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The 50 Best New Movies on iTunes

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A quick look at the top movies on iTunes will tell you that popular doesn’t always equal good. What we give you here is a list of the best new movies on iTunes. There are blockbusters like Moana and Doctor Strange for sure, but there are also excellent foreign films like Cemetery of Splendor and brilliant docs like Operation Avalanche. iTunes has an enormous catalog of movies, but this guide should help you find something to rent or buy that you’ll love.

You can also check out our guides to the best movies on Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu, Redbox, Showtime, Cinemax, in theaters and On Demand.

Here are the 50 Best New Movies on iTunes:

50. Miss Hokusai
Year: 2016
Director: Keiichi Hara
Keiichi Hara’s follow-up to his 2013 breakthrough Colorful is a fantastical period piece situated around one of the most prolific artists in Japanese history. Set in 1814 in the city of Edo, Miss Hokusai is the story of O-Ei Katsushika, a talented Ukiyo-e painter whose talents and accomplishments are otherwise dwarfed in the shadow of her father, the legendary Ukiyo-e master Hokusai. Hara’s film follows O-Ei’s struggle to come into her own as an artist while wrestling with the resentment she feels towards her father, whose itinerant and emotionally absent lifestyle have caused him to neglect O-Nao, Hokusai’s blind and sickly daughter. A far cry from the sci-fi action and fantasy plots that typify most impressions of anime, Miss Hokusai is a beautifully animated coming-of-age story filled with uncanny visual references to Hokusai’s most famous compositions and a memorable score by Harumi Fuuki and Yo Tsuji. A cinematic portrait of the artist as a young woman growing to know herself and shape her own life. —Toussaint Egan


49. Snowden
Year: 2016
Director: Oliver Stone 
Gordon-Levitt’s performance is key to Snowden’s place in Stone’s oeuvre as another exceptional take on the nature of heroism. It’s every bit as complicated and ambiguous as Stone’s previous films on the subject, but the complexity is all internal—from Stone’s point of view, there’s no real questioning the fact that Snowden is a patriot and a hero. The questioning comes from within, as Snowden becomes less a film about heroism than about the physical and psychic costs of heroism—and whether or not they’re worth it. Stone and his actors (not just Gordon-Levitt, but Shailene Woodley, superb in an essential role as the woman Snowden loves) mine this material so thoroughly that when Snowden does allow itself moments of triumph they’re completely earned. This may be Stone’s most genuinely inspiring film since Born on the Fourth of July and his most poignant and romantic next to World Trade Center. Yet it’s also, at times, his bleakest work, a chilling horror film about the surveillance state under which we all live. That all of these tones—and a wide array in between—can exist coherently in the same film is indicative of Snowden’s success. It’s one of the best movies Stone has ever made—and easily one of the best of the year. —Jim Hemphill


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


47. Deadpool
Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Years in the making, Deadpool has long presented a marketing conundrum for the studio. It’s a superhero movie set in the family-friendly-ish X-Men universe, starring a foul-mouthed, ruthless and self-referential antihero. Get it wrong, and Deadpool could be a spectacular failure, but get it right and it could begin a whole new chapter for superhero movies. They got it right, at least as far as the studio is concerned. The film introduces its title character with a wedgie, as he and a car full of bloody corpses fly through the air above a New York highway. From there the movie jumps in and out of flashback to tell how Wade Wilson (Reynolds) met love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and got turned into a disfigured mutant by Ed Skrein’s sneering Ajax, putting the Merc With a Mouth on a super-powered collision course with his maker. Per the Deadpool comics, the movie is, atypically for superhero cinema, gory, profane and loaded with sex jokes. Our superhero often breaks the fourth wall, stopping occasionally to chat to the audience or “cue the music.” Reynolds, after years spent searching for a franchise to call his own, has finally struck gold. A motormouth frequently hired to play characters both charming and irritating, he’s perfectly cast as Wade Wilson, but props must ultimately go to screenwriters Paul Whernick and Rhett Reese for successfully bringing the Looney Tunes anarchy of the Deadpool comic to life. Loud, scrappy and intentionally provocative, if it were a regular R-rated comedy, Deadpool’s “taboo” ingredients—sex montages, f-bombs, TJ Miller riffing obscenely, so much flagrant murder—wouldn’t be considered boundary-breaking at all. But in a superhero movie, this stuff feels revolutionary.—Brogan Morris


46. Zootopia
Year: 2016
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
It says a lot about the state of America’s cultural dialogues on acceptance and discrimination that a Disney movie feels this urgent, but maybe a movie about animals living under the impression of harmony is a long-term solution for our short-term failures. Then again, we’re talking about a cartoon where TV’s Snow White teams up with Michael Bluth in a sort-of riff on 48 Hours that expands to include references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad. Zootopia is smart in the way it approaches race relations, if unsophisticated and childish. But there are worse things a children’s movie can be than childish, and in Zootopia that word sheds its pejorative implications and instead feels befitting in its innocence. The story takes place in the sprawling zoological metropolis of the title, a place where beasts of all makes and models—large and small, meek and ferocious—somehow manage to coexist in an approximation of civilized society. This is a movie that’s all about big, heartfelt honesty between its principals and its audience. Simple though its politics may be, the film is effective—and coming from a mainstream studio, it is even just daring enough to make a difference.—Andy Crump


45. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Year: 2016
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
At its core, 10 Cloverfield Lane effectively works as an extended, modern-day riff on a Twilight Zone episode, a program producer J.J. Abrams holds near and dear to his heart. But despite its enclosed setting and limited speaking parts, the film is very much a cinematic experience, with director Dan Trachtenberg milking each interaction and set piece for maximum impact. By the time the film reaches its dramatic final stretch, the narrative has successfully escalated to a point wherein the crazier elements fit right in with the more grounded ones. The story opens with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), deciding to exit a relationship gone south and head for the hills. This entire opening sequence plays out like a beautiful, near wordless, mini-symphony with Bear McCreary’s fantastic score soundtracking Michelle’s internal anxiety and indecision—up until the point where her car is run off the road. She later awakens in an underground bunker, her broken leg chained to a pipe. It’s here we meet John Goodman’s Howard, who—throughout the course of the film—alternates between captor and caretaker. Howard informs Michelle that the planet is currently under attack by some unknown force and that the atmosphere outside the bunker has been contaminated. Imposing and gruff, John Goodman’s inherently magnetic, charismatic persona is a thin veneer to the character’s rumbling sea of Walter Sobchak-ian fury and rage. You never quite know when and where he’s going to explode. This is a role Goodman was born to play. As our surrogate, Winstead once again proves why she’s one of the industry’s best young talents. Fans of Spielberg-like ingenuity and Hitchcockian suspense will marvel at the sense of craft and skill on display. Certainly, had he still been alive to see this, the Master of Suspense would be nodding his head in approval.—Mark Rozeman


44. Christine
Year: 2016
Directors: Antonio Campos
Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness.—Tim Grierson


43. Lamb
Year: 2016
Director: Ross Partridge
Lamb toys with its audience, playing mind games until the very last frame. Even after the credits roll, questions linger about motive, intention, and right and wrong. The only certainty is that Ross Partridge, who wrote the screenplay, directed and stars, has crafted a gem of a film. Based on the novel by Bonnie Nadzam, Lamb opens on David Lamb (Partridge) as his life is imploding. His marriage has just failed and his invalid father, whom we briefly see in a neglected Chicago home-turned-hovel, soon passes away. Instead of earning sympathy, David immediately proves to be an untrustworthy and unreliable protagonist. Despondent about his father’s death and the tumult in his life, David turns his attention to an 11-year-old girl named Tommie (Oona Laurence), a latchkey kid from a broken home. They meet in a strip mall parking lot, with Tommie’s ill-fitting tube top-and-heels ensemble reminiscent of Jodie Foster’s Iris in Taxi Driver. Because of the subject matter, it’s easy to compare Lamb to Nabokov’s Lolita, in which Humbert Humbert seduces the underage titular character. But Partridge’s film is darker and more uncomfortable, devoid of the comic undertones found in Nabokov’s novel. The mind games that David plays with himself, with Tommie, with Linny and with the audience are disturbing. David’s view of morality is seriously flawed, but to him, the end—saving Tommie from a miserable home life—justifies the means. It’s a beautiful, confounding and unsettling ride.—Christine N. Ziemba


42. 20th Century Women
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Mills
The feeling of watching writer-director Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is akin to that of witnessing a mind working through the twisted byways of his characters’ psyches and his themes as if digesting his thoughts right in front of us. He’s unafraid of breaking away from the film’s major arcs for the sake of digressions that fill us in on both historical context and characters’ backstories. And that embrace of irresolution extends to the characters themselves, all of whom show many different sides to us, with Mills showing no interest in neatly explaining away their contradictions. 20th Century Women almost feels like a dialectical essay disguised as a comedy-drama—a late-period Jean-Luc Godard movie except with actual flesh-and-blood human beings instead of glorified mouthpieces for his philosophical aphorisms. The patchwork narrative style vividly expresses the confusion at the heart of these characters and of the time period in U.S. history it evokes: a country hinging on the precipice between the relative selfless idealism of the 1970s and the rampant materialistic self-interest of the 1980s. It’s a large subject for any movie to tackle, but the beauty of 20th Century Women is that the warmly empathetic Mills never loses track of the characters’ anguished beating hearts.—Kenji Fujishima


41. Doctor Strange
Year: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
When the folks at Marvel Studios truly realized, likely via The Avengers in 2012, that these films were comedies just as much as they were action-adventure stories, it crystallized the format in ways both positive and somewhat limiting. The result is that one can never quite take seriously claims that a new film is going to “break the mold” of the MCU, but at the same time it’s hardly something to complain about, when that mold is fundamentally solid and entertaining. To that end, Doctor Strange is crowd-pleasing and exciting—funny when it should be, sober when it has to be and crackling with a magical mystique that adds a veiled layer of depth to the inner workings of the Marvel universe. Even without too many overt references to the rest of the MCU, everything in Doctor Strange makes one wonder how the revelation of the Marvel Multiverse will affect the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and others.—Jim Vorel


40. Fences
Year: 2016
Director: Denzel Washington 
Fences is a movie with a somewhat contradictory dichotomy at its core. On one hand, the film is a masterwork, a labor of love adapted from the late, great August Wilson’s award-winning 1983 play and engineered for the screen by Denzel Washington. Yet it’s also a somewhat pedestrian cinematic achievement. As a showcase for acting, it’s a marvel. As cinema, it’s less impressive, a picture that’s too devoted to its theatrical roots to fully translate the language of the theater into the language of the movies. It’s the definition of a filmed play, with Washington attempting to capture the heightened reality and immediacy felt in a live environment sans the live component of the theatrical equation. If Fences adheres to a basic visual scheme, though, Washington and his supporting cast lend it dazzling, urgent life. (In a film like Fences, even actors as immensely talented as Viola Davis and Stephen Henderson will be thought of as “supporting.”) One may wish for more from Washington stylistically considering his history behind the lens (Fences marks his third time directing, following Antwone Fisher in 2002 and The Great Debaters in 2007), but he’s so busy giving his all in front of it that it is easy to look past the streamlined imagery. His talent as an actor benefits him most here, allowing him to foster an easy, palpable chemistry between his cast in their every scene. Maybe we don’t see movies like this for bravura direction. Maybe we see them for bravura acting, and for the poetically frank ways in which they express their core themes and ideas.—Andy Crump


39. Don’t Think Twice
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Birbiglia 
“Despite its miscalculations, Don’t Think Twice does leave a bitter, lingering aftertaste. Though the members of the Commune might have finally made peace with their lots in life, a sense of dashed hopes and dreams still hangs in the air, even as an acoustic solo-piano version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” over the end credits tries to end the film on a conciliatory note.” —Kenji Fujishima


38. Midnight Special
Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols’ fourth film continues a streak of smart, idiosyncratic genre tales that focus on family matters. But in Midnight Special, he gets a little more cosmic, telling a very human sci-fi story about a concerned father (Michael Shannon) trying to keep his boy (Jaeden Lieberher) away from the Feds, who believe (correctly) that he has special powers. Midnight Special is the sort of personal, ambitious mainstream film that seems to have all but evaporated from studios’ release schedules, which makes the fact that it was a commercial dud even more upsetting and dispiriting. Maybe on home video people will have a chance to catch up with this emotional drama, whose intimate contours and precise character work make it just as transporting on the small screen.—Tim Grierson


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


36. The Jungle Book
Year: 2016
Directors: Jon Favreau 
Jon Favreau’s new real-world re-imagining of the classic Disney animated film melds two cornerstones of the diretor’s career: venturing into the digital frontier, and having the courage to be warm. The curtain rises on the computer-generated animal kingdom as the camera pans across one of The Jungle Book’s many breathtaking virtual sets, which were built after recording the raw footage in an empty Los Angeles warehouse. Essentially, on set, actors in motion-capture suits ran around with Neel Sethi, who makes his movie debut as Mowgli, in front of blue and green screens. Where the level of technology in The Jungle Book has historically been used for maximizing the wow factor in Michael Bay explosion-packed action flicks, Favreau makes the case for special effects that actually affect. The Jungle Book hits the ground running as Mowgli darts through the grass and up trees, sharpening his survival skills through various flight techniques (fighting obviously not available to him). Sethi, 12, is the only truly live-action element of the movie, and carries the physically demanding role with both childlike charisma and the saucy attitude of an adolescent.—Melissa Weller


35. Finding Dory
Year: 2016
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of the 2003 Disney-Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo. The adorably bumbling blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is still best friends and the third wheel to clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), testing their patience on a daily basis. But this is fully Dory’s tale, as she searches for her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and finds herself in the process. Finding Dory is the rare sequel that repurposes the original as a character foundation rather than as a cheap form of fan service. What could have been an easy cash-in becomes something surprising—a follow-up that reaches new emotional depths. —Michael Snydel


34. Nocturnal Animals
Year: 2016
Director: Tom Ford
After A Single Man was (unjustly) criticized in some quarters for its preoccupation with surface beauty, fashion designer-cum-filmmaker Tom Ford has returned with something ugly. Aesthetically, Nocturnal Animals is still deliberately gorgeous, with its model-handsome actors, designer costumes and career-high lensing by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. It’s also a film that presents two worlds—one real, one fictitious—in which people are compulsively, perhaps inevitably, driven to do horrible things to one another. A revenge movie that features only imagined violence, Nocturnal Animals is all the more uneasy for having a male “hero” who seeks to mentally brutalize its heroine. This one feels personal for the filmmaker, a bundle of ways to explore multiple anxieties: creative stagnation and infidelity; familial responsibilities and loss of control; fear of failure and rejection. Each story thread comes with a different kind of dread—though all of them are unified in their investigation of toxic masculinity. Male anger and resentment drive this savage tale, a thriller as gripping as it is stomach-churningly frank. —Brogan Morris


33. Kubo and the Two Strings
Year: 2016
Director: Travis Knight
Most parents give their kids a curfew, but most kids aren’t related to kabuki-masked wraiths and heartless lunar gods who want to murder them, either. Seems like good incentive for Kubo (Art Parkinson) to listen to his mother, which he does until he doesn’t. The minute he breaks mom’s number one rule, Kubo endures the world’s most unfortunate family reunion and undertakes the quest for his birthright, guarded along the way by an ill-tempered monkey and a flaky man-beetle-warrior, named, respectively, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Yes, fine, Kubo and the Two Strings doesn’t go deep in the tank for character names. Big deal. The film funnels imagination into an Erlenmeyer flask where narrative reacts with aesthetic. It’s a stunningly rendered adventure that treats style and substance as one and the same.—Andy Crump


32. Captain Fantastic
Year: 2016
Director: Matt Ross
In the opening scene of Captain Fantastic, we’re introduced to what looks like a feral clan headed by Ben (Viggo Mortensen). But even the youngest of Ben’s six children can quote the nation’s founding documents and opine on the views of “Uncle” Noam Chomsky, as well as defend themselves from an armed attacker. Ben and Leslie have taken their kids to live in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, part of an experiment to raise philosopher kings. But his wife is manic depressive and commits suicide before we ever meet her character. In the wake of her death, Ben must confront the world he’s left behind and decide what kind of life is really best for his family. Writer-director Matt Ross (who plays Gavin Belson on Silicon Valley) has created an original story that is sweet, sad, funny and full of openhearted joy—the kind of Sundance movie that will play well with a wider audience. Even if the lifestyle and views are unfamiliar to some, parents will recognize the honest look at the positive and negative effects we have on our children and the pressures to conform to others’ expectations.—Josh Jackson


31. Moana
Year: 2016
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
During the initial meeting between the title character of Disney’s latest animated effort and the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson), Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) protests that she is not a princess. His response? “If you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” By the time the closing credits roll, the audience has the answer to this particular dispute—they are both right. Moana both embraces and transcends the traditional—and by that, I mean, Disney-fied—“princess film.” After all, dress and sidekick aside, as the daughter and heir of a tribal chief, Moana is, inescapably, a princess. But that does not mean she’s a “Disney princess.” Moana may not be the first film from the House of Mouse to celebrate the grit, will and perseverance of a female lead, but it is the first to fully shed the less inspiring baggage of the traditional princess crew. This particular Hero’s Journey comes refreshingly free of male love interest, and Moana’s success or failure rests squarely on her shoulders. The visual rendering is as lush and rich as its subtext, and the music is everything one hopes from Lin-Manuel Miranda. But ultimately, it’s the blend of character and quest—infused throughout with an overriding warmth—that makes Moana impossible to resist.—Andy Crump


30. Captain America: Civil War
Year: 2016
Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo
In my review of the first Avengers movie, I said Joss Whedon’s blockbuster represented “the most complete manifestation of the superhero team aesthetic yet seen on film.” Four years later, we have a new champion in the category of “best team film.” The way in which Captain America: Civil War brings together a dozen or so heroes, sorts them into not one but two teams and then flings them at each other is its own special delight for comic book fans long accustomed to such things on the printed or digital page. Civil War maintains the same balance of action and significant (if brief) character development/interaction that made Winter Soldier so enjoyable. The fight and chase scenes are frenetic without being confusing, while the comic relief, mostly supplied by our bug-themed heroes, provides a Whedon-flavored lightening of the otherwise dark proceedings. If one thinks of the each MCU film as a juggling act—and each hero’s origin, “flavor” and power set as its own subset of items that must be kept in motion and in proper relation with each other—then as a series both Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War can be seen as an escalation of the routine that’s as impressive as it is necessary. After all, with each additional hero added, with each additional demand placed on the script in both action and dialogue, Kevin Feige and company are building toward Infinity.—Michael Burgin


29. Hacksaw Ridge
Year: 2016
Director: Mel Gibson 
“There’s little reason to doubt that Gibson and screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight respect Doss’ thou-shalt-not-kill position. One key line finds Captain Oliver (Sam Worthington) explaining to Doss that while his compatriots don’t believe what he believes, they respect him for it. There’s enough to figuring out the nature of that belief that it warrants a deeper exploration. We know fear of punishment isn’t guiding Doss. And it’s unlikely that he believes in the relativity of his approach. But we wonder to what extent his refusal to kill is rooted in the fear of living with guilt or if it’s simply a matter of believing that it’s immoral by God’s will. If it’s the latter, it’s tough to reconcile his position with his willingness to fight alongside those who are taking lives.”—Anthony Salveggi


28. The Nice Guys
Year: 2016
Director: Shane Black
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


27. Men & Chicken
Year: 2016
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Men & Chicken’s restrained weirdness and dolorous tone make an unexpectedly potent stage for courting laughs. Those laughs are the kind that are liable to catch in a person’s throat—you may feel an urgent need to take a shower when it’s all over. Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) are a sibling duo who discover, after the death of their elderly father, that they are adopted. Shocking. More shocking still: They have the same dad, but different mothers. Gabriel determines to seek out their sire, a geneticist who dedicated his career to stem cell research, and begrudgingly brings along the unruly and forcible Elias. Their journey takes them to a sparsely populated island forgotten by time, whereupon they find that they have three half brothers who share dominion of the crumbling manse they call home with free-range livestock. To call them uncivilized would be an understatement. After Men & Chicken makes its rowdy family reunion, the film turns into an existential tragedy marked by gallows humor. It’s funny but also achingly sad. There is a merry, revolting spirit at play here, but that spirit is trumped by Anders Thomas Jensen’s tale of fractured heritage. At the center of Men & Chicken’s domestic gloom and squirm-inducing indelicacy stands Mikkelsen—a veteran screen talent long past the point of having to prove himself, and yet his performance as Elias is damn near revelatory all the same. Elias is the glue that holds the film’s wistfulness and crassness together, a stubborn boor whose obstinacy is surpassed only by his love for Gabriel. Mikkelsen captures the man’s coarse, goofy soul perfectly, but his natural command as an actor gives his performance an authoritative underpinning. Funny business is nothing new to Mikkelsen, but his work here is enough to make you buy into the hyperbole: Maybe we really haven’t seem him like this.—Andy Crump


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


25. Miss Sharon Jones!
Year: 2016
Director: Barbara Kopple
In 2013, Sharon Jones was diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer—in itself a depressing development, but not without a lot of optimism attached to the prognosis. Except for a by-the-book opening segment, in which director Barbara Kopple seems to grind through all of her blandest tendencies to make room for the grist of what’s important, the film filters Jones’s life and career through her illness. We meet Jones’s band, the Dap-Kings, through that lens, getting to know each musician in light of how their friend’s illness has unfortunately affected their livelihoods. When band practices are occupied by 10+ people sitting patiently in a room waiting for Jones to get back into her groove or helping the singer remember the lyrics to her songs, Kopple’s film is heartbreaking, walking that tragic line between hopelessness and optimism, encapsulating so clearly what it’s like to be close to someone who’s so sick. But the real thrill of Miss Sharon Jones! is in its concert footage, Kopple letting Jones’s performances, old and new, suffice as the best testament to the singer’s power and—unbeknonwst to anyone at the time, though the thought must have crossed their minds incessantly—the most immediate eulogy we’ve got. If you ever had the chance to behold her on stage, then you know how exhilarating she could be. If you didn’t? Despite recent tragedy, Kopple has some seriously life-affirming stuff you need to see.—Dominic Sinacola


24. Operation Avalanche
Year: 2016
Director: Matt Johnson
In Operation Avalanche, Canadian Matt Johnson plays American Matt Johnson, a CIA agent who talks his way into an undercover gig at NASA, posing as a documentary filmmaker to report back to the CIA Director the space agency’s progress on getting an astronaut onto the Moon. When Johnson discovers that NASA is too far behind technologically to beat the Soviets to the surface of the lunar rock, he concocts a plan to fake the landing, drawing inspiration from both Georges Méliès and Stanley Kubrick. Shot as a handheld, faux-documentary glimpse into the long process of what it could believably take to accomplish such a monster ruse, the film balks at a requisite need to ever settle on one genre, skirting a (really funny) buddy comedy, light procedural and bureaucratic farce before devolving seamlessly into bleak territory—though not after an electrifying car chase shot with a budget that’d make the Duplass brothers cry—and winding down to a smirking, if nihilistic, note. That Johnson and his crew actually snuck into a NASA facility by posing as a documentary film crew fits perfectly within Operation Avalanche’s opinion of how America writes its history: Ambition, not idealism, will always win in the end.—Dominic Sinacola


23. Hell or High Water
Year: 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
The film builds up to a finale that thankfully goes not for a mindlessly violent showdown, but for a tension-filled dialogue-based confrontation which plays like a meeting of minds between characters who have more sympathy toward each other than they perhaps realized. Even as two of the main characters reach a kind of truce, however, Mackenzie comes up with an even more devastating image with which to end his film: He simply moves the camera from high in the air down to a batch of grass. It’s as if Mackenzie wanted to contextualize these human dramas for us—we all end up in the ground, ultimately. Here, in Hell or High Water, is a sterling example of genre craftsmanship at its intelligent and unexpectedly affecting best. —Kenji Fujishima


22. The Fits
Year: 2016
Director: Anna Rose Holmer
It’s not difficult to imagine a different cut of Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits that hews closer to the arc of a traditional sports story. Hers has the makings of a familiar one, of a misfit who wants more than anything to compete—but unlike most stories of inspirational audacity, The Fits is as much about discomfort as the catharsis that comes with achievement. In it, Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old who has more experience with stereotypically male pursuits like lifting weights and punching speed bags than the usual interests of a pre-teen girl. She spends nearly all of her time at the Lincoln Recreation Center alongside her boxer brother, Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), pushing her body to the limit. While she shows a remarkable aptitude for the ascetical devotion required for boxing, she still dreams about competing on the dance team, “The Lincoln Lionesses.” Framed with a rigid sense of space by cinematographer Paul Yee, and backed by the groaning score from veteran composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, The Fits is infused with such dread that one can’t help but imagine that characters’ muscles and bones could break or shatter at any moment. The film’s most explicit example of which may be Toni pulling off a temporary tattoo, but The Fits is firmly a story of metaphysical body horror, an allegory about our greatest fears of physical fragility shot brilliantly through a feminist lens. With that, the film manages to reinvent the sports story as something both brainy and physically pure.—Michael Snydel


21. The Witch
Year: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers
From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus. The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered.—Dom Sinacola


20. Green Room
Year: 2016
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years.—Kenji Fujishima


19. Sing Street
Year: 2016
Director: John Carney
Sing Street spins art out of history, but you might mistake it for pop sensationalism at first glance. If so, you’re forgiven. In sharp contrast to John Carney’s breakout movie, 2007’s sterling adult musical Onceegin Again, Sing Street aims to please crowds and overburden tear ducts. There’s a sugary surface buoyancy to the film that helps the darkness clouding beneath its exterior go down more easily. Here, look at the plot synopsis: A teenage boy living in Dublin’s inner city in 1985 moves to a new school, falls in love with a girl, and forms a band for the sole purpose of winning her over. If the period Carney uses as his storytelling backdrop doesn’t make Sing Street an ’80s movie, then the mechanics of its story certainly do. You may walk into the film expecting to be delighted and amused. The film won’t let you down in either regard, but it’ll rob you of your breath, too.—Andy Crump


18. Last Days in the Desert
Year: 2016
Director: Rodrigo García
In one of the most controversial scenes in Martin Scorsese’s landmark examination of the duality of flesh and spirit, The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus (Willem Dafoe) speaks to Judas (Harvey Keitel) after addressing a fanatical crowd out for blood. He says, “I wanted to kill them, but out came the word, ‘love’.” It’s a moment that’s been decried as blasphemy by some, but for others it’s one of the greatest cinematic moments showing how a Christ figure reveals his limits. It’s hard to be a god, or at least that’s what film has shown us for decades amidst various interpretations of Jesus moping, questioning his own capacity for sin, for decency and for having to shoulder the weight of the sins of our fathers. Rodrigo García’s Last Days in the Desert is yet another exploration of the antagonistic relationship between temptation and some kind of ultimate good, and it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to imagine that it takes Scorsese’s infamous scene as a thematic foundation of sorts. Granted, García’s vision is anything but transgressive, even if The Last Temptation of Christ is practically dogmatic compared to the spiritual endurance test imagined by Last Days in the Desert. But both interpretations have a refreshing openness to the purpose behind worshipping a God who demands so much pain and suffering, as well as to an equally flexible view of the Devil. Though García’s film isn’t a new perspective, that doesn’t mean it’s not moving, especially in bringing out the loneliness underlying the messiah complex. And while so many interpretations of Jesus life are so explicitly concerned with underlining his superhuman resilience, Last Days in the Desert is a meditation about the moments between all that suffering. —Michael Snydel


17. Cemetery of Splendor
Year: 2016
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Deep into the enchanting Cemetery of Splendor, an assortment of fit-looking bodies get up, sit down, join one another, walk away, split apart, ride bikes and trade seats, all without reason but obviously with rhyme, as if, as a viewer, you’ve stumbled upon a reel of background footage with the film’s main action cut out. Soon after, a sparkling shot of blue sky is calmly violated by a giant amoeba—or not, because maybe the amoeba is normal size, because the perspective isn’t clarified. And soon after that, a woman (Jenjira Pongpas) rises from an unperturbed nap, unsure if she’s found her way out of the labyrinth of her dreams, or if she’s only woken into another level of subconscious surreality. Meanwhile, a hospital of soldiers afflicted with a mysterious sleeping sickness, who rest indefinitely under glass tubes used as part of an ill-defined light therapy, rests indefinitely upon a sacred burial ground. At least that’s what the modern manifestation of god-like princesses, come to life resembling the statues at the woman’s favorite shrine, tell her. Such is the stuff of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s typical filmmaking fodder, the Thai director not so much doing something radically different with Cemetery of Splendor as just laying one more layer of fantasy upon his oeuvre, waiting with clairvoyant patience to see if his characters, and by extension his viewers, will ever wake up—or if they even want to. —D.S.


16. Elle
Year: 2016
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Beginning with a rape scene, Elle is the latest nasty bit of business from director Paul Verhoeven. It’s also one of his greatest films, exploring how the assaulted woman (Isabelle Huppert) decides to turn the tables on her attacker. Darkly funny but also very astute about our predatory, sensation-driven culture, this thriller upends societal hypocrisies—in particular, how we all like to pretend we’re nice, normal people with no kinks at all—and gives Huppert one of her best roles in the process. As the head of a videogame company that happily peddles gory, shoot-’em-up games, she’s a lethal, amoral businesswoman whose personal tragedy doesn’t cause her to even bat an eye.—Tim Grierson


15. Swiss Army Man
Year: 2016
Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
It should be ridiculous, this. A buddy comedy built atop the premise of a man (Paul Dano) lugging around, and bonding with, a flatulent talking corpse (Daniel Radcliffe)—but cinema is a medium in which miracles are possible, and one such miracle occurs in Swiss Army Man. A film with such a seemingly unpalatable concept becomes, against all odds, a near-profound existential meditation. And, for all the increasingly absurd gags about the utilities of that talking corpse’s body—not just as a jet-ski propelled by bodily gas, but as a giver of fresh water through projectile vomiting and even as a compass through its erection—there’s not one iota of distancing irony to be found in the film. Directors Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan are absolutely serious in their attempts to not only re-examine some of the most universal of human experiences, but also explore the idea of a life lived without limits, casting off the shackles of societal constraints and realizing one’s best self. It’s a freedom that the Daniels project exuberantly into the film itself: Swiss Army Man is a work that feels positively lawless. Witness with amazement what bizarrely heartfelt splendors its creators will come up with next.—Kenji Fujishima


14. Jackie
Year: 2016
Director: Pablo Larraín
It’s difficult to remember where Jackie begins, and where it ends. Even minutes after leaving it, the moments that open the film and the moments that close it exist as diffuse notions rather than solid, plot-shrouded happenings. We understand that, barely a week after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, a conversation between Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) and Life journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup, smugly zombified) frames the film, tacks it to some semblance of spacetime—but the rest of Pablo Larraín’s biopic operates liminally. This, most of all, the Chilean director understands: If the film is about grief, then the film must act as grief acts. Unmoored and aimless, Jackie acts like a bad dream. Of course, the black hole at the core of Jackie is the assassination, rendered in one graphic image Larraín treats fairly. Throughout, the film hovers around the rim of this moment, and for much of Jackie’s running time, that moment seems like it will never come. When it does, though, it’s a relief we never realized we needed. Portman as Jackie pushes against the film’s reveal of that tragic split-second, and the film pushes too, and at times you want the film to stop pushing so much. This is grief, Larraín beautifully says—it is exhausting and relentless and dull, and, most of all, selfish. Sorry the movie is that way too.—Dominic Sinacola


13. Krisha
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Year: 2016
You’ve seen the plot of Krisha before: self-destructive woman with a drinking problem goes to a family gathering supposedly having made strides in putting her life back together, but finds the tensions that arise testing her resolve to not go back to the bottle. Jonathan Demme explored similar territory in his 2008 film Rachel Getting Married, and Trey Edward Shults’ debut film does have a similar looseness to it, a feeling that anything can happen at any time. That, however, is where the similarities end. Whereas Demme’s film was warmly observational, Shults’ film aims for an expressionism that imaginatively uses formal elements to invite us into the titular main character’s fractured psyche. Krisha could be seen as cinematic family therapy: Shults’ way of dealing with what was apparently a troubled home life. But you don’t need to know all that to appreciate the passion he brought to this project. One can sense it in the film’s long takes and still setups, in the alternation between montages of unnerving chaos and lengthy scenes of shattering solitude. Krisha does more than announce a potentially major new talent; it shakes new, and tragically devastating, energy into the dysfunctional family drama.—Kenji Fujimura


12. The Handmaiden
Year: 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Park Chan-wook has evolved beyond the grimier, nerve-bending interests of his earlier pictures and has chosen to put greater emphasis on sex, mystery and subverting the trope of feminine subservience. Oddly, his shift in focus doesn’t noticeably impact his storytelling formula, and if The Handmaiden lacks graphic depictions of slashed Achilles tendons and improvised dentistry, it is by no means tame: Orthodontic brutality has been replaced by psychological brutality. The latter is a familiar instrument in Park’s toolbox that he historically prioritizes below physical anguish, but The Handmaiden favors the shock of abuse to the shock of violence, to say nothing of its scenes of sexual abandon. In our American cultural context, The Handmaiden’s open carnality feels like a hand grenade of provocation in our normal pop diet of stabbings and shootings.—Andy Crump


11. Love & Friendship
Year: 2016
Director: Whit Stillman
The title of Whit Stillman’s latest comedy may be Love & Friendship, but while both are certainly present in the film, other, more negative qualities also abound: deception, manipulation, even outright hatred. Underneath its elegant period-picture surface—most obviously evident in Benjamin Esdraffo’s Baroque-style orchestral score and Louise Matthew’s ornate art direction—lies a darker vision of humanity that gives the film more of an ironic kick than one might have anticipated from the outset. Still, the humor in Love & Friendship is hardly of the misanthropic sort. As always with Stillman, his view of the foibles of the bourgeois is unsparing yet ultimately empathetic. Which means that, even as Stillman works his way toward a happy ending of sorts, the film leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste—which is probably as it should be. Such honesty has always been a hallmark of Stillman’s cinema, and even if Love & Friendship feels like more of a confection than his other films, that frankness, thankfully, still remains.—Kenji Fujishima


10. Knight of Cups
Year: 2016
Director: Terrence Malick 
Regardless of how successfully the film explores the once-elusive director’s recently obsessive, less universal themes like the banality of excess, Knight of Cups delivers on all things Terrence Malick. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, who’s shot Malick’s last four projects and in February picked up his third Oscar, opulently embosses the sterile vacuum of high-living in L.A. One of the film’s most gratifying sequences has a dog underwater in a pool trying to retrieve an eerily elusive tennis ball—you half expect “Scarborough Fair” to queue up on the soundtrack. But what ultimately elevates Knight of Cups above Malick’s last film, To the Wonder, are the performances. Wonder was left too much in the hands of Ben Affleck, an actor not known for physical emoting. The ability to convey much while saying little is a rather crucial trait for any actor serving as the protagonist in a Malick film, as they remain largely silent in the present action while other players provide voiceovers explaining in teasing, arcane wisps the backstory and dilemma du jour. Bale, so quirky and masterful in films like The Fighter and The Big Short, has much greater carrying capacity (for lack of a better phrase) than Affleck, and he’s blessed with a talented supporting ensemble. (The cast list has everyone from Fabio to Antonio Banderas in it.) His Rick is far less appealing than Affleck’s homeboy, but Knight of Cups in turn carries infinitely greater wonderment. —Tom Meek


9. Everybody Wants Some!!
Year: 2016
Director: Richard Linklater 
Everybody Wants Some!! is intended to play like a spiritual companion piece to Linklater’s ’70s-era Dazed and Confused, with the writer/director reveling in his turn-of-the-decade’s style and swagger. Big lapels, bigger hair, even bigger facial hair and outright enormous egos are the norm throughout this nostalgic saga. Boasting little in the way of plot, Linklater’s film is content to sidle up alongside Jake and his new friends to see where their appetites, whims and libidos will lead. And its laid-back vibe pays dividends as it progresses, given that one-note characters who initially appeared to be smug louts, hyper-gonzo wild cards, dim-bulb doofuses or inane hillbillies slowly develop semi-distinct personalities of their own. Their days devoted to slacking off, their nights spent trimming mustaches and dousing themselves in cologne before hitting the town in search of the next woman to bed, Linklater’s play-hard-and-party-harder characters are the embodiment of cocksure macho vitality, all of them rightly convinced that, at least for the moment, they have the world by the balls. But there’s also some requisite team-based hazing thrown in for good measure, which feels like an authentic representation of what dudes like this would be up to—and, consequently, serves as a buzzkill reminder of their fundamentally dude-bro nature.—Nick Schager


8. Mustang
Year: 2016
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Imagine the unimaginable: One moment you’re out enjoying a beautiful, sunny day with your friends and your sisters, and the next, your grandmother is slapping you silly for having inappropriate contact with boys. Everything else snowballs from there: You’re whisked off to the doctor for a virginity test, your personal possessions are shut up in a cupboard (along with the telephones), the doors are kept locked and contractors come to reinforce the house you live in with your family, turning it into an improvised prison-cum-wife factory for you and your untamed siblings. Such is the stuff of Mustang, the debut film of Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Mustang is her neorealist chronicle of femininity bound against its will to draconian gender politics. From start to finish, the film crackles with gelid fury. Ergüven doesn’t tip the outrage scale into histrionics, but she doesn’t need to. We can sense exactly how pissed off she is behind the lens.—Andy Crump


7. Arrival
Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
“You can engage with Arrival for its text, which is powerful, striking, emotive and, most of all, abidingly compassionate. You can also engage with it for its subtext, should you actually look for it. This is, perhaps, the best-made movie in Villeneuve’s filmography to date, a robust but delicate work captured in stunning, calculated detail by cinematographer Bradford Young, and guided by Adams’ stellar work as Louise. Adams is a chameleonic actress of immense talent, and Arrival lets her wear each of her various camouflages over the course of its duration. She sweats, she cries, she bleeds, she struggles, and so much more that can’t be said here without giving away the film’s most awesome treasures. She also represents humankind with more dignity and grace than any other modern actor possibly could. If aliens do ever land on Earth, maybe we should just send her to greet them.”—Andy Crump


6. The Lobster
Year: 2016
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
The Lobster presents a baffling vision of the future, where baffling people do baffling things and obey baffling laws. But through all the movie’s idiosyncrasies shines a beautiful and devastating examination of the human condition. Co-writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) creates a vivid reality and trusts the audience to put the pieces together and deduce the rules of this strange society. Colin Farrell plays a newly single man who checks into a resort hotel/prison where he must find a mate within 45 days or be turned into an animal. In this future, conversation has become mechanical and stilted, but that doesn’t stop the cast—especially Farrell and Rachel Weisz—from communicating a great deal of emotions through their mannered performances.—Tim Grierson


5. Silence
Year: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese 
The title of Martin Scorsese’s latest is loaded, at once a reference to God’s tendency not to reply to the pleas and appeals of followers, a nod to the culture of secrecy maintained by Japanese Christians during Japan’s Edo period and an acknowledgment of the state you’ll be left in after watching. Silence isn’t an easy moviegoing experience—it isn’t an easy conversation point, either, but that’s because it shouldn’t be. Scorsese knows it. Most likely Shusaku Endo, the author of the text from which Scorsese adapted his film (and had sought to adapt since the 1990s), knew it too. Who is innocent in Silence? Who is guilty? If we can rule out Japanese villagers put to death for their beliefs, and we certainly can, then that leaves culpability at the feet of their spiritual and bureaucratic leaders, both at odds with one another while the faithful remain suffering between them as priests and politicos treat them as fodder for proving the illegitimacy of their opponents’ belief structures. The film’s complexity is expected from Scorsese, one of the greatest living filmmakers of our time, but it’s also a reinvention in style, a picture that both feels totally unlike anything he’s shot before and cannot be mistaken as anyone’s but his.—Andy Crump


4. Loving
Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Nichols
How well you like Jeff Nichols’ Loving, his second motion picture on 2016’s release slate, will partially depend on what you look for in courtroom dramas. If you prefer judicial sagas made with potboiling slickness and little else, you’ll probably like Loving less than Nichols likes filming landmark legal proceedings. His film isn’t about the case of Loving v. Virginia as much as its two plaintiffs, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter Loving (Ruth Negga), the married couple at the center of the 1967 civil rights victory over the United States’ anti-miscegenation laws. As an effect of Nichols’ focal point, the movie speaks little to no lawyer jargon and takes place almost entirely outside of the court rather than within. So if you’re sick to death of courtroom dramas that insist on pantomime, and if you think those kinds of stories demand more restraint, then you’ll probably dig on Loving. It so studiously avoids the clichés of its genre that it feels fresh, original, a completely new idea based on a very old, very formulaic one. It’s a disciplined, handsome, unfailingly serious screen reproduction of an important real-life moment in the nation’s ongoing fight for civil rights; it’s hitting theaters at a time when we’re still having cultural arguments about who gets to marry; and it’s directed by one of the critical darlings of contemporary cinema. This is the kind of anti-prestige movie critics yearn for, a product stripped away of non-artistic pretensions and ambitions, leaving only the art.—Andy Crump


3. Manchester by the Sea
Year: 2016
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
“If TIFF 2016 provided one of the most purely joyous cinematic experiences in recent memory in La La Land, it was in Manchester by the Sea that it provided one of the most emotionally devastating. Casey Affleck, one of our most underrated actors, gives perhaps the performance of his life, and Michelle Williams is affecting enough even in this tiny role that there are award whispers for her as well. I think it was Blue Valentine that last left me feeling so despondent at the end of a film. But in Kenneth Lonergan’s unflinching, sympathetic gaze, there’s a nobility as well.”—Michael Dunaway


2. American Honey
Year: 2016
Director: Andrea Arnold
Utterly absorbing and intensely moving, writer-director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is one of those big, bold, swing-for-the-fences societal portraits that few filmmakers dare attempt. There’s good reason: Try for a definitive snapshot of a country or a generation, and you risk overreaching or succumbing to pretension. Running nearly three hours, American Honey doesn’t let those concerns get in its way, and the result is the sort of electric audacity that paves over the movie’s occasional wobbles. With Red Road and Fish Tank, Arnold has looked closely at poverty, youth and desperation in her native England. With American Honey, she turns her attention to the United States, and what she finds is a vibrant, troubled, mesmerizing land.—Tim Grierson


1. Moonlight
Year: 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
“Told in three segments, Moonlight is a devastating and moving portrait of a young life that asks us to engage in the nature-versus-nurture debate all over again. Played by three actors, Chiron is an African American growing up in Tampa as a child, a teenager and then in his 20s, and writer-director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) charts the different ages to see how questions of sexuality, racism and masculinity influence him at each stage. Naomie Harris astonishes as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother, and Mahershala Ali is a marvel as a local dealer who decides to take Chiron under his wing. Moonlight slowly becomes a love story, but not before it encompasses a very different kind of Boyhood: one in which a black child’s upbringing can be threatened by external and internal forces that others are privileged enough to ignore.”—Tim Grierson

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