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The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (August 2018)

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The best movies on Netflix right now are not always the easiest to find, titles coming and going with sometimes seemingly little rhyme or reason. Which is why the amount they’ve removed—and more importantly, the amount they’ve added—is such a rarity for the service.

Perhaps as a prelude to Netflix’s theatrical release of Orson Welles’ final film, The Other Side of the Wind, Netflix now has two Welles classics, Touch of Evil and The Stranger, available to stream. If this weren’t strange enough (Netflix, gasp, adding films made before 1990?!), we also get such modern classics as Her, The Dark Knight and Under the Skin, as well as underseen genre gems like Keanu ReevesMan of Tai Chi and ’80s western Silverado.

So, rather than spending your time scrolling through categories, trying to track down the perfect film to watch, we’ve done our best to make it easy for you at Paste by updating our Best Movies to watch on Netflix list each month with new additions and overlooked films alike, bringing you our favorites from across genres: Oscar-winning dramas, independent and art-house films, action blockbusters, documentaries, comedies, sci-fi flicks and animated movies for both kids and adults. Though its classics will undoubtedly continue to dwindle, Netflix has a heaping handful of our 50 Best Movies of 2016 (including the addition of Certain Women) and 2017 (now The Last Jedi finds its way to the site) available to stream on demand, along with some of last year’s great documentaries and horror movies.

For extensive guides to the best movies on other platforms like HBO, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Showtime, Redbox, On Demand, YouTube, Shudder and The Best Movies in Theaters, visit the Paste Movie Guides.

You can also check out our genre-specific Netflix lists, in varying degrees of being updated (we do our best):
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 Best Independent Movies on Netflix, The 20 Best Animated Movies on Netflix, The 40 Best Foreign-Language Films on Netflix, The 20 Best Martial Arts Movies on Netflix, The Best Movies of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s on Netflix. Now let’s get to Paste’s answer to “what should I watch on Netflix?”

Here are the 100 best movies streaming on Netflix in August 2018:

100. *batteries not included
Year: 1987
Director: Matthew Robbins
Old people and aliens partner to fight gentrification for the crowd-pleasing win! Spouses both on and off the screen, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn play a couple who are among the low-income residents of an apartment building at odds with The Man, who goes so far as to hire a local gang to vandalize the couple’s downstairs diner and further drive out the tenants. As luck would have it, a pair of friendly flying saucers dubbed “the Fix-Its” are in town, and squat on the top of the building while repairing anything and everything there in miraculous time. Oh, and the UFOs aren’t just do-gooding Fix-Its, they’re fertile, family-minded Fix-Its at that. Exec produced by Steven Spielberg and co. and with a script co-penned by Brad Bird (his first feature screenplay), *batteries not included is smart and cute, in the best sense of that term—the Fix-Its are positively adorbs. The cast (which also includes Elizabeth Peña) is pitch-perfect, especially the sprightly Cronyn. There’s a childlike innocence to the whole thing, and darned if it doesn’t charm you. —Amanda Schurr


99. Chasing Trane
Year: 2016
Director: John Scheinfeld
Those old and new to John Coltrane will find something to appreciate in this vivid, albeit effusive, tribute to the jazz legend. Family members, former bandmates and famous fans (Kamasi Washington, Wynton Marsalis, John Densmore, Bill Clinton) recount the genius of the sax player’s compositions and evolution of his talents, from his Charlie Parker-mimicking early work to his later, freeform experimentation. Devotees shouldn’t expect much of a deep dive here on any level; via home movies, archival footage and personal diaries read by Denzel Washington, the film takes a linear, survey-style approach to his North Carolina childhood and drug-addled twenties, two marriages, and quick succumbing to liver cancer in 1967 at only 40. Filmmaker John Scheinfeld dips in and out of the music—too much so, it turns out, and with too little insight into the specifics of his gifts. Still, the overarching salvation Trane found in music resonates with such joy. The sequence about his civil rights opus “Alabama,” which took its phrasing cues from the cadence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a stirring illumination of his creative process. As Coltrane’s notes unfold atop King’s words, music and speech flow into and out of each other in a still urgent, impassioned release. Elsewhere, the doc looks at the transformative power of Coltrane’s faith, his relationships and his legacy with iconic works such as “My Favorite Things” and “A Love Supreme.” Midway through the film Dr. Cornel West describes Coltrane as a thermostat, not a thermometer, of the times, an instrument personified that adapted rather than just measured. In its best moments, Chasing Trane succeeds in that as well. —Amanda Schurr


98. The Wailing
Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s 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


97. 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


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


95. Creep 2
Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
Creep was not a movie begging for a sequel. About one of cinema’s more unique serial killers—a man who seemingly needs to form close personal bonds with his quarry before dispatching them as testaments to his “art”—the 2014 original was self-sufficient enough. But Creep 2 is that rare follow-up wherein the goal seems to be not “let’s do it again,” but “let’s go deeper”—and by deeper, we mean much deeper, as this film plumbs the psyche of the central psychopath (who now goes by) Aaron (Mark Duplass) in ways both wholly unexpected and shockingly sincere, as we witness (and somehow sympathize with) a killer who has lost his passion for murder, and thus his zest for life. In truth, the film almost forgoes the idea of being a “horror movie,” remaining one only because we know of the atrocities Aaron has committed in the past, meanwhile becoming much more of an interpersonal drama about two people exploring the boundaries of trust and vulnerability. Desiree Akhavan is stunning as Sara, the film’s only other principal lead, creating a character who is able to connect in a humanistic way with Aaron unlike anything a fan of the first film might think possible. Two performers bare it all, both literally and figuratively: Creep 2 is one of the most surprising, emotionally resonant horror films in recent memory. —Jim Vorel


94. Dayveon
Year: 2017
Director: Amman Abbasi
“…stupid house,” Dayveon (Devin Blackmon) lists as he rides his bike aimlessly through his rural Arkansas town, beginning the film that bears his name with the kind of flippant cynicism that seems right for a 13-year-old. Dustin Lane’s cinematography floats Dayveon in the center of the 4:3 screen, buoyed by a world of humidity. “Stupid tree. Stupid rock. Stupid concrete,” he goes on in voiceover, under his breath but fed up. “Stupid people.” His cynicism is infectious—not that such cynicism is in short supply in 2017, the kind that’s purposeless and broad and generally disgusted with everything. “Everything stupid,” Dayveon agrees. In Amman Abbasi’s debut, Dayveon has plenty of big reasons to believe that everything is stupid: His older brother was recently killed in gang-related violence and there isn’t much of a chance Dayveon will be able to avoid a similar fate, both because he’s already facing hazing rituals with the Bloods in town, and because Abbasi reflects the milieu of a young African American male growing up in the impoverished South in tones of unmitigated naturalism shot through with shreds of magical realism. Lane’s colors are lushly romantic (red, as one might expect, leaps from practically every frame, surrounded by a thousand verdant shades of green) but loaded with melancholy. All this Abbasi captures in heightened hand-held glory, demonstrating (with the willing, nuanced performances of his non-professional cast) a finely tuned familiarity with more than the people and places of rural Arkansas, but with their everyday struggles with stupidity. —Dom Sinacola


93. 13th
Year: 2016
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


92. My Life as a Zucchini
Year: 2016
Director: Claude Barras
Barras’s most impressive feat—besides keeping this animated film under 70 minutes—is how effortlessly he gives the film to Zucchini, never once letting the corruption of the adult world stain My Life as a Zucchini’s lively hues and livelier magnanimity. Tonally, Barras struggles in almost every scene, especially when the heaviness of his characters’ lives aren’t given the seriousness such heaviness demands, and optimism threatens to obfuscate the crimes of the adults whose choices led to these kids’ situations so directly. Still, if all Barras is trying to say is that human beings are essentially good—contrary to popular opinion at the moment—then that should be enough. One can’t fault a film too harshly for loving its characters too much to watch them suffer needlessly, or fault an artist too adamantly for adopting the indefatigable idealism of a prepubescent with a pointless nickname. —Dom Sinacola


91. I Called Him Morgan
Director: Kasper Collin
I Called Him Morgan is the story of two troubled people, one of whom killed the other. Documentarian Kasper Collin—who previously made My Name Is Albert Ayler, also about a jazz musician—looks at the difficult, abbreviated life of trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was shot dead in the winter of 1972 in New York. It’s not a mystery who pulled the trigger—it was his common-law wife, Helen, who was more than 10 years his senior—but I Called Him Morgan isn’t about solving a crime, rather, it’s about connecting the dots regarding why the crime happened. Throughout the film, you feel the slow, grim pull of inevitable tragedy set against a lush visual palette. (Oscar-nominated Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young is one of I Called Him Morgan’s credited cameramen.) Talking heads’ tales are crosscut with dreamy images—snowy nights in New York, a hypnotically colorful fish tank—that always feel pertinent to what’s being discussed. And then there are the interview subjects and the milieu. Jazz musicians such as Wayne Shorter and Charli Persip talk about their friend with specificity and insight, and Lee Morgan’s music—as well as the music he played in other people’s bands—fills the soundtrack. The film will be heaven for jazz aficionados, but those who don’t know the difference between bebop and hard bop won’t feel lost. Collin understands that his film is about people, not art, but his deft storytelling—and the endless sadness that comes from his tale—flexes its own nimbleness and beauty. —Tim Grierson


90. Tower
Year: 2016
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


89. XX
Year: 2017
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, Sofia Carrillo
It’s important that the scariest segment in XX, Magnet Releasing’s women-helmed horror anthology film, is also its most elementary: Young people trek out into the wilderness for fun and recreation, young people incur the wrath of hostile forces, young people get dead, easy as you please. You’ve seen this movie before, whether in the form of a slasher, a creature feature, or an animal attack flick. You’re seeing it again in XX in part because the formula works, and in part because the segment in question, titled “Don’t Fall,” must be elementary to facilitate its sibling chapters, which tend to be anything but. XX stands apart from other horror films because it invites its audience to feel a range of emotions aside from just fright. You might, for example, feel heartache during Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” or the uncertainty of dread in Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son,” or nauseous puzzlement with Sofia Carrillo’s macabre, stop-motion wraparound piece, meant to function as a palate cleanser between courses (an effectively unnerving work, thanks to its impressive technical achievements). Most of all, you might have to bite your tongue to keep from laughing uncontrollably during the film’s best short, “The Birthday Party,” written and directed by Annie Clark, better known by some as St. Vincent, in her filmmaking debut. XX is a horror movie spoken with the voices of women, a necessary notice that women are revolutionizing the genre as much as men. —Andy Crump


88. Man of Tai Chi
Director:   Keanu Reeves  
Year: 2013
Even today, our doubts fully behind us that the man is an all-time, absolutely singular movie star, it’s still a phrase that lodges in the throat: “Director: Keanu Reeves.” But for anyone who left the John Wick flicks loose-limbed and exhausted due to the sheer grace of Reeves’ action chops, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the man—the one and only Neo—can direct the fuck out of a martial arts movie. With little frills, barely a plot, a Tai Chi phenom in Tiger Chen (who also served as Reeves’ teacher and, for Kill Bill, Uma Thurman’s stunt double), a woman who seems smarter and serves more of a purpose in the plot than all the dudes beating each other senseless surrounding her, and Reeves’ ever-present sonic mangling of the English language, Man of Tai Chi delivers pretty much what the title suggests: an exhilarating, inertial obsession both with movement as art as power and with those who wield it so well. Testament to Reeves’s intelligence as a self-didact who just wants to do right by those folks who put their trust in him over the course of his many-decade career, Man of Tai Chi represents all that anyone should rightly hope for when seeing who directed it. —Dom Sinacola


87. The Transfiguration
Year: 2017
Director: Michael O’Shea
Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration refreshingly refuses to disguise its influences and reference points, instead putting them all out there in the forefront for its audience’s edification, name-dropping a mouthful of noteworthy vampire films and sticking their very titles right smack dab in the midst of its mise en scène. They can’t be missed: Nosferatu is a big one, and so’s The Lost Boys, but none informs O’Shea’s film as much as Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s unique 2009 genre masterpiece. Like Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration casts a young’n, Milo (Eric Ruffin), as its protagonist, contrasting the horrible particulars of a vampire’s feeding habits against the surface innocence of his appearance. Unlike Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration may not be a vampire movie at all, but a movie about a lonesome kid with an unhealthy fixation on gothic legends. You may choose to view Milo as O’Shea’s modernized update of the iconic monster or a child brimming with inner evil; the film keeps its ends open, its truths veiled and only makes its sociopolitical allegories plain in its final, haunting images. —Andy Crump


86. A War
Year: 2016
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Tobias Lindholm and cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck shoot A War in unadorned, exacting clarity, treating both the scenic mountains of Afghanistan and the urban outlines of Denmark with the same stark, practically clinical eye. The moral quandary at the center of the film may not be an original one—Danish commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) must go to court over a split-second decision made during a firefight in which his actions saved a comrade while unknowingly leading to a number of civilian casualties—but Lindholm takes seemingly ages to get to that point, allowing the audience to soak in the monotony and incessant-if-buried burden of Pedersen’s position: serving as ersatz father for his unit while knowing, intuitively, that his family desperately needs him back home. Nothing at home happens with action-packed aplomb (though the director sets up tense red herrings to lure the audience into a sense of unease), and yet the stakes are painfully real. Pedersen did the only thing he knew to do, yet in saving his unit he may have sacrificed his family’s well-being. —Dom Sinacola


85. The Conjuring
Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


84. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
Year: 2015
Director: Jafar Panahi
In the seven-plus years since Iranian director Jafar Panahi was sentenced by government authorities to a 20-year ban from filmmaking in his homeland, the acclaimed auteur has turned inward—and kept making movies. Complaining that Panahi’s subsequent films—the 2011 documentary This Is Not a Film, 2013’s dreamlike narrative Closed Curtain—have been a bit insular is to miss the deep emotional catharsis at the center of these works, Panahi externalizing his inner drama and creative frustration in blunt, personal terms. Next comes Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, which carries itself like a nonfiction film but is actually scripted. Likewise, Taxi’s surface is casual, even impish, but underneath the movie are serious questions about filmmaking and individual freedom. If This Is Not a Film was defiant and Closed Curtain despairing, this new film is assured, composed, determined. The film lays out its conceit in its opening moments. Panahi is driving around Tehran in a cab, having installed small cameras onto the dashboard, and he’s picking up random passengers. Taking place over the course of a day, Taxi consists of his interactions with these different people, some of whom recognize him. Episodic and off-the-cuff, the 82-minute film initially feels like a lark, a renowned filmmaker spending a little time with everyday folks. But around the time that a married couple gets into the cab, the husband bloody and badly needing medical attention, it becomes clear that Panahi’s setup is actually a ruse, the whole project a work of fiction. But the trickery is less about deceiving the audience than it is about creating an environment in which Panahi can most clearly articulate his grief and anger. In some ways, Taxi improves upon his two previous films by cobbling together their strongest tendencies—the direct, likable presence of the director himself in This Is Not a Film and the creative license and hall-of-mirrors quality that informed Closed Curtain. With Taxi, Panahi uses fiction to express reality, so why shouldn’t the movie itself be a bit of a jumble between the two? —Tim Grierson


83. Silverado
Year: 1985
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Lawrence Kasdan’s winning homage benefited from a sterling ensemble cast (Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Kevin Cline, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum, Rosanna Arquette), keen pacing—both in action and humor—and an all-in approach to the classic Western. The traditional motifs are all there as a quartet of cowboys treks to the film’s namesake town and helps its citizens fight back against corrupt powers that be. From fraught duels to wagon trains and cattle stampedes, Silverado is neither revisionist nor original, but it’s terrifically energetic and fun, not to mention beautifully polished in production. —Amanda Schurr


82. April and the Extraordinary World
Year: 2015
Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Keeping real life global history straight in narratives that leapfrog across decades and centuries is tough enough—making sense of alternate history when it’s articulated at breakneck speed throughout multiple eras of European cultural advancement is just downright strenuous. Think of April and the Extraordinary World as an intense workout for your brain, during which the film shapes a surrogate Earth in the span of mere minutes and fires off salvos of detail, visual and aural alike, in the pursuit of recalibrating the past. The inattentive and unimaginative need not apply. Good news for diligent viewing types, though: April and the Extraordinary World is pretty great, a compact exercise in world building without handholding that rewards a patient, observant audience. If you can keep pace with the film’s plot deployment, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride littered with talking cats, fabulous steampunk backdrops, rollercoaster excitement and terrific characters, all drawn through the fundamental beauty of cel animation. April and the Extraordinary World reminds us of the aesthetic value of traditional animation and the necessity of human ingenuity, all without treating its audience like idiots. —Andy Crump


81. 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


80. Things to Come
Year: 2016
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
In French director Mia Hansen-Løve’s films, nothing lasts. Life’s irritating fleetingness dominates the proceedings, and her latest, Things to Come, takes this theme to its logical conclusion, looking at the travails of an older woman (Isabelle Huppert) who watches one element of her life after another get stripped away. The film’s power is its recognition that, no matter how hard life gets, though, it just keeps going. (In fact, that’s what makes existence oddly beautiful.) Huppert is marvelous in the role: Between this performance and the one in the far spikier Elle, she’s made a compelling case for Actress of the Year, blending vulnerability and defiance in inspiring ways. —Tim Grierson


79. High-Rise
Year: 2016
Director: Ben Wheatley
High-Rise begins with the past tense of Wheatley’s traditional mayhem, settling on tranquil scenes of extensive carnage and brutal violence inflicted before the picture’s start. Dashing Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) wanders waste-strewn halls. He goes to have a drink with his neighbor, Nathan Steele (Reece Shearsmith), who has enshrined a dead man’s head within a television set. Seems about right. But the film’s displays of squalor and viscera are a ruse. Spoken in the tongue of Wheatley, High-Rise is a tamer tale than Kill List or Sightseers. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you go into Wheatley films anticipating unhinged barbarity, you may feel as though the film and its creator are trolling you here. High-Rise is based on English novelist’s J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, a soft sci-fi dystopian yarn fastened to a through line of social examination. In context with its decade, the book’s setting could be roughly described as “near future England,” and Wheatley, a director with a keen sense of time and place across all of his films, has kept the period of the text’s publication intact, fleshing it out with alternately lush and dreggy mise en scène. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that High-Rise is a lost relic of 1970s American cinema. —Andy Crump


78. Strong Island
Year: 2017
Director: Yance Ford
African American filmmaker Yance Ford’s Strong Island is a paean to his brother William, who was shot dead in 1992 by a white mechanic during an argument. The shooter never faced trial—it was ruled self-defense—and in the ensuing decades Ford and his family have wrestled with the injustice. Strong Island is Ford’s way of working through the pain and anger that still consume him, mixing interviews with direct addresses to the camera. It’s a slightly unfocused work (Can anyone fault Ford for being unable to marshal his grief into a completely organized treatise?) but its rawness fuels its astounding strength. —Tim Grierson


77. 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


76. 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


75. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Year: 2017
Director: Noah Baumbach 
In maybe his most well-tuned chamber drama (let’s use this phrase loosely) since Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach takes time to observe the ways in which his characters run, their ambulatory gifts (or lack thereof) representing both their struggles to express their innermost selves and the ways in which they can’t escape the parents who must pass themselves—their failures, their quirks, their anger—to their offspring. One gets the sense that Baumbach wants to literalize the act of “running from” one’s deepest problems, but such tracking shots are largely played for laughs: Family patriarch Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a sculptor seeking acknowledgement in his old age, shuffles dopily down New York’s streets; Matt Meyerowitz (Ben Stiller) possesses the grace of a well-used corporate gym membership; Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler, deserving of an Oscar) hobbles around denying that he’s got a major medical problem; and Jean Meyerowitz (Elizabeth Marvel) just seems like she shouldn’t be running, Matt and Danny at one point consorting about how they’ve never actually seen her run before. In these moments, Baumbach allows the cerebral to awkwardly take on corporeal life, wondering aloud how the many themes and ideas we conceptualize (and thus internalize) break free in some sort of physical melee. It’s his tennis scene in The Squid and the Whale made feature length—and it may be the most viscerally moving film he’s ever made. —Dom Sinacola


74. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn shows that “second verse, mostly same as the first” can serve the viewer (and, inevitably, the box office) well, especially when one has most of the Marvel universe to pull from. To a large extent, GotG Vol. 2 follows the playbook from its predecessor, though now, with the entire cast familiar faces to the audience, Gunn skips introductions and goes right to the funny. In this case, that means an opening credits sequence featuring the entire team and what amounts to a highlight reel of character traits meant to amuse: rapid banter from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), humorous ’roid-rage from Drax (Dave Bautista), quiet bad-assitude from Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and an extended cute-Groot frolic. During this sequence and throughout the movie, the comic elements of this particular space opera feel as if they have been ratcheted up, but, though he doesn’t seem to want the audience to have too much time between laughs, Gunn also seems determined to match the increased comic volume with more heart. The audience is unlikely to feel they’ve seen anything that different from Vol. 1, but it’s clear that Gunn and company knew exactly what qualities made the first film so enjoyable, and what they needed to do to make sure this particular sequel was worth the wait. —Michael Burgin


73. Gook
Year: 2017
Director: Justin Chon
Writer/director/star Justin Chon’s Gook, a raw, charming and all-around impactful drama about racial tensions between LA’s Korean and African American communities during the 1992 Rodney King riots—when this discord between the two came to a boiling point as the city burned down—explores the conflict with a grounded, even-handed eye. Mainstream audiences might recognize Chon as a supporting actor in those wildly successful sparkling vampire films, but lately he’s emerged as a unique voice for low-budget, character-driven dramedies. Most of Gook takes place in a shoe store owned and run by the headstrong Eli (Chon, in an impressive performance) and Daniel (David So), an aspiring singer who’s playful and funny without slipping into the “forced comedy relief” role. Kamilla (Simone Baker), the happy-go-lucky daughter of one of the shoe store’s ex-employees, regularly skips school in order to help out at the store. Her actual immediate relatives barely recognize her presence, so she looks up to Eli and Daniel as an alternative family. Gook is similar in structure and tone to Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing, in that both films use their first two acts to give the audience a false sense of comfort, only to let racial tension slowly boil beneath the surface before exploding in tragedy at the end of the film. We might expect a DIY movie like this to a employ a grainy black-and-white look, shaky handheld camera, jump cuts and improvisational acting in order to capture a docudrama aesthetic. Chon uses all of these tricks, managing to pull off pretty much every single one. It’s a major step up for the filmmaker in both narrative and technical terms. —Oktay Ege Kozak


72. The Adventures of Tintin
Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg 
It’s actually amazing that The Adventures of Tintin marks the first big screen treatment of the immensely popular comic book character in nearly 40 years (and, really, the first one of note originating from Hollywood, ever). After all, the intrepid carrot-topped reporter/sleuth stands with fellow Franco-Belgian characters Asterix and Obelix as a titan of European comics. Created by Belgian artist Georges Remi (under the pen name Hergé), Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 50 languages and inspired a decently rabid following of “Tintinologists” who have discussed, debated, critiqued and theorized on virtually every imaginable aspect of Tintin and his friends. (For proof, check out www.tintinologist.org.) Part of that can be attributed to careful guardianship of the property, first by Hergé himself and then by his estate. How else can one explain how a series started in 1929 and involving a resourceful boy and his resourceful and cuddly dog has escaped the clutches of the Disney merchandising behemoth? But then there’s also the fact that the new film’s director, some guy named Steven Spielberg, has held the film rights for nearly 30 years, waiting for the right moment to give Tintin his cinematic due. The Adventures of Tintin does just that. Not since Rob Reiner’s pop culture quote font, The Princess Bride, or perhaps Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, has a film worked so hard—and so successfully—to capture the spirit of the source material. —Michael Burgin


71. Coraline
Year: 2009
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


70. Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids
Year: 2016
Director: Jonathan Demme
It becomes clear after only one song that Jonathan Demme was the perfect person to direct this ebullient performance doc. In Stop Making Sense Demme iconized David Byrne in the Big Suit and demonstrated that the best performances of all time are simply a matter of precision, and he seems to understand not only what kind of performer Justin Timberlake is, but why. Filmed over the final two nights of Timberlake’s 20/20 tour in Las Vegas, JT + the Tennessee Kids is so finely tuned, one might be hard pressed to pinch an ounce of fat on this thing, Demme obviously knowing that Timberlake depends on his enormous tour ensemble (introduced briefly at the beginning of the film) to make sure the whole show is a seamless, clockwork-like amalgam of moving parts. Consummate professionals in thrall to consummate professionals: Each frame, whether it hugs Timberlake’s glowing face close or expands to display the intimidating breadth of the band, breathes with love—for the music, for the audience, for each other. But that doesn’t even touch how flawlessly Demme can capture the essence of each section/song, how during “My Love” the camera is positioned at stage level, condensing our perspective so that the whole stage is layered like a two-dimensional side-scrolling videogame or a diorama of paper dolls, emphasizing the celestial geometry of Timberlake and his pop-and-locking dancers. Later, during “Only When I Walk Away,” Demme has the camera behind the band, facing the audience lit with lasers and lighters, shooting Timberlake as an opaque silhouette, like dark matter amidst a flurry of constellations. Even later, a macroscopic view of the whole stage, set against some retro computer graphics, pans slightly down to reveal a piano, and next to that emerges a much larger Timberlake, perspectives skewed but steered with aplomb and purpose. Just like every single minute of this wonderful film. —Dom Sinacola


69. Karl Marx City
Year: 2016
Directors: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker
If you didn’t live in East Germany during the decades the Stasi was extending its insidious reach, perhaps your only knowledge of the GDR secret police comes from the 2007 Oscar-winner The Lives of Others. If nothing else, Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s Karl Marx City offers a necessary riposte to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film—and not just because one talking-heads expert in the film takes devastatingly direct aim at that film’s bogus sentimentalities. Epperlein and Tucker go deeper into elucidating the inner workings of Stasi authoritarian machinery than most films, exposing a whole society driven by paranoia, one where few people felt they could trust even their closest friends. But perhaps the most noteworthy achievement of Karl Marx City lies in the way it manages to use Epperlein’s own personal story—her quest to discover whether her late father was, in fact, a Stasi informant—as a conduit to explore this harrowing period in German history without coming off as merely solipsistic. Here is a sterling example of a deeply intimate story that successfully opens out into broader historical terrain in genuinely eye-opening ways. —Kenji Fujishima


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


67. 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 despite crooked developers’ schemes 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


66. Detropia
Year: 2012
Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Detropia paints a modern likeness of the City of Detroit as the United States’ greatest failure, and perhaps its most representative example of the untenable nature of the so-called American Dream. But the film is rarely as big as it’d like to be. Though there’s something there to dissect about the dissolution of the middle class—how that doesn’t really mean much of anything anymore—directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady can’t seem to get past a melancholic tone and make a serious case about American exceptionalism dooming the rest of the country in the same way. And yet, basic facts are brutal: How in 1955, 1.86 million people lived in the city, but by the time the film was made, there were less than 800,000 people; how there are currently 40 square miles of vacant land within city limits. Detroit is simply too big, and the film struggles underneath that weight. Ewing is from Detroit suburb Farmington Hills, and as someone who also grew up in the area, I recognize sincerity and possessiveness in the way the film chronicles the city’s current plight. Which is maybe why, despite all of the despair and slow-burning nightmares and wreckage it portrays, Detropia ends on a hopeful beat, more of a lullaby than a soundless death throe. It’s quite beautiful. —Dom Sinacola


65. 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


64. The Ornithologist
Year: 2016
Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
There are times during João Pedro Rodcrigues’s newest film, The Ornithologist, wherein you can’t tell if it’s all a big sexy joke or if it’s an earnest, religious and intellectual inquiry into the boundaries of spiritual and physical adventure. There’s enough evidence in the film—which follows a strapping studier of birds on his journey to note black storks and the various surreal things that occur to him—to argue that it’s both. Fernando (Paul Hamy), our bird man, is over the course of the film: pissed on, tossed about by river waters in his kayak, badgered by a presumed lover from back home via text, without medicine, has the eyes on his passport photo burnt through, has sex with a twink deaf and mute twink named Jesus, and is tied up St. Sebastian-style by two lost Chinese lesbians on a religious pilgrimage. Rodrigues easily integrates an aesthetic reminiscent of a nature documentary into scenarios that, like a modern Portuguese take on “The Aristocrats,” mount in their ludicrousness. Yet, the oddball adventures that color Fernando’s journey seem embedded logically within the film’s universe, and even better, within Rodrigues’s own screenplay. However strange it may be to watch a Satanic ritual occur on screen, the director has seemingly mapped out precisely how to transition from weird scene to weird scene, making The Ornithologist and effectively coherent fever dream. As Fernando walks down a busy road in the end of the film, literally transformed into Rodrigues (who may also be St. Anthony) and magically transported from the jungle, one can’t help but think of The Ornithologist as a hallucination brought on by heat stroke. In the best way possible. —Kyle Turner


63. Man on Wire
Year: 2008
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


62. Heathers
Year: 1988
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


61. The Look of Silence
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Year: 2015
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


60. Nocturama
Year: 2016
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Nocturama trusts its audience—more, even, than its audience may want to be trusted. Throughout, director Betrand Bonello folds timelines, indulges in flashbacks and replays moments from different perspectives, rarely with any warning but hardly without precision or consistency, investigating the comparatively small world of his film from every angle while implying that a much bigger, much more complicated world exists outside of its admittedly limited view. Bonello’s tact offers no explanations; his story follows a gaggle of beautiful Parisian teens, seemingly representing a broad swath of life, participating in a terrorist act, from planning through meticulous execution, and then, in the aftermath of the explosions, to the high-end department store where the teens hide out to watch the City respond. Bonello never allows these kids a monologue or conversation or anecdote to explain why they’ve gone to such extremes—their political understanding is about as sophisticated as that of a college student who’s only recently discovered Noam Chomsky, and even these beliefs they mumble to one another without much dedication. Instead, Nocturama is all surface, all watching: the faces of these innocents as they silently go about their terror, the tension that arises from knowing there is so much obscured behind those faces but also seeing so much so clearly in those faces, and then knowing that we will never know. Because these teens seem fine, even existentially so. They seem middle class, comfortable, unburdened by the wiles of puberty, free to do what they want, be with whom they want, say what they want—and only in the department store, amongst designer clothes and expensive, pointless home goods, do they yearn for more, potentially blowing up Paris not to protest anything, but to beg to be a part of the elite who define it. This is terrorism not against capitalism, but for it. Bonello trusts his audience to know the difference. —Dom Sinacola


59. It Follows
Year: 2015
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. The music, the muted but strangely sumptuous color palette, the incessant anachronism: In style alone, Mitchell is an auteur seemingly emerged fully formed from the unhealthy womb of Metro Detroit. All of which wouldn’t work were Mitchell less concerned with creating a genuinely unnerving film, but every aesthetic flourish, every fully circular pan is in thrall to breathing morbid life into a single image: someone, anyone slowly separating from the background, from one’s nightmares, and walking toward you, as if Death itself were to appear unannounced next to you in public, ready to steal your breath with little to no aplomb. Mitchell inherently understands that there is practically nothing more eerie than the slightly off-kilter ordinary, trusting the film’s true horror to the tricks our minds play when we forget to check our periphery. It Follows is a film that thrives in the borders, not so much about the horror that leaps out in front of you, but the deeper anxiety that waits at the verge of consciousness—until, one day soon, it’s there, reminding you that your time is limited, and that you will never be safe. Forget the risks of teenage sex, It Follows is a penetrating metaphor for growing up. —Dom Sinacola


58. Pumping Iron
Year: 1977
Directors: Robert Fiore, George Butler
Behold arrogance anthropomorphized: A 28-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, competing for his sixth Mr. Olympia title, effortlessly waxes poetic about his overall excellence, his litanies regarding the similarities between orgasming and lifting weights merely fodder between bouts of pumping the titular iron and/or flirting with women he can roll up into his biceps like little flesh burritos. He is both the epitome of the human form and almost tragically inhuman, so corporeally perfect that his physique seems unattainable, his status as a weightlifting wunderkind one of a kind. And yet, in the other corner, a young, nervous Lou Ferrigno primes his equally large body to usurp Arnold’s title, but without the magnanimous bluster and dick-wagging swagger the soon-to-be Hollywood icon makes no attempt to hide. Schwarzenegger understands that weightlifting is a mind game (like in any sport), buttressed best by a healthy sense of vanity and privilege, and directors Fiore and Butler mine Arnold’s past enough to divine where he inherited such self-absorption. Contrast this attitude against Ferrigno’s almost morbid shyness, and Pumping Iron becomes a fascinating glimpse at the kind of sociopathy required of living gods. —Dom Sinacola


57. 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


56. Paris is Burning
Year: 1991
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&#8221 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.” —Amanda Schurr


55. Hot Fuzz
Year: 2007
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


54. Clouds of Sils Maria
Year: 2015
Director: Olivier Assayas
Clouds of Sils Maria is a lyrical catch-all for the many half-notions that accompany getting older—especially if you’re a celebrity. Decay, loss of memory, insecurity, arrogance: Assayas boils these monolithic themes down to a near-pyrrhic partnership between an aging French actress (Juliette Binoche) and her American assistant (Kristen Stewart), following their commingling of generations (and cultural heritages) as they traipse through one fiction after another. With a younger figure of stardom flitting throughout the mix—Chloe Grace Moretz as the undoubtedly talented but disastrous representative of the Internet Age—playing the foil to Binoche’s ideas of relevance, the film rarely adheres to a consistent structure or confident reality. Instead, the core of Clouds of Sils Maria is a single feeling, encompassed within a single image. In the titular clouds, which are only observable at certain times, under certain conditions, there is the intuition that there is so much else in this world to see. And the film aches with this sentiment, that no matter what we accomplish, we will always miss out on something equally worth accomplishing: some other part to play, some other life to live. Such, Assayas claims, is the bitter sweetness of life. —Dom Sinacola


53. A Dark Song
Year: 2016
Director: Liam Gavin
In Liam Gavin’s black magic genre oddity, Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grief-stricken mother, and the schlubby, no-nonsense occultist (Steve Oram) she hires devote themselves to a long, meticulous, painstaking ritual in order to (they hope) communicate with her dead son. Gavin lays out the ritual specifically and physically—over the course of months of isolation, Sophia undergoes tests of endurance and humiliation, never quite sure if she’s participating in an elaborate hoax or if she can take her spiritual guide seriously when he promises her he’s succeeded in the past. Paced to near perfection, A Dark Song is ostensibly a horror film but operates as a dread-laden procedural, mounting tension while translating the process of bereavement as patient, excruciating manual labor. In the end, something definitely happens, but its implications are so steeped in the blurry lines between Christianity and the occult that I still wonder what kind of alternate realms of existence Gavin is getting at. But A Dark Song thrives in that uncertainty, feeding off of monotony. Sophia may hear phantasmagorical noise coming from beneath the floorboards, but then substantial spans of time pass without anything else happening, and we begin to question, as she does, whether it was something she did wrong (maybe, when tasked with not moving from inside a small chalk circle for days at a time, she screwed up that portion of the ritual by allowing her urine to dribble outside of the boundary) or whether her grief has blinded her to an expensive con. Regardless, that “not knowing” is the scary stuff of everyday life, and by portraying Sophia’s profound emotional journey as a humdrum trial of physical mettle, Gavin reveals just how much pointless, even terrifying work it can be anymore to not only live the most ordinary of days, but to make it to the next. —Dom Sinacola


52. Casting JonBenet
Director: Kitty Green
An unlikely cross-section of humanity also populates Casting JonBenet, which boasts a provocative idea that yields enormous emotional rewards. Filmmaker Kitty Green invited members of the Boulder, Colorado community where JonBenet Ramsey lived to “audition” for a film about her. But in the tradition of Kate Plays Christine or The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, that’s actually a feint: Green uses the on-camera interviews with these people to talk about Ramsey’s murder and the still-lingering questions about who committed the crime. She’s not interested in their acting abilities—she’s trying to pinpoint the ways that a 21-year-old incident still resonates. It’s a premise that could seem cruel or exploitative, but Casting JonBenet is actually incredibly compassionate. Green wizardly finds connective tissue between all these actors, who have internalized the little girl’s killing, finding parallels in their own lives to this tragedy. High-profile murders like Ramsey’s often provoke gawking, callous media treatment, turning us all into rubberneckers, but Casting JonBenet vigorously works against that tendency, fascinated by our psychological need to judge other people’s lives, but also deeply mournful, even respectful, of the very human reasons why we do so. —Tim Grierson


51. 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


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


49. Hellraiser
Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
The head villain/eventual hero (there’s a sickening number of terrible Hellraiser sequels) behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is the Cenobite Pinhead, sent from the pits of his own personal hell dimension to drag you down into the depths with him. Where he tortures you. For eternity. All because you opened a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Pinhead has zero remorse, looking you dead in the eye as he delivers a deadpan promise to “tear your soul apart.” Oh yeah, and the Cenobites are indestructible. Personally, it turned me off to puzzle boxes forever. As in his fiction, Barker’s obsessions with the duality of pain and pleasure are on full display in Hellraiser, an icky story of sick hate and sicker love. —Rachel Haas


48. My Happy Family
Year: 2017
Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
It’s a shame Netflix felt like Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s My Happy Family deserved a burial, that the company didn’t bother pushing the film for awards season and neglected to give it a boost in visibility for the average consumer. Because Ekvtimishvili and Groß’s latest collaboration in a long line of collaborations is superb, timely and altogether unexpected in its unwavering grace. Compared to the year’s other films centered on dysfunctional families, whether hammy (I, Tonya) or naturalist (Lady Bird), My Happy Family is a gentle tribute to dignity: Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) is never less than noble in her constant dedication to her family, even as she determines that to preserve her sanity she must move out of the apartment she shares with them and lay down roots in a pad of her own. My Happy Family doesn’t judge Manana—it validates her. It illustrates a woman’s liberation from social and familial expectations, allowing Manana to discover who she is, what she wants and where she’s going without looking down on her. But My Happy Family is a small film with grand artistic ambitions, and both Ekvtimishvili and Groß know that Manana’s bliss has its limit. They know that eventually the matters of her husband and children, plus their extended family, must be reconciled. Still, My Happy Family shows a benevolent kind of restraint by ending on a note of uncertainty, sparing us the lion’s share of that work, its ultimate lingering ambiguity a thing of honorable beauty. —Andy Crump


47. The African Queen
Year: 1951
Director: John Huston
Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) are missionaries in German East Africa around during WWI. Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart, in what would be his only Best Actor Oscar win), the captain of tramp steamer The African Queen, delivers their provisions—and, one day, the news that war has broken out between Germany and Britain. Germans burn down the village, a soldier beats Samuel and he soon dies from complications of the incident. Charlie comes to get Rose out of the area; Rose comes up with a plan to torpedo a German gunboat. The initial plan fails but the surprisingly scrappy and enterprising Rose is undeterred. The pair encounter a series of rapids and perils that are, of course, not at all metaphorical, and over time, strike up an unlikely but also inevitable relationship. Love triumphs. So do the torpedoes. John Huston’s oddball, odd-couple romantic comedy adventure is a gripping story with a great pair of lead actors (though Bogart arguably had more Ocscar-worthy performances earlier in his career) and combines savagery and sweetness in an eccentric and very satisfying way. —Amy Glynn


46. The Assassin
Year: 2015
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin is a gorgeous creation, a martial arts movie that willfully withholds and subverts the primary pleasures of the genre to get at something more beautiful, mysterious and timeless. One doesn’t watch The Assassin so much as fall under its sway. The Taiwanese director’s first film since 2007’s Flight of the Red Balloon, The Assassin takes us back to ninth-century China as the Tang dynasty is beginning to unravel. Shu Qi plays Nie Yinniang, whom (we learn in an opening crawl) was abducted by a nun when she was only 10 and trained in martial arts. Years later, Nie has been ordered to return to her homeland to assassinate Tian (Chang Chen), a warlord to whom she had been promised in marriage as a child. The Assassin’s story is somewhat simplistic but, as depicted by Hou, also incredibly complicated, with scenes of throne-room intrigue littering the film’s first half. If the plot machinations are hard to follow, frequent Hou cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bing makes it all look arresting. With scenes often taking place indoors at night, The Assassin can feel almost dreamlike, an impression heightened by the fact that the filmmaker often places in between his camera and the actors thin, billowing curtains, which create the sensation that we’re watching half-remembered incidents or eavesdropping on top-secret meetings. The martial arts film has similarities to the Western, and The Assassin could be seen in some ways as Hou’s version of an Unforgiven, in which narrative tenets and character types are in service to a higher purpose, a more audacious form of art. The violence isn’t the point of The Assassin: The words and action that lead to violence are. Consequently, The Assassin strips away any notion of escapism: Fight scenes are just another form of politics in Hou’s movie. The film is so immaculately constructed—Hou has worked on The Assassin for years—that it’s all of a piece, a diamond that inspires awe and gasps. —Tim Grierson


45. Experimenter
Year: 2015
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. —Tim Grierson


44. Thor: Ragnarok
Year: 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Sixteen films and nearly a decade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—and in the midst of renaissance/deluge of superhero movies in general—it’s not unusual to encounter some grumbling about both the genre and the MCU. You’ll find plenty of folks who bemoan its formulaic approach to plotlines, the overall weakness of its villains and lack of female heroes getting their due. Starting with Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man, there was also the rapidly accepted conventional wisdom that Marvel Studios was not the place for any director wishing to put his or her stamp on a franchise. Then along comes Thor: Ragnarok. The third film in the arguably least-loved franchise of Kevin Feige and company’s box office-melting enterprise, it’s also the liveliest, funniest and “loosest” film of the bunch (and that includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Much, if not all of this can be credited to director Taika Waititi, who seems determined to mine every ounce of comedy—be it physical, situational or conversational—from a tale that’s both rollicking buddy movie and retelling of the least uplifting tale in all of Norse mythos. Given the source material and the director’s track record, I’m not surprised there was plenty of ammo for Waititi or how well he used it—I’m just shocked and delighted he was allowed to use it in the first place. —Michael Burgin


43. Graduation
Year: 2017
Director: Cristian Mungiu
The crimes are minor but it’s the misdemeanors that do the most harm in Graduation, an excellent Romanian drama that begins as a father’s hope for his talented teen daughter and morphs into a claustrophobic moral crisis ensnaring several individuals. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu lays out his story with nearly surgical precision, adopting a chilly tone for a movie about the tiny, day-to-day infractions that conspire to corrode society’s foundation. This is the fourth feature from Mungiu, who has proved to be a master of the minor. In his breakout second feature, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the arduous process to secure an abortion was enough to sustain a taut, real-time thriller. In his 2012 follow-up Beyond the Hills, the tense relationship between two childhood friends became a springboard for a drama about religious faith and devotion. Now with Graduation, Mungiu again sees the drama in the everyday, arguing that it’s not the major injustices that are the most nefarious—it’s the small ways we screw over the other guy on a regular basis that keep us so paranoid and distrustful of one another. Rarely has cheating on a test been fraught with such significance. —Tim Grierson


42. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Year: 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
The Last Jedi, unlike its predecessor, has the freedom to be daring, and perhaps the most thrilling thing about it—and there are many, many thrilling things—is how abundantly it takes advantage of that freedom. If The Force Awakens was basically just Star Wars told again in a new, but familiar way, The Last Jedi challenges the audience, challenges the Star Wars mythos, even challenges the whole damned series itself. It blows the universe up to rebuild it; it is a continuation and a new beginning. And more than anything else, it goes places no Star Wars film has ever dreamed of going. In a way, the success J.J. Abrams had with The Force Awakens, particularly how decidedly fan-servicey it was, laid the groundwork for what The Last Jedi is able to pull off. That movie reminded you how much power and primal force this series still had. This movie is an even more impressive magic trick: It uses that power and force to connect you to something larger. Not everything in The Last Jedi works perfectly, but even its few missteps are all founded in the desire for something new, to take risks, to push an American myth into uncomfortable new directions. —Will Leitch


41. Brother’s Keeper
Year: 1992
Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
There’s an alleged crime at the center of Brother’s Keeper: whether or not Delbert Ward, a 59-year-old farmer from Munnsville, New York, is guilty of murdering his older brother William. But that’s not really what Brother’s Keeper is about. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky instead focus on the wide fissure between urban and rural American cultures in the late-1980s and early-1990s, examining the way the three remaining Ward brothers, essentially outcasts in their community prior to William’s death, are increasingly embraced by Munnsville as the media descends upon the town to report on Delbert’s trial. The mystery here is not about whether or not William was murdered; the mystery is what lies at the heart of community bonds and national identity, and how allegiances change as communities grow larger. —Mark Abraham


40. Vernon, Florida
Year: 1981
Director: Errol Morris 
Errol Morris’s purpose in Vernon, Florida is to let his subjects speak for themselves. The residents of the titular town have a variety of obsessions—turkey hunting, policing, sand growing, philosophizing—and part of the appeal of the film is the way these snapshots of American life feed into one another. But the greater part, I think, is how these specific, precise stories suggest that everyone of us, American or not, construct narratives to explain our interests and identities, and how our enthusiasms for specific things can end up sounding exotic and strange when explained in any detail. In other words, the point of the documentary isn’t that these specific people are strange; the point is to explore, depending on one’s perspective, how all human beings are strange. —Mark Abraham


39. Under the Shadow
Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris


38. Okja
Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


37. The Descent
Year: 2005
Director: Neil Marshall
True camaraderie or complex relationships between female characters isn’t so much “rare” in horror cinema as it is functionally nonexistent, which is one of the things that still makes The Descent, nominally about a bunch of women fighting monsters in a cave, stand out so sharply all these years later. But ah, how The Descent transcends its one-sentence synopsis. The film’s first half is deliberately crafted to fill in the personalities of its group of women, while slowly and almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the sense of dread and foreboding. As the characters descend deeper into the cave, passageways get tighter and the audience can feel the claustrophobia and dankness creeping into their bones—and that’s before we even see any of the resident troglodytes. Neil Marshall’s screenplay makes masterful use of dubious morality, infusing its protagonists, particularly the duo of Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), with numerous shades of gray. Not content to simply paint one of the two as flawed and the other as resourceful and ultimately vindicated, he uses a series of misunderstandings to illustrate human failing on a much more profound and universal level. Ultimately, The Descent is as moving a character study as it is terrifying subterranean creature feature, with one hell of an ending to boot. —Jim Vorel


36. Evolution
Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic
Year: 2015
Hadžihalilovic’s gorgeous enigma is anything and everything: creature feature, allegory, sci-fi headfuck, Lynchian homage, feminist masterpiece, 80 minutes of unmitigated gut-sensation—it is an experience unto itself, refusing to explain whatever it is it’s doing so long as the viewer understands whatever that may be on some sort of subcutaneous level. In it, prepubescent boy Nicolas (Max Brebant) finds a corpse underwater, a starfish seemingly blooming from its bellybutton. Which would be strange were the boy not living on a fatherless island of eyebrow-less mothers who every night put their young sons to bed with a squid-ink-like mixture they call “medicine.” This is the norm, until Nicolas’s boy-like curiosity begins to reveal a world of maturity he’s incapable of grasping, discovering one night what the mothers do once their so-called “sons” have fallen asleep. From there, Evolution eviscerates notions of motherhood, masculinity and the inexplicable gray area between, simultaneously evoking anxiety and awe as it presents one unshakeable, dreadful image after another. —Dom Sinacola


35. Moon
Year: 2009
Director: Duncan Jones
First-time director Duncan Jones is overt about his stylistic appropriations of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, right down to the sweeping orchestral music that frames the opening shots of the titular satellite and Earth. Yet, where Kubrick tapped into existential fears about human extinction and the future of civilization, Jones hypothesizes the logical conclusion of that dark vision: a world where the need for more energy has rendered humanity a manufactured cog of multinational corporations whose reach now extends beyond the boundaries of Earth. The film’s plot centers on Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the only human on a lunar mining facility that harvests Helium-3, a clean fuel that can meet a near-future Earth’s ballooning energy demands. Base computer system GERTY (Kevin Spacey) is his sole companion on Sam’s three-year caretaking mission, since a supposed satellite failure means he can only send and receive pre-recorded messages. When an accident nearly kills Sam, he’s saved by a clone of himself and begins to unravel the sinister nature of the base, and his existence. Moon cribs heavily from the retro-futuristic look of ‘60s and ‘70s sci-fi for its claustrophobic and sanitized depiction of the moon base, but this high-tech eye candy is only the backdrop to a larger morality tale about humanity’s ever-shrinking position within a technologically-saturated society. When the human experience can be synthesized (and thus made disposable), does such a thing as “humanity” even exist? There’s a host of challenging philosophical threads throughout—cloning, masculinity, energy, corporate power—but those individual issues complement rather than engulf the larger narrative. Moon is a superlative example of science fiction that hearkens to the genre’s roots: social commentary on the human condition, without the easy catharsis of overblown special effects and space opera. It’s the ultimate rarity in modern cinema: a mature, engaging and thoughtful sci-fi movie, and proof that there’s life yet left in the genre. —Michael Saba


34. 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, 18 years later and with two Netflix seasons in the can, 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


33. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Year: 2012
Director: David Gelb
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about one of the greatest masters of the culinary world, one of whom casual foodies have never even heard. Although Jiro’s work—literally, the dishes he so effortlessly prepares, and then the act of watching him as he watches his customers eating the dishes—is ostensibly the film’s focus, the story is truly propelled by the chef’s relationship with his two sons: The youngest started his own restaurant, and the oldest, at the age of 50, continues to work with his father, training to one day take over Jiro’s infamous restaurant. Devoid of the typical familial jealousy you may expect (and so devoid, arguably, of much conflict at all), Jiro Dreams of Sushi is only a beautifully filmed documentary about three men who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of perfection. Which in itself is conflict enough—as the film airily asks: Where do style, artistry, practice and perfection meet? —Emily Kirkpatrick


32. 45 Years
Year: 2015
Director: Andrew Haigh
If I boiled Andrew Haigh’s brilliantly, painfully reserved 45 Years down to its final image, would I be doing the film a disservice? In a sense, yes: Haigh’s third feature is about much more than its parting shot, but oh, what a parting shot it is, complex and agonizing with just a touch of isolation so that it cuts all the deeper. Over the course of his career, Haigh has emerged as a master of restrained realism, such that his movies sound unpalatable and dry on paper. With 45 Years, he’s made a mosaic of utterly mundane living that’s overlaid with a mystery of nostalgic proportions; from a distance the movie’s central proposition, that retiree Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) should be the recipient of notice from the Swiss government about the freshly uncovered remains of his old girlfriend, who perished after falling into a glacial crevasse decades prior, appears ridiculous, perhaps even melodramatic. Under Haigh’s assured gaze, though, that conceit echoes with a merciless truth, that no matter how much we think we know the people we love, we can only know them so much, and as much as we’d like to hold that against them, we can’t. Everyone has their secrets. Sometimes those secrets hollow us out. When they do, the only freedom we have is to weep alone as the world blithely dances around us. —Andy Crump


31. First Match
Year: 2018
Director: Olivia Newman
Describing Olivia Newman’s film in terms of the contrast it strikes between emotional and physical pain does it a disservice. It’s true that Newman affixes that contrast to her story’s core, and that her protagonist, Monique (Elvire Emanuelle), endures plentiful suffering in both categories, being both lonely—by her own choosing and also as a consequence of the shit hand life has dealt her—and frequently subject to bodily duress. If she isn’t taking on girls in her high school’s hallways, she’s taking down boys on wrestling mats. Eventually she’s taking shots to the face, which brings us back to the subject of her dad, Darrel (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and uneasy questions about his parental suitability resting at the film’s core. Maybe Monique was better off without him around. First Match is a consistently great film, but it’s at its best when Emanuelle gets to share the screen with Abdul-Mateen, just the two of them. Like Emanuelle, he’s an open book written in a language that’s difficult to translate. One moment he’s indifferent to her. Another, worse than that, he’s actively chafed by her, as if she’s an inconvenience to him. Then they’re play wrestling together, dad teaching daughter the ropes of the discipline. Turns out Darrel used to be a wrestler, a great one, too, and First Match wrings drama out of that dynamic: He, the former star, training his daughter, the newcomer, coaxing her toward victory. Newman has pretty serious filmmaking chops: She shoots action cleanly, coherently, with an eye for the poetry of a well-executed suplex and the brutality of a back alley brawl. Her strongest work, though, is seen in her characters and in her lead. Violence on the flesh is stomach churning, but it doesn’t quite compare to violence on the spirit. —Andy Crump


30. Magic Mike
Year: 2012
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. Channing plays the titular main attraction at a weekend dive run by onetime-stripper-turned-manager Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Mike is a popular performer, but stripping three nights a week doesn’t pay the bills on his swank beachfront pad and brand-new pickup truck, so he makes ends meet by working a construction gig. He’s also got a couple of entrepreneurial enterprises on the side, including a detailing business that may or may not actually have customers and a dream to custom-build furniture full-time. The guys’ hands-on performances, choreographed by Alison Faulk, are enthusiastic and energetic, if not always polished, with indelible set pieces like the part-Singin’ in the Rain, part-Matrix treatment of “It’s Raining Men” that introduces us to the act. What you may not have even known you wanted until you got it is a solo by McConaughey, an electrifying turn that marks the climax of the action. McConaughey is perfectly cast to begin with but then turns around and makes the role his own, even incorporating an allusion to his infamous bongos incident. He’s sleazy yet sexy, equally alluring to the women he services and the men he employs. The ladies in the small packed house go wild for these guys, and their excitement is infectious. 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


29. Faces Places
Year: 2017
Directors: Agnès Varda and JR
The year’s best road movie was this delightful French film from New Wave pioneer Agnès Varda and photographer JR. The odd-couple contrast between co-directors is physically striking—she’s a woman, he’s a man; he’s much taller and younger than she—but they’re aligned in their desire to document the lives of everyday French citizens, taking oversized photos of the people they meet and plastering them on the sides of buildings to commemorate their specialness. Faces Places is very much in the style of Varda’s most recent documentaries, such as The Gleaners and I and The Beaches of Agnès, which chart how art and life weave inextricably together, but at 89, she doesn’t have the same stamina she once did. That fact lends added poignancy to a movie that, in part, is about the fragility of everything: small towns, photographs, loved ones, long friendships fading into disrepair. With JR as her co-conspirator, the Varda we see in Faces Places stands as a model for how to carry oneself through the world: with humor, humility and grace. —Tim Grierson


28. Se7en
Year: 1995
Director: David Fincher 
It’s hard to think of a ’90s movie that did more short-term damage to the length of your fingernails than David Fincher’s Se7en. Sticking close to detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and almost-retired William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of John Doe, a murderer who plans his kills around the seven deadly sins, the film allows us to watch Somerset teach a still-naive Mills valuable life lessons around the case, which has morally charged outcomes aimed at such victims as a gluttonous man and a greedy attorney. For all the disturbing crime scenes considered, Se7en’s never as unpredictable or emotionally draining as in its infamous finale, in which Mills and Somerset discover “what’s in the box” after capturing their man. —Tyler Kane


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


26. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Year: 1998
Director: Werner Herzog 
The story of former fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, told in his own words, is one that, while pretty unbelievable, best illustrates the mastery manipulation of the man helping tell it. Werner Herzog makes no apologies for the way he so often bends truth to more snugly serve the grandeur he finds in the subjects he chooses for his documentaries—but he’s never been interested in unadulterated truth anyway. Instead, he’s in the documentary game for the exultation of truth, conveying it in such a way as to focus on the overpowering emotions at its core. And so, in Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog takes Dengler back to Southeast Asia, where, in the early days of the Vietnam War, he was shot down and taken prisoner, tortured and starved—but then, somewhere within him, found the will to escape. Dengler leads us step by step through this harrowing experience, accompanied by locals who Herzog hired to help Dengler “reenact” the events, and in a sense help him remember. That Herzog later went on to make a narrative feature based on Dengler’s story isn’t at all surprising—Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale in the lead role, walks a fine line between harsh reality and patriotic melodrama. Because, as Herzog told Paste more than eight years ago: “Rescue Dawn is not a war movie. It’s a film about the test and trial of men … And survival.” It doesn’t necessarily matter how Dengler escaped, but that he was able to at all. Whatever you want to call it, it was that titular “need” that propelled him onward—and that’s the truth Herzog wants to discover. —Dom Sinacola


25. Boy & the World
Year: 2013
Director: Alê Abreu
Boy & the World, like any should-be classic of kids’ cinema, is laced with images of pure, incomprehensible terror. Nearly wordless, it’s also a subcutaneous wonder: heartbreaking and sumptuous and sometimes so gorgeous you feel like you should weep in appreciation, at near microscopic levels Boy & the World excels. As Cuca, our eponymous boy—defined mostly by his Charlie Brown head and infectious giggle—is literally swept up on a hallucinogenic journey, political iconography and economic devastation gradually devour the vibrant, weird colors that define his idyllic home. Your kids probably won’t recognize the fascistic implications of Abreu’s designs—which culminate in an actual battle between the pitch-black Reichsadler and a rainbow phoenix (birthed, of course, from the music of the oppressed lower classes)—but the feeling he wants to give them is easy enough to understand. The World may be a big and scary place, he admits, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worth exploring. —Dom Sinacola


24. 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


23. The Breadwinner
Year: 2017
Director: Nora Twomey
Having worked on both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Nora Twomey has taken a different tack than her Cartoon Saloon cohort, Tomm Moore, departing the mythology-rich shores of Ireland for the mountains of Afghanistan, focusing on the region’s own folklore against the backdrop of Taliban rule. The film is based on Deborah Ellis’s 2000 novel of the same name, the story of a young girl named Parvana who disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family after her father is seized by the Taliban. Being a woman in public is bad for your health in Kabul. So is educating women. Parvana (Saara Chaudry) understands the dire circumstances her father’s arrest forces upon her family, and recognizes the danger of hiding in plain sight to feed them. Need outweighs risk. So she adopts a pseudonym on advice from her friend, Shauzia (Soma Bhatia), who is in the very same position as Parvana, and goes about the business of learning how to play-act as a dude in a world curated by dudes. Meanwhile, Parvana’s embrace of familial duty is narrated concurrently with a story she tells to her infant brother, about a young boy who vows to reclaim his village’s stolen crop seeds from the Elephant King and his demonic minions in the Hindu Kush mountain range. If there’s a link that ties The Breadwinner to Moore’s films, besides appreciation for fables, it’s artistry: Like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner is absolutely gorgeous, a cel-shaded stunner that blends animation’s most traditional form with interspersed cut out animation. The result mixes the fluid intangibility of the former with the tactile quality of the latter, layering the film’s visual scheme with color and texture. Twomey gives The Breadwinner ballast, binding it to the real-world history that serves as its basis, and elevates it to realms of imagination at the same time. It’s a collision of truth and fantasy. —Andy Crump


22. Battle Royale
Directors: Kinji Fukasaku
Year: 2000
It’s OK to compare Battle Royale to The Hunger Games movies—or, rather, to find how the lasting accomplishments of the latter franchise were essentially done better and with so much more efficiency by the former—because you probably will anyway. Battle Royale, like the immensely successful four-film crash course in crafting an action star who is really only a symbol of an action star, chronicles a government-sanctioned battle to the death between a group of teens on a weird, weapon-strewn island. (There are even regular island-wide announcements of the day’s dead as the sun sets on the remaining children.) Yet, Battle Royale is so lean in its exposition, so uninterested in dragging out its symbolism or metaphor, that one can’t help but marvel at how cleanly Fukasaku (who had a full career behind him when he made this, only three years before he died) can lend depth to these children, building stakes around them to the point that their deaths matter and their doomed plights sting. What the director can do with such a tenuous premise (which The Hunger Games takes multiple films to do, and without a single ounce of levity) is astounding—plus, he wrangled Beat Takeshi Kitano to play the President Snow-type character, which Kitano does to near-perfection. That Battle Royale II sets out to up the stakes of the first film, especially given the first film’s crazy success in Japan, is to be expected, but stick to the first: Battle Royale will make you care about kids murdering each other more than you (probably) would anyway. —Dom Sinacola


21. Fire at Sea
Year: 2016
DIrector: Gianfranco Rosi
Fire at Sea is an imagistic grasp at a few months on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, 100 miles south of Sicily and the first glimpse of land for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East. With no voiceover and little context, Italian director Gianfranco Rosi juxtaposes the lives of men, women and children barely sustaining themselves on the fringes of society, of humanity, with the everyday, mundane existences of the denizens of the island—both those who devote their lives to helping the refugees and those who work or play or eat big mounds of spaghetti without one thought for the deluge of sad souls passing over their home turf. In long takes and cinematography that aches with the need to push beyond the boundaries of the screen, Rosi indulges in the rhythm of that juxtaposition, daring us to move on from one atrocity after another in order to understand what moving on takes: a lot of boring afternoons and silent plates of spaghetti. —Dom Sinacola


20. Coco
Year: 2017
Director: Lee Unkrich
With the release of Coco, the 19th film from Pixar Studios, there are at least two questions the answer to which every member in the audience can be certain of before that desk lamp comes hopping across the screen. Will the animation be top-notch, meriting adjectives like “vibrant” and “gorgeous” and perhaps even “luscious?” Without a doubt. Will the voice acting be superb, enhancing the aforementioned animation in every way? You bet it will! You can also count on at least a few effective strummings of the ol’ heartstrings. (And thanks to films like Up and Inside Out, you might even dread how destroyed you’ll be after said strumming.) Of course, that doesn’t mean a Pixar film is quite the sure thing it was before, say, 2011’s Cars 2 (for many, Pixar’s critical nadir). Inside Out and Finding Dory were home runs, but in between, there was The Good Dinosaur (a weak infield popup, at best). Fortunately, thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco will count as one of the studio’s successes—and for many who long to see their culture center stage instead of just a flavor sprinkle, the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he struggles to pursue his dreams may prove Pixar’s most meaningful film yet. —Michael Burgin


19. The Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan 
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) deserves the collective sigh of relief it received in resuscitating the Caped Crusader’s cinematic reputation following Joel Schumacher’s 1997 neon-disco nightmare on ice that was Batman & Robin. And if Batman Begins represents the character’s tonal course correction, The Dark Knight provided an equally important act of rehabilitation—that of Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. (Let’s face it, though not a crime of Schumacherian dimensions, Jack Nicholson’s Joker fell short of setting a standard for the character.) Though ostensibly part of the superhero stable, The Dark Knight is, at its center, a proper crime saga—just as was its source, spawning from the pages of Detective Comics, less Spider-Man than it is Heat, in rather dramatic costume. Significantly trading up in the villain department this round, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime is a force of nature—brilliantly written as a crime boss who wants no less than Gotham’s very soul. Ledger’s Joker is as chilling as he is darkly funny, and the most bracing reminder to date of why he’s the most renowned foe of the World’s Greatest Detective. —Scott Wold


18. The Stranger
Year: 1946
Director: Orson Welles 
Orson Welles’ third film follows a UN War Crimes Commission agent, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who’s hunting down fugitive Nazi Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). Kindler has moved to a small New England town and married the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, teaches at a prep school, essentially erasing every possible trace of his former identity, save one: a longtime obsession with clocks. As Wilson finds more and more proof of Kindler’s identity, Kindler goes to greater and greater lengths to conceal it.

Though John Huston was originally supposed to direct The Stranger, Welles got the job because of an ill-timed military tour that took Huston (literally and figuratively) out of the picture. Because he hadn’t directed a film in four years, Welles was so eager for the work he took a contract stipulating that if he went over budget he’d be paying the studio out of pocket. In turn, it’s possible that Welles’ inventiveness was partially forged by the constraints under which he found himself working on all of his early films. Dogged by cut-happy producers (it’s not even clear how much footage was removed but Welles was relieved of the first 16 pages of his script before principal photography even started) and contrarian casting/location choices—Welles wanted Agnes Moorehead to play the investigator, but the studio cast Robinson; likewise he got a budget-driven “no” on filming the prep school scenes at The Todd School in Illinois, his own alma mater—Welles’ desire to personalize this film despite so many interventions were probably fundamental to the development of The Stranger’s nightmare-like tone. Perhaps most striking is Welles’ use of actual footage from concentration camps, which are still shocking today but exceedingly potent in the 1940s when large numbers of Americans still did not understand that the camps really existed. In typical Welles-versus-studio fashion, the producers backed out at the last minute on the promise of a four-picture deal to follow this film. They had become convinced it would run at a loss and Welles was incapable of directing a mainstream hit movie. As it turned out, it was Welles’ only significant box office success, and remains a canonized film noir. —Amy Glynn


17. The Iron Giant
Year: 1999
Director: Brad Bird
Brad Bird’s feature debut was traditional 2-D 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


16. Raw
Year: 2016
Director: Julia Ducournou
If you’re the proud owner of a twisted sense of humor, you might tell your friends that Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a “coming of age movie” in a bid to trick them into seeing it. Yes, the film’s protagonist, naive incoming college student Justine (Garance Marillier), comes of age over the course of its running time; she parties, she breaks out of her shell, and she learns about who she really is as a person on the verge of adulthood. But most kids who come of age in the movies don’t realize that they’ve spent their lives unwittingly suppressing an innate, nigh-insatiable need to consume raw meat. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “that’s the name of the movie!” You’re right! It is! Allow Ducournau her cheekiness. More than a wink and nod to the picture’s visceral particulars, Raw is an open concession to the harrowing quality of Justine’s grim blossoming. Nasty as the film gets, and it does indeed get nasty, the harshest sensations Ducournau articulates here tend to be the ones we can’t detect by merely looking: Fear of feminine sexuality, family legacies, popularity politics, and uncertainty of self govern Raw’s horrors as much as exposed and bloody flesh. It’s a gorefest that offers no apologies and plenty more to chew on than its effects. —Andy Crump


15. Carol
Year: 2015
Director: Todd Haynes
In Todd Haynes’ Carol, Therese’s (Rooney Mara) heart is encased and inaccessible—as if only to be glimpsed through the glass of a telephone booth or through the lens of her camera—until one day a woman named Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), who, from across the room, transforms Therese’s way of seeing with a little gesture of her head and a flirtatious, “I like the hat,” finally unearths it. Soon, Carol and Therese begin to dissolve into one another, to the music of “You Belong to Me,” no less. Bookended by a hand on shoulder, Therese continues to conceive of what her desire means, and the two dizzyingly create their own language of connection, fueled by Haynes’ acute eye, Ed Lachman’s grainy, Saul Leiter-reminiscent cinematography and the sounds of Carter Burwell’s propulsive score. —Kyle Turner


14. Certain Women
Year: 2016
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Silence speaks volumes in Kelly Reichardt’s films. In works like Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, she has explored how people spend most of their day thinking, not talking, and that perhaps those quiet moments can be as revealing of character as anything that comes out of their mouths. (And, let’s not forget, even when we speak, we’re rarely saying precisely what we mean.) Reichardt’s less-is-so-much-more approach is again on display beautifully in Certain Women, a series of three barely interconnected stories in which empty spaces are pregnant with meaning and resonance. In the first vignette, a vaguely unsatisfied lawyer named Laura (Laura Dern) must counsel an aggrieved client (Jared Harris) who’s unhappy with the amount of money he’s received in a lawsuit settlement. In the second, Gina (Michelle Williams), a focused wife and mother, is on the search for some limestone for the house she and her disengaged husband (James Le Gros) are building. And finally, a lonely cattle rancher named Jamie (Lily Gladstone) stumbles into a nighttime legal class taught by an out-of-towner (Kristen Stewart), striking up a friendship with the disenfranchised woman. As usual with her films, Certain Women is so delicately but smartly constructed that ecstatic reviews may give people the wrong idea about its greatness. It’s wonderful not because it’s some towering, imposing colossus, but because every small moment feels thoughtfully considered, fully lived-in. Certain Women seeps into the skin and expands in the mind. It leaves you shaken—even though nothing seemingly momentous has happened. Reichardt treats cinema as a kind of meditation, which probably explains why her movies almost never feature traditional endings. Lives are a process, not necessarily a destination, and Reichardt honors her characters’ journey by letting it ebb and flow as it pleases. Like so many of her films, Certain Women is muted and restorative. Suddenly, the real world feels too loud. —Tim Grierson


13. Cartel Land
Year: 2015
Director: Matthew Heineman
Focusing its primary gaze on Michoacán, a Western Mexican state in the grip of the Templar Knights cartel, Cartel Land is a complex, harrowing documentary about drug gangs’ grip on Mexico (and the Mexican-American borderlands) that doubles as a portrait of the difficulties of grassroots revolutionary movements. Director Matthew Heineman’s film centers on Dr. José Mireles, who decided to fight back against the cartels oppressing his community by creating the vigilante group, Autodefensas. Liberating one occupied town after another another, the Autodefensas were a response to both the cartels and to the corrupt government with whom they were in league. Eschewing narration and on-screen text in favor of interviews that serve to keep the story propelled ever-forward—and often taking up residence right beside, or over the shoulder of, its Autodefensas subjects—Cartel Land is the rare nonfiction work that routinely keeps one’s nerves on edge. —Nick Schager


12. Heat
Year: 1995
Director: Michael Mann
Those first watching Michael Mann’s L.A. crime masterpiece should view it with a clean slate—and from then on dissect it in great detail, with all of its separate elements pulled apart to determine how they eventually came together to complete such an intricately constructed work of storytelling. Anything in between would seldom do this sprawling (yet taut) epic justice. Exploring the concept of the cop and the robber on opposite sides of the same coin is a premise that pretty much every crime drama has delved into in one way or another, yet Mann manages to create the dichotomy’s epitome. By implementing, with surgical precision, an impressively pure vision of a grand, boastful and larger-than-life crime story, Mann delivers a culmination of his previously tight, deliberately stylized work (namely, Thief and Manhunter). With its hauntingly cold cinematography, moody score, terrific performances by a slew of legendary stars and character actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer) and—let’s not forget—the mother of all cinematic shoot-outs in its center, it more than likely represents the peak of Mann’s ever-shifting career. —Oktay Ege Kozak


11. Under the Skin
Year: 2013
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Under the Skin is unified in purpose and in drive. It is a biting examination of sexual politics and a dissertation on the bodies we inhabit—how those bodies create a paradigm of ownership. Scarlett Johansson plays the alien avatar, the predator, the cipher whose weakness is her awakening humanity. When she looks in a mirror, lost in a gaze at her own body, it’s a reminder to us to find some remove from our weary familiarity with ourselves, to think, “Golly, what strange things we are.” The film’s tragic conclusion is an assertion that we achieve some positive ideal of what it is to be human when we accept a state of vulnerability, when we forsake the power position in our sexual communication. When we allow for the reality of our frailty, we can care for the frailty in all around us—and this is a very dangerous thing to do. Especially in a world riddled with corruption and malice that seeks to press its advantage. Under the Skin shows us these truths with images that are impossibly beautiful, terrifying and ultimately haunting. There is no exposition, only voids which suspended shells of victims float in, laser sharp lights piercing darkness, menacingly stoic bikers, snowflakes falling into lenses. There is a scene on a beach that plays out like a Bergman or Haneke set-piece and is just as heartbreaking as that would entail. Under the Skin is a soul-crushing work and yet, somehow, the film reiterates that we must continue working towards finding our souls. An artful cascade of multiple exposures of random people, about midway through the film, would seem to symbolize the birth of empathy in Johansson’s femme fatale, and while this is the beginning of the end for her, it can’t help but resonate in Under the Skin with all the radiance of beatitude. These are scenes, statements, questions that are only possible within the framework that the film’s science fiction aspect provides, for these are not the thought processes bound by what is real, but what could be. —Chad Betz


10. Full Metal Jacket
Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick 
It’s a non-controversial opinion that Full Metal Jacket’s worth extends as far as its first half and declines from there as the film nosedives into conventionality. But the second chapter of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam horror story is responsible for creating the conventions by which we’re able to judge the picture in retrospect, and even conventional material as delivered by an artist like Kubrick is worth watching: Full Metal Jacket’s back half is, all told, pleasingly gripping and dark, a naked portrait of how war changes people in contrast to how the military culture depicted in the front half changes people. Being subject to debasement on a routine basis will break a person’s mind in twain. Being forced to kill another human will collapse their soul. Really, there’s nothing about Full Metal Jacket that doesn’t work or get Kubrick’s point across, but there’s also no denying just how indelible its pre-war sequence is, in particular due to R. Lee Ermey’s immortal performance as the world’s most terrifying Gunnery Sergeant. —Andy Crump


9. City of God
Year: 2003
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Originally released in January 2003 to critical praise, Fernando Meirelles’ masterful yet brutal City of God receded from view until Miramax re-released it for Oscar consideration. And while it failed to even garner a foreign language film nomination that year, the alternately intense and intimate depiction of Rio’s desperate favelas has only grown in stature and power. Based on the novel by Paulo Lins (and adapted by Bráulio Mantovani), Meirelles turned an unflinching eye on a world forgotten by the wealthy and powerful, ignored by police and indifferent to law and order. City of God set the template for other shocking urban films to follow (not to mention a revival of “favela funk” by music-marauders like Diplo and M.I.A.), but whereas other cinematic studies like Gomorrah (about modern Sicily) and the documentary Dancing with the Devil only wallowed in such viciousness, this film plunged deeper, gripped harder, and yet always allowed glints of humanity into such darkness. City of God’s harrowing depiction of daily violence in the favelas exemplifies in shocking detail the Hobbesian view of life as “nasty, brutish, and short,” but the film never casts judgment. While chaos and bloodshed rule the world of protagonist Rocket and those of his generation—psychotic druglord Li’l Zé, groovy playboy Benny and solemn Knockout Ned (singer Seu Jorge, in his breakout role)—City of God elucidates an underlying symmetry, exhibiting if not poetic justice, then the street version of the same. —Andy Beta


8. 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 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


7. Touch of Evil
Year: 1958
Director: Orson Welles 
With its legendary opening, a single, crane-enabled shot just shy of three-and-a-half minutes in length, Orson Welles essentially closed the book on the classic noir era—and rewrote his own legacy in the process. Welles was 20 years into his career and a Hollywood has-been at 42 when he signed on to adapt Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil for the screen. The result is a masterwork wrought by an auteur of monumental brass ones, even for Welles. The film opens at night, as a bomb is placed in the trunk of a convertible just before an unwitting couple take a drive through town. An echoing strain of horns and percussion situate us in an exotic, obviously dangerous locale, the natural sounds of the streets weaving in and out with the rock ’n’ roll playing on the car stereo. Cinematographer Russell Metty slowly pans away to refocus our attention on Mexican DEA agent Charlton Heston and his American bride Janet Leigh—a bit of breezy, expository chitchat fills us in on those details. They stroll through customs, across the border, into the U.S. on foot and share an embrace, just as the convertible explodes in front of them. In one extended take, we’re hurtled into this thriller with a minimum of screen time and maximum of suspense. Sure, Welles himself will soon command the frame as a fat, drunk, cane-toting corrupt cop, as will Marlene Dietrich as a brothel madam and Dennis Weaver as a sketchy hotel night manager. The plot will double down with a manhunt, kidnapping, gang rape, drugs and more in a yarn as thick and filthy as Welles’ villain’s final resting place. But those first three minutes 20 seconds not only encapsulate a singular mastery of filmmaking—an immaculately orchestrated synergy of technical skill, storytelling and style—they tick off practically every box on the noir checklist: gritty, maze-like streets; foreign vs. domestic threats; isolation and anxiety; the law and the lawless; the passions of a gorgeous gal and her hero; extremes of shadow and light, angles and composition; unsparing tension; and a palpable, inescapable sense of doom. Three. Unbroken. Minutes. —Amanda Schurr


6. Jurassic Park
Year: 1994
Director: Steven Spielberg 
 Jurassic Park’s standing as a technical milestone in cinematic storytelling isn’t only dependent on its then-revolutionary use of computer generated imagery: The special effects look as groundbreaking and seamless today as they did 25 years ago. The magic behind the film’s ability to bring dinosaurs to life could be in Spielberg’s expertise in approaching special effects on a shot-by-shot basis, merging each sequence with reliable miniature and animatronic work, making the connective tissue between these tricks as unnoticeable as possible. More than an achievement, Jurassic Park is an infinitely fun action adventure that also manages to insert some prescient themes into the mix—like whether or not humanity should interfere, on a deeply intimate level, with Nature—affording a moral angle that the sequels have pretty much abandoned or just plain bungled so far. —Oktay Ege Kozak


5. The Thin Blue Line
Year: 1988
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


4. 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


3. Boogie Nights
Year: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson 
Although Boogie Nights was Paul Thomas Anderson’s first epic production with an ensemble cast, time and perspective show it’s his closest brush with perfection. The auteur specializes in building up characters to break them down, and no one in his 1997 exploration of the pornography business is exempt from his deconstructive impulses: Few directos balance the hilarious and harrowing so seamlessly, and even fewer rely on dramatic irony to achieve both. Boogie Nights may be amusing because its characters—from Mark Wahlberg’s young rising star to Julianne Moore’s fading starlet and Burt Reynold’s once-famous director who must deal with an industry changing without him—are so hapless, but their ignorance is equally heartbreaking; they earnestly desire to make a good product, even if they struggle to figure out what constitutes quality anymore. Anderson’s fictional pornographers may desperately and futilely cling to a time before video and amateur acting, but Anderson himself managed to put out a two-and-a-half hour film that is careful to never overstay its welcome—even when it asks for “one last thing.” —Allie Conti


2. The Godfather Trilogy: Part I; Part II; Part III
Year: 1972; 1974; 1990
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The definitive immigrant story/definitive American tragedy: These are the awful things we are forced to do, and this is whom we do them for. The best mob stories ask: “How do I take care of me and mine?” How far are you willing to go to protect your own? In The Godfather and its sequels, the story of the Corleone family becomes the centerpiece of a deep meditation on family and power. Francis Ford Coppola answers: Ultimately, you will lose one in the vain pursuit of the other. During the second film, Family don Michael’s (Al Pacino) wife Kay (Diane Keaton, unrecognizable in her youth) gets her one really powerful scene as she reveals to her husband that she had an abortion because she can’t bear the thought of raising another child in the mob. He wouldn’t understand, she rants, because of “this Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years!” Before, we flash back to 1941 and the fight that results from Michael revealing his enlistment in the Marines to his family: either the beginning of his personal fall or one last reminder that he’s always viewed himself as apart, as better. True tragedy comes from a fatal, internal flaw, and something about this scene is meant to suggest his. His family leaves him in the room alone. The only other times that both Michael and Vito (Marlon Brando; Robert De Niro) are alone on screen in the films occur in the tense moments before they kill—always in explicit defense of the family. Flash forward to Michael on a park bench by himself —years later, after he’s driven away his wife and his sister and seen countless people killed, many by his own order. The lonely horn section of the waltz motif plays us out. Long before that, Michael asks his mother if a man can lose his family in the struggle to protect it. It’s a question we’ve already answered.These are the awful things we are forced to do, and this is whom we do them for. At least, for Coppola, that’s what we tell ourselves. —Ken Lowe


1. Schindler’s List
Year: 1993
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

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