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

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Compared to last month, HBO hasn’t lost a buttload of great films, though it did finally drop Get Out for no discernible reason. So, to help make sure you get the most out of your subscription, we’ve chosen our 50 favorite movies available on HBO in June, ranging from new 2017 classics like Oscar winners Blade Runner 2049, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Dunkirk, as well as Girls Trip and (Oscar-nominated) Logan and all of the Back to the Future movies. We’ve even got a few picks from our Best Comedies of All Time list, including Being John Malkovich and Napoleon Dynamite. And suddenly, Fargo has appeared, giving Frances McDormand another prominent spot on our list. 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 August:

50. A Cure for Wellness
Year: 2017
Director: Gore Verbinski
It’s a bit of a tragedy that Gore Verbinski’s delightfully bizarre, absurdly violent and grotesque A Cure For Wellness went largely unnoticed. Hollywood’s versatile trickster, Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe go for broke cramming various sub-genres and mood-drenched tropes into an overstuffed, batshit-crazy horror epic, a loving nod to old Universal monster movies, among many, with the mad scientist conducting experiments that “defy god and nature” in a picturesque old castle perched atop a village that somehow skipped the 20th Century, Bojan Bazelli’s gorgeous cinematography taking full advantage of the Euro-gothic aesthetic. It’s a no-fucks-given gonzo experiment, laced with the riskiness of Giallo and the surrealist imagery of a Lynchian nightmare, disparate tones wrapped dreamily around an angry, blunt satire about the self-destructive, soul-sucking nature of greed and ambition. —Oktay Ege Kozak


49. 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


48. 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


47. 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


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. 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


44. 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


43. It
Year: 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
2017 was the year of blockbuster horror, if ever such a thing has been quantifiable before. Get Out, Annabelle: Creation and even would-be direct-to-video gems such as 47 Meters Down turned sizable profits, but they were just priming the box office pump for It, which shattered nearly every horror movie record imaginable. Perhaps it was the uninspiring summer blockbuster season to thank for an audience starved for something, but just as much credit must go to director Andy Muschietti and, especially, to Pennywise star Bill Skarsgård for taking Stephen King’s famously cumbersome, overstuffed novel and transforming it into something stylish, scary and undeniably entertaining. The collection of perfectly cast kids in the Loser’s Club all have the look of young actors and actresses we’ll be seeing in film for decades to come, but it’s Skarsgård’s hypnotic face, lazy eyes and incessant drool that makes It so difficult to look away from (or forget, for that matter). The inevitable Part 2 will have its hands full in giving a similarly crackling translation to the less popular adult portion of King’s story, but the camaraderie Muschietti gets in his cast and the visual flair of this first It should give us ample reasons to be optimistic. Regardless, it’s impossible to dismiss the pop cultural impact that It will continue to have for a new generation discovering its well-loved characters. —Jim Vorel


42. Napoleon Dynamite
Year: 2004
Director: Jared Hess
Made for a shoestring budget of $400,000 (star Jon Heder was originally paid just $1,000 for his performance), Napoleon Dynamite never seemed built to become a pop-cultural touchstone of the mid-2000s, nor a generator of countless memes and catchphrases that would persist in the high school lexicon for years to come. But as we all know, the film took on a life of its own and became a huge sleeper hit, perhaps because the truth of the film is that it’s a rather cutting satire of American un-exceptionalism. Napoleon and the residents of his Idaho town are a uniquely pathetic lot, and Napoleon Dynamite is a comedy that dares to present an entire universe of ugly personalities, fragile egos and social ineptitude. The character of Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), best captured in his endless, masturbatory, self-shot football videos, is someone you might typically expect to appear in a tragedy rather than a comedy, so crushing is his characterization. Hell, the most popular kid in Napoleon’s school looks like a young Jake Busey, for God’s sake. The film’s unusual sense of Midwestern ennui may have been lost on some audiences, but it’s that element that makes Napoleon Dynamite more than just a Comedy Central weekend afternoon feature. —Jim Vorel


41. 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


40. American Made
Year: 2017
Director: Doug Liman
In his best performances, Tom Cruise often gives off the impression that he’s getting away with something. Whether it’s Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia or Maverick in Top Gun, the 55-year-old actor burrows deep into his characters’ ability to hustle, scam or charm all those around him. The men he portrays are almost always full of shit, but because it’s Cruise playing them, they’re also very fun company. There are many reasons he’s been a movie star for decades, but that might be among the most crucial: No matter how cocky or ridiculous he or his characters can be, we don’t mind being taken for a ride. The true-life drama American Made is powered by Cruise’s catch-me-if-you-can spirit, exuding a showy, impish disposition that’s sometimes grating but often enticing enough that we forgive its limitations. Aspiring to be Goodfellas but more closely aligned with American Hustle’s manic irreverence, the film has a doozy of a story to tell, and so naturally it would have been far more effective if it had simply told its story rather than endlessly marveling at its own madcap absurdity. And yet, Cruise buoys American Made’s flop-sweat intensity because he seems to understand his character’s desperate, ingratiating whirligig restlessness from the inside. This is that rare time that one of his slick charmers lets you see behind the curtain—and what a fascinating sight it is. —Tim Grierson


39. Predator 2
Year: 1990
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Between Lethal Weapons 2 and 3, Danny Glover cashed in some chips and goodwill to pump out Predator 2, playing the hardboiled sociopath Lieutenant Mike Harrigan and basically sweating/swearing his way through a decent box office return and miserable critical response. The sequel, so far in tone and execution from John McTiernan’s first film, is about as close to a Highlander 2-type debacle as the Predator franchise can get, blasting away the vitality of McTiernan’s tension and terror for something loud, ugly, vulgar, dated and easy to turn into a line of action figures. But Predator 2 is also a high-concept mess inviting compulsive re-viewings, and not because of anything having to do with the alien or expansion of the series mythos. No, all praise and fixation goes to Lt. Harrigan, street warrior and bard of his troubled times, never far from a terrifying rage or violent expletive, totally willing to fulfill personal vendettas even if it means putting the whole city of Los Angeles in danger. Take this complaint to a superior: “That means you’re cuttin’ off my dick and shovin’ it up my ass!” Still not sure what he’s getting at. That he feels emasculated? That he’s getting fucked? But why is the implement which he normally uses to fuck now fucking him? And why doesn’t he have any say in this? Harrigan doesn’t seem like a guy to get hung up on a metaphor or two, but he does seem like a guy who has something to say about when and where his dick is used. Harrigan spends most of the first act trying to get everyone to take the city’s gang war seriously, as if, despite the graphic shoot-outs between the Columbians and Jamaicans happening semi-regularly, the higher-ups need a bit more convincing to let Harrigan run dick-first into the fray, ludicrously equipped handguns blazing. To recap: Harrigan doesn’t want the feds to intervene in the gang war because he doesn’t want to get cut out of the loop and because he doesn’t think they know the trenches like he and his team do. But the most Harrigan offers as a solution is to remind everyone that a war is going on and remind them loudly, reminders interspersed by shooting socio-economically troubled youth. Then Harrigan discovers the existence of an alien menace, and so, with his most probably illegal firearm, he sets out lone wolf style to hunt down the Predator, even if that means risking the lives of more citizens as he pushes the feds out of the way to get first shot, screaming incoherently, defining a whole era of action anti-heroes in the process. —Dom Sinacola


38. A Perfect World
Year: 1993
Director: Clint Eastwood 
On paper, there isn’t much to John Lee Hancock’s screenplay about a seasoned criminal named Butch (Kevin Costner) escaping prison, kidnapping Philip (T.J. Lowther)—a melancholic kid who’s raised without any of the fun that comes with childhood because he’s part of a strict Jehovah’s Witness family—to use him as a hostage as he drives for the border. The narrative and character beats hit exactly when they’re supposed to: Butch and Philip eventually form a bond; Butch helps Philip enjoy life; Philip’s innocence pushes Butch to become a better person until, of course, the law catches up to them and a standoff ensues. What makes A Perfect World still so gripping is Eastwood’s delicate, nostalgic use of the Texas countryside, as well as the natural performances he extracts out of Costner and the child actor, who themselves have a palpable. Costner was at the height of his stardom at the time, known for playing morally airtight do-gooders, so this antihero was a risky move on his part, playing a dark, violent character who can become an imperfect but necessary father figure. —Oktay Ege Kozak


37. National Lampoon’s Animal House
Year: 1978
Director: Jon Landis
John Belushi created an entire character archetype in his too-short career, but it’s best vehicle is quite possibly in John Landis’ party romp as the intoxicated slob, Bluto. Written by the late Harold Raimis, Animal House captures all of the excessive, mindless fun of college in a memento that never becomes any less funny or nostalgic, no matter how many times you rewatch it. —Sean Edgar


36. 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


35. Batman
Year: 1966
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
The Adam West Batman film offers the sort of gleeful insanity you need to inflict upon modern comics fans who are unaware of its existence, because once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it. With a plot that defies any attempt toward description, it’s the height of camp, featuring incredible performances by Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin and especially the great Burgess Meredith, as the Joker, Riddler and Penguin respectively, in a team-up to take down the caped crusader and his dopey ward (Burt Ward, that is). The film is just a string of jaw-droppingly silly moments, one right after another—the “shark-repellent bat spray” gives way to Penguin’s bird-shaped submarine, and into the two full minutes of West running around with a giant bomb held over his head, unable to find a place to dispose of it. Such a joyful superhero movie is a rarity, but be warned—Batman ’66 is best paired with your booze of choice. —Jim Vorel


34. 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


33. 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


32. 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


31. 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


30. 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


29. 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


28. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Release Date: 2017
Director: Martin McDonagh
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, a divorced mother who lives in a rural Missouri community. Everybody in a small town knows everybody else’s business, and Mildred is Ebbing’s walking tragedy: She’s the woman whose teen daughter was recently raped and murdered. Unhappy that the local police force, led by the cantankerous Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), has failed to find her girl’s killer, Mildred decides to take action, buying up three billboards outside of town and splashing an accusing message across them: “Raped while dying. And still no arrests. How come, Chief Willoughby?” Whether it’s Our Town or Dogville, fiction occasionally uses small towns as a microcosm for America at large, showing what’s wonderful or toxic about our country. Judging by this film, the state of our union is fractious and violent—and only getting worse. You probably didn’t need a movie to tell you that, but writer-director Martin McDonagh’s volatile comedy-drama keeps poking at our scabs, pinpointing our humanity and surprising us with a series of small revelations. This is a film that’s proudly impertinent but also deeply morally serious. And even if Three Billboards doesn’t always hold together, that’s appropriate for its anxious characters who are, themselves, a little unsteady. —Tim Grierson


27. 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


26. 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


25. 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


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. Dolores Claiborne
Year: 1995
Director: Taylor Hackford
An underrated gem of Stephen King’s non-horror adaptations, Dolores Claiborne probably went under the radar because audiences were bombarded with one low-rent King horror flick after the other at the time. We’re well aware of King’s immense talent when it comes to drama, but he’s not primarily known for writing insightful works from a female perspective. (Check out the simplistic Big Driver for proof of that.) That’s what makes Dolores Claiborne so special. Director Taylor Hackford’s tender and empathetic take on an estranged mother (Kathy Bates) and daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) forced to face their painful pasts as the mother’s accused of murdering an old woman, covers familiar, dark King themes like alcoholism and abuse. The story’s many twists and turns reveal a painful and heartbreaking cycle of trauma, but the strangely hopeful ending lets us know that even the deepest cuts can be mended over time. As far as King adaptations are concerned, Bates will always be immediately associated with her Oscar-winning turn in Misery, but the subtle ways she gives life to the broken woman she portrays here is more than on par with her better-known role. —Oktay Ege Kozak


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. Being John Malkovich
Year: 1999
Director: Spike Jonze 
The feature film debut from director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman is a long, absurd joke whose punchline is its final shot: the view of a man whimpering as he’s forced to watch his loved ones forget he’s ever existed. Being John Malkovich admits, with sad clarity, that our lives are totally out of our control. In the film, we follow street puppeteer Craig (John Cusack, looking like a small, humming pile of hair) as he confronts the economic viability of his chosen occupation by getting an admin job on the 7½ floor of a building that also happens to hide a tiny door which leads, if one crawls through cobwebs and puddles, to the inside of John Malkovich’s head, wherein for 15 minutes the brain tourist can vicariously live through famous actor John Malkovich’s eyes before getting spit up into a ditch off the New Jersey Turnpike. Having had his way with marionettes for years, Craig slowly understands how to control Malkovich while inside his head, crouching in the man’s sewer of an unconscious to hide away from the requisite 15-minute limit, but not before falling in love with a coworker (Catherine Keener) who seems to be falling in love with Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), but only via various liaisons through John Malkovich’s manipulable corpus. Throughout, Jonze and Kaufman only afford as much logic as is needed to movie the story from one weird scenario to another, but never letting the bleak heart of the film’s happenings overtake how goofily the plot unfolds. Visual detritus litters Jonze’s shots: A chucked can from a speeding car bounces off Malkovich’s head, the culprit recognizing Malkovich in time enough to call him out by name, though why John Malkovich poorly disguised in a ball cap and covered in ectoplasm would be on the side of the road in Jersey is anyone’s guess; a documentary features Brad Pitt briefly only to ignore him; an alternate universe Charlie Sheen embraces his receding hairline. Ideas pile atop more ideas, until the whole thing collapses in on itself, the film’s centerpiece basically John Malkovich singing his own name to another John Malkovich over and over, attempting to seduce the actor—deeply insecure, just like all of us—into liking himself. —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. Drag Me to Hell
Year: 2009
Director: Sam Raimi 
Drag Me to Hell may be a delirious horror film, but it’s no trifle: Not since 1993’s Army of Darkness has director Sam Raimi’s creativity seemed so reinvigorated, in that it’s bound by no other template than his own, totally unhinged. Each action sequence is a model of wit, the sound of Raimi laughing practically accompanying loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman) when she discovers that her assailant is standing conveniently beneath an anvil hung from the ceiling by a rope, or when a fierce fight in the interior of a car manages to incorporate both staples and dentures as weapons, or when a creature tries unsuccessfully to gum its victim’s face off because said dentures are at large, or when a possessed goat calls Christine a “bitch” in exactly the way one might expect a goat to call a person a bitch. Blood-squirting noses, murdered kittens and oozing body juices spackle this ragged thing together. The impetus is clear: This is Raimi going back to his roots, an overdue corrective to the limp contemporary horror flicks of a decade ago. We, the audience, nod in grateful reverence. —Robert Davis and Jeffrey Bloomer


15. 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


14. 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


13. 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


12. 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


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. Blade Runner 2049
Year: 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
 Blade Runner 2049 is undoubtedly the most gorgeous thing to come out of a major studio in some time. Roger Deakins has inculcated Jordan Cronenweth’s lived-in sense of a future on the brink of obsolescence, leaning into the overpowering unease that permeates the monolithic Los Angeles Ridley Scott built. The scale of the film is only matched by the constant dread of obscurity—illumination shifts endlessly, dust and smog both magnifying and drowning the sense-shattering corporate edifices and hyper-stylized rooms in which humanity retreats from the moribund natural world they’ve created. There is a massive world, a solar system, orbiting this wretched city—so overblown that San Diego is now a literal giant dump for New L.A.’s garbage—but so much of it lies in shadow and opacity, forever out of reach. What Scott and Cronenweth accomplished with the original film, placing a potboiler within a magnificently conceived alternative reality, Villeneuve and Deakins have respected as they prod at its boundaries. There’s no other way to describe what they’ve done other than to offer faint praise: They get it. —Dom Sinacola


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. Dunkirk
Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan 
Christopher Nolan has always been a filmmaker of contradictory impulses. He wants to awe you with spectacle but also capture the restlessness of the soul, to twist every emotion for all its worth but also stand outside and objectively observe, to be plain and direct and earnest but also leave you locked in puzzle-boxes to take apart and put back together again. He is ambitious but reserved; pop but art; loud but quiet. He has been wrestling with all these impulses for years, sometimes resulting in the greatest popcorn blockbuster of this century (The Dark Knight) and sometimes resulting in an awkward, overly complicated mishmash of corn and kitsch (Interstellar). He has a filmmaking instrument of almost overwhelming power, but has, especially recently, had an increasingly difficult time reigning in that power. Which is why Dunkirk is such a staggering, almost fantastical achievement. It takes everything Nolan does well and everything he doesn’t, everything he fights against and everything he embraces, everything great and terrible about him, and streamlines it, focuses it, until it’s pure Nolan, straight into your veins. It’s the most Christopher Nolan film imaginable. It also might just be his best one. —Will Leitch


6. 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


5. 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


4. 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


3. 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


2. 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


1. Fargo
Year: 1996
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
In exploring the unsavory implications of “Minnesota nice,” the Coen Brothers created one of the most beloved, acclaimed and quotable films of all time. Fargo explores the tension that accompanies polite social norms and the quiet desperations they often mask, setting up one scene after another so awkward it’ll make your skin crawl. The emotional restraint displayed by such characters as Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) and Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) is a thin and disingenuous veil over yearnings for money or companionship, while their foil, obviously, is Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), who really is that nice and hardworking and downright normal. The Coens strike a careful balance between gentleness and a stark gruesomeness underneath a typical all-American veneer, making you appreciate the art behind postage stamps as deeply as they make you cringe at the sound of a wood chipper. —Allie Conti

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