stuck within an hour and a half of Los Angeles but so closely nestled in paradise’s bosom that the drive isn’t worth the fuel. Now imagine that “over and over” extends beyond a number the human mind is capable of appreciating. Paradise becomes a sun-soaked Hell, a place endured and never escaped, where pizza pool floats are enervating torture devices and crippling alcoholism is a boon instead of a disease. So goes Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs. The film never stops being funny, even when the mood takes a downturn from zany good times to dejection. This is key. Even when the party ends and the reality of the scenario sinks in for its characters, Palm Springs continues to fire jokes at a steady clip, only now they are weighted with appropriate gravity for a movie about two people doomed to maintain a holding pattern on somebody else’s happiest day. Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned time loop to force folks trapped in neutral to get retrospective on their personal statuses.—Andy Crump


62. The Other Lamb

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Year: 2020

Director: Malgorzata Szumowska

Starring: Michiel Huisman, Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough

Rating: NR

Runtime: 94 minutes

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The so-called “Shepherd” sends Selah (Raffey Cassidy) to the hills to deliver a newborn lamb. Instead, she returns with blood-stained hands and the wrath of an almost anthropomorphic ram, who—for the rest of The Other Lamb—follows her around, breathing heavily, angry horns in her face and stony eyes challenging hers. The horror of The Other Lamb accrues slowly. Director Malgorzata Szumowska is a master of world building; the film is told through cult member Selah’s perspective, with the cult leader, the “Shepherd” (Michiel Huisman), existing as a more-or-less silent and cruel specter. Initially, the followers believe that only the male leader has the right to tell stories, but The Other Lamb skewers the male gaze. In the film, to see is to know—and to surveil. The leader organizes his all-women cult into two horrifying categories: Those who wear red frocks are forced to be his “wives” and the ones wearing blue are his “daughters,” many of whom, if not all, are his biological daughters (Szumowska obscures some of these details). He knows everyone’s menstrual cycles, and he seems to always be lurking, trying to pluck the next daughter from childhood and make her his wife as soon as she begins her period. His favorite daughter, the pious Selah, however, begins to perceive his insidiousness and grows fearsome of the impending arrival of her period. As in Ari Aster’s cult thriller Midsommar, viewers can find allusions to fascism and religious extremism in The Other Lamb, but the film is less interested in exploring the leader’s obvious cruelty at length than it is concerned with Selah’s inevitably gory pilgrimage. It’s a resonant tale of a young woman who learns to reject the deeply patriarchal system in which she was raised, to carve out a narrative outside of the one she has been forced to believe. —Isabella Bridie DeLeo


63. The Way Back

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Year: 2011

Director: Peter Weir

Stars: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong

Genre:

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 133 minutes

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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


64. Some Kind of Heaven

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Year: 2021

Director: Lance Oppenheim

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

Runtime: 81 minutes

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Bubble worlds and echo chambers, escapism and selectivity—perhaps the reason that first-time director Lance Oppenheim seems to understand The Villages retirement community so deeply is because its social elements resonate with anyone that grew up online. These social phenomena are, of course, not new, but they are a vital part of everyday life—political and otherwise—in a digital landscape. Approaching them and those that willingly seek them with open eyes and ears, but with brains enough to assess their motives, takes a savvy non-fiction storyteller. Oppenheim’s new documentary, Some Kind of Heaven, introduces the filmmaker as an exciting new voice as he unpacks the quintessential “got old and went to Florida” locale with visual beauty, deep empathy and the wizened charisma of its subjects. Built from his college thesis project, Some Kind of Heaven is a confident debut that follows a handful of Villagers: Anne and Reggie, a couple with a husband that’s used retirement to experiment with drugs and embrace ideas (like that he actually died and has been reincarnated) that estrange him from his extremely patient wife; Barbara, a full-time working widow stranded in a place that rubs her the wrong way; and Dennis, a con man living in his van on the prowl for a wealthy single woman to provide him a place in The Villages. Immediately, that supposed sense of uniformity—that designed sameness of aesthetic and experience that helped give The Villages its reputation as “Disney World for old people”—is revealed to be nothing but a front. And that’s before you really even start to meet the subjects. The film’s opening juxtaposes a diverse selection of primary-colored synchronized activities (swimming, golf carting, rowing) with voiceover that lays out the hyper-positive, hyper-choreographed façade that comes with living in the community. The Villages create the same kind of “see no evil” bubble that resembles the positivity-only fronts put on by internet personalities looking to create their own echo chambery cults. Unraveled here, it’s somewhere between Errol Morris’ loving look at eccentric Americana and a John Waters wet dream: Hawaiian shirts, polyester, tanned wrinkly skin, souped-up golf carts and elderly cheerleaders. These striking visuals continue throughout the film, with editing by Daniel Garber that transcends its (still slick) match cuts to a more elegant place of narrative flow between images. And Oppenheim knows just where to place everything. Cinematographer David Bolen’s framing centers and grounds its subjects when everything around them is designed to be a heightened escape from the inevitable reason they all came there: To die happy. Some Kind of Heaven leaves its subjects’ stories without ends—except the one end everyone knows is coming for us all—basking in the beautiful imperfect potential of an open door, an empty calendar day, a bare dance floor.—Jacob Oller


65. Eight Days a Week

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Year: 2016

Director: Ron Howard

Genre: Documentary, Music

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

Rating: NR

Runtime: 206 minutes

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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


66. The Nightingale

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Year: 2018

Director: Jennifer Kent

Stars: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr

Rating: R

Runtime: 136 minutes

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Calling The Nightingale a revenge film sets an expectation of triumph, found in the satisfaction of grim justice done on the unjust. Let it be known that there’s no such catharsis in Jennifer Kent’s followup to her 2014 debut The Babadook. Revenge, while indeed a dish best served cold, tends to be prepared in one of two ways in cinema: with fist-pumping vigor or soul-corroding sobriety. The Nightingale sticks with the recipe for the latter. This is neither a pleasant movie nor a pleasing movie, but it is made with high aesthetic value to offset its unrelenting pitilessness: It’s fastidiously constructed, as one should expect from a director of Kent’s talent, and ferociously acted by her leading trio of Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr and Sam Claflin, respectively playing Clare, an Irish convict driven by rage; Billy, an Aboriginal tracker driven by vengeance; and Hawkins, a British military officer driven by cold ambition and bottomless malice, who’s also Clare’s master and rapist. They’re three peas in a horrible pod, being 1820s Tasmania during the Black War, when English colonists slaughtered Aboriginal Tasmanians to the latter’s near extinction. It’s an altogether dark time in the country’s long history. Thus, The Nightingale is an appropriately dark film—but Kent is too shrewd a filmmaker to argue that Clare’s suffering trumps Billy’s, or to make any equivalency between them. She understands what must happen to fulfill Clare’s part in the story, and what must happen to fulfill Billy’s part. That she’s able to so seamlessly achieve both is an incredible accomplishment. The Nightingale is a far cry from The Babadook on obvious grounds of genre and style, though there are horrors here aplenty: Nightmare beats where Clare dances with Aidan, then with Hawkins and her other attackers. But the film expands on Kent’s interest in women’s stories by telling Billy’s tale alongside Clare’s, and shows once more her gift for making well-tread genre elements feel unique. If The Nightingale denies the traditional satisfactions of revenge cinema, it discovers new ones as well. —Andy Crump


67. 12 Years a Slave

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Year: 2013

Director: Steve McQueen

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender

Genre: Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

Rating: R

Runtime: 134 minutes

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A film of historical significance, 12 Years a Slave is centered around a phenomenal performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor. His tears gently patting down on his daughter’s shoulder belie McQueen’s peerless ability to find rapturous power in moments of silence. But though 12 Years a Slave is McQueen’s most celebrated work, it is also his most conventional. Even the most ardent McQueen fan would fail to spot much of the director’s distinct creative perspective. With the hindsight of his future work, 12 Years feels a little brazen, ticking many of the boxes ascribed to “Oscar Bait.” Most uncomfortable are the accolades that Lupita Nyong’o received for this work; for all the pathos she brings to her feature film debut, it speaks volumes to Hollywood’s love of Black pain that this performance of relentless anguish, brutalization and rape is her best rewarded.


68. Silence

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Year: 2016

Director: Martin Scorsese

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano

Rating: R

Runtime: 161 minutes

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Silence conveys with utter focus of its gestalt one of the greatest narratives that literature’s given us in the past 100 years. Like Endo’s book, the film is both text and subtext of our most difficult and challenging discussions as human beings: on the substance of our beliefs; the substance of our fears; the substance of our aggression and violence and of our seeking to control and/or protect ourselves and our people; the substance of the silence that surrounds all of this and on which we dare to impart meaning. Silence is a film about the plurality of belief, perspective and experience—-and about how, in the culmination of this plurality, these pieces cancel each other out. When that cancellation happens, one hears what really lies beneath all the barrage of noise: silence. This is not an atheist’s or nihilist’s creed, however; here silence sounds like peace and absolution. A voice speaks in the silence and it could be Jesus or it could be one’s own mind responding to the silence, transformed into the voice of Christ—when Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) finally hears Christ speak it sounds like a merging of his own voice with that of his mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson)—because Christ carried the purity of that same silence within. All divisions are melted down to nothing. Selfishness ceases because the self is no longer a thing, or is extant to the self recognized in all others. Perfection is the sound of the black between the stars, absolute and whole. Orthodox Christian thought typically associates God with light, life, being, paradise, the Word. But it would seem that any concept of God—-the supposed source of everything—-that hopes to be cogent has to include in that concept the opposites that compose our reality: darkness, death, negation, oblivion, the non-Word. At the root of the language of the universe and existence is this binary. Perhaps God really is Alpha and Omega. In an interview with Scorsese, Film Comment noted that Silence is like an “apostate apotheosis.” In his foreword to a recent edition of the book, Scorsese himself mused that Silence was a gospel of Judas, on the surface referring to the weak Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a guide for the priests who ends up repeatedly betraying them, but in truth referring to nearly every character in the story, especially Rodrigues. Especially Scorsese himself. It couldn’t be more clear why Scorsese connects with this material the way he does: It describes him and everything his art represents. It is the core of who he is, a believer who believes to the point that he must doubt. Scorsese has stated that his entire life’s work has been about religion and film. This is obvious: If his oeuvre has been a perpetual cycle of profession and denial, sin and confession, damnation and redemption, Silence is the point where the needle drifts off the vinyl. One stands transfixed, watching the record spin, no sound in the air other than incidental noise and the murmur of one’s own breath. —Chad Betz


69. Three Identical Strangers

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Year: 2018

Director: Tim Wardle

Genre: Documentary

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 96 minutes

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Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers revisits the endless nature-versus-nurture debate with the incredible story of Robert Shafran, Edward Galland and David Kellman, perfect strangers who discovered in the early 1980s that they looked eerily similar and were, in fact, triplets who had been separated at birth. With flashy precision, Wardle quickly recaps how they found one another—two of the brothers serve as the film’s lively talking heads—and sets the audience up for a happy ending about long-lost siblings finally reconnecting. But even if you’re not familiar with the actual events, Three Identical Strangers clearly intends to trip us up with its feel-good opening, paving the way for a tale that gets odder and sadder as it goes along. It’s best not to know much going into Three Identical Strangers, but Wardle’s slickly tells his juicy story for maximum dramatic impact and compulsive watchability. (Not a surprise that the montages of the brothers’ rising celebrity are scored to super-catchy pop hits of the era.) And when storm clouds begin to form on the horizon of this happy tale, the film cannily replays some of the same cheerful archival footage that had been presented earlier, giving it a darker new meaning as the men’s joyful reunion suddenly becomes more complicated. Three Identical Strangers can be too polished and cookie-cutter for its own good—the movie will air on CNN, and I could occasionally feel where the commercial breaks would appear—but nonetheless Wardle fixes his eye on the ways that people are forever shaped by their childhood, and how those years can do untold damage that’s only fully experienced later in adulthood. —Tim Grierson


70. Missing Link

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Year: 2019

Director: Chris Butler

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Rating: PG

Runtime: 94 minutes

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Since we learned that Bumbles bounce in 1964, the legend of Bigfoot has provided a jumping-off point for countless kids’ movies. Warner gave us Smallfoot last year, and 2019 will deliver two more, DreamWorks’ Abominable and Laika’s Missing Link. What sets the Laika film apart, as usual, is the visual spectacle provided by the studio’s stop-motion animation. Fortunately, equal care went into the story as to the distinctive animation. The last Sasquatch teams up with failed explorer Sir Lionel Frost to find a new family among the Yeti of the Himalayas. Hugh Jackman as mythical-beast hunter and Zoe Saldana as his partner’s widow both grow in satisfying ways, and Zach Galifianakis provides equal parts comedy and charm as the well-read, mild-mannered beast. Still, it’s the meticulous craft of stop-motion scenes from Edwardian England to the frontier of the Wild West to the mountains of Nepal that will stick with you the longest. —Josh Jackson


71. Crawl

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Year: 2019

Director: Alexandre Aja

Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper

Rating: R

Runtime: 87 minutes

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Crawl, unlike Jaws, is actually just a movie about people vs. a natural predator. It is simple. It is effective. It is the most fun I’ve had in a theater since John Wick 3. Directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, Horns) and written by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen, Crawl is a horror-thriller set in the heart of Florida. In it, Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) returns home from college during a category 5 hurricane, searching for her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), whom she’s unable to get a hold of. Luckily for Haley, she is an aspiring collegiate swimmer so she probably won’t drown while she trudges through flooded street after flooded street. Not so luckily, she finds her dad stuck in a crawl space where the water is slowly rising. There is also their cute family dog, Sugar. And, as advertised, there are alligators—toothy and ravenous. Crawl’s heart thrums with the unique beat that is Florida itself. In the age of “Florida Man” stories that go viral on a near-daily basis, Florida is a seemingly mythic place. There, a man can rob a bank wielding two raccoons, so it just makes sense that a father and daughter could be beset by alligators in a house during a category 5 hurricane. It is just another day in our collective projection of what that humid little state can offer. Still, Crawl embraces the absurd with intense seriousness. There is very little levity to be found in the film, and emotions, blood and viscera flow forth when Crawl really kicks into gear. In the sweaty, latter months of the season, in an age in which such horror is relegated to Syfy drivel, Crawl is a brilliant ode to the magical realism of Florida and how, when made with craft and care, few movie-going experiences are as good as creature-features in the hottest month of the year. —Cole Henry


72. Sleepless in Seattle

Year: 1993

Director: Nora Ephron

Stars: Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Bill Pullman, Ross Malinger, Rob Reiner, Rosie O’Donnell, Gaby Hoffmann, Victor Garber, Rita Wilson

Rating: PG

Runtime: 105 minutes

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Sleepless in Seattle is essentially one giant love letter to 1957’s An Affair to Remember from writer/director Nora Ephron. Rita Wilson gives a memorable teary summary of the movie, and Annie (Meg Ryan) watches it before writing to Sam (Tom Hanks) inviting him to meet her at the top of the Empire State Building—the way Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr attempt to in their movie—on Valentine’s Day. When they finally meet on the observation deck, the theme from An Affair to Remember swells, setting the mood for anyone with an appreciation for good rom-coms. —Bonnie Stiernberg


73. You’re Next

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Year: 2011

Director: Adam Wingard

Stars: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Rating: R

Runtime: 94 minutes

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Between A Horrible Way to Die, The Guest and You’re Next (let’s forget about the Blair Witch remake entirely), it’s easy to understand why Adam Wingard is still considered an upcoming director of interest. His films have a verve and sense of pacing that just crackles—they’re lean, mean and get to the point. You’re Next immediately sets up a premise that we’ve seen many times before, that of the “home invasion” style of horror-thriller, before subverting the genre’s expectations when our Final Girl proves to be far more adept and capable than any of the audience members realized—a moment that also transforms the film from “home invasion” into more of a pure slasher. From there, the story becomes more complex, as motivations and secret histories are revealed. The action, importantly, is viscerally shot and impactful, making for a film where each physical confrontation has real, concrete consequences. Hell, it’s even a little funny now and then. Given that The Guest is a bit more thriller than horror, You’re Next remains Wingard’s best pure horror work to date. —Jim Vorel


74. Star Trek Beyond

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Year: 2016

Director: Justin Lin

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 122 minutes

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Star Trek Beyond proves admirably willing to push the neo-film-series’ frontiers, at least in its eagerness to envision brand new, alien environments with incredibly imagined designs. Less compelling are the emotional stakes Director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung provide for the crew of the starship Enterprise. Lin’s fleet direction and the charismatic cast give dedicated fans their fix and the casual moviegoers a fun enough time, but Beyond offers a less memorable outing than its more ambitious predecessors, providing more for the eyes of its audience than for their hearts. —Curt Holman


75. Escape From Alcatraz

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Year: 1979

Director: Don Siegel

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Fred Ward, Jack Thibeau, Larry Hankin

Runtime: 112 minutes

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Clint Eastwood plays bank robber Frank Morris, who is sent to Alcatraz after already having escaped from several other prisons. Morris eventually realizes that some of the concrete in his cell can be chiseled away, so he and some of the other inmates he befriends start chipping away with sharpened spoons. The actual escape will have you looking at raincoats in a different light. —Ryan Bort

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