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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Go and HBO Now (August 2017)

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HBO’s lineup continues to refresh with as many great films continuously added as those that are expiring—including several on this list, like Rushmore, The Nice Guys and Broadcast, all gone at the end of August. So, to help make sure you get the most out of your subscription this month, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO in August, ranging from Oscar-buzzed dramas to classic comedies and insightful documentaries, from classic dark comedies like The Big Lebowski to more recent and underseen gems like Sully and Loving, which was one of our favorite movies from 2016. No matter your tastes, there’s a great movie waiting for you on HBO GO or HBO Now.

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

Here are the 50 best movies on HBO in August 2017:

50. The Secret Life of Bees
Year: 2008
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
The big-screen adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s bestseller The Secret Life of Bees is commendable not because of what it is, exactly, but what it refuses to be. It is sentimental, but not overly melodramatic. It is sincere, but not necessarily corny. Bees is a fantastical tale that typifies a time of grim realities, filled with strong performances that (mostly) sidestep theatrics and clichés. Dakota Fanning plays Lily Owens, a young girl who flees from her abusive father (Paul Bettany) alongside her housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) in 1964 Civil Rights-era South Carolina. Lily’s pining to be closer to her deceased mother brings her to the doorsteps of the Pepto-Bismol-colored home of the three beekeeping, honey-harvesting Boatwright sisters: August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). For a movie filled with “big” plot developments, the film thrives on its quieter moments, thanks to the acumen of writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Its emotional climax comes from a straightforward scene where Lily and August thumb through a box of her mother’s possessions: a shiny, whale-shaped pin; a brush with strands of hair still caught in its bristles; a black-and-white photograph of mother and daughter in a warm embrace. Fanning’s expressive, sky-blue eyes well up with gratitude, silently communicating more than an audible “thank you” ever could. —Jeremy Medina


49. Mystic River
Year: 2003
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Based on Dennis Lahane’s novel, Clint Eastwood’s dramatic mystery is packed with great performances from Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins and, especially, Sean Penn, who won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for leading actor. The Boston neighborhood where the characters live feels like a small town, where three childhood friends drift apart and find themselves at odds in the wake of a local murder.—Josh Jackson


48. The Normal Heart
Year: 2014
Director: Ryan Murphy 
Among HBO’s most prestigious—and star-studded—recent efforts is this 2014 adaptation of Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 stage play about the earliest, darkest days of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City. It’s also among the most necessary. Kramer adapted the teleplay, directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), which casts a brilliant Mark Ruffalo as Kramer’s onscreen alter ego, a gay writer who consults with a local doctor (Julia Roberts) about this mysterious, fatal new “cancer” that’s devastating the community and his inner circle of friends (portrayed by Jonathan Groff, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, all excellent). Just as devastating is the ignorance and inhumanity shrouding what was then viewed as a death sentence and, worse, a deserved retribution. Some 35 years after the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit critical mass, and in light of a generational complacency accompanying new medical breakthroughs like PrEP, The Normal Heart is a timely reminder of the physical, emotional and psychological ravages of the disease. Murphy and co. revisit a not-too-far-away era of fear, in which the basic function of breathing the same air—let alone holding someone’s hand—was a gesture of dangerous courage, and compassion. Though it obviously plays much differently four decades vs. four years after Kramer’s original play, the relevance is undeniable, as is his still-coursing anger at the systemic and individual indifference to those affected. Murphy dials down his own flourishes for a harrowing document that needs to be seen. —Amanda Schurr


47. Be Kind Rewind
Year: 2008
Director: Michel Gondry
When film critics snicker at directors who cut their teeth on music videos, the most convincing counterexample is the ever-inventive Michel Gondry, who uses visual flair not to tickle our lizard brains but to explore our dreams, whether romantic, melancholy or comic. Although filmmaker Gondry is best known for lush, dreamlike visual effects, he’s long indulged a fascination with low-tech effects in his short films, music videos and television commercials. He animated the White Stripes in Lego blocks, and even in The Science of Sleep, he accented the melancholy mood with construction paper and cotton balls. In that light, Be Kind Rewind may be the truest distillation of his fascination, because it hangs everything on an ephemeral love of do-it-yourself video making. The story is beyond ridiculous: Jerry (played by Jack Black at his silliest) lives in a trailer under a power plant. When the plant is struck by lightning he becomes magnetized and thereafter erases videotapes that come near him, which is pretty bad news for the VHS video store where he hangs out. To cover for the disaster of a store full of blank tapes, Jerry and store clerk Mike (Mos Def) hastily recreate popular movies like Ghostbusters with their own ancient video camera. Much to their surprise, the no-budget remakes become neighborhood favorites. But Gondry seems to stumble like a fox from this paper-thin plot into a precious little ode to community that seems both touching and sincere. —Robert Davis


46. Sully
Year: 2016
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Clint Eastwood’s film is a meticulous recounting of the actions of Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), best known as the pilot who saved the lives of an entire passenger plane on January 15, 2009 when he miraculously landed in the Hudson. An unambiguously heroic story starring one of the most likable movie stars in the world, Sully could easily be viewed as a preemptive career move on Eastwood’s part after the controversies around American Sniper’s biographical whitewashing. Yet, the most radical thing about Sully is its apparent disinterest in presenting this story as a thriller. Beginning with a throttling dream sequence, Sully’s opening belies its intentions. A better encapsulation comes minutes later as Sully corrects an official who calls the incident a “crash.” “It was a forced water landing,” he says assertively in a line of dialogue that would be arrogant coming from any other actor, but feels ingratiating from Hanks. In other words, by mimicking the harmony of the real-life events, this is an anti-disaster film. Sully is foremost about control, harkening back to Howard Hawks films like Only Angels Have Wings in its exploration and admiration of the complexities of duty. Compared to Robert Zemeckis with Flight, Eastwood has no interest in telling a morality play; no missing clues or secret motives emerge in its final act. He lays out everything from the beginning. Part character study, primarily a courtroom drama, Sully is invested in the working gears of professionalism in extraordinary situations. —Michael Snydel


45. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Year: 2016
Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Is pop stardom fascism? Is the glitzy parade of egocentric personality-worship a distant cousin to dictatorship? Maybe not, but for one moment of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’s 80-minute duration we’re gulled into thinking these questions matter to a madcap, joke-a-second takedown of pop music and its overprivileged stewards: We glimpse the cover of the fictitious album that drives the film’s action by dint of sheer awfulness, and we see its star, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), positioned at its center, his hand held straight and aloft in an unwitting evocation of history’s greatest tyrant. It’s impossible to mistake the reference for anything other than what it is, but the gag is just one in Popstar’s comic artillery. Popstar marks the second time The Lonely Island has spun a feature out of whole cloth together, but it might be the film that they’ve been brewing in their minds since they began. Think of it as the culmination of their love for pop culture excess and slick, bumping production—as much as their love for the willfully absurd and the endlessly stupid, too. —Andy Crump


44. About a Boy
Year: 2002
Directors: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
No stranger to romantic comedies, Hugh Grant delivered perhaps his best performance ever in About a Boy, a different kind of rom-com. Through his relationship with a young teenager, Grant subtly transforms from notorious womanizer into, well, a man capable of loving the beautiful Rachel Weisz. Grant’s relationship with the boy is tender and thoughtful, much like the film itself.—Jeremy Medina


43. The Cider House Rules
Year: 1999
Director: Lasse Hallström
Lasse Hallström’s Oscar-winning adaptation of John Irving’s novel won Michael Caine his second Academy Award, for his moving portrayal of a WWII-era abortion doctor and de facto father to an orphanage of unwanted children. Tobey Maguire is among his charges, an apprentice who reluctantly discovers, under the stern but caring Caine, he has a gift for medicine—that is, before he meets Charlize Theron and decides to venture out into the world. As coming-of-age journeys go, Cider House Rules is as faithful to the tropes as it is provocative, thanks to a balanced if still hot-button dramatization of the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate—Irving also wrote the Oscar-winning screen adaptation. The drama’s refusal to shy away from the issue, set in an age when coat-hook procedures were the norm, polarized critics and viewers alike. Hallström gently presents both sides via the film’s characterizations, aided by a terrific supporting cast including Paul Rudd, Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu. Still, the film is largely, and lovingly, about a young man finding his way. —Amanda Schurr


42. Straight Outta Compton
Year: 2015
Director: F. Gary Gray
Originally, the idea of Hollywood turning the story of N.W.A.’s culture-shifting influence into a summertime biopic raised red flags. How can an industry with such a massive race gap tell N.W.A.’s history with the integrity and urgency it demands in 2015? How can a business that’s largely curated by whites do proper justice to a seminal rap album designed around critique of systemic injustice against black Americans? The message matters, and in Straight Outta Compton, the message remains surprisingly intact. The film has as many heroes and villains as it does human beings, with Ice Cube (portrayed by his son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) fulfilling the former parts, and Suge Knight (a wild-eyed R. Marcus Taylor) and Jerry Heller (an out-of-his-depth Paul Giamatti) the latter. In the middle, there’s Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), who spends the film fighting for his soul. When the movie revolves around the conception and birth of the album of the same name, it benefits enormously from the reduction in scope. Any time Gray’s principals get together in the same room, they engage with us effortlessly, sharing a relaxed, familiar chemistry with each other. All of them embody their respective roles so well they transcend playing parts and fully slip into their characters’ skins. But for all Straight Outta Compton’s better merits—notably performance and craftsmanship—biopic expectations flatten it into an altogether conventional work. If Gray’s efforts fall prey to genre formalities, at least he’s able to remind us of what N.W.A. accomplished by letting their accomplishments speak for themselves. —Andy Crump


41. M*A*S*H
Year: 1970
Director: Robert Altman
Considering that it became the basis of a beloved (and long-running) CBS sitcom, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary the original M*A*S*H film was at the time of its release. Certainly, more than 40 years after it first scandalized moviegoers, this 1970 black comedy about the exploits of a Korean War-era surgical hospital not only stands as one of the most subversive portraits of war ever put to film but also as one of the flat-out, most hilarious movies ever made. Boasting a script consisting almost entirely of improv, a major comedic set piece centered on a suicide attempt and the first utterance of the word “fuck” in a mainstream film, M*A*S*H redefined the American comedy and promptly secured director Robert Altman’s status as the ultimate actor’s director. —Mark Rozeman


40. Mavis!
Year: 2016
Director: Jessica Edwards
Mavis! celebrates the remarkable career of Mavis Staples, one that started when the woodsy-throated Chicagoan was only 16, backed on guitar by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and belting out the religious standard “Uncloudy Day.” Just as Greg Kot’s biography avoided the temptation to focus on scandal fodder, Jessica Edwards’ movie avoids the easy path of relying on celebrities to deliver on-camera testimonials about how terrific Mavis is. The filmmaker trusted that the audience could figure that out from the plentiful performance clips, so she only used talking-head interviews if the subjects had worked directly with Mavis and could advance the narrative. The result is one of the best music documentaries of this decade. The film includes the scene of Mavis receiving her first Grammy Award in 2011; she looked up overhead and said, “It’s all because of you, Pop, that I am here. You built the foundation, and I’m still working on the building.” The picture ends with Mavis and her recent producer Jeff Tweedy fleshing out Pops’ final recordings, which he left unfinished when he died in 2000. —Geoffrey Himes


39. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Year: 2002
Director: Joel Zwick
The little indie rom-com that could, Joel Zwick’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the surprise hit of 2002 thanks to a hilarious, loving portrayal of Greek-American culture that hadn’t been seen much on the big screen. Nia Vardalos plays Toula Portokalos, who to the consternation of her family, is engaged to a decidedly non-Greek man. The clash of cultures is at the center of this funny, sweet and original film based on Vardalos’ Oscar-nominated screenplay. —Josh Jackson


38. They Live
Year: 1988
Director: John Carpenter 
Like most of John Carpenter’s movies, They Live can be read however one pleases—they are, after all, mostly about pleasing you. A sharp commentary on consumerism carved gleefully with a dull knife, or maybe something closer to a concerned embrace of the bourgeois joys inherent in dumb violence, or maybe just a weird-ass sci-fi action movie with a weird-ass leading man: They Live is a joy to watch almost inherently. It’s as if Carpenter’s tapped into some sort of primordially aligned pleasure axis along your spine, giving you the tingles as he balances insight and idiocy throughout his tale about a drifter (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) who, with the help of magic sunglasses, discovers that the rich and powerful are just as grotesque as he’d always assumed. Every one of Carpenter’s odd plot choices click into place as if preordained, so that when Piper’s in a completely pointless, six-minute fight scene with Keith David, one can’t help but love that Carpenter’s in on the punchline with all of us, which just happens to be that there is no punchline. The fight scene exists for its own sake—as maybe much of They Live does. Carpenter’s a goddamn genius. —Dom Sinacola


37. The English Patient
Year: 1996
Director: Anthony Minghella
It wasn’t just Elaine Benes who thought that The English Patient was overrated and boring: Even at the time of its Oscar win, this period romantic epic was being criticized in some quarters for its self-consciously old-school sweep. To which its fans say, “Yeah, so?” A stellar “They don’t make ’em like this anymore” movie, filmmaker Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel starred Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas as the most poignantly star-crossed big-screen lovers since Ilsa walked backed into Rick’s life. Beautifully shot, sensitively acted, romantically overpowering, The English Patient is way, way better than Sack Lunch. —Tim Grierson


36. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Year: 1982
Director: Amy Heckerling
Ridgemont is what 1980s high school dreams are made of, and also taught us that history class always goes down better with a slice of pizza. The ultimate disciplinarian, the brilliantly named Mr. Hand runs his history class at Ridgemont High on “his” time. This doesn’t sit well with the perma-stoned Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn, who shows up late, orders pizza and doesn’t understand Hand’s stern demeanor. But not only does hand throw Spicoli out after he’s late and give his pizza out to the rest of the class, he shows up at his house and force-teaches him until he’s made up for all the time Spicoli wasted. And what better way to set the stage for some ’80s teenage hedonism than to lure us in with The Go-Gos blasting as our main characters troll the mall? —Ryan Bort


35. The Blair Witch Project
Year: 1999
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
Where Scream reinvented a genre by pulling the shades back to reveal the inner workings of horror, The Blair Witch Project went the opposite route by crafting a new style of presentation and especially promotion. Sure, people had already been doing found footage, just look at The Last Broadcast a year earlier. But this was the first to get a wide, theatrical release, and distributor Artisan Entertainment masterfully capitalized on the lack of information available on the film to execute a mysterious online advertising campaign in the blossoming days of the Internet age. Otherwise reasonable human beings seriously went into The Blair Witch Project believing that what they were seeing might be real, and the grainy, home movie aesthetic capture an innate terror of reality and “real people” that had not been seen in the horror genre before. It was also proof positive that a well-executed micro-budget indie film could become a massive box office success. So in that sense, The Blair Witch Project reinvented two different genres at the same time. —Jim Vorel


34. 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


33. Sixteen Candles
Year: 1984
Director: John Hughes
It’s the movie that made Molly Ringwald a star, and rightfully so: as Samantha, the everywoman whose parents forgot her birthday and whose crush doesn’t know she exists, she appeals to the angsty high-schooler yearning to be seen in all of us. Samantha’s undeniably middle-of-the-road—she’s not popular, but she’s not a geek; her home life is messy, but it’s not dysfunctional—and that gives her mass appeal, so much so that her story’s become sort of a modern fairy tale, the American Dream of teen romantic comedies. —Bonnie Stiernberg


32. The Blues Brothers
Year: 1981
Director: John Landis
For an intensely absurd, farcical comedy, The Blues Brothers is so much more sincere than one would ever expect it to be, both in its adoration of classic blues and R&B and the way it captured a moment in the life of the city of Chicago. Indeed, this John Landis classic lovingly shows off a Chicago that no longer exists in several instances, most notably the Maxwell Street Market, Chicago’s great open-air flea market where one could buy just about anything, legal or illegal, and also gave birth to both Chicago blues and the famed Maxwell Street Polish sausage before the city forcibly moved the market to make room for university housing among other things. It doesn’t try to put a shine on the city, showing both the high-rent (the Richard J. Daley Center) and the low (Elwood’s flophouse, numerous low-income neighborhoods) right alongside one another. This is just one of those films that completely changes the popular conception of a cityscape—if you go to Chicago, you will start picking out things from The Blues Brothers. Trying driving on Lower Wacker Drive without thinking about the Bluesmobile rocketing along and police cars smashing into one another in absurdly spectacular pile-ups. It can’t be done. It might be Chicago’s single most beloved cinematic representation. —Jim Vorel


31. Erin Brockovich
Year: 2000
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Julia Roberts teaches us what Brockovich taught PG&E in the early ‘90s: never, ever underestimate a single mother in a push-up bra. Erin Brockovich’s story reminds us that every injustice—no matter how small—deserves its own revolution.—Shannon M. Houston


30. Unbreakable
Year: 2000
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Unbreakable is probably Shyamalan’s best overall script, and I can’t help but think that’s linked to the fact that for once, the story isn’t completely tied to his typical themes of faith or his own personal experience. Rather, it’s more like a genre meditation, and the thing he’s considering is “the superhero film.” It’s ultimately a drama, and a good one, if somewhat morose. It never gets the chance to fully explore the ideas of what Bruce Willis’ character is capable of, but the way it handles the slow realization of his “powers” is both unsettling and mesmerizing, as is the casting of Sam L. Jackson. It’s a type of pseudo-superhero film that no one had ever made before, which earned Shyamalan points for having originality on his side—what would you do if you’d essentially drifted through your whole life, unaware of the depths of your potential? That’s the question Unbreakable asked, and it’s probably the only other “objectively good” film besides The Sixth Sense in the director’s filmography. —Jim Vorel


29. 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


28. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Year: 2015
Director: Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney’s up-close examination of Scientology, its practices and the controversies that surround the religion founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard is also a stirring portrait of eight former adherents, who tell their stories of how they came to practice Scientology and their reasons for leaving the church. While much of the ideological content in Gibney’s film has circulated on the Internet for years, there was still a number of items to be learned from watching the film and hearing from the men who made it. While Going Clear is part exposé and part condemnation of a controversial religion, director Gibney has said that he was most interested in “the journey of the key characters in the film”—and how people got lost in the ‘prison of belief.’” —Christine N. Ziemba


27. The Brothers Bloom
Year: 2009
Director: Rian Johnson
“He writes his cons the way dead Russians write novels”—this line from The Brothers Bloom not only illustrates the skills of schemer Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), but it also perfectly describes director Rian Johnson’s gift for constructing neo-noir masterpieces that manipulate the emotions of his audiences with enthralling grift. Featuring a cast that can do no wrong, Brothers Bloom stars Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as a pair of fraternal conmen who mark an eccentric heiress—the magnetic Rachel Weisz—for her fortune. After crafting an entire language of hard-boiled vernacular in his jarring debut, Brick, Johnson makes a more approachable film along a syncopated rhythm of saturated camera pans and clever plot beats. But Ruffalo, Brody and Weisz don’t rest on plot twists and double crosses alone; their melancholic and moving characterization dominates the film as much as the sleight-of-hand on the main stage. A near-perfect symphony of intellect and entertainment, The Brothers Bloom forms one the most memorable cinematic families this side of the Tenenbaums. —Sean Edgar


26. Slumdog Millionaire
Year: 2008
Director: Danny Boyle 
Twelve films and twice that many years into his career, Danny Boyle has one of the most varied filmographies of any director working today: from the dark thriller Shallow Grave, to the stylish druggie movie Trainspotting, the post-apocalyptic zombie favorite 28 Days Later, the feel-good family film Millions, the ambitious sci-fi of Sunshine and this surprise hit Slumdog Millionaire. No matter the genre, story or visual style, the director conveys an enthusiasm for his characters, and for moviemaking itself. Boyle is a true master, full of surprise and delight, and characteristically, Slumdog is a mishmash of genres: game show, mystery, biographical epic, thriller, Bollywood musical. It’s wildly eclectic and manically energetic. If you’re looking for a distillation of much that is great about Boyle as a director, his Oscar champion, featuring a young Dev Patel, is not the worst place to start. —Michael Dunaway


25. Cape Fear
Year: 1991
Director: Martin Scorsese 
Robert DeNiro has proven he can go to some dark places with his characters, and few are darker, or creepier, than Max Cady. Cady is out of prison for most of the film, but the scenes of his tattooed torso and disturbing collection of books and pictures inside prison are where we truly get a sense of just how demented he’s become. Once released, he relentlessly, and for the most part, legally, torments the family of Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who went out of his way to make sure Cady served as long of a sentence as possible. Martin Scorsese proved he was as adept at psychological horror as he was with any other genre the master has tackled. —Ryan Bort


24. Minority Report
Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Spielberg sticks to Northern Virginia for his brilliant Minority Report, an unusually dark and thoughtful thriller for the director. Spielberg is, at heart, a moralistic filmmaker, but the issues he plumbs here are perhaps more timely than ever: the erosion of liberty in favor of security, the slow evaporation of any protective layer of personal privacy. Janusz Kami?ski’s shadowy, desaturated light imbues the film with a noir-ish atmosphere, harking back to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and even Alien as smart sci-fi forebears with immediately immersive worlds. Backdrops, D.C. and its Virginia suburbs serve to flatten the film with a stale, bureaucratic air, even in a digitally created, retro sci-fi future. You try spending three hours in Springfield or Fairfax and see if you wouldn’t trade it in for the exciting life of a Precog. —Corey Beasley


23. The Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Featuring great performances by Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, along with a legitimately chilling atmosphere, The Sixth Sense was nothing short of a phenomenon when it hit multiplexes in 1999. Critical examination aside, it really is a truly frightening film, from the scene where Cole is locked in a box with an abusive ghost to the little moments—I always found the scene where all the kitchen cabinets and drawers open at once while off-screen to be particularly effective and creepy. For better or worse, though, this is the defining film of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, and its success was a double-edged sword. It bestowed the “brilliant young director” label on him, but also pigeonholed his personal style as a writer to the extent that his next five features at least were all reshaped by the aftershocks of The Sixth Sense. Rarely has the danger of success been so clearly illustrated for an artist—Shyamalan crafted a great, effective, scary film that still holds up today, and then spent most of the next decade chasing that same accomplishment with rapidly diminishing returns that have only recently been rehabilitated with the likes of Split. —Jim Vorel


22. Solaris
Year: 2002
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Probably unfairly maligned for remaking Andrei Tarkovsky’s monolithic sci-fi masterpiece, Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is a different kind of experience entirely. Drawing equally from Stanislaw Lem’s novel and from Tarkovsky’s whole “sculpting in time” aesthetic, Soderbergh crafted a hybrid that should be considered a benchmark for what our modern reboot can attempt to capture when paying due to the medium’s masters. Focusing almost methodically on the dissolution and subsequent suicide of Chris Kelvin’s (George Clooney) wife, Reia (Natasha McElhone), as the quantum power behind the arrival of “Visitors”—living, physical manifestations of the memories of the people subjected to the strange power of Solaris, the planet around which the film orbits—Soderbergh’s vision both attempts to unpack the science Tarkovsky would rather avoid, while muddying the moral trajectory of the man at the heart of the phantasmagoria. The film’s special effects are at times breathtaking, and Cliff Martinez’s score finds a sweet spot between dread and majesty, but, while both films end in similarly liminal places, Soderbergh’s finds visceral melancholy where Tarkovsky discovered endless philosophical space. —Dom Sinacola


21. Platoon
Year: 1986
Director: Oliver Stone 
You can boil down Platoon to a single iconic image: Willem Dafoe, hands and arms held aloft as Vietnamese soldiers gun him down, his fellow infantrymen the sole audience to his grim and lonesome demise on the ground. Is he making an act of supplication in his final moments? Is he submitting to death itself? Or is his gesture meant to be interpreted as an acknowledgment of his helplessness, a pantomime outcry at his betrayal and abandonment? No matter how many times this scene plays out, its subtexts remain open to interpretation. What remains the same is our horror at Dafoe’s exit from the film, and what it means in context within the narrative. Platoon, like any Vietnam war movie, is unforgivingly brutal, a picture show of relentless barbarity that recreates one of America’s greatest self-made martial, political and international debacles. Also like any Vietnam war movie, or any war movie in general, really, it repurposes a host of atrocities as tense entertainment, folding the cathartic release of seeing the bad guy get what’s coming to him within the bloody details of America’s intervention in Vietnam. —Andy Crump


20. Rain Man
Year: 1988
Director: Barry Levinson
In this Oscar-winning Best Picture, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) embarks on a road trip with his newly discovered brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). It’s not an intentional happy-go-lucky jaunt, though—Charlie is simply trying to get more of his recently deceased father’s $3 million estate, most of which he left to the autistic Raymond. Charlie gets to learn more about his brother and his mental tics like having to stop everything in order to watch Jeopardy! and buying underwear strictly from Kmart. Hoffman is undeniably good, and his performance as a savant earned him a Best Actor in a Leading Role award. But Cruise’s portrayal of a high-strung professional who transforms into a caring brother is also a treasure. The tender moments are just as important as the comical—and the blend of laughter and tears are skillfully spread out in this 1988 classic. —Shawn Christ


19. Bessie
Year: 2015
Director: Dee Rees
It may have taken 20 years to make it, but when Bessie finally arrived, she came, she saw and she conquered. The HBO film has garnered 12 well-deserved Emmy nominations, with Queen Latifah, co-stars Michael Kenneth Williams and Mo’Nique, and director Dee Rees all getting the nod. One scene in particular—with the reverse paper bag test—is one of Bessie’s finest moments, as it encompasses all that makes the HBO film so wonderful. There’s Queen Latifah in all her glory, finally setting up her own tour and making sure everyone knows who’s boss. There’s the hilarity when she lets down one of the hopefuls auditioning—“You must be darker than the bag to be in my show!” After all, Bessie is an incredibly funny movie at times. And there’s the whole inversion of the brown paper bag test. Where Bessie Smith grew up in a world that demanded black women performing back-up be lighter than a brown paper bag, Bessie makes up a new rule that gives her back some agency and sets a different tone (literally and figuratively) for her showcase. Bessie was, in no way, your average blues performer and for that reason Lili Fini Zanuck and her husband Richard D. Zanuck knew they couldn’t just deliver your average black-performer-who-grew-up-poor-and-made-it-big biopic. The familiar story of a talented woman done in by a man (or many men), or childhood tragedies, or her own celebrity was not Bessie’s story—she wasn’t lighter than a brown paper bag, and, thankfully, wasn’t presented as such. —Shannon M. Houston


18. Adaptation
Year: 2002
Director: Spike Jonze 
As utterly gonzo as Kaufman’s characters and stories are, they’re only as outrageous as the errant, obsessive rhythms of thought going clickety-clickety-click inside our own heads. It’s just that Kaufman has more immediate access to all those idiosyncratic brainwaves. He can’t stop himself. Kaufman—not unlike his anxious, lovestruck and artistically fraught heroes—compulsively thinks outside the box. And then he builds a bigger box. Adaptation is an adaptation of New Yorker writer Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief that centers on a Hollywood frustrated screenwriter’s efforts to adapt the book into a movie. —Steve Dollar


17. American Psycho
Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron
There’s something wrong with Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—I mean, really wrong. Although a Christopher Nolan-esque what-is-a-dream conundrum, Bateman is just all-around evil. He is also one of the few characters in modern cinema to blatantly express just how insane he is—to obviously uncaring or uncomprehending ears—because the world he lives in is just as crazy, if not moreso. It adds to the thrill that the drug-addled banker is particularly creative with his kill weapons. Nail gun, anyone? Nobody thought of white-collar Manhattanites as characters in horror films until the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel changed everything. —Darren Orf


16. The Breakfast Club
Year: 1985
Director: John Hughes
We shouldn’t have to tell you what makes The Breakfast Club an all-time classic. There’s not a single weak link in the film’s ensemble cast, and Ringwald holds her own as Claire, the princess forced to spend her Saturday in detention with a brain, a basket case, a jock and a criminal. She gives a richly layered performance, turning what could easily be a one-dimensional character into someone we pity, empathize with and root for—which, if you haven’t seen the movie, is kind of the whole point. —Bonnie Stiernberg


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


14. Shakespeare in Love
Year: 1998
Director: John Madden
Another film whose reputation has suffered somewhat since its initial reception, largely in this case as a result of an ill-considered Oscar and Gweneth Paltrow’s ill-considered management of her public spersona since then. No one is more annoyed with latter-day Goop than me, but even I can admit that Shakespeare in Love gets a bad rap. It’s delightful, especially for those with any experience in the theater whatsoever (the theater world itself is the romantic interest of the film, every bit as much as Gweneth’s Viola de Lesseps). And, it’s now safe to say out loud—Ben Affleck is fantastically charming in this film. If you haven’t seen it in a while, you’ll be surprised at how much more you like it than you remembered. —Michael Dunaway


13. Driving Miss Daisy
Year: 1989
Director: Bruce Beresford
Directed by Bruce Beresford and written by Alfred Uhry based on his play of the same name, Driving Miss Daisy is a comedy-drama that explores racism and anti-Semitism in the South, but where it really hits home is as a frank and open-hearted exploration of human frailty. Set in 1948, the film centers on Miss Daisy Werthan, a wealthy, elderly Jewish woman (Jessica Tandy), and Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman, reprising his role from the off-Broadway production), the driver she reluctantly takes on when she crashes her car and has to confront the fact that she can’t drive anymore. Over a 25-year period their relationship shifts from somewhat adversarial to a genuinely earned loving kindness. The story is small and human; the performances by Washington and Tandy are absolutely enormous. Both received critical accolades for their masterful combination of theatrical drama and subtlety. It is a great example of a play adaptation that really leverages the advantages of the film medium rather than trying to compensate for its disadvantages: We spend much of the film in close proximity to these two people who are stuck with each other in a car, and the actors are able to accomplish immensely nuanced performances without having to lean on the dialogue very much. They deliver more information with glances and facial expressions and vocal tone than many manage to put forth in a discursive monologue. —Amy Glynn


12. Her
Year: 2013
Director: Spike Jonze 
Spike Jonze’s colossal talent was far too great to remain trapped in MTV’s orbit; that became immediately clear when his breakout feature-length debut, Being John Malkovich, earned him an Oscar nod for Best Director. Following that minor postmodern masterpiece, he and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman continued their journey into solipsism with the hilariously unhinged Adaptation. As challenging, yet fun and accessible as Kaufman’s screenplays are, Jonze’s Her answers any lingering questions of whether those two movies’ (well-deserved) acclaim sprang solely from the power of Kaufman’s words. Retaining the sweetest bits of the empathetically quirky characters, psycho-sexuality and hard-wrung pathos of Malkovich, Her successfully realizes a tremendously difficult stunt in filmmaking: a beautifully mature, penetrating romance dressed in sci-fi clothes. Eye-popping sets and cinematography, as well as clever dialog delivered by a subtly powerful Joaquin Phoenix, make Jonze’s latest feature one of the best films of 2013. It also serves as confirmation that—much like Her—the director is the complete package.—Scott Wold


11. Good Will Hunting
Year: 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant 
The story of a genius janitor capable of solving the world’s most difficult mathematical problems, Good Will Hunting offers up Matt Damon as Will, both exasperating and loveable as the Boston boy reluctant to live up to his true potential. Likewise, Robin Williams takes the oft-clichéd mentor paradigm and turns it into a wholly original character as Will’s therapist Sean. But what’s special about this film is the way Gus Van Sant captures the existential angst and, ultimately, the frustrated striving of a brilliant boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star in their own breakthrough roles as best friends closer than even blood brothers. Though the movie touches on heart-wrenching topics like childhood abuse and heartbreak, the sarcastic humor and witty banter are just as memorable. Effortlessly charming and rarely overwrought. —Amy Libby


10. Broadcast News
Director: James Brooks
Year: 1987
Broadcast News, against the backdrop of television news, lets play out that age-old cinematic gold mine: the love triangle. But rather than remain just a backdrop, the profession of journalism is the key to our three main characters’ identities: Jane (Holly Hunter) is an extremely driven producer, known for being cool under pressure and unwaveringly excellent at her job; Aaron (Albert Brooks as uber-mensch) is her steadfast partner at work, an intrepid reporter whose dynamism in the field remains overlooked; and then there’s Tom (William Hurt), the new pretty boy anchor way more clever than he seems. Aaron and Tom’s battle for career recognition, as well as Jane’s affection, mirrors the constant balance television journalists must strike between entertainment and hard news. And in typical Brooks fashion, there is no easy resolution to that balance. —Maura McAndrew


9. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Director: Andrew Dominik
Year: 2007
Is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford an ode to the first of its two title subjects, or a dirge about the second? Is it a loyal and authentic screenshot of history, or a folk-style retelling of historical events? Maybe it’s all of these. It’s certainly more than the sum total of the answers to the questions it poses, but above all else it’s a movie that attained near-instantaneous iconic status on its release. The film’s great achievement is its ease. You get the sense that Andrew Dominik didn’t make this movie as much as it simply flowed out of him, an anecdotal recount of a legend brought to his end by the toxic punch of hero worship and betrayal. The Assassination of Jesse James affixes intimate narrative to wide scope, as befits the commodious quality of the Western genre, and sets about getting to the promise of its name in as leisurely a fashion as possible. We know what’s coming, but the film is in no hurry to get there, and when the trigger is pulled minutes before the credits roll, the shot rings all the louder for it. —Andy Crump


8. Tender Mercies
Year: 1983
Director: Bruce Beresford
Robert Duvall turns the volume way down as Mac Sledge, an alcoholic country-music star who has destroyed his own career. Alan Pakula treats Sledge gently, and constructs a simple story with complicated undertones, all the while questioning the nature of happiness, the inevitability of death and the possibility of redemption without allowing Tender Mercies to become a morality play. Meanwhile, Ellen Barkin makes her second big-screen appearance as 18-year-old Sue Ann, and Tess Harper is luminescent as Mac’s wife, Rosa Lee. —Joan Radell


7. The Royal Tenenbaums
Year: 2001
Director: Wes Anderson 
With his third movie, Wes Anderson let all his quirks run rampant: a storybook setting that is and is not New York, a uniform for each character and an obsession with childhood detritus. Rather than deflect the family’s conflicts (as Anderson’s critics claim), these elements only enhance its spiritual conundrums, making The Royal Tenenbaums Anderson’s most directorially confident and emotionally cathartic film—a bittersweet ode to regret, forgiveness and hard-won contentment.—Stephen Deusner


6. Unforgiven
Year: 1992
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Director-actor Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning movie is a foreboding and troubling commentary on the Western genre as a whole, but specifically on Eastwood’s long, significant involvement with them. Eastwood began his career acting in the television series Rawhide, which aired in the late 1950s through the mid-’60s. In 1963, while still a relatively unknown actor, Eastwood journeyed to Europe to work with director Sergio Leone on the so-called Dollars trilogy, becoming a genuine international movie star in the process and making his mark on the genre in ways he never would on Rawhide. From then on, the Western and Eastwood would be synonymous with each other. Eastwood’s screen persona was forged in themes of vengeance, casual cynicism and flippant violence, albeit done with an exacting flair of style and visual wit that audiences had never seen before. Ironic onscreen psychopathy had a new face, and it was devilishly handsome. Unforgiven was atonement. In the movie, Eastwood plays an ex-gunslinger brought out of retirement to avenge the horrible rape and mutilation of a townie whore. Guns are strapped on, lead unleashed, honor brutally restored. But at what cost? It’s not Eastwood’s greatest Western, but it’s an insightful, powerful and self-reflexive examination of historical violence, the onscreen romanticizing of vengeance, and the shaping of Eastwood’s cinematic persona within the genre. —Derek Hill


5. Rushmore
Year: 1998
Director: Wes Anderson 
Max Fischer is one of the greatest and most original characters of the 1990s (who else could have saved Latin?), and Rushmore remains our favorite Wes Anderson film. But if it introduced Jason Schwartzman, it also served as the pivot in Bill Murray’s career from broad comic to art-house juggernaut (Garfield movies excepted). Few films remain rewatchable into the double digits, but this one just keeps getting funnier. —Josh Jackson


4. The Big Lebowski
Year: 1998
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
If you truly loved your kidnapped trophy wife, would you really ask a guy like Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski to deliver ransom money to her captors? Sure, he’s got 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 BrothersThe 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?


3. The Deer Hunter
Year: 1979
Director: Michael Cimino
Ah, The Deer Hunter, a movie of grand ambition and messy politics, one that critics exalt for its thoughtful depiction of working class Pennsylvanians while in the same breath condemning it for its racist one-sidedness and ponderous ambiguity. But despite Michael Cimino’s shortcomings, with The Deer Hunter he created a film truly unlike any other, an episodic saga that captures what Pauline Kael eloquently called “poetry of the commonplace” while also boiling over with anti-war sentiment and palpable rage regarding American troops’ experiences in Vietnam. The film’s first hour alone is a work of art, a fly-on-the-wall documentation of life in a Pennsylvania steel town (with eastern Ohio mostly standing in), as a group of friends including Nick (Christopher Walken), Michael (Robert De Niro) and Julie (Meryl Streep) prepare for two key events: a large, raucous Russian Orthodox wedding and the imminent departure of the men for Vietnam, where they realize their lives will forever be changed. The film’s shocking second act, with its POW Russian Roulette games and Nick’s torturous break with reality, is of course its most memorable. But the scenes that bookend that horror ground its most ghoulish and surreal sequences in the real sense of despondency that threatened to drown many communities in the wake of the war. —Maura McAndrew


2. Do the Right Thing
Year: 1989
Director: Spike Lee 
Not only the film that earned Spike Lee his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, it’s also the one that perhaps best shows that, despite the decades of racially incendiary interviews since (and heckling at Madison Square Garden), Lee is a bit of glass-half-full guy deep down. The violence of Right Thing erupts as an extension of literal and metaphorical long-simmering neighborhood temperatures, and finally boils over as something of a catharsis, while never coming off as mawkish, or giving audiences the ability to escape conversation after the credits roll. A remarkable cast sells the complicated relationship with their Brooklyn neighborhood flawlessly, and Lee has only gotten more complex with his films since. —Scott Wold


1. Raging Bull
Year: 1980
Director: Martin Scorsese 
The best film of the 1980s contains one of the all-time-great feats of directing and one of the all-time-great feats of screen acting: The status that Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull has achieved in the years since its release is completely earned. Over the years, much has been made of the weight Robert De Niro gained while filming Raging Bull to authentically capture the physical transformation of boxer Jake LaMotta. While it’s a great symbol of his commitment, the pounds don’t begin to explain the depths of the character portrait he and Martin Scorsese created. The film looks unforgivingly at a fragile, insecure man who communicates his need for love with jealousy, anger and violence. Scorsese’s shots convey the overly suspicious workings of LaMotta’s head, then back out to coldly observe the horrific violence that ensues. Watching it is a fully felt experience. But then there are the boxing scenes: Scorsese deserves endless praise for finding such lively, inventive ways to capture the experience inside the ring. Still, what’s really amazing is that he goes beyond a great sports sequence—each fight serves as a window into LaMotta’s soul. The camera movement, the quick edits, the sudden shifts in speed all reflect his mental state, his need to damage himself or cause damage to others. Such expressive, visceral filmmaking has rarely been equaled. —Michael Burgin

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