Looking for a great movie on Netflix? We update our Best Movies on Netflix list regularly with new additions and overlooked gems to bring you our favorites movies from multiple genres: action blockbusters, documentaries, comedies, art-house films, tear-jerking dramas and Oscar-winning Best Pictures. New movies on Netflix this month include one of our favorite family movies from last year, Kubo and the Two Strings, classic horror films Gremlins and Nightmare on Elm Street and our pick for the best movie on Netflix right now: Schindler’s List. We’re also looking forward to checking out the Netflix original film Tramps from writer/director Adam Leon. Send your picks for the best movies on Netflix to email@example.com.
You can also check out our genre-specific lists:
The 50 Best Comedies on Netflix
The 60 Best Dramas on Netflix
The 60 Best Action Movies on Netflix
The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix
The 50 Best Documentaries on Netflix
The 70 Best Horror Movies on Netflix
The 50 Best Romantic Comedies on Netflix
The 20 Best Animated Movies on Netflix
The 50 Best Foreign-Language Films on Netflix
The 20 Best Martial Arts Movies on Netflix.
Here are the 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix in April 2017:
Director: Keith Maitland
The 1966 University of Texas clock tower shooting ought to be a footnote in American history and not a reference point for contemporary national woes. That Tower, documentary filmmaker Keith Maitland’s animated chronicle-cum-reenactment of that massacre, should feel as relevant and of the moment as it does, then, is startling, or perhaps just disheartening. It was 50 years ago this past August that Charles Whitman ascended the university tower with a cache of guns, killed three people inside, and went on to kill another 11 plus an unborn baby over the course of an hour and a half. Back in those days, a public act of violence on this level was an anomaly piercing the veil of our sense of security. Today, it’s just Sunday. Tower wraps the horror Whitman wrought in a rich, rotoscoped blanket, the vibrancy of Maitland’s palette lending urgency and vitality to the horror he and his cast recreate on screen.—Andy Crump
Director: Cheang Pou Soi
Kill Zone 2 is a sequel in name only to 2005’s Kill Zone, so if you missed that one—well, no problem. Cheang Pou-soi’s follow up to Wilson Yip’s original is its own picture, a sprawling action thriller split into three separate but interconnected plotlines. In plot A, Chatchai (Jaa), a guard working at a Thai prison, struggles to care for his young and endlessly precious daughter, who is in dire need of a bone marrow transplant. She’s the only thing that keeps him from piping up about the naked corruption and shocking brutality he is witness to every day at the office. In plot B, undercover Hong Kong cop-cum-junkie Kit (Jing) is in way too deep with a black market organ ring run by Hung (Louis Koo), who by chance happens to be the star of the film’s C plot. Like Chatchai’s daughter, Hung is struggling through terminal illness. He has a bum ticker, and he has to have heart replacement surgery to stay alive. (He’s kinda like the Tin Man, except he kidnaps people and butchers them for their organs.) Kill Zone 2 sets these men on an intercontinental collision course staged through exaggerated emotion. Call it melodramatic. Call it operatic. You could also just call it a Hong Kong action flick and save yourself the time. Grandeur is a hallmark of great Hong Kong action cinema, and Kill Zone 2 paints in broad brushstrokes of sentiment and sensation through use of sight and sound alike. And you’ll appreciate his thespian efforts even when the story hits “pause” so he can bowl over bad guys with flying knee knockouts.—Andy Crump
Director: Richard Curtis
When it comes to portraying love confessions of all varieties, very few can beat the kind on display in Richard Curtis’ epic romantic comedy Love Actually. In one of the many romantic threads, Juliet (Keira Knightley), a recently married woman, has just discovered that her husband’s best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) has been nursing a secret crush on her. One night, he arrives at their front door and silently delivers his long repressed feelings via hand-drawn cue cards. While certainly sweet and heart-warming, the inherent sadness that pervades this scenario—such a relationship can never work out between the two—prevents the exchange from being overly saccharine. —Mark Rozeman
Director: Tony Stone
If the success of a character study can be measured purely by the extent to which the character him-/herself draws one’s attention, then Peter and the Farm is surely one of the most successful of recent years. On the surface, beyond his long white beard, there isn’t anything extraordinarily distinctive about Peter Dunning, a solitary farmer who has devoted 35 years of his life to tending his farm in Vermont, and whose lonely existence masks deep psychological scars underneath. Even his traumas are fairly mundane: estrangement from his ex-wives and kids, curdled hippie idealism, a hand accident that ended his artistic dreams. And yet, once you hear Peter speak in his dramatically galvanizing voice, one can’t help but sit up and pay attention to whatever cantankerous, world-weary, brutally candid statements he utters. However you take Peter Dunning, though, there is something admirable to the way Tony Stone and Co. view their subject with a fascination that’s filled with clear-eyed empathy. It’s the kind of unsentimental compassion that animates the best art.—Kenji Fujishima
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Steeped in the monochrome color palette and noir soundtrack of 1970s espionage cinema, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s classic bestselling spy novel offers smart, nostalgic entertainment for a discerning adult audience. Set in 1973 at the height of the Cold War, the film turns on the suspicion that a double agent has infiltrated Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), a.k.a. MI6. Shortly after a botched operation to ferret out the mole ends his career, Control (John Hurt) dies, leaving his investigation in the hands of retired operative George Smiley (Gary Oldman). With grayed blond hair and owlish glasses, Oldman disappears into his role, not only physically but behaviorally. Smiley is a still man, watching and waiting, while his mind whirs, processing and analyzing years’ worth of data, information and memories.—Annlee Ellingson
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that I sadly hadn’t yet seen when I wrote the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade.—Jim Vorel
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Hot producer-star Channing Tatum draws from his personal history for this raucous comedy-drama set in Tampa’s Xquisite Male Dance Revue. Tatum worked as a stripper for eight months early in his career, and if Magic Mike is any indication, it was a good time for both the ladies and the performers—the movie certainly is. Along with a solid script by Tatum’s producing partner Reid Carolin, director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh (who took a low-budget, highly experimental look at the life of a high-end call girl in The Girlfriend Experience) brings a warm golden aesthetic that’s at once polished and serendipitous. The way the sunlight dapples the actors’ bodies during a sunset beach scene is particularly lovely. But Magic Mike would hardly be as magical without Tatum, whose good looks, athletic physicality, easygoing charm and heart-on-his-sleeve sincerity are as seductive to moviegoers as to the women he dances for on-screen.—Annlee Ellingson
Directors: Jerry Rothwell, Louise Osmond
Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell’s 2006 documentary Deep Water feels like an homage: to sailing, to the sea, to adventure, to vindaloo paste, but mostly to the unknown. In it, Osmond and Rothwell, with narrative help from friends and then—sure—Tilda Swinton, chronicle the 1968 round-the-world Sunday Times Golden Globe yacht race, wherein nine of the world’s best sailors, plus one large-hearted electronics engineer named Donald Crowhurst, pretty much the definition of a “weekend sailor,” set out to circumnavigate the globe. They started in the UK, went south and around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean, around Cape Horn, and then back across the Atlantic to complete the loop. It was supposed to take about nine months. Instead, Crowhurst’s story found incomprehensible tragedy—and weirdness. While Deep Water often trumps melodramatic musical cues and interstitial vignettes even Errol Morris would call cheesy, pushing the narrative into heartrending territory the story itself could easily attain on its own, long passages of screen time are devoted, just as simply, to staring at the sea. Like Herzog’s seemingly interminable shots of whitewater on the Amazon in Aguirre, the viewer is expected to hold her gaze. It’s a hypnotic sight; it’s also simultaneously overwhelming and calm, vicious and passive, loud and susurrate to the point of silence. In that middle ground, between poles (or, rather, where two ends meet, at both the end and the beginning), there is the terror of the unknown. There is this ocean and that ocean and thousands of miles of incomprehensible vista between.—Dom Sinacola
Director: Jon Favreau
Jon Favreau took a break between the $163 million dollar Cowboys & Aliens and Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book to write, direct and star in a small indie comedy-drama about a celebrated chef rediscovering his love for food. When the owner of his restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) won’t let him experiment in the kitchen and his social-media ignorance leads to a very public feud with a food critic (Oliver Platt), he quits and buys a food truck. The road-trip that follows is the sweet, earnest heart of the film—reconnecting with his son as he reconnects with a passion for food. There’s not much to the straight-forward plot, but the film’s humor and mouth-watering food porn make it a treat. —Josh Jackson
Director: Na Hong-jin
The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Though The Wailing ostensibly falls in the “horror” bin, Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as representing the genre. He isn’t out to terrify us—he’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. You may not leave the film scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump
Director: Werner Herzog
Leave it to Werner Herzog to take on a subject as peculiar and tragic as that of Timothy Treadwell, the bear enthusiast who, along with his girlfriend, was killed by his wild obsession in 2003. A sing-songy, pleasant, dangerously deluded man who believed his beloved grizzly companions knew and trusted him, Treadwell, over the course of 13 summers spent in Alaskan national parks, approached bears with both a religious reverence and folksy casualness—the latter of which arguably cost him his life. Treadwell self-anoints himself “kind warrior” and, alternately, “samurai,” and at one point tellingly declares that animals rule, but “Timothy conquered.” Rooted in Treadwell’s own footage, Grizzly Man will divide camps between those who find him a reckless idiot and those who enjoy him as a kooky nature lover, or both. For his part, Herzog is a sympathetic yet level-headed narrator, his even voice and expositional asides setting the tone for a restrained, expertly crafted film. Far from exploitative—existing audio footage of the couple’s death is not heard onscreen, just reacted to and discussed—Grizzly Man is a sensitive, supremely fascinating glimpse of the primal forces within us and apart from us, and what happens when they can’t be reconciled. —Amanda Schurr
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
The ravishing look of writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut is so enveloping that it doesn’t much matter that not a lot happens within the frame. Draped in dreamy black-and-white and scored with proto-Morricone instrumentals and evocative goth-rock, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night proudly stakes its claim as an aspiring cult classic. Advertising itself as “the first Iranian Vampire Western,” the film transcends just about every word in that description, and yet it has the defiant one-dimensionality of a lurid graphic novel. The film stars Sheila Vand (Argo) as the titular girl. She lives in Bad City, a desert community littered with slowly churning oil derricks and an unsettling open pit where dead bodies are dumped. This unnamed character walks the city streets at night decked out in a chador, which makes her look like a superhero. More accurately, she’s a vampire, feasting indiscriminately on men deserving of the grisly fate. (Pimps and other baddies seem to be favored targets.) The other important character is Arash (Arash Marandi), a strikingly handsome young man who takes a liking to this mysterious woman, not knowing her true identity. Shot in Southern California, A Girl Walks is a triumph of high-contrast lighting, the dark shadows coexisting with the flickering streetlights. Like Jim Jarmusch, Amirpour enjoys playing around with genres from an ironic distance, letting her noir-ish tone set the terms for everything else that goes into the film. She has a knack for the finely tuned marriage of sound and picture, drafting scenes and moments that stun the senses. —T.G.
Director: Jennie Livingston
Madonna’s “voguing” phase has nothing on—that is, took everything from—the drag scene of 1980s New York City chronicled in this vibrant doc. Delving into the subculture of fierce, catwalk-styled posing and the clubs in which it thrived, Jennie Livingston depicts the less-than-glamorous realities of life as a drag queen before RuPaul was mainstream: issues of gender and sexual identity, race, bigotry and hate, HIV/AIDS, poverty, crime—theft is a commonplace means by which these would-be “Legends” seek a desired end: transformation. Named after one of the underground balls in which its subjects find a sense of family—in “houses,” no less—Paris is Burning is a joyous affair, and a curiously meta celebration of what it means “to be real.” —A.S.
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power. —T.G.
Director: Destin Cretton
As it progresses, Short Term 12 remains rigorously structured in terms of plot; yet it never feels calculated. In fact, the film serves as a fine example of how invisible screenwriting can be. By allowing his characters’ irrational emotions to influence events and instigate key turning points, Cretton capably masks the film’s finely calibrated story mechanics. And while everything seemingly comes to a head during a key crisis, it’s only fitting that the story ends with a denouement that bookends its opening. Cretton’s clear-eyed film is far too honest to try and convince us that there’s been any sort of profound change for Grace or anyone else. Instead, it’s content to serve as a potent reminder that tentative first steps can be every bit as narratively compelling as great leaps of faith. —Curtis Woloschuk
Director: David Wain
A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 15 years later and with a Netflix series on lock, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst.—Dom Sinacola
Director: Shane Carruth
Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color builds a stunning mosaic of lives overwhelmed by decisions outside their control, of people who don’t understand the impulses that rule their lives. Told with stylistic bravado and minimal dialogue (none in the last 30 minutes), the film continually finds new ways to evoke unexpected feelings. The visuals—from underwater schist to microscopic photography—combine with extraordinary sound design and rhythmic cross-cutting to create a hypnotic portrait of the story’s intertwined lives. The means to the interconnectivity is a small worm whose parasitic endeavors link lives together. But Carruth doesn’t bother with expository sci-fi gibberish. The organism does what it does, and that’s all we need to know. This allows more time to explore the emotional impact the organism has on the characters. Ultimately, that’s where Upstream Color succeeds. An elaborate intellectual concept fuels the film, but a rich sense of humanity gives it power. —Jeremy Matthews
Director: Joe Dante
Joe Dante’s Gremlins is an yearly Christmastime argument waiting to happen, in the same vein as Die Hard, given that both are annually tossed onto “best Christmas movie” lists, but those debates often overlook the dark comedy of an expertly crafted ‘80s horror film from Dante at the height of his powers. Taking the lessons he learned as a ‘70s Roger Corman protege, Dante borrows character actors like Dick Miller to create a cynical, biting rebuke of maudlin sentimentality and children’s entertainment. The surprising counterpoint between comedy and graphic violence was a source of consternation that led directly to the creation of the PG-13 rating, but its more important impact was shaping the aesthetic of nearly every horror comedy for the next three decades.—Jim Vorel
Director: Adam McKay
The Big Short, Adam McKay’s kaleidoscopic look into the months leading up to the 2007 financial meltdown, is an angry film. And rightfully so—the amount of callous thievery characters uncover here is enough to make any rational person’s blood boil. It’s also, unquestionably, a funny film, tempering its acerbic leanings by highlighting just how blatantly surreal the whole ordeal truly was. McKay looks to counteract the inherently dry, impenetrable subject matter on display with boatloads of vibrant, cinematic style. The Big Short may not always succeed, but it stands as an essential film nonetheless. —M.R.
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Harley (Arielle Holmes) is a young woman who’s as addicted to heroin as she is to her brutally apathetic boyfriend, Illya (Caleb Landry Jones). Aesthetically, the Safdies’ have made a picture of urgent, abrasive beauty. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams captures Holmes and her excellent supporting cast through a combination of tight close-ups and long shots that lend the film an air of removed intimacy. Ultimately, he’s almost as much the star of Heaven Knows What as Holmes, who matches up well with Jones, the film’s most notable professional actor. Cinema lets us engage with difficult subject matter through a veneer of security. But something like Heaven Knows What pierces that veil. By its very nature, it pushes the boundaries of our personal comfort. It’s clear we need more films like that. —A.C.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
It’s hard to read Frank’s emotions because his facial expression never changes. How could it? It’s painted on. Walking around with a big, spherical paper mâché head, he looks like a walking cartoon character. But unlike the folks at Disneyland, Frank plays bizarre, haunting music with disorienting melodies and foreign, electronic tones. It would all be quite intimidating if his disembodied voice weren’t so darn friendly. The title character in Frank looks like Frank Sidebottom, the alter ego of British comedian and outsider musician Chris Sievey. But Frank is a variation on a theme in a contemporary setting rather than a true story. The film enters Frank’s world through the eyes of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a young, aspiring musician who doesn’t have much to say or any ideas how to say it. He lives a comfy life at home until he is swept into the adventurous life of a band on the road, driving all night and playing to empty rooms. He sees the romance, but is rather slow to pick up on some of the anguish and mental illness that his bandmates suffer. Frank doesn’t just wear the head for shows—he never takes it off. Michael Fassbender has the most difficult job of any cast member, as he has to create the character of Frank without any facial expressions. He uses his voice and body language to express excitement, a welcoming nature and varying degrees of anxiety. Director Lenny Abrahamson finds plenty of humor in his band of misfit characters, but the movie doesn’t treat their odd behavior as mere fodder for slapstick. The movie’s heart lies in its understanding of their fragility. At the film’s finale, Fassbender’s stirring performance reminds us of the power that can be had simply by singing the song you want to sing. —J. Mathews
Director: Mélanie Laurent
Nothing’s more effective at shaking a teen out of their monotonous high school routine than the arrival of a new student. That’s the stuff actress/director Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore film, Breathe, is made of: mystery and allure, with generous dollops of adolescent rivalry, sexual awakening and verbal abuse spooned on top. Think of Breatheas a distant European cousin to the fraught teen movies of Larry Clark as well as Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, stories of imperiled youth, loneliness and volatile sentiment. —A.C.
Director: Christian Petzold
Rarely in recent memory has the insoluble mystery of other people been so potent a driving force as it is in Phoenix. Here’s a drama that starts off with a seemingly simple conceit but eventually grows more and more troubling—and fascinating—into a critique of collective moral blindness and an up-close examination of marriage. The latest from German filmmaker Christian Petzold, Phoenix works best for all the answers it doesn’t provide, honoring the mysteries of everyday life rather than explaining them away. —T.G.
Director: John Woo
The Killer is one of a few reasons that Chow Yun-fat will maintain unquestionable badass status until the day he dies. A perfect fusion of magnetic star and hyperkinetic director, it may be the most essential film in John Woo’s impressive, sprawling filmography. Chow plays a hitman who, in the way of these films, is trying to leave the business. Of course he gets roped back in for the old “one last job” spiel, in this case to help a young, blinded woman from his past. The plot is simply a web of cliches; the film is a classic for the glorious, crazy, over-the-top gun battles and fight scenes. With akimbo pistols never seemingly needing reloading, Woo’s style of “gun fu” was extremely influential on directors such as Quentin Tarantino. John Wick is basically, in its aesthetics, a love letter to The Killer.—Jim Vorel
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
Director: Greg “Freddy” Camalier
Freddy Camalier’s masterly Muscle Shoals is about the beginnings and heyday of the recording scene in Muscle Shoals, Ala., a tiny town that improbably changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll, putting out along the way some of the greatest records in the history of American music. Many of those moments are recounted to great effect in the film; first-timer Camalier is obviously a natural storyteller. But there’s so much more to the doc—the cinematography is lush and beautiful, the editing is crisp and precise, and it’s in turns heartbreaking, inspiring, wry, thought-provoking, nostalgic and genuinely funny. It’s simply a stunning debut film. It helps that Camalier and his producing partner Stephen Badger are after more here than just a dry lesson in musical history. They delve into the Civil Rights Movement and its effect specifically on Alabama, especially as it relates to a Muscle Shoals music scene that was, shockingly enough, lacking in any racial tension. They return again and again to the ancient Native American legend about the river that flows through the town and the water spirit who lived there, sang songs and protected the town. And the personal life of Fame Records founder Rick Hall, the protagonist of the film, is itself worthy of a Faulkner novel. It’s thrilling, it’s engaging, it’s fascinating, it’s stirring. It’s the best documentary of the year, whether you’re a music lover or not. —Michael Dunaway
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
Director: David Lowery
At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, it must be said that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a movie; it’s a feeling. Director David Lowery took the rugged, Americana feel of a great western, the overwhelming sentimentality of a tragic romance, the thrill of a crime drama, and the sound and tempo of some kind of epic Southern odyssey, and he created a new feeling…Casey Affleck is the standout actor, and this is his saga. Down to his very jawline, Affleck captures the physicality and feeling of a sincerely romantic outlaw. —Shannon M. Houston
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
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Clara is one of the great heroines in contemporary cinema, and her story is one that will endure. By the movie’s climax, one woman’s struggle to hold on to her apartment takes on a dramatic weight found in the most ambitious, large-scale epics—yet Filho’s touch couldn’t be lighter. His direction is elegant and restrained, because he has the confidence not to force his effects. He believes in his ideas, and knows they’ll deepen and expand in the viewer’s mind if he just presents them unadorned. Undoubtedly, part of his confidence comes from the gift he got from Braga, who gives not only the performance of her career but one of the greatest performances by any actress in any movie, ever. She does the same thing with her voice, face and body that Filho does with his camera, finding economical gestures that express infinite emotions and ideas. I can’t think of many other roles that so fully encapsulate the human condition in all its humor, tragedy, loss, triumph, eroticism, weariness, fear and hope. —Jim Hemphill
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Like The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion film—the syntactically similar The Look of Silence—asks you to contemplate the literal meaning behind its title. Again returning to Indonesia, a country languishing in the anti-communist genocides of the 1960s, Oppenheimer this time sets his eye on Adi, a middle-aged optician whose brother was murdered by the men who were the focus of the first film, people today treated as local celebrities. Without question, the film is an interrogation of what it means to watch—as those who led the genocides; as those who are loved ones of those who led the genocides; as those who must repress the anger and humiliation of living beside such people every day; and, most palpably of all, as those of us who are distant observers, left with little choice but to witness such horror in the abstract. As in its predecessor, Oppenheimer’s patience and ability to acquaint himself intimately with the film’s subjects make for one gut-scraping scene after another—the sight of Adi’s 100+ year-old father, especially, is harrowing: blind and senile, the man is abjectly terrified as he scoots around on the floor, flailing and screaming that he’s trapped, having no idea where, or when, he is. Yet, moreso than in The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer here demands our undivided attention, forcing us to confront his quiet, sad documentary with the notion that seeing is more than believing—to see is to bear responsibility for the lives we watch.—Dom Sinacola
Directors: Henry Selick
Director Henry Selick matches the Gothic whimsy of Nightmare Before Christmas and adds even more compelling emotional content with this adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella. An unhappy little girl discovers an alternate reality that seems to offer all the magic and wonder her real home lacks, only to discover the sinister implications behind the candy-colored exteriors. Gaiman’s inventive approach to fairy-tale rules matches Selick’s luminescent colors and blend of everyday emotions and dream-like wonders. Perhaps the greatest stop-motion film ever, it even looks great in 3D.—Curt Holman
Director: Albert Maysles
It’s tempting to view Iris as a vanity project. Iris and director Albert Maysles were chums, and the outside sense one gets when either watching or merely reading about the film is that the latter decided to make a movie about the former for fun. If we accept this perspective then it’s very, very hard to earnestly hold Maysles’ indulgence against him; you would make a movie about Iris Apfel if you were buddy-buddy with her, too. She’s one of a kind. But Iris is about a lot more than one person making a flattering commemoration to another. It’s about observing a life lived (and still being lived) fully, and even that nifty summation doesn’t quite manage to dig out the alternatingly droll and piquant wisdom Iris has to offer every single person with whom she interacts. In one scene, an interviewer praises Iris for stepping outside of the box with her eclectic style. Iris’s reply feels like the lede of her personal manifesto: “If you’re just going to sit there and do the same damn thing all the time, you might as well jump into the box yourself.” —Andy Crump
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Like Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda punctuates its light-hearted, comedic tone with surprisingly poignant moments along with nonstop homages to a giant list of truly classic Kung Fu films, often scene by scene. In the end, I had to give it to Kung Fu Panda as the more tightly constructed film, though really, they both might as well share this spot with the sheer amount of love for the genre that comes through when watching either film. Jack Black voices Po’s (totally awesome) journey from bumbling martial arts fanboy to unlikely hero with such sincerity that it’s hard not to get swept along, especially given the equally strong performances by Dustin Hoffman as the perpetually exasperated Master Shifu and Ian McShane as the menacing Tai Lung. —K. Alexander Smith
Director: David Robert Mitchell
The specter of Old Detroit haunts It Follows. In a dilapidating ice cream stand on 12 Mile, in the ’60s-style ranch homes of Ferndale or Berkley, in a game of Parcheesi played by pale teenagers with nasally, nothing accents—if you’ve never been, you’d never recognize the stale, gray nostalgia creeping into every corner of David Robert Mitchell’s terrifying film, but it’s there, and it feels like Metro Detroit. It Follows is a film that thrives in the borders, not so much about the horror that leaps out in front of you, but the deeper anxiety that waits at the verge of consciousness—until, one day soon, it’s there, reminding you that your time is limited, and that you will never be safe. Forget the risks of teenage sex, It Follows is a penetrating metaphor for growing up. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Two British actor/comedians playing versions of themselves travel the beautiful and bleak north England countryside, stopping to eat at various upscale restaurants, but mostly just talking. And talking and talking. And doing impressions of Michael Caine, Woody Allen, and Liam Neeson, as well as British personalities an American audience might not recognize. But mostly just talking, with overlapping affection and competition. Sound like a good idea for a film? It absolutely is. —Jonah Flicker
Director: Noah Baumbach
Frances Ha is endearing, kind and, in many ways, Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date. One could trace his films, from his debut (Kicking and Screaming) to his most recent (Greenberg) and see a slow but steady focus on the individual, as well as his abandonment of an ironic, sometimes caustic stance against the very characters he writes. It is as if Baumbach could only write a certain type of person—the privileged, socially crippled intellectual with either too much self-awareness or none at all—and for a while it seemed like even the writer himself couldn’t stand to be in the same room with such characters. This anger has faded, and what has emerged over his last few films, and culminated in Frances Ha, is an embrace of not only the flaws of his characters, but also his flaws as a filmmaker. He has settled down and created a film imbued with love, fun and melancholy. It feels simple and open and is a joy to watch. —Joe Peeler
Director: Morten Tyldum
The historical thriller The Imitation Game is precisely the type of film studios love to dangle as Oscar bait. It focuses on a relatively unknown, yet significant, World War II code-cracking project and features a socially awkward genius as its protagonist. It doesn’t hurt that the aforementioned hero and his compatriots are Brits. Noted mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing is often considered the father of modern computer science, but his most consequential work—conducted as a WWII codebreaker—remained largely unknown until the British government declassified related documents in the 1970s. The Imitation Game, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric Turing, focuses on his wartime tenure at the Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park, located about 50 miles northwest of London. In the confines of the nondescript Quonset Hut 8, Turing leads a team of prototype hackers to decipher Germany’s Enigma machine codes. Their work is said to have shortened the length of the war by several years. Cumberbatch gives an intense performance as the brilliant loner with behavior that registers along the autism spectrum. While he indulges in too much scenery chewing and stammering, Cumberbatch creates a memorable character who is at once fascinating and off-putting. The only person squarely on Turing’s side is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), an astute mathematician recruited for the testosterone-heavy team. Knightley shows off a dynamic range as she plays a dutiful daughter, torn between obligations to her parents and her country. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, known best for 2011’s Headhunters, and scribe Graham Moore keep the tension high, even when the hackers and decoders are conducting tedious work. The supporting actors transcend their one-note characters and capture the audience’s attention. —C.N.Z.
Director: Jennifer Kent
Between It Follows and The Babadook, the last year or so has been a strong one for indie horror films breaking free from their trappings to enter the public consciousness. Between the two, The Babadook is perhaps less purely entertaining but makes up for that with cerebral scares and complex emotion. It’s an astoundingly well-realized first feature film for director Jennifer Kent, and one that actually manages to deal with a type of relationship we haven’t seen that often in a horror film. Motherhood in cinema tends to invariably be portrayed in a sort of “unconditional love,” way, which isn’t necessarily true to life, and The Babadook preys upon any shred of doubt there might be. Its child actor, Noah Wiseman, is key in pushing the buttons of actress Essie Davis, pushing her closer and closer to the brink, even as they’re threatened by a supernatural horror. The film’s beautiful art direction approximates a crooked, twisted fairytale, with dreamlike sequences that never quite reveal what is true and what might be a hallucination. The characters of The Babadook ultimately undergo quite a lot of suffering, and not just because they’re being chased by a monster. —J.V.
Director: Chris Noonan
Not since Wilber has a pig captured the hearts of moviegoers. But this Australian production with a screenplay co-written by Mad Max’s George Miller and director Chris Noonan actually made for a better movie than either of the adaptions of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Babe was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and took home the prize for Best Visual Effects thanks to the lifelike anthropomorphized farm animals who rally around the titular hero. The underrated sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, is also available on Netflix. —J.J.
Director: Matteo Garrone
Gritty like The Godfather or the work of Martin Scorsese, Gomorrah depicts five microcosmic stories of the brutal underground mafia scene in Naples. The cast of largely untrained actors only enhances the film’s grim authenticity, and that authenticity is bolstered by the fact that the film’s source material, the bestselling book of same name, required author Roberto Saviano to get a permanent police escort. Harrowing in its matter-of-factness, the Academy criminally overlooked one of 2008’s best by not nominating it for Best Foreign Film. —Jeremy Medina
Director: Christopher Nolan
Before Memento, before Inception, Christopher Nolan made his feature-length debut with this tight little mindscrew. An aspiring young novelist shadows and studies strangers, rather innocently, for inspiration until he gets sucked in by a charismatic man in a suit who turns out to be a petty thief. Wise to his being followed, the burglar takes his would-be stalker along his crime route, until bad things—and a hot blonde—happen. Nolan, who also penned the screenplay, shows his knack for non-linear narratives early on; he establishes the key players before doubling back through the story. The constraints of a no-budget production—the film was made for just 6 thousand bucks and shot in black and white on 16mm—work in its favor. Nolan’s first neo-noir is voyeuristic, suspenseful and, at a shade over an hour long, efficient as hell. Like its subjects, Following gets in and out before anyone knows quite what hit them. —A.S.
Director: Edgar Wright
The second chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (before there was ever such a thing), Hot Fuzz is clear evidence that Edgar Wright is capable of anything. A blockbuster action flick, a thriller, a pulp plot, a winking noir, a commentary on classism in an increasingly urbanized society—the movie is all of these things, down to the marrow of its very existence. Moreso than Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End, Hot Fuzz inhabits its influences with the kind of aplomb to which any cinephile can relate: Somewhere between fascination, revulsion and pure visceral joy there walks the Michael Bays, the Don Simpsons, the John Woos, the Jerry Bruckheimers, and Wright gives each stalwart his due. Plus, he does so with total respect, showing that he understands their films inside and out. And in that intimate knowledge he knows even better that filmmaking is a conflagration: Best to burn it all down and see what remains than build it from the ground up. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Dan Gilroy
“A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” That’s the image Nina (Rene Russo) evokes when describing her news program in director Dan Gilroy’s tremendous thriller Nightcrawler. It’s tempting to adopt that as a metaphor for the entire film—Gilroy’s first, by the way, which makes his achievement doubly impressive—but while that is definitely part of the equation, what drives this movie forward is the menace that lurks just below the surface, beneath a calm exterior personified by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom. A nocturnal rambler who scrounges for anything he can steal and sell, Lou is a motivated self-starter. Full of meaningful acronyms, manufactured self-confidence, and drive powered by self-improvement seminars, catchphrase wisdom and insight, he’s looking for a career to break into on the ground floor. When he comes across the lucrative world of nightcrawlers, freelance stringers who race after breaking news stories—the bloodier, the better is the prevailing wisdom—he has the ambition, opportunity and, most importantly, the moral flexibility to excel. Gyllenhaal, who shed in excess of 30 pounds for the role, has rarely—if ever—been better. Lou is calm, frank, goal-oriented and even borders on charming at times, but this measured exterior belies the inherent violence you spend the entire movie waiting to see erupt. Nightcrawler is tense and intense, ferocious and obsessed, and crackles with energy and a dark sense of humor. —Brent McKnight
Director: Amy Berg
Capturing the life, career, persona and phenomenon that was Janis Joplin in the space of a less-than-two-hours-long documentary is a daunting task. Amy Berg makes a crucially important decision in Janis: Little Girl Blue, opting to let the performances speak for themselves. There’s not a lot of talking head analysis of Janis’ music; Berg instead gives us a few well-chosen, extended clips of that otherworldly voice in action (as well as a good many selections backgrounded in the mix). Berg also focuses on Janis’ inner life, and boy, does that pay off. With the full cooperation of the estate and interviews with many of Janis’ intimates, including her two siblings, the marvelous Dick Cavett, and the one man with whom, in another universe, she surely found lifelong happiness, Berg is able to dig deep into who Janis actually was behind the raucous stage persona. Most effective of all is Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power), reading from Janis’ diaries and letters with the simple delivery of a born performer. It’s as if Janis is narrating her own life story, and it’s pure magic. —M.D.
Director: Mike Mills
Beginners is directed by Mike Mills, who hasn’t made a feature film since 2005’s Thumbsucker. And this time, Mills drew on his own life for the story of Beginners. Like Hal, Mills’ father also came out of the closet after the death of his mother. Cancer took both of his parents and there’s a subtle jab at smoking in the film. But Beginners is not a message movie; it’s an ambitious play on coming-of-age late in life, of course for Hal but also very much for Oliver, and perhaps for Mills himself. —Jonathan Hickman
Director: John Carpenter
Next to The Thing or Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China feels like little more than a lark, one more toss-off showcase for John Carpenter’s genre-bending curatorial spirit. Part goopy menagerie of grotesque special effects, part super-cool fantasy adventure, Big Trouble follows an all-American truck driver as he falls ass-backwards into a plot involving an ancient Chinese sorcerer seeking to fulfill a prophecy that will restore him to human form. The flick eschews all senses of horror or tension to focus on carefree action bro Jack Burton, the aforementioned trucker played to the hilt by Kurt Russell, who was pretty much at the height of his laid-back dude-ical powers back in the ‘80s. In fact, Carpenter may be that decade’s best unheralded action director, and Russell his charming muse, way more fun to watch than a Schwarzenegger or a Stallone or a VanDamme—Adonises barely able to grimace out full sentences, let alone crack a smile—because there wasn’t much more to what he was doing, or what Carpenter was filming, than going mullet-first into whatever madcap caper struck his fancy. All one-liners, shameless machismo, shiny biceps, and a gnarly pair of mom jeans, Jack Burton is comparable perhaps only to John McClane in his unflagging ability to take absolutely nothing seriously about the serious situation around him.—Dom Sinacola
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. —A.C.
Director: Olivier Assayas
In just about anyone else’s hands, Clouds of Sils Maria could try one’s patience. A character study of actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) revisiting one of her earliest theatrical triumphs—except this time, she’s playing the older, more tragic character, not the young, confident beauty—the latest from French filmmaker Olivier Assayas risks being such an insular, rarified project that it never escapes its navel-gazing concerns about creativity and celebrity. But Assayas largely transforms such potentially precious material into something far more rewarding and, ultimately, ambivalent. It’s not new for an artist to create a work about the nature of making art, but Clouds of Sils Maria soon becomes a larger portrait about how we interpret (and reinterpret) that art based on our own experiences and biases. A movie of internal puzzles, it consistently hints at something more sinister or provocative just around the corner. It’s a movie so psychologically rich that its outer trappings soon give way to universal anxieties about what exactly defines us. With a film this attuned to the complexity (and unraveling) of identity, it’s barely a surprise when one of the characters literally disappears from the story. —T.G.
Director: Macon Blair
Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, writer-director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonally audacious genre outing unafraid to slip for a moment or two into the sweet relief of magical realism. Blair’s premise is simple—Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, cast to perfection), a quiet loner, comes home to find her house robbed, and when the police won’t help, she seeks vigilante justice with equally socially inept neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood)—but his ever-increasingly sprawling plot is fueled by a myopic moral perspective rendered in black and white. Ruth wonders aloud why everyone is an asshole (moreso, why assholes so easily get away with being assholes), and Blair seemingly wonders the same thing, punctuating his mundane neo-noir with gruesome violence and unexpected physical comedy (a projectile vomit scene, in particular, rivals the classic back-alley puke-fest from Team America). Blair’s worked extensively with his friend Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room), so the two share a startling sense of pace and a knack for making even the most sloppy action sequences feel precise, but Saulnier is so much bleaker, whereas Blair allows each of his film’s supposed assholes a chance to redeem, or at least explain, themselves. A crappy cop is going through a messy divorce; a delinquent son acts out against the specter of an absentee father; a guy whose dog craps on your lawn just wasn’t really paying attention—as Ruth struggles to confront the callousness of her cold world, she realizes that we’re all pretty much doing the same thing too: We’re struggling.—Dom Sinacola
Director: John Huston
The madcap, screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s helped set the template for the battle-of-the-sexes comedies that would populate American cinemas for years to come (and still do, to some extent). Writer/director John Huston’s genius in making The African Queen was taking the feuding couple out of the metropolitan areas for which they’d often been associated with and instead placing them square in the middle of an inhospitable jungle. With the added element of survival driving their journey, the flirtatious banter between classy widow Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) and crass boatman Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) crackles all the more, making for a rom-com as vicious as it is sweet. —Mark Rozeman
Director: Michael Almereyda
Watching Experimenter is to realize how little life is in most biopics. Which is odd: Despite being based on a real life, the standard biopic feels freeze-dried, narrative conventions calcifying the subject matter and strangling any spontaneity out of the material. Most such movies carry the stench of rigor mortis, but Experimenter is alive and alert from its first moment. Where other biopics seem to have made up their minds about their famous figures before the opening credits roll, this remarkable study of social psychologist Stanley Milgram remains curious, exploring and questioning his life, career and findings. The man’s work may be more than 50 years old, but a film about his work couldn’t be timelier—partly because of that work’s still-resonant lessons, and partly because writer-director Michael Almereyda has crafted a bracing, daring drama that extrapolates it into every crevice of modernity. Many biopics simplify great lives; Experimenter enriches and enlarges one. —T.G.
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.—Dom Sinacola
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Watching Patton, Franklin J. Schaffner’s colossal biographical ode to one of World War II’s most renowned and most controversial military figures, you get the sense that George S. Patton would likely dig Schaffner’s work; the film doesn’t apologize for itself or for its subject’s actions and attitudes, much as Patton didn’t make a habit of apologizing for either unless directly ordered to by his superiors. There may be no more appropriate way to honor the man’s memory than that, such as Patton can be narrowly described as an “honor.” The film doesn’t exactly flatter the general, per se, but straddles a line between hero worship and sober representation, letting Patton, and by extension George C. Scott’s commanding and iconic portrait of him, speak for himself without fear of condemnation or reprisal. As Patton is about Patton, so, too, is it about Scott, which makes sense: If you make a movie and name it after its central character, you’re also making it about its central performance, and so it’s good that Scott was up to the task of reincarnating the late general in all his egotistical, violent, callous, and shockingly vulnerable glory. Patton is a war movie, make no mistake, but it uses the war movie blueprint for housing a character study of its protagonist. The results, almost half a century later, remain completely singular in the genre. —Andy Crump
Director: Wes Craven
Taking a big hint from The Cabinet of Caligari, Wes Craven warps reality and tackles one of humanity’s primal fears: the dark. Freddy Kruger stomps through intangible dreamscapes, tormenting a group of teenagers by denying them sleep lest he kill them in a series of extremely creative disembowelments. Technology and creativity merged in this feature to create a searing illustration of fatigue and color that has yet to be effectively replicated.—Sean Edgar
Director: David Lynch
Film noir has always been an unmistakable influence in the work of David Lynch, the patron saint of bizarrely gleeful genre experiments. With Mulholland Dr., however, Lynch took his fascination with the subgenre to a whole new level, depicting a world where a character’s interior life influences not only the film’s visual style but its narrative structure as well. In the first great performance of her illustrious career, Naomi Watts plays a wide-eyed actress newly arrived in Hollywood who stumbles upon a beautiful young woman who can’t remember who she is. That pithy logline only touches the tip of the iceberg, as the film delights in throwing numerous other subplots and mysteries at its audience only to violently pull the rug out from under them in its latter half. Mulholland Dr.’s brilliance is enough to make David Lynch’s disappearance from the feature film world all the more painful. —M.R.
Director: Martin Scorsese
With Hugo, director Martin Scorsese has created a dazzling, wondrous experience, an undeniable visual masterpiece. In his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese weaves together his many passions and concerns: for art, for film, and for fathers and father-figures. He retells the story of a boy (Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield) in search of a way to complete his father’s work. Alongside Hugo’s tale is the true story of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), one of the world’s first filmmakers. —Shannon M. Houston
Director: Gus Van Sant
The story of a genius janitor capable of solving the world’s most difficult mathematical problems, Will is both exasperating and loveable as the Boston boy reluctant to live up to his true potential. Robbin Williams takes the oft-clichéd mentor paradigm and turns it into a wholly original character as Damon’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 form the wrong side of the tracks. Matt Damon and Ben Afleck 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 never overwrought. —Amy Libby
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. —A.C.
Director: Armando Iannucci
If clever verbal humor were easy, we’d have more comedies like In the Loop. But it’s not, and this one stands in a class of its own. It’s the most quotable film of the decade—by miles—and the cynical potty mouths on screen are so articulate and creative that, after the avalanche of witticisms, you’re left with the lingering sense that you’ve seen not just a funny movie but also a wicked political satire of the highest order, the kind where the absurdity speaks for itself. —Robert Davis
Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo
As the MCU enters if not maturity, at least its late adolescence, its greatest achievement as embodied in Captain America: Civil War may lie in a continued absence rather than in the presence of something. Watching an MCU film is an act that’s free from unnecessary distractions related to characters and source material. Captain America looks and acts like Captain America. And that’s been true in all five films in which he’s appeared. The same is true for Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)—Scott Lang version—who has appeared now in two films, and even for Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) with just a mid-sized, if important, role in one. Meanwhile, at other studios, the failure to seemingly even understand the core nature and appeal of their characters means every one of their films has moments that cause both fans and new viewers alike to scratch their heads. For many, the distractions build and clutter and puncture both the anticipation for and enjoyment of these films. In addition to everything else it’s done right, Marvel Studios continues to get out of the way of its own characters. 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
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Looking back on it, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s directorial debut turned out to be supremely influential. Amores Perros was the first of his so-called “Death Trilogy” (alongside 21 Grams and Babel), and set the precedent for his time-bending, anthology-format brand of storytelling. The film hinges on one singular car accident that has a ripple effect in several people’s lives, illuminated by three separate stories populated by an array of impressive Mexican actors (including Gael Garcia Bernal), with the the seemingly-contradictory story of a sympathetic hit man being the most moving of the bunch. —J. Medina
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Sandra takes time off from her job for health reasons; in her absence, she’s made redundant, and her coworkers reap a not-insignificant bonus as a result of her firing. The latest work from the brothers Dardenne is a work of compassion, but Two Days, One Night is as much about our sympathy for Sandra (played with heartbreaking brilliance by Marion Cotillard) as it is about posing questions of ethics. As Sandra drives all over town in an effort to convince her coworkers to give up the bonus pay in exchange for her reinstatement, we wonder how we would respond to her pleas. It’s an easy thing to judge the people we meet throughout the film for their reluctance, but in telling of Sandra’s plight, the Dardennes invite us to examine our own convictions. —A.C.
Director: David Gelb
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about one of the greatest masters of the culinary world, one whom casual foodies have never even heard of. Although Jiro’s work is ostensibly the focus of the documentary, the film is really propelled by the story of his relationship with his two sons; the youngest of whom has started his own restaurant, and the oldest of whom, at the age of 50, continues to work with his father, training to one day take over his restaurant. Devoid of the typical familial jealousy you may expect, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is instead a beautifully filmed documentary about a father and his sons who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of the perfect piece of sushi. —Emily Kirkpatrick
Director: Mel Gibson
Like any number of other artists, we should be able to separate the creator from the creation. Sure, what we might now know or think about Mel Gibson as a person might not be very nice but, wow, do few films say “epic” quite like this one? Sprawling, bloody, beautifully realized and rich with meaning, this film is everything we hope for from this type of film. —David J. Greenberg
Director: Tom McCarthy
Always a director who’s drawn great performances from his ensembles—we’ll set aside the disastrous The Cobbler for a moment—actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has made his best drama since his first, 2003’s The Station Agent, with this stripped-down depiction of the Boston Globe’s 2001 investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual misconduct. Starring the likes of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery, Spotlight is about nothing more than watching smart, passionate reporters do their job, digging into a story and using their savvy and moxie to bring it to the world. The cast lets its characters’ jobs fill in the backstory of their lives, and in the process Spotlight does what Zodiac, The Insider and All the President’s Men did before it: let us appreciate the difficulty and rigor required for good journalism. Special kudos to best-in-show Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, a ruthless bloodhound of an investigative reporter who may inspire a lot of impressionable high school juniors in the audience to take up the profession. —T.G
Director: Robert Rossen
It’s hard to believe this classic Paul Newman/Jackie Gleason movie about pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson is over a half-century old. That might be why it was just nudged out of the elite eight of our Best Sports Movies bracket by White Men Can’t Jump. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, but Newman had to wait 25 years to win an Oscar as Felson for the film’s eventual sequel, The Color of Money. —J.J.
Director: Robert Mulligan
Gregory Peck perfectly encapsulated what made Atticus Finch the ideal father in the novel To Kill A Mockingbird and brought him to the big screen in a classic performance. While Finch goes through a controversial rape trial, he stands up for what is right regardless of the danger and shows his children Scout and Jem how they should be not by telling them, but by teaching them through example. —Ross Bonaime
Director: Oren Moverman
Like 2013’s Robert Redford stranded-at-sea drama All is Lost, Time Out of Mind features a near-silent performance from a classic movie star in a stripped-down, atmospheric indie about survival. In this case, the headliner is Richard Gere, sporting a scraggly gray beard, matching closely cropped hair, and an overcoat and scarf that seem to be perpetually pulled tight against his neck—save for when his character George sells those items for a few bucks at a local pawn shop. George is homeless, and writer-director Oren Moverman’s film charts his day-to-day with quiet, precise attentiveness. For the better part of its first half, Time Out of Mind wholly ignores any semblance of a conventional plot, instead taking its cue from the more experimental works of Gus Van Sant. Moverman is after something like a transportive sort of cinema, one that allows complete immersion in another person’s shoes. And for long stretches, Time Out of Mind proves so attuned to its protagonist’s haziness and his loud, busy, and yet lonely milieu that it proves a gripping example of experiential cinema. —Nick Schager
31. Bridget Jones’s Diary
Director: Sharon Maguire
Diehards may have been initially miffed at her casting, but Renée Zellweger was crucial to the movie’s success. She’s boundlessly charming as Bridget Jones, gaining 20 pounds to play the British singleton who falls for Hugh Grant and (eventually) Colin Firth. From her appalling bad public speeches to lip-synching to Sad FM songs in her pajamas, Zellweger carries the film on her (still slender) shoulders. —J. Medina
Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi
Somewhere between a silent film and a staging of the Stations of the Cross as if masterminded by Jacques Tati, The Tribe feels like the primordial beginnings of something spectacular. This isn’t to say that it comes off as unfinished, or the work of an amateur finding his footing—instead, Ukrainian writer and director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy has crafted a debut that breathes with preternatural beauty. Operating on a nearly subconscious level, with a mind for something unspeakably visceral, The Tribe is, in other words, an indelible film. Full of sadness and stubbornness and a kind of cosmic anger, it seeks abandon through destruction, starting with humanity’s first and best crutch: language. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Brad Bird
Brad Bird’s feature debut was traditional 2-D animation when computer animation was the craze, released by studio folk who didn’t realize just how special a film they had on their hands. Luckily, The Iron Giant received its due recognition on home video. Set in the 1950s and drawing off the nuclear fears of the time, it incorporates the hallmark of the era’s science-fiction—a giant metal robot—into a touching coming-of-age story. Bird effortlessly moves between riotous comedy (such as young Hogarth’s efforts to hide his enormous new robot friend from his mother), high-spun action and poignant moments of fear and friendship. —Jeremy Mathews
Director: Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder’s meta noir is a doozy, an unfailingly cynical critique of showbiz and a portrait of postwar alienation projected on the microcosm of Hollywood. It’s also wickedly funny in Sahara dry fashion, from the opening words of our dead narrator—floating facedown in his killer’s swimming pool—to Norma Desmond’s concluding descent down her staircase, and the rabbit hole. Gloria Swanson is magnificent and sad as Ms. Desmond, a fading beauty of the silent screen who manipulates broke, hackish screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) into becoming her boy toy. Theirs is a fated relationship from the get-go, she of the wordless era, he dependent on them for his very livelihood. They’re on the outs with their industry, and each other, yet coexist out of desperation. Wilder, who co-wrote with Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman Jr., layered the script with in-joke upon self-referential wink, perhaps the least of which is Desmond’s passion project, about that OG of femme fatales, Salome. There’s a parade of Hollywood cameos, namechecks, and behind-the-scenes instances of “art imitating life” (and vice versa); for example, Erich von Stroheim, who portrays Desmond’s former director/first husband-turned-still lovestruck butler Max, directed Swanson in 1929’s Queen Kelly (excerpted here) before she as the film’s producer fired him, much like her Sunset Blvd. character discards his. Many of these nods were in less-than-good fun, so it’s no shock that Sunset Boulevard met with local disdain, yet Wilder doesn’t flinch. Norma, Joe, Max … they’re all unwanted souls who, try as they might to live in the past, have succumbed to the present—in Joe’s case, most finally. The smoke and mirrors of Tinseltown, of life, don’t do the job anymore (though cinematographer John Seitz, who also lensed Double Indemnity, most certainly did, sprinkling dust into the air for the lights to catch). Desmond may be a seductress past her sell-by date, but Hollywood is the ultimate femme fatale, who chews suckers up and spits them out. Sunset Boulevard gives L.A. its close-up, alright. —A.S.
Director: Ava DuVernay
Director Ava DuVernay has successfully made a documentary that challenges and even dismantles our collective understanding of one of the most dangerous notions of our time: “progress.” How do we define progress, and who precisely gets to define it? 13th is a captivating argument against those who measure progress with laws that pretend to protect American citizens and amendments, and even to uphold the Constitution. It is a deftly woven and defiant look at how clauses within those amendments (specifically the lauded 13th) and the language of our political system both veil and reveal a profound and devastating truth about America: Slavery was never abolished here, DuVernay and the participants in the film argue. It was simply amended, and it continues to be amended in 2016, with the constant evolution of the criminal justice system. It’s a bold and terrifying statement to make, but in using a documentary instead of, say, a narrative film, DuVernay is able to point directly to that history and to those people who have defined “progress” for black Americans. In doing so, she draws a line directly from the 13th amendment, to today’s America, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Like some of the best documentaries of our time, 13th is not just a film, but a demand; it’s a call to reject dangerous reiterations, specifically newer and newer Jim Crows. DuVernay’s work doesn’t expressly name what we might build in their place, but it demands that those of us watching resist the seduction of sameness disguised as slow progress, and imagine something greater: actual, freedom. —Shannon M. Houston
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
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
A road trip along the coast of Mexico turns out to be one of sexual discovery for two punk teenagers (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna). Meanwhile, the trip turns out to be the bittersweet final adventure for their older female companion (Maribel Verdu), as she struggles with a life full of regret and roads not yet traveled. Y Tu Mama Tambien is at times playful and seductive, but slowly reveals itself to be a substantive dual story involving both coming-of-age and coming-to-terms. —J. Medina
Director: Joel Coen
While hung up with the intricate plotting of Miller’s Crossing, the Coen Brothers took a break to write a script about a blocked screenwriter (Jon Turturro). Reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch at their most darkly satiric, Barton Fink depicts a self-important New York playwright who struggles to write a Hollywood wrestling picture while residing in a rotting hotel. A jaundiced metaphor for the compromised creative process of show business, Barton Fink delivers the deadpan comedy and quirky performances of the Coen’s trademark, including Oscar nominee Michael Lerner as a bombastic studio chief, John Mahoney as a boozing, Faulkner-esque novelist, and John Goodman as a cheerful salesman with a dark secret. Audiences can obsess over the meaning of lines like Goodman’s “I’ll show you the life of the mind!” but any answers the film holds are unlikely to be reassuring. —Curt Holman
Director: Christopher Nolan
During a brutal attack in which he believes his wife was raped and murdered, insurance-fraud investigator Leonard Shelby (played with unequivocal intensity, frustration and panic by Guy Pearce) suffers head trauma so severe it leads to his inability to retain new memories for more than a few minutes. This device allows Nolan to brilliantly deconstruct traditional cinematic storytelling, toggling between chronological black-and-white vignettes and full-color five-minute segments that unfold in reverse order while Pearce frantically searches for his wife’s killer. The film is jarring, inventive and adventurous, and the payoff is every bit worth the mind-bending descent into madness.—Steve LaBate
Director: Ryan Coogler
When someone dies young—especially in a tragic fashion—it can be tempting for the bereaved to reduce the deceased to little more than an angelic, idealized figure. We’re so understandably wrapped up in our grief that we focus on that person’s most positive characteristics, setting aside everything about him or her that doesn’t fit that glowing remembrance. Writer-director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station aims for something far more difficult: mourning an ordinary, clearly flawed man without denying his inherent failings. This more nuanced portrait does nothing to diminish the shame of Oscar Grant’s death—if anything, it only intensifies its sting. —T.G.
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 awhile, you’ll be surprised at how much more you like it than you remembered. —M.D.
Director: Henry Selick
On simply a shot-by-shot basis, The Nightmare Before Christmas ranks as one of the most visually splendid films ever made. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, becomes obsessed with Christmas and decides to hijack the holiday. Often presented under the title Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film echoes many of the hit director’s pet themes, with Jack being one of Burton’s many brooding artistic protagonists. The film’s actual director was Henry Selick, who oversees an ingenious design and a cast of endearing monsters. The film doesn’t quite have the narrative fuel and graceful song lyrics to match Disney’s best animated musicals, but every year the film looks better and better. —Curt Holman
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Like Rashomon before it, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha proves the director is as much a master of story plotting as he is perfectionist over the smallest technical nuances in his films—though here, he’s painting on a far grander canvas. Not long after the peak of their relevance, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola helped secure financing for Kurosawa to finally film this extraordinary, sweeping epic, with both admitting to owing the filmmaker a huge debt as an influence. That alone is excuses an Ewok (and Jack) or two. —Scott Wold
Director: Gore Verbinski
Daring to base the central character of a Disney franchise on a notorious junkie-alcoholic walking-corpse rock star like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was a coup, but even more mind-blowing was how well Depp’s crazy idea worked. Guzzling rum as he bobs and weaves—stumbles, really—through this film delivering hilariously slurred one-liners, he is the consummate goodhearted scoundrel, easily stealing every frame he flamboyantly swaggers across. —Steve LaBate
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs. —Alice Barsky
Director: Otto Preminger
Maybe falling in love with dead people is just an occupational hazard of being an investigative detective in New York City. Then again, maybe a shotgun blast to the face couldn’t keep anybody from developing a crush on Gene Tierney, which is pretty much how the plot of Otto Preminger’s Laura goes. The film tracks the trajectory of NYPD detective Mark McPherson’s growing obsession with the eponymous young lady as he cobbles together the bits and pieces of her life and death. Poring over her diary and her letters, he comes to moon over her, and why not? She’s every bit as delightful as Preminger’s movie. Laura doesn’t waste time and stacks contrivance on top of unlikelihood, but such is the strength of Preminger’s craft and the performances of his cast that the film’s convolution doesn’t matter. —A.C.
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
In the first five minutes of White God, viewers are greeted by two striking images. In the first, a teenage girl pedals vigorously through the middle of an empty city street, a fleet of dogs furiously chasing after her. In the other, a cow carcass is dispassionately stripped and gutted in preparation to be examined by a meat inspector. More indelible moments await in Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s social parable, but these early scenes hint at everything that’s to come. White God isn’t the first film to suggest that humanity’s cruel treatment of others will one day come back to haunt us—but it certainly makes its point with potent force. —T.G.
Director: Matthew Heineman
Twenty minutes into Cartel Land, I leaned over to my filmmaker friend and whispered, “We have GOT to get the rights to turn this into a scripted feature.” Half an hour after that, I leaned over again and whispered, “Never mind.” She nodded, knowing exactly what I meant—a scripted feature would be superfluous after the incredible storytelling already present here, plus we’d never be able to find actors as compelling as these real life figures. Cartel Land is incredibly gripping from the very first scene, in which director Matthew Heineman interviews cartel members as they are cooking meth under cover of darkness. Believe it or not, the tension actually escalates from there: Heineman begins to follow two vigilante groups—one in Arizona, one in the south of Mexico—who are fighting a grassroots war against the cartels. The results are astounding. Cartel Land is staggering, stunning. The best documentary I’ve seen in a very long time. —M.D.
Director: Carol Reed
Any person who calls themselves a cinephile yet has not seen Carol Reed’s phenomenal Third Man needs to stop reading this blurb immediately, carve out two hours and rectify this mistake. In all seriousness though, Vienna has rarely looked more richly cinematic than it does here, with Robert Krasker’s expressionistic camerawork capturing the feel of a city distorted. The plot centers on Joseph Cotten’s Western writer Holly Martins, who arrives in Vienna after hearing about a job from his friend, Harry. Holly is promptly shocked to discover that Harry was killed in a car accident but, suspicious of the shady details, begins to investigate his friend’s death. On the off chance anyone has remained unspoiled (or never watched Pinky and the Brain), I will leave it at that, adding only that the film boasts a brilliant performance from Orson Welles and a thrilling final-act foot chase. —M.R.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship that resonates with child and adult alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time, and the moment his career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. —M.B.
Metropolis never slows as it delivers a constant stream of iconic images. Fritz Lang filled his parable with all the sci-fi/adventure tropes he could: the mad scientist, the robot, the rooftop chase, the catacombs and, as it turns out, a devious henchman. Metropolis, too, is a great reminder of just how difficult it is to judge an incomplete film. In fact, many silent films are missing material, even when it isn’t made clear in screenings or on home video. While Lang’s film has always been known for its spectacular special effects—it’s legally required that I use the phrase “visionary” while discussing it—but not until a few years ago did modern audiences see a film anywhere close to the one that first premiered. It turned out that the film’s best performance, Fritz Rasp as a ruthless spy for the corporate state, was part of that missing material, and it gives the film a greater sense of urgency, increasing the feeling of class-based antagonism. With that unknown excellence lurking in one of the most famous films of all time, it leaves us to wonder what else was lost in nitrate flames. —J. Mathews
Director: James Marsh
In 1974, high-wire walker Philippe Petit fulfilled a longstanding dream by sneaking into New York’s World Trade Center, stringing a cable between the tops of the two towers, and—with almost unfathomable guts—walking across it without a net. The man is clearly a nut, but he’s also a great storyteller with a heck of a story, and Man on Wire gives him a chance to tell it. Petit’s stunt was both an engineering challenge and a test of, well, a test of something that most of us don’t possess in this much quantity. Filmmaker James Marsh uses standard documentary techniques, combining new interviews with a satisfying pile of footage and photographs, but his film has the suspense of a caper movie. The title comes from the report written by a police officer who was more than a little uncertain about how to respond to the audacity on display. —Robert Davis
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Though famously hated by author Stephen King—totaling the grand number of haters at approximately one—Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s chilling ghost story is still among the visually richest, best-paced chillers of the past three decades. Its iconic moments are among the most stolen and parodied in earnest, and Jack Nicholson’s method approach ensured nobody would ever approach him again without first checking to see if he was brandishing an axe. —S.W.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
T-Bone Burnett’s soundtrack got all the attention, but this twist on Homer’s Odyssey—set in Depression Era Mississippi—had all the effortless storytelling, imaginative characters and quotable lines we’ve come to love from the Coen Brothers’ best comedies, with George Clooney joining a celebrated list of Coen comic leads. Holly Hunter and John Goodman basically reprise their hilarious Raising Arizona roles, only with more kids. And an eye-patch. —J.J.
Director: Sergio Leone
Let’s get this out of the way: Once Upon a Time in the West is as great as they come, and one of the most influential Westerns of its day. But after the film’s opening 20 minutes or so dribble by, it’s hard not to wonder how the remaining 150 will match them. Sergio Leone’s film is so deliberately paced and so unhurried in getting where it needs to that as soon as the moment passes when we first meet Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing gunman, we feel as though we’ve already sat through an entire feature. That doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but Leone’s talent for stretching seconds into minutes and minutes into hours is made all the more amazing by how little we feel the passage of time. Once Upon a Time in the West is truly cinematic, a wormhole that slowly transports us into its world of killers and tycoons, bandits and landowners, revenge and rightness. There’s a reason that Leone’s masterpiece is considered one of the greatest movies ever made and not just one of the great Westerns: Once Upon a Time in the West is an enduring monument of its era, its genre and filmmaking itself. —Andy Crump
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
A delicate, delicious little French trifle, Amélie is easily one of the most romantic films on Netflix. The adorable Audrey Tautou launched herself into the American consciousness as the quirky do-gooder waitress who sends her secret crush photos and riddles masking her identity in order to make their first encounter—and first kiss—the most romantic moment of her life. Endlessly imaginative and beautifully photographed, Amélie is a film to be treasured. —Jeremy Medina
Director: Errol Morris
A little after midnight on Nov. 28, 1976, Dallas police officers Robert Wood and Teresa Turko made a routine traffic stop for a car driving without headlights. When Wood approached the vehicle, the driver pulled a handgun and shot him five times. The car sped off into the night while Turko fired hopelessly in its wake and Wood died at her feet. A cop killer was on the loose in Dallas. Turko’s recollections of the driver were meager, and 50 investigators worked through the sparse clues without a single witness. But less than a month later, on Dec. 21, Dallas police arrested Randall Dale Adams, a 28-year-old itinerant laborer from Ohio. Though Adams claimed his innocence, a jury found him guilty and the judge handed him the death sentence. The man once branded in court as “Charles Manson” was safely locked away. Dallas breathed again. Nine years later, in 1985, a documentarian named Errol Morris drifted into town from New York. Morris had never heard of Randall Dale Adams; he was in Dallas to speak to a doctor. By the time Morris left three years later, he had freed an innocent man, identified a murderer, uncovered widespread corruption and earned death threats, law suits and debt. He had also made one of the finest documentary films of all time—a nimbly stylized and obsessive pursuit of truth; a study in and a shrug to the pitfalls of myopia; the Serial podcast before podcasts ever existed; an epic story of life, death and the misuse of power that has repercussions to this day. He called it The Thin Blue Line. —Neil Forsyth
Director: Wes Anderson
Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola avoid clichés at every opportunity. The forces that would typically work to tear Sam and Suzy apart instead rally behind them, perhaps infected by the conviction of their love, which never wavers, even in argument: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Moonrise Kingdom is whimsical and, yes, precious, but it is so in the very best sense of the word. —A.E.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
What is it about the Coen Brothers’ inconsolable No Country for Old Men that still chills the blood, even under the South Texas sun? No doubt its inscrutability plays a role: Is it a Western, a noir or a morality play? And the Academy Award-winning performance by Javier Bardem disturbs because he himself remains a mystery: Is Anton Chigurh a merciless hitman or the Angel of Death? The story of a drug deal gone wrong soon reveals its true theme: the futility of being good and just in the face of abject evil. But the Coens also meditate on the faltering of the physical body. “Age’ll flatten a man,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Sherrif Bell esteems, and for this Texan, the evocation of my childhood landscape—right down to the tiniest detail—means that the specter of Chigurh will haunt not only the end of my life but stomp through its earliest remembrances as well. —Andy Beta
Director: Richard Linklater
Of all the achievements in Richard Linklater’s career, perhaps what he will be best remembered for is his depiction of time. Dazed and Confused chronicled teenage life with precision, but his Before trilogy showed how the passage of time shapes and changes people in ways that they can’t see, precisely because they’re on the inside, lacking the necessary perspective easily available to us on the outside. Now with Linklater’s new movie, Boyhood, time is examined in a new, incredibly moving way. As is Linklater’s custom, Boyhood is profound in such a casual way that its weighty themes feel nonchalant, effortless. This movie might make you cry for reasons you can’t quite articulate. You won’t be alone in feeling that way. Because of the ambition of the project and the amount of years it covers, Boyhood might initially seem underwhelming. By design, Mason’s life isn’t particularly momentous, and there are no major revelations or twists. Instead, everything that happens is a matter of gradation—say, for example, how Mason begins to develop an interest in art or how his mother’s partners start to repeat similar patterns of behavior. These moments aren’t commented on—they’re simply observed—and one of Boyhood’s great attributes is its generous spirit. Linklater, who also wrote the script, doesn’t care about indulging in soap-opera melodrama to elevate the drama because he’s too busy being jazzed by the casual flow of life. There’s enough going on with most people that he doesn’t need to invent incidents. Without even necessarily intending it, Linklater in Boyhood has fashioned a rather lovely vision of modern America, and it’s telling that Mason’s story starts a year after 9/11. In a sense, the world of Boyhood is the world the rest of us have had to negotiate right along with him. By the time Boyhood ends, no grand resolutions have occurred. Mason will keep living his life, and so will we. But by observing the everyday with such grace, Linklater allows us the opportunity to do the same. There are few better gifts a filmmaker can give his audience. —Tim Grierson
Director: Steven Spielberg
It’d be hard to find a more inspiring, moving story to tell than that of Oskar Schindler. And before seeing this film, I assumed that Steven Spielberg was exactly the wrong person to tell it. But all thanks be to the movie gods that I wasn’t a studio head in the ‘90s, because Spielberg produced what was simply one of the most ambitious, wise, and moving motion pictures of our lifetime. The acting is superb—a career-making role for big lumbering Liam Neeson, so carefree and cocky at the beginning, so and concerned and determined in the middle, and so noble and humble at the end of the film. Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley are perfect in supporting roles. A host of unknowns give everything in their one moment on the screen. John Williams’s haunting score and Janusz Kaminski’s breathtaking black-and-white cinematography sparkle. But the script—oh, Steven Zaillian’s majestic script is the biggest star. He manages to take a Holocaust tale and turn it into a story of triumph, the story of how much one man can do, and the regret we’ll each someday have that we didn’t do much, much more. Oskar’s “I could have gotten more out” speech is almost too much to bear.—Michael Dunaway