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The 100 Best Movies on Hulu

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Hulu has been quietly expanding and updating its film catalog ever since its deal ended with Criterion. Now the best movies on Hulu include a variety of classic films, indie gems and recent blockbusters. There are movies here from our Best Anime Movies of All Time, Best Documentaries of All Time and Best Horror Movies of All Time. And the selection has changed dramatically over the last few months with the additions of new releases like I, Tonya, Colossal, BPM and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

You can also check out the best TV shows on Hulu, the best documentaries on Hulu, the best horror movies on Hulu and the best Hulu original series. Or, for extensive guides to the best movies on other platforms like Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime and The Best Movies in Theaters, or visit all our Paste Movie Guides.

Here are the 100 best movies on Hulu right now:

100. Lemon
Year: 2017
Director: Janicza Bravo
Lemon is a blistering, 80-minute indictment of and elegy for white man-child protagonists. You know this movie. You’ve seen myriad versions of it staged over, say, the last two decades of pop culture or so, from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Knocked Up to the majority of Adam Sandler’s oeuvre. But you haven’t seen this movie as staged by Janicza Bravo, an outsider to the self-validating dynamics of the fraternity of white male screw-ups. She’s thus better equipped to provide fresh commentary on that fraternity than any random white male might be. Even better, she’s more talented, too. Her film is an exquisitely wrought portrait of white guy ineptitude disguised as superiority and acumen, though this assumes you equate “exquisite” with wallowing in abject human misery for an hour and a half. In her feature debut, Bravo demonstrates a raw skill behind the lens suggesting a higher ceiling than most of her peers, though her film is no less awkward than anything they’ve made, either. Lemon is a tragicomic ballad of chagrin and stunted masculinity, and yes, it is at times a literal shitshow, a comedy of bodily functions to complement its endless parade of embarrassments. But the sight of Bravo’s co-writer and leading man Brett Gelman fishing a cell phone out of a used toilet doesn’t at all undermine the sophistication and style of her filmmaking. —Andy Crump


99. 2 Days In Paris
Year: 2007
Director: Julie Delpy
If Woody Allen’s neurotic Alvy and Keaton’s Annie Hall had borne children, it’s a good bet they would have turned out like Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) in 2 Days in Paris, a quirky and amusing film directed and written by Delpy. After vacationing in Venice, the New York couple stops into Paris to visit Marion’s parents for two days. At first, Jack’s neuroses, ranging from hypochondria to paranoia, threaten to overwhelm the relationship. But we soon learn that Marion has a few psycho-disabilities of her own, often related to a history of past lovers who, to the annoyance of Jack, continue to pop around every Parisian corner. Delpy works through a profusion of emotions in the film—sexy, witty, bitter, jealous and sometimes disturbing. It is also arguably Goldberg’s best work. As a writer, Delpy proves that her shared Oscar nomination with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke for Before Sunset was well deserved.—Tim Basham


98. Berberian Sound Studio
Year: 2012
Director: Peter Strickland
Playing with reality and fantasy, the literal and the subconscious, Berberian Sound Studio will understandably be compared to the work of David Lynch. But even if it’s not as startlingly original as that director’s finest films, the movie does offer a quietly building sense of unease as we realize that something isn’t quite right about this recording studio. Maybe it’s the charlatans with whom Gilderoy has to work. Or maybe it’s something else, something inside this closed-off man that he’s never quite acknowledged before. Ultimately, Berberian Sound Studio may be yet another psychological character study about the ways in which life and art intersect. But when it’s this genuinely upsetting and confidently executed, who can resist one more trip through a house of mirrors? —Tim Grierson


97. The Hero
Year: 2017
Director: Brett Haley
One of the pleasures of Brett Haley’s previous film I’ll See You in My Dreams was its elevation of Sam Elliott to romantic leading-man status. The relish with which Elliott (a veteran who has mostly been typecast as cowboys and authority figures throughout his career) tackled this rare dreamboat role was sparklingly palpable throughout, and his performance exuded seemingly effortless charisma and gravitas in equal measure. It was enough to make us all wonder why it had taken so long for anyone, in Hollywood or outside of it, to see his potential in movie romances. In his follow-up, The Hero, Haley gives Elliott a showcase all his own, and he comes through with a performance that is similarly dazzling in its easy authority and emotional breadth. This shouldn’t be a surprise, really, especially because of the way Haley has drawn on the actor’s own life in conceiving of Lee Hayden, the character Elliott plays here. First introduced in a soundstage repeating the same voiceover line for a beef commercial, one immediately senses that Lee is, to some degree at least, meant to be reflective of Elliott himself, especially once we get to know the character more. Lee is an actor who is still being celebrated for the iconic Western roles in his past—in particular, his performance in the motion picture that gives Haley’s film its name—even as he enters his twilight years and finds parts harder to come by. The Hero is Haley’s second film in a row to focus on the physical and emotional struggles of elderly protagonists, and it confirms that he has a knack for doing so with empathy, sensitivity and affection. If anything, he could be accused of having a bit too much affection. Most questionable is the May-December romance he introduces, as Lee develops a romantic affection for the much younger Charlotte (Laura Prepon), the friend of his neighbor/former co-star/weed dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman). Though Haley treats this potentially dicey plot development sensitively (with Lee himself commenting at one point about how “weird” the relationship is), his best efforts don’t quite banish the sense that the film is essentially a male fantasy, with a self-pitying mess of a central figure at its heart. Still, if The Hero works at all, it’s because Elliott brings a measure of emotional truth to even the most sentimental of plot developments, and because Haley exudes such warm patience for his lead actor’s rhythms and cadences. Perhaps the real hero here is Haley himself, who deserves plaudits for giving veteran actors like Elliott opportunities to address their age and mortality with grace and beauty. —Kenji Fujishima


96. The Quick and the Dead
Year: 1995
Director: Sam Raimi 
Sam Raimi’s sincere neo-Western is notable for several reasons: Joss Whedon’s contributions to the script (along with, reportedly, John Sayles); the American film debut of Russell Crowe; the final screen appearance of Woody Strode (Spartacus, his close friend John Ford’s Westerns The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 7 Women and Two Rode Together); a gender-bending narrative that sends Sharon Stone’s monotone gunfighter, “The Lady,” on a righteous quest into the town of Redemption (natch) to avenge her father’s death via quick-draw contest. Gene Hackman relishes his turn as the tyrannical mayor, not so subtly named Herod, responsible for said killing, as does a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio as cocked-brow smartass “The Kid.” Not the least of note here is Dante Spinotti’s characteristically vivid cinematography. —Amanda Schurr


95. Friday the 13th
Year: 1980
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
The Friday the 13th film that started them all. Years after two summer camp counselors are offed while they’re getting it on, a new group with similar extracurricular activities arrives at Camp Crystal Lake. Hack, slice. A pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon (one of the series’ many casting gems) gets lucky and then immediately gets an arrowhead through the back of the throat. Bummer. It’s a competent and formative slasher flick, though it barely resembles the series it spawned, in ways both positive and negative. Its impact, however, can’t be argued, and it’s the film most singularly responsible for properly kicking off the slasher boom of the ’80s. Jason makes only a brief, but extremely memorable appearance. And the ending reveal is among the most shocking in horror history. —Jeffrey Bloomer


94. 28 Weeks Later
Year: 2007
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
28 Weeks Later is an often interesting, often scary, often powerful and often frustrating film for zombie/horror genre geeks. As a sequel to 2002’s supremely influential 28 Days Later, it’s a partial success. It does a wonderful job of transplanting that film’s nihilistic, hopeless streak of terror and what one person is willing to do to survive—especially in the masterful opening scene, where Robert Carlyle’s character abandons his wife while fleeing from zombies in a soul-crushing chase across the fields of England as tears of guilt stream down his face. On the other hand, the film’s true main characters, his children, aren’t nearly as interesting—nor is the collection of military suits who have locked down England in the post-Rage virus cleanup. The film also violates one of the unwritten rules of zombie cinema, which is, “There shouldn’t be a ‘main zombie.’” In this case, when Robert Carlyle’s Don becomes infected and escapes, it hurts the story’s ability to be legitimately suspenseful, as we know the kids aren’t in any real danger during any of their encounters with the infected, because zombie Don is still unaccounted for. If the audience knows that the script will require this one infected person to be present for a conclusion, then it robs all the other infected of being perceived as legitimate threats. Still, despite all that, 28 Weeks Later is well-shot and full of shocking, gritty action sequences. It’s not without its flaws, but certain scenes such as the opener are so powerful that we’re willing to forgive a lot. —Jim Vorel


93. Prince Avalanche
Year: 2013
Director: David Gordon Green 
Prince Avalanche finds David Gordon Greene perfecting the balance between his work in easy comedy and Terrence Malick-inspired dreamscape territory. The film, based on an Icelandic movie from 2011 called Either Way, is at times funnier than some of his straight-up comedies. It’s also a thoroughly enjoyable relationship movie about two men, one young, one old(ish), that is utterly devoid of sap—not an easy task when clichés are so easy to lean upon. The story takes place sometime after a severe wildfire has claimed a wide swath of forest near Austin, Texas, in the mid-1980s. Lance (Emile Hirsch) and Alvin (Paul Rudd) are spending the summer working as a two-man road crew in the burned-out state park, painting yellow lines on roads, planting posts, and camping out in the woods each night. Lance is barely present; he’s an airhead whose attitude defines “working for the weekend,” as he single-mindedly longs for a chance to go back into town and hook up with girls. A chunky, longhaired Emile Hirsch channels Jack Black in the role, smartly playing dumb the whole way through. Alvin, on the other hand, is a pretentious pseudo-intellectual who fancies himself something of a modern-day Thoreau. Once again, Rudd plays the straight man hilariously, as the two fight over whether Alvin’s German-language lesson tapes or Lance’s ’80s hair metal cassettes should be the soundtrack to their tedious and rather Zen-like work. Lance and Alvin talk and talk and get drunk and clash and make up, and the film never gets boring in the meantime. Their final, drunken dust-up is hilarious and berserk, offering a release of tension for characters and audience alike. —Jonah Flicker


92. Allied
Year: 2016
Director: Robert Zemecki
Opening your World War II movie in Casablanca is like opening your horror movie with the exorcism of a vulgar little youngling—you better be bringing something new to this situation or be certain you’re executing at a level that can hang with your esteemed predecessors. Allied, Robert Zemeckis’s retro wartime mystery, does both: Spycraft, organized around an opening mission for Canadian spy Max (Brad Pitt) and displaced French Resistance fighter Marianne (Marion Cotillard) to knock off the German ambassador at a party, allows romance to bleed into the events with an elegance even James Bond films could never dream of attaining. Max and Marianne pose as husband and wife, playing Casablancan society as well as the local Nazi regime while perfecting their plot. The movie juggles their burgeoning relationship and their professional duties nimbly, building both to a head (including a spectacularly set sex scene, which you’re definitely not getting in Casablanca) the day of the assassination. While most modern World War II movies traffic in the brutal horrors of war, Allied focuses on an intelligence officer’s regret and betrayal without pulling any emotional punches: The look in a Casablancan friend’s eyes is just as memorable as the bloodshed in Saving Private Ryan. Inevitably, the spies deliver on their planned execution, shatter a roomful of lives and begin to build their own together. Where Allied does feel heavy is in its style, which—while much appreciated compared to a surfeit of boring, static two-shots—loses its even-handedness when every scene seems to come zooming through a window, from a mirror, or split with a windshield. The aforementioned love scene, already set in an unbelievable sandstorm, spins the camera around and around the couple with no fewer than seven cuts. Building the foundation of their love with this spectacle, as well as binding them together through a baby (literally) born under fire as a hospital crumbles in an air raid, is undeniably over-the-top in an otherwise refreshingly brainy film. Everything comes together so perfectly, however, that it’s hard to fault the filmmakers for wanting to showboat a little. —Jacob Oller


91. Dancing in Jaffa
Year: 2014
Director: Hilla Medalia
It would be impossible for a single documentary to capture and explain all that has occurred in conflict areas in the Middle East. However, award-winning Dancing in Jaffa director Hilla Medalia goes in through the side door, using children’s ballroom dancing classes in Israel as a lens through which to understand the complex political, religious, and racial issues that still prevail. Following renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine, Dancing in Jaffa falls into many narratives categories, as a film about the healing power of art, the resilience of the young, and one amazing teacher who transforms a community. That it is a true story, makes it all the more incredible. Pierre Dulaine returns to his hometown of Jaffa, Israel, for the first time in decades to accomplish the impossible. In an area still rife with conflict, hatred and protests, he wants to bring Palestinian and Jewish children together for a ballroom dance competition. Even those of us who believe that art can change a young person’s life will be astounded at the visible effects of Dulaine’s work. But the film also paints an honest portrait of the long journey, and there are many troubling moments. War and violence is a fairly common subject in the schools, and the division between the Israeli-Palestinians and the Jews is very real. Children learn from their parents and from school administrators to distrust the “other” side. It is Dulaine who comes in and tries to create trust through dance, but this is beyond difficult, and he is not always successful. And just as the children are discussing war in the classroom—and appear to be of a world and time so outside of our own—one of them cracks a Justin Bieber joke, and it becomes clear that this is a contemporary story. And so the message of Dancing in Jaffa is twofold—at this very moment we should know that there are people fighting a war; and at this very moment we should also know that there are others dancing for peace. —Shannon M. Houston


90. Bronson
Year: 2009
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Michael Peterson was an extremely unruly individual. Since his days in elementary school he took to throwing viscous punches at whomever got within arm’s reach. As an adult, a bald, mustachioed, incorrigible brute, he became known as the most dangerous prisoner in Britain’s corrections system, a man who’d take a bloody mile and three teeth if you gave him an inch of freedom, a man who adopts as his fight name “Charles Bronson.” I’m not sure such a man is worthy of this gorgeous treatment. The film is lit beautifully and moves through sets that are dingy and theatrical like the booths of a carnival side show. Bronson himself looks like someone who’d be in one of Ricky Jay’s journals of anomalies, except that his only claim to fame is throwing mean punches willy nilly. He’s shut up like an animal, but as he’ll tell you himself he’s never killed a soul. He’s taken hostages. He’s made some nasty threats. But the final scenes of a man locked away in a cage barely bigger than he is raise questions about matching punishment to the crime. Part of what makes the film so fascinating is director Nicolas Winding Refn’s excellent sense of order. He knows when to loll about, when to coil the film quietly like a spring, and Tom Hardy playing the bare-knuckle Bronson gives an awe-inspiring, apoplectic performance as rage personified, pacing as if he can barely wait for Refn’s cue to bare his teeth and kick forth. —Robert Davis


89. Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus
Year: 2013
Director: Sebastián Silva
If Michael Cera was typecast as the poster boy for Type B romantic heroes—awkward but sweet, soft but humble, geeky but loveable—his turn in Sebastián Silva’s Crystal Fairy marked his arrival as an unlikeable Type A anti-hero. In one of the actor’s two Chile-based collaborations with Silva (the other is Magic Magic), Cera’s Jaime is an ugly American, obsessed with mind-altering drugs and oblivious to his own self-centeredness. Stoned at a local party, he invites fellow American Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman)—a hippie, hairy, sometimes off-putting and often-naked free spirit—on his quest for a rare mescaline-producing cactus on a camping trip with friends. The sparse plot nonetheless provides opportunities for a little self-reflection and some original, dark humor, making the druggy affair a worthwhile trip. —Josh Jackson


88. I Am Divine
Year: 2014
Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Jeffrey Schwarz’s I Am Divine covers the life of Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) from his early childhood in conservative Baltimore through his rise to fame as the “most beautiful woman in the world.” As I watched the documentary unfold, all my opinions and preconceived notions about Divine slowly vanished. What Schwarz uncovers in his movie—or at least, what he illuminates—is how kind, quiet and generous Milstead was, despite his outrageous alter ego. Through a series of interviews with former collaborators, friends and family, Schwarz helps paint a picture of an extraordinary boy who lived so far outside what was considered “normal,” he had no choice but to blaze his own trail. The story of Divine is intertwined with the story of the Dreamlanders—Divine’s adopted family. This was a group of people who, like Divine, joined forces to create a safe space to express who they were without fear of judgement from the rest of the world. I Am Divine leaves one with was a sense that all things are possible. After all, John Waters and Divine—without experience, without contacts, without money—accomplished what Hollywood continually fails to do. They created iconic, timeless movies that are as powerful now as they were in the 1970s. —Leland Montgomery


87. The Host
Year: 2006
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Before he was breaking out internationally with tight action films such as Snowpiercer, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades—the creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk. It’s not a coincidence that it became one of the most successful Korean films of all time. – Jim Vorel


86. A League of Their Own
Year: 1992
Director: Penny Marshall
Although a film about women’s baseball during WWII, the real star of the feature is not one of the girls; it’s Tom Hanks. His portrayal of a fallen baseball great trying to regain respect (and kick the bottle) is one of the actor’s finer moments. Who can ever get tired of that famous quip, “There’s no crying in baseball!” a staple that baseball commentators throw out like it’s their fastball? It’s still a great line mulled over to this day. That’s when you know a movie has weight. Geena Davis and Lori Petty’s sibling relationship is swell, too. —Joe Shearer


85. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Year: 2010
Director: Alex Gibney
The prolific Alex Gibney released four major documentary features in 2010, but Client 9 was his tightest, his most personal and his best. Gibney has great sympathy for Eliot Spitzer—the former New York Governor who resigned amid a prostitution scandal in 2008—and great anger at the powers that brought him down, but his impatience at the weakness Spitzer exhibited in making that fall possible is evident. As with most of Gibney’s films, expect a sharp intellect, crisp photography, brilliant use of music and a strong viewpoint. —Michael Dunaway


84. Lilo & Stitch
Year: 2016
Directors: Dean DeBois, Chris Sanders
Writer/directors Dean DeBois and Chris Sanders wrote Mulan and wrote/directed How to Train Your Dragon, and that same humor and originality is at play in Lilo & Stitch a story about a little girl who wants a dog and an alien who fulfills her wish and then some. The adorable prankster from outer space is at the heart of this story of accepting differences, and crash-landed his place in the Disney roster of iconic animated heroes. Funny, heartwarming and imaginative with an Elvis soundtrack to boot. —Josh Jackson


83. Joshy
Year: 2016
Director: Jeff Baena
In the movies, when a bunch of bros meet up at a vacation house for some R&R, it usually results in a weekend blast of bacchanalia or somebody getting killed. Or both. Thankfully, Joshy isn’t like most movies. Yes, it has the trappings of a buddy hangout film, but it’s far more mature than the genre it leans on, and more entertaining, too. With five main characters, a host of cameos and a precipitous balance between comedy and darkness, Joshy gets a lot done, and does it very well. Writer-director Jeff Baena doesn’t have us thinking about partying at first. The title character (Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch) arrives home to his fiancée, unaware that by night’s end their relationship will meet its harsh, abrupt end. Months later, with the deposit to their Ojai bachelor party house in the balance, Joshy invites his pals to get together anyway. Only three show up, and they’re a study in contrasts: Ari (Adam Pally) is a stoner who’s married with a new baby, Adam (Alex Ross Perry) is a hesitant nerd, and Eric (Nick Kroll) is an overconfident, overly outspoken partier. Sure, there’s drinking and drugs and silliness in Joshy, but they’re rarely the focal point of the action. They’re a natural part of the environment, which makes sense once you’re in your thirties and dealing with the realities of life. For as much as I enjoy a good Seth Rogen pukefest, it doesn’t have to be the cinematic blueprint of what it means to hang with the guys. —Norm Schrager


82. Melancholia
Year: 2011
Director: Lars von Trier 
If you want a really, really disturbingly beautiful apocalypse, you can’t go wrong with Lars von Trier. Melancholia is the second of a trilogy of films in which the director dives into the nature of depression. It revolves around two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg)—after a staccato series of prologue images set to Wagner (if you’ve ever experienced severe depression you’ll recognize the choppy, distanced, “underwater” quality of this first section), we open on Justine’s wedding reception. There is something seriously wrong with these people. Or is there? It seems like Justine’s boss is actually harassing her for ad copy in the middle of her own wedding toast. It seems like her father is a raging narcissist and her mother is “honest” in a way that makes you want to never take a phone call from her, ever. Everything seems off. And that’s before anyone realizes a runaway planet called Melancholia might be on a collision course with Earth. —Amy Glynn


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


80. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Year: 2007
Director: Tim Burton 
Whoever said murder couldn’t be wonderfully melodic? Although the Tony-winning Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was right up Tim Burton’s alley, his 2007 film took his macabre look at a homicidal English barber and made it fun. Here’s another Burton flick that relies on the tested chemistry of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but we also see great performances from Alan Rickman as the corrupt Judge Turpin and Sasha Baron Cohen as a rival barber. The film sees Burton’s on-screen gruesomeness at an all-time high, but it’s all balanced out by some infectious musical numbers. —Tyler Kane


79. Burden
Year: 2017
Directors: Timothy Marrinan, Richard Dewey
In Los Angeles—the city where he lived much of his life until his death in 2015 at the age of 69—Chris Burden is closely identified with Urban Light, a majestic collection of light poles displayed outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that’s quickly becoming one of the metropolis’s most photographed locations. Many who visit Urban Light for selfies, engagement photos or a place to wow out-of-town guests have little idea that, just a few decades ago, Burden was among modern art’s most combative practitioners, eliciting visceral responses from violent avant-garde projects which featured, say, having a friend shoot him in the arm at close range. How Burden went from provocateur to beloved cultural institution is one of the compelling threads in a documentary that goes beyond greatest-hits regurgitation, seeking an emotional through-line for a remarkable life. Burden doesn’t reach the heights of definitive artist portraits like Crumb, but it’s frequently inquisitive and nuanced, showing us where the man faltered even when the work captivated. Making their feature-length debut, directors Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey do a superb job of suggesting what drove Burden to craft such combative works without trying to psychoanalyze the man. Marrinan and Dewey spent some time interviewing Burden in his later years as he lived in happy seclusion in the hills just north of Los Angeles. Without trying to explain why, the movie presents us with a Burden who softened with age—the indecipherable half-smile still evident, though. His recent installations, including 2008’s Urban Light, don’t provoke, but they’re equally engrossing, Burden as per norm encouraging the observer to feel connected to what he sees. That the same man could have made such different pieces is a riddle Burden has the good sense not to entangle. Better, as always, to let the work speak for itself. —Tim Grierson


78. The Green Mile
Year: 1999
Directors: Frank Darabont
When it comes to loyally capturing King’s Dickensian humanist dramas, you can’t go wrong with Frank Darabont. “Another Stephen King adaptation that’s set in a prison?”, a lot of Shawshank Redemption fans asked upon hearing about Darabont’s follow up. I remember the hype and the skepticism around the film were running neck-and-neck in the cultural zeitgeist up until the release of The Green Mile. Many fans were excited about Darabont returning to what he obviously did best, while an almost equal number were afraid that a repeat of similar material would yield diminished returns. The Green Mile wasn’t the masterpiece many hoped it would be, but it’s a rock-solid epic drama with a heartfelt supernatural center. The magical elements, centered on a child-like death row inmate (Michael Clarke Duncan in a star-making performance, RIP) who has the ability to heal others with a simple messianic touch, are of course what set the two films apart on the surface. The Green Mile’s tonal approach is also a bit darker as it leads to more morally complex third act, with an ending that frustrated some viewers because of this, but impressed yours truly. —Oktay Ege Kozak


77. In the Radiant City
Year: 2016
Directors: Rachel Lambert
n In the Radiant City, director Rachel Lambert and producer Jeff Nichols put Michael Abbott Jr.’s character Andrew before our gaze, create a sense of mystery around his past and his purpose for returning home, and then just let Abbott go to work. It’s a risky move, but their faith in Abbott is well-founded: his face is—seemingly against his will—a deep reservoir of emotion, capable of conveying how he’s pulled from all sides by the impossible situations his character faces. He reminds me of a young Matthew McConaughey, with a bit of John Hawkes thrown in. It’s always impressive when an actor can play the lead in a movie where nothing much happens in the plot, and turn in a performance you can’t look away from. Director Rachel Lambert has obviously learned well from her producer, the director Jeff Nichols, as she builds the film’s tension around untold mysteries and intense performances. —Michael Dunaway


76. Project Nim
Year: 2011
Director: James Marsh
In Man on Wire, director James Marsh recounted French tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s exploits, most notably his unauthorized 1974 walk between the Twin Towers that held most of the city of New York breathless for an entire morning. In Project Nim, a team of researchers (only one year earlier, in 1973) sets out to accomplish an even more audacious and thrilling goal—to teach a chimpanzee human sign language and initiate meaningful dialogue. Technically the film is flawless. But the really compelling angle for the film is the very idea of inter-species communication.—Michael Dunaway



75. Tarzan
Year: 1999
Directors: Chris Buck, Kevin Lima
With music from Phil Collins (mercifully, Tarzan doesn’t do the singing) and a cast that includes Minnie Driver, Glenn Close and Tony Goldwyn as the titular Lord of the Jungle, Disney’s Tarzan does justice to the Edgar Rice Burroughs source material with its expected anthropomorphic twist. Rosie O’Donnell plays his gorilla buddy and Wayne Knight (best known as Jerry Seinfeld nemesis Newman) provides comic relief as a meek elephant. The plot is tight, the action is well-paced, and the movie is an easy pick to please kids of all ages. If there’s a superlative to be handed out, it’s for the animation team, who walked the fine line of making the gorillas seem both true to nature and relatable to humans. —Josh Jackson


74. Honeymoon
Year: 2014
Director: Leigh Janiak
The cool thing about horror is that if you just have the vision, you can make something like Honeymoon with no more resources than an empty cabin and a few weeks of spare time. The film only has four actors, and two of them barely appear, leaving everything on the shoulders of the two young stars, Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadway. This is the right decision to make: If you’ve got a few solid, young actors, why not let the film just become a statement of their talents? The story is extremely simple, with a newlywed couple going on their honeymoon in a remote cabin in the woods. When Bea, the wife, wanders away one night and has some kind of disturbing event in the woods, she comes back changed, and it begins to affect both her memory and sense of identity. The next hour or so is a slow-burning but well-acted and suspenseful journey for the two as the husband’s suspicions grow and the warning flags continue to mount. By the end, emotions and gross-out scares are both running high. —Jim Vorel


73. Pina
Year: 2011
Director: Wim Wenders
Wenders’ film demonstrates how Pina Bausch’s attitude and vision toward dance and choreography transcended the theater, how she saw dance in everything, and everything as dance. Bausch once said that in order to dance, “Everyone must have the freedom, without inhibitions, to show everything.” Although the audience might not always understand the precise story behind her choreography, the emotions that lie beneath it are palpable and unwavering, whether boundlessly happy or intolerably sad. Ultimately, Bausch’s choreography is relatable because it draws from life, from day-to-day experiences and emotions with which we are all familiar. Seeing this art reintroduced back into the life it mimics and enhances is a breathtaking spectacle: Pina is an effusion of all the emotions, good and bad, that shape our daily lives and make us human, but most of all, it is a haunting and beautiful elegy to a woman who changed the world’s conception of dance. —Emily Kirkpatrick


72. My Left Foot
Year: 1999
Director: Jim Sheridan
Outstanding performances and cinematography are the hallmarks of this biopic. Well known for his total-immersion method of character acting, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the challenge of his career in the role of Christy Brown, an acclaimed Irish writer and artist with cerebral palsy who is only able to control his left foot. This true story is filmed on location, and is a visually compelling study of the slums of Dublin. Director James Sheridan wisely gives us a complete portrait of Brown, warts and all. Bitter, unlikeable and amazingly talented, Christy Brown succeeds in making us cheer for him even as we curse him. —Joan Radell


71. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons
Year: 2013
Director: Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok
No list like this would ever be complete without an entry care of Stephen Chow, and so while the Hong Kong director’s Western breakthrough, the bonkers Shaolin Soccer, is also available to stream, the even bonkers-ier Journey to the West is a better place to start. Monumentally popular in China, breaking all-time box office records (even beating out Transformers 4, so you know this shit means business), Journey is based on a Chinese literary classic of the same name, but saturated with Chow’s now infamous wit, slapstick, and barely-containable glee at the possibility of fantasy filmmaking. Every scene is an elaborate tour de force of stunts and battles and exaggerated athleticism—just like every scene in every film of his to come before—but Journey takes that extra step to imbue its traditional genre tropes with grotesquerie and phantasmagorical imagination, transforming a pretty basic story about one monk’s path to enlightenment into Terry Gilliam’s wet dream, replete with pig monsters and monkey spirits and steampunk and practically everything in between. So much more than a martial arts flick, this feels like a super-gifted filmmaker doing exactly what he was born to do. —Dom Sinacola


70. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Year: 2013
Director: David Lowery
At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, it must be said that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a movie; it’s a feeling. Director David Lowery took the rugged, Americana feel of a great western, the overwhelming sentimentality of a tragic romance, the thrill of a crime drama, and the sound and tempo of some kind of epic Southern odyssey, and he created a new feeling…Casey Affleck is the standout actor, and this is his saga. Down to his very jawline, Affleck captures the physicality and feeling of a sincerely romantic outlaw. —Shannon M. Houston


69. Into the Abyss
Year: 2011
Director: Werner Herzog 
Like all Herzog’s work, this film looks far beyond a single idea and, despite a transparent agenda, never sermonizes. Herzog merely puts his belief that capital punishment is wrong to the test, examining it from several angles. In typical Herzog fashion, he explores his subject through conversations between the filmmaker, whom we of course never see, and a plethora of related interviewees. Because it avoids didactic narration and biased statistics, this approach feels honest and reliable and, thus, humanistic. —David Roark


68. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Year: 2008
Director: David Fincher 
Pitt got a little help by this storyline so rich in charm and conflict that you’d swear it’s almost cheating, but his performance as the backwards-aging main character who falls in love with a normal, beautiful dancer (Cate Blanchett) was enough to earn him his second Academy Award nomination. Perhaps some credit is due to the film’s impressive CGI effects, but Pitt was every bit as convincing as a young-minded 70-year-old as he was a young kid plagued by Alzheimer’s. —Benjamin Hurston


67. The Queen of Versailles
Year: 2012
Director: Lauren Greenfield
Lauren Greenfield only meant to take a few pictures of a very wealthy family in the midst of all their opulence. Her subjects were the Siegels—the self-made billionaire, the trophy wife, the eight not-as-maladjusted-as-you-might-think children, the monochromatic menagerie of animals. But once the family began opening up about their lives, the woman behind the camera decided to stick around a little while longer, positing that there might be more to this story than just infinity symbols for account balances. Her perseverance resulted in an alternately hilarious and heart-wrenchingly cautionary tale about the excesses of the American dream. —Tyler Chase


66. Goodbye First Love
Year: 2011
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Goodbye First Love is a small, sweet film that tells an old story with some new twists. While many films embrace the theme of young love, French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve takes an almost dispassionate approach; her characters are not especially precocious or quirky, or even exceptional. Instead, they really are “just” a couple of kids in love, making the story all the more relatable. With a gentle, hands-off approach, Hansen-Løve gives us a love story of modest (rather than epic) proportions. In the beginning of the film, Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) are heading for a break-up because they are teenagers and that’s what teenagers (and, to be fair, lots of adults) do. In terms of character, Camille is all of the wrong things, but appropriately so. She seldom wears a bra, but always wears a frown. She is angsty, but without the love for dead poets or punk rock. Instead, she has one, single interest: Sullivan, her boyfriend who has (naturally) many other interests. When Sullivan leaves to backpack across South America, Camille (after being severely depressed for a time) eventually becomes a real person with real interests. Her narrative deepens when she begins studying architecture, learning to construct buildings as she begins to construct her own sense of self. Camille’s independence is complicated with Sullivan’s return. One cannot help but root for him, as he is now up against a more independent Camille who is also in a serious relationship with her professor. With the help of cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (A Prophet) and music consultant Pascal Mayer (Incendies), Hansen-Løve manages to evoke some true emotion in her third feature film. The mood and tone of Goodbye First Love is palpable—sharp, moving, and intense even where the actors are not. Camille and Sullivan are somewhat difficult to connect with, individually. The film is ultimately successful in its care for the small, lovely things. Goodbye First Love is “just” a love story, but in that, it is enough. —Shannon M. Houston


65. The Flat
Year: 2012
Director: Arnon Goldfinger
When Arnon Goldfinger’s grandmother Gerda passes away, he’s left with the task of cleaning out her flat in Tel Aviv. A Jewish couple who moved from Berlin on the eve of the World War II for obvious reasons, Gerda Tuchler and her husband, Kurt, filled their apartment with enough German novels, furniture and knick-knacks to disorient any houseguest. It was a move of physical necessity, so they brought their physical environment with them and created a European oasis in their new locale. But as Goldfinger begins to go through the stashes of photographs, letters and assorted paper stowaways, he finds something even more disorienting: his grandparents’ closest friends, the von Mildensteins, contributed to the very circumstances from which the Tuchlers fled. While other family members play dress up in old furs and scoff at the antiquity of bookshelves lined with Nietzsche, Goldfinger patiently turns his eyes toward old newspapers and soon finds himself on a paper trail into a family history he didn’t know he had. An old clipping from a Nazi publication with the headline “A Nazi Goes to Palestine” stars none other than Leopold von Mildenstein, which gets Goldfinger wondering who his grandparents really were and why Nazis would be traveling to visit them after the war. Like many who take the time to research who and where they come from, Goldfinger finds that not everything is as linear as branches on the family tree, and the answers that he’s looking for aren’t always there. —Gabrielle Lipton


64. Liberal Arts
Year: 2012
Director: Josh Radnor 
Best known for playing Ted on the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Josh Radnor is establishing himself as a thoughtful writer-director of feature films dealing with young adults facing—and embracing—adulthood. An ode to his years at Kenyon College specifically and liberal arts education generally, Liberal Arts is at once a profound defense of academia for academia’s sake and a gentle critique of nostalgia: Live too much in the past (or in a book), and you’ll miss out on what’s in front of you. Jesse (Radnor), a college admissions counselor in New York City, is confronted with these realities when he’s invited to return to his Ohio alma mater to give a speech at a retirement party for his favorite English professor, Peter (Richard Jenkins). Newly single and weary of dealing with life in the big city (his laundry is stolen from the Laundromat in the opening scenes of the film), Jesse literally walks with a spring in his step when he gets back on campus. There he meets Zibby (a luminous Elizabeth Olsen), a sophomore with a passion for classical music, improv and trashy vampire novels. In a series of conversations about books, music and theater, they connect. As their relationship develops, however, their age difference and the perhaps unhealthy nostalgia behind their burgeoning romance start to weigh on Jesse. In his films, Radnor tends to present a thesis and then hammer away at it. In this case, it’s saying yes to whatever life puts in front of you.—Annlee Ellingson


63. Step
Year: 2017
Director: Amanda Lipitz
Following in the similarly crowd-pleasing Drumline and Stomp the Yard’s foot-stomps is dance documentary Step. This year, especially as the film is set against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray, America seems miles away from something so unabashedly heartwarming, sometimes an uncomfortably innocuous offense in a harsh environment, like candy smuggled into prison. The film is a pleasant (if sweetly facile) reprieve from the real world, though the real world threatens this small joy. That threat comes care of the fact that the documentary isn’t just about stepping, but about the successes and struggles of those in the first class to attend the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, an all-girls high school with the express goal of having all of its graduating seniors accepted into college. The best parts, then, of this sometimes-sidetracked documentary are those capturing small moments between high schoolers. A hair-styling session buzzes after the question of “MLK Jr. or Malcolm X?” and a buffet date night sours when the boy’s immaturity evolves to selfishness. These moments build relationships with the subjects that render the film’s potentially saccharine story so gently and successfully. Step may stumble over its own hurried pace (cramming months of school into montage after montage), but such a method is almost forgivable once you realize that the film is speeding towards an effective finale that will have you cheering no matter what. —Jacob Oller


62. Young & Beautiful
Year: 2013
Director: François Ozon
When we first meet Isabelle (Marine Vacth), she doesn’t seem much different than most 16-year-olds. Yes, she’s strikingly beautiful in a bikini, but the adolescent uncertainty and hormonal urges are quite recognizable and universal. Once this French girl loses her virginity to an older German guy, however, her behavior changes in ways that neither we nor anyone close to her could have imagined. Young & Beautiful tracks a year in the life of Isabelle, and filmmaker François Ozon’s strongest creative choice is to never answer precisely what’s going on inside that pretty head of hers. Liberated of her virginity, Isabelle is then seen a few months later, now 17 and entering a hotel room in an outfit only worn by respectable hookers: high heels, too short skirt, a business jacket in the hopes of not calling attention to what she’s really there to do. We’ll eventually get an inkling about how this unlikely transformation took place, but only an inkling, because Ozon and Vacth show but don’t tell in this character piece. It elevates what could be just another ballad-of-a-hooker drama into something far more mysterious. Even at the film’s finale, where the possibility of closure presents itself, Ozon gracefully sidesteps the easy resolution. With her stunning looks and inscrutable manner, Isabelle is the type of gal who will break a lot of hearts. For the audience, she also messes with our mind. —Tim Grierson


61. Kiki
Year: 2017
Directors: Sara Jordenö
With the help of model/activist Twiggy Pucci Garçon (who gets co-screenwriting credit here, in addition to appearing prominently), Sara Jardenö returns to the voguing scene Jennie Livingston so memorably captured in the legendary 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. What she finds is perhaps less immediately revelatory than it was almost 30 years ago, when Livingston first brought the voguing scene to a wider audience through her film. Which is probably to be expected, because much has changed since then, with AIDS no longer the scourge it once was, and with trans people of color becoming more visible. But as Kiki poignantly demonstrates—and as the real world constantly reminds us now in the midst of the Age of Trump—much more work still needs to be done. Thus, Jardenö’s greater focus on personal stories here is welcome, showing us an array of figures, some of whom are in the stages of gender transition, some who are trying to help others in the community and keep the voguing scene a safe space for them to fully express themselves. Kiki may be more of an activist documentary than Paris is Burning was, but it is no less affecting for it. —Kenji Fujishima


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


59. Eight Days a Week
Year: 2016
Director: Ron Howard 
The best documentaries, regardless of subject, give us something new. They teach us. They offer fresh perspective. That is really, really hard to do when you’re making a documentary about the Beatles. After more than 50 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone unfamiliar with the story of the Fab Four. Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary, focuses exclusively on the band’s touring years, from 1962-1966—and while it certainly doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a fun retelling of the band’s meteoric rise. What it does feature are new interviews with surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as a generous amount of archival interviews with John Lennon and George Harrison. Previously unseen, fan-recorded concert footage and some revealing studio outtakes are littered throughout, and while the film hits all the major points you’d expect it to (Beatlemania was crazy!), it’s so enjoyable you’re reminded there’s a reason this well keeps getting re-tapped. Just like the Beatles’ records will continue to spin across the world, from generation to generation until the end of time, we’ll keep poring over footage of these lads and talking about how they changed music—and pop culture as a whole—forever. —Bonnie Stiernberg


58. Crank 2: High Voltage
Year: 2009
Directors: Neveldine / Taylor
Beginning with cinema’s most obvious dick joke and ending on the immolation of its anti-hero (but maybe not his death?), the sequel to Crank is as much of a mindfuck as its predecessor, but beholden to absolutely nothing but the unfiltered expunging of Id on behalf of directors Mark Neveldine and Bryan Taylor, two unrepentant dude-bros who, considering the movies they made together, seem to have parted ways in the most obvious, expected development of their careers, perhaps on bad terms or perhaps because their last film together, Ghost Rider 2, will never be appreciated for the awesome shit-show it is. Two grown men who made Gamer and Ghost Rider 2 together will inevitably break up. Like any good follow-up, Crank 2 is everything that Crank was, but launched irretrievably down a hellish K-hole, amping up all the public sex, murder, violence, gratuitous nudity, nihilism and genre-bending fuck-all spirit that made the first such a potential point of cult fascination. Here, Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios has transformed into full-on superhero—minus the “hero” connotation—an invulnerable, inhuman cyborg who must regularly pump enough electricity into his body to kill a small third-world country just to keep his battery-powered heart beating as he chases after the Chinese mobsters who stole his original God-given ticker and (almost) the big ole monster between his legs. There is nothing subtle about Crank 2; there is only submission. —Dom Sinacola


57. I Am Love
Year: 2010
Director: Luca Guadagnino
The Recchi family, the powerful Italian clan at the core of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, is exclusive. Its wealth is nearly immeasurable, if not incomprehensible, and even marrying into it doesn’t warrant an invitation to its inner circle. Although Emma (Tilda Swinton) gave up her life in Russia—with the exception of her Russian accent, which she just can’t keep from tainting her Italian—in order to become a Recchi, she orbits the rest of the family in the Recchi villa, where the sense of propriety is nearly as tangible and cloying as its thick tapestries. I Am Love is a beautiful film, and a lesson in storytelling. It unfolds at a leisurely but lovely pace, taking time to revel in the details of the setting but never shifting focus from its many rich, complex characters. Swinton becomes Emma, her every pore and follicle embodying passion, guilt and grief with equal conviction. Even in its most tense moments, I Am Love is like the many dishes Antonio shows off in the film—painstakingly created and never overdone. —Ani Vrabel


56. Weiner
Year: 2016
Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
“Why did you let me film this?” This simple question, posed at the end of Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner, is as baffling to the movie’s subject as it is to everyone else. Anthony Weiner gave a documentary crew incredible behind-the-scenes access to his 2013 New York mayoral campaign while his political career crumbled and his personal life turned to a shambles. He campaigned on (and the crew filmed on), refusing to acknowledge that he sunk himself by making the exact same mistake that sunk his career years earlier—maybe because he’s an egotist and couldn’t bear being out of the spotlight, or maybe because he’s an idealist, believing that people would see past his online indiscretions and vote based on his ideas. Or maybe he’s nothing more than a self-destructive glutton for punishment. Whatever the truth, the public will remember Weiner for his scandals, which fell from the sky like a host of divine gifts to late-night comedy. Directors Kriegman and Steinberg so superbly convey the sweeping excitement Weiner could generate that it makes things all the more depressing when he can’t even get five percent of the vote. The movie shifts from energetic editing, showing people’s love for the candidate, to a claustrophobic, drawn-out humiliation. If the filmmakers had an agenda besides studying Weiner’s character, they did a great job of hiding it. Weiner shows many facets of his personality: He can be charming and funny, but he can also be a petulant, entitled jerk. The veneer wears off as the stress mounts, making things increasingly uncomfortable—it’s excruciating to watch this man try to salvage respect from certain humiliation, but it makes for a devilishly intimate look into the madness of modern politics. —Jeremy Mathews


55. Pilgrimage
Year: 2017
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Quest films are best when they understand that, like in the tales of King Arthur, the journeys they chronicle are often designed to destroy the questers through the very thing they seek. Glory, purity, power—there’s an ironic end to them all. In Brendan Muldowney’s Pilgrimage, when a band of Irish monks is recruited to escort an ancient holy relic across the post-Crusade island occupied by factions whose conquering lust has not yet been sated, we know this group was meant to be tested from the beginning. The main party is made up of rookie Brother Diarmuid (Tom Holland), a mute (Jon Bernthal), foreigner Brother Gerladus (Stanley Weber) and veteran Brother Ciaran (John Lynch). Pilgrimage draws its religious doubt from a cultural and historical well, rather than from the suffering and torture sprung from the clash between the two forces as they vie for superiority. Christianity is dominant here, which alters the typical religious narrative of the personal protection of and struggle with faith, transforming into a broader action epic in a world that, from the characters’ perspectives, depends on them. Meanwhile, Pagan religions—polytheistic myths of nymphs and spirits—flood the screen with supernatural hints while cinematographer Tom Comerford shoots the film with such wide-eyed awe of nature that it’s easy to buy into a mystical world beneath the island’s gray-green moss. Contrasted with this natural aesthetic are devout monks dressed in their light hewn robes, passively resisting the primal calls of war and barbarism. The film’s quest eventually absorbs, then loses, the kind of divine intervention that answers exactly what characters have asked without feeling sappy or campy, but truly mystical. The moment, the split second of divinity, between its appearance and removal is the moment the film was built for: a split second of utter belief. —Jacob Oller


54. L’Amour Fou
Year: 2010
Director: Pierre Thoretton
At first, this exceedingly quiet film seems to offer little in the way of insight: through the laconic accounts of long-time partner Pierre Bergé, the story of fashion industry icon Yves Saint Laurent is laid out in strikingly economical detail. He gained notoriety, and with it critical respect, as he lost much of a perspective on the bounds of his wealth and the impenetrability of his depression. In fact, upon learning Laurent had only a few weeks to live due to brain cancer, Bergé elected to keep the information from his partner—and husband, married only a few days before Laurent’s death—because he knew the designer wouldn’t be able to functionally deal with the news. In these moments, L’amour fou plays out like a touching, though slight, testament to a great artist and the unyielding love some people felt for him. It’s probably no surprise that as his profile rose, Laurent began to pull away, both physically and mentally, from the person with whom he chose to spend his life. Yet, the film’s success lies in the way it thoughtfully dwells over every insignificant piece of rare art or expensive accoutrement amassed by the couple over their lifetimes, so much so that (especially with Laurent’s presence removed) Bergé’s home looks little more than a stuffy, poorly organized museum—fastidious and far from homely. And then, when Bergé endeavors to sell all of it on auction, the sense of loss grows to tenuous levels: Is he trying to find closure, or instead proving that everything they accumulated did nothing to make their lives any better, or any worse, when viewed in retrospect? Bergé, the inheritor of an astounding amount of money due to the auction (which Thoretton documents plainly, watching Bergé as he calmly hears one astronomical closing bid after another), finds nothing in the end but whatever security all that wealth provides … which, as we watch Bergé blankly stare out of a dreary window, Come Aguiar’s perfectly nuanced score accompanying his silence, feels like even more of nothing at all. —Dom Sinacola


53. Across the Universe
Year: 2007
Director: Julie Taymor
This isn’t your typical, upbeat musical. Julie Taymor’s Across The Universe depicts the fictional lives of 1960s teens facing issues from the Vietnam War to deportation. Thirty-four songs from The Beatles move the story from Liverpool to New York. Although parts of the movie might feel like a bad acid trip (like Bono playing a cowboy drug guru), Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess perfectly pin the timeless teenage struggles of love, impending adulthood, and the fight for what you believe in. —Sarah Bennett


52. Their Finest
Year: 2017
Director: Lone Scherfig
War flicks and romantic comedies don’t have much by way of surface crossover, but The Finest casually argues that maybe there should be. Director Lone Scherfig, in adapting Lissa Evans’ 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, finds the common quality that links these two genres together, courage, perhaps better defined as “pluck” in the case of the rom-com, and as “grit” in the case of the war picture; maybe we watch these kinds of films for different reasons, but maybe stick-to-it-iveness and steely determination aren’t really all that different if you’re not the type to split hairs over vocabulary. Their Finest runs on both, and so leaves us no hairs to split. Scherfig could no more tell this story without its characters’ moxie than she could without its characters’ gut-deep bravery, which leaves her with something of a conundrum: How best to balance the breezy jubilance of the rom-com with the harrowing gravity of the war movie. To her great credit, she doesn’t bother balancing them, so much as she marries them, presenting these dueling details as two sides of the same coin, and in a film like Their Finest, how could they be anything else? It’s a rom-com wrapped up in a war picture, or perhaps the other way ‘round, depending on your perspective. The very idea of fitting the circumstantial dramas of the former within the marital dramas of the latter makes perfect sense for telling the tale of two seemingly mismatched people falling in love against the backdrop of the Blitz. Their Finest is a joy to watch, if not for Scherfig’s direction than for Gemma Arterton’s leading performance, a mixture of affronted gumption, feminine stoicism and vulnerability that adds up to towering portraiture. —Andy Crump


51. I Saw the Devil
Year: 2010
Director: Kim Ji-woon
I Saw the Devil is a South Korean masterpiece of brutality by director Kim Ji-woon, who was also behind South Korea’s biggest horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters. It’s a truly shocking film, following a man out for revenge at any cost after the murder of his wife by a psychopath. We follow as the “protagonist” of the film makes sport of hunting said psychopath, embedding a tracker in the killer that allows him to repeatedly appear, beat him unconscious and then release him again for further torture. It’s a film about the nature of revenge and obsession, and whether there’s truly any value in repaying a terrible wrong. If you’re still on the fence, know that Choi Min-sik, the star of Park Chan-Wook’s original Oldboy, stars as the serial killer being hunted and turns in another stellar performance. This is not a traditional horror film, but it’s horrific in both imagery and emotional impact. —Jim Vorel


50. Much Ado About Nothing
Director:   Joss Whedon  
Year: 2013
It’s been 20 years since the big-screen debut of Kenneth Branagh’s joyous, sun-drenched adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It represented an exuberantly manifested understanding and love of the source material, faithfully presented by a talented director. Now, two decades later, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing has landed in theaters, and though the cast may be less star-studded and the golden hues muted to a cool black and white, the result is nearly as pleasing. Whedon places his version in present-day California and loads it with elegant solutions to the challenges of communicating with a contemporary audience in a non-contemporary (no matter how beautiful) language. A celebratory fist bump here, a shared look there—Whedon and his cast usually insert enough non-verbal cues into the proceedings that most viewers will be able to follow the action even when an understanding of the dialogue proves evasive. Virtually every actor in Much Ado About Nothing is a veteran of at least one of Whedon’s television or film projects, and for the most part, their efforts are not wasted in this particular labor of love. So much of the joy of Much Ado rests on the acerbic Benedick and Beatrice, and Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker perform their roles with energy and charm.—Michael Burgin


49. 12 O’Clock Boys
Year: 2014
Director: Lotfy Nathan
An elegant mix between a scrappy visual bildungsroman of a 13-year-old Baltimore youth and a cursory glance at the dirt-bike and four-wheeler culture that’s risen to near legendary status in the city, 12 O’Clock Boys is a gorgeously shot testament to the social climate that has made Baltimore such a focus for racial and institutional tension in the past two weeks. But don’t dare compare this to The Wire—Nathan’s documentary is almost totally removed from any particular time. Instead, it’s concerned more with the quotidian, how the City’s youth live for their bikes, for the thrill of testing their physical limits, for the freedom and personality such machines afford them in a place that rarely allows them to ever express the same. Baltimore’s problems have been indelible to its personality for so long, and yet, as embraced by Pug—our protagonist, the boy who obsesses over joining the 12 O’Clock Boys, Baltimore’s so-called biker gang—the City is a complex web of thoroughfares and blank slates ready to be etched into stone by anyone with a motor and a death wish. Between goose-pimply vignettes of the 12 O’Clock boys posturing for the camera—popping wheelies and grinning wildly—and sobering passages in which Pug’s family (and friends) face one tragedy after another, the film is moored to the foundation of Pug’s dream: That one day he will be legend too. —Dom Sinacola


48. The Way Back
Year: 2011
Director: Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s WWII-era survival movie may be based on a disputed “true story,” but it holds indisputable truths about man’s perseverance in impossible odds. A prison break movie that soon morphs into an epic travelogue, The Way Back displays a bountiful variety of scenery, as a disparate group of POWs and political undesirables escapes from a Soviet gulag to trek 4,000 miles across Asia, from ice-blanketed Siberia through dusty Mongolia and on to lush India, the final destination getting always further away as the group discover how far the tyrannical communism they flee has spread. It’s one of Weir’s less remarkable films, but even Weir in a minor key is still compelling entertainment, and as usual he casts to a T: the top-drawer ensemble includes Ed Harris as a grizzly American engineer, Saoirse Ronan as a Polish stray who joins the escapees on their pilgrimage and, best of all, a wonderfully scuzzy Colin Farrell as a feral Russian gangster who’s spent so long imprisoned he hasn’t a clue what to do with freedom. —Brogan Morris


47. The Karate Kid
Year: 1984
Director: John G. Avildsen
In terms of ‘80s sports movies, there’s Rocky, there’s Karate Kid, and then there’s everything else. This movie has everything: A kid down on his luck, terrorized by jerks, schooled by a mysterious guru, sharpened into a fighting machine via the foolproof technique of a musical montage, and thrust into a revenge scene whose luster has not faded in 30 years. This is part of the American sports movie canon, right down to the crane kick. —Shane Ryan


46. Life Itself
Year: 2014
Director: Steve James
Life Itself may tell the story of a remarkable life, but it’s at its most enlightening when dealing with death. Steve James’s documentary on Roger Ebert naturally chronicles its subject’s exploits, trials and triumphs as he became the most recognizable film critic in the United States, but it weaves his life story around footage shot during the last months of his life, as we see the effect his impairments and mortality have on him and his loved ones. While the director’s best-known works like Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters mainly use location footage and naturalistic interviews shot by James himself, the historical segments of Life Itself take on a slick production quality that would be more closely associated with Ken Burns—complete with old photos and archival footage. While the movie jumps around chronologically, its contemporary footage is the pivot on which it all turns. But James is most at home while working with his own footage, and that’s where the movie really shines. Shooting began a few months before Ebert’s death, but no one knew that the end would come so soon. Ebert had been publicly battling cancer for several years, after all; surgeries and subsequent complications in 2006 left him with no jaw, nearly unrecognizable and unable to eat without tubes or speak without a computer. When James joins him, Ebert is doing even worse after breaking his hip. It’s fitting that Ebert often professed his love for documentaries that unfold in a way the filmmakers couldn’t have predicted when production began. He would have loved this one. —Jeremy Mathews


45. Brokeback Mountain
Year: 2005
Director: Ang Lee 
While his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight certainly deserves the acclaim it’s been given, Heath Ledger’s true tour de force was his understated work in Brokeback Mountain. Ledger brought a driving force to the movie which complimented its contemplative tone and showed a true, classical brilliance in acting that left you convinced that his character was real.—Sean Gandert


44. Room 237
Year: 2013
Director: Rodney Ascher
There exists a rare species of obsessive cinephile: the hyper-fan who focuses on one film, mentally and emotionally ingesting it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Along a certain parallel, there is also a serious breed of conspiracy theorist, compulsive in his or her beliefs, taking things far beyond just watching Doomsday Preppers for fun. Push these two types inextricably together, you get Room 237, the confounding, eye-opening and often hilarious documentary about individuals whose over-wired brains are devoted to one cinematic masterpiece, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The most outlandish—and perplexing—theories in Room 237 posit The Shining either as a vehicle meant to comment on dark, oppressive periods in history, or as a massive, cryptic revelation. As a cinema sociologist, director Rodney Ascher acts as non-participant observer, letting his Room 237 subjects sell themselves, leaving us to jump on, laugh or stare in amazement. As a documentary filmmaker, Ascher voraciously digs into the stories, freezing frames from the 1980 classic, adding explanatory graphics and complex maps of the hotel’s physical layout. As the subjects analyze Kubrick, Ascher analyzes their analyses, which in turn inspires an analysis of Room 237 itself, making for a documentary film that twists in on its own guts so thoroughly one can’t help but feel similarly obsessed by film’s end. —Norm Schrager


43. Fences
Year: 2016
Director: Denzel Washington 
Fences is a movie with a somewhat contradictory dichotomy at its core. On one hand, the film is a masterwork, a labor of love adapted from the late, great August Wilson’s award-winning 1983 play and engineered for the screen by Denzel Washington. Yet it’s also a somewhat pedestrian cinematic achievement. As a showcase for acting, it’s a marvel. As cinema, it’s less impressive, a picture that’s too devoted to its theatrical roots to fully translate the language of the theater into the language of the movies. It’s the definition of a filmed play, with Washington attempting to capture the heightened reality and immediacy felt in a live environment sans the live component of the theatrical equation. If Fences adheres to a basic visual scheme, though, Washington and his supporting cast lend it dazzling, urgent life. (In a film like Fences, even actors as immensely talented as Viola Davis and Stephen Henderson will be thought of as “supporting.”) One may wish for more from Washington stylistically considering his history behind the lens (Fences marks his third time directing, following Antwone Fisher in 2002 and The Great Debaters in 2007), but he’s so busy giving his all in front of it that it is easy to look past the streamlined imagery. His talent as an actor benefits him most here, allowing him to foster an easy, palpable chemistry between his cast in their every scene. Maybe we don’t see movies like this for bravura direction. Maybe we see them for bravura acting, and for the poetically frank ways in which they express their core themes and ideas. —Andy Crump


42. Whose Streets?
Year: 2017
Director: Sabaah Folayan
Following the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis examine the American media’s biased, racist coverage of the tragedy and the protests in response. Whose Streets? asks that—rather than if black lives matter to prosecutors, or State’s Attorneys or the American police (all culprits in the teen boy’s modern-day lynching)—viewers place their faith in those real heroes, like activists Brittany Farrell and David Whitt. You might go into Whose Streets? expecting to simply see a film about the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the people behind it. And if you are of the opinion that black lives do matter, you might expect to be moved and motivated to either continue on in your activism, or take to the streets for the first time in your life. I, for one, anticipated another powerful, but difficult, film, similar to 13th and this year’s equally excellent The Blood is on The Doorstep. And while I was right, I also had no idea how deeply personal the protestors’ stories would get. The directors frame the film around the very young children of the activists they follow, but Whose Streets? is one of those rare and wonderful experiences in which a piece’s framing manages to both enhance and intensify the central narrative. “Whose Streets?” refers to the protest chant encouraging people to take back their neighborhoods from the cops and racist, classist policies that would seek to destroy them, but the answer to the question is actually more devastating: These streets—whether they’re covered in the blood of slain, unarmed black people, or humming with protestors both peaceful and riotous, or swarming with members of the national guard in tanks, sent in to militarize an entire city—these streets are always seen and experienced through the eyes of those with the least ability to change it, and the most to lose. By personalizing the experiences of their activist subjects, and demanding viewers see how the subjects’ choices and sacrifices directly impact their children and families, Whose Streets? becomes all about the kids and, therefore, all about the the future. And so much of that future, the film seems to insist, is dependent on the emotion and anger that keeps the film’s subjects in the streets, and the cameras in the hands of the filmmakers who also put their own bodies on the line. A political documentary that dares acknowledge rage as a tool as useful as hope or faith: That is one that [Black] America will surely need in 2017, and beyond. —Shannon M. Houston


41. How to Survive a Plague
Year: 2012
Directors: David France
A New York journalist who has covered the AIDS epidemic for 30 years, first-time filmmaker David France has assembled both a superbly researched record of the decade-long fight for a viable treatment protocol and an intimate portrait of the personalities leading the charge. Serendipitously, the arrival of HIV coincided with the availability of consumer-grade camcorders, and as a result, much of this developing story—from private conversations to public protests—was recorded for posterity. France combines this historic footage, courtesy of more than 30 videographers, with archival news reports and present-day interviews to craft a complete picture of the founding, mission, strategies, in-fighting, splintering, failures and successes of ACT UP, a Greenwich Village-based protest group that forced government agencies and health organizations to take AIDS seriously and invest in finding a cure. Yet, by the time this story ends in 1996, with the development of a combination drug therapy that actually works, 8.2 million people had died. How to Survive is indeed a tale of survival, but the AIDS community didn’t get there without a fight—and a steep personal toll. —Annlee Ellingson


40. 13 Assassins
Year: 2011
Director: Takashi Miike
An adaptation of Seven Samurai more in spirit than in tone and plot, Miike’s 13 Assassins is a sprawling blood bath of mythic proportions—so, in other words, nothing new for the Japanese auteur. What Miike later expounded upon with his faithful adaptation of Masaki Kobayashi’s Hara-kiri he began here, translating classic chambara films into neo-realistic accounts of a gritty, painful time for Japanese culture, making historical epics literally eviscerating experiences. Seemingly long and definitely gruesome, 13 Assassins could easily be Miike’s best film—a high honor coming from such a multifaceted and unsettling filmmaker—but the film is worth watching if only for the moment when the phrase “TOTAL MASSACRE” makes its reappearance. Just… goosebumps. —Dom Sinacola


39. BPM
Year: 2017
Director: Robin Campillo
What did it look like before it was hashtagged and a selling point, branded on buttons and books? For Robin Campillo, it looked like: a handful of people disrupting a meeting of suits to call attention to oppression, abuse and malpractice, only to have everything go awry when someone throws a balloon of fake blood, complicating the intended political effects. It looked like: a couple dozen people in a badly lit room, ostensibly gathering for the same beliefs, shouting at one another, trying to negotiate what the best way would be to get the attention of the government so that lives can be saved. It looked like: a “die in,” a political action that describes when people’s mode of protest is to stop in the streets, in plain sight and full visibility, playing dead on the ground to represent the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been affected by ignorance and unhelpfulness from the government. Robin Campillo—by (semi-fictionally) documenting the Paris chapter of ACT UP, the HIV/AIDS activist group that grew out of New York in the mid 1980s, and how its members deal with pharmaceutical companies, actions, sex, love, hate, community, dancing and death—shows us what defiance and, yes, what resistance looks like. In BPM, Campillo understands better than almost any filmmaker that, for the marginalized, even the molecular is political. —Kyle Turner


38. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Year: 2016
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
At its core, 10 Cloverfield Lane effectively works as an extended, modern-day riff on a Twilight Zone episode, a program producer J.J. Abrams holds near and dear to his heart. But despite its enclosed setting and limited speaking parts, the film is very much a cinematic experience, with director Dan Trachtenberg milking each interaction and set piece for maximum impact. By the time the film reaches its dramatic final stretch, the narrative has successfully escalated to a point wherein the crazier elements fit right in with the more grounded ones. The story opens with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), deciding to exit a relationship gone south and head for the hills. This entire opening sequence plays out like a beautiful, near wordless, mini-symphony with Bear McCreary’s fantastic score soundtracking Michelle’s internal anxiety and indecision—up until the point where her car is run off the road. She later awakens in an underground bunker, her broken leg chained to a pipe. It’s here we meet John Goodman’s Howard, who—throughout the course of the film—alternates between captor and caretaker. Howard informs Michelle that the planet is currently under attack by some unknown force and that the atmosphere outside the bunker has been contaminated. Imposing and gruff, John Goodman’s inherently magnetic, charismatic persona is a thin veneer to the character’s rumbling sea of Walter Sobchak-ian fury and rage. You never quite know when and where he’s going to explode. This is a role Goodman was born to play. As our surrogate, Winstead once again proves why she’s one of the industry’s best young talents. Fans of Spielberg-like ingenuity and Hitchcockian suspense will marvel at the sense of craft and skill on display. Certainly, had he still been alive to see this, the Master of Suspense would be nodding his head in approval. —Mark Rozeman


37. Ninja Scroll
Year: 1993
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajira
Set during the Tokugawa era of Japan, Ninja Scroll follows the story of Jubei Kibagami, an itinerant samurai warrior (partly inspired by the real-life folk hero, Jubei Yagyu) who is recruited by a government agent to defeat the Eight Devils of Kimon, a cabal of demonic ninja who conspire to overthrow the Tokugawa regime and plunge Japan into destruction. Along the way he meets Kagero, a beautiful and mysterious poison eater, and is forced to confront the demons of his past as he fights to preserve the present. Produced during the boom of anime’s foreign markets, Ninja Scroll was one of the first titles released by Manga Entertainment in the West. Its well-defined animation, unflinching hyper-violence, and impressively creative fight sequences made it a requisite gateway title for early anime fans and is rightfully looked upon as a cult classic to this day. The film qualifies as a time capsule for one of anime’s heyday periods, with exquisite production values married to impeccably crafted set pieces. Ninja Scroll pushed the boundaries of excess, with unflinching depictions of sensuality and sexual violence shown alongside showers of gore and decapitation. The film was front-and-center for the argument that anime “wasn’t just for kids” in the mid-’90s, and qualifies today as a must-see title for a serious anime fan. Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Ninja Scroll is the quintessential anime chanbara action film, no question. —Toussaint Egan


36. The Square
Director: Ruben Östlund
The Square starts with a hangover and ends with a headache, but don’t feel too bad for the well-meaning fool suffering from them. His ailments are entirely his own damn fault. This is what happens when you try to shoulder the combined weight of the world’s problems by yourself without shrugging: You buckle. In the case of our well-meaning fool, Christian (Claes Bang), that burden is made heavier by hubris, pomp, the kind of commodifiable liberal arrogance that dupes people into thinking they’re helping by responding to mass shootings and natural disasters with hashtags. Christian’s intentions are good—grand even—but he’s just one person. One person can’t wash away humanity’s woes, especially when that person is an inveterate asshole. If you know the movies of Ruben Östlund, though, this won’t come as a surprise: Crummy examples of manliness are his bread and butter. Östlund’s last movie, 2014’s superb Force Majeure, a biting satire of disgraced masculinity, is all about dissecting gender roles and finding sympathy for its protagonist following an act of humiliating cowardice. The Square explores similar thematic pursuits but couches them in an equally biting satire of the art world, and if you’re taking the mickey out of the art world, you’re taking the mickey out of the world at large. Art, after all, is innately political, and The Square has politics in its DNA. —Andy Crump


35. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Year: 2016
Director: Taika Waititi
Bella’s (Rima Te Wiata) first encounter with Ricky (Julian Dennison), the new foster child she’s agreed to take on, doesn’t inspire confidence, especially with her clumsy jokes at the expense of his weight. In turn, with child-services representative Paula (Rachel House) painting Ricky as an unruly wild child, one dreads the prospect of seeing the kid walk all over this possibly in-over-her-head mother. But Bella wears him down with kindness. And Ricky ends up less of a tough cookie than he—with his fondness for gangsta rap and all that implies—initially tried to project. An adaptation of Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople thrives on upending preconceived notions. The director shows sympathy for Ricky’s innocence, which is reflected in the film’s grand-adventure style. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne’s sweeping, colorful panoramas and a chapter-based narrative structure gives Hunt for the Wilderpeople the feel of a storybook fable, but thanks to the warm-hearted dynamic between Ricky and Hec (Sam Neill), even the film’s most whimsical moments carry a sense of real underlying pain: Both of these characters are outsiders ultimately looking for a home to call their own. —Kenji Fujishima


34. The Trip
Year: 2011
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Two British actor/comedians playing versions of themselves travel the beautiful and bleak north England countryside, stopping to eat at various upscale restaurants, but mostly just talking. And talking and talking. And doing impressions of Michael Caine, Woody Allen, and Liam Neeson, as well as British personalities an American audience might not recognize. But mostly just talking, with overlapping affection and competition. Sound like a good idea for a film? It absolutely is. —Jonah Flicker


33. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Year: 1988
Director: Frank Oz
The story of two rival con men working a wealthy heiress is a comedy classic for two reasons: Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Watching Martin’s American street hustler Freddy Benson try to learn from and outwit his reluctant mentor, Caine’s refined British Lawrence Jameson, while they both desperately attempt to win a bet of swindling $50,000 from their agreed mark (Glenne Headly as Janet Colgate), offers plenty of laughs, even if the plot is fairly conventional. With Benson reduced to playing the dimwit Ruprecht, Steve Martin is in his physical comedy prime. —Josh Jackson


32. Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior
Year: 2003
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
After a decade-long trend toward ever more prominent wire work and special effects, Tony Jaa’s 2003 Thai star vehicle Ong Bak was a return to insane stunts (all performed by Jaa himself) and hard-hitting action. Featuring an utter lack of both wire-fu and CGI, Ong Bak is a jaw-dropping viewing experience, although its story is little more than an excuse to trek across Thailand (both Bangkok and the countryside) in a constant stream of crazy chase sequences and even crazier fights. The film is so unashamed of being exactly what it is and nothing more that one can’t help but smile and fully resign to being blown away by some of the most impressive displays of martial arts—and physicality in general—to hit the screen in the new millennium. —K. Alexander Smith


31. Johnny Guitar
Year: 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Johnny Guitar is a film that barely hangs onto its genre trappings—and is one of the strangest and rarest of fifties Westerns. Nicholas Ray specialized in borderline-hysterical, hyper-magnified psychological drama, regardless of the setting. Here, he pits tough saloon keeper Vienna (a hard-faced Joan Crawford) against wrathful rival Mercedes McCambridge. Sterling Hayden sidles in as Vienna’s love interest and the catalyst for the witch hunt, but he’s hardly the driving force of the film. That showdown belongs to the women of Johnny Guitar—and the fearsome, small-minded community that surrounds them. —Christina Newland


30. Manhunter
Year: 1986
Director: Michael Mann
Received at the time to mixed reviews, its hyper-aestheticized allure surprisingly a bit too much for audience tastes in the mid-’80s, Manhunter more than 30 years later represents (maybe ironically) what the mid-’80s felt like to those who can’t quite remember it concretely. In other words, it’s a movie unstuck in time, a product of a decade that’s long past but so surreal and steeped in symbolism and superbly manicured that it seems to hide generations of terror inside it. The first of many adaptations of Thomas Harris’s novels, Manhunter crafted the model and set the dead-serious stakes for every iteration to follow, mooring dream-like imagery to a careful police procedural, attempting to depict the harrowing emotional experience of being an FBI profiler while never skimping on the melodrama. All the while, Mann draws big abstruse lines around the serial killer at the core of the film—a laconic lurch of a man, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), the so-called “Tooth Fairy”—who inhabits every scene with the foreboding promise that he is a person whose reality is a fragile delusion. Brian Cox haunts the fringes of the film, the first actor to inhabit Hannibal Lecktor (for some reason, first spelled that way), the manifestation of Agent Will Graham’s (William Peterson) Id, a foil to the “good guy” and a psychopath whose lack of empathy makes all the starker Mann’s intuitive sense of framing. Abetted by DP Dante Spinotti’s willingness to treat color like he’s lighting a giallo as much as a Miami Vice-minded crime thriller, in Manhunter Mann found an early career balance between the gritty minutiae of investigative police work and the abstract, cerebral violence of the investigations themselves. Dollarhyde wants only to be wanted, so he kills to be truly “seen” by his victims, which then, in his mind, transforms him into something powerful. Manhunter acts in much the same way, growing stronger the harder you stare into it. —Dom Sinacola


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


28. Capote
Year: 2004
Director: Bennett Miller
In the same manner that In Cold Blood depicted the pristine scenes of Holcomb, Kansas, and the two men who disturbed them with a quadruple murder, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman offered a precise-yet-chilling depiction of the man who helped found New Journalism. In turn, his performance burst apart Capote’s carefully crafted narrative to show just how haunted the writer himself had become. The performance was enough for Hoffman to take home his first well-deserved Oscar. —Christina Lee


27. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power. —Tim Grierson


26. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Year: 2017
Director: Angela Robinson
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of two married psychology professors at Radcliffe College, Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), a couple who grew up together and are deeply in love but also restless and eager for discovery. While attempting to invent a lie detector test—they eventually create one but never patent it—they meet an eager, beautiful student named Olive (Bella Heathcote) who’s the daughter of a feminist icon and as desperate for knowledge and new experiences as they are. They eventually all fall in love and live together as a menage a trois before their university finds out, fires the couple and forces them to all go live together, now with their children, to find some sort of work. The work turns out, we learn in an unnecessary narrative flash-forward sequence, to serve as the basis of Bill’s increasing interest in comic books, creating a character, based on the two women in his life and based in his feminist ideals, who is strong, smart, truthful, heroic and, well, into bondage. The love story of this family turns out to be the origin story of Wonder Woman herself. This is a fascinating story, particularly as we see little moments in the lives of the Marston clan reflected in the Wonder Woman mythos. (Olive wears metal wristbands all the time, the lasso is like the lie detectors Elizabeth and Bill invent, so on.) But writer-director Angela Robinson makes sure to keep it focused on the emotions involved, which is especially tricky considering all three characters are all so academically oriented—not to mention obsessed with deciphering the human mind and why we make the decisions we do—and are thus constantly questioning their own value systems. We really do believe that these three people love each other, and that they’re all better off together, but Robinson never tries to make this overly prudish and sanitized. The movie isn’t buttoned-up and restrained, but it isn’t brash and in your face either; it’s affably sexy, if such a thing is possible. And it never loses sight of its central premise of equality and acceptance—this movie’s heart is firmly in the right place. —Will Leitch


25. Colossal
Year: 2017
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Colossal is simply a much darker, more serious-minded film than one could possibly go in expecting, judging from the marketing materials and rather misleading trailers. It blooms into a story about sacrifice and martyrdom, while simultaneously featuring an array of largely unlikable characters who are not “good people” in any measurable way. I understand that description sounds at odds with itself—this film is often at odds with itself. But in the cognitive dissonance this creates, it somehow finds a streak of feminist individuality and purpose it couldn’t have even attempted to seek as a straight-up comedy. What Nacho Vigalondo has created in Colossal is a truly unusual, sometimes head-scratching aberration, a film with tonal shifts so jarring that the audience’s definition of its genre is likely to change repeatedly in the course of watching it. Aspects of the film defy explanation, but one thing is clear: Nobody was stifling the writer-director, and we’ve been given one of the most interesting films of 2017. Vigalondo takes aim at the cliches of film festival dramas before smashing them under a giant, monstrous foot. —Jim Vorel


24. I, Tonya
Year: 2017
Director: Craig Gillespie
The triple axel was Tonya Harding’s greatest trick—and making an audience think that it’s a comedy of some sort is I, Tonya’s. Craig Gillespie’s infuriating and entrancingly brilliant biopic gives its subject control, and with fury, glibness, regret and a smirk, Tonya (Margot Robbie) and the many others in her life spin her story, detailing the ways that trauma (and class marginality) has affected and shaped her. Scenes of abuse—in which Tonya is often pummeled by both her mom (Allison Janney) and her husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan)—are bracingly uncomfortable but cut with snark, and the film then has the gall to ask why you could possibly be laughing at such a horrible thing. I, Tonya dares to embody a camp aesthetic and immediately rebuke it, making sure that everything about it, from its skating scenes—dizzingly filmed as if her skill should be admired, but without actually detailing the technical aspects of what she’s doing, as if to mimic white queer men and how they talk about character actresses—to its genre packaging (part wannabe gangster film, part confessional documentary), smears the ironic quotation marks of its framework with blood, sweat and tears: a roar and a snarl and a declaration of defiance. —Kyle Turner


23. Spaceballs
Year: 1987
Director: Mel Brooks
Originally perceived as one of writer/director Mel Brooks’ lesser works, this loving send-up of the sci-fi/fantasy genre (specifically, Star Wars) has, over the years, wormed its way into the hearts of a new generation of fans who caught it on video. “May the Schwartz be with you,” “Ludicrous Speed,” “Mawg”—if these are all terms that mean nothing to you then it’s high-time you checked this movie out and see what all the fuss is about. —Mark Rozeman


22. Summer Hours
Year: 2008
Director: Olivier Assayas
After making several films about cat women who jet across the globe and slink through buildings of glass and steel, Olivier Assayas has returned to the lower-key interests of his earlier films with Summer Hours. When Hélène (Edith Scob) reunites with her grown, far-flung children at their old home in rural France, the siblings remember growing up on the estate. And when she dies shortly thereafter, they must decide what to do with the house and its contents now that they’ve all moved on. Films about families often depict melancholy souls who reach under old beds for shoeboxes of curled photos and yellowing mash notes. Assayas has made an entire film around that moment—it’s a meditation on how objects carry history, how they reflect our decaying bones, how they sometimes outlive us. The film ends beautifully with a rockin’ party thrown by Hélène’s granddaughter on the sprawling estate: It’s a last gasp for the family home but also a poignant glimpse of a new generation claiming old spaces. —Robert Davis


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


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


19. Carrie
Year: 1976
Director: Brian de Palma
The tropes and individually famous scenes of Carrie are so well known and ingrained into the pop cultural consciousness that you’d be forgiven for thinking you didn’t really need to see the original film to understand what makes it significant. But Carrie is much more than a precariously balanced bucket of pig’s blood: a film that vacillates between darkly humorous and legitimately disturbing, mean-spirited and cruel, with a tone set immediately by what happens to poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in the school’s locker room. Rarely has abject terror and helplessness been so perfectly captured as it is here, Spacek desperately, pathetically clinging to her classmates in terror of her first menstruation, only to be derided and pelted with tampons as she lays in a screaming heap. There’s simply no coming back from the kinds of humiliations she suffers, and none of her peers care to find out that Carrie’s home life is even more abusive. Spacek was rightly rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her performance in this, the first film adaptation of a Stephen King work, as was Piper Laurie as her mother—this is back in the ’70s when not one but two actresses from a horror film could actually receive Academy Award nominations (my how things have changed). Carrie is a brisk film which thrives on those two strong, central performances, building to the gloriously cathartic orgy of revenge we all know is coming. Still, there’s joy in watching the irritating P.J. Soles get bumped off yet again. —Jim Vorel


18. Everybody Wants Some!!
Year: 2016
Director: Richard Linklater 
Everybody Wants Some!! is intended to play like a spiritual companion piece to Linklater’s ’70s-era Dazed and Confused, with the writer/director reveling in his turn-of-the-decade’s style and swagger. Big lapels, bigger hair, even bigger facial hair and outright enormous egos are the norm throughout this nostalgic saga. Boasting little in the way of plot, Linklater’s film is content to sidle up alongside Jake and his new friends to see where their appetites, whims and libidos will lead. And its laid-back vibe pays dividends as it progresses, given that one-note characters who initially appeared to be smug louts, hyper-gonzo wild cards, dim-bulb doofuses or inane hillbillies slowly develop semi-distinct personalities of their own. Their days devoted to slacking off, their nights spent trimming mustaches and dousing themselves in cologne before hitting the town in search of the next woman to bed, Linklater’s play-hard-and-party-harder characters are the embodiment of cocksure macho vitality, all of them rightly convinced that, at least for the moment, they have the world by the balls. But there’s also some requisite team-based hazing thrown in for good measure, which feels like an authentic representation of what dudes like this would be up to—and, consequently, serves as a buzzkill reminder of their fundamentally dude-bro nature. —Nick Schager


17. Four Lions
Year: 2010
Director: Chris Morris
Four Lions proves once again that great comedy can be extracted from the dodgiest and most painful subjects, mixing slapstick with dry British humor to tell the story of four would-be radical Islamic terrorists hell-bent on bringing down the evil capitalist heathen of the West. Only one problem (well, a couple of them): They have no real connections, skills, or ability to plan anything, suffering from varying degrees of resolve when it comes to blowing themselves up for their cause. In other words, they are terrible at their dream jobs. As unrelenting as Four Lions can be in the way that it pokes fun of its central four characters, they film never adopts a farcical tone, instead never shying from the dangerous ramifications of their actions, no matter how incompetently they go about them. Deftly executed by co-writer/director Christopher Morris, who should be known States-side as the neurotic boss during the first season of The IT Crowd, and a pre-mopey, pre-The Night Of Riz Ahmed in a hilarious leading turn, Four Lions demonstrates a careful, masterful directorial hand. Plus it contains the best line about suicide bombing in any movie: “His soul will reach heaven before his head hits the ceiling.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


16. Like Someone In Love
Year: 2011
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Set in modern-day Tokyo, the film tells the relatively straightforward story of Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a university student moonlighting as a high-class prostitute, and her encounter with Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an elderly client who seems more interested in having dinner and chatting than engaging in any manner of lascivious activity. Given Like Someone in Love’s Japanese setting, Kiarostami more than ever seems to be bringing his love for Yasujiro Ozu (explicitly addressed in Five Dedicated to Ozu) to its logical fruition. From its opening shot, Like Someone In Love’s precise composition and patient shot length make it seem as though the Tokyo Story director sprung to life more than 50 years after the fact, instantly picking up where he left off. In one scene, Akiko finds herself shuttled through the city. As the beautiful neon lights pass by and reflect through the vehicle’s window, Akiko listens to a series of unanswered voicemails from her grandmother. The first few messages lets us know that her grandmother is coming to visit and wants desperately to see Akiko—specifically, Grandma seems to have heard rumors about her granddaughter’s nightly occupation via an agency advertisement that prominently features her in a photo. The next batch makes it clear that Akiko has not responded to that initial outreach. As the voicemails continue, we are met with the sad realization that the woman arrived in town, waited for Akiko to pick her up, but was left to trudge back home upon recognizing that no one was coming for her. Akiko never again brings up this devastating moment or why she chose to leave her relative hanging. Presumably, based on context, one can determine that she feared being shunned and disowned by her family should her secret occupation be confirmed. Thus, in Takashi, she appears to find a comforting presence—namely, someone who knows her line of work yet insists on engaging her warmly, paternally. Without judgment. Likewise, Takashi appears to relish the opportunity to act as a grandfatherly figure to this young, aimless woman. And yet, in pure Kiarostami fashion, one can never be sure how much of this connection is authentic and how much of it occurs with the full awareness that these encounters are part of a paid transaction. Do the two even need to be mutually exclusive? The enigmatic disconnect between a person’s interior and exterior worlds is what fuels the film’s central narrative, as well as many entries in Kiarostami’s career. —Mark Rozeman


15. Columbus
Director: Kogonada
Kogonada takes us on a tour of Columbus, IN and all of its glorious, beautiful, occasionally surreal architecture, from the Columbus Learning Center to the Second Street Suspension Bridge. He highlights these landmarks in tribute to his setting, but the greatest monument on display here is Haley Lu Richardson’s striking, towering performance. The places and things Kogonada includes in his frame are important for drawing us into Columbus’s world, but it’s Richardson who gives that world its shape, supplying her director’s clean, static compositions, captured in long shots, with aching humanity molded by doubt and disappointment. “Do you think he’s got a chance to recover, even if it’s just enough to go back to Seoul?” Casey asks Jin (John Cho) as she takes a drag off her cigarette. “God,” he mutters, “I hope not.” She’s stricken by the acidic tone of his reply, as if Jin’s ambivalence has fractured the veneer covering her world. It’s a great moment in a movie littered with them, and most of them belong to Richardson’s poise. Through the figurative lens of Richardson’s performance and the literal lens of Kogonada’s camera, we see Columbus for what it is: A moral lesson about keeping ourselves in neutral. The more time we spend living in the same spot, the more we take that spot, and ourselves, for granted. —Andy Crump


14. Akira
Year: 1988
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
The sum total of anime cinema from the early ’90s to present day is marked by the precedent of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Adapted from the early chapters of Otomo’s landmark manga series, Akira was the most expensive animated film of its time and a cinematic benchmark that sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Taking place 31 years after after World War III was sparked by a massive explosion that engulfed the city of Tokyo, Akira is set in the sprawling metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of the former and teetering precariously on the cusp of social upheaval. The film follows the stories of Kaneda Shotaro and Tetsuo Shima, two members of a youth motorcycle gang whose lives are irrevocably changed one fateful night on the outskirts of the city. While clashing against a rival bike gang during a turf feud, Tetsuo crashes into a strange child and is promptly whisked away by a clandestine military outfit while Kaneda and his friends look on, helplessly. From then, Tetsuo begins to develop frightening new psychic abilities as Kaneda tries desperately to mount a rescue. Eventually the journeys of these two childhood friends will meet and clash in a spectacular series of showdowns encircling an ominous secret whose very origins rest at the dark heart of the city’s catastrophic past: a power known only as “Akira.” Like Ghost in the Shell that followed it, Akira is considered a touchstone of the cyberpunk genre, though its inspirations run much deeper than paying homage to William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Akira is a film whose origins and aesthetic are inextricably rooted in the history of post-war Japan, from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the “Anpo” student protests of that era to the country’s economic boom and the then-nascent counterculture of Bosozoku racing. Akira is a film of many messages, the least of which a coded anti-nuclear parable and a screed against wanton capitalism and the hubris of “progress.” But perhaps most poignantly, at its heart, it is the story of watching your best friend turn into a monster. Akira is almost single-handedly responsible for the early 1990s boom in anime in the West, its aesthetic vision rippling across every major art form, inspiring an entire generation of artists, filmmakers and even musicians in its wake. For these reasons and so many more, every anime fan must grapple at some point or another with Akira’s primacy as the most important anime film ever made. —Toussaint Egan


13. Two Days, One Night
Year: 2014
Directors: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Sandra takes time off from her job for health reasons; in her absence, she’s made redundant, and her coworkers reap a not-insignificant bonus as a result of her firing. The latest work from the brothers Dardenne is a work of compassion, but Two Days, One Night is as much about our sympathy for Sandra (played with heartbreaking brilliance by Marion Cotillard) as it is about posing questions of ethics. As Sandra drives all over town in an effort to convince her coworkers to give up the bonus pay in exchange for her reinstatement, we wonder how we would respond to her pleas. It’s an easy thing to judge the people we meet throughout the film for their reluctance, but in telling of Sandra’s plight, the Dardennes invite us to examine our own convictions. —Andy Crump


12. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Year: 2010
Director: Banksy 
When renowned graffiti artist Banksy took the camera away from Thierry Guetta, the man shooting his biopic, and decided that the subject would become the documentarian (and the documentarian, the subject), an incomparably zany (and very, very funny) documentary was born. Against all odds, Mr. Brainwash, as Guetta christens himself, puts on the largest and most profitable street art exhibition in history. The film never quite takes a side on the Warholian question of whether Guetta/Mr. Brainwash is actually a legitimate artist or has merely convinced enough people that he is—or whether those are one and the same, or whether it even matters. But the most compelling theme of the film is its cinematic exploration of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: That a phenomenon cannot be observed or measured without simultaneously changing it. Guetta never puts spray can to wood until he’s being documented by Banksy. Does that mean Banksy made him what he is? Destroyed, in some sense, what he was? And is that good or bad, or neither? Banksy’s not saying. —Michael Dunaway


11. In the Loop
Year: 2009
Director: Armando Iannucci
If clever verbal humor were easy, we’d have more comedies like In the Loop. But it’s not, and this one stands in a class of its own. It’s the most quotable film of the decade—by miles—and the cynical potty mouths on screen are so articulate and creative that, after the avalanche of witticisms, you’re left with the lingering sense that you’ve seen not just a funny movie but also a wicked political satire of the highest order, the kind where the absurdity speaks for itself. —Robert Davis


10. Anomalisa
Year: 2015
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Preciousness and misanthropy have always been the twin hallmarks of Charlie Kaufman’s work, his characters’ misery heightened and sometimes enlivened by the writer-director’s ability to craft clever sci-fi/fantastical scenarios around them. In Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (which won him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar) or his 2008 directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, he has managed to make everyday loneliness and the gnawing sense of futility resonate with an almost ineffable sting. In Kaufman’s hands, life looks heartbreaking, and yet it can often be beautiful at the same time. It’s hard to know yet whether Anomalisa is a new peak for Kaufman, or merely another highlight in a distinguished career. But what is clear at this point is that it’s piercingly poignant—perhaps his most succinct expression of the malaise that’s forever haunting his work. Anomalisa doesn’t resolve the issues that have eaten at his characters since his first published screenplay, 1999’s Being John Malkovich, but the honesty with which he depicts those struggles remain startling, even comforting. This movie is life-affirming, not because of any artificial feel-good sentiment, but because it mirrors one’s own mixed feelings about the wonders and horrors of being alive. Plus, it’s really funny. —Tim Grierson


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


8. The Babadook
Year: 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Between It Follows and The Babadook, the last year or so has been a strong one for indie horror films breaking free from their trappings to enter the public consciousness. Between the two, The Babadook is perhaps less purely entertaining but makes up for that with cerebral scares and complex emotion. It’s an astoundingly well-realized first feature film for director Jennifer Kent, and one that actually manages to deal with a type of relationship we haven’t seen that often in a horror film. Motherhood in cinema tends to invariably be portrayed in a sort of “unconditional love,” way, which isn’t necessarily true to life, and The Babadook preys upon any shred of doubt there might be. Its child actor, Noah Wiseman, is key in pushing the buttons of actress Essie Davis, pushing her closer and closer to the brink, even as they’re threatened by a supernatural horror. The film’s beautiful art direction approximates a crooked, twisted fairytale, with dreamlike sequences that never quite reveal what is true and what might be a hallucination. The characters of The Babadook ultimately undergo quite a lot of suffering, and not just because they’re being chased by a monster. —Jim Vorel


7. Stories We Tell
Year: 2013
Director: Sarah Polley
With Stories We Tell, actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has proven herself a consummate filmmaker, transforming an incredible personal story into a playful and profound investigation into the nature of storytelling itself. The central mystery of her documentary—that the man she grew up believing to be her dad is not her biological father—is public knowledge and revealed in the film’s trailer. Yet Polley conceals and reveals information—starting with her relationships to her interview subjects—in such a way as to constantly surprise, even shock, her audience. The result is a film that entertains and delights viewers while elevating her investigation to art. —Annlee Ellingson


6. Zodiac
Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher 
I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


5. Silence
Year: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese 
The title of Martin Scorsese’s latest is loaded, at once a reference to God’s tendency not to reply to the pleas and appeals of followers, a nod to the culture of secrecy maintained by Japanese Christians during Japan’s Edo period and an acknowledgment of the state you’ll be left in after watching. Silence isn’t an easy moviegoing experience—it isn’t an easy conversation point, either, but that’s because it shouldn’t be. Scorsese knows it. Most likely Shusaku Endo, the author of the text from which Scorsese adapted his film (and had sought to adapt since the 1990s), knew it too. Who is innocent in Silence? Who is guilty? If we can rule out Japanese villagers put to death for their beliefs, and we certainly can, then that leaves culpability at the feet of their spiritual and bureaucratic leaders, both at odds with one another while the faithful remain suffering between them as priests and politicos treat them as fodder for proving the illegitimacy of their opponents’ belief structures. The film’s complexity is expected from Scorsese, one of the greatest living filmmakers of our time, but it’s also a reinvention in style, a picture that both feels totally unlike anything he’s shot before and cannot be mistaken as anyone’s but his. —Andy Crump


4. Arrival
Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Your appreciation of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival will hinge on how well you like being led astray. It’s both the full embodiment of Villeneuve’s approach to cinema and a marvelous, absorptive piece of science fiction, a two hour sleight-of-hand stunt that’s best experienced with as little foreknowledge of its plot as possible. Fundamentally, it’s about the day aliens make landfall on Earth, and all the days that come after—which, to sum up the collective human response in a word, are mayhem. You can engage with Arrival for its text, which is powerful, striking, emotive and, most of all, abidingly compassionate. You can also engage with it for its subtext, should you actually look for it. This is a robust but delicate work captured in stunning, calculated detail by cinematographer Bradford Young, and guided by Amy Adams’ stellar work as Louise Banks, a brilliant linguist commissioned by the U.S. Army to figure out how the hell to communicate with our alien visitors. Adams is a chameleonic actress of immense talent, and Arrival lets her wear each of her various camouflages over the course of its duration. She sweats, she cries, she bleeds, she struggles, and so much more that can’t be said here without giving away the film’s most awesome treasures. She also represents humankind with more dignity and grace than any other modern actor possibly could. If aliens do ever land on Earth, maybe we should just send her to greet them. —Andy Crump


3. Winter’s Bone
Year: 2010
Director: Debra Granik
Watching Winter’s Bone is like entering into an entirely different world, vividly capturing the sights and sounds of the Ozark mountains in a way that’s stylized yet feels completely natural to the setting. But that’s all just beautiful wrapping around Jennifer Lawrence’s stunning performance as a 17-year-old raising her two younger siblings, supporting her mother, and trying to find the whereabouts of her deadbeat father before their house is taken away. Debra Granik takes this search plotline in dreadful new directions, and while Lawrence may end up battered by her community and nearly starved by an indifferent society, she never loses her dignity. Winter’s Bone is simultaneously the most depressing and uplifting film of the year, showing us the worst of humanity without ever giving in to it. —Sean Gandert


2. Let the Right One In
Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Some vampire films are scary. Some are gory. Some are visually striking. Some are cerebral. Some are emotionally resonant. A select few embody two or three of these qualities. Let the Right One In is the full package. As unnerving as it is heartfelt, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s adaptation of his own vampire-centric coming-of-age tale feels as though it should be rife with contradictions and tonal shifts. Instead, it’s a film that expertly captures both the isolation of childhood and the blush of first love. Tracking the relationship between a lonely young boy (Kåre Hedebrant) and the mysterious young vampire girl (Lina Leandersson) with whom he becomes infatuated, the film takes what, in lesser hands, could easily have just been a perverse subversion of puppy love and explodes it into something as emotionally honest and universal as any movie that graces the Oscar stage. Though director/co-editor Tomas Alfredson emphasizes the bleak, cold hues of the Stockholm suburbs, he tempers this dour melancholy by directing some of the warmest, most true-to-life interactions between children ever to be captured on screen. And if all this ranting makes the story seem like little more than an arty drama, rest assured that Alfredson still takes time to include all manner of gore and badass vampire action. Most vampire flicks are happy to transcend their horror trapping and become something that traditional audiences can appreciate as a satisfying thrill ride. Let the Right One In transcends such expectations. Yes, it’s an unquestionably a great horror film, but, much more than that, it’s a flat-out cinematic masterpiece. —Mark Rozeman


1. The Lord of the Rings triology
Years: 2001-03
Director: Peter Jackson 
The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King are really just one 13-plus-hour single movie. There’s little I can say about the film that its record-breaking box-office, 11 Academy Awards and legions of rapid fans have not already outlined. Though a live-action adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy was in demand for many years, fans should be forever thankful that the right people with the right tools came along at the exact right time to land the perfect execution. Considered one of the boldest, most creative filmmaker at the time, Peter Jackson’s reputation for overly indulging in his stories has somewhat hampered his reputation as of late. Yet, Jackson will always have Rings. Here, he not only captures the epic scale of the battle sequences but also deftly handles the escalating character drama as well, with Sean Astin delivering one of the highlight performances of the whole series as the forever noble Samwise Gamgee. Never has there been a better example of “guy love.” —Mark Rozeman

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