The 50 Best Movies on Netflix (February 2024)

A guide to all the best films available to stream on Netflix

Movies Lists Netflix
The 50 Best Movies on Netflix (February 2024)

Soon after Netflix first launched its streaming model in 2007, Paste followed with our first list of the best movies streaming on Netflix. Little did we know that first guide to help movie fans figure out what to watch on a Friday night would help keep us in business during the transition to print—our regularly updated list has since been viewed more than 100 million times, leading us to create separate lists for the best TV shows on Netflix, the best horror movies on Netflix, the best comedies on Netflix and every other genre breakdown you can imagine, as well as guides to the best movies on Amazon Prime, Hulu, Max, Disney+, Apple TV+, Paramount+ and just about every other streaming service out there.

So we take great care to curate this list and bring you fresh selections of movies we think you’ll enjoy, catering to a variety of tastes. We’re film obsessives here and take great pride in helping you find your next movie to watch on the grandfather of streaming services. As the era of Netflix DVDs officially comes to an end, here are the best movies streaming on Netflix right now. —Josh Jackson, Paste co-founder and editor-in-chief

Here are the best movies on Netflix:


1. Jackie Brown

Year: 1997
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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“AK-47! The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes,” boasts cocky gangster Ordell Robbie in what is easily Tarantino’s most underrated film. It was clear from Pulp Fiction that Tarantino had found his muse in Jackson, but it was their second collaboration that really solidified their bond. There were so many ways this character—the chief antagonist to Pam Grier’s slick and smart, titular flight attendant shaking up the world of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster)—could have gone horribly wrong. On paper and upon first look, he comes across as a spoof of a blacksploitation cliché. Yet while Jackson effortlessly delivers those Tarantino lines with expected gusto, he gradually adds layers to Ordell Robbie, revealing the inherent insecurity and fear hiding under his insatiable ego. By the time he’s cornered in the third act, Robbie is a psychopath who earns your pity. Even though it’s an early Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown is such an insightful and empathetic character piece that it comes across as the kind of measured and patient material a master filmmaker would put out in their later years. Perhaps that’s due to this being an adaptation of Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, and Tarantino’s very faithful adaptation reads like a filmmaker who was content with leaving aside his ego—one can guess how hard that was for Tarantino—and serve whatever attracted him to the source material. Jackie Brown contains a fairly complicated heist plot amidst Tarantino’s usual toying with non-linear structure, but it’s essentially a film about the regrets and fatigue one finds oneself in one’s advanced years. It must be Leonard’s influence on Tarantino that keeps most of the director’s self-serving instincts at bay, delivering dialogue that feels more natural than grandstanding. Even the trademark Tarantino-esque monologues carry an underlying feeling of uncertainty and self-doubt, infusing his characters with more depth than ever found in a Tarantino joint. —Oktay Ege Kozak


2. The Irishman

Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Peggy Sheeran (Lucy Gallina) watches her father, Frank (Robert De Niro), through a door left ajar as he packs his suitcase for a work trip in this 2019 Martin Scorsese film and Netflix’s best original movie. In go trousers and shirts, each neatly tucked and folded against the luggage’s interior. In goes the snubnose revolver, the ruthless tool of Frank’s trade. He doesn’t know his daughter’s eyes are on him; she’s constitutionally quiet, and remains so throughout most of their interaction as adults. He shuts the case. She disappears behind the door. Her judgment lingers. The scene plays out one third of the way into The Irishman, named for Frank’s mob world sobriquet, and replays in its final shot, as Frank, old, decrepit and utterly, hopelessly alone, abandoned by his family and bereft of his gangster friends through the passage of time, sits on his nursing home bed. Maybe he’s waiting for Death, but most likely he’s waiting for Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin), who disowned him and has no intention of forgiving him his sins. Peggy serves as Scorsese’s moral arbiter. She’s a harsh judge: The film takes a dim view of machismo as couched in the realm of mafiosa and mugs. When Scorsese’s principal characters aren’t scheming or paying off schemes in acts of violence, they’re throwing temper tantrums, eating ice cream or in an extreme case slap-fighting in a desperately pathetic throwdown. The Irishman spans the 1950s to the early 2000s, the years Frank worked for the Bufalino crime family, led by Russell (Joe Pesci, out of retirement and intimidating). “Working” means murdering some people, muscling others, even blowing up a car or a building when the occasion warrants. When disengaged from gangland terrorism, he’s at home reading the paper, watching the news, dragging Peggy to the local grocer to give him a beatdown for shoving her. The Irishman is historical nonfiction, chronicling Sheeran’s life, and through his life the lives of the Bufalinos and their associates, particularly those who died before their time (that being most of them). It’s also a portrait of childhood cast in the shadow of dispassionate brutality, and what a young girl must do to find safety in a world defined by bloodshed. —Andy Crump

 


3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Year: 1975
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Connie Booth
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG

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It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film on Netflix, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler


4. I Am Not Your Negro

Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13

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Raoul Peck focuses on James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, a work that would have memorialized three of his friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers in our favorite documentary on Netflix. All three black men were assassinated within five years of each other, and we learn in the film that Baldwin was not just concerned about these losses as terrible blows to the Civil Rights movement, but deeply cared for the wives and children of the men who were murdered. Baldwin’s overwhelming pain is as much the subject of the film as his intellect. And so I Am Not Your Negro is not just a portrait of an artist, but a portrait of mourning—what it looks, sounds and feels like to lose friends, and to do so with the whole world watching (and with so much of America refusing to understand how it happened, and why it will keep happening). Peck could have done little else besides give us this feeling, placing us squarely in the presence of Baldwin, and I Am Not Your Negro would have likely still been a success. His decision to steer away from the usual documentary format, where respected minds comment on a subject, creates a sense of intimacy difficult to inspire in films like this. The pleasure of sitting with Baldwin’s words, and his words alone, is exquisite. There’s no interpreter, no one to explain Baldwin but Baldwin—and this is how it should be. —Shannon M. Houston


5. Good Time

Year: 2017
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Peter Verby, Barkhad Abdi, Taliah Webster
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Rating: R

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The hero of Good Time is one of the canniest individuals in recent cinema, which might seem like an odd thing to say about a scummy lowlife who screws up a bank heist in the film’s opening reels. But don’t underestimate Connie: Several of the people who cross his path make that mistake, and he gets the better of them every time. Connie is played by Robert Pattinson in a performance so locked-in from the first second that it shoots off an electric spark from the actor to the audience: Just sit back, he seems to be telling us. I’ve got this under control. The financially strapped character lives in Queens, unhappy that his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is cooped up in a facility that, Connie believes, doesn’t do enough to help him. Impulsively, Connie strong-arms Nick into helping him rob a bank. They make off with thousands of dollars, but what they don’t realize is that they live in the real world, not a movie. A paint bomb goes off in their bag, staining the money and the criminals’ clothes. Shaken and trying not to panic, Connie and Nick abandon their getaway car, quickly raising the suspicion of some nearby cops, who chase down Nick. Connie escapes, determined to get his brother out of jail—either through bail money or other means. As Connie, Pattinson is shockingly vital and present, unabashedly throwing himself into any situation. Following their star’s lead, the filmmakers deliver a jet-fueled variation on their usual intricate exploration of New York’s marginalized citizens. Good Time features no shootouts or car chases—there isn’t a single explosion in the whole film. The Safdies and Pattinson don’t need any of that. Like Connie, they thrive on their wits and endless inventiveness—the thrill comes in marveling at how far it can take them. —Tim Grierson

 


6. The Big Lebowski

Year: 1998
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Genre:  Comedy
Rating: R

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Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski has plenty of time on his hands—enough to while away the days chasing down a stolen rug, at least—but he can hardly get himself dressed in the morning, chugs White Russians like it’s his job (incidentally, he doesn’t have a real one) and hangs around with a bunch of emotionally unstable bowling enthusiasts. Any mission you set him off on seems bound to fail. And yet that’s the great joy, and the great triumph, of the Coen Brothers’ _The Big Lebowski_ and its consummate slacker-hero. The Dude is a knight in rumpled PJ pants, a bathrobe his chainmail, a Ford Torino his white horse. Strikes and gutters, ups and downs, he takes life in ambling, unshaven stride—and more than dashing good looks and unparalleled strengths, isn’t that something we should all aspire to? —Josh Jackson


7. The Florida Project

Year: 2017
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklyn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones
Rating: R

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However useful a surreal approach to reframing paradise may be, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project presents a more acute critique. Baker plunges his audience into his worlds through the lens of social realism, his camera on the same playing field as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and the manager of the motel they live in, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The camera lives with the characters, watches them haul a bed-bug-infested mattress outside, or sit and eat pancakes by a small creek-ish ditch. Nothing climactic happens in these scenes, we just get to watch and not pass judgment—or pass judgment, whatever, it’s up to us. Baker never interferes; the equality of these scenes under the eye of his camera makes his film’s pointed ideas about survival and joy all the more striking. The film may be buoyed with a sense of humor and, occasionally, wonder, but Halley’s life is framed by an internal struggle over whether humor and wonder can help her retain her autonomy at all in spite of her class status. The Florida Project is spattered with profound sadness, with moments of externalized, violent frustration at presumed helplessness, at practically being born into all this. To what degree you believe Baker to be condescending or patronizing or exploitative is up to you, but the film’s bursts of light, its idea of what caregiving looks like when caregiving is a privilege, is handled with sensitivity. When the film switches from 35mm to digital in its final shots, Baker imbues his camera, now mobile, with freewheeling liberation: No matter what happens after The Florida Project ends, in those last moments, these kids are born to live. —Kyle Turner

 


8. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Year: 2022
Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Stars: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett
Genre: Family, animation, fantasy
Rating: PG

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Guillermo del Toro has never shied away from infusing the harsh realities of life and death into the journeys of his young protagonists. His fascination with the intersections of childhood innocence and macabre whimsy are what make him the ideal co-director of Netflix’s newest Pinocchio adaptation, a work that marvelously marries the filmmaker’s flair for dark fantasy with the equally strange fairy tale elements of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 The Adventures of Pinocchio. Like all successful marriages, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio brings out the very best of both parties. The stop-motion musical is an artistic triumph that colors Collodi’s cherished storybook characters with humanity and depth to craft a mature tale about rebellion, mortality and the love between a parent and child. This rendition marks the 22nd film adaptation of the Italian novel, and while it remains true to the grisly nature of Collodi’s original stories, it boldly departs from its dated moral lessons. In The Adventures of Pinocchio (and notable renditions thereafter), Pinnochio’s many escapades are structured as cause-and-effect narratives that serve to caution children against defiant behavior. In Disney’s 1940 animated feature, an evening of fun and relaxation on “Pleasure Island’’ nearly turns the wooden boy into a salt-mining donkey. In the original serial La Storia di un Burattino, delinquent behavior leads him to a gruesome death. These values of compliance and servility are reversed by del Toro’s fascist setting. In his Pinocchio, disobedience is a virtue—not a crime. These moral examinations are given a sense of urgency in death—a theme that informs so much of the film’s mind and soul. Where previous adaptations are preoccupied with life—with the puppet’s extraordinary consciousness and the hope that he may someday become a “real boy”—del Toro’s Pinocchio is interested in what our mortality can teach us about being human. In the film, death is never too far away from the protagonist or his loved ones. Death touches Carlo, then remains close to Pinocchio throughout his epic journey. The beauty of del Toro’s Pinocchio is that death isn’t treated with the usual dread and cynicism we typically see in the Western world. Here, death is mysterious, ethereal, soaked in gorgeous blue light. Death is not something to be feared, but respected and accepted when the time comes, because the notion that we will someday—maybe unexpectedly—leave this earth is what makes our time here so beautiful. I don’t typically advise listening to crickets, but believe Sebastian J., because the story of Pinocchio has never been told quite like this. It’s the best kids movie on Netflix.—Kathy Michelle Chacón


9. Stand By Me

Year: 1986
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Stephen King has referred to Stand By Me as one of the best-adapted films, which is curious, because it’s such a sincere film, hitting only some of the author’s signature themes. Still, it really captures some of the mythological aspects of childhood—the way the junkyard dog’s fearsome reputation can’t possibly stand up to reality, or how friendship can be a source of healing or how friendships change after innocence is lost. Gordie Lachance’s (Wil Wheaton) group of friends are the kinds of pals one has as a child: They come from very different worlds, but haven’t yet learned that they’re not supposed to hang out together. Would that real-life friendships could persist and reflect these ones more often. —Jim Vorel

 


10. Frances Ha

Year: 2012
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Charlotte d’Amboise, Adam Driver, Hannah Dunne
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Frances Ha is endearing, kind and, in many ways, Noah Baumbach’s best movie since the one to come before it. One could trace his films, from his debut (Kicking and Screaming) to the one before Frances Ha (Greenberg) and see a slow but increasingly steady focus on the individual, as well as his abandonment of an ironic, sometimes caustic stance against the very characters he writes. It is as if Baumbach could only write a certain type of person—the privileged, socially crippled intellectual with either too much self-awareness or none at all—and for a while it seemed like even the writer himself couldn’t stand to be in the same room with such characters. This anger faded, and what has emerged over the course of the films he’s made with Greta Gerwig (who here plays the titular Frances) is an embrace of both the flaws of his characters, and those as a filmmaker. He has settled down and created a film imbued with love, fun and melancholy. It’s a simple joy to watch. —Joe Peeler


11. Bonnie and Clyde

Year: 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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There was a short period in American film history just after the general public got sick of the mundane, cloying dramas and comedies the ‘60s, but before the studios discovered the lucrative benefits of franchises like Jaws and Star Wars that could pile sequel upon sequel, rake in merchandise proceeds, and guarantee a steady stream of big money regardless of artistic merit. In that odd little interval, studio executives had no better idea than simply throwing money at talented directors and hoping to get lucky. Movies like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde possess a gritty kind of realism that is every bit as clever and wise as the French New Wave, but infused with the freewheeling American spirit that hadn’t yet been stifled by a corporate agenda.—Shane Ryan

 


12. Blockers

Year: 2018
Directors: Kay Cannon
Stars: John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Graham Phillips, Miles Robbins, Jimmy Bellinger, Colton Dunn, Sarayu Blue, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon, June Diane Raphael, Hannibal Buress
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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John Cena, wrestler and employee of the Daddy’s Home franchise, is in the Jingle All the Way era of his career, and, as Buzzfeed columnists would say, We’re here for it. All of us. There’s hardly a more reasonable way to respond to Blockers, in which Cena plays fastidious, incomprehensibly beefy dad Mitchell, who is unable to deal with the revelation that his daughter, high-schooler Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), plans to lose her virginity at her senior prom. Blockers is a second-generation teen romp openly owing its lineage to Superbad and American Pie while trying something new: not as consumed by its vulgarity, treating its teens who actually look like teens as the over-jaded post-Millennials they supposedly are, and having most of the film’s nudity provided by men, i.e., Gary Cole going full frontal, unashamed of his nice dick. In other words, no one wants to cheer for the toxic privilege of rich, white, horny, suburban high-school boys anymore, but we do want to cheer for best friendship and young people starting to figure their shit out and parents who learn how to give them the space and respect to do that. And if John Cena is the paternalistic He-Man—the Jim’s Dad of the Dwayne the Rock Johnson Generation, if you will—to guide the youth through their cinematic, sex-positive formative years, then let Blockers test his mettle. If the film’s direction is workmanlike and the writers’ plotting flimsy, then the better to focus on the cast. They’re a joy to watch together, everyone unironically playing unironic characters packed to the gills with backstories that go nowhere, revealing little painful, relatable details amidst all the electrocutions and butt-chugging and occasional car explosion and full close-up violent testicle squeezing. If this is what a popular sex comedy can be in 2018, something forward-thinking and empathetic and crowd-pleasing, then let the box office show it. And may John Cena be with you. —Dom Sinacola


13. Paddington

Year: 2014
Director: Paul King
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Ben Winshaw, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman
Genre: Family, adventure, comedy
Rating: PG

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The Paddington films exhibit a sense of wonder for the ordinary, most likely the product of director Paul King and co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby’s acute ability to instill a palpable desire of belonging into a CGI teddy bear voiced by Ben Whishaw. We have, for better or worse (and I would argue the former), reached a point in computer generated technology in which Paddington’s eyes can dilate realistically. His eyes, then, say everything, open to any modicum of familial comfort. It is extremely ordinary to want to be a part of something, to crave the intimacy of loved ones. The first Paddington, released in 2014, was emotionally prophetic in its illustration of the hokey moral panic wrought by xenophobes. Paddington arrives in London from the forests of Darkest Peru. He stands upon his suitcase, scruffy and innocent. Around his neck is a tag that says, “Please look after this bear.” The ways in which the commuters of Paddington Station ignore the bear could be written off as generic selfishness, but outsiders and the impoverished are deliberately ignored in metro areas, a point accentuated by Mr. Brown’s (Hugh Bonneville) claim of “stranger danger.” Still, Mrs. Brown’s (Sally Hawkins) gentle heart leads the family to quasi-adopt Paddington, their lives enriched by the bear’s earnestness and genuine desire to be part of their lives. —Kyle Turner

 


14. The Master

Year: 2012
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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The Master studies its characters with such mystique, tragedy and humor that there’s not a moment that isn’t enthralling. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson continues some of the stylistic tendencies from his last film, There Will Be Blood, but he also finds ways to constantly take risks and make bold choices that are thoroughly unpredictable. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his religion, The Cause, are obviously inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and that link was the focal point of the film’s pre-release press coverage. The parallels between the two ideologies are inescapable, yet they’re not the point. Anderson never adopts the viewpoint of religion/cult as freak show. Even in a brilliant montage depicting a series of grueling exercises that Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) can’t or won’t let enlighten him, the personal struggle is in the forefront. The bizarreness of the rituals is almost incidental. Phoenix gives the performance of his career as a booze-soaked World War II veteran with mental and physical scars. Having gleaned little benefit from a psychiatric crash-course for returning soldiers with post-traumatic issues, he stumbles around one place until he must flee to another, obsessing over sex and making experimental hooch. Anderson has always been a visual virtuoso, and he uses the added detail to superb effect. Dodd first appears during a tracking shot of Freddie, seen in the distance as a tiny but exuberant figure on a cruise ship, small yet still the center of attention. Freddie has not yet met Dodd, but the boat is calling to him. That could be because Dodd knew Freddie in a past life, or it could be because Freddie is a desperate drunk looking for a place to hide. Freddie’s great tragedy is that the less appealing explanation gives him no answer, while the other gives him the wrong answer. —Jeremy Mathews


15. Pacific Rim

Year: 2013
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Burn Gorman
Rating: PG-13

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With Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro has reinvigorated the Kaiju film, one of those rare pulp genres that’s actually native to the silver screen. In doing so, del Toro pulls off an even rarer feat, creating a movie that both distills and perfects the tradition from which it’s drawn. (Del Toro also delivers a few lessons in genre storytelling that many of the top names in sci-fi and fantasy would do well to emulate.) Ultimately, del Toro’s film is less an homage to the Kaiju film than the long overdue perfecting of it using technology that has finally caught up to the genre’s demands. (In this, it shares much with the superhero film efforts of the last decade or so.) Pacific Rim is the Kaiju film Ishiro Honda would have made had he $200 million and the technology of today to spend it on. And regardless of its box office success, it is the standard against which future Kaiju films will be—or in the case of its lackluster sequel, was—judged. —Michael Burgin


16. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Year: 2021
Director: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe (co-director)
Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Olivia Colman
Genre: Family, comedy, sci-fi

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Animated generational divides have never been more like a sci-fi carnival than in The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Writer/director Mike Rianda’s feature debut (he and co-writer/director Jeff Rowe made their bones on the excellently spooky, silly show Gravity Falls) is equal parts absurd, endearing and terrifying. It’s easy to feel as lost or overwhelmed by the flashing lights and exhilarating sights as the central family fighting on one side of the title’s grudge match, but it’s equally easy to come away with the exhausted glee of a long, weary theme park outing’s aftermath. Its genre-embedded family bursts through every messy, jam-packed frame like they’re trying to escape (they often are), and in the process create the most energetic, endearing animated comedy so far this year. And its premise begins so humbly. Filmmaker and animator Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is leaving home for college and, to get there, has to go on a road trip with her family: Rick (Danny McBride), her Luddite outdoorsy dad; Linda (Maya Rudolph), her peacemaking mom; and Aaron (Rianda), her dino-freak little brother. You might be able to guess that Katie and her dad don’t always see eye-to-eye, even when Katie’s eyes aren’t glued to her phone or laptop. That technocriticism, where “screen time” is a dirty phrase and the stick-shifting, cabin-building father figure wants his family to experience the real world, could be as hacky as the twelfth season of a Tim Allen sitcom. The Mitchells vs. the Machines escapes that danger not only through some intentional nuance in its writing, but also some big ol’ anti-nuance: Partway through the trip, the evil tech companies screw up and phone-grown robots decide to shoot all the humans into space. This movie needed something this narratively large to support its gloriously kitchen-sink visuals. The Sony film uses some of the same tech that made Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse look so crisp and unique, adding comicky shading to its expressive CG. In fact, once some of the more freaky setpieces take off, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Miles Morales swing in to save the day. The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ spin on the Spidey aesthetic comes from meme and movie-obsessed Katie, whose imagination often breaks through into the real world and whose bizarre, neon and filter-ridden sketchbook doodles ornament the film’s already exciting palette with explosive oddity. This unique and savvy style meshes well with The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ wonderfully timed slapstick, crashing and smashing with an unexpected violence, balanced out with one truly dorky pug and plenty of visual asides poking fun at whatever happens to be going on.—Jacob Oller

 


17. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Year: 2016
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Rhys Darby
Genre: Drama, comedy
Rating: NR

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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

 


18. Da 5 Bloods

Year: 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norman Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Jonathan Majors
Genre: Drama, thriller
Rating: R

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The hunt for buried gold neither ends well nor goes off without a hitch. The long road to reconciliation, whether with one’s trauma, family or national identity, is never without bumps. Glue these truths together with the weathering effects of institutional racism, add myriad references to history—American history, music history, film history—and you get Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a classically styled Vietnam action picture made in his cinematic vision. As in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Lee connects the dots between past and present, linking the struggle for civil rights couched in conscientious objection and protest to contemporary America’s own struggle against state-sanctioned fascism. After opening with a montage of events comprising and figures speaking out against the Vietnam War, referred to predominantly as the American War throughout the rest of the movie, Lee introduces four of the five bloods: Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), bonded Vietnam vets returned to Ho Chi Minh City ostensibly to find and recover the bones of their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There’s more, of course, “more” being around $17 million in gold bars planted in Vietnamese soil, property of the CIA but reappropriated by the Bloods as reparations for their personal suffering as men fighting a war for a country governed by people who don’t care about their rights. Lee’s at the height of his powers when bluntly making the case that for as much time as has passed since the Vietnam War’s conclusion, America’s still stubbornly waging the same wars on its own people and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And Lee is still angry at and discontent with the status quo, being the continued oppression of Black Americans through police brutality, voter suppression and medical neglect. In this context, Da 5 Bloods’ breadth is almost necessary. As Paul would say: Right on. —Andy Crump

 


19. Lady Bird

Year: 2017
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: R

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Before Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)—Lady Bird is her given name, as in “[she] gave it to [her]self”—auditions for the school musical, she watches a young man belting the final notes to “Being Alive” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A few moments before, while in a car with her mother, she lays her head on the window wistfully and says with a sigh, “I wish I could just live through something.” Stuck in Sacramento, where she thinks there’s nothing to be offered her while paying acute attention to everything her home does have to offer, Lady Bird—and the film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, that shares her name—has ambivalence running through her veins. What a perfect match: Stephen Sondheim and Greta Gerwig. Few filmmakers are able to capture the same kind of ambiguity and mixed feelings that involve the refusal to make up one’s mind: look to 35-year-old Bobby impulsively wanting to marry a friend, but never committing to any of his girlfriends, in Company; the “hemming and hawing” of Cinderella on the, ahem, steps of the palace; or Mrs. Lovett’s cause for pause in telling Sweeney her real motives. Lady Bird isn’t as high-concept as many of Sondheim’s works, but there’s a piercing truthfulness to the film, and arguably Gerwig’s work in general, that makes its anxieties and tenderness reverberate in the viewer’s heart with equal frequency. —Kyle Turner


20. Boyz n the Hood

Year: 1991
Director: John Singleton
Stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Tyra Ferrell, Laurence Fishburne, Regina King, Angela Bassett
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Who can forget Ice Cube as Doughboy, waxing poetic on the “life in the perspective if God was a bitch”? Oscar-nominated for his unflinching portrayal of life in the ghetto, it is difficult to believe that director John Singleton was just getting started. His freshman effort was a story of tragedy and triumph—and one that brought about immense public, private, and academic discourse on the state of America, as experienced by its second-class citizens. Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, and Angela Bassett rounded out an unforgettable cast. One could argue that Boyz n the Hood participated in the genre of Blaxploitation, but Singleton’s classic was really an attempt to make the ‘hood tale an American tale, and to incite positive social change in doing so.—Shannon Houston


21. Jurassic Park

Year: 1994
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Jurassic Park’s standing as a technical milestone in cinematic storytelling isn’t only dependent on its then-revolutionary use of computer generated imagery: The special effects look as groundbreaking and seamless today as they did 25 years ago. The magic behind the film’s ability to bring dinosaurs to life could be in Spielberg’s expertise in approaching special effects on a shot-by-shot basis, merging each sequence with reliable miniature and animatronic work, making the connective tissue between these tricks as unnoticeable as possible. More than an achievement, Jurassic Park is an infinitely fun action adventure that also manages to insert some prescient themes into the mix—like whether or not humanity should interfere, on a deeply intimate level, with Nature—affording a moral angle that the sequels have pretty much abandoned or just plain bungled so far. —Oktay Ege Kozak

 


22. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Year: 2019
Director: Chad Stahelski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne
Genre: Action
Rating: R

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The promise of John Wick: Chapter 2 is in superposition. Depending on how one comes into John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, from which angle, that promise is simultaneously fulfilled and squandered. Chad Stahelski’s third and by no means last entry in the saga of laconic gentleman terminator John Wick (Keanu Reeves), the Baba Yaga of every gangster’s worst nightmares, either lives up to previous entries as far as setting the standard for visceral, eardrum-squelching violence, or it fails to take the series in the direction presaged by the apocalyptic cliffhanger of the previous chapter. No, every living human in New York is not a secret assassin, plunging John Wick into a race against time through a Dantean Hell of his own devising, but John Wick does pretty much murder everybody in the City before traveling to Morocco, where he murders even more people, before returning to New York, where he continues decimating the urban center’s population. As Continental Manager Winston (Ian McShane) puts it, John Wick needs to decide whether he’s the boogie man or, simply, a man. Whether John Wick is a videogame or something more existential. He chooses both: By the time we reach the final action spectacle, during which the forces aligned against John Wick wear the kind of body armor requiring an exorbitant amount of kill shots and then, halfway through the melee, a weapon upgrade, we’ve lapsed completely into the realm of the first-person shooter, realizing we’ve already made our way through numerous, ever-increasingly difficult levels and boss battles with an impeccable kill/death ratio. The limitless beauty of the John Wick franchise, crystalized in Chapter 3, is that alluding to videogames when talking about the movie doesn’t matter. None of this matters. As videogames and action movies parabolically draw closer and closer to one another, John Wick 3 may be the first of its kind to figure out how to keep that comparison from being a point of shame. Accordingly, each action set piece is an astounding feat, from the first hand-to-hand fracas in narrow library stacks, to a comic knife fight amidst cases of antique weapons, to a chase on horseback and, later, a chase on motorcycles care of katana-wielding meanies. John Wick 3 revels in its ludicrous gore without losing sight of the very real toll of such unmitigated havoc. It’s as much a blast of blood and guts as it is an immersive menagerie of pain, a litigation of the ways in which we imbibe and absorb and demand violence, in which we hyperstylize death. Every gun shot, body blow, shattering jaw and gut slicing rings out sonorously from the screen, so that even if yet another faceless henchperson loses their life, leaving this mortal plane unnoticed, at least the act of violence that ended them will be remembered. –Dom Sinacola

 


23. The Disciple

Year: 2021
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Stars: Aditya Modak, Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV-MA

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Devoting your life to something—art, passion, religion—is sold to us as admirable, but often only if it fulfills our romantic ideals of what that life looks like. Is success, no matter how late or even posthumous, the justification for striving? Writer/director/editor Chaitanya Tamhane explores this idea through the life of classical Indian singer Sharad Nerulkar (Aditya Modak), an earnest hardliner raised by his music-loving father and recordings of legendary singer/guru Maai (Sumitra Bhave). Will he be recognized for greatness, stepping out of the shadows? Or will he follow his father into tangential obscurity? Fascinating long takes resonating with the same kind of richness found in its myriad array of singers’ undulating taan allow us plenty of space to take in the music and the devotion on display; sharp, dark humor punctuates the contemplative film with jabs at pigheadedness. Modok’s excellent performance contains similar depth, all hidden behind a yearning tension and unwavering gaze. He embodies the unfulfilled artist, one who sees success all around him from fools and rubes—though he can’t consider what could possibly be holding him back. It’s a heartbreaking, endearing, prickly performance, and one that creates a truly winning portrait. Even when it rolls along as steadily and dispassionately as Sharad’s motorcycle, The Disciple contains warmth for its central sadsack artist and his dedication to never selling out.—Jacob Oller

 


24. The Lost Daughter

Year: 2021
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Stars: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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On the beach that comparative literature scholar Leda (Olivia Colman) lounges on throughout The Lost Daughter, the skies are a crystal blue, the beaches a shimmering white, the water warm and translucent. But the shore is also infested with crass, noisy people; Leda’s fruit infected by a malignant rot; her bedroom contaminated with screeching bugs; a little girl’s doll corrupted by noxious black liquid and writhing insects. This tonal tension is symptomatic of the film’s spirit: It’s a glossy apple, rapidly decaying from the inside out. The film takes place over a couple of days as Leda settles into a lavish working vacation. Her relaxation is interrupted, however, when she first lays eyes on Nina (Dakota Johnson), a beautiful, inscrutable young mother. Leda becomes obsessed with Nina, as the latter inadvertently resurfaces troubling memories of Leda’s own distressing experiences as a mother. From that moment onward, Leda’s haunting memories permeate The Lost Daughter until the apple is completely black. While the narrative itself, adapted from Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name, is relatively straightforward, debut director Maggie Gyllenhaal, who also wrote the screenplay, tackles themes of internalized and externalized sexism with agility and complexity. Leda’s subtle, complex mental state would not have been possible to convey were it not for Gyllenhaal’s outstanding visual sensibilities. Leda’s struggles are largely internal, but I’m confident that Gyllenhaal’s uniquely tactile storytelling says a great deal more than words ever could. When Leda caresses Elena’s grimy doll, her touch is gentle and somehow filled with regret. When she slides a pin into Nina’s hat, it sounds sinister like a sword being unsheathed, but her careful placement is almost sensual. And when a younger Leda slices the flesh of an orange, her smooth, tactful carving almost feels ominous. Gyllenhaal’s extraordinary direction, paired with exceptional performances from The Lost Daughter’s lead actresses, culminate in a perfect storm that yields an astute portrait of the painful expectations of womanhood.—Aurora Amidon

 


25. Under the Shadow

Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
Stars: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi
Genre: Horror
Rating: PG-13

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

 


26. RRR

Year: 2022
Director: S. S. Rajamouli
Stars: N. T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Shriya Saran, Samuthirakani, Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody, Olivia Morris
Genre: Drama, action, Bollywood
Rating: NR

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A Telugu epic rivalling even the over-the-top antics of writer/director S. S. Rajamouli’s previous massive blockbusters (the two Baahubali films), RRR’s endearingly repetitive and simple title reflects a three-hour romp through Indian colonial history filled with the primal pleasures of brotherhood and balls. Almost cartoonishly political, its story of star-crossed besties Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) is one focused on shallow contrasts masking bone-deep similarities. Based on two superheroicized revolutionaries—ones that never, but should have, saved a child by simultaneously bungeeing a tethered motorcycle and horse over opposite sides of a bridge—the at-odds heroes represent the rural and urban poles opposing the British colonizers. Caricatures of the urbane heartthrob and the noble backwoods beast, the two embodiments of cultural pride battle CG beasts, ridiculous Brits and each other—though you can’t help but hope they end up holding each other tight. (They do squats while riding each other piggyback. C’mon.) Their back-and-forth, glisteningly homoerotic friendship walks a taut narrative tightrope, but with the movie’s maximalist filmmaking as its balancing rod. A phenomenally thrumming and amusingly worded soundtrack accompanies some of the year’s most bombastic action sequences and charming dance scenes without mussing a single mustache hair. The two beefy and hyper-masculine leads span silent comedy, musical song-and-dance prowess and elegant fight choreography as the kind of do-it-all stars we just don’t get in the U.S. anymore. As their morally turbulent path rages against the pure evil of the cruel white oppressors, any doubt that RRR is a modern myth fades deep into the shadows of the jungle. Overflowing with symbols, political shorthand and stereotypes of all kinds, RRR rises, roars and revolts with raw cinematic power—and enough fascinating density to warrant watching and discussing over and over again.—Jacob Oller

 


27. The Other Side of the Wind

Year: 2018
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, Oja Kodar
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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As gaudy and inexplicable as its title, The Other Side of the Wind nonetheless sings with the force of its movement whistling past its constraints. The wind blows: Orson Welles channels it through his studio-inflicted/self-inflicted torpor, in that process finding an organic melody—or rather, jazz. The making-of documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, released by Netflix to go with this film—the streaming giant’s finest moment—shows Welles, enormous and half-baked, describing what he calls “divine accidents.” These accidents were responsible for some of his oeuvre’s best details (wherein God resides), like the breaking of the egg in Touch of Evil; they were something he aimed to chase after (like chasing the wind) with this, his final project, released several decades after its shooting as Netflix opened their coffers to open the coffin in which the raw footage was locked. His former partners on the shoot, Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, make good on their old oath to their master to complete the film for him, and in finding the spirit of the thing, deliver us a masterpiece we barely deserve. A divine accident. John Huston plays John Huston as Jake Hannaford who is also Orson Welles, trying to finish The Other Side of the Wind much like Welles tried to finish The Other Side of the Wind, over the course of years with no real budget and by the seats-of-everyone’s-pants. In contrast, the film’s scenario is set up over the course of one evening and night, Hannaford surrounded by “disciples” and peers who are invited to a party to screen some of the footage of what the director hopes will be his greatest masterpiece, in what Welles hoped would be his. The film within the film is a riff on art film, with perhaps the strongest winks at Michelangelo Antonioni and Zabriskie Point. Life imitates art: Hannaford’s house is just around the rock corner from the one Zabriskie blew to bits. Aptly, that house is the setting for most of the film about Hannaford, in theory constructed from found footage from the cineaste paparazzi. The density is dizzying, the intellect fierce. In terms of Welles’ filmography, it’s like the last act of Citizen Kane felt up by Touch of Evil, then stripped and gutted by the meta-punk of F for Fake. No art exists in a vacuum, but The Other Side of the Wind, more than most, bleeds its own context. It is about Orson Welles, showing himself. Killing himself. —Chad Betz

 


28. Dick Johnson Is Dead

Year: 2020
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13

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If every great documentary is about the responsibility of observation, then Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson is also about the fragility of that observation. With her follow-up, Dick Johnson Is Dead, Johnson continues to interrogate that fragility, crafting a deeply personal ode to that over which she has no control: her father’s death. It helps that Dick Johnson is a mellifluous soul, an incessantly warm and beaming man surrounded by friends and colleagues and acquaintances who all uniformly, genuinely love him, but from its opening shots, Johnson makes it clear that her father’s wonderful nature will only make saying goodbye to him that much more difficult. And the time when she must do so looms closer and closer. Her impetus, she reluctantly acknowledges, is partly selfish as she decides to help acquaint her father with the end of his life, reenacting in lavish cinematic vignettes the many ways in which he could go out, from falling air conditioner unit, to nail-festooned 2×4 to the face, to your run-of-the-mill tumble down the stairs, replete with broken neck. The more Johnson loses herself in the project, spending more effort consulting stunt people and art directors and assorted crew members than her own dad (sitting peacefully on set, usually napping, never being much of a bother), the more she realizes she may be exploiting someone she loves—someone who is beginning to show the alarming signs of dementia and can no longer fully grasp the high concept to which he once agreed—to assuage her own anxiety. As her dad’s memory dissipates along with his ability to take care of himself, Dick Johnson Is Dead caters less to Dick’s need to preserve some sense of immortality than to his daughter’s need, all of our need, to let go. —Dom Sinacola

 


29. The Squid and the Whale

Year: 2005
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Borrowing themes from his previous films—children of failed marriages; characters whose bookish smarts seem to work against them; a floating sense of fatalism—The Squid and the Whale creeps ever closer to Noah Baumbach’s own tempestuous past. His parents’ faltering union isn’t just a detail used to add depth to a certain character. It’s the whole story—a gorgeous, candid portrait of the messy car crash of divorce, from all angles. “It’s hard to even put myself in the mindset of those movies anymore,” he told Paste in 2005. “With Squid, these are reinventions of people that are close to me, and this is the movie I identify with the most. It is a natural extension of what I have intended and what I feel. I trusted myself more on this one.” —Keenan Mayo

 


30. Phantom Thread

Year: 2017
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Phantom Thread is a movie that is so wonderfully made, so meticulous in its construction, so deeply felt in execution, that you can almost overlook how prickly and scabrous it is. This has to be the most luscious-to-watch film, ever, that is in large part about how self-centered and inflexible the world of relationships can be, how we can only give up so much of ourselves and it’s up to our partner to figure out how to deal with that, if they want to at all. This is an uncompromising movie about two uncompromising people who try to live with one another without losing too large a part of themselves, and the sometimes extreme lengths they will go to get their way. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a world-famous dressmaker who clothes celebrities, royalty and, sometimes to his chagrin, déclassé wealthy vulgarians. Almost everything that doesn’t meet his exacting standards is vulgarian, until one day while in the English countryside, Reynolds comes across a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who both meets Reynolds’ physical requirements (specifically so he can make dresses for her) and has a certain pluck that he instantly finds fascinating. Both of the principals of Phantom Thread are absurd and insane in their own ways, and one of the many thrills of the film is watching them bounce off each other, and then collide again. It’s the oddest little love story, so odd that I’m not even sure it’s about love at all. My colleague Tim Grierson said this first, but it’s too good an observation to ignore: This movie is in large part about the absolute unknowability of other people’s relationships. From the outside, it makes no sense that Reynolds and Alma would have this sort of connection with each other; it’s difficult to tell what either person is getting out of it. But what’s unfathomable about it is also what makes it so powerful. —Will Leitch

 


31. Nimona

Year: 2023
Director: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Lorraine Toussaint, Beck Bennett, Indya Moore, RuPaul, Julio Torres, Sarah Sherman
Genre: Animation, fantasy
Rating: PG

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You know that joke about how we would all side with the queer-coded villains of our childhood? ND Stevenson’s now decade-old webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Nimona is a commitment to that bit. Like its source material, Nimona is a legend for the freaks and the queers, a story told in figures, archetypes and tropes. Nimona understands that villains are often made villainous for their bodies and identities. Nimona embraces queer coding and turns it into a subversive power fantasy. In the original webcomic, Nimona is a queer anarchist revolutionary who adopts the brown-skinned, disabled Boldheart as her master. He has found himself conned into maintaining the status quo as the villain that the forces of power in his kingdom need, but he gets to prolong his homoerotic rivalry with his nemesis and ex-lover, the Institute’s champion and white pretty boy, Goldenloin. Together, Nimona and Boldheart can, through villainy, actually take down the shockingly malicious Institute that maintains strict order over the kingdom and inspire their followers to see the world differently. There’s no sympathizing with royalists here. You should absolutely go read Nimona. It won’t take much longer to read than it will to watch the 99-minute film (and you should watch it after), but with that space, Stevenson establishes and subverts the archetypes and tropes that shape not just narrative, but world view. It’s not subversive of just form or structure, but of narrative and ideology. Now in the hands of Spies in Disguise directorial duo Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, Nimona is roughly the same chaotic gremlin that fans of Stevenson’s work loved—with some notable reworks to fit into an animated kids movie on Netflix. It kinda skips the whole villain arc of the original story, which I would be more annoyed about if the many other adjustments and the reworked scope didn’t make this such a good standalone adaptation. The movie still captures the heart of Nimona. It may make for a less subversive take on villainy, but remains a thoughtful commentary on systems of power and the othering of non-normative bodies. In many ways, it feels tailored for this moment, for this audience. —Autumn Wright

 


32. Roma

Year: 2014
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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The decision to invest in a black-and-white film from beloved auteur Alfonso Cuarón was a statement that Netflix wanted to produce great original cinema. And Cuarón’s most intimate film is also his most distancing. The camera sits back, black-and-white, focused not on the bourgeois children that represent the cinematographer-writer-director and his siblings growing up in Mexico City several decades ago, but moreso on the indigenous woman (Yalitza Aparicio) that cares for them and the household. Not even entirely focused on her, perhaps more focused on its classicist compositions of a place that no longer exists in the way Cuarón remembers it. The camera gazes and moves in trans-plane sequencing, giving us foreground, mid-ground and background elements in stark digital clarity. The sound mix is Dolby Atmos and enveloping. But the base aesthetic and narrative is Fellini, or long-lost Mexican neorealism, or Tati’s Playtime but with sight gags replaced by social concern and personal reverie. Reserved and immersive, introspective and outward-looking, old and new—some have accused Roma of being too calculated in what it tries to do, the balancing act it tries to pull off. Perhaps they’re not wrong, but it is to Cuarón’s immense credit as a thoughtful technician and storyteller that he does, in fact, pull it off. The result is a singular film experience, one that recreates something that was lost and then navigates it in such a way as to find the emergent story, then from that to find the emotional impact. So that when we come to that point late in Roma, we don’t even realize the slow, organic process by which we’ve been invested fully into the film; we’re not ready to be hit as hard as we are when the wallops come and the waves crash. It’s almost unbearable, but we bear it because we care about these people we’ve become involved with. And such is life. —Chad Betz

 


33. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Year: 2022
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae, Ed Norton, Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline
Genre: Mystery, comedy
Rating: PG-13

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In Rian Johnson’s latest Knives Out mystery, the Glass Onion is as much a metaphor for the nature of the whodunit as it is for the grandeur of the film itself. Resting upon a gorgeous Greek villa (on a billionaire’s private island, no less), the titular emblem is created through a combination of VFX and a practical structure that stands a mighty 20 meters high. Made in the U.K. from all-glass paneling, the Onion’s design was so intricate that it had to be assembled in its birthplace first to ensure that all its pieces fit together, disassembled entirely for its journey to a Serbian studio and then reassembled for the film. This extravagance perfuses beyond budget and set design to inform key elements of the overall work—most notably, its characters, sense of humor and roller coaster narrative. In Glass Onion, everything is more. More jokes. More self-reflexivity. More twists and turns. And, undeniably, more fun. Peeling back the layers of this campy mystery is none other than Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), “The Last of the Gentlemen Sleuths.” He opens a mixed bag of eccentric personalities, including unfiltered fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), mysterious scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s rights influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), wealthy entrepreneur Miles Bron (Edward Norton) and Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), his estranged business partner. This absurdly delightful cast and gags are accompanied by a narrative that mirrors their chaos and lightheartedness. Where Knives Out is a straight whodunit, this second installment is more of an adoring parody of the subgenre. From recurring jokes about Clue to the utilization of famous novella tropes, the film dives headfirst into all things murder-mystery. It has multiple puzzles layered onto each other to create a viewing experience jam-packed with revelations and shocks—hence its overarching onion metaphor. Glass Onion is the kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment that is best experienced in a group setting, where the film’s topsy-turvy take on the whodunit is sure to keep you guessing (and laughing).—Kathy Michelle Chacón

 


34. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR

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Bob Dylan’s life and career are so encased in myth that it can be hard to untangle the romanticism from the reality. As much a symbol as he is a man, Dylan has spent most of his adulthood resisting being labeled the voice of his generation while slyly welcoming fans’ desire to dissect his every utterance, devoting much of the last couple decades opening up the vaults to release a series of official “bootleg” recordings associated with his most iconic albums and tours. He invites us to look deeper and listen harder, as if the answers can be gleaned from closer study. Long before David Bowie, Tom Waits, Madonna or Lady Gaga dabbled in persona play, Robert Zimmerman made us ponder masks in popular music. He’s both there and not there, which can be frustrating and fascinating. Both sensations are on display in Rolling Thunder Revue, the oft-spectacular, sometimes shtick-y chronicle of Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour. As is typical when depicting anything in the Dylan universe, this concert film/documentary simultaneously oversells its subject’s genius and provides overwhelming evidence of what a brilliant artist he is. The documentary’s full title should also be a disclaimer: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. Early on, the movie features a contemporary interview from Dylan confessing that he doesn’t quite remember what prompted Rolling Thunder or what his ambitions were. “I don’t have a clue because it’s about nothing,” he says, another example of obscuration and seduction. The movie is a “story,” which means some parts might be invented or exaggerated, and because it’s “by Martin Scorsese,” the whole film is filtered through one artist’s perspective on another. Scorsese is after something grander than mere documentation—more layers of myth are applied while trying to present an honest account of a tour and a performer. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Rolling Thunder Revue is overlong but also overpowering, inconclusive yet undeniably stirring. It left me exhausted, but I kinda want to see it again. —Tim Grierson

 


35. School of Rock

Year: 2003
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Miranda Cosgrove
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 110 minutes

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School of Rock gets plenty of comic mileage of the fact that Jack Black’s character, Dewey Finn, isn’t nearly as book smart as his students: “You’re gonna have to use your head, and your brain, and your mind, too,” he tells them. But it’s Dewey who uses his head, brain and mind as he becomes musical mentor, creator of lesson plans and manipulator of an inflexible educational system. (With school music programs being slashed at schools nationwide, School of Rock was ahead of its time.) School of Rock doesn’t go overboard on the sentimental aspects—it establishes that young guitarist Zach has a controlling, overbearing father without beating the audience over the head with it. And while it advocates giving children a means of self-expression and catharsis, it doesn’t elevate rock music into something more than it should be.–Curt Holman

 


36. The Nice Guys

Year: 2016
Directors: Shane Black
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Keith David
Genre: Action, comedy
Rating: R

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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

 


37. Dawn of the Dead

Year: 2004
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell
Genre: Horror, Action
Rating: R

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Is it any surprise that Zack Snyder’s best film is his least “Zack Snydery”? On one level, you could call it a safe box office call to remake one of the most beloved zombie stories of all time, but at the same time, Snyder tackled that property in a pretty ambitious, risky way. Unlike Savini’s Night of the Living Dead, this isn’t a tribute and homage that faithfully is attempting to recapture the spirit of the original. Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is an entirely different beast, trading much of Romero’s cultural commentary for a leaner, action-packed, grisly modern zombie tale. It’s extremely indebted to 28 Days Later, which serves as obvious inspiration for the ghouls themselves. At the time, its “fast zombies” were hailed as revolutionary, if only because it brought the sprinting ghoul to the official Romero Family universe. But the running zombies are indicative of the film’s high-strung energy and vitality, which kicks into high gear immediately with one of the best opening sequences in zombie film history. This truly is a world that goes completely to hell overnight, as Sarah Polley’s character Ana falls asleep and wakes up in the morning, finding all of civilization crumbling around her in an orgy of blood. The survivors we assemble at the mall are well-chosen, especially security guard C.J., who is presented as the principal “human antagonist” early on but then actually goes on to completely redeem himself over time. Such measurable character growth is profoundly unusual for this genre. —Jim Vorel

 


38. The Power of the Dog

Year: 2021
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy
Genre: Drama, Western
Rating: R

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Based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, Jane Campion’s long-awaited return to the medium of film—following 2009’s Bright Star and her subsequent years spent working in television—feels apt for a director who has demonstrated prowess at crafting an atmosphere of acute disquiet. And so it goes for The Power of the Dog, a film with a perpetual twitching vein, carried by the ubiquitous feeling that someone could snap at any moment—until they do. In 1925 Montana, brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) are prosperous cattle ranchers but incompatible siblings. Phil is the ultimate image of machismo, brooding around the ranch ever adorned in his cowboy outfit and a thick layer of grime on his face, a rolled cigarette hanging against his lower lip; a character that acts in defiance of Cumberbatch’s past work. Phil is so opposed to anything even adjacent to what could be considered “feminine” that things like bathing, playing an instrument that isn’t a banjo and just being nice to women are the kinds of activities which might lead Phil to inquire “Fellas, is it gay if…?” on Twitter. From the castration of the bulls on the Burbank ranch, to Phil’s status as the black sheep of his respectable family, to the nature of the western landscape tied to Phil’s performance of masculinity, the subtext is so visually hamfisted that it remains subtextual only by virtue of it not being directly spoken out loud. But the clumsiness in the film’s approach to its subject matter is propped up by the compelling performances across the board—notably from Cumberbatch, whose embodiment of a gruff and grubby rancher is at first sort of laughably unbelievable in relation to the performances that have defined the Englishman’s career. But it is, perhaps, because of this very contrast to his past roles that Cumberbatch manages to fit into the character of Phil so acutely, carrying with him an inherent awkwardness and unrest in his own skin despite the terror that he strikes in the heart of someone like Rose. He’s matched by the chilling score, composed by the inimitable Johnny Greenwood (The Master, Phantom Thread), and impeccable cinematography from Ari Wegner (Zola, The True History of the Kelly Gang), which form a perfect union of tension, intimacy and isolation in a film where the sound of every slice, snip and click evokes the same distressing sensation regardless of the source. What does it mean to be a man? The Power of the Dog considers the question but never answers it. Instead, it is preoccupied with a timeless phenomenon: The suffering endured for the very sake of manhood itself. —Brianna Zigler

 


39. Those Who Wish Me Dead

Year: 2021
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry, Jake Weber, Jon Bernthal
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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There are few things about a thriller that get me more excited than realizing the movie doesn’t rely on complicated plot MacGuffins, but on a fully realized setting and characters that either make their home or find themselves helpless there. From writer/director Taylor Sheridan, Those Who Wish Me Dead is one of those thrillers–and those two elements, setting and character, are two that Sheridan is most capable with. Based on Michael Koryta’s 2014 novel of the same name, the film’s rock-solid survival story is enhanced by its charming ensemble and striking, elegant environment. This simplified adaptation (which Koryta co-wrote with Sheridan alongside Charles Leavitt) thrusts good and evil together with the same easy confidence of a corral shootout. A forensic accountant (Jake Weber, playing a pretty badass accountant but not a The Accountant-level badass) and his son, Connor (Finn Little) are on the run. Why? Well, the most we get is that Connor’s dad found out something pretty damn incriminating and those incriminated are none too happy. “What did you do?” Connor asks. All he really gets by way of answer is, “The right thing.” Quickly, that hard ol’ reality sets in that the right thing might not be the consequence-free thing it’s cracked up to be. It’s all carried by its cast, and Angelina Jolie is its best member. She plays Hannah, whom Connor stumbles into in the middle of the forest after Plan A is jettisoned for B. A smokejumper (basically like if a regular firefighter was in Point Break) with PTSD, Hannah was left guilt-ridden and shaken after a particularly awful wildfire. It also left her stuck in a dead-end assignment: All alone on watch duty, high above the forest in an isolated fire tower. Among the other visual feats pulled off by Ben Richardson (Sheridan’s cinematographer on Wind River and Yellowstone, who recently “helped Mare of Easttown “[render] our small, collective suffering in stark shapes”) is the height, lonesomeness and awe of this skyward sentry, far above the verdant treetops. Ensembles collide, ricochet and tangle as Those Who Wish Me Dead builds its brutal if expected thrills, and it’s near impossible to look away. It’s the dense woodland, the savvy character work, the moral core that’s both optimistic and pessimistic enough to sustain its modern-day white and black hats. It pulls off the kind of complexity and aesthetic cohesion that Without Remorse and Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Sheridan’s latest screenplay works) so sorely lack. Gripping and intelligent, Those Who Wish Me Dead is revitalizing.–Jacob Oller

 


40. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Year: 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Stars: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Fittingly, Chadwick Boseman’s final role is all about the blues. The late actor’s appearance in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the August Wilson adaptation from director George C. Wolfe and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson, is equal parts actorly showcase, angry eulogy and comprehensive lament—boiled together in the sweaty kitchen of a ‘20s Chicago recording session. A story of ambition’s multiple facets and eventual endpoints, Ma Rainey revolves around those orbiting its title character (Viola Davis). She’s a blues legend at the top of her game, finally appreciated (at least in some parts of the country) and ripe for exploitation by white men in suits. As if she’d let them. She’s comfortably late to record an album, leaving everyone else to kick up their heels and shoot the shit in true Wilson style—with Santiago-Hudson finding the essence of Wilson’s work. Davis’ brutal performance, made all the more potent by her avalanche of makeup and glistening sweat, perfectly sets the scene. She, alongside loosened neckties and whirring fans, gives the film its intended temperature and gravity so that Boseman and the rest of her band members can zip around like fireflies ambling in the summer heat. With tragic serendipity, Boseman leaves us a gift: he is on fire. Lean, with the camera placements and props emphasizing his gangly limbs (there’s a reason he wields a squashed and squat flugelhorn, a jazz staple that happens to work better visually), Levee is a highly physical role despite the chatty source material: It’s all about capturing attention, sometimes literally tap-dancing for it, with any ounce of shame overrun by an anxious energy. High-strung, twitchy and tense during a nearly five-minute monologue, Levee seems to sense the window to his dream is closing: Time is running out. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is more than Boseman’s performance, sure, with Davis and Colman Domingo going on some delicious tears of their own and Wilson’s words continuing to sear and soar in equal measure. But Boseman’s ownership of the film, an Oscar-worthy snapshot of potential and desire, gives an otherwise lovely and broad tragedy something specific to sing about.—Jacob Oller


41. The Killer

Year: 2023
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, Tilda Swinton
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Naturally, an unnatural filmmaker like David Fincher could only make a hitman movie like The Killer. Adapting a vivid-yet-cold graphic novel into a thrilling-yet-mundane piece of character work, the Titan of Takes meticulously creates a nameless assassin who’d prefer if he wasn’t human at all. A technological man for technological times. Michael Fassbender’s narration-heavy performance as the Killer is one of robotic self-delusion. He is a man who loves perfection, who loves planning. A man who loves challenging executions and loves to think of himself as someone who—if he could just plan enough—is capable of anything. Embedded in his eventual failure is self-effacing humor, mocking this very ideal. It’s easy to pretend that you can optimize your life to programmatic perfection. There’s a whole industry devoted to this capitalistic goal, filled with productivity apps, tech wearables and organizational best practices. The Killer uses this worldview as its setting to ask, “Ok, what happens when you miss?” The Killer isn’t a self-aware guy, and Fincher-favorite writer Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven, rewrites of The Game and Fight Club) knows how to turn obnoxious, comic-like voiceover into revealing psychological commentary. The Killer refers to some suburbanites as “normies,” and you wonder if, after seeing his work co-opted as copypasta, Walker is now conversing directly with the edgelords. Maybe that’s why, despite his surface similarity in appearance, profession and aesthetic to Le Samouraï, the Killer is intentionally not the “cool” kind of hitman. He’s your friend’s dad, always traveling for work, addicted to his Apple Watch and airport amenities. His life is a series of suitcases, lines, and Ubers. Fincher’s process-focused photography—cut with precision by editor Kirk Baxter, framed with hard lines and a little more distance than you expect by cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt—makes it clear the Killer is going through the motions, whether those motions are assembling his sniper in the middle of the night, dumping those gun parts, or stopping by McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin. Though the characters are irredeemable, the message is universal: We all end up in the same place, so what’s the use in pretending you’ve “solved” life? The unreliable conversation between aesthetics, genre and character creates something realistic, novel and modern—something Fincher is perfectly keyed into. By applying our technocapitalist present to the kind of person that this reality inevitably creates, Fincher’s created a thoroughly entertaining look at a pathetic crook—all while delivering a self-deprecating blow to clockwork living.—Jacob Oller


42. Wonder Woman

Year: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 159 minutes

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Considering that the character of Wonder Woman was the only one in Batman v Superman who didn’t want to yank your eyeballs out of your head with a spork, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Wonder Woman is lightyears better than anything else the newfangled DC cinematic universe has produced. It’s not quieter necessarily, but it is more measured, more comfortable in its own skin, less fanboy desperate to keep waving keys in front of your face—exploding keys—to make sure it has the full attention of all your assaulted senses. It feels almost old-fashioned in its themes of the goodness of humanity—and the debate alien outsiders have about whether or not humans are worthy of redemption—and the selflessness of one for a greater good. It still has too many skyscraper-sized god-monsters blowing up whole acres in hackneyed super slo-mo, and it doesn’t have much you haven’t seen before, but that it simply tells one story in linear order with logical progression…man, when it comes to these movies, it almost feels like a miracle.—Will Leitch


43. Dune

Year: 2021
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Jason Momoa
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 155 minutes

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Both technologically innovative and narratively faithful to the original text, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is bolstered by its seamless special effects and starpower above all else. Considering the director’s previous work in these arenas—namely Enemy, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049—he should be totally adept for the challenge. Yet there exists a nagging query that begs to be quelled: How much of this film is predicated on the sheer fact that cinematic advancements have finally rendered Dune an attainable possibility? Though it remains true to the first part of the text’s unhurried pace and detailed world building, Villeneuve’s adaptation feels overlong and void of subtext. It’s important to note that the film only adapts the first part of Herbert’s novel, which is notoriously kind of a slog. Much of the plot is focused on worldbuilding and creating an incremental immersion into the immaterial political hierarchies that shape this unknown yet familiar world. Admittedly, Villeneuve evokes and embraces this unhurriedness—a choice that just might predicate Dune’s future fortune. By limiting the scope to Part I, Villeneuve’s Dune maintains a consistent tone and sense of time—though it invariably drags over the course of two and a half hours. However, the meandering pace may perfectly suit fans of the original novel, which captures a certain pensive density indicative of the text. To be fair, there is a plain reason as to why Villeneuve opts for a subdued and sedated Dune. With so many failed attempts at adapting Herbert’s novel preceding it, how could the project ever fully embrace auteur-driven artistic risk? It translates as Villeneuve playing it safe, expending all of his energy on ensuring that his remake can’t possibly flop. Though Dune is faithful and fantastical in vision, its existence is merely proof that the enduringly popular novel can, in fact, be adapted into a box office hit.–Natalia Keogan


44. X

Release Date: March 18, 2022
Director: Ti West
Stars: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, Scott Mescudi
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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X is a remarkable and unexpected return to form for director Ti West, a decade removed from an earlier life as an “up and coming,” would-be horror auteur who has primarily worked as a mercenary TV director for the last 10 years. To return in such a splashy way, via an A24 reenvisioning of the classic slasher film, intended as the first film of a new trilogy or even more, is about the most impressive resurrection we’ve seen in the horror genre in recent memory. X is a scintillating combination of the comfortably familiar and the grossly exotic, instantly recognizable in structure but deeper in theme, richness and satisfaction than almost all of its peers. How many attempts at throwback slasher stylings have we seen in the last five years? The answer would be “countless,” but few scratch the surface of the tension, suspense or even pathos that X crams into any one of a dozen or more scenes. It’s a film that unexpectedly makes us yearn alongside its characters, exposes us (graphically) to their vulnerabilities, and even establishes deeply sympathetic “villains,” for reasons that steadily become clear as we realize this is just the first chapter of a broader story of horror films offering a wry commentary on how society is shaped by cinema. Featuring engrossing cinematography, excellent sound design and characters deeper than the broad archetypes they initially register as to an inured horror audience, X offers a modern meditation on the bloody savagery of Mario Bava or Lucio Fulci, making old hits feel fresh, timely and gross once again. In 2022, this film is quite a gift to the concept of slasher cinema. —Jim Vorel


45. Okja

Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, An Seo-hyun, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 121 minutes

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. It’s perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality—the culmination of Bong’s unique rhythms into something like a syncopated symphony. The film opens with Tilda Swinton’s corporate maven Lucy Mirando leering out an expository dump of public relations about her new genetically created super-pigs, which will revolutionize the food industry. We’re also introduced to Johnny Wilcox, played by Gyllenhaal as a bundle of wretched tics, like there’s a tightly-wound anime character just waiting to rid itself of its Gyllenhaal flesh, but in the meantime barely contained. Okja is the finest of the super-pigs, raised by a Korean farmer (Byun Hee-bong) and his granddaughter Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), an orphan. Okja is Mija’s best friend, a crucial part of her family. Bong takes his sweet time with this idyllic life Mija and Okja share. The narrative slows down to observe what feels like a Miyazaki fantasy come to life. Mija whispers in Okja’s ear, and we’re left to wonder what she could possibly be saying. The grandfather has been lying to Mija, telling her he has saved money to buy Okja from the Mirando corporation. There is no buying this pig; it is to be a promotional star for the enterprise. When Johnny Wilcox comes to claim Okja (a sharp note of dissonance in the peaceful surroundings) the grandfather makes up an excuse for Mija to come with him to her parents’ grave. It is there he tells her the truth. Mija’s quest to rescue Okja brings her in alliance with non-violent animal rights activists ALF, which ushers the film into a high-wire act of an adventure where Bong’s penchant for artful set-piece is pushed to new heights. The director works with an ace crew frontlined by one of our greatest living cinematographers, Darius Khondji, who composes every frame of Okja with vibrant virtuosity. The very action of the film becomes action that is concerned with its own ethics. As the caricatures of certain characters loom larger, and the scope of the film stretches more and more into the borderline surreal, one realizes that the Okja is a modern, moral fable. It’s not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


46. It Follows

Year: 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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The specter of Old Detroit haunts It Follows, the best movies among Netflix’s horror selections. In a dilapidating ice cream stand on 12 Mile, in the ’60s-style ranch homes of Ferndale or Berkley, in a game of Parcheesi played by pale teenagers with nasally, nothing accents—if you’ve never been, you’d never recognize the stale, gray nostalgia creeping into every corner of David Robert Mitchell’s terrifying film. But it’s there, and it feels like SE Michigan. The music, the muted but strangely sumptuous color palette, the incessant anachronism: In style alone, Mitchell is an auteur seemingly emerged fully formed from the unhealthy womb of Metro Detroit. Cycles and circles concentrically fill out It Follows, from the particularly insular rules of the film’s horror plot, to the youthful, fleshy roundness of the faces and bodies of this small group of main characters, never letting the audience forget that, in so many ways, these people are still children. In other words, Mitchell is clear about his story: This has happened before, and it will happen again. All of which wouldn’t work were Mitchell less concerned with creating a genuinely unnerving film, but every aesthetic flourish, every fully circular pan is in thrall to breathing morbid life into a single image: someone, anyone slowly separating from the background, from one’s nightmares, and walking toward you, as if Death itself were to appear unannounced next to you in public, ready to steal your breath with little to no aplomb. Initially, Mitchell’s whole conceit—passing on a haunting through intercourse—seems to bury conservative sexual politics under typical horror movie tropes, proclaiming to be a progressive genre pic when it functionally does nothing to further our ideas of slasher fare. You fornicate, you find punishment for your flagrant, loveless sinning, right? (The film has more in common with a Judd Apatow joint than you’d expect.) Instead, Mitchell never once judges his characters for doing what practically every teenager wants to do; he simply lays bare, through a complex allegory, the realities of teenage sex. There is no principled implication behind Mitchell’s intent; the cold conclusion of sexual intercourse is that, in some manner, you are sharing a certain degree of your physicality with everyone with whom your partner has shared the same. That he accompanies this admission with genuine respect and empathy for the kinds of characters who, in any other horror movie, would be little more than visceral fodder for a sadistic spirit, elevates It Follows from the realm of disguised moral play into a sickly scary coming-of-age tale. Likewise, Mitchell inherently understands that there is practically nothing more eerie than the slightly off-kilter ordinary, trusting the film’s true horror to the tricks our minds play when we forget to check our periphery. It Follows is a film that thrives in the borders, not so much about the horror that leaps out in front of you, but the deeper anxiety that waits at the verge of consciousness—until, one day soon, it’s there, reminding you that your time is limited, and that you will never be safe. Forget the risks of teenage sex, It Follows is a penetrating metaphor for growing up. —Dom Sinacola


47. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Year: 2023
Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Stars: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jason Schwartzman
Rating: PG
Runtime: 136 minutes

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse webs its way into a far more jaded world, one overstuffed with superhero sequels, and specifically, multiverse storytelling. And yet Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings in and, yet again, wipes the floor with its genre brethren by presenting a sequel that is both kinetic and deeply emotional. The script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) smartly builds upon the foundation of its already established characters, their relationships and the ongoing consequences from the first film to further explore the lives of secret teen superheroes Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) a year after the first film. The writers do so with a clear agenda to not only best themselves visually, but by upping the game of the now-familiar multiple-timeline tropes. Together with the talents of directing team Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul) and Justin K. Thompson (Into the Spider-Verse), Across the Spider-Verse—across the board—swings for the cinematic fences in the rare sequel that feels like every frame has been crafted with the intention of wringing every bit of visual wonder and emotional impact that the animators, the performers and the very medium can achieve. The hybrid computer-animation meets hand-drawn techniques established in the first films returns with a more sleek execution that’s a bit easier on the eyes, which affords the animators to get even more ambitious with their array of techniques and character-centric presentations. The depth and breadth of the animation and illustration styles are jaw-dropping. There are frames you just want to fall into, they’re so beautifully rendered and conceived. If there’s any critique, it’s that the more action-centric sequences are almost too detailed, so that the incredible work of the animators moves off-screen so quickly that you feel like you’re not able to fully appreciate everything coming at you. As a middle film in the trilogy (Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is due in theaters in 2024), it’s a joy to be able to say that Across the Spider-Verse stands well on its own, based on the merits of its story and stakes. There’s also a killer cliffhanger that sets the stage for a third chapter that doesn’t feel like it’s cheating its audience like some other recent films have done (cough Dune cough). In fact, repeat viewings of Across the Spider-Verse to bridge the gap until the final installment next year sounds like a great way to savor this film as it so richly deserves.—Tara Bennett


48. May December

Year: 2023
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Charles Melton
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Partway through Todd HaynesMay December, actor Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) is asked how she chooses her roles by a group of high school drama students. Elizabeth is in town to research her upcoming lead role in a ripped-from-the-tabloids independent movie, a part she hopes will be statement enough to eclipse the work she’s currently recognized for (playing a veterinarian on a show called Norah’s Ark, just one of screenwriter Samy Burch’s winky little jokes about the biz). Her next part is decidedly not as family friendly: Elizabeth is set to play Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), a former teacher who made the news 20 years ago for having a sexual relationship with and subsequently marrying one of her seventh-grade students, Joe (Charles Melton). May December offers up a tantalizingly ambiguous answer to the question posed during that drama class visit. As she insinuates herself into the Atherton-Yoos’ life—tagging along with Gracie and her daughter Mary (Elizabeth Yu) as they shop for prom dresses, taking notes on the makeup brands Gracie uses, shadowing Joe at work—we begin to wonder whether Elizabeth’s devotion to the role comes only from a desperate desire to be taken seriously as an actor, or if there’s something deeper and darker lurking within. Burch’s script—and Portman’s brilliantly cryptic performance—keep these possibilities balanced on a fine edge. We’re never completely sure if Elizabeth is just going ultra-Method when, for example, she complains that the boys auditioning for the part of young Joe aren’t “sexy enough,” or when she visits the pet shop stockroom where the couple were first discovered and simulates the sexual encounter that led to Gracie’s arrest. The disturbing possibility that the two women are secretly more alike than Elizabeth lets on only grows when she talks to the drama students about sex scenes—telling them that, sometimes, the acting is in pretending she’s not enjoying them. That smudging of the line between Gracie and Elizabeth physically manifests in the gradual converging of their appearances in cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s inspired Bergman-esque images. May December is a film of great tonal delicacy, as Haynes, Burch and their actors delicately modulate the film between high camp and twisted psychological drama. Pulling off such a seemingly incongruous blend of sensationalism and sincere thoughtfulness is no easy task, but writer and director miraculously find a way to ease the tension between style and substance—and, what’s more, manage to deliver wry commentary on the way we consume scandals at the same time.–Farah Cheded


49. The Suicide Squad

Year: 2021
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion, Steve Agee, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis
Rating: R
Runtime: 132 minutes

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How is James Gunn one of the only people that actually seems to know how to make a comic book movie feel like it was built out of a comic book? Sure, the excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did it, but it took making one of the most impressive animated movies in years. Writer/director Gunn, who’s hopped over to DC after making a pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies for Marvel, achieves some of the same delirious multimedia fidelity in live-action with The Suicide Squad, his bombastic, silly and self-aware revisionist take on the super-group of screw-ups coerced into jobs too tough, dangerous and/or undesirable for the conventional wetworkers of our humble government. Gunn’s action has such a clear and confident tone that it can pepper in filmmaking winks–like quick Bourne-like zooms when Task Force X director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) plays God with the lives of costumed crooks from the safety of her command center–to add a little more visual flavor to its already over-the-top, R-rated, downright enjoyable adaptation. Part of the joke is the sheer quantity of goofball Legion of Doom rejects shoved into the mix. Sure, you’ve got the familiarly chaotic clown-about-town Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, who’s by now thoroughly made the role her own), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and straight-laced military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) alongside the new A-listers (John Cena’s Captain America pastiche, Peacemaker; Idris Elba’s gruff sharpshooter Bloodsport). But there’s a Golden Corral buffet of questionable riffraff introduced as well, including but not limited to: King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, channeling a dumber and hungrier Groot), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Blackguard (Pete Davidson) and a human-sized weasel (Sean Gunn). They’re all distinct and most of them are distinctly, joyfully hateable. And over the course of The Suicide Squad’s solid tropical island action movie–one that’s politics are almost as sharply cynical as its true-to-source treatment of its protagonistic supervillains–Gunn isn’t afraid to dole out the kind of consequences that have mostly been relegated to the fun-poking, franchise-flouting realms of TV superhero meta-critiques like The Boys and Invincible. These aren’t unfamiliar to Suicide Squad readers, but they’re increasingly shocking, strange and bracing (not to mention fun!) to find in AAA studio movies. As the team moves from FUBAR beach operations on Corto Maltese to sabotaging its local lab’s super-science, actual tension develops–a rarity among The Suicide Squad’s contemporaries. Whatever power its additional The gave it couldn’t completely divorce it from some expected genre limitations, but it’s helped continue and solidify the way Warner Bros. is responding to Marvel’s utter dominance of the form: Not by getting more serious, but by seriously investing in the idiosyncrasies of its comics.–Jacob Oller


50. Insidious

Year: 2010
Director: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes

Watch on Netflix

A couple years before he essentially perfected the modern, big-budget haunted house movie via The Conjuring, Insidious was the film where James Wan proved once and for all that his genre success in the original Saw was no fluke. It’s a film that benefits from an audience’s low expectations for its complexity–the viewer goes in assuming that they’re seeing the same basic haunting/possession/poltergeist-type story they’ve seen before, and Wan then dazzles them with a mythos that is considerably more detailed (and batshit) than what they expected to receive. So too does the film benefit from a few key performances, whether that’s Patrick Wilson as the anxious father (and secret font of psychic energy) searching for his son, or the utterly essential Lin Shaye as the knowledgeable demonologist who is the family’s only hope. The near-starring role of Shaye really is something worth acknowledging, as the presence of older women as stars/protagonists in the horror genre is close to nonexistent–the Insidious series managed the odd task of taking a character who was in the supporting role of Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist and somehow turning her into the legitimate hero of the franchise. Today, the film still holds up well enough, undone a bit by its sequels’ insistence on constant canonical retconning, but featuring jump scares (especially that red-faced demon) that are as effective as anything in their era. —Jim Vorel

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