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The Best Independent Movies on Netflix (Spring 2017)

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There isn’t much in the way of rhyme, reason or rigor when it comes to independent movies on Netflix. What does that even mean anymore—the “indie” film? Long gone is the distinction once awarded to something like The Blair Witch Project, declaring that low-budget movies made by unknown filmmakers were (gasp!) financially viable, like an independent movie has something to prove.

Today seemingly every film has something to prove, and seemingly every film is independent, unless that film isn’t part of Disney and a cinematic franchise universe. No shade here; that’s just how it is. So embarking upon listing the best independent movies on Netflix can be both an ambitious and futile task.

Still, Netflix has a category, “Independent,” that covers a lot of ground, so that’s how we’ve decided what goes on this list: We pulled up the “Independent” list on Netflix and whatever was in there was fair game. Many, of course, are already on our monthly best movies on Netflix super-list. Dig in, and try to remember that there actually was a time, not too long ago, when some movies could have a $60,000 budget and be box office hits.

Here are the best independent movies streaming on Netflix:

50. Manglehorn
Year: 2015
Director: David Gordon Green 
David Gordon Green’s film stars Al Pacino as the titular locksmith with nothing but time on his hands. Manglehorn lives a solitary life—his ailing kitty his only friend—but Green and first-time screenwriter Paul Logan hint at the world he once occupied. Periodically, the film will downshift so that a side character can tell a story about the Manglehorn they used to know: the father, the baseball coach, the loving grandfather. That we see little of the warmth or humanity these characters describe is Manglehorn’s great mystery: Where did that man go, the man Pacino plays in an agreeably modest, empathetic performance? Too many years of hoo-ah overkill have stifled his light touch and effortless charm, replaced with hammy intensity and Scarface parody. But the Pacino on display here mostly puts aside those actor-ly embellishments for something warmer. —Tim Grierson


49. John Dies at the End
Year: 2012
Director: Don Coscarelli
Your ability to withstand the absurdity of John Dies at the End will depend almost entirely on if you’re able to tolerate nonlinear storylines and characters who, woven together, tax the lengths of the imagination. An oftimes crude and farcical combination of horror, drug culture, and philosophical sci-fi, it’s a film you won’t entirely grasp until you’ve seen it for yourself. Central is a drug known as “soy sauce,” which causes the user to see outside the concept of linear time, existing at all times at once, similar to the alien beings from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Also appearing: phantom limbs, an alien consciousness known as “Shitload,” a heroic dog, Paul Giamatti and an evil, interdimensional supercomputer. No drugs necessary—John Dies at the End will make you feel like you’ve already ransacked your medicine cabinet. —Jim Vorel


48. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Year: 2017
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


47. Results
Year: 2015
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Results is a significant departure for Andrew Bujalski. While relatively low-budget, this is the director’s biggest film to date—there’s no shaky camerawork or poor sound quality here, and working, notable actors are seemingly getting working day rates. Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha, in 2002, was one of the first to be coined “mumblecore,” and the awkward but natural performances from its nonprofessional actors became a defining characteristic of the movement. There’s certainly more polish from Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce and Kevin Corrigan, but their performances—refined and, admittedly, “professional”—only enhance the lived-in nature of the characters Bujalski’s created—who all happen to be rather pathetic, emotionally stunted and odd human beings. Still, you can’t help but become invested in their lives, each with their own endearing quirks, each amusing in their own way, to discover and observe. Results is a series of wondefully tiny, revealing moments. —Regan Reid


46. Clown
Year: 2014
Director: Jon Watts
An icky creature feature that never once blinks as it pushes its conceit as far as an especially game child actor’s parents will allow, Clown is director Jon Watts’ debut, a horror movie in which a lot of cute, innocent children are eaten—on screen—by a man in a clown suit. Kent (Andy Powers) is a real estate agent who finds a strangely scaly clown costume in a dusty trunk stored in one of the houses he’s renovating for sale. After donning it for his son’s birthday party, he struggles to get the thing off, ripping a huge chunk of skin from his nose when forcing the red rubber clown bulb from his face, and breaking a hand-saw while attempting to cut the fabric of his get-up enough to pry the suit away (which leads to the film’s most self-aware horror line ever, as Kent sticks the saw blade right next to his jugular: “This is a bad idea”). After he’s informed by the grody Karlsson (Peter Stormare, existentially grody) that the clown suit is actually an Icelandic demon which needs to eat five children before it returns to hibernation, Kent fails to overcome his new horrifying hunger, eating his way through the juvenile population of his small town. While Watts’s follow-up, the excellent Cop Car, seems like a better primer when it comes to figuring out how the relatively inexperienced director was able to score the Spider-Man: Homecoming gig, Clown mines much of the same anxieties as Cop Car does, about the sheer horror of growing up—about how simply being a child cannot shield a child from the reality of our fucked-up world. The Peter Parker of Spider-Man is the youngest-seeming cinematic take on the hero yet, so it makes sense a director like Watts could be brought on board to navigate that weird and scary hormonal terrain. —Dom Sinacola


45. Valhalla Rising
Year: 2010
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Here’s the film in which Nicolas Winding Refn—who somehow brutalized his way into cinephiles’ hearts with the crazy Bronson, later going on to solidify that love with Drive—demonstrated he is both capable of anything, and will fight you if you think otherwise. Ostensibly an alterna-history Viking flick about the colonization of the New World, most obviously in the vein and feel of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: the Wrath of God, Valhalla Rising is an absolutely insane, egregiously dirty film about…a lot of weird, violent shit. Wading through the scum-stench’d mud of mythology—most saliently the encroachment of Christianity on every older world religion—and practically ineffable ideas about masculinity or building civilization over the detritus of human corruption, whatever it’s about in the end, Refn’s lyrical oddity is an endlessly fascinating, completely visceral experience. Plus, Mads Mikkelson has never been so frightening—and that’s counting his take on Hannibal Lecter. —Dom Sinacola


44. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train
Year: 2017
Director: Sydney Freeland
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train is a heart-melter. The film, like its two title characters, like its handful of supporting characters and like its director, has spunk, personality, a spark of vitality keeping its narrative humming from start to finish, but it takes its material as seriously as it needs to at the precise times when it needs to, as well. There’s a certain level of amorality here, as you might expect from a film about locomotive larceny, but submerged beneath the murky ethics of theft are currents of empathy: Freeland has constructed a judgment-free zone for telling the tale of sisters Deidra (Ashley Murray) and Laney Tanner (Rachel Crow), inspired toward criminal enterprise all in the name of family. It’s a caper, alright, but a caper that refuses to make light of the premise-shaping predicaments that shape its premise, a feat Freeland pulls off with casual brio. You get the feeling that there are lots of Deidras and Laneys out there who are constantly denied the chance to escape their circumstances, whether in backwater America or elsewhere, by the very institutions that are supposed to help them achieve. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train manages to address these ideas, without focusing on them. They remain in the background for the whole of the film, self-reinforced by the flow of Freeland’s plotting. This is appropriate for the sort of picture that Deidra & Laney Rob a Train wants to be: a romp, but a romp of substance and heart. —Andy Crump


43. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards in a film that is extremely funny and big-hearted but also doesn’t skimp on the violence. —Michael Burgin


42. The Mend
Year: 2015
Director: John Magary
The Mend’s loosely strung plot dips into familiar narrative wells: Two white guys with a prickly personal relationship, historical daddy issues, tenuous love lives and general existential angst wind up on a collision course with Catharsis™. If you scour the annals of modern indie cinema and you don’t stumble upon that exact same blueprint a dozen times over, you’re not looking hard enough. But director John Magary does more with The Mend’s common elements by doing less. Remarkably, he’s able to distill originality from tropes. He doesn’t explain, he insinuates, implies, suggests. The film is as interesting for the things it leaves unsaid as for the things it does say, though the script contains so much sharp dialogue, we may be apt to forget about the tensions bubbling beneath the surface. Magary has his acrimony and eats it, too, but as much as he entertains us through comic hostility, his movie’s prevailing tone suggests deep and abiding fondness for his leads. The Mend draws so much from real, raw life, we don’t need specifics—Magary knows we can sniff them out ourselves through personal experience. —Andy Crump


41. Bella
Year: 2007
Director: Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
Bella is a delicate but powerful story of grace. When restauranteur Manny (Manny Perez) fires waitress Nina (Tammy Blanchard), Manny’s brother José (Eduardo Verástegui), a cook, quits in protest, right before the lunch rush. José and Nina end up spending the day together, lining Nina up with a new job and taking the train to José’s tightly knit family’s house. The immediate question raised—one that confuses the newly pregnant Nina, and José’s own family—is why he made the impetuous decision to walk out on his brother and take up the role of Nina’s protector, especially as it becomes clear that he has something of a glamorous history. But as their quiet conversations slowly open up throughout the day, we learn that it’s his past mistakes that motivate his unexpected actions. The film steadily strums at your heartstrings, but it plays a gentle Nick Drake-like melody, always sweet but rarely melodramatic. Considering the stellar, understated performances from Verastegui and Blanchard, it’s easy to see why Bella won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival.—Josh Jackson


40. Beginners
Year: 2011
Director: Mike Mills
Christopher Plummer is absolutely smashing as Hal, a man coming out late in life after the death of his wife Georgia (Mary Page Keller). With intentions of being not a “theoretical” gay but a “practical” one, he dives headfirst into the queer world available to him by immersing himself in both gay politics and in the affections of a much younger lover. In a later timeline, his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) grieves his mother’s death while also conducting a playful love affair with a complicated young French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent). Told in flashbacks from the 1930s up to 2003, Beginners demands total concentration from the viewer. Director Mike Mills’ smart, stylized take on Los Angeles’ modern style is a treat to behold, and each frame is visually captivating. The film is particularly strong as a narrative of coming to grips with one’s true identity. For Hal, this means coming out as both a gay man and as a bit of a partier; for Oliver, this means finally growing out of an extended adolescence and understanding how to love someone else even when loving is painful. For queer people, many of whom end up experiencing both of these realities, the film will particularly hit home. Beginners deserves to be recognized as a classic of queer cinema. —Nick Mattos


39. The Invitation
Year: 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
The less you know about Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, the better. This is true of slow-burn cinema of any stripe, but Kusama slow-burns to perfection. The key, it seems, to successful slow-burning in narrative fiction is the narrative rather than the actual slow-burn. In the case of The Invitation, that involves a tale of deep and intimate heartache, the kind that none of us hopes to ever have to endure in our own lives. The film taps into a nightmare vein of real-life dread, of loss so profound and pervasive that it fundamentally changes who you are as a human being. That’s where we begin: with an examination of grief. Where we end is obviously best left unsaid, but The Invitation is remarkable neither for its ending nor for the direction we take to arrive at its ending. Instead, it is remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. —Andy Crump


38. Adventureland
Year: 2009
Director: Greg Mottola
As far as films set in Pennsylvania are concerned, they can’t all be steel mill layoffs and dark political plots: Adventureland is a pitch-perfect coming-of-age story. In the summer of 1987, twenty-somethings James (Jesse Eisenberg), Em (Kristen Stewart) and Joel (Martin Starr, who steals the movie) find each other in the purgatory of the Adventureland Amusement Park (actually Pittsburgh’s historic Kennywood), passing their days operating rides and un-winnable games when they’d rather be anywhere else. Writer-director Mottola’s success lies in his resistance to romanticizing his characters—Eisenberg’s James, in particular, is just as annoying and self-absorbed as a real 22-year-old Oberlin grad, and gets called on it. Likewise, the Pittsburgh of Adventureland is real, an insider’s city, not a city of landmarks. The film explores the day-to-day Pittsburgh of neighborhoods, of patchy, unruly yards, of dive bars, of wood-paneled basements in old brick houses teetering on strenuous hills. To these characters, it’s also a dead-end town from which escape is the best option, lest they wind up like Ryan Reynolds’ maintenance man Connell, committing adultery in his mother’s basement and bragging endlessly about meeting Lou Reed. “Your life must be utter shit, or you wouldn’t be here,” Joel observes to James at the beginning of the film. But Adventureland’s fondness for its city and its flawed characters shines through such self-deprecation. —Maura McAndrew


37. Pariah
Year: 2011
Director: Dee Rees
The first feature by Spike Lee protégé Dee Rees tells the story of teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye), a dutiful and accomplished daughter from a religious household in Brooklyn. As Alike struggles to find a proper expression of her sexuality, she follows her out friend Laura (Pernell Walker) into a scene of African-American lesbians whose brash liveliness proves a bit unsettling. When Alike’s mother introduces her to Bina (Aasha Davis), Alike contends with both her own sexuality and the ways that her identity ties her to a community she doesn’t quite fit in with. Shot in Brooklyn in a vivid palette of deep primary colors, Pariah is evocative of Spike Lee at his best. However, in content, the film is distinctive in its engagement with characters who seek to belong. Eschewing both hipster navel-gazing and pat clichés, Pariah instead lets its characters exist in a beautiful human ambiguity, on the edge of society but also finding their own place at that edge. The result is a thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining addition to the canon of modern queer film. —Nick Mattos


36. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Year: 2013
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 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. Perhaps it is not such a dramatic thing to say after all—that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a movie. Here we have a work that highlights the difference between a movie and a film. These two entities are, obviously, not binary opposites, but one could argue that the feeling of a film—brought about with careful attention to cinematography, score and character development (all handled here with unique style and aplomb)—sits with the viewer long after the credits roll. Even with omissions in the narrative that inspire in the viewer a longing for more, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a true film. And that longing may in fact be the very foundation of Lowery’s work—the reason it is more feeling than movie, more cinematic emotion unfolding on screen than anything else. —Shannon M. Houston


35. The Commitments
Year: 1991
Director: Alan Parker
The Commitments might’ve single-handedly created the working classic Irish musician genre. It’s hard to watch Sing Street or Once (whose star, Glen Hansard, also appears in The Commitments) without thinking back to this movie about a blue-eyed soul band in Dublin and their struggles to stay together despite community indifference and regular in-fighting. It’s a drama no doubt, but there’s also tremendous humor here, and an uncommon degree of warmth and humanity. —Garrett Martin


34. Sing Street
Year: 2016
Director: John Carney
Sing Street spins art out of history, but you might mistake it for pop sensationalism at first glance. If so, you’re forgiven. In sharp contrast to John Carney’s breakout movie, 2007’s sterling adult musical Once, or even his most recent effort, 2013’s Begin 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


33. White Girl
Year: 2016
Director: Elizabeth Wood
The title of Elizabeth Wood’s lean, vicious, black comic act of autobiography is a loaded phrase: It references the powdery stimulant that greases the film’s dramatic wheels, it’s a nod to Wood’s subject-cum-protagonist-cum-screen avatar and it’s a two-word curse, the film’s “Khan!”, an abject expression of repulsion. White Girl holds nothing back, frontloading its narrative with graphic sex sequences and even more graphic white privilege sequences, where young Leah (Morgan Saylor), recently relocated from her Midwestern home to attend college in NYC, recklessly indulges her every whim without a thought to the cost her abandon incurs for both her and the people around her. That’s the point, of course: She doesn’t have to think about consequences. She’s White Girl™, a super-powered force of entitlement. Wood’s film might make you laugh, or it might make you tear out your hair. No matter where your reaction to White Girl on the spectrum falls, though, you won’t soon forget it. —Andy Crump


32. Honeytrap
Year: 2014
Director: Rebecca Johnson
Based on a true and tragic story, Honeytrap tells of a young and naive teen from Trinidad who moves to London to live with her mother for the first time since her childhood. We know Layla’s desire—desperation, really—to fit in with the Brixton crowd is going to end badly, but Jessica Sula’s portrayal makes the character’s seemingly simple-minded moves feel completely relatable. Not unlike the beautiful French film, Goodbye First Love, Honeytrap takes young love and its oft accompanying obliviousness very seriously. When Layla chooses the (ahem, wildly attractive) bad guy over the good guy, and finds herself unable to walk away from an abusive relationship, we can’t help but identify with her because writer-director Rebecca Johnson has taken care to show how Layla’s decision-making is informed by both familial strains and a culture that celebrate hyper-masculinity. But it’s the end of the film that delivers a powerfully shocking blow—one that will make you wholly relieved that your days of teenage love are (hopefully) far behind. —Shannon M. Houston


31. The Blair Witch Project
Year: 1999
Directors: Eduardo Sánchez, Daniel Myrick
Where Scream reinvented a genre by pulling the shades back to reveal the inner workings of horror, The Blair Witch Project went the opposite route: crafting both a new style of presentation and especially of 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 captured 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. —Jim Vorel


30. The Babadook
Year: 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Classifying Jennifer Kent’s feature debut, The Babadook, is tricky. Ostensibly this is a horror film—freaky stuff happens on an escalating scale, so qualifying Kent’s tale of a single mother’s fractious relationship with her young son with genre tags seems like a perfectly logical move. But The Babadook is so layered, so complex and just so goddamned dramatic that categorizing it outright feels reductive to the point of insult. There’s a grand divide between what Kent has done here and what most of us consider horror. You’ll spend your first week after the experience sleeping with the lights on. You will also come away enriched and provoked. Australian actress-turned-filmmaker Kent has made a movie about childhood, about adulthood and about the nagging fears that hound us from one period to the next. There’s a monster in the closet—and under the bed, and in the armoire, and in the basement—but the film’s human concerns are emotional in nature. They’re not aided by the ephemeral evil lurking in the dark places of its characters’ hearts, of course; going through personal trauma is enough of a chore when you’re not being stalked by the bogeyman. —Andy Crump


29. Following
Year: 1998
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. —Amanda Schurr


28. Nightcrawler
Year: 2014
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


27. Summer of Blood
Year: 2014
Director: Onur Tukel
Summer of Blood is the best—and most likely only—Brooklyn vampire movie since Wes Craven’s 1995 Eddie Murphy vehicle Vampire in Brooklyn. Director-writer-star-Turkish Zach Galifianakis, Onur Tukel, pays tribute to the horror movie mainstay while completely upending all associated tropes with the hipster sensibility so commonly associated with the borough, and infused with a Woody Allen wit that’s at times hilarious. Tukel plays a neurotic schlub named Erik who lives somewhere in either Greenpoint or Williamsburg, eats at cool outdoor restaurants and dates impossibly attractive women who seem a bit out of reach for his short, chubby, hairy, dickish persona (the movie’s title has been abbreviated as “S.O.B.” on posters for good reason). There’s some appropriately meta dialogue sprinkled in about being a filmmaker and starring in your own movie full of white people, but nothing that reeks too much of self-referential indie clichés. If you’re in the mood for a horror movie in which vampires complain about the humidity and blame rampant back acne for the blood all over their clothes, this one’s a winner. —Jonah Flicker


26. The Overnight
Year: 2015
Director: Patrick Brice
Making new friends isn’t easy when you’re grown-up and married. It’s that kind of anxiety first felt by the leads in Patrick Brice’s sophomore feature, The Overnight, a dizzying, debauched, excruciatingly funny film about knitting new connections through discomfort. Brice has made the trend-forward sprawl of suburban Los Angeles his backdrop, and his story begins as one of displacement: Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), freshly uprooted from Seattle, are strangers in a strange, meticulously chichi world, and they’re in desperate need of guiding companionship. After presenting its preamble, The Overnight introduces our yuppie heroes to Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a man so painfully hip that he might as well be the mayor of the entire damn burg. Like Brice’s debut film, the two-man found-footage horror show Creep, The Overnight is a cautionary tale of stranger danger. The film offers tonal breeziness and terrific performances, especially from Schilling and Schwartzman, who vibe well together and stand out on their own. She’s our audience surrogate, surveying the narrative’s kink with her typical wild-eyed disbelief; he’s a larger than life bohemian stereotype whose charm lets Schwartzman wear his crown as the king of amicable jerks more snugly than he has in his last half dozen roles. They make up part of the picture’s backbone, with explorations of masculine insecurity, the crumbling infrastructure of a marriage and the truth of what really goes on behind the closed doors of the wealthy comprising the rest of the film’s whole. —Andy Crump


25. Weekend
Year: 2011
Director: Andrew Haigh
Weekend is a quiet, well-executed study of a relationship’s first-bloom. But since it’s a tale of boy meets boy instead of boy meets girl,, Andrew Haigh’s film is a gem that’s destined to garner little attention outside of Netflix’s less-perused genre section. The plot is simple: Russell (Tom Cullen) goes out on a Friday, first to a friend’s house and then to a gay bar. He brings Glen (Chris New) home with him. They hook up. Over the next two days, the two men take the first steps in that orientation-immune dance in which we all participate. Is this something special? And if so, for a moment or a day? For longer? Ultimately, Weekend reminds its viewers that all couples fall in love in much the same way: with careful restraint and bursts of joy, with nagging doubts and tentative hopes, and with the desire to connect at odds with the fear of being hurt. —Michael Burgin


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


23. Waking Life
Year: 2011
Director: Richard Linklater 
Waking Life is Richard Linklater’s most formal inquiry into the Big Questions. Though also his most boldly experimental, the film can be read as something of a companion piece to his 1991 film, Slacker: Both generously afford their multiple subjects spacious platforms in which to espouse their views. Waking Life draws upon a method of delivery that more closely matches the ephemeral nature of those intellectual and existential musings, and places the setting inside the dream of an introspective and curious young man. Employing an economical, but ingenious, rotoscoping animation technique pioneered by Art Director Bob Sabiston, Waking Life’s signature visual style is as elegant and variable as the dream world it inhabits. Sometimes wild and chaotic, sometimes gently shifting and tranquil, the choice to digitally paint over the video allowed Linklater the additional freedom to interpret the segment jumps both fluidly and with vivid, expressionistic flair, calling out artistic movements spanning over a century. Waking Life provides the viewer as much to contemplate as it does to astound. —Scott Wold


22. Cemetery of Splendor
Year: 2016
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Deep into the enchanting Cemetery of Splendor, an assortment of fit-looking bodies get up, sit down, join one another, walk away, split apart, ride bikes and trade seats, all without reason but obviously with rhyme, as if, as a viewer, you’ve stumbled upon a reel of b-roll 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


21. Heaven Knows What
Year: 2015
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. —Andy Crump


20. Meek’s Cutoff
Year: 2011
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Leave it to Kelly Reichardt to reclaim the Western for women. Western movies tend to be seen as “guy” affairs, less so now in 2017 than in years past; they are manly products about manly men doing manly things and pondering manly ideas, though that’s an oversimplified critique that erases the impact women have had on Westerns in front of and behind the camera. What Reichardt does in Meek’s Cutoff is shunt the men to the side and confront the bullshit macho posturing that is such an integral component of the Western’s grammar (the only man here worth his salt is Stephen Meek [Bruce Greenwood], and even he is kind of an incompetent, entitled scumbag). So it’s up to Emily Tetherow, played by the great and luminous Michelle Williams, to challenge his self-appointed authority and take responsibility for the people in the caravan he has led so far astray from their path. Meek’s Cutoff is a stark, minimalist film, which is to say it’s a Kelly Reichardt film. The stripped-down, simmering austerity of her aesthetic pairs perfectly with the sensibilities of Western cinema. —Andy Crump


19. Arabian Nights (Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3)
Year: 2015
Director: Miguel Gomes
Nearly six and a half hours, the Arabian Nights trilogy isn’t exactly that: If one watches one, one should watch all three, but if one watches one, one should wait some time to watch the next, and then one should wait some more time to watch the next after that. Not because Gomes’s tri-volume’d opus is an especially weighty film—it’s actually quite a lot of fun to watch—but because it seems as if Gomes never really intended it to be viewed all in a row. In assembling a hybridized narrative of documentary and adaptation fable, Gomes provides a take on the aforementioned classic story by distilling its spirit into an entirely bonkers portrait of modern Portugal in the throes of economic desolation. A cadre of bureaucrats can’t get rid of their erections, a beached whale explodes only to beach a mermaid, an immortal dog happily serves generations of owners, an old skinny criminal uses teleportation to avoid the authorities, a rooster avoids execution by telling the story of young lovers embroiled within an arson investigation, a judge listens to the testimony of a talking cow who seeks permission to speak from a gender-ambiguous genie, a community of gruff bird trappers prepare their finches for singing competitions—and somehow I feel as if I’ve missed so much, unable to grasp the light but immense complexity of what Gomes has accomplished. Of course there is the overarching story, of Scheherazade telling nightly stories to the King of Baghdad to avoid execution, and there is inexplicable time-leaping, as there is the emergence of Gomes himself, explaining that even he is unsure of what it is he’s doing, which the audience has no reason to disbelieve, which the director obviously expects, which the audience can’t possibly accept without total devotion to the sheer glee of Gomes’s kitchen-sink conceit. Above all, the Arabian Nights volumes are a testament to the power of storytelling, to losing oneself within the folds of a human imperative without once taking that imperative for granted. —Dom Sinacola


18. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Year: 2004
Director: Wes Anderson 
A once-famous oceanographer and explorer, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) now can barely bother. He feels things quietly, but deeply. And throughout The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Murray plays the sad wash-up as he has so many roles in this late phase of his career, like a classic Pixies song: Zissou possesses a chilly, utterly subdued state of being towards the insanity around him, until his frustrations burst to the surface with a brilliantly cutting line like, “Son of a bitch, I am sick of these dolphins.” Murray’s enigmatic preference for keeping his characters’ emotions close to their chests provides ample contrast between sardonic humor and something sincerer, even during big action sequences, like when the Zissou team rescues Jeff Goldblum’s Allistair Hennessey (“Steven, are you rescuing me?” Murray’s response, a pained half-smile and barely-there head cock, is deadpan brilliance). It’s arguable Anderson helped Murray initially make that marked 180 from his constantly talking, wisecracking comedic personas in classics like Ghostbusters or Caddyshack, and, in my humble opinion, The Life Aquatic is undoubtedly the most fruitful of his and Anderson’s collaborations. —Greg Smith


17. Primer
Year: 2004
Director: Shane Carruth
Primer does not operate as most movies do, practically reverse-engineered to demand repeat viewings in order to, at the very least, figure out what is even going on. Shane Carruth—who wrote, directed, starred in, edited and scored the film on an impossible budget of $7,000—is, more than a decade after Primer premiered, still a rarity in the studio system, able to create groundbreaking films totally outside that system while trusting in the intelligence of his audience to trust that he’s got everything under control. The difficulty in untangling Primer’s labyrinthine time-travel plot falls in Carruth’s approach: Limited (or perhaps inspired) by a non-existent budget, Carruth shaved his story down to its basest elements, providing exposition in overheard conversations, offering practically nothing in the way of a narrative map to follow, vying instead to explore as mundanely as possible how two software engineers would wield the unthinkable power of time travel. While it may frustrate many uninterested in translating this kind of metaphysical visual language, Carruth’s film aims for more transcendent awards: Navigating Primer feels, we can only imagine, as Carruth’s characters would feel on the precipice of the completely unexplored unknown. That, for all its distancing tactics and opaque conundrums, Primer still operates on a deeply human level, is Carruth’s truest success. Upstream Color may be a sign that Carruth will only get better, but Primer is still a modern landmark of science fiction filmmaking: A story about the mysteries of reality revealed to the only most ordinary—living the most ordinary lives—among us. —Dom Sinacola


16. The Trip
Year: 2011
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


15. Wet Hot American Summer
Year: 2001
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


14. A Single Man
Year: 2009
Director: Tom Ford
Up until the early 1980s, queer people were often viewed through a lens that rendered them as tragic, dangerous outsiders—and author Christopher Isherwood was a figurehead of this cultural effect. A gifted writer who was equally conversant in Vedantic philosophy and the isolating social mores of the 1960s queer underground, Isherwood perfectly captured the ecstasy, sadness and cognitive dissonance of his lifestyle in his 1964 novel A Single Man. Designer Tom Ford’s 2009 filmic take on the novel would make Isherwood himself proud with its adroitness at walking these same aesthetic and philosophical lines. In A Single Man, college professor George (played with striking gravitas by Colin Firth) contends with life in the aftermath of the death of his longtime lover Jim (Matthew Goode). In a disorienting and atmospheric stream of consciousness, George takes stock of his relationship, interfaces with friends (including a disturbing and at-times hilarious lush played with vigor and subtlety by Julianne Moore), and braces himself for his own death. It’s surprisingly more life-affirming than it sounds—between Ford’s stylish take on mid-century aesthetics and the philosophical core of Isherwood’s original text, the film achieves a mystical transcendence even as it wrings tears from its audience. In terms of cinematic antecedents, the closest thing to A Single Man is likely Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides—another hypnotic, reverent adaptation that succeeds mightily in translating literary depression into cinematic gold. —Nick Matos


13. Heathers
Year: 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
As much an homage to ’80s teen romps—care of stalwarts like John Hughes and Cameron Crowe—as it is an attempt to push that genre to its near tasteless extremes, Heathers is a hilarious glimpse into the festering core of the teenage id, all sunglasses and cigarettes and jail bait and misunderstood kitsch. Like any coming-of-age teen soap opera, much of the film’s appeal is in its vaunting of style over substance—coining whole ways of speaking, dressing and posturing for an impressionable generation brought up on Hollywood tropes—but Heathers embraces its style as an essential keystone to filmmaking, recognizing that even the most bloated melodrama can be sold through a well-manicured image. And some of Heathers’ images are indelible: J.D. (Christian Slater) whipping out a gun on some school bullies in the lunch room, or Veronica (Winona Ryder) passively lighting her cigarette with the flames licking from the explosion of her former boyfriend. It makes sense that writer Daniel Waters originally wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct his script: Heathers is a filmmaker’s (teen) film. —Dom Sinacola


12. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
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. —Tim Grierson


11. Glengarry Glen Ross
Year: 1992
Director: James Foley
Surely somewhere on the Internet there’s a catalog of all the potboiler plays that have been turned into lifeless movies, wherein their minimal settings came off as flat rather than intimate or claustrophobic, and the surgically written prose came off as stilted rather than impassioned. Glengarry Glen Ross is the exception and the justification for all noble stage-to-screen attempts since. This adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play about workingman’s inhumanity to workingman still crackles today, and its best lines (there are many) have become ingrained in the angrier sections of our collective zeitgeist. James Foley directs the playwright’s signature cadence better than the man himself, and the all-star cast give performances they’ve each only hoped to match since. Mamet, for his part, managed to elevate his already stellar material with his screenplay, adding the film’s most iconic scene, the oft-quoted Blake speech brilliantly delivered by Alec Baldwin. This is a film worthy of a cup of coffee—and, as we know, coffee is for closers only. —Bennett Webber


10. World of Tomorrow
Year: 2015
Director: Don Hertzfeldt
In 16 minutes, Don Hertzfeldt lays out our future: a vastly interconnected age of barely functional connections. In stick figures, impressionistic smatterings of vibrant color, geometric arrays, a snippet of a Strauss opera and the perspective of one little girl, Emily (Winona Mae), World of Tomorrow makes all science fiction to come before feel limited, not fa-reaching enough—not enough. In 16 minutes. In any of the subjects or tropes of sci-fi that most fascinate us, all of us—cloning, AI, robotics, time travel, immortality, space travel, the incomparable loneliness of the universe to which our technology gives us a glimpse—Hertzfeldt boils down each supposed “advancement” into a “yes” or “no”: Does this push us farther away from each other? Does this push us further away from ourselves? In the case of Future Emily falling in love with a mining robot, Hertzfeldt doesn’t want us to take it seriously so much as feel the pain, any pain, of Emily inevitably abandoning the robot to its long, blank eternity without her. In the case of hundreds of thousands of botched time travel missions killing time travelers by stranding them in an unknown time, or, worse, depositing them into the thinnest outer reaches of our atmosphere so their bodies fall back to earth, a beautiful nighttime show of falling stars, Hertzfeldt expects you to find this all pretty funny, because he knows you are using laughter to bury the urge to scream hopelessly into the indifferent void about just how meaningless your existence truly is. In 16 minutes: All of this—including a moment that will make your heart skip a beat because, in 15 minutes, you’ve become irrevocably attached to this little girl, Emily, and you can’t bear the thought of leaving her, this little stick person cartoon, to face the universe alone. —Dom Sinacola


9. Tangerine
Year: 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Shot entirely with an iPhone, Sean Baker’s Tangerine is a near perfect execution of raw realism juxtaposed against fleeting yet profound moments of vulnerability and tenderness. Writer-director Baker wastes no time flinging viewers into his story’s cacophonous premise: a delirious misadventure focusing on the fractured but luminous lives of transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Such immediacy helps set up the fast-paced, heartfelt journey that follows. When Sin-Dee and Alexandra reunite following the former’s release from her month-long prison sentence, we learn that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been seeing another woman. The news ignites a nearly two-hour chase around the streets of L.A. to locate and handle the “issue.” Within the story’s backdrop of the wild and dingy Los Angeles cityscape, Tangerine’s rule-defying characters thrive. Though it could easily devolve into an exploitative revenge porn drama, Tangerine shirks its expectations, becoming an aggressive examination of human complexity and a bold refusal to judge a book by its cover. That goes not only for its approach to characterization, but just about every narrative aspect of the work—from the way Baker develops his larger plot to how he sequences his shots, carefully upholding its characters’ sharply divisive existence. The deeper we go into the world of these two sex workers, the more we forget our assumptions of those who inhabit it. In the end, Tangerine is about discovering that our roughest edges can be both our most colorful and meaningful. —Abbey White


8. Y Tu Mamá También
Year: 2001
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), as well as a bittersweet final adventure for their older female companion (Maribel Verdu), who struggles with a life full of regret and roads not yet traveled. Y Tu Mamá También 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. —Jeremy Medina


7. Frances Ha
Year: 2012
Director: Noah Baumbach 
Frances Ha is endearing, kind and, in many ways, Noah Baumbach’s best movie since the one to come before it. One could trace his films, from his debut (Kicking and Screaming) to the one before Frances Ha (Greenberg) and see a slow but increasingly steady focus on the individual, as well as his abandonment of an ironic, sometimes caustic stance against the very characters he writes. It is as if Baumbach could only write a certain type of person—the privileged, socially crippled intellectual with either too much self-awareness or none at all—and for a while it seemed like even the writer himself couldn’t stand to be in the same room with such characters. This anger faded, and what has emerged over the course of the films he’s made with Greta Gerwig (who here plays the titular Frances) is an embrace of both the flaws of his characters, and those as a filmmaker. He has settled down and created a film imbued with love, fun and melancholy. It’s a simple joy to watch. —Joe Peeler


6. Aquarius
Year: 2016
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Clara (Sonia Braga) 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 the performance of her career, doing 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


5. The Tribe
Year: 2015
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. Assuming that 99% of the audience doesn’t communicate as the characters here do, 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


4. Upstream Color
Year: 2012
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 underlying energy that rules their lives. Told with stylistic bravado and minimal dialogue (none in its final 30 minutes), the film continually finds new ways to evoke unexpected feelings. The abstract 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 (connected by a small worm whose parasitic endeavors link people 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—allowing Caruth more time to explore the emotional impact the organism has on the characters it binds together. Ultimately, that’s where Upstream Color thrives: An elaborate intellectual concept fuels the film, but a rich sense of humanity gives it power. —Jeremy Mathews


3. Moonrise Kingdom
Year: 2012
Director: Wes Anderson 
At the time of making Moonrise Kingdom, after seven features, Wes Anderson became unmistakable: white, upper-middle-class dysfunctional families deadpan wry dialogue amid meticulous mise-en-scène to an eclectic soundtrack. Also: exquisite, often centered, shot compositions; uninterrupted lateral tracking camerawork through dollhouse-like sets; and inserts of quasi-obscure cultural objects. The auteur’s calculated quality persists in this as well, but where his past work could come off as chilly and detached, Moonrise Kingdom exudes a warmth and innocence generated by the earnest adolescent romance at its core. Delightfully in turn, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola avoid clichés at every opportunity. The forces that would typically work to tear Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) 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.” As always on an Anderson film, there’s much to be charmed by, but Moonrise Kingdom is precious in the very best sense of the word. —Annlee Ellingson


2. Barton Fink
Year: 1991
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 (John 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, the film delivers the deadpan comedy and quirky performances the Coens have practically trademarked, featuring such delights as 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, read with apocalyptic portent, like Goodman’s “I’ll show you the life of the mind!” as he embodies the manifestation of the writer’s world-ending futility—but any answers the film holds are unlikely to be reassuring. —Curt Holman


1. Boyhood
Year: 2014
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 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 (Ellar Coltrane) 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 (Patricia Arquette) 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

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