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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Go and HBO Now (April 2019)

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As it usually goes, HBO lost a buttload of great films this month, but still: To help make sure you get the most out of your subscription, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO in March, ranging from new 2017 classics like Oscar winner Phantom Thread, to three of our favorites from last year, Paddington 2, Isle of Dogs and, this month, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. HBO has also added a few Woody Allen flicks, which seems odd at best, but we’ll still gladly welcome Annie Hall and gladly ignore Manhattan.

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

Here are the 50 best movies on HBO in April:

50. Despicable Me
Year: 2010
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Followed by three more franchise flicks—one of which, 2013’s Despicable Me 2, is so old-timey racist and unabashedly violent and culturally tone-deaf it’s legitimately detrimental to the health of young children—the original Despicable Me shines best by flattening the dichotomy between good guys and bad guys, removing all but the most heart-strings-tugging stakes from what would otherwise be a minefield of superhero and spy thriller movie tropes. In the world of career super villain Gru (Steve Carell, playacting a mouthful of an Eastern European accent), good guys are boring state-subsidized bureaucrats, and bad guys aren’t all that bad, just ambitious pseudo-scientists with big ideas and healthy competitive natures. They don’t actually want to hurt anybody. So, really, once Gru begins unwittingly step-fathering three young orphan girls (the youngest voiced adorably by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) he sheds all of his sociopathic tendencies to become an ersatz Good Guy replete with brand new nemesis, Vector (Jason Segal). Though the two sequels and standalone Minions vehicle needlessly complicate the DM mythos, further muddying Gru’s lineage and giving the Minions personalities (the funniest joke in this first film is how Gru talks to each Minion as if they are an individual being, giving them normie names, even though they are impossible to distinguish)—which then means we have to ask questions about how Minions procreate and/or go to the bathroom—the first Despicable Me movie is a pleasantly pure distillation of family-friendly values, slapstick and indifferent character designs, bolstered by a good joke or two. If only it ended there. Instead, we must wonder, in 2019: If a Minion with its pants around its ankles has no genitals, is it really naked? —Dom Sinacola


49. Love, Simon
Year: 2018
Director: Greg Berlanti
Love, Simon is the latest entry in the fairly minuscule collection of movies geared towards young LGBTQ people, but it’s in how main character Simon (Nick Robinson) self-actualizes which seems to establish the film firmly in the present. The ironies of Simon’s very liberal family, accepting friends, etc. are no match for deeply rooted anxiety and a proclivity to want to create some sort of identity online, a version of himself only he and one other, his anonymous pen pal Blue, can know. Love, Simon was not the first queer teen movie (though it was being touted as if it was), and it was not even the first queer film to explore digital identities, but the film is nonetheless of interest because of the way that it uses digital spaces to project who Simon wants to be and and what Simon wants gay desire to look like. Simon, brusquely masc-performing and part of a dream middle class family, can exist as an ostensibly more honest version of himself in the digital realm, while writing to an anonymous person named Blue, whom he found by way of a “confessions”-like blog. Love, Simon’s connection to You’ve Got Mail is crucial because of how it articulates the line between artifice and authenticity: Simon, and Blue for that matter, are no less honest for carving out an identity online in which they feel safe enough to reveal an “authentic” part of themselves. The internet has evolved rapidly since Nora Ephron’s film, but the same rules apply. Love, Simon is one of a few very recent queer films that has its protagonist use the internet to imagine who they could be, or who they think they should be. For Simon and Blue, an email thread can be the queer space they need to explore what “being yourself” really means. —Kyle Turner


48. Hoffa
Year: 1992
Director: Danny DeVito
To call Hoffa a biopic is maybe too on-the-nose, though the title might have most thinking otherwise. Instead, Danny DeVito uses the name to represent a massive social movement, an attitude, a conflagration: Very little is shown of Jimmy Hoffa’s (Jack Nicholson) family, or of his childhood, or even of his undoubtedly complicated internal life. Instead, David Mamet’s script shears all dramatic frills from the Teamster President’s rise to power, building his background as an act of myth-making, letting Nicholson’s frightening charm imbue the historic character with enough confidence and grit to make the fact that Hoffa came to be an inhuman figurehead a believable conclusion to a life’s work. With that, Hoffa is rote in tone and narrative economy, translating an impossibly complex series of backroom dealings and class politics into the fairy tales that now inhabit the gray areas of Detroit legend. It almost doesn’t matter that Mamet frames his script with a Passion-esque prediction of what actually did happen to Jimmy Hoffa’s body—today Detroiters are still looking, long after everyone else stopped caring if he’d ever be found. —Dom Sinacola


47. Ocean’s 8
Year: 2018
Director: Gary Ross
Somewhat maligned upon release as a second-rate copy of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films, I’m here to tell you: That is the point. Ocean’s 8 (notice the difference in title treatment compared to Soderbergh’s films) is the cubic zirconium of the Ocean’s films, and proud to be, an imitation that gestures towards all of the elements, stylistically and narratively, of the other movies, but something is off. Something uncanny, perhaps. So, too, is the uncanniness of womanhood in this film, women whose heist job requires them to perform as women. Dresses and accessories and the artifice of femininity abound on the carpet of the Met Gala. What if the movie was the con all along? —Kyle Turner


46. Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy
Year: 2017
Director: Ashley Gething
This HBO original documentary falls in the “pathologically respectful” category, but it at least has a focus that makes clear that it understands its own purpose. It’s Diana’s life story as recalled by her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. While not especially substantive or deep, it is pleasantly intimate and gives viewers a legitimate peek at a point of view they probably haven’t had access to until now, as Diana’s sons have not spoken much about her in public. You can feel A Lot of Stuff getting glossed over, but it’s lightweight versus insincere. This particular documentary does a good job of reinforcing one of those through lines: Diana was, by all accounts, a loving and deeply engaged parent. This is a warm-hearted look at a couple of boys who are now men and who have never gotten over the untimely and sudden loss of one of their parents because, generally speaking, you don’t get over that. It’s… not typical, at least it wasn’t, for the British royal family to expose much about their private lives or their feelings (Charles and Diana’s incredibly public divorce changed that a bit), and William and Harry are restrained and circumspect in their remembrance of their mother. It’s kind of obvious that there’s a certain amount of reputation damage control going on here, and fair enough: The woman was so dogged by tabloid journalists and accused of everything from being an unfaithful bad-wife attention-seeking troublemaker to being downright mentally ill. This documentary does a really good and arguably needful job of reminding people that this adored and beleaguered public persona was also a human being and the mother of two other human beings who miss her. —Amy Glynn


45. Waking Ned Devine
Year: 1998
Director: Kirk Jones
Waking Ned Devine may be the most feel-good heist flick ever made. An old-timer in a small village, Ned (Jimmy Keogh), wins the lottery then immediately dies of shock. Two of his also-old-timer buddies, Jackie (Ian Bannen) and Michael (Fawlty Towers’ David Kelly), decide to scam the big-city lotto agent into thinking that one of them is Ned, alive and well. What ensues is not so much a con-artist caper but more a celebration of all that is Irish: community, camaraderie and the spirit of human generosity. Other Irish themes championed: whiskey, lush landscapes, poetry, naked geriatric men riding motorcycles, whiskey and the fiddle. —Ryan Carey


44. Tully
Year: 2018
Director: Jason Reitman 
She’s just so tired. Marlo, the reluctant heroine of Tully, is a wife and mother of two, with a third child just days away from being born. Certain adjectives come to mind to describe her—patient, caustic, diplomatic—but the word that’s most easily applied is tired. Actually, maybe exhausted would be more accurate—stretched to her breaking point, just about ready to snap. Marlo is played by Charlize Theron, making her second film with Up in the Air director Jason Reitman. Their first effort, Young Adult, was about a train wreck stubbornly resisting maturity. In Tully, Theron once again plays a woman who feels like she could shatter. We watch her expectantly, fearing what will happen if this teetering, struggling character finally falls down. Written by Diablo Cody, who previously collaborated with Reitman on Juno and Young Adult, Tully gives us a marriage and a family that’s barely holding on. Marlo’s husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), is a decent guy but a little beaten-down—it’s clear neither of them really wanted a third child but, yet, here we are. Their other two kids are hardly perfect angels—their young son seems to have emotional issues that no doctor has been able to completely pinpoint—and financially, Marlo and Drew aren’t sure they’ll be able to keep their heads afloat after Baby No. 3 arrives. The movie takes some risks near the end that underline the story’s central themes while also undercutting them. But Tully is at its best when it’s simply moving intuitively from one negotiated respite to the next. This film is never as bleak in its depiction of the quiet hells of motherhood as 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, but its awkward, everyday rhythms may resonate more with child-rearing viewers—who probably won’t be able to concentrate on the movie at home because they’ll be too busy corralling their kids to have a moment to themselves. —Tim Grierson


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


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


41. Early Man
Year: 2018
Director: Nick Park
With Early Man, Nick Park has made his first feature since 2005’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit—and his first non-Wallace and Gromit film since 2000’s Chicken Run—and it’s a sly, unexpectedly emotional comedy with lots of goofy laughs and the occasionally inspired bit of business. But fair or not, it’s hard not to compare this prehistoric laugher to Aardman’s (and Park’s) brilliant past. In this stop-motion film, we’re introduced to Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne), a kindly caveman who thinks his tribe, led by Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall), needs to stop settling for rabbits to hunt and instead go after bigger game. But their peaceful, albeit meager existence is interrupted by an invading Bronze Age army, which kicks them out of their valley homeland and condemns them to live in the inhospitable Badlands. As a way to return to the valley, Dug offers the Bronze Army’s snooty Lord Nooth (voiced by Tom Hiddleston) a deal: If his tribe can beat Nooth’s elite athletes in a soccer match, they can remain in the valley. If they lose, Dug and his friends will have to work in Nooth’s grueling mines. Chicken Run, which Park co-directed with Aardman co-founder Peter Lord, succeeded in part because of its cheeky tweaking of the prison-breakout movie. Early Man cycles through a few genres—Park reportedly pitched the film as a mixture of Gladiator and Dodgeball—but it’s primarily an underdog sports movie, pitting our lovable losers against a superior squad, the whole film building to the finale’s big game. What’s consistently funny about Early Man is its characters’ discomfort—at being mocked, of saying the wrong thing, of losing the big match—which lends Park’s film a humanity and vulnerability that undercut the splashy razzle-dazzle of other, bigger-budgeted animated fare. —Tim Grierson


40. Ready Player One
Year: 2018
Director: Steven Spielberg 
I shudder to think what Ready Player One would have been like if had been directed by anyone other than Steven Spielberg. The novel the movie is based on is the infamously dopey videogame geek fantasy—only gamers can save the world!—that was harmless and derivative in 2011 but seems oddly weaponized in a Gamergate age, and what someone like, say, Michael Bay or Max Landis would have done with the book is more than a little bit terrifying. Spielberg is the perfect guy to direct this, maybe the only one, because he not only has a direct connection to the relentless ’80s nostalgia throughout—one of the most fun aspects of the film is spotting Spielberg’s own Easter eggs—but he also has the same gentle, overly earnest tone he’s had his whole career. There are times that earnestness can turn cloying and even toxic. But here, it’s exactly the antidote the rest of these needs. The movie is still silly and empty. But Spielberg, as always, makes it feel good going down. Our hero is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who survived some sort of apocalypse in the 2020s—expecting one to come that late almost seems optimistic these days—and now lives in the “stacks” in Columbus, Ohio, basically a future version of a trailer park. Like everyone else, he escapes from his grim reality by visiting “the Oasis,” a virtual reality world where you are represented only by your avatar and you can visit any virtual landscape you wish, collecting “coins” and trying not to “zero out” and have to start the “game” over. The Oasis was invented by a man named Halliday (Mark Rylance, wonderfully mumbly as ever) who, when he died, revealed that he had hidden three keys as Easter eggs in the game, with the person who finds them first awarded with control of his company and the Oasis, and thus the future. This leads an evil corporation called IOI, headed by an evil CEO played by a reliably shady Ben Mendlesohn, to invest all their resources in trying to win the game while Wade (called “Parzival” in the online world) and a group of rebel gamers try to stop them to save the world. That’s a lot of plot, and we haven’t even got into the killer drones and the virtual chopshops and T.J. Miller’s bounty hunter character. The real-world characters aren’t drawn particularly well, basically just a Gaggle of Rebellious Kids that we’ve seen in countless other movies, many of them drawn from old Spielberg movies themselves. The world’s dystopia is oddly sunny, as dystopias go, and the anger about the current state of the world in The Post is mostly absent here. He’s too busy keeping all the plates spinning to worry about the planet in this one. This is just a big fuzzy good time. —Will Leitch


39. The Land Before Time
Year: 1988
Director: Don Bluth
It’s hard to overstate what a major development it was for Don Bluth to leave Disney in 1979 to form his own studio. Working during the actual reign of Walt Disney, starting as an in-betweener—the crucial artist whose job it is to fill in the frames of animation that add detail to the movement between poses—in 1955, he chafed under the cutbacks that hit the company in the ’70s just as he was about to direct films of his own. Ultimately he, Gary Goldman and 14 other animators jumped ship to start Don Bluth Productions. An American Tail (1986), the heartbreakingly true and important story of an immigrant family coming to America, was an incredible success from the standpoint of animation and storytelling. The company marketed the hell out of it and, for an animated film, it pulled decent numbers. It set the stage for The Land Before Time two years later in 1988, but already, the studio was struggling: Tail may have reached eyeballs and won acclaim, but it didn’t turn the studio a profit. Setting any story in the age of the dinosaurs is asking for tragedy, but you can still tell some tales of that era without focusing on the unavoidable fact that all their hopes and dreams and everything that they ever were is destined to be washed clean by nature. So what did Bluth and his team decide to do? Set the story during the end of days, of course.

Beginning with a wonder-filled tour of the prehistoric landscape through which we’ll be roaming, The Land Before Time introduces our hero, a baby dino named Littlefoot (voiced by Gabriel Damon), paired with narration that tells us his herd is dying and the plants are shriveling. Bluth’s creative team and their financiers fought over the tone of the movie, and it’s easy to see why the money men were alarmed. Who wants a light-hearted kid’s movie to grapple with childhood orphaning and abandonment, all set while the inevitable end of the world plays out? Littlefoot is orphaned in the first few minutes of the film when a T-Rex violently kills his mother, then is joined on his journey by other orphaned or abandoned dino babies with their own neuroses. Littlefoot struggles at the head of his little band to keep the faith and continue plodding onward toward the legendary Great Valley when every circumstance along the way taunts them with doubt. The Land Before Time clearly wanted to be a movie that was about coping with loss, being changed by it, but it ended up an adventure movie with a happy ending that leaves most of that solemnity as weighty subtext. It’s debatably one of Bluth’s best movies, and I’d even argue one of the best animated movies of the ’80s. It was also one of the last bright spots of Don Bluth’s film catalogue. —Ken Lowe


38. The Post
Year: 2017
Director: Steven Spielberg 
The Post begins as a restrained procedural, sticking only to the facts surrounding The Washington Post obtaining, in 1972, top secret Pentagon Papers showing (without a doubt) that the American resolve for winning the war in Vietnam was severely diminished—the exact opposite mood the U.S. administration was claiming at the time. This strictly matter-of-fact approach would have made directors like Gosta Gavras and, yes, Alan J. Pakula proud. Of course, this being a Steven Spielberg joint, The Post can’t help but gradually bring heavy emotional tension to the film’s forefront, easing us moment by moment into a fairly manipulative yet exhilarating finale. None of that should come as a surprise: “Manipulative but exhilarating” might as well be the director’s calling card. The fact that The Post doesn’t stick to its apparent predecessors’ (All the President’s Men, Spotlight) dogged dedication to never clearly extracting strong emotional responses out of its audience might come across as a clear criticism of this otherwise airtight, tautly-paced drama with some of the best acting of the year. However, we are not living in subtle times. With the rise of authoritarianism here in the U.S. severely pushing back on the first amendment, explicitly declaring the free and open press an enemy of the people, the people need a populist piece of art with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. That’s why, in 2017, Spielberg is the perfect director to handle this story. Who better to rouse us, give us the passion and motivation we need to not only keep up the fight against such tyranny, but to hold out some hope for salvation as well? Depending on one’s politics, then, The Post could be the most important film of the year, or a pathetic piece of left-wing agitprop, but its effectiveness in eliciting a strong emotional response cannot be denied. —Oktay Ege Kozak


37. X2
Year: 2003
Director: Bryan Singer
From its incomparably stunning opening sequence, demonstrating the full power of the best reasons for humans to fear mutants, to its ending grace note of bittersweet victory, X2 represented a full step forward in legitimizing comic books as a valid source of drama and excitement on the silver screen. The returning cast from director Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men, including Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen and—of course—Hugh Jackman’s iconic portrayal of Marvel favorite Wolverine are complemented beautifully by Alan Cumming’s haunted Catholic teleporter, Nightcrawler, and Brian Cox’s brilliantly villainous turn as the mutant-hating military scientist, Col. Stryker. Even with so many beloved characters to juggle, Singer never loses focus on which one works in any given scene to propel the thrills and emotional center of the story. It’s an awesome ensemble action movie as much as it is a movie about a marginalized but powerful population of people struggling to take the high road in the face of bigotry. —Scott Wold


36. Uncle Drew
Year: 2018
Director: Charles Stone III
Uncle Drew is proof positive that a solid execution, deft handle on tone and a genuine emotional connection with characters can turn even the most cynical premise into (at least) a fun time at the movies. Based on a series of Pepsi commercials in which NBA superstar Kyrie Irving plays a cranky old man who turns out to be a nimble, expert basketball player, Uncle Drew somehow transcends all of its prejudices to be a funny, affable, by-the-numbers but genuinely warmhearted sports underdog story that finds a way to take its silly gimmick—look at those old, frail men at the basketball court…oh wait, turns out it’s Shaq and Chris Webber!—and wrap it around a well-paced, inspirational narrative that earns almost every bit of its schmaltz. In it, Lil Rey Howery, breakout comic relief from Get Out, plays Dax, the high-strung coach of a street ball team getting ready for the prestigious Rucker Classic tournament. A lover of the game since his days growing up in an orphanage, he has given up on playing after his rival Mookie (Nick Kroll) blocked a winning shot. Does Dax’s character arc revolve around him coming to terms with his past failures, leading to some inspirational moments during the third act? Yes, the script sticks close to the Mighty Ducks template, but the characters and their bond keep our interest. After Mookie steals Dax’s star player, the desperate coach comes up with a plan to get back in the tournament: He recruits the reclusive ’60s streetball star Uncle Drew (Irving) and his team of senior goofballs for one last shot at the championship. this is one of those rare occasions in which a movie uses the dusty trope of turning a group of oddball misfits into a “family” and actually pulls it off in an emotionally satisfying way. —Oktay Ege Kozak


35. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Year: 2018
Director: Desiree Akhavan
Maybe one would not have guessed it from word of mouth or a logline, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of the funniest films of the year. With a sense of humor that is knowingly in debt to Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, though more subtle, Desiree Akhavan’s second feature length functions as a teen film about challenging authority first and a film about conversion therapy second. Chloe Grace Moretz’s Cameron and her friends, Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) are clear-eyed about both the ridiculousness and the terrifying consequences at the gay conversion camp they’re all forced to attend. And in spite of their situation, they must find solace where they can, be it on the kitchen tables singing 4 Non Blondes or in the backwoods smoking weed. Cameron Post has, above all, a clear, lived-in perspective about being a teen, being queer and what trauma can mean in the context of both. —Kyle Turner


34. Dances With Wolves
Year: 1990
Director: Kevin Costner 
Overlooking the fact that this is the story of a white male savior, Kevin Costner’s directorial debut was something of a milestone in Hollywood’s historically terrible depiction of “cowboys and Indians.” Kevin Costner plays Lt. John Dunbar, a Civil War hero serving in an isolated outpost in Sioux territory. When he returns a young woman to her tribe—again, an adopted white woman, Stands With Fist—his presence there is finally accepted, and he learns the Lakota language and customs. With the U.S. army pressing upon all Native Americans in the late 1800s, Dunbar’s loyalties become clouded. The film was beautifully shot by Dean Semler and dominated the Oscars with seven awards, including Best Picture. Costner’s passion for the project showed when he put $3 million of his own money towards finishing production when the shoot ran over its $15 million budget. It paid off when the film went on to gross $424 million globally. And while there were plenty of critics about the authenticity of a film starring only one native Lakota speaker, Costner was adopted as an honorary member of the Sioux Nation. —Josh Jackson


33. The Bourne Identity
Year: 2002
Director: Doug Liman
The years immediately following 9/11 shifted American action movies away from fireworks shows like Independence Day, and toward muddy uncertainty. The Bourne Identity kicked that movement off in earnest, telling a tightly paced story of a single amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), as he comes to the realization that he’s the result of some shadowy government program built to eliminate politically inconvenient targets. At its core the story is one of woeful incompetence and hubris, as the g-men immediately assume losing contact with Bourne must ipso facto mean he has defected or snapped. Rather than talking to him, they hurl every resource available at trying to just kill him, and the fun is in watching them be undone by their own wayward pawn’s absurd hyper-competence. The Bourne Identity can be blamed in part for the put-the-camera-in-a-blender school of action movie filming that would define the years immediately following, but it also put Damon’s star power and Chris Cooper’s exacting character acting opposite one another in a straightforwardly exciting action drama that delivered again and again in the years to come. As the first installment of the Bourne trilogy of the ‘00s, it’s also the foundation of a remarkably consistent story. The sharp-eyed will note that even something as fleeting as a glimpse at the name on one of Bourne’s alias passports comes up again in subsequent sequels, and every time a character reprises his or her role in the films years later, the original actor returns. It’s great craft in service of solid films. —Kenneth Lowe


32. Wonder Woman
Year: 2017
Director: Patty Jenkins
Considering that the character of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was the only one in Batman v Superman who didn’t want to yank your eyeballs out of your head with a spork, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Wonder Woman is lightyears better than anything else the newfangled DC cinematic universe has produced. It’s not quieter necessarily, but it is more measured, more comfortable in its own skin, less fanboy desperate to keep waving keys in front of your face—exploding keys—to make sure it has the full attention of all your assaulted senses. It feels almost old-fashioned in its themes of the goodness of humanity—and the debate alien outsiders have about whether or not humans are worthy of redemption—and the selflessness of one for a greater good. It still has too many skyscraper-sized god-monsters blowing up whole acres in hackneyed super slo-mo, and it doesn’t have much you haven’t seen before, but that it simply tells one story in linear order with logical progression…man, when it comes to these movies, it almost feels like a miracle. —Will Leitch


31. Inception
Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan 
In the history of cinema, there is no twist more groan-inducing than the “it was all a dream” trope (notable exceptions like The Wizard of Oz aside). With Inception, director Christopher Nolan crafts a bracing and high-octane piece of sci-fi drama wherein that conceit isn’t just a plot device, but the totality of the story. The measured and ever-steady pace and precision with which the plot and visuals unfold, and Nolan mainstay wally Pfister’s gorgeous, globe-spanning on-location cinematography, implies a near-obsessive attention to detail. The film winds up and plays out like a clockwork beast, each additional bit of minutia coalescing to form a towering whole. Nolan’s filmmaking and Inception’s dream-delving work toward the same end: to offer us a simulation that toys with our notions of reality. As that, and as a piece of summer popcorn-flick fare, Inception succeeds quite admirably, leaving behind imagery and memories that tug and twist our perceptions—daring us to ask whether we’ve wrapped our heads around it, or we’re only half-remembering a waking dream.

Director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a book about his philosophy towards filmmaking, calling it Sculpting in Time; Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t sculpt, he deconstructs. He uses filmmaking to tear time apart so he can put it back together as he wills. A spiritual person, Tarkovsky’s films were an expression of poetic transcendence. For Nolan, a rationalist, he wants to cheat time, cheat death. His films often avoid dealing with death head-on, though they certainly depict it. What Nolan is able to convey in a more potent fashion is the weight of time and how ephemeral and weak our grasp on existence. Time is constantly running out in Nolan’s films; a ticking clock is a recurring motif for him, one that long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer aurally literalized in the scores for Interstellar and Dunkirk. Nolan revolts against temporal reality, and film is his weapon, his tool, the paradox stairs or mirror-upon-mirror of Inception. He devises and engineers filmic structures that emphasize time’s crunch while also providing a means of escape. In Inception different layers exist within the dream world, and the deeper one goes into the subconscious the more stretched out one’s mental experience of time. If one could just go deep enough, they could live a virtual eternity in their mind’s own bottomless pit. “To sleep perchance to dream”: the closest Nolan has ever gotten to touching an afterlife. —Michael Saba and Chad Betz


30. 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


29. Blockers
Year: 2018
Director: Kay Cannon
John Cena, wrestler and employee of the Daddy’s Home franchise, is in the Jingle All the Way era of his career, and, as Buzzfeed columnists would say, We’re here for it. All of us. There’s hardly a more reasonable way to respond to Blockers, in which Cena plays fastidious, incomprehensibly beefy dad Mitchell, who is unable to deal with the revelation that his daughter, high-schooler Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), plans to lose her virginity at her senior prom. Blockers is a second-generation teen romp openly owing its lineage to Superbad and American Pie while trying something new: not as consumed by its vulgarity, treating its teens who actually look like teens as the over-jaded post-Millennials they supposedly are, and having most of the film’s nudity provided by men, i.e., Gary Cole going full frontal, unashamed of his nice dick. In other words, no one wants to cheer for the toxic privilege of rich, white, horny, suburban high-school boys anymore, but we do want to cheer for best friendship and young people starting to figure their shit out and parents who learn how to give them the space and respect to do that. And if John Cena is the paternalistic He-Man—the Jim’s Dad of the Dwayne the Rock Johnson Generation, if you will—to guide the youth through their cinematic, sex-positive formative years, then let Blockers test his mettle. If the film’s direction is workmanlike and the writers’ plotting flimsy, then the better to focus on the cast. They’re a joy to watch together, everyone unironically playing unironic characters packed to the gills with backstories that go nowhere, revealing little painful, relatable details amidst all the electrocutions and butt-chugging and occasional car explosion and full close-up violent testicle squeezing. If this is what a popular sex comedy can be in 2018, something forward-thinking and empathetic and crowd-pleasing, then let the box office show it. And may John Cena be with you. —Dom Sinacola


28. Big Fish
Year: 2003
Director: Tim Burton 
It is hard to take a dysfunctional father/son relationship and make it into a magical fantasy world, but that’s just what Burton did in Big Fish. The director takes viewers on a journey of the life of Edward Bloom, an ordinary man who through his own storytelling has lived an extraordinary life. In just two hours Burton addresses death, infidelity and the feelings of estrangement with ease, but he never loses his sense of fantasy. By the end of the movie, Burton has you seeing magic in even the most mundane events and believing in the impossible. —Laura Flood


27. Gus Van Sant’s Last Days
Year: 2006
Director: Gus Van Sant 
Actor Michael Pitt portrays the lost figure at the center of Last Days, a stark walk through a dying artist’s final moments inspired by the death of one of rock history’s great tragic figures. Like Van Sant’s prior films, Gerry and Elephant, an improvised script and freedom from routine cinematic language gives Last Days a hyper-real, oddly poetic flow of events. Pitt plays Blake, first seen stumbling alone in the wilderness, a caveman in pajamas and sunglasses. Through a random series of events we learn that he’s a rock musician living in a once-elegant mansion gone seedy with neglect, with a small entourage of housemates who incessantly seek him for advice, money and affirmation. Presumably stoned beyond repair, Blake spends Last Days dodging so-called friends, bandmates and other intrusions of the outside world, unable to secure the peace he craves. There’s no doubt that Blake is intended to recall the late Kurt Cobain; Pitt’s emaciated frame, bedraggled blonde shag, pink sunglasses and general demeanor is sometimes uncanny in its resemblance to the long-mourned star. But the Last Days story has little in common with the facts of the case, keeping, with Thurston Moore also on board as music consultant, only the essential themes Van Sant believes we should take away from Cobain’s demise. —Fred Beldin


26. There’s Something About Mary
Year: 1998
Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
...and it’s not just hair gel. Cameron Diaz’s titular character is the object of affection for a wide range of guys, not all of whom are NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Not without reason: She combines a certain Audrey Hepburn winsomeness with a certain Ava Gardner crassness, plus a sensibility that is as ’90 as anything this side of Jennifer Aniston’s haircut in Friends Season 1. Throw in a splash of Ben Stiller cringe-theater, Chris Elliott creepypants-comedy and cameos by both Jonathan Richman and a certain football star, and you have a Farrelly Brothers classic—raunchy, ridiculous, and somehow guffaw-inducing even when you know better. It’s sort of like if Otto Preminger’s masterpiece Laura were set in 1990s Florida and made into a comedy by drunk frat boys. What’s not to love? —Amy Glynn


25. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies
Year: 2018
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
With Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, the long-running Cartoon Network series joins the ranks of still-running animated series that were deemed popular enough to get a movie of their very own. Much like The Simpsons Movie and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the show’s creators use the opportunity to distill and put on display what has made the show so popular in the first place. The result is one of the funniest “superhero” films of the year, and one that allows Robin and company to join Deadpool—Statler and Waldorf style—on the balcony poking fun at the clichés, blindspots and foibles of the current Big Genre on Campus. When Teen Titans Go! debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013, its chibi design, juvenile humor and overall zany approach drew mixed reactions from fans of the source material. For some, it stemmed from the disappointment of not getting a renewed “serious” series. (The original Teen Titans animated series had ended seven years earlier.) For others, the succession of booty jokes—or any joke hammered at relentlessly for 10-11 minutes—quickly grew tiresome. In Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, creators Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath pull off what we’ll call a “reverse-Hobbit,” showing how the characters from those 11-minute bursts of mayhem stand up just fine to the “rigor” of an 88-minute theatrical release. (Granted, they have more than 200 episodes to draw from and no dearth of tired tropes to target.) The premise of “Robin wants his own movie. What must he do to get one?” is all the framework directors Horvath and Peter Rida Michail need to support a sustained skewering of the current frenzy of superhero moviemaking. —Michael Burgin


24. O.G.
Year: 2019
Director: Madeleine Sackler
A man who’s committed a terrible crime faces a daunting re-entry into the world outside the walls. In prison he’s been a force, a guy who runs the place. He’s also been a penitent who wishes he could take it all back, and who’s learned the hard way to focus on “dignity, self-respect, and grace,” as he tells a newbie he finds under his wing. But we know, and so does he, that the power dynamics are about to change when he has to reintegrate. An ode to the tight close-up, Madeleine Sackler’s film O.G. stars Jeffrey Wright as Louis, an incarcerated man at the end of a 24-year prison term in Indiana. Shot in an active maximum-security prison and with many incarcerated men and prison staff taking their first turn in front of the camera, O.G. is nonetheless not about filming less-than-conventional actors in a gimmicky way; it’s naturalistic and tempered and organic. It’s committed to a plot-by-accretion, character-driven style, but it’s spare, tightly paced, and contains zero beard-stroking nonsense. It’s visually sophisticated, with subdued colors and bright panes of sunlight and beautifully rendered transitions and lavish close-ups. (Wright does a majority of the acting without saying a word.) Louis, under a veneer of detached calm, is in fact a pretty emotional man. He cares. About his family. About the pain he caused someone else’s family. About doing better, being better. He’s not a bodhisattva; there’s tremendous anger in him, and resentment, and wrath and defensiveness and humiliation. And, it seems—as his release draws closer and as he agrees to a confrontation with his victim’s sister—considerable fear he would rather not make visible. Fear of something happening to jeopardize his freedom, and perhaps greater fear of attaining it. This vivid emotional palette arises almost entirely between the lines in those amazing, lingering shots of Wright’s face. O.G. is an even-handed film in which the eruptions of violence in prison are not handled in a macho determination to be “edgy” or “gritty” or sensationalistic, and because of that it feels realistic. It is a delicate treatment of tough guys and a nonjudgmental look at a broken system, more focused on how men adapt to it than on taking audiences to school about why it’s unfair. The film assumes you know it’s unfair. It’s not going to bother patronizing you about it; it’s going to tell you a story about a decision that permanently altered the course of someone’s life. —Amy Glynn


23. Traffic
Year: 2000
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
As long as the U.S. keeps demanding copious amounts of drugs, and Latin America keeps providing them, Traffic will remain relevant. Steven Soderbergh’s brutally honest (and therefore grim) ensemble drama about the lucrative-for-some, destructive-for-most drug trade between both halves of our continent plays out like a Cocaine Cowboys version of The Battle of Algiers. As in Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece, Soderbergh employs a raw docudrama aesthetic with an even-handed narrative approach to sympathize with and scorn both sides of the issue in equal measure. Catherine Zeta-Jones’s drug kingpin might be a ruthless killer, but Stephen Gaghan’s script, based on a miniseries by Simon Moore, doesn’t shy away from establishing the economic desperation that pushes her to the edge. Michael Douglas’s conservative (and possibly alcoholic) drug czar might talk a good game in public about the U.S.’s no tolerance policy against drugs, but he can’t do anything but witness his daughter’s (Erika Christensen) descent into addiction. Soderbergh shot Traffic himself, and employed a clear blue-vs-yellow color palette between American and Mexican scenes, supporting his themes with clear visual cues. The yellows of Mexico, while warmer and naturalistic, communicate constant danger; the blues of the U.S. convey relative safety, but also moral coldness and emotional distance. Instead of offering any clear answers, Soderbergh and Gaghan stress the immediacy of the issue; their warnings remain unheard to this day. —Oktay Ege Kozak


22. Leaving Neverland
Year: 2019
Director: Dan Reed
It’s all heartbreaking. The damage to the psyches of children, certainly, but everything else is sad as hell, too: the endless voracious need for approval at any cost, the radioactive half-life of a lie, the emptiness at the center of fame, the way child abuse is a perpetual motion machine that infects one generation after another. In an oblique way, HBO’s Leaving Neverland is a reminder that the monstrous people who sexually abuse children do not simply drop out of the skies. They are forged. Created. Usually by abusers of their own. You look at Michael Jackson—his collapsing, bleaching face; his skinny little body; his soft, mealy speaking voice—and you can see a victimizer who was also a victim. If we could hold that perception and really understand it, would it change anything? The desire to withhold forgiveness from such people is deep and tenacious, and it’s more than understandable why that’s the case. No one tests the limits of forgiveness quite like someone who has molested children.

The four hours of Leaving Neverland are characterized by a cavernous sense of aural and visual space. The sound editing is almost uncomfortably intimate; I squirmed at the audible swallowing and breathing sounds in the interview segments. There’s also the way archival photo images are centered deeply in the frames—small, surrounded by black space, static. It’s elliptical, allusive. And effective. The testimony of the two alleged victims (and their mothers and their wives) is uncontested, and they do not affirmatively prove anything, but their stories strike so many of the same chords that you’d have to be awfully spaced out not to notice. The seduction of the boys’ star-struck and ambitious mothers. (Wade Robson’s mom relocated him from Australia to Hollywood, splitting up her family on the promise of Jackson’s mentorship and help.) The extended, extensive grooming process. Manipulative generosity. (A passage where James Safechuck describes Michael taking him to a jeweler to buy him a ring is especially creepy; apparently, Jackson had an elaborate story that James was helping him select something for a woman friend, and the kid’s delicate little fingers were the right size.) Creating a shared secret. We say people who hurt children don’t deserve to be forgiven, but just as it’s a mistake to see Leaving Neverland as a film about Michael Jackson, so is it a distraction to conflate forgiveness with releasing people from accountability. It doesn’t demand that viewers make a call on any of that, which is as it should be. It tells a piercingly sad and highly disturbing story that might or might not change how you feel about Michael Jackson, but will almost certainly draw a haunting, highly detailed sketch of the legacy of damage that ensues when someone violates children. —Amy Glynn


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


20. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Year: 1996
Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
If you’ve never heard of the West Memphis Three, do some research before you begin—you’ll want to be prepared. Within only a minute of the film’s opening, as Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” noodles forebodingly over pixelated camcorder videos, intolerable images taken straight from police evidence glance across frame, so quickly and frankly you’ll immediately question if they are, in fact, real. Of course, they are—they are images no person should ever have to see, and yet Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky use them only to expose the unbelievable horror at the heart of the appropriately named Paradise Lost. What unfolds over the following two and a half hours is just as heartbreaking: a trio of teenage boys (one with an IQ of 72) is put on trial for the brutal murders of three prepubescent boys, the only evidence against them a seemingly forced confession by the young kid with the below-average IQ, and laughably circumstantial physical proof. The film explores the context of West Memphis, its blindly devoted Christian population and how the fact that these teenagers dressed in black and listened to Metallica somehow led to their predictable fates at the hands of a comprehensively broken justice system. With surprising access to everyone involved in the trial, as well as a deft eye for the subtle exigencies of any criminal case such as this, Paradise Lost is a thorough, infuriating glimpse of the kind of mundane evil that mounts in some of America’s quietest corners. Welcome home. —Dom Sinacola


19. Won’t You be My Neighbor?
Year: 2018
Director: Morgan Neville
Morgan Neville’s winning portrait Won’t You Be My Neighbor? withholds darkness. Which makes sense since the Oscar-winning director of 20 Feet From Stardom has turned his attention to Fred Rogers, a kindly TV personality who entertained a couple generations of kids with his benign PBS program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Rogers died in 2003 at the age of 74, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of his landmark show, so expect plenty of tributes over the next several months. Appropriately, as an official chronicling of the man’s life and legacy, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? isn’t remotely innovative. We get polished interviews from colleagues, family members and Rogers’ widow. There are plenty of clips from his show, as well as other archival material. There’s a gimmick-y recurring use of animation to illustrate parts of his story that’s the only truly cloying element of a film that mostly eschews mawkishness. And yet, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a stunningly moving film that also feels just the teensiest bit radical. That word will be used a lot during this golden anniversary for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, as his fans remind everyone that, rather than starring a smiling square who couldn’t have looked less manly, the show was actually a pretty progressive program that frankly discussed everything from race relations to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Neville accentuates Rogers’ unembarrassed sweetness as an example of his principled stand against bigotry and injustice, making the case with conviction and gusto.

At my True/False screening, the audience was warned before Won’t You Be My Neighbor? that we ought to have Kleenex in hand to prepare for what we were going to experience. I’m an unashamed movie crier, but I resent being prepped for how I should feel about a movie I’m about to see. And yet, the warning was warranted: The tears elicited from Won’t You Be My Neighbor? are a testament to Neville’s tasteful, loving (but not fawning) depiction of a decent, unassuming man. The movie’s not just a balm in the age of Trump—it’s an opportunity for viewers to reconnect with their own decency, and Neville’s gentle skill at arguing for goodness ends up being a minor miracle. —Tim Grierson


18. Game Night
Year: 2018
Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
What fuels fury more than fraternal frustration? In John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s dark comedy Game Night, smarmily rich Brooks (Kyle Chandler) gifts his comfortably middle class and ultra-competitive younger brother Max (Jason Bateman) with the kind of immersive gaming experience that will change his life, primarily because it serves as an opportunity for Max to finally best his older bro at something for once. Max and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) are more than willing to play, as a tiny wedge in their marriage—their inability to conceive due to Max’s low sperm mobility, most likely brought on via anxiety caused by his brother—looms in the back of both of their minds. The comparisons between Game Night and David Fincher’s thriller The Game are apter than you think, not only because of the all-consuming nature of the game: Even if Max is a version of the same kind of petty as his brother is, the film reframes male virility within the context of a series of funny games. Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams is positively aces, her comic timing both precise and seemingly effortless, and duo Daley and Goldstein’s filmmaking is slick, allowing a light class critique (affluence is a scam) to sink in via glossy exteriors and shiny domestic spaces. Maintaining who we are and who we think we are is, for these characters, an unending, relentlessly competitive game. —Kyle Turner


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


16. American Splendor
Year: 2003
Directors: Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman
Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” books are fascinating: Pekar believed that even the most mundane and seemingly uncomplicated lives were worth documenting. American Splendor showcases this theory by combining real footage of Pekar, fictionalized versions of characters from his life—maintaining both stylized caricatures and naturalistic drama—and even animated segments pulled from the comics to create a cohesive whole that presents an ordinary life as a fascinating experience. —Ross Bonaime


15. Crimes and Misdemeanors
Year: 1989
Director: Woody Allen 
“Is there a God? And if so, is He watching?” Woody Allen’s somber meditation on this variant of the Big Question centers on two, vaguely interrelated stories: A successful ophthalmologist (Martin Landau) takes drastic measures to deal with an increasingly threatening mistress (Anjelica Huston) while a married filmmaker (Allen) finds himself attracted to the assistant (Mia Farrow) of his egotistical brother-in-law (Alan Alda). The events that follow leave the viewer uncomfortably aware of just how unanswerable some questions can be. This philosophical discomfort has only been heightened in the years since as it’s become much harder for some—and impossible for many—to enjoy Allen’s films in light of the accusations that have been leveled against him. This has especially been the case in films where Allen writes his stand-in character—often Allen himself—exhibiting the same school of misbehavior he’s accused of in real life. (See Manhattan.) In Crimes and Misdemeanors, this autobiographical gloss has additional resonance, as the script wrestles with whether misbehavior, even the most egregious, truly gets punished (and implies, if not, why not behave as you will?). It’s hard not to read the initial guilt, then relief and return to normalcy of Martin Landau’s character as, on some level, authorial wish fulfillment. —Michael Burgin


14. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Year: 2004
Director: Adam McKay 
Will Ferrell was a movie star before 2004, carrying both Old School and Elf, but he is still inseparable from his role as San Diego newscaster Ron Burgundy, a character so closely tied to our perception of Ferrell as cinematic presence that every subsequent role seems to contain shades of him. Now that McKay has an Oscar under his belt, he’s getting more recognition than he did when he was simply the man behind the camera on Ferrell’s best movies. Anchorman upped the ante on Zoolander’s sheer lunacy, and ended up being a better movie for it, but true to McKay’s Chicago improv roots, it is a plane forming itself mid-flight, and Anchorman would be two seconds from falling apart without McKay’s steady hand. Ferrell is a certifiable genius in his own right, and is undoubtedly the center of the universe in each of these films, but the world around Ferrell belongs to McKay, and Anchorman announced his arrival as an uncompromising comedy world-builder. —Graham Techler


13. The Tale
Year: 2018
Director: Jennifer Fox
Jennifer Fox has just done something utterly brilliant, and you need to see it. Be prepared to feel uncomfortable, because The Tale, adapted from her narrative memoir of the same name, will do a number on your head, in the way that a particularly vivid nightmare sometimes can, whether you personally have a childhood sexual abuse story or not. This film was made three years ago. It’s not a response to or the property of any movement, any hashtag; it’s not finally, finally pulling back the veil on the terrible stories no one ever told until now. We have always told these stories. They have always existed and we have always told them. We just didn’t do it with hashtags. To even characterize this film as “a story about sexual abuse” would be a shallow read on a very deep work of art. The Tale is, at a certain level, “about” sexual abuse. But focus on that for too long and you’ll miss the astonishing, courageous, gorgeous mosaic of ways in which it is deliberately, doggedly and totally not. This is a film about the morphing quicksand terrain of human memory and it’s about the stories we tell ourselves in order to stay sane and most of all it’s about the Plinian, volcanic power of emotional honesty. If you want to talk about the spirit of the moment, the guiding spirit of the times, maybe we need to pan back from anything as specific as sexual abuse of girls and women and talk about why being honest is the ultimate act of revolution. Plenty of people make autobiographical films. The Tale is so deeply and specifically autobiographical that it almost becomes something else. Fox as director and writer puts her documentarian’s tools to work to create a meta-textual tapestry depicting the ways in which our memories inform (and misinform) our self-concept. And this beautiful, gripping, disturbing film deserves to be looked at with as much nuance as it offers. It manages to dive so deeply into the personal that it explodes into something universal. —Amy Glynn


12. Drugstore Cowboy
Year: 1989
Director: Gus Van Sant 
Gus Van Sant’s sophomore feature film was the filmmaker’s huge breakout, earning him near-universal critical acclaim. And it’s ridiculously easy to understand why: Drugstore Cowboy is a propulsive, gripping slice of cinema. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by James Fogle, Cowboy features an electric lead performance in Matt Dillon as Bob, a junkie who, along with girlfriend Diane (Kelly Lynch), friends Rick (James LeGros) and Nadine (a young Heather Graham), robs pharmacies while getting high on their supply in and around Portland, Ore. in 1971. The film veers wildly between bleak drug-addled hellscape, paranoid delusions and pitch-black comedy. That it does so in a way that is perfectly in service with—even elevating—the story being told is the best testament to the talent and discipline of Van Sant as a writer/director. And, really, who could resist a movie featuring both funny and tragic drug overdoses that actually casts William S. Burroughs as a junkie priest? —Scott Wold


11. The Prestige
Year: 2006
Director: Christopher Nolan 
In The Prestige, two competing magicians try to outdo each other, but are really trying to achieve a brand of immortality. They are competing for the same audience’s faith, and they need all of it, because it is not something that can be shared (many religious institutions hold similar dogma for similar reasons). Each wants to invoke utter and absolute belief in their audiences, much like Nolan wants to do in his own, as if that achievement grants the doer divinity, whether or not it is built on tricks and illusions. Nolan begins the film with a trick, in fact, a shot of top hats littering the forest floor, with the voice-over asking, “Are you watching closely?” It is a shot out of time and place from the rest of the film, Nolan once again doing as he pleases, manipulating our perception of what we’re seeing and when so as to emulate the pledge, turn and prestige of the “magic” acts the film portrays. Our faith is built on lies we tell ourselves and others, Nolan seems to posit, and it’s a thesis on which he elaborates with his Dark Knight trilogy, insinuating that symbols are sacred not for their truth, but simply for what they inspire. —Chad Betz


10. Capturing the Friedmans
Year: 2003
Director: Andrew Jarecki
This is the story of Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse, convicted of multiple counts of child molestation that supposedly took place in the basement of their home in a quiet New York suburb during the ’80s. In Capturing the Friedmans, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki interviews the victims and prosecutors, but never reaches a conclusion as to the veracity of the charges, tacitly acknowledging that guilt and innocence are fluid concepts in such sensational and shameful circumstances. Instead, he documents the implosion of the family and the destruction of an already tenuous marriage. Surely, the details of the abuse are disturbing, but almost as unsettling is the cruelty with which the two older Friedmans reject their mother in blind loyalty to their shamefaced father and numb younger brother, further facilitating the family’s emotional separation. —Emily Reimer


9. Isle of Dogs
Year: 2018
Director: Wes Anderson 
Isle of Dogs may be the closest Wes Anderson will ever get to a sci-fi film. Of course he would use stop-motion animation to make it. Set 20 years from now, amidst the ultra-urban monoliths of Megasaki City—a Japanese metropolis that also seems to be Japan, or at least a Westernized idea of the small island nation—the film begins care of a decree by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), a boulder of a man with equal ties to an ancient lineage of cat-loving aristocrats and to, based on the elaborate back tattoo we glimpse atop his tight little butt in a quick bath scene, an archetype of organized crime and political corruption. Due to a vaguely described epidemic of "dog flu" (or "snout fever"), Kobayashi bans all dogs to Trash Island, a massive byproduct of technology and futurism, beginning with Spots (Liev Schreiber), the guard dog of 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin), who also happens to be the Mayor’s ward after Atari’s parents died in a horrible accident. Since Bottle Rocket in 1996, the more manicured Anderson’s films have become—his obsessive control over his frames broadening into grander and grander worlds—the more we may be apt to extol his accomplishments rather than get invested in his stories. And it’s probably never been easier to do that than with Isle of Dogs, so rife with meticulousness and imagination, as is Anderson’s brand, and so unconcerned with steering this ostensible children’s movie towards actual children. For a director who pretty much defined a generation’s cinematic fetishization for symmetry (and quirky hipster nonsense) to then fetishize a country to which Westerners mainly relate through fetishization? So much of this beautiful movie just sort of eats itself. Still, the emotional weight of Isle of Dogs depends on knowing exactly what that bond between dog and human can mean, how deeply and irrationally it can go. At the core of Isle of Dogs is that kind of best-friendship: No matter how far we advance as a civilization, how disastrously we atomize and digitalize our lives, we’ll always have the devoted dependence of a dog, our immutable companion across the vast wasteland of human history. —Dom Sinacola


8. Mean Girls
Year: 2004
Director: Mark Waters
Before Tina Fey got stubborn—before sometimes thoughtful critiques of her occasionally limited perspective encouraged the reactionary, heel-in-ground attitude about the politics of identity and changing social norms—she was one of the most thoughtful writers and creators to engage with both of those subject matters, and how we talk about them. A crucial part of what made 30 Rock one of the smartest sitcoms in history was its investigation of what we talk about when we talk about identity politics. A lot of that sharpness has its origins in Fey’s 2004 screenplay debut, Mean Girls, a dark comedy in the vein of Heathers and Clueless, scrutinizing the social dynamics of high school and, in particular, how young women treat one another and themselves. Through the eyes of new kid, formerly homeschooled Cady Harron (Lindsay Lohan), the film submerges the audience in the nasty politics of “girl world” as she tries to make friends, schemes against the popular girls, and loses sight of herself in the process. Adapted from Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence , Mean Girls has its own unique edge apart from 30 Rock, not just as a high school movie, but as a movie that dives into the operations of hierarchical systems. And for Fey, language is the key to unlocking how these high school cliques work. Fey’s lauded for her film’s memorable lines (quotes like “stop trying to make fetch happen” and “too gay to function” live on, at least in meme form), but Mean GIrls is an impressive example of translating Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction, sociological approach into narrative and fictive application. When Janis (Lizzy Caplan) and Damien (Daniel Franzese) introduce her to the various lunch room groups, they give her the vocabulary to describe them from then on. Taxonomical breakdowns of high school are almost blasé at this point, but director Mark Waters and Fey give a potency to the language of that social environment.

As Cady socializes into 2004-era high school life and finds her image growing in popularity, she must continually learn the nomenclature of high school and, effectively, of white femininity. Regina George (Rachel McAdams), a social leader of sorts, plays that game with her: “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?” Regina jabs, establishing what the correct conversational and syntactical routine should be when someone compliments you. Later, the titular Girls—Regina, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert), Karen (Amanda Seyfried) and Cady—all look at themselves in the mirror pointing out their flaws. But the significance of this scene isn’t merely that Cady engages with the body politics of white womanhood, it’s that she is given the language with which to do so. Essentially, Mean Girls focuses on how the high schoolers codify social dynamics—how they articulate where they or other people fall taxonomically—via class, gender and race. As time passes, Mean Girls’s imitators seem flaccid by comparison. The film’s unpacking of the cruelty of internalized misogyny has, over the course of nearly a decade and a half, grown more acidic, its schemes and backtalking as scalding as it ever was. —Kyle Turner


7. Cop Car
Year: 2015
Director: Jon Watts
A lean, rugged neo-noir that tweaks genre conventions by putting two young boys at the center of its attention, Cop Car opens with credits shimmering like police lights. Cut to snapshots of writer-director Jon Watts’ rural Colorado milieu, a place defined by barren storefronts, abandoned playgrounds, dilapidated trailer parks, and flat, dusty plains. Across the vast, barren land walk 10-year-olds Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford): Travis utters curse words that Harrison dutifully echoes in a kind of casual call-and-repeat bonding ritual, and from the first sight of the duo—orchestrated by Watts as one gorgeous, unbroken tracking shot which captures them dwarfed by the country’s big sky, even when they make their away through a barbed wire fence—it’s clear that the boys are on an odyssey of some sort, albeit one of initially undefined purpose. And it’s clear that Watts (co-scripting with Christopher Ford) wants Cop Car to serve as a downbeat commentary about the futility of escape. Coming upon a tree-shrouded area, the two are surprised to discover a county sheriff’s cruiser. They decide that the car has been abandoned. Up to no good, finding the driver’s side door unlocked and the keys inside, Travis and Harrison opt to take a joy ride. Apparently having both run away from home, the two speed around the cow-populated landscape like juvenile delinquents unconcerned about the potentially serious consequences of their actions. Such uninhibited, devil-may-care recklessness gives the material an immediate jolt of peril, even before Watts rewinds his tale to reveal the origins of the car and its owner. As it turns out, the car was left in this out-of-the-way locale by Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), its remote parking spot chosen so that the officer wouldn’t be seen hauling a body out of its trunk and onto a tarp, and then dragging it to a hole to be unceremoniously dumped. That corpse’s identity is left as vague as Kretzer’s reason for committing this apparent murder. Suffice it to say, when the sun does finally set on these characters, what’s left is a bleak portrait of the hopelessness of trying to change one’s circumstances, and the often-brutal punishment doled out by fate to those foolish enough to think they can alter who they are, where they come from, or where they’re going—even when those in question are just a couple of ne’er-do-well runaways looking for some mischievous kicks. —Nick Schager


6. Paddington 2
Year: 2018
Director: Paul King
A sequel to 2014’s Paddington, Paddington 2 picks up where its predecessor left off, with Paddington Brown (né Bear and voiced by Ben Whishaw) living contentedly with his human family, including Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and a newly name-recognizable Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), joined by that British A-Lister of yore Hugh Grant, dramatic heavyweight Brendan Gleeson, and many others. (In fact, one of the simple joys for parents watching the film lies in recognizing this or that British actor.) A simple, commendable desire to find a good gift for his Aunt Lucy (currently spending her days in a nice retirement home for bears in Lima, Peru, natch) leads Paddington to set his eyes on a certain antique pop-up book as the perfect present. When that scoundrel and fading thespian Phoenix Buchanan (Grant) also sets his sights on the same book, well, hijinks, misunderstandings and adventure ensue. Paddington 2 reminds us how difficult it can be to pull off a sweetly tempered, gently moving children’s movie by doing exactly that, and doing it so well. —Michael Burgin


5. Collateral
Year: 2004
Director: Michael Mann
Against the prelapsarian streets of LA, awash in neon gray and all but devoid of life, Michael Mann tells of urban loneliness and the powerful inconsequentiality of modern life. His Collateral breathes that amorality—not nihilism, just the acceptance that belief and associated ethical choices fail to survive the pointlessness of the day-to-day—and in turn at times both looks like shit (cinematographers Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron shot mostly in digital, occasionally in 35 mm) and aches painfully with the pristine coldness of enduring that shit. Max (Jamie Foxx), a cabbie with big dreams he’s relegated to a frayed postcard, picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise), a cross between Karl Lagerfeld and the T-1000, who draws Max into a long night of murder, threatening the mild-mannered driver into chaffeuring him, impressive hitman, from one job to another. That simple plan of course devolves into a thriller buoyed by two titanic performances—Foxx a slope-shouldered nebbish still trying to convince himself he’s more than a cab driver, and Cruise as an impeccable psychopath—but Mann never loses sight of the vacuum, of the empty melancholy, at the heart of his story: That in the City of Angels, no one is looking out for us. —Dom Sinacola


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


3. Phantom Thread
Year: 2017
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson 
Phantom Thread is a movie that is so wonderfully made, so meticulous in its construction, so deeply felt in execution, that you can almost overlook how prickly and scabrous it is. This has to be the most luscious-to-watch film, ever, that is in large part about how self-centered and inflexible the world of relationships can be, how we can only give up so much of ourselves and it’s up to our partner to figure out how to deal with that, if they want to at all. This is an uncompromising movie about two uncompromising people who try to live with one another without losing too large a part of themselves, and the sometimes extreme lengths they will go to get their way. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a world-famous dressmaker who clothes celebrities, royalty and, sometimes to his chagrin, déclassé wealthy vulgarians. Almost everything that doesn’t meet his exacting standards is vulgarian, until one day while in the English countryside, Reynolds comes across a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) who both meets Reynolds’ physical requirements (specifically so he can make dresses for her) and has a certain pluck that he instantly finds fascinating. Both of the principals of Phantom Thread are absurd and insane in their own ways, and one of the many thrills of the film is watching them bounce off each other, and then collide again. It’s the oddest little love story, so odd that I’m not even sure it’s about love at all. My colleague Tim Grierson said this first, but it’s too good an observation to ignore: This movie is in large part about the absolute unknowability of other people’s relationships. From the outside, it makes no sense that Reynolds and Alma would have this sort of connection with each other; it’s difficult to tell what either person is getting out of it. But what’s unfathomable about it is also what makes it so powerful. —Will Leitch


2. Annie Hall
Year: 1977
Director: Woody Allen 
The sole best picture winner in Woody Allen’s canon—or whatever amounts to his legacy nowadays—Annie Hall succeeds in many forms, not the least as a great romantic comedy, simply because it patiently takes the time to reveal a relationship’s many moments, major and not so much—the wide spectrum of happy and sad, of bittersweet and just plain bitter. From fighting over which movie to see, to laughing while chasing down lobsters in the kitchen, Allen’s film grasps the delicacy of how such a bond can shift imperceptibly from bliss to something else entirely. It doesn’t hurt that Allen’s wit and humor is perfectly matched (even challenged) by Diane Keaton, in her iconic, Oscar-winning performance. However his films have soured sense, Annie Hall remains an enduring classic. —Jeremy Medina


1. The Thin Red Line
Year: 1998
Director: Terrence Malick 
It seems unbelievable now that even an auteur as legendary as Terrence Malick actually secured financing to make poetry on the scale of The Thin Red Line. Pitched up on lush location in Australia and armed with a cast bursting with talent, Malick returned from moviemaking hibernation in 1998 with author James Jones’ story of a company of GIs battling Japanese forces in the paradise of Guadalcanal, all refracted through his own glorious lens. The result was an abstract and relentlessly contemplative epic, awash with gorgeous cutaways to jungle and beast, and—atypically for a filmmaker whose main fixation has always been the environment his characters reside in—chock-full of great acting. (The performances are faultless to a man, but a terrifically zen Jim Caviezel and a perpetually enraged Nick Nolte take the prize.) Hardly ever can a film sustain that aching feeling of raw emotion across its entire running time; this almost three-hour masterpiece does. —Brogan Morris

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