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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Go and HBO Now (May 2018)

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HBO lost a buttload of great films last month. So, to help make sure you get the most out of your subscription, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO in May, ranging from new 2017 classics like (Oscar-winning) Get Out, Girls Trip, John Wick: Chapter 2 and (Oscar-nominated) Logan, to all of the Harry Potter and Back to the Future movies. No matter your tastes, there’s a great movie waiting for you on HBO GO or HBO Now.

You can also check out our guides, 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 May:

50. The Purge: Election Year
Year: 2016
Director: James DeMonaco
The horror film America needs right now, or perhaps the horror film it deserves. There’s nothing elegant about DeMonaco’s third chapter in the franchise he began back in 2013 with The Purge, but that’s OK: Elegance is overrated, and if The Purge: Election Year is a broad, sloppy film that hits with all the subtlety of a hammer to the crotch, then in 2017 it’s the broad, sloppy, hammer-to-the-crotch all of us need. The movie doesn’t bother to hide its politics or disguise its social inclinations, taking equally to task America’s culture of narcissism, its ongoing struggle to relieve itself of white supremacy’s grasp, its obsession with “might makes right” ideologies, and its ever-increasing political instability and polarization. If shitty kids wearing shittier homemade masks aren’t busy busting into your store to steal your candy and kill you, then Murder Tourists, assholes from around the globe who fly to the U.S. of A. to partake in legalized murder, are hunting you down in packs to make a point about America’s patriotic disaster, and then also kill you. Feels about right.

But the scariest detail of The Purge: Election Year is its coda, in which we realize that once the genie is out of its bottle, it can’t be put back inside, whether the genie is a system that permits nationwide carnage on an annual basis or, speaking to our sad reality, a president-elect who doesn’t think he should have to waste his time on intelligence briefings. —Andy Crump


49. 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


48. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Year: 1999
Director: Jay Roach
I have a theory about Mike Myers: If you were not a teenage boy growing up in the late ’70s or early ’80s, you’re going to miss so much of his humor. With the “Powers” films and the two “Wayne’s World” films, Myers brilliantly, and hilariously captured something, that hodgepodge of pop culture from the ’60s that permeated the ’70s and morphed into something else in the ’80s. Essentially variations on one joke, a spoof of ’60s spy movies, the ’60s themselves and, by extension, the ’90s, the series began to run out of steam mid-way through this second installment but it certainly has its charms, notably the opening musical sequence. —David J. Greenberg


47. 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


46. Observe and Report
Year: 2009
Director: Jody Hill
Marketing for Jody HIll’s Observe and Report misleadingly pegged the film as a bawdy, sophomoric comedy, drawing obvious parallels to the work Seth Rogen was best known for at the time, principally Knocked Up and Pineapple Express. It seemed to promise a “boys behaving badly” vibe in a workplace setting, an R-rated variation upon Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which had come out only a few months earlier. In reality, Observe and Report is a far more deranged film, a quasi-comedy (at best) about a character whose mental instability will probably end up getting someone hurt or killed. Seth Rogen plays Ronnie, a mall security guard who we first perceive as a well-intentioned doofus, clearly playing off Rogen’s well-established “teddy bear” demeanor—until it becomes clear that Ronnie’s delusions of grandeur are not only unrealistic, but borderline psychotic, laced with a streak of cruelty and paranoia that transforms the film into more of a dramedy about mental health than anything with which Rogen had been involved before. Decades later it stands as one of the late 2000s’ bleakest satires of toxic masculinity and undiagnosed mental illness. Hell, it’s practically a riff on Taxi Driver at heart. Just don’t go in expecting a barrel of laughs. —Jim Vorel


45. 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


44. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Year: 2009
Director: David Yates
The first thing you’ll notice about Half-Blood Prince is that it’s gorgeous. Director Yates found his footing in Order of the Phoenix, and this follow-up displays a stylishness that elevates his best contribution to Rowling’s cosmos. Cinematographer Bruo Delbonnel desaturates the color palette while adding casts of green, gray, auburn and crimson. It’s a timeless, high-drama approach which calls to mind the claustrophobic surrealism of Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when the action escalates, as well as the wartime romance of films like Casablanca as the emotions flood. While the Deathly Hallows films may offer the most Wagnarian spectacle, Half-Blood Prince remains the personal climax of the Potter saga. It’s a trippy, bold descent into the psyches of the characters and a statement to the complexities that separate them from their imitators in less nuanced fantasy. Snape and Dumbledore—respectively embodied by Alan Rickman and Michael Gambon—etch out a dynamic that never stops surprising, and the films become infinitely less interesting with their respective exists. —Sean Edgar


43. Tickled
Year: 2016
Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
It’s safe to assume that most people have never heard of “competitive endurance tickling,” so when David Farrier, a New Zealand-based television reporter and actor, was sent a link to a bizarre video of young men tickling other men for “sport,” it was only natural that it piqued his curiosity. So, he did what any other reporter would have done: He sent a Facebook message to Jane O’Brien Media, the U.S.-based company that produced the aforementioned videos. While his inquiry was routine, the response he received from company representative Debbie Kuhn was anything but. In fact, it was jaw-droppingly hostile. She wrote, “To be brutally frank, association with a homosexual journalist is not something that we will embrace,” and then continued, assuring Farrier that Jane O’Brien Media would pursue legal action should he take his inquiry any further. So begins the fascinating documentary Tickled, directed by Farrier and Dylan Reeve, the latter largely remaining off-camera. What might have been a tongue-in-cheek examination of a subculture—a fluff piece of the kind on which Farrier’s built his career—quickly becomes a trek down the fetish rabbit hole, the filmmakers uncovering a larger, more nefarious operation. With hidden cameras, ambush interviews and Dateline-esque gotcha segments, the film segues into a bona fide thriller as they explore the dark, seamy corners of the internet, hunting for the Keyser Söze of the competitive tickling world. —Christine N. Ziemba


42. Gran Torino
Year: 2008
Director: Clint Eastwood 
Eastwood has never been shy about expressing his Republican views, yet he used to be more in tune with inserting more “positive” conservative ideals—personal responsibility, zero tolerance against violent crime, the protection of one’s property—into his work, rather than simple-minded or destructive mores. Gran Torino, a stern but compassionate drama about a racist, lonely old man (Eastwood in his last great role so far) in Detroit who befriends a Hmong family and uses his last bit of strength to protect them from rampant gang violence, is one of Eastwood’s films that errs toward the “good” side of his ideological spectrum. In many ways, one can look at Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino as an extension of Harry Callahan: a grumpy loner with the soul of Wild West vigilantism. Perhaps as a rebuttal to Callahan’s violent tendencies, his philosophy to shoot first and ask questions later, Eastwood ends Gran Torino with a surprisingly pacifist solution. —Oktay Ege Kozak


41. Sugar
Year: 2009
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Sugar, the second film by writer-director duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, follows promising baseball pitcher Miguel (Algenis Perez Soto)—nicknamed Sugar—from his home in the Dominican Republic through a series of minor league teams in the U.S. This isn’t The Natural, but simply naturalistic, a non-judgmental glimpse into the rigors of professional baseball, where young outsiders chase the American dream in its most iconic form, facing culture shock and loneliness in the process. Yet, Sugar is, more than anything else, a character study of a particular young man, not an indictment of a system, and as you might expect from the writers and directors of Half Nelson, the film spends far more time studying the intricate details of Miguel’s life than it does designing a dramatic arc. Sugar, though, is a subtler film than Half Nelson, in many ways resembling the 1966 first feature by Ousmane Sembène, Black Girl, about a young woman who moves from Senegal to the south of France and feels domesticated by a white upper class. Fittingly, the political barbs are softer in Sugar, as I suspect they are in Miguel’s own thoughts. Miguel is an innocent who barely speaks English, wholly unprepared for the nest of confusion that he’s about to foment in his heart. Whether you find the film’s conclusion a frustrating side step or a personal triumph depends on whether you’ve taken the film’s many opportunities to understand that heart. I found it sublime. —Robert Davis


40. Split
Year: 2017
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Split is the film adaptation of M. Night Shyamalan’s misunderstanding of 30-year-old, since-discredited psychology textbooks on Dissociative Identity Disorder, but if we deign to treat it with scientific scrutiny, we’ll be here all night. Suffice it to say, don’t go looking at anything in this film as psychologically valid in any way. But do go see Split, because it’s probably M. Night Shyamalan’s best film since Signs. Or maybe since Unbreakable, for that matter. And if there’s one way that Split reinvigorates Shyamalan’s stock most, it’s as a visual artist and writer-director of tension and thrilling action. The film looks spectacular, full of Hitchcockian homages that remind one of Vertigo and Psycho, to name only a few. It’s a far scarier, more suspenseful film in its high moments than Shyamalan’s last film, The Visit, ever attempted to be, and it may even be funnier as well, although these moments of levity are sown sparingly for maximum impact. Mike Gioulakis deserves major props for cinematography, but the other thing that will stick in my mind is the unexpectedly great sound design, full of rumbling, groaning metallic tones. After so many films that relied on the kind of overwrought twist ending that made The Sixth Sense so buzzy in 1999, it seems like Shyamalan has finally gotten over the hump to make the kinds of stories he makes best: atmospheric, suspenseful potboilers. Here’s hoping that this newfound streak of humility is here to stay. —Jim Vorel


39. Atomic Blonde
Year: 2017
Director: David Leitch
The background of the fight scene that makes Atomic Blonde worthy of seeing regardless of everything that comes before and after it is not particularly relevant. All that matters is that it happens. The details: There’s a man (Eddie Marsan) at the bottom of the stairs super-spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) must protect. There are four men, with guns, at the top of the stairwell that she must vanquish before they get to the bottom. The camera won’t turn away, at any point. She’s just gotta fight her way down there. The scene, a 10-minute-long bravura sequence—it’s not shot in one-take, but it feels like it, Birdman-style—is a sweaty, grunting, exhausting, absolutely exceptional sequence that instantly becomes one of the more iconic fight scenes of the last two decades. Think the corridor fight from Oldboy, only three times as long, and in knee-high boots, and ending with a car chase. By the end, you’ll be gasping for air as much as everyone fighting is. We’ve seen Theron be tough before (most famously in Mad Max: Fury Road), but she’s fascinatingly formidable yet vulnerable here. She’s both more perfect and more furious than everybody else but also not impervious to pain. She’s given more flaws, more fighting weaknesses, than John Wick ever had; she takes a bunch of hits, and you feel them. It makes her, and every scene she’s in, that much more mesmerizing. Broughton has no superpowers, which makes her victories and persistence all the more impressive. She’s a true warrior. I’d watch Leitch direct Theron kicking ass for plenty of movies to come. If the world reacts to that stairs sequence the way I think they will, I’ll get the opportunity. —Will Leitch


38. Lady Macbeth
Year: 2017
Director: William Oldroyd
Director William Oldroyd can’t be faulted for not keeping his tone straight throughout Lady Macbeth, a bleak thriller that only gets bleaker and more suffocating the more freedom it affords its main character. Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young woman sold into marriage in 19th century rural England, and though her much older husband has no interest in spending time with her, let alone acknowledging her, she’s kept practically in amber, her time spent falling asleep on the couch while staring at the wall or holding long, pregnant silences while her servant (Naomi Ackie) sees to the various exigencies of keeping Katherine alive: dressing, cleaning, feeding, waking. Not until her husband goes away on business—of some short, because it’s beyond her lot as a woman to know any details—does she begin to enjoy her days, eventually starting up a clandestine relationship with a thick-necked stable boy (Cosmo Jarvis) her age. Unwilling to give up her new way of life and newer love, she pretty much puts aside all else to keep what she wants. Less an obvious horror movie than something more subtly unnerving, Lady Macbeth offers little clarity as to whether the vile actions Katherine inevitably takes are really her fault, or if that’s what was bound to happen with such a stifled life. Oldroyd is skilled at keeping clean answers just out of reach the further Katherine devolves into desperation, but at some point near the end of this gorgeous black heart of a film (props to cinematographer Ari Wegner for drawing endless shades of gray out of Britain’s landscape), Alice Birch’s screenplay pulls back from Katherine’s perspective to provide little sign of what’s going on behind her glazed-over stare. Pugh is captivating, allowing just enough madness to shine through a few cracks in her bemused exterior, never quite giving us enough to really chart the degree of her character’s moral decline. —Dom Sinacola


37. In a Valley of Violence
Year: 2016
Director: Ti West
One of the most heartbreaking scenes of any film of 2016 was one of the most heartbreaking scenes of any film in 2014—then it was in slickly excellent Keanu Reeves mass-slaughter vehicle John Wick, and two years later it’s in Ti West’s otherwise pretty fun-filled neo-Western, In a Valley of Violence. To even mention the former means sauntering smugly into spoiler territory with the latter, but West, who’s proven he’s one of our deftest genre handlers still figuring out what he wants to do when he grows up, knows you can’t really spoil such an archetypal plot anyway. Instead, with his latest film, by giving up scares for shoot-outs, the typically horror-centric writer-director isn’t interested in re-configuring classic tropes as much as he is in rubbing those tropes against reality to see what sparks. And while In a Valley of Violence doesn’t burn the traditional Western formula to dust, it does give a cadre of impeccable character actors a wide-open sandbox to squat over and dump into. More, maybe, than any other recent revisionist Westerns, like Bone Tomahawk or The Hateful Eight, In a Valley of Violence is built around interrogating the genre’s tried and true archetypes—its cinematic language even—rather than upholding, modernizing, or (in the case of Tarantino’s take) obliterating them out of existence. Ethan Hawke finds the perfect workmanlike take on the Man With One Name, Paul, a gunslinging drifter and former Union soldier, by playing him as blankly as he can, owing his opaque demeanor to the Eastwoods and Bronsons of Sergio Leone’s classics. Meanwhile, the film is far funnier than any of its pedigree would suggest, aided in part by the arrival of John Travolta as the surprisingly rational U.S. Marshal. Like Kurt Russell in Bone Tomahawk, Travolta’s is a reassuring presence, as effortless as it is wearied, the anchor which the film’s increasingly stylized violence can never totally lift. Still, West is an impeccable craftsman, his storytelling chops as fatless and near-faultless as ever. As much could be expected from any genre director these days, really, and West is, undoubtedly, up to the task of trying his hand at any of the kinds of films he loves. —Dom Sinacola


36. Ouija: Origin of Evil
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
While the first Ouija was a workmanlike, paint-by-numbers cash grab without a single original touch, its prequel, directed by tried-and-true horror fan and prolific genre filmmaker (with three quality releases in 2016 alone) Mike Flanagan, bears the aesthetic of ’60s horror. From the use of the era’s Universal logo to a faded, sepia-pastel look, Origin of Evil bears witness to Flanagan having fun with the creative possibilities of the project. As intriguing as all that stuff is for genre purists and cinephiles, the whole thing would still crumble if the overall tone and performances didn’t match Flanagan’s ambitions. Thankfully, he delivers a wholly satisfying piece of PG-13 horror that deftly mixes the modern sensibilities of the genre with tried and true stylistic approaches from its, er, origins. —Oktay Ege Kozak


35. War for the Planet of the Apes
Year: 2017
Director: Matt Reeves
War for the Planet of the Apes is an absorbing, intelligent finale. The film builds to an ending that, although not particularly surprising, feels appropriate—even inevitable—considering all that’s come before. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit theaters in the late summer of 2011, it suggested a franchise in which humanity—flawed, noble, susceptible to its worst tendencies but trying to live up to its highest ideals—would eventually find itself under attack by an enemy of its own making. But rather than suggesting that apes deserve to overthrow us, this series has instead wondered if there’s something inherently broken about the way communities operate that will always endanger their well-being. Caesar was raised by humans who loved him but didn’t understand him. The slow-motion tragedy of War is that Caesar has struggled to reconcile his simian essence with the emotional complexity of the people he’s encountered. He’s the embodiment of what may supplant us—but, poignantly, in the end he may be too much like us to find a peaceful resolution. The real war is going on within him. —Tim Grierson


34. Shattered Glass
Year: 2003
Director: Billy Ray
On paper (pun intended?), Shattered Glass doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting film: New Republic wunderkind Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiansen) fabricates much of his work for the magazine, winning praise from colleagues until he’s finally exposed. Still, somehow, Billy Ray’s film makes for incredibly compelling viewing—partly due to two strong central performances: Christiansen, perfectly cast as our main sociopath, telegraphs a sense of desperation from the first moment he’s onscreen, and Peter Sarsgaard silently simmers with frustration as Chuck Lane, the newly hired editor of the magazine and the only one who suspects that something is up. The film treats its subject with the utmost seriousness—this is nothing less than one journalist’s utter betrayal of his profession and his colleagues. Tension slowly escalates as Lane investigates Glass’s story about a teenage hacker and a suspicious-sounding software company (memorably named “Jukt Micronics”), and when Sarsgaard spits at the film’s climax, “He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed it all as fact…just because we found him ‘entertaining,’” Shattered Glass becomes a true horror story for editors everywhere. —Maura McAndrew


33. Tremors
Year: 1990
Director: Ron Underwood
Twenty-eight years after the original hit theaters, the Tremors series refuses to go to its grave, as a sixth installment, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, arrives in the spring of 2018. Faded from the public consciousness at this point is the Kevin Bacon- and Fred Ward-starring first Tremors, an odd little fusion of monster movie and action comedy that first introduced us to Michael Gross’s “Burt Gummer,” who went on to become the de facto hero of the franchise in subsequent installments, minus one Reba McEntire. Tremors is likely a bit more visceral a film than one may remember, a fairly gory, silly yarn about the giant worms known as Graboids that infest the deserts of Nevada and threaten Ward’s ability to score a date with attractive young seismologists. It effectively transplants the psychology of a Jaws-like creature feature to dry land, wondering what exists just outside of our sight. This is most memorably demonstrated in the sequences wherein our cast is trapped on a series of boulders, the Graboids patrolling the edges: As in films like Night of the Living Dead or Cujo, the film creates claustrophobia by confining its characters to a small island of safety that is rapidly becoming untenable. —Jim Vorel


32. The Hitcher
Year: 1986
Director: Robert Harmon
In horror films, there’s something alluring to a relentless and unstoppable killer whose motivation is only to destroy innocent life with nihilistic, almost supernatural fervor. Part of the reason the original Halloween is still so frightening lies in its chillingly effortless ability to present Michael Myers as a figure of death itself: no reason, no rhyme, he won’t stop until you stop breathing. The original The Hitcher operates on many of the same levels, as the simplicity of its premise about a couple (C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who takes on a dual role, as the top and bottom halves of her body) hounded by a murderous maniac hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) takes full advantage of the unresolved mystery surrounding the killer’s motivations. (Transform the truck from Duel into Rutger Hauer, and you get The Hitcher.) Director Robert Harmon’s film casts an appropriately icky, low-grade aura, perfectly fitting the killer’s philosophical point-of-view, an aesthetic approach that eludes the makers of the ill-fated 2007 remake, which looks too glossy to work on a visceral level. Also, with all due respect to Sean Bean, he’s no Rutger Hauer. —Oktay Ege Kozak


31. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Year: 2010
Director: Edgar Wright 
The films of Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto trilogy” may get more emphasis as the core of the director’s oeuvre, but allow me to submit that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the “most Edgar Wright” film we’ve witnessed yet in the still-young filmmaker’s career. A brilliant adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series of the same name, Scott Pilgrim is a perfectly cast wonder of an action comedy that translates with preternatural ability the comic tension between banality and bombast present on the page. Scott’s (Michael Cera) existence as a slacker musician in a crappy Toronto indie rock band isn’t exciting or glamorous, which makes it all the funnier when his day-to-day romantic life is a series of climactic, overly dramatic videogame boss battles. Each Wright presents with a hyperkinetic style that revels in its joyful disconnect from reality or consequences. Freed from such trivial matters, Wright can present dynamic action sequences that still have time for clever asides and the type of workplace humor that wouldn’t be out of place on The Office, simultaneously getting the absolute best out of every person he casts. Really: When has Brandon Routh, as an actor, been put to better use than as an egomaniacal vegan with psychic powers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? An early-career Brie Larson as rock singer Envy Adams is a bonus. —Jim Vorel


30. 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


29. Good Morning Vietnam
Year: 1987
Director: Barry Levinson
If any role was tailor made for Williams’ manic comedic timing, it’s his turn as a wartime DJ, frustrated at the U.S. Army’s censoring of his broadcasts in Vietnam. As off-the-wall as any of Williams’ roles, playing Adrian Cronauer gives Williams the chance to improvise most of the radio segments. But the best comedy relies on truth-telling, and that’s where the movie’s tension comes from. Cronauer feels deeply for the soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for a losing war far from home and doesn’t want to betray their trust with disingenuous morale boosts that ignore the harsh realities of the war. Williams won a Golden Globe for the performance. —Josh Jackson


28. The Informant!
Year: 2009
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Matt Damon stars as a real-life, decidedly non-movie-star-wielding white-collar executive named Mark Whitacre who turned FBI informant against his employer—aggro-business giant Archer Daniels Midland—to reveal a price-fixing scandal. Rather than a straight comedy, though, The Informant! is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a singularly odd man, one who tried to scam the FBI even as he was providing them information, ending up in jail right alongside his bosses. Featuring plenty of on-location scenes in Decatur, a mid-size, blue-collar city that is indicative of Illinois’ past prominence in the manufacturing industry, the film is a respectful, unblinking look into the kinds of cities that dot the interior of Illinois, islands of buildings surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, where Chicago is all-too-often considered a sort of separate province supposedly populated by the effete bourgeois. —Jim Vorel


27. The Last of the Mohicans
Year: 1992
Director: Michael Mann
On one of his many jaunts through American history, Daniel Day-Lewis stops off in 1757 in the middle of the French and Indian War, playing a white man raised by a Native American chieftain and beholden to no one side in the fight engulfing the then-British colony of New York. Director Mann does not delve too deeply into the tangled politics of this particular American war, instead focusing on the general antagonism felt by American Indians towards white colonists—whether French or British, Europeans scrap for land that never belonged to them in the first place—and their perpetual thirst for conflict. The romance between Day-Lewis’ Nathaniel Hawkeye and Madeleine Stowe’s English debutante Cora Munro may be tepid, but typical for Mann the action is marvelously arranged, from the explosive siege at Fort Henry (first spied from a distance as a storm of fire in the night, just one of many spellbinding images courtesy of DoP Dante Spinotti) to the rousing, emotionally charged showdown between the last Mohicans and a rival tribe led by a glowering, damaged Wes Studi. —Brogan Morris


26. The Lego Batman Movie
Year: 2017
Director Chris McKay
It goes without saying that this isn’t a serious movie, but it does take its material seriously. There’s a distinct feeling here that McKay—plus the team of writers gathered to write the script—genuinely cares about the Batman mythos, that he’s a bona fide Bat-fan and that he can not only write a joke but take a joke, because to make fun of Batman is to make fun of Batman’s legions of fans. McKay’s immense understanding of the character lets him get away with relentless parody, and also positions The Lego Batman Movie as one of the most surprisingly authentic Batman movies ever made. It gets that Bruce Wayne is Batman’s alter ego and not the other way around, that at the end of the day the real persona is the one shaped by childhood trauma. The playboy is more of a mask than that iconic cowl. —Andy Crump


25. The Fate of the Furious
Year: 2017
Director: F. Gary Gray
The Fate of the Furious is the reason moving pictures exist. Not the only reason, just the main one: the glory of dynamic motion which involves the pulse and the heart. The Fast franchise is a group of action films centered around a crew of talented outlaws who engage in illegal street racing and, later, heists. Although the lineup has changed over the years, the basic formula has stayed the same: An eccentric crew of colorful characters with various talents, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his co-conspirator/girlfriend/wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) get involved in ever-increasing stakes. This group refers to themselves as “family,” and their bond is the sinew of the franchise. As the series escalates—escalation is the name of the game here—everybody eventually becomes part of the family, even the antagonists who are sent after them: The first movie saw undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) joining the crew; this habit is followed in later movies by Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). But none of this dry summation can give you an accurate idea of this franchise or its charm: These are movies where topping the previous installment is itself the art. How much crazier can the stunts get? How strong is the family’s bond? How many incredible moments will these stars have on screen? How intense can the stakes get? How byzantine are the plots? How can they possibly pull it off? The Fast franchise, and its latest installment, The Fate of the Furious, is so clever, so perfectly executed, emotionally sincere, self-aware and gloriously cinematic that I think it’s made me happier, and more entertained, than any other movie I saw in 2017. —Jason Rhode


24. The Beguiled
Year: 2017
Director: Sofia Coppola
Talking about The Beguiled means talking about Sofia Coppola’s accidental racism. Google the film’s title and you’ll be dragged under an endless swirl of thinkpieces hinged upon the matter of Coppola’s decision to scrub her adaptation of Don Siegel’s 1971 Southern Gothic movie, itself an adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 Southern Gothic novel, of its lone black character, with each piece yanking discussion of The Beguiled further and further away from The Beguiled itself. Citing what Coppola bypasses in her take on The Beguiled has the natural consequence of eliding what she includes, and if the absence of Hattie, Mae Mercer’s house slave in the Siegel original, is impossible to ignore, it’s equally impossible to ignore the subtext Coppola articulates through her absence. Here, she treats the all-girls boarding school where the story’s action takes place as a bubble of privilege: Her characters sit on the periphery of the Civil War, worrying out loud over the suffering war inflicts on its participants without considering the suffering that led to its outbreak, because of course a bunch of Southern whites would never question the morality of systemic racism as they sit comfortably in the lodge, watching smoke billow in the distance, the cost of a culture and economic order built on wholesale indifference to human dignity. Coppola’s primary “in” to The Beguiled is elegance, which should come as a surprise to no one familiar with the rest of her filmography (notably Marie Antoinette and The Bling Ring). Tastefulness is her jam; not a moment in the movie passes by sans flourishes of grace and decorum, buttressing corroborative details that reinforce its sense of time and place, as well as the bourgeois luxuries that are hallmarks of both. Maybe Coppola should have spared time herself for confronting the race politics of The Beguiled’s era directly. Maybe if she had, the film wouldn’t be as deftly streamlined as it is. The discussion of what the film isn’t is a discussion worth having, just not at the expense of what the film is: Delicious, sensual, made with sterling craft and an unassumingly sharp edge. —Andy Crump


23. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Year: 2004
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Unlike predecessor Chamber of Secrets, third Potter entry Prisoner of Azkaban straddles a sublime balance between childhood revelry and encroaching doom as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) age into an ambivalent future—the same tonal tug-of-war which also defined Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s earlier efforts, including A Little Princess and Y Tu Mamá También. Cuaron insists on a brisker pace and, in many instances, a sheer goofiness that can’t be found anywhere else in the books or movies. The Potterverse reaches peak Dahl homage in the film’s opening scenes, when Harry warps his aunt Marge (Pam Ferris) into bloated balloon, mirroring the actions of another alliteration-named magician who happened to run a chocolate factory. Shrunken voodoo head bus navigators, a monster book of monsters and Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) in heels round out a feverish, lighthearted romp through the Wizarding World. And yet, this film’s greatness is in its demarcation: Azkaban firmly yanks the rug back as it progresses, painting a severe contrast between Harry’s past years and his future peril. The titular prisoner, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), introduces a new moral ambiguity which exposes the HP epic as a metaphor for totalitarianism and racism. The books and movies’ magic never became more meta than when it asked its young wizards to funnel their happiness into the Patronus spell—a weapon against wraith-like spiritual parasites that miraculously passed a PG rating. Those scenes alone confirm Potter as an eternal pop culture emblem for hope in the face of seemingly hopeless futures. —Sean Edgar


22. 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


21. 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


20. Fast & Furious
Year: 2009
Director: Justin Lin
The second film in director Justin Lin’s glorious reign over the Fast and/or Furious franchise offers the initial glimpses of the logic-bending blockbuster spectacles to come. Functionally rebooting the world Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) seemed to have left behind, Lin’s follow-up to the also-great Tokyo Drift sets the groundwork for what would become the series’ defining theme. It’s all about family in this fourth installment, bringing on Gal Gadot’s Gisele and bringing back Paul Walker’s Brian to stack up what would become the formidable multicultural crew who’d eventually learn that absolutely nothing is impossible when they’re behind the wheel of a car. From its first set piece to its last, speeding through the desert catacombs underneath the Mexico-U.S. border, Fast & Furious is about as good as franchise filmmaking can get—continuing, rebooting, expanding and serializing all at once, with almost effortless aplomb, as a prelude to the true gonzo masterpiece two years later, Lin’s own Fast Five. —Dom Sinacola


19. Predator
Year: 1987
Director: John McTiernan
For all of the jokes and terrible impersonations made over the decades at the expense of Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger, during his peak throughout the ’80s, the actor possessed a certain joie de vivre unmatched by any action performer in Hollywood (with the possible exception of Bruce Willis). Schwarzenegger’s impish charm contrasts beautifully with his larger-than-life, muscle-bound physique, a dynamic he’s always happy to entertain. But Predator is one of the films of his heyday that dared to conjure a threat that even the specter of Schwarzenegger might not be able to conquer, a space-traveling alien trophy hunter who assembles a grisly collection of skulls and spinal columns throughout. It’s a basic premise that was utterly run into the ground by copycat B movies in the years to follow, but none of them come close to replicating the hyper-macho camaraderie that makes Predator an enduringly entertaining relic of its time. The sophomoric banter between the likes of Jesse Ventura, Carl Weathers and Shane Black is what sets the film apart, infusing it with a somehow endearing gentleman’s club mentality, fully aware of its inherent stupidity. We want to see this merry band of special forces operatives conquer the faceless chameleon set against them. There’s wry satire here about America’s attitude toward meddling in the affairs of less-developed nation states, but more than anything, Predator is simply one of the ’80s ’ best games of cat and mouse. —Jim Vorel


18. Girls Trip
Year: 2017
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
While it’s great to experience movies that are powerful and groundbreaking and devastating—we all love to weep at the theater or in our homes, wiping away tears as the credits roll on movies like Call Me By Your Name—but some of the best movies can be both well-written and unapologetically fun. And I’m not sure anybody had more fun this year than those of us who experienced Girls Trip. You go in likely expecting a solid, heartwarming tale about a group of friends who reconnect on a trip to New Orleans, but you leave wondering how you’d gone your whole life without experiencing this sort of black, female-centered version of The Hangover. It’s not just that Girls Trip, is so reminiscent of those raunchy, absurd (and kind of disgusting) comedies, it’s that the shocking, laugh-out-loud moments are so earned and so excellently delivered that it’s easy to forget there’s some kind of message wrapped up in it all. That’s a good thing, because it makes those final confrontations and confessions at the end of the film all the more compelling. Of course, what really made this movie one of the most beautiful and hilarious movies of the year was its cast, featuring performances from an incredible group of women with the kind of chemistry you dream of seeing on screen: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah all turned in phenomenal work. Haddish has been (rightfully) celebrated as the breakout star, but her comedic prowess could have been lost on a lesser script. Luckily, writers Tracy Oliver, Kenya Barris and Erica Rivinoja laid an impeccable foundation for director Malcolm D. Lee, and the result was one of the biggest blasts—among any genre—of the year. —Shannon M. Houston


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. The French Connection
Year: 1971
Director: William Friedken
Winner of Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing and Acting (Gene Hackman), The French Connection isn’t so much a deeply felt drama or meticulous procedural as it is a nearly perfectly executed exercise in inertia, mood and the obsession with both. Friedken’s film is all aesthetic, all carapace: this is New York at its grossest, and Hackman (as the gruff Popeye Doyle) at his most vicious. As the only character with any hint of depth, Doyle is the audience’s vessel from one chase to another—or, rather: throughout the giant chase that is the whole movie—a man as relentless as the filth and violence of the City that he struggles to defend, one drug bust at a time. In that sense, The French Connection is a defining film of the ’70s, unyielding in its depiction of an America hungover from the facile free love movement, still mired in the Vietnam War and the depravity of unmitigated urban expansion. But even moreso, the film is a lean action classic, all movement and no second wasted. —Dom Sinacola


15. Logan
Year: 2017
Director: James Mangold
The first word in Logan is “fuck”—perhaps you’re thinking that sounds somehow in the same tonal wheelhouse as, say, Deadpool, but in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. What Logan is defies easy categorization. I struggle to even call it a “superhero movie,” or an “X-Men movie.” If it is one, then it’s quite easily the most uniquely disparate X-Men movie ever made, asking audiences to quickly cast away any expectations of how an X-Men movie might look, sound and feel. Yes, one might call it a “superhero movie” in the sense that it, you know, has superheroes in it, but it would be similar to describing Saving Private Ryan as “that movie where Tom Hanks plays an English teacher.” In short, this is quite the departure for Marvel’s first family of mutants and it’s difficult even now to comprehend how a mass audience processed Logan. Were they be wowed by its ultra-gory, visceral action and supremely gritty, nihilistic vision of a future where entropy has seemingly conquered all? Or were they be unnerved by its often oppressive dourness, humorless nature and patience in lingering in the quiet moments? The differences between this film and the tone of The Avengers could scarcely be more profound. Ultimately, Logan’s ambition is to present itself with a weight of gravitas that isn’t entirely earned, considering the history of the character. It will doubtlessly frustrate some of the Everyman cinema-goers who perceive its middle chapters as slow, or who criticize the 135-minute run-time, but I expect patient viewers will appreciate the way it allows its characters to breathe and wallow in moments of vulnerability. It’s not a film calculated to be a people-pleaser, but it is an appropriately intense end to a character defined by the tenacity and ferocity of a wolverine. —Jim Vorel


14. The Omen
Year: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake. It has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of the juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien (Harvey Spencer Stephens) isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people, he’s full of guile, deceit and, scariest of all, patience. He knows that he’s playing the long game—it will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The film is brooding, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence. In particular are the infamous scene wherein a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or the fate of Damien’s nurse in the film’s opening. The Omen can genuinely can get under your skin, especially if you’re a parent. —Jim Vorel


13. Three Kings
Year: 1999
Director: David O. Russell
Three Kings is a war movie which, as it moves ever less-casually along, attempts to figure out what a war movie even is anymore. Set at the butt-end of the Gulf War, the film begins as an odd bacchanalia of boredom, contorting through a handful of genres and Desert Storm misadventures to arrive, inevitably, at the conclusion that, Oh, Yeah, Actually Turns Out War Isn’t Boring Ever. Director David O. Russell has his faults—and even a cursory reading into this movie will give you plenty of anecdotes about how much of a heel he is—but he’s not too naïve to claim he can sum up that conflict and the U.S.’s role by portraying its participants as hedonists and potential career criminals, partying and plundering their way through a passive desert land with nothing better to do. So, as four soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Spike Jonze and Ice Cube) embark on a Kuwaiti gold heist based on information found within an ass map, Russell explores what the responsibilities of these men could be when their only responsibilities—occupying, defending and killing—are no longer all that urgent. Camaraderie, brotherhood, moral fortitude: all of it gone from Russell’s wonky post-war flick, replaced with a refreshing sense of surprise all but extinct from most movies dealing with the same moral gray of modern warfare. —Dom Sinacola


12. Auto Focus
Year: 2003
Director: Paul Schrader
Poor Bob Crane. As played by Greg Kinnear, his primary sin, and the reason behind his eventual tragic downfall, was almost entirely predicated on him being famous at the wrong time. His love of engaging in consensual group sex and filming it may seem harmless today, but he was unfortunately a public figure in the ’60s, and was understandably, deathly afraid of his hobby’s exposure. In this level-headed, though emotionally impactful biopic, director Paul Schrader doesn’t treat Crane as a martyr for a culture that pushes its own brand of faux morality, but as a modestly talented entertainer who happens to love having sex with multiple partners and then watching the act later. Through Schrader’s matter-of-fact approach, we relate to Crane’s tragic circumstances on a base level, guided by a rare understated dramatic lead role, in which Kinnear truly shines, and supported just as strongly by Willem Dafoe, who plays Crane’s “filming partner.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


11. West Side Story
Year: 1961
Director: Robert Wise
Robert Wise’s teen opera take on the hit Broadway musical, which was itself a modernized adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, is a glorious orgy of exuberant colors, the ultimate visual execution of a young fever dream romance supported by then-tonally brave set design that flirts with the thin line between Broadway artifice and Wise’s affinity for melodrama, drawing clear lines between the characters’ melancholy and the lively way they experience their otherwise drab surroundings. With unforgettable musical numbers, brought to life via soulful performances, particularly by legends like Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno, Wise’s classic is still an enduring musical masterpiece. —Oktay Ege Kozak


10. John Wick: Chapter 2
Director: Chad Stahelski
Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay to both John Wick movies is via comparison to a contemporary: John Wick films are to guns what The Raid films are to fists. Within their respective spheres of combat, each is on an entirely separate level in terms of presentation. Both aspire to something more vital than to “entertain.” They don’t want to “satisfy” an audience—they want to make your jaw drop. They want you to stifle a guffaw as John Wick (Keanu Reeves) pulls off a move that is simultaneously so slickly unrealistic and bone-crunchingly visceral that the cognitive dissonance causes a brief misfire in your synapses. They’re everything that G.I. Joe or Fast & The Furious never bothers even attempting to be. So yes, both cinephiles and action movie buffs will be pleased to know that John Wick: Chapter 2 is a worthy follow-up to the surprising 2014 original. Holding the torch passed from ’80s and ’90s John Woo classics, director Chad Stahelski delivers an epic ballet of arm-breaking and gun-kata that somehow manages to run for 122 minutes without ever overstaying its welcome. That’s far easier said than done. —Jim Vorel


9. Die Hard
Year: 1988
Director: John McTiernan
Die Hard may be the “stickiest” film of its decade—how many best-laid plans have been derailed by running across John McTiernan’s masterful actioner on cable? As Officer John McClane and Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, respectively, steal the show in career-defining roles, but even Henchman #10 (Asian man who eats candy bar, or Uli, to his friends) comes across more realized than most lead roles in today’s run-of-the-mill action flicks. Tightly plotted with cleverness to spare, Die Hard welcomes the scrutiny of multiple viewings without losing its humor or heart. Yippie ki-yay, indeed. —Michael Burgin


8. 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


7. The Silence of the Lambs
Year: 1991
Director: Jonathan Demme
The camera hugs her face, maybe trying to protect her, though she needs no protection, and maybe just trying to see into her, to see what she sees, to understand why seeing what she sees is so important. Not even 30, Jodie Foster looks so much younger, surrounded in The Silence of the Lambs by men who tower over her, staring at her, flummoxed by her, perhaps wanting to protect her too, but more likely, more ironically, intimidated by a world that would allow such a fragile creature agency, that would let her freely wander the domain of monsters. As Clarice Starling, FBI agent-in-training, Foster holds her performance in suspension, an innocent who’s seen more than any of us could ever imagine, and a warrior who seems unsure of her prowess. That Jonathan Demme—a director who came up under the tutelage of Roger Corman; a journeyman capable of helming the greatest concert film ever made (Stop Making Sense) as adroitly as a screwball thriller/rom-com (Something Wild), adopting then immediately shedding genres at whim—corners Starling within the confines of a “Woman in Peril,” only to watch her shrug off every label thrown at her, is a testament to The Silence of the Lambs as a feminist masterpiece, not because it so thoroughly inhabits a female point of view, but because its violence and fear is clearly the stuff of masculine toxicity. Demme’s film is only the second to adapt Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lector novels to the screen (the first being Michael Mann’s hyper-stylized Manhunter, a brutal dream unto itself), but it’s the first to draw undeniable lines between the way men see Clarice Starling and the way that serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) projects his neuroses onto his victims.

Harris obviously has a fascination with the idea of “seeing” and how that manifests maliciously in those whose self-perception is already mangled by traumatic experiences, but Demme’s film is the only iteration of Harris’s stories which links seeing to transformation to one’s need to consume, all pursued through a gendered lens, represented by the seemingly omniscient perspective of Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), a borderline asexual cannibal who literally consumes those over whom he holds court. Buffalo Bill is a monster, and so is Lector, but the difference is that Lector does not attempt to possess Clarice Starling, though he sees her, because he is past transformation, is in control of that which he consumes. Buffalo Bill isn’t, because as a man he believes that by consuming femininity he can become it, too stupid and too self-absorbed to realize that to consume it is to delete that femininity—to admit that the world is a dangerous, predatory place, and that to protect a woman is only a matter of admitting that the World of Men is a weak and evil failure of the very ideals it strives to preserve. —Dom Sinacola


6. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg 
One vital component of Spielberg’s work is his career-wide collaboration with composer John Williams, and nowhere is Williams’ talent in extracting emotional pathos out of his rousing scores more obvious than in his spectacular compositions for E.T. , an iconic, influential childhood classic. Spielberg turning the fantastical premise of an alien stranded on earth into an allegory for a child’s need to be loved and appreciated becomes perhaps the most concrete representation of the director’s unique talent for seeking out accessibility and universality in his emotional stakes while also never losing sight of the eye-candy-heavy imagination he inspires. —Oktay Ege Kozak


5. Aliens
Year: 1986
Director: James Cameron 
James Cameron colonizes ideas: Every beautiful, breathtaking spectacle he assembles works as a pointillist representation of the genres he inhabits—sci-fi, horror, adventure, thriller—its many wonderful pieces and details of worldbuilding swarming, combining to grow exponentially, to inevitably overshadow the lack at its heart, the doubt that maybe all of this great movie-making is hiding a dearth of substance at the core of the stories Cameron tells. An early example of this pilgrim’s privilege is Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s roughly-feminist horror masterpiece, in which Cameron mostly jettisons Scott’s figurative (and uncomfortably intimate) interrogation of masculine violence to transmute that urge into the bureaucracy and corporatism which only served as a shadow of authoritarianism—and therefore a spectre of the male imperative—in the first film. Cameron blows out Scott’s world, but also neuters it, never quite connecting the lines from the aggression of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation to the maleness of the military industrial complex, but never condoning that maleness, or that complex, either. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) story about what happened on the Nostromo in the first film is doubted because she’s a woman, sure, but mostly because the story spells disaster for the corporation’s nefarious plans. Private Vasquez’s (Jennette Goldstein) place in the Colonial Marine unit sent to LV-426 to investigate the wiping out of a human colony is taunted, but never outright doubted, her strength compared to her peers pretty obvious from the start. Instead, in transforming Ripley into a full-on action hero/mother figure—whose final boss battle involves protecting her ersatz daughter from the horror of another mother figure—Cameron isn’t messing with themes of violation or the role of women in an economic hierarchy, he’s placing women by default at the forefront of mankind’s future war either for or against the ineffable forces of capitalism. It’s magnificent blockbuster filmmaking, and one of the first films to redefine what a franchise can be within the confines of a new director’s voice and vision, but below all of the wonderful genre-based imagination and splendor, Cameron doesn’t have much of anything to say. Still, it’s an awesome film despite itself, a tense action bonanza, and a pretty good reminder all these years and proposed Avatar sequels later that Cameron’s clearly decided on which side of the war he’s fighting. —Dom Sinacola


4. Back to the Future, Part I, Part II and Part III
Years: 1985; 1989; 1990
Director: Robert Zemeckis
The three-part epic journey of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and his legitimately insane mentor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) not only provides the crucible through which practically every comedy adventure made since must pass, it proves that even one insignificant kid’s actions make a universe of difference. There is little to add to a popular discussion of these films besides pointing out their diminishing returns with each successive entry, but that hardly takes away from the brilliance of Zemeckis’s storytelling. No plot point is wasted, no shot infused with anything less than humor and emotional breadth—if this sounds a bit schmaltzy, or a bit overboard with praise, then stop to consider how cherished these films are in the course of American cinema. As they mess with history, so too do they make history, and from that standpoint, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling the need to go back to make this trilogy any better. —Michael Burgin


3. Alien
Year: 1979
Director: Ridley Scott 
Conduits, canals and cloaca—Ridley Scott’s ode to claustrophobia leaves little room to breathe, cramming its blue collar archetypes through spaces much too small to sustain any sort of sanity, and much too unforgiving to survive. That Alien can also make Space—capital “S”—in its vastness feel as suffocating as a coffin is a testament to Scott’s control as a director (arguably absent from much of his work to follow, including his insistence on ballooning the mythos of this first near-perfect film), as well as to the purity of horror as a cinematic genre. Alien, after all, is tension as narrative, violation as a matter of fact: When the crew of the mining spaceship Nostromo is prematurely awakened from cryogenic sleep to attend to a distress call from a seemingly lifeless planetoid, there is no doubt the small cadre of working class grunts and their posh Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) will discover nothing but mounting, otherworldly doom. Things obviously, iconically, go wrong from there, and as the crew understands both what they’ve brought onto their ship and what their fellow crew members are made of—in one case, literally—a hero emerges from the catastrophe: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the Platonic ideal of the Final Girl who must battle a viscous, phallic grotesque (care of the master of the phallically grotesque, H.R. Giger) and a fellow crew member who’s basically a walking vessel for an upsetting amount of seminal fluid. As Ripley crawls through the ship’s steel organs, between dreams—the film begins with the crew wakening, and ends with a return to sleep—Alien evolves into a psychosexual nightmare, an indictment of the inherently masculine act of colonization and a symbolic treatise on the trauma of assault. In Space, no one can hear you scream—because no one is listening. —Dom Sinacola


2. The Exorcist
Year: 1973
Director: William Friedkin
Is any film more disturbing, more influential or just plain scarier than The Exorcist? The film radiates an aura of dread—it feels somehow unclean and tilted, even before all of the possession scenes begin. Segments like the “demon face” flash on the screen for an eighth of a second, disorienting the viewer and giving you a sense that you can never, ever let your guard down—worming its way under your skin and then staying there forever. The film constantly wears down any sense of hope that both the audience and the characters might have, making you feel as if there’s no way that this priest (Jason Miller), not particularly strong in his own faith, is going to be able to save the possessed little girl (Linda Blair). Even his eventual “victory” is a very hollow thing, as later explored by author William Peter Blatty in The Exorcist III. Watching it is an ordeal, even after having seen it multiple times before. The Exorcist is a great film, no matter the genre. —Jim Vorel


1. Get Out
Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele 
Peele’s a natural behind the camera, but Get Out benefits most from its deceptively trim premise, a simplicity which belies rich thematic depth. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) go to spend a weekend with her folks in their lavish upstate New York mansion, where they’re throwing the annual Armitage bash with all their friends in attendance. Chris immediately feels out of place; events escalate from there, taking the narrative in a ghastly direction that ultimately ties back to the unsettling sensation of being the “other” in a room full of people who aren’t like you—and never let you forget it. Put indelicately, Get Out is about being black and surrounded by whites who squeeze your biceps without asking, who fetishize you to your face, who analyze your blackness as if it’s a fashion trend. At best Chris’s ordeal is bizarre and dizzying, the kind of thing he might bitterly chuckle about in retrospect. At worst it’s a setup for such macabre developments as are found in the domain of horror. That’s the finest of lines Peele and Get Out walk without stumbling. —Andy Crump

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