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The 40 Best Movies on Redbox

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The best movies on Redbox right now include many films of Paste’s Best Movies of 2019 (So Far), including some hidden gems among the big-budget movies plastered all over the Redbox display, including the latest in the John Wick series, horror hit Us and the highest-grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame. Our guide to movies at Redbox includes Oscar winners, kids movies, comedies, indie film, biopics and horror. And all of the movies listed here are available on DVD for $1.75 ($2 if you want Blu-Ray) right now.

You can also check out our guides to the best movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, Cinemax, YouTube, on demand and in theaters. Or visit all our Paste Movie Guides.

Here are the 40 best new movies at Redbox:

40. Yesterday
Year: 2019
Director: Danny Boyle 
A struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel), still barely hanging onto his passion in life thanks to the unwavering support and encouragement from his best friend/manager Ellie (Lily James), gets hit by a bus and is knocked out on the night when all power mysteriously gets cut off across the globe for a minute. He wakes up in the hospital to a new reality where The Beatles never existed, and he’s the only one on the planet who remembers their songs. By introducing the world to John, Paul, George and sometimes Ringo’s genius, he becomes an overnight sensation as the greatest songwriter of all time. Thus is Yesterday’s high-concept comedy/musical premise. But it’s also a testament to how not only The Beatles, but great art in general, enriches the human soul and makes us grateful to be alive. While many might assume the introduction of The Beatles’ greatest work into a virgin universe would result in widespread acceptance, writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle have a lot of fun with how the modern world would react to the songs and would tweak them to fit the times. The film is chock full of astute humor about, say, who the hell Sergeant Pepper is or how “Hey Dude” makes more sense than “Hey Jude.” (Thankfully, the “I used to beat my girlfriend” lyric from “Getting Better” isn’t mentioned.) While Curtis’ attention to character keeps us emotionally engaged, Boyle’s manic editing and quirky visual choices, such as names of locations floating around the frame, propels the story forward like a well-oiled narrative machine. With her effortless charisma and magnetism, Lily James proves herself to be a formidable rom-com star. Himesh Patel certainly fits Curtis’ archetype of melancholic and self-deprecating male protagonists, but also leaves a strong impression with his beautiful singing voice and stage presence. If it accomplishes nothing else, Yesterday lets us relive the grandiosity of The Beatles as if it’s our first time. A fab accomplishment indeed. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


39. Aladdin
Year: 2019
Director: Guy Ritchie
I haven’t really been a fan of Disney’s live-action remakes, but Aladdin is a rip-roaring action/fantasy/musical that manages to exist on a relatively independent and distinguished tonal field. The basic story beats and the songs are of course transplanted, but at least an effort is put forth to serve a wholly invigorating piece of family entertainment that provides something new to fans and newcomers alike. True to its ambition of presenting an epic adventure, this Aladdin runs a whopping forty minutes longer than the 1992 version, yet almost none of it is filler. Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) is given as much agency and focus as the titular character (Mena Massoud), the beloved street rat who falls in love with her and decides to use a certain magic lamp with a certain resident genie (Will Smith) to become a prince so he can marry her. Of course, the palace’s evil vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is also after the lamp. Will Jafar snatch the lamp from Aladdin and become the bloodthirsty tyrant of the land, or will Aladdin defeat him with the help of his buddies, the twitchy monkey Abu and the kindly magic carpet? Of course the answer is clear for anyone with a passing knowledge of the animated film. But some changes, even tiny ones, give us new perspectives on the story. As a Middle-Eastern immigrant myself, I’d be lying if I said the sight of such characters being portrayed by actors who match their ethnicity in such a giant budget Hollywood blockbuster didn’t make me feel a sense of due progress. Yet of course all of that is for naught if the talent can’t deliver. Which brings us to Smith’s genie. It’s impossible to top the 100-jokes-a-minute singular power and vigor of Robin Williams’ voice performance, so Smith doesn’t even try. He wisely stays in his lane by letting his trademark swagger and cool magnetism inform the character. With music that breathes new life to beloved songs with an emphasis on percussion and horns, and production designer Gemma Jackson’s luscious world building that borrows from various Middle-Eastern cultures as added pedigree, Aladdin is the rare remake that actually gives us a whole new world. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


38. Captain Marvel
Year: 2019
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
It remains, when you think about it, absolutely insane that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has featured two new movies, one of which introduces an entirely new character, in between two halves of a nearly six-hour epic where half the cast dies in Part One. Talk about your flex moves! One thing Captain Marvel has going for it that Ant Man and the Wasp didn’t is that it gives us a lead character we can care about and (even more importantly) an actor who rises to the occasion. In many of these Marvel origin stories—and by my count, this is the eighth one since the original Iron Man—the movie goes through great pains to explain to us why we should care about this new character, why, with everything else we have to keep track of, we should readily agree to adding one more to the mix. Captain Marvel, like many MCU movies, sometimes labors under the weight of having to tell its own story while still connecting to the larger, ongoing saga, but it has no issues with justifying its main character: We see in her eyes, from the first second, what’s different about her. The movie has us on her side before she ever says a word. The key is Brie Larson, an instantly, almost subconsciously empathetic actress who finds a new, fascinating gear here as Vers who, when we first meet her, is a Kree warrior fighting in outer space with an elite force led by her trainer, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Vers has no memory of her past, but it returns to her when, in the midst of a battle, she’s dumped onto a distant planet that turns out not only to be Earth, but also her home planet and in the year 1995. She ends up, rather conveniently, running into future S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (a digitally de-aged, and convincingly so, Samuel L. Jackson) and a series of Air Force pilots who provide clues to her past through a supersecret initiative called “Pegasus.” The film is otherwise entertaining and exhausting in the equal measures we have come to expect from modern Marvel movies—if you’ve seen one bad guy bent on galaxy domination, you’ve seen them all. But this movie isn’t about the supporting characters, or the setting, or even how well its big action set pieces play out. It’s all about whether or not they can sell this Captain Marvel as someone who even the mighty Avengers can call to someday help them save the world. —Will Leitch / Full Review


37. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Year: 2019
Director: Dean DeBlois
While every studio is tripping over themselves to kick-start the next blockbuster franchise before the first film is even cast, the How to Train Your Dragon crew has been building an engaging family fantasy/adventure trilogy (loosely based on the novels of Cressida Cowell) over the last ten years. The first movie was a pleasant surprise—it not only avoided Dreamworks’ then-prevalent animated family fare formula of tongue-in-cheek humor and pop-culture references, but built on its source material in a way that created a distinct fantasy world that any fan of the genre, child or adult, could enjoy. At its core, the story of Viking teen Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) befriending a rare dragon called Toothless and learning to get along with dragons in a culture that feared and hunted them was a tender allegory on young adults paving their own way in life while standing up to tradition they deem to be wrongheaded. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World revolves around Hiccup trying to find a new location that would keep the people of Berk and their dragons safe. After spending years rescuing dragons from captivity, the townspeople are understandably worried that the dragon poachers will soon retaliate, so Hiccup takes it upon himself to find the mythical Hidden World where humans and dragons can live in peace. Meanwhile, Toothless falls in love with a female night fury (dubbed a “light fury” thanks to her bright white skin). The new love interest is joined by a new antagonist, Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), the greatest dragon hunter in the world. The developing rift—or perhaps it’s more precise to call it “drift”—between Hiccup and Toothless that provides the overall narrative glue for the film’s series of breathtaking action set pieces might provide a bittersweet tone for fans of the series. Yet it also captures the bittersweet experiences we all face when we take our final steps into adulthood. That doesn’t mean the spectacle is lacking. The visual majesty of this Viking utopia, full of foggy mountains and the clear blue sea as far as the eye can see get yet another upgrade with some new breathtaking locations. It all makes for a solid conclusion to such an endearing franchise. Given it success, it seems unlikely this will be the last film from the land of Berk and beyond. But as a closing chapter in the tale of Hiccup and Toothless, The Hidden World ends this portion of the tale on a satisfying note. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


36. Rocketman
Year: 2019
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Any major studio that gets its hands on the rights to a rock star’s music, desiring to retrofit it into a movie for the fans, has two options: Make a biopic that episodically lines up snippets of the artist’s life, like last year’s bafflingly popular Bohemian Rhapsody, or make a jukebox musical that integrates the beloved hits into an original story, like the gaudy Mamma Mia! or the sublime Across the Universe. Rocketman, a dazzlingly entertaining, heartbreaking, vulnerable, and delightfully exuberant biopic about the great Elton John (Taron Egerton) dares to ask a question so simple yet so smart: Why not do both? So we get an intimately dissected and well-acted biopic as well as a spectacularly visualized and choreographed musical. We begin with Elton, né Reginald, a child prodigy burying himself in his music to cope with the emotional hole in his heart brought on by his loveless father (Steven Mackintosh) and selfish mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). After finding true inspiration thanks to his lyric-writing partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), he enjoys the spoils of becoming an overnight smash. But of course the music, the money and the millions of fans turn out to be a temporary fix for the loneliness he has felt since childhood, so in comes the “dark period” full of drugs, sex, copious partying and the alienation of everyone who genuinely loves him, a period made worse by an abusive relationship with his life partner/manager (Richard Madden). This all sets up the third act, the long road to redemption. So the recipe is the same we’ve tried many times before, but writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher infuse it with delectable and previously unused ingredients. In a strictly audio/visual sense, the musical numbers are stunning, each new one managing to top what came before in uniqueness and whimsy. Most importantly, Taron Egerton embodies Elton with a captivating natural presence; his is a meticulously mannered performance in the best possible way, where even the tiniest facial tic becomes an irreplaceable detail that completes the big picture. Overall, it’s hard to imagine a better tribute to such a singular icon. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


35. Creed II
Year: 2018
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
The bad news about Creed II is that Creed II isn’t a very good Creed movie, in the sense that it does not follow through on the examinations of black American identity—the search for, the substance of, the complications of—that Ryan Coogler embarked on in 2015. The good news about Creed II is that it’s a good Rocky movie, and lord knows that outside of Rocky and Rocky Balboa, that distinction could be considered rare. (Rocky II qualifies, but also reads somewhat as television in an era before “movies are TV shows and TV shows are movies” became its own aesthetic.) Maybe the best news is that Creed II revisits and even, such as it can, correct the events of Rocky IV. It was inevitable that we’d get here, and that after addressing Rocky IV in Creed through text and subtext, the new spin-off franchise would have to address it through action and plot. Not written in the stars were chances of Creed II’s quality, which is unexpectedly high despite falling short of Coogler’s progenitor movie. (Being as Coogler was born to make movies, this doesn’t feel like a failure.) In Creed II, we see a tangle of fathers and sons as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is roped into a match against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’s dad back in 1985. Adonis is backed mostly by his love, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and his foster mother, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), as Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone) refuses to have anything do with another Creed-Drago bout. The film weaves a web of male relationships—Rocky and Adonis, Adonis and Creed, Viktor and Ivan, Ivan and Rocky, and so on—reconciling each thread in an ending montage liable to make grown men break down in tears. (If we must have spin-off franchise movies, maybe we can have a spin-off focused on the Dragos; Lundgren and Munteanu share a muscular but shockingly tender chemistry.) Maybe this isn’t the Creed sequel we deserved, but it’s the Creed sequel we have, and an admirable entry in the great American saga of the Rocky series. —Andy Crump


34. Missing Link
Year: 2019
Director: Chris Butler
Since we learned that Bumbles bounce in 1964, the legend of Bigfoot has provided a jumping-off point for countless kids’ movies. Warner gave us Smallfoot last year, and 2019 will deliver two more, DreamWorks’ Abominable and Laika’s Missing Link. What sets the Laika film apart, as usual, is the visual spectacle provided by the studio’s stop-motion animation. Fortunately, equal care went into the story as to the distinctive animation. The last Sasquatch teams up with failed explorer Sir Lionel Frost to find a new family among the Yeti of the Himalayas. Hugh Jackman as mythical-beast hunter and Zoe Saldana as his partner’s widow both grow in satisfying ways, and Zach Galifianakis provides equal parts comedy and charm as the well-read, mild-mannered beast. Still, it’s the meticulous craft of stop-motion scenes from Edwardian England to the frontier of the Wild West to the mountains of Nepal that will stick with you the longest. —Josh Jackson


33. Aquaman
Year: 2018
Director: James Wan
Paying environmental catastrophe lip service is an expected thematic conceit for movies in 2018, but no one (hypothetically) wants to pay to sit in a damp two hours and 20 minutes of guilt when every film in this Universe to come before was either suffocatingly grim or unfairly tasked with shouldering the entire weight of Hollywood’s misogyny. All Wan had to do was deliver a blisteringly colorful spectacle. Aquaman is dumb and loud and really dumb and too long and dumb but also wonderfully creative and shameless; it’s both the superhero film we need, and the one we deserve. The plot, as is the case in almost every DCEU entry, is as bloated as it is messy and predictable, a whale carcass washed up on shore sliced in half by Atlantean plasma lasers during a Two Towers-league battle with an army of crab people. Those action scenes, though. Revolutionary at best, innovative at worst, Wan and his team have taken what Justice League incapably worked around—talking/interacting/fighting/living underwater—and transformed that obstacle into a marvelous strength, using the omnidirectional freedom of subterranean saltwater violence to make up for the “everyone is flying” bullshit of Zack Snyder’s wet dreams while never abandoning the unique physics (limitations) of all that wetness. A late film battle scene between Orm’s hordes and the aforementioned talking crustaceans is astounding: a feat of design and imagination for which James Wan should understand that this is most likely why he’s on this Earth. Likewise, while the surface scenarios featuring Arthur and Mera searching for a lost trident that holds the key to saving the world just add needless fat to an already drowning runtime, one rooftop, wall-obliterating sequence shines, a demonstration of Wan’s formidable grip on action grammar, pushing long takes and swooping crane shots to establish a seamless, real-time geography for Mera (Amber Heard), Arthur (Jason Momoa) and Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to just wreck each other’s day. Bell towers explode; the living rooms and privacy of more than two Sicilian grandmothers are violated. Granted, the scene exists for its own sake, devoid of narrative stakes and sense, but that’s hardly ever been a valid argument against any contemporary studio movie anyway. If Justice League was a self-aware course correction, then Aquaman is course correction as business model, a denial of much of what Snyder established, leaning hard into Momoa’s charm and Wan’s old-school fantasy proclivities. May Martha bless us, everyone. —Dom Sinacola



32. Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Year: 2019
Director: Rob Letterman
Starring Ryan Reynolds as a PG version of Deadpool and wide-eyed baby angel Justice Smith, Pokémon Detective Pikachu tosses together the Pokémon fanbase with lightly grizzled noir cinema, a coming-of-age story and a dash of family drama. While that may seem like a meal with too many ingredients, the result is rather filling. Tim Goodman (Smith) exists at that stage of early adulthood when friends slip away to different corners of the globe, and one’s direction in life must be decided. Tim contents himself with the life he’s built as a junior insurance adjustor. When he learns his policeman father has been killed in the line of duty, he travels to the literal urban jungle of Ryme City, where humans and Pokémon live side by side in adorable harmony. Of course, his father’s death isn’t cut and dry. Soon, with the help of his father’s Pokémon partner, Pikachu, Tim becomes an investigator in his own right, navigating the not-so-mean streets of Ryme City and learning to dream bigger than he ever dared before. Visually the film builds on Pikachu’s love of noir by creating a neon noir world. Instead of relying on shadows and inky blacks to create mystery, cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator) uses the neon glow of city signs to banish nearly all shadows from the frame. Blacks create a nice contrast but only reach a complete lack of light in a car crash scene. Lighting the film’s darker moments with neon makes the transition to the sunnier, more family-focused moments a smooth one. And really: The cute factor of this film cannot be overstated. This film is fantasy, and the results are magical. It completely skips the uncanny valley in favor of a wickedly fun, albeit unnatural look, capturing the spirit of its source material as effectively as a well-aimed Poké Ball. —Joelle Monique / Full Review


31. Shazam!
Year: 2019
Director: David F. Sandberg
The best thing one can say about Shazam! is that, following on the fins of the wonderfully extravagant and amazingly stupid Aquaman, the latest DC movie is one more sign to assure the proletariat that the imprint has permanently dislodged its head from the asshole of Zack Snyder’s Murderverse. While Wonder Woman mused that, hey, maybe a DC movie need not labor over traumatized backstories and hypermasculinized mommy issues, and Aquaman suggested that blockbuster movies can have things like “color” and “humor,” Shazam! synthesizes those mommy issues into a positive treatise on family, doubling down on the jokes and bright primary shininess. The plot, by-the-numbers, floats somewhere between a Spielberg coming-of-age adventure, a Big reboot and a late-’80s horror comedy—think The Monster Squad in that it’s intended for kids but is too old for its ostensible demographic. If only Shazam! were as much a herald as its DCEU forebears, for better or ill, a sign of something new and exciting to come. It’s not. It is, despite its surprisingly gruesome violence, little more than another superhero movie that will make more money than the GDP of a small island nation. Leaning real hard into the jokes about horny teenage boys and meta-skewerings of superhero films, Shazam! can’t help but comment on its genre ad nauseam, though, unlike Deadpool, it never risks arguing against its own existence. It’s, more often than not, a very funny movie, and a superhero film with a budget under $100M is a (sigh—sorry, Mom) refreshing development for the genre. Plus, a diverse cast is always welcome, even if headlined by Zachary Levi, who must realize how goddamn lucky he is to get the one remaining superhero role where it conceptually pays off to be a generically attractive white guy. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


30. Alita: Battle Angel
Year: 2019
Director: Robert Rodriguez 
Alita: Battle Angel begins with Dyson Ito (Christoph Waltz), doctor to cyborgs, scavenging through a junkyard full of spare parts in order to find anything he can use. What better way to start a film than with a metaphor about itself? Just like Dr. Ito, director Robert Rodriguez and co-writer/co-producer James Cameron sift through the remnants of established sci-fi and cyberpunk properties in order to glue together a recognizable and cohesive narrative within the confines of its genre. Considering the talent involved, it’s not surprising that the finished product is a frequently fun and kinetic, visually pleasing sci-fi/actioner, albeit one that doesn’t have a single new or fresh part embedded in it. Again considering the talent involved, that feels like a lost opportunity. Based on the popular manga, Gunnm, Alita: Battle Angel mostly takes its visual cues and narrative structure from a 1993 anime adaptation. That anime is barely an hour long, yet manages to pack in a sprawling cyberpunk universe with a deep and complex lore that supports whatever over-the-top tech fetish cyber action it throws at you. The story follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), whom Dr. Ito finds during his junk hunt and brings back to life. Her brain is human, but the rest of her is artificial. Just like a cyborg version of Jason Bourne, she doesn’t remember her past, but has supreme ass-kicking instincts, leading Ito to suspect some sinister military use in her past. The future world that Battle Angel inhabits is the lovechild of Blade Runner and Mad Max, a grimy post-apocalyptic city that’s also a grand, overpopulated cyberpunk metropolis. Apart from Alita gradually figuring out her ass-kicking skills, there’s another clear reason for giving the character amnesia: So she can be used as an exposition dump to settle the audience into the story’s world and the hodgepodge of various sub-plots that co-screenwriters James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis and Robert Rodriguez cram into a two-hour runtime. However, when the fighting finally begins, Battle Angel gets its metallic ass in gear. Rodriguez pushes the confines of the PG-13 rating to create some genre- and source-material-appropriate hack-and-slash gruesomeness with a significant amount of cyborg bodies split in half, decapitated and torn to pieces. For fans of the manga and anime, there isn’t much in the way of new material to be found here, though nor is it likely to grate on one’s fandom to the extent that the Ghost of the Shell live-action adaptation did. For fans of futuristic sci-fi/action, it should provide an engaging experience. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


29. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Year: 2019
Director: Joe Talbot
In Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, white people are the harbingers of annihilation. The film centers on Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails), the proverbial Last Black Man who attempts to reclaim his family’s old home in San Francisco’s Fillmore neighborhood, once called “The Harlem of the West,” by trespassing on the property to do banal bits of upkeep: painting the trim, tending to the flowers. He tries desperately to keep and save the house. Outside, the zombies are well-meaning, old white people, hipster girls and disgusting tech bros invading the city. Opening with images of apocalypse—a street preacher barking about repentance, and men in HazMat suits trying to clean up the pollution in the Bay—The Last Black Man in San Francisco winks at gentrification as an extinction-level event—for Black people in the city, at least. A shrewd inversion of racist tropes, we see the white owners yell at Fails to get off their property, knowing Fails is the real caretaker of the house, and the white residents are, even in their neoliberal good intentions, the villains, the invaders. —Geoff Nelson


28. Her Smell
Year: 2019
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Her Smell chronicles the fall and rise of Elisabeth Moss’s Becky Something, a Courtney Love surrogate and frontwoman of the punk rock band Something She; Becky talks like a Wonderland character but acts like an uncaged animal. Moss being an actress whose greatest asset is her eyes, and Perry being a filmmaker who fixates on the human gaze, Becky spends the movie staring either at other characters or into the camera. Her eyes burn like toxic twin moons. The movie’s first three quarters light the match of her self-immolation. In the punk rock world there’s little more stultifying than commercial success; add in a poisonous personality and an enthusiastic drug habit and Becky’s unmaking—by her own hand—is assured. Yet, the film’s final act redeems her, such as Perry’s movies redeem anyone. In contrast to his other work, Her Smell is compassionate, even tender; Becky, later seen sober, washed up and repentant for her years as a monster fed on abusing her ex-husband (Dan Stevens), her bandmates (Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin) and her mother (Virginia Madsen), sings a devastatingly moving cover of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to her daughter in a moment equally as gentle as it is painful. Even in the recovery phase, Her Smell delicately walks a perilous tightrope and arrives on the other side as the masterpiece of Perry’s career. —Andy Crump


27. Dragged Across Concrete
Year: 2019
Director: S. Craig Zahler
It’s more apt a title than most to describe the manner in which writer-director S. Craig Zahler pulls us from place to place over the course of a few days in the lives of old school cops Brett (Mel Gibson) and Anthony (Vince Vaughn). We meet them in the few hushed minutes before they brutalize a suspect; they seem much too self-aware and articulate to be as racist as one would assume, given their propensity for violence, and Zahler never quite justifies nor condemns their copious, morally questionable (and often despicable) actions. All in the name of supporting their families under the threat of losing their jobs, so they say; Zahler gives fascinating, quick-witted lines and hilarious rapport and insightful mini-soliloquies to his two leads, so he obviously wants them to be remembered as tragic figures more than outright villains. Equally venomous and Victorian, offensive and outraged, Dragged Across Concrete is a potboiler in the purest sense, a wicked tale of two cops putting their skills to more lucrative use, a sad bit of pulp that describes our current economic despair as tonally on-point as the economic despair of any American decade since forever—a movie about racist white cops starring Mel Gibson and his notable Hollywood conservative friend, Vince Vaughn. Were one to overlook Zahler’s obvious mastering of atmosphere and dread and bleakly compelling genre indulgence, one would find Problematic: The Movie, a measured provocation meant to make questionable choices in order to—if we’re being charitable—ultimately condemn these two men to the loser’s heap of history. Unlike the endings to Zahler’s previous films, Bone Tomahawk and the endlessly entertaining Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete’s final half hour exhausts itself to an inevitable, somber conclusion. The right person has won, but only at the cost of great trauma in his wake. And as for Brett and Anthony, their defeat is swift, melacholic and, perhaps best of all, stupid: Zahler’s final refutation for the very beliefs he also seems, sometimes and unfortunately, to be all about. —Dom Sinacola


26. Crawl
Release Date: July 12, 2019
Director: Alexandre Aja
Crawl, unlike Jaws, is actually just a movie about people vs. a natural predator. It is simple. It is effective. It is the most fun I’ve had in a theater since John Wick 3. Directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, Horns) and written by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen, Crawl is a horror-thriller set in the heart of Florida. In it, Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) returns home from college during a category 5 hurricane, searching for her father, Dave Keller (Barry Pepper), whom she’s unable to get a hold of. Luckily for Haley, she is an aspiring collegiate swimmer so she probably won’t drown while she trudges through flooded street after flooded street. Not so luckily, she finds her dad stuck in a crawl space where the water is slowly rising. There is also their cute family dog, Sugar. And, as advertised, there are alligators—toothy and ravenous. Crawl’s heart thrums with the unique beat that is Florida itself. In the age of “Florida Man” stories that go viral on a near-daily basis, Florida is a seemingly mythic place. There, a man can rob a bank wielding two raccoons, so it just makes sense that a father and daughter could be beset by alligators in a house during a category 5 hurricane. It is just another day in our collective projection of what that humid little state can offer. Still, Crawl embraces the absurd with intense seriousness. There is very little levity to be found in the film, and emotions, blood and viscera flow forth when Crawl really kicks into gear. Both Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario sell the intensity of their situation and the fractured, emotional state of their relationship. Yes, as the plot demands it, they grow closer and have moments of revelation, but they also bicker and argue, the trauma of their past as alive and dangerous in the house as the alligators that lurk just below the water’s surface. Small details—faded, etched-in height measurements on the wall; a swing outside—help us care for these characters as things just get worse and worse. There was once joy to be found in this home. But now …there are alligators and a category 5 hurricane. In the sweaty, latter months of the season, in an age in which such horror is relegated to Syfy drivel, Crawl is a brilliant ode to the magical realism of Florida and how, when made with craft and care, few movie-going experiences are as good as creature-features in the hottest month of the year. —Cole Henry / Full Review


25. The Art of Self-Defense
Year: 2019
Director: Riley Stearns
Boys aren’t supposed to enjoy being fussed over or decorated, and boys who do need to be corrected, the thinking goes. The Art of Self-Defense seems at first as if it’s just about how silly the axiomatic trappings of masculinity are. Then you realize that, no, it’s also about how scary they are, too. Casey (Jesse Eisenberg, in a role seemingly written to fit him like a glove) is a squirrely man who works a boring job and finds himself at the bottom of every social pissing order he encounters, be it French tourists who ridicule him in the steadfast belief he couldn’t possibly understand their language (he can), or the jerks at the office who sit around talking shit. When he’s randomly attacked on a walk back home from the store, it knocks something loose in him, and he finds himself taking whatever steps necessary to protect himself, be it by buying a gun or wandering into the karate dojo of “Sensei” (Alessandro Nivola). Sensei’s straight-faced sophistry is exactly what a terrified, inadequate young man like Casey is searching for, and he quickly throws himself into the inner workings of the dojo to the exclusion of all his other responsibilities. Inevitably, Casey finds himself at Sensei’s mercy, manipulated into committing violence against a random bystander. He begins to witness firsthand the abuse Sensei levels at his own students, the tactics he uses to build their self-esteem through group violence, but never high enough that they aren’t in awe of him. That includes Imogen Poots’ super serious, murderously intense Anna, one of the dojo’s founders who nonetheless is passed over for promotion time and again. She’s useful for teaching the children’s morning classes, though, because of course a woman has stronger maternal instincts—it can’t be helped. The world of The Art of Self-Defense is an immaculately contained space, as claustrophobic and unmoored as modern life, filmed almost exclusively in cramped interiors and dingy rooms with sickly lighting. Something feels off about Sensei and his dojo right from the get-go, and as more layers of his deception and manipulation are peeled back, it all paints a perfect portrait of a social order based on hateful, dangerous bullshit, but one so alluring that you completely believe the prisoners within it really would never think to leave. Though the film veers heedlessly into the truly Grand Guignol, the parody of toxic masculinity only feels exaggerated by a very little bit. The Art of Self-Defense doesn’t argue for compassion and acknowledgment of one’s softer side so much as it argues you should fight against toxic bullshit. Preferably with a well-timed sucker punch. —Kenneth Lowe / Full Review


24. The Kid Who Would Be King
Year: 2019
Director: Joe Cornish
What better time to retell the King Arthur origin story as a witty, charming and rousing family fantasy/adventure? The Kid Who Would Be King reminds its core audience—and perhaps even some adults—that we might still find hope in our future leaders if passé values like compassion, chivalry, compromise, virtue and honor are remixed back into society. Any creative tasked with reinvigorating a public domain myth would do well to take notes from writer-director Joe Cornish’s thrillingly fresh take on the Arthurian legend. The legend tells, in the form of boisterous opening narration accompanied by some colorful children’s textbook animation, that Arthur and his brave knights were able to defeat Arthur’s evil sister, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), and cast her into the bowels of hell. However, Morgana vowed to come back and cover the land in darkness when the land is once again bitterly divided the way it was before Arthur’s time. Cut to post-Brexit England, where half the country despises the other half, which Morgana understandably takes as an invitation to unleash her army of minions to take back the land. Will a hero of Arthurian stature show up to challenge her once again? That hero, in true ’80s-style children’s fantasy fashion, comes in the form of a meek but pure-of-heart 12-year-old named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, an 11 on the instant adorability meter), who not only has to contend with the surrounding culture and media constantly reminding him how his country’s about to implode, but has to defend himself and his even nerdier best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), against school bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). Those familiar with the Arthurian legend might predict where this story’s going simply by looking at the character names, but Cornish’s specialty, as evidenced by his terrific London alien invasion adventure Attack the Block, lies is in applying sci-fi/fantasy tropes to invigorating new settings. The Kid Who Would Be Kid hits the family classic trifecta: Spectacular fun for kids and adults, full of important themes and a rebellious attitude in regard to the wide range of things grownups are messing up. —Oktay Ege Kozak / Full Review


23. Amazing Grace
Year: 2019
Director: N/A
A few years after the Apollo 11 mission, a different type of cosmic occurrence occurred at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Over two nights in January 1972, Aretha Franklin (just shy of her 30th birthday) recorded what would become the greatest-selling gospel album of all time—and arguably her finest album, period. The record Amazing Grace has been with us ever since, but the record of that night, shot by a young filmmaker named Sydney Pollack, has been kept away from public view for myriad reasons. Sadly, it took Franklin’s death last year at the age of 76 for that film to finally come to light. Though Amazing Grace was probably destined to be one of those much-rumored “lost” films that could never live up to its legend once the world got to see it, it’s a titanic vision of a performer whose extraordinary gift is self-evident, and the movie simply lets her be her magnificent self. Not credited to any director but completed by music producer Alan Elliott (and shot by Sydney Pollack), Amazing Grace is a straightforward presentation of archival materials without contemporary context or insights. But that’s enough, because history roars to life in this film, especially whenever Franklin opens her mouth and that incredible voice pours out. And, among its many attributes, Amazing Grace brings back the young Aretha Franklin who’s a human being rather than the totemic figure she became. She’s touchingly vulnerable, hesitant, normal in between songs, as if she’s just living her life, not consciously delivering an iconic album. And while the music critic in me will note that it’s a tad disappointing that the film peaks early, with her excellent version of Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy” as the night’s first song, Amazing Grace hums with the thrill of lightning being captured in a bottle—a thrill that’s as much a treat for the eyes as the ears. —Tim Grierson


22. If Beale Street Could Talk
Year: 2018
Director: Barry Jenkins
Time for our characters elliptical, and the love story between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) the rhythm we’ll return to over and over. As our narrator, Tish speaks in both curt statements and koans, Barry Jenkins’ screenplay translating James Baldwin’s novel as an oneiric bit of voyeurism: When the two finally consummate their relationship after a lifetime (barely two decades) of friendship between them and their families, the mood is divine and revelatory. Do people actually have sex like that? God no, but maybe we wish we did? And sometimes we convince ourselves we have, with the right person, just two bodies alone, against the world, in a space—maybe the only space—of their own. The couple’s story is simple and not: A cop (Ed Skrein) with a petty score to settle against Fonny connives a Puerto Rican woman (Emily Rios) who was raped to pick Fonny out of a lineup, even though his alibi and all evidence suggests otherwise. In the film’s first scene, we watch Tish visit Fonny in jail to tell him that she’s pregnant. He’s ecstatic; we immediately recognize that unique alchemy of terror and joy that accompanies any new parent, but we also know that for a young black couple, the world is bent against their love thriving. “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass,” Tish says. Do they hope? James and Layne’s performances, so wondrously in sync, suggest they must, one flesh with no other choice. As Tish’s mother, Regina King perhaps best understands the wickedness of that hope, playing Sharon as a woman who can’t quite get what she wants, but who seems to intuit that such progress may be further than most in her situation. Beleaguered but undaunted, she’s the film’s matriarch, a force of such warmth that, even in our fear watching as Tish’s belly grows and her hope wanes, Sharon’s presence reassures us—not that everything will be alright, but that everything will be. The end of If Beale Street Could Talk is practically a given—unless your ignorance guides you throughout this idiotic world—but there is still love in those final moments, as much love as there was in the film’s symmetrical opening. There’s hope in that, however pathetically little. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


21. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Year: 2018
Director: Marielle Heller
Ten minutes into the film, the aging, broke, world-weary Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) walks by a room of a handful of women circled around a fastidiously dressed man decrying “Writer’s Block” as laziness, as a justification of the inability to do work or to be original. At a party held in her agent Marjorie’s (Jane Curtin) enormous apartment (there’s a coat check guy), Israel is an invisible outsider in the world of the literary elite. No one talks to her, and there’s the palpable friction of her contempt for the snobbery of such characters who ramble on about structure and reflexivity and her yearning to be recognized and embraced as worthy and talented. The writer of a handful of well-received and panned biographies, Israel is told by Marjorie that she has not made a name for herself, that she has disappeared behind her writing. Or, as Israel retorts, she’s doing her job—but still, she has doubt. And what do so many queer people do when they want to toe the line between disappearing into someone else and flaunting their own persona? They do drag. Certainly, one of the fundamental questions at the heart of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on Lee Israel’s autobiography, is a notion of authenticity within art, or, in this case, within writing. To make ends meet, Israel begins to forge and embellish the personal letters of literary and social figures like Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward, and as she becomes further invested in the con of selling them to collectors and bookstore owners, she realizes she has to negotiate the space between her persona as a writer and how much of that persona is predicated on imitation without a real grasp on her own sensibilities or idiosyncrasies as a writer. How much real is there in this representation, how much authenticity is there in her artifice?

Through the eyes of Israel and Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), New York retains the gritty luster of the 1970s, a time where the city still had a place for them. Heller and Holofcener and Whitty have an otherworldly skill at pinpointing the queer bitterness of these people’s lives, their willingness to keep living, and what may lurk beneath their armor. Like few other films, Can You Ever Forgive Me? seems tailor-made for a person like me: It’s a film about the frustrating, often sad life of writers, the anxiety of being able to create, the uncertainty of whether you have a voice in your craft, the adoration for a time and its figures to whence you do not belong, the things queer people will do to fight off loneliness. —Kyle Turner


20. A Star is Born
Year: 2018
Director: Bradley Cooper 
Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born reminds us that clichés exist for a reason—because they embody a whiff of universal truth that can hit us right between the eyes when it becomes our reality. This latest remake of a perennial Hollywood story doesn’t offer many new insights, but it reaffirms what we know—or what we think we know—about relationships, artistry, the trappings of fame and the demands of the entertainment industry. Its comforting familiarity is both its greatest limitation and its appeal—there are certain songs we love hearing over and over again, and A Star Is Born’s tale of “making it” is one we apparently never tire of. Cooper, who makes his directorial debut and also co-wrote the adaptation, stars as Jackson Maine, a roots-rocker of considerable popularity. But not all is right with the man: Tinnitus is robbing him of his hearing, and his addiction to drink and drugs is becoming worrying to those around him. One night after a show, he goes looking for a bar, stumbling upon a performance from Ally (Lady Gaga), who belts out an impassioned rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” Jackson is captivated by this aspiring singer-songwriter. She tells him she’s been told she’s not pretty enough to make it in the music business. He tells her she’s beautiful. A Star Is Born quickly throws these two mismatched souls together, as Jackson brings her onstage at his next sold-out show to duet with him on an arrangement he’s put together of one of her songs. The performance goes viral. Ally suddenly is in huge demand. The two become lovers. You know every word by heart. His Cooper acknowledges the clichés of his setup while asserting that there’s something eternal and cyclical about their underlying tenets. Yes, we’ve seen all manner of stories about fading stars, rising stars, the toxicity of ego and the struggle to balance career and romance—as you watch this new movie, you feel like you’ve known its contours all your life—but the predictability is part of these characters’ tragedy. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


19. Avengers: Infinity War
Year: 2018
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Avengers: Infinity War is epic in a way that has been often aspired to but never fully grasped when it comes to the translation from comic book panel to the Big Screen. It’s what happens when moviemakers take their source material seriously, eschewing unnecessary melodrama even as they fully embrace the grandeur, the sheer spectacle, of it all. (And if there’s one lesson Disney has learned, it’s that if you focus on the viewer experience, the product lines will take care of themselves.) For every frenetic fight scene in Avengers: Infinity War—and there are plenty of them—there are myriad character interactions and emotional beats the audience has been prepped for by the previous films (okay, maybe not 2008’s The Incredible Hulk). As a result, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have ample room to riff and play as characters meet for the first time or see each other again. Some of the interactions are easy to anticipate (if no less enjoyable)—the immediate ego clash between Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange and Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, for example—but our familiarity with these characters adds resonance to nearly every scene and every line, as the vestiges and ripples of emotional arcs laid down in the last decade’s worth of movies bolster even the smallest moment. —Michael Burgin / Full Review


18. Incredibles 2
Year: 2018
Director: Brad Bird
Incredibles 2 starts right where the first film ended, with the costumed Family Parr reacting to the arrival of the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Their scuffle with the villain gains the attention of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk)—or more precisely, allows Deavor and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), to gain the attention of the Parrs. The siblings want to bring supers back into the light, using Winston’s salesmanship and Evelyn’s tech to sway public opinion back to the pro-super side. To do so, they want to enlist Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the tip of the spear in their charm offensive, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on the sidelines for now. (She tends to fight crime in a manner that results in less property damage than her husband, after all.) This sets up a second act that’s firmly by the numbers in terms of story development—watch the husband try to succeed as a stay-at-home dad!—yet no less enjoyable. Bob’s attempts to handle teen romance, Jack-Jack’s manifestation of powers and, horror of horrors, “new” math will strike a chord with any mom or dad who has ever felt overwhelmed by the simple, devastating challenges of parenthood. (The family interactions, one strength among many with the first film, remain a delight in the sequel.) Meanwhile, we get to watch Elastigirl in action, as she encounters, foils and matches wits with the film’s mysterious villain, Screenslaver. As in the first film, watching Helen Parr do the hero thing is also quite the delight—she’s resourceful, tough and, above all, a professional. Watching Elastigirl operate almost makes one feel sorry for the criminals. Delving more into the plot would do the film a disservice—suffice to say both villainous and family challenges are faced, and it takes a village, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Bird) to emerge victorious. Whether you enjoy Incredibles 2 as much as the original will likely depend on your opinion of the latter, but regardless, you’ll be happy both exist. And in today’s sequel-saturated environment, that is practically a superheroic achievement in itself. —Michael Burgin / Full Review


17. Little Woods
Year: 2019
Director: Nia DaCosta
Nia DaCosta makes it look so easy. Her directorial debut, Little Woods, is a drug movie/Western/family drama, and with all those layers at work in a story that also makes a strong political statement, it’d be easy for a writer/director to slip up—to deliver a speech instead of a film, or a piece that tried to do so much it failed to do any one thing particularly well. Instead, Little Woods feels as effortless as DaCosta’s presentation of this complex story. I’m not sure how she did it, but it’s clear that, in the writing, DaCosta made sure every single character was authentic and consistent in both their flaws and their strengths. It’s true for the leads—estranged sisters Ollie (Tessa Thompson) and Deb (Lily James), who find themselves back in each other’s orbit when Deb is pregnant and desperate for a solution. It’s true for minor characters (played by talents like Lance Reddick and Luke Kirby), whose own trials and tribulations in their small North Dakota town seem no less interesting than Ollie and Deb’s. Within minutes of the film, DaCosta sets the stakes: Ollie is just days away from finally getting off of probation. All she needs to do is stay out of trouble… but all broke people know that trouble is usually just one missed payment (or missed period) away. In addition to Deb’s condition, the sisters are in danger of losing the house they grew up in. Having recently said goodbye to her mother, and unable (or unwilling) to handle another devastating loss, Ollie makes the same decision all of our favorite drug kingpins do in moments like this: Just one last score. But DaCosta isn’t interested in the glamorous side of drug dealing. Instead she takes the tension and drama of movies like Blow, Scarface and Belly and delivers an equally thrilling narrative that will have you holding your breath from the opening scene. What makes Little Woods unique from so many other “drug” movies is a character like Ollie, who is, for all intents and purposes, the average American drug dealer—the kind so many of us (whether we talk about it or not) know intimately. Ollie isn’t in the game so she can rock Prada, or drop a stack of ones at the strip club to the tune of Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life.” Ollie’s in it to keep a roof over her head and save her sister and nephew from a life in a trailer home; she’s the 2019 American Dream deferred; she’s the outlaw we didn’t know we needed, and she’s right on time. Little Woods is a brilliant, heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring story of two young women who tried to do things the right way, and then saw how America repaid them for their trouble. The fact that DaCosta managed to weave in a clear take-down of the biggest drug dealer of them all—America’s capitalist, pharmaceutical industry—while critiquing the entire American healthcare system and the fight against reproductive rights, is proof that art and politics can certainly mix, but with a careful hand that holds back and lets compelling characters drive the story. —Shannon M. Houston


16. Toy Story 4
Year: 2019
Director: Josh Cooley
We were all concerned about Toy Story 4. How could we not be? This is perhaps the most beloved animated franchise of the last 50 years, and, in the eyes of many, each movie has been a little better than the last one. That final one, Toy Story 3, ended in such a perfect, emotionally devastating fashion that trying to follow it up felt like the ultimate fool’s errand. And in the nine years since that installment, Pixar, as a company, has changed, becoming more corporate, more sequel-focused, more …Disney. What a relief it is, then, that Toy Story 4 is such an immense joy. It might not reach the heights of Toy Story 3—which manages to be a prison escape movie that also happens to be a profound dissertation on grief and death and features a surrealist tortilla—but it is a more than worthy member of the Toy Story family. Like its protagonist, it’s less concerned with trying to do something revolutionary just because it’s done it in the past and instead worries about what comes next …what the next logical progression is. It finds the next step, for Woody (voiced as ever by Tom Hanks in what honestly has always been one of his best roles), and the franchise, while still being as hellzapoppin’ and wildly entertaining as you have come to expect from this franchise. The overarching theme in Toy Story 4 isn’t as much death as it is loss—loss of purpose, loss of meaning, loss of value. What do you do with yourself when the best thing you’ll ever be a part of is already over? How do you find drive in life when your lifelong goal has been accomplished? How do you handle getting old and not being needed anymore? If these seem like heady concepts for a Toy Story movie …you’ve never seen a Toy Story movie. —Will Leitch/ Full Review


15. The Favourite
Year: 2018
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Love is a battlefield, as Pat Benatar once opined—a cliche that can also convey how love and sex, though not necessarily mutually inclusive, are never neutral. Those acts and feelings are political. A kiss is never just a kiss, and in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, massaging someone’s leg, one person standing and the other on their knees, is not just a massage. From a fiendishly barbed screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (this is the first film of Lanthimos’s not co-written by him), The Favourite is about ailing, naïve, fussy Queen Anne (Olivia Colman)—ruler of Great Britain from 1702 to 1707—who acts like a wanton child (or is she treated like a child?) and submits most of her power and leadership duties to her “favourite,” Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). This is convenient for Lady Sarah, who uses this opportunity for political strategy, swaying the Queen’s Tory-like politics to her own Whiggian politics, despite the battles she must carry on in court regularly (particularly against Robert Harley, a Tory, played by Nicholas Hoult). Her role as the Queen’s right-hand woman is as emotionally exhausting as it is politically fulfilling; while pushing for higher land taxes in order to finance an ongoing war with France, she is expected to quell the Queen’s many insecurities and neuroses. When Sarah’s distant cousin, and former lady herself, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) lands on the steps of the palace, Abigail realizes she, too, can strategize to climb her way back to the top, even if it means pushing Sarah aside at all costs. Weisz and Stone are well-equipped as foils, and it is within their precision in comic timing, calculation (the film features the best hand job scene since The Master) and volleying passions that the film is able to ground their presences in the same kind of melancholy resignation as Anne’s. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan uses fisheye and wide angle lenses, bending the interior architecture like the women’s allegiances and truths, to unsettling effect. Arguably, Queen Anne is, at heart, an optimist, living in a world in which affection and vulnerability can be depoliticized, not tied to class or royalty or nationhood. This detachment from the reality of the varying power dynamics and spectacles around her and her court—and her forced confrontation with the nature of the quasi-love triangle—gives The Favourite its beating broken heart. Rather than being concerned with historical authenticity (Sandy Powell’s costumes are gorgeously anachronistic), Lanthimos gestures towards an emotional reality that posits the lover and the loved as soldiers, capable of being a casualty in what each party believes is a greater cause. What a blazing and burning feat of melodrama. —Kyle Turner / Full Review


14. The Farewell
Year: 2019
Director: Lulu Wang
Family, falsehood and farce: all the comforts expected of a funeral—when the funeral isn’t a funeral but a wedding. Yes, two people do end up getting married, but no one cares about matrimony as much as saying goodbye to the family matriarch, stricken by a diagnosis with an inevitably fatal outcome. Here’s the trick: No one told her about it. She thinks all of the hoopla is just about the bride and groom to be. The Farewell, Lulu Wang’s sophomore film, is many things. It’s a meteoric leap forward from the tried-and-true rom-com formula of her debut, Posthumous. It’s a story made up of her own personal roller coaster of loss. It’s a neat and, 26 years after the fact, unexpected companion piece to Ang Lee’s underappreciated masterpiece The Wedding Banquet. Mostly, it’s a tightrope walk along the fine line between humor and grief. Chinese-American Billil (Awkwafina) travels to China to see her grandmother (Zhao Shuzen) one last time, as grandma’s just received a death sentence in the form of terminal lung cancer, but the clan keeps mum because that’s just what they’d do for anybody. A wedding is staged. Cousins and uncles and aunts are convened. Masks, the metaphorical kind, are donned. Wang knows how to find the perfect tonal sweet spot from scene to scene in a sterling example of having one’s cake while also eating with gusto. With exceptions, moments meant to be uncomfortable and prickly on the surface are hilarious beneath, and moments meant to make us laugh tend to remind the viewer of the situation’s gravity. It’s perfect alchemy, yielding one of 2019’s most intimate, most painful and most satisfyingly boisterous comedies. —Andy Crump


13. Midsommar
Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Christian (Jack Reynor) cannot give Dani (Florence Pugh) the emotional ballast she needs to survive. This was probably the case even before the family tragedy that occurs in Midsommar’s literal cold open, in which flurries of snow limn the dissolution of Dani’s family. We’re dropped into her trauma, introduced to her only through her trauma and her need for support she can’t get, and this is all we know about her: She is traumatized, and her boyfriend is barely decent enough to hold her, to stay with her because of a begrudging obligation to her fragile psyche. His long, deep sighs when they talk on the phone mirror the moaning, retching gasps Pugh so often returns to in panic and pain. Her performance is visceral. Midsommar is visceral. There is viscera, just, everywhere. As in his debut, Hereditary, writer-director Ari Aster casts Midsommar as a conflagration of grief—as in Hereditary, people burst into flames in Midsommar’s climactic moments—and no ounce of nuance will keep his characters from gasping, choking and hollering all the way to their bleakly inevitable ends. Moreso than in Hereditary, what one assumes will happen to our American 20-somethings does happen, prescribed both by decades of horror movie precedent and by the exigencies of Aster’s ideas about how human beings process tragedy. Aster births his worlds in pain and loss; chances are it’ll only get worse. One gets the sense watching Midsommar that Aster’s got everything assembled rigorously, that he’s the kind of guy who can’t let anything go—from the meticulously thought-out belief system and ritual behind his fictional rural community, to the composition of each and every shot. Aster and his DP Pawel Pogorzelski find the soft menace inherent to their often beautiful setting, unafraid of just how ghastly and unnatural such brightly colored flora can appear—especially when melting or dilating, breathing to match Dani’s huffs and the creaking, wailing goth-folk of The Haxan Cloak. Among Midsommar’s most unsettling pleasures are its subtle digital effects, warping its reality ever so slightly (the pulsing of wood grain, the fish-eye lensing of a grinning person’s eye sockets) so that once noticed, you’ll want it to stop. Like a particularly bad trip, the film bristles with the subcutaneous need to escape, with the dread that one is trapped. In this community in the middle of nowhere, in this strange culture, in this life, in your body and its existential pain: Aster imprisons us so that when the release comes, it’s as if one’s insides are emptying cataclysmically. In the moment, it’s an assault. It’s astounding. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


12. Booksmart
Year: 2018
Director: Olivia Wilde 
Booksmart, the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, is another journey down the halls of a wealthy high school days before graduation, but it’s different enough to be endearing. Written by an all-female writing team—Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman—it centers on life-long besties Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) as they attempt to party one time before the end of high school. Wilde and company draw from a whimsical, rainbow palate to explore friendship at diverging roads. Feldstein and Dever shine as an odd couple. Molly wants to be the youngest person ever elected to the Supreme Court, while Amy seeks to discover what possibilities life may open up for her. Easily feeding off of one another’s energy, as Amy and Molly travel around town, jumping gatherings, trying to reach the ultimate cool kids’ party, they cross paths with a diverse array of students also attempting to hide their painfully obvious insecurities. As the night progresses, those masks begin to slip, and the person each of these students is striving to become begins to emerge. The pendulum of teen girl movies swings typically from Clueless—girl-powered, cutesy, high-fashion first-love-centered—to Thirteen, the wild, angry, depressed and running from all genuine emotion kind of movie. Most of these films lay in the space of heteronormative, white, upper or middle class, and able-bodied representation. Even in films centered on otherness, like Bend It Like Beckham, the white best friend is given equal space in the advertising of the film, and the original queer angle was written out in favor of a love triangle. Visit nearly any segment of the internet visited by Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z women, and the cry for better representation is loud and clear. There’s a fresh-faced newness of raw talent in Booksmart that begs to be a touchstone for the next generation of filmmakers. Like Wes Anderson’s Rushmore or Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides, Booksmart is an experience cinema enthusiasts will revisit again and again. —Joelle Monique / Full Review


11. Under the Silver Lake
Director: David Robert Mitchell
There are red herrings, unkempt structures and plot threads that go nowhere in David Robert Mitchell’s quasi-slacker noir Under the Silver Lake—its “shortcomings,” in terms of conventional taste, don’t really matter. Rather, like the best pulpy “mysteries,” Under the Silver Lake knows what actually matters most: thrusting its audience into the delirious eyes of the protagonist. In this case, that’s old-movie- and vintage-game-addled Sam (Andrew Garfield), who stumbles into a quest to both find the hot neighbor (Riley Keough) with whom he’s infatuated and unearth a conspiracy that lurks beneath the entirety of LA. Mitchell pulls us by the hand down a rabbit hole of Sam’s making. Strangest about the followup to the director’s critical hit It Follows is that it walks the line between being profoundly stupid and extremely acute. It is content to follow the logic of someone very stoned (perhaps even further than something like Inherent Vice did), where paths in the maze end abruptly, tantalizingly teasing, but Mitchell also seems to know the weirdest parts of Hollywood and its spell-like legacy, making each step in Sam’s odyssey clear and (internally) logical. As we’re plunged deeper into the weed-laced mind of its ever-broke lead and his adolescent attitude towards women and cultural objects (and women as cultural objects), Under the Silver Lake reveals itself to be a film about the ways in which nostalgia perverts the present and rots perspective. —Kyle Turner


10. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Year: 2019
Director: Jon Watts
Coming on the heels of the hefty hunk o’ cinematic event that was Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home is, as one would expect, much lighter fare. That doesn’t stop this 23rd and final entry in the MCU’s initial Feige Phase barrage from serving as an effective coda for Endgame even as it presents what is, in many ways, a classic Spider-Man adventure. Along with having a Grade A capturing of a C-tier villain (Mysterio), Spider-Man: Far from Home is (relatively) small, sincere and funny, and has more than your usual MCU allotment of post-credit bombshells. Though a comparatively recent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is already Tom Holland’s fifth film as Spider-Man in three years. Like so many other casting decisions made in the MCU, he’s proven himself near perfect in the role. No Golden Age lasts forever, and the MCU will eventually stumble—but as long as they can spin box office (and audience) gold from relatively the Mysterios and Vultures of Spidey’s rogues gallery, it won’t be Holland’s Spider-Man that is the first to stumble. —Michael Burgin / Full Review


9. Widows
Year: 2018
Director: Steve McQueen
Beyond all its other attributes, what’s perhaps most remarkable about Widows is the man who made it. An Oscar-winning filmmaker and, before that, an acclaimed visual artist known for his arresting video installations, Steve McQueen has long focused on the suffering of the human soul, again and again exploring the anguish within our spirit. There hasn’t been much indication that the thrills of pulp fiction have been part of his DNA, and so it might be easy to assume that McQueen, while adapting the 1980s British crime series created by Lynda La Plante, would either condescend to the audience or drain the material of its vibrancy. Incredibly, his Widows does neither: This is a mature, exciting, utterly engrossing heist film that proves to be far more than just a crime drama. Set in Chicago, the film stars Viola Davis as Veronica, who’s in the midst of mourning. Her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) has just died in a shootout with the police—although she doesn’t quite want to acknowledge it, Harry was a professional bank robber, and his most recent haul ended up killing him and his partners. But Veronica’s grief has to be put on hold after a dangerous man named Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s running for political office, approaches her with an urgent message. He was the target of Harry’s last heist, and now he wants his money back—even though it burned up in the fire that claimed Harry and his team. If Veronica doesn’t come up with a couple million dollars, she’ll end up like her husband. Veronica is terrified—she works for the city’s teachers union and doesn’t have the resources or the means to grant Jamal’s request—which is when she hits upon an idea. Harry left behind a journal with detailed plans for his next heist. Veronica recruits the widows of Harry’s team to pull off that robbery. These women—working-class Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and sheltered, spoiled Alice (Elizabeth Debicki)—don’t seem like the bank-robbing types. But what other option do they have? To call Widows merely a heist film would be to shortchange it. And yet, when it comes time for the robbery, McQueen, cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and editor Joe Walker deliver an exhilarating one that’s steeped in our knowledge of these characters and their personal stakes. If thrillers are meant to be escapist, nobody told this cast and crew. Sure, Widows is a dynamite entertainment, but it’s also more mournful, thought-provoking and intelligent than that. Adults often complain there aren’t good mainstream movies for them—ones that can engage them, entertain them and leave them with something to chew on as they leave the theater. Widows is here waiting for you. —Tim Grierson / Full Review


8. The Beach Bum
Year: 2019
Director: Harmony Korine
Witness Matthew McConaughey, transcending. Revel in it, because this has got to be as high as he goes. As Moondog, the opposite, arch nemesis perhaps, to the Matthew McConaughey of the Lincoln commercials—on TV the interstitial, nonchalant pool shark and connoisseur of fine leather everything, a man to whom one whispers courteously, in reverence between network shows—Matthew McConaughey realizes the full flat circle of his essence. The actor bears multitudes, and they all converge upon the befuddled Moondog, consummate inhuman and titular hobo of the southern sands of these United States. One could claim that Moondog’s hedonism represents a moral imperative to consume all that’s truly beautiful about life, and Moondog says as much even if he’s plagiarising D.H. Lawrence (which he admits to his best friend Lingerie, who’s carried on a long-time affair with Moondog’s wife, and who’s played by Snoop Dog in a career best performance). Speaking of Lawrence, Martin also gives a career-best performance as Captain Wack, dolphin lover; the film slides effortlessly into absurdity. One could claim, too, that Moondog’s little but a self-destructive addict somehow given a free pass to circumvent basic human responsibility altogether. One could claim that director Harmony Korine doesn’t believe in basic human responsibility anyway. He doesn’t claim much in the way of explicating Moondog’s whole way of being, doesn’t reserve any judgment for the man’s mantra and blissful lurch towards oblivion. Or annihilation. The uniform for which is casual, including JNCO jeans, brandished by Flicker (Zac Efron), with whom Moondog escapes the court-mandated rehab that seemingly does nothing to pierce the armor of intoxication Moondog’s spent his life reinforcing. Whether he’s protecting himself from any serious human connection or from the crass hellscape of capitalistic society—whether he’s deeply grieving a tragedy that occurs halfway through The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine’s masterpiece of feeling good in the face of feeling the worst, or avoiding all feeling completely—he’s still a bad dad. Or he’s an artist. Or a saint. Or he’s from a different dimension, as his wife (Isla Fisher) explains to their daughter, as she most likely always has, against a breathtaking vista followed not long after by a heartbreaking sunset, both photographed by Benoît Debie, in Miami of all places, all magnificent and hollow, the film a hagiography for the end of history. —Dom Sinacola


7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Year: 2018
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
At some point midway through Mission: Impossible – Fallout—the sixth entry in the franchise and director Christopher McQuarrie’s unprecedented second go at helming one of these beasts—CIA brute Austin Walker (Henry Cavill) asks his superior, CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett), how many times she thinks Übermensch Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) will put up with his country screwing him over before he snaps. Walker’s question is rhetorical, intended to convince Sloane that Hunt is actually John Lark, the alias of a shadowy conspirator planning to buy stolen plutonium whom he and Hunt also happen to be chasing, but the question is better put before Cruise, the film’s bright, shining star. It’s a question that hangs over this dependably mind-blowing action flick more obviously than any installment to come before: How long can 56-year-old Cruise keep doing this before he, truly and irrevocably, snaps? Fallout never offers an answer, most likely because Cruise won’t have one until his body just completely gives out, answering for him by default. Fallout shows no real signs of that happening any time soon. What it does show is a kind of blockbuster intuition for what makes our enormous action brands—from Fast and the Furious to the MCU—thrive, behind only Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol as the best of the now 22-year endeavor. Where Bird leaned into the franchise as a literalization of its title, redefining the series by balancing the absurdity of what Cruise was impossibly doing (the Burj Khalifa scene is one of the greatest action sequences ever) with the awe of bearing witness to what a human person could accomplish if devoid of all Thetans, McQuarrie considers the two pretty much the same thing. The only reaction worthy of such absurdity is awe—and the only American tentpole films worth our awe anymore are those deemed Mission: Impossible. It’s all so goddamned beautiful. I love these movies. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


6. Black Panther
Year: 2018
Director: Ryan Coogler
 Black Panther might be the first MCU film that could claim to most clearly be an expression of a particular director’s voice. We shouldn’t go so far as to call it auteurist, because it’s still a Disney movie and (perhaps ironically) a part of that monopolizing Empire—i.e., eat the rich—but Black Panther’s action scenes, especially, feel one with Coogler’s oeuvre. Look only to an early scene in a South Korean casino, in which T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurire) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) plan to intercept a deal between Klaue and everyone’s favorite CIA milquetoast, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, lovable) for a vibranium-filled artifact which Klaue stole from some colonizer-run museum with Killmonger’s help. We’re introduced to Klaue through the surprising spryness of his violence—Andy Serkis, too, freed from mocap, is still an amazing presence, even as a gangster shitbag—and Coogler gets on his wavelength, carving out the geography of the casino in long tracking shots, much like he convinced us to love stained, shitty-seeming Philadelphia gyms in Creed by helping us to comprehend the many crevices and corners of each hole in the wall. When the casino brawl breaks out into the streets, morphing into a death-defying car chase (slow motion thankfully kept to a minimum), we feel as if we know exactly what these characters—and this wonderful director—are capable of. His vision for Wakanda—shot by recent Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison as an Afrofuturist paradise—rightly draws its inspiration from an omnibus of natural sources, just the a casino scene affords Morrison the chance to go full Deakins (James Bond references all over this thing), imagining the world of the MCU as Steven Soderbergh might have scoped out Traffic, developing a fully sensual visual language to define the many locations of this world-hopping adventure without resorting to sterile maps or facile borders. If T’Challa’s whole narrative arc concerns the need for him to realize the importance of bringing Wakanda into our globalized world, of revealing its riches to a world that probably doesn’t deserve them, then the vastness of that world, the many different kinds of people who populate it, must be felt in all of its ungraspable diversity. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Year: 2018
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
There are, rarely, films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where ingredients, execution and imagination all come together in a manner that’s engaging, surprising and, most of all, fun. Directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, writer-director Rodney Rothman, and writer Phil Lord have made a film that lives up to all the adjectives one associates with Marvel’s iconic wallcrawler. Amazing. Spectacular. Superior. (Even “Friendly” and “Neighborhood” fit.) Along the way, Into the Spider-Verse shoulders the immense Spider-Man mythos like it’s a half-empty backpack on its way to providing Miles Morales with one of the most textured, loving origin stories in the superhero genre. Plenty of action films with much less complicated plots and fewer characters to juggle have failed, but this one spins order from the potential chaos using some comic-inspired narrative devices that seamlessly embed the needed exposition into the story. It also provides simultaneous master classes in genre filmmaking. Have you been wondering how best to intersperse humor into a storyline crowded with action and heavy emotional arcs? Start here. Do you need to bring together a diverse collection of characters, nimbly move them (together and separately) from setting to setting and band them together in a way that the audience doesn’t question? Take notes. Do you have an outlandish, fantastical concept that you need to communicate to the viewers (and characters) without bogging down the rest of the story? This is one way to do it. Would you like to make an instant contemporary animated classic? Look (and listen). —Michael Burgin / Full Review


4. Avengers: Endgame
Year: 2019
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Where does one begin? When it comes to Avengers: Endgame, that question is not so much an expression of wanton enthusiasm as a practical challenge in evaluating the destination toward which Kevin Feige and company have been steering story and viewer alike for the past 11 years and 21 films. Though there have been plenty of three-hour-plus movies and even a few 20+ entry movie franchises, there’s really nothing to compare with what Disney and Marvel Studios have pulled off, either in terms of size, quality and consistency of cast (a moment of silence for Edward Norton and Terrence Howard), or in how narrow the chronological window, all things considered, those movies were produced. Though we’ve praised it often, casting remains the cornerstone of the MCU. Whether by pitch-perfect distillations of decades-old comic book characters (Captain American, Thor, Spider-Man) or charisma-fueled reinventions of same (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Star-Lord), the MCU’s batting average in terms of casting is not only practically obscene, it’s a crucial ingredient in ensuring the thematic and emotional payoff (and box office payday) of Endgame. Moviegoers have been living with these actors, as these characters, for over a decade. For many, this version of these characters is the only one they know. This is why the sudden ashification of so many heroes at the end of Infinity War hit even the most cynical comic book veterans right in the feels and left less hardened viewers confused and distraught. It’s also why, as Avengers: Endgame opens (after another swift kick to the stomach just in case we’ve forgotten the toll of that snap), the audience cares about not just what the surviving heroes are going to do, but how they are doing in general. It gives the film an emotional resonance that’s unusual not only in pulpier genre offerings but in films in general. This connection makes the quiet moments as valuable to the viewer as the spectacle, and for all the fireworks in the third act, Avengers: Endgame is very much a film of quiet moments and small yet potent emotional payoffs. Comic book fans know the thrill of following all your favorite characters through a multi-issue storyline that culminates in a “universe at stake” ending. Now, thanks to 21 movies in 11 years and one massive, satisfying three-hour finale, moviegoers do, too. —Michael Burgin / Full Review


3. Us
Year: 2019
Director: Jordan Peele 
Us clarifies what Get Out implies. Even after only two films, Jordan Peele’s filmmaking seems preconfigured for precision, the Hitchcock comparisons just sitting there, waiting to be shoved between commas, while Peele openly speaks and acts in allusions. Us, like Get Out before it but moreso, wastes nothing: time, film stock, the equally precise capabilities of his actors and crew, real estate in the frame, chance for a gag. If his films are the sum of their influences, that means he’s a smart filmmaker with a lot of ideas, someone who knows how to hone down those ideas into stories that never bloat, though he’s unafraid to confound his audience with exposition or take easy shots—like the film’s final twist—that swell and grow in the mind with meaning the longer one tries to insist, if one were inclined to do so, that what Peele’s doing is easy at all. A family comedy studded with dread, then a home invasion thriller, then a head-on sci-fi horror flick, Us quickly acquaints us with the Wilson family: calming matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), gregarious dad Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter wise beyond her years Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and adorable epitome of the innocent younger brother, Jason (Evan Alex). Though far from shallow, the characters take on archetypal signifiers, whether it’s Zora’s penchant for running or that Gabe’s a big guy whose bulk betrays a softer heart, Peele never spoonfeeding cheap characterizations but just getting us on his wavelength with maximum efficiency. Us isn’t explicitly about race, but it is about humanity’s inherent knack for Othering, for boxing people into narrow perspectives and then holding them responsible for everyone vaguely falling within a Venn diagram. Regardless of how sufficiently we’re able to parse what’s actually going on (and one’s inclined to see the film more than once to get a grip) the images remain, stark and hilarious and horrifying: a child’s burned face, a misfired flare gun, a cult-like spectacle of inhuman devotion, a Tim Heidecker bent over maniacally, walking as if he’s balanced on a thorax, his soul as good as creased. Divorced from context, these moments still speak of absurdity—of witty one-liners paired with mind-boggling horror—of a future in which we’ve so alienated ourselves from ourselves that we’re bound to cut that tether that keeps us together, sooner or later, and completely unravel. We are our undoing. So let the Hitchcock comparisons come. Peele deserves them well enough. Best not to think about it too hard, to not ruin a good thing, to demand that Us be anything more than sublimely entertaining and wonderfully thoughtful, endlessly disturbing genre filmmaking. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


2. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Year: 2019
Director: Chad Stahelski
The promise of John Wick: Chapter 2 is in superposition. Depending on how one comes into John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, from which angle, that promise is simultaneously fulfilled and squandered. Chad Stahelski’s third and by no means last entry in the saga of laconic gentleman terminator John Wick (Keanu Reeves), the Baba Yaga of every gangster’s worst nightmares, either lives up to previous entries as far as setting the standard for visceral, eardrum-squelching violence, or it fails to take the series in the direction presaged by the apocalyptic cliffhanger of the previous chapter. No, every living human in New York is not a secret assassin, plunging John Wick into a race against time through a Dantean Hell of his own devising, but John Wick does pretty much murder everybody in the City before traveling to Morocco, where he murders even more people, before returning to New York, where he continues decimating the urban center’s population. As Continental Manager Winston (Ian McShane) puts it, John Wick needs to decide whether he’s the boogie man or, simply, a man. Whether John Wick is a videogame or something more existential. He chooses both: By the time we reach the final action spectacle, during which the forces aligned against John Wick wear the kind of body armor requiring an exorbitant amount of kill shots and then, halfway through the melee, a weapon upgrade, we’ve lapsed completely into the realm of the first-person shooter, realizing we’ve already made our way through numerous, ever-increasingly difficult levels and boss battles with an impeccable kill/death ratio. The limitless beauty of the John Wick franchise, crystalized in Chapter 3, is that alluding to videogames when talking about the movie doesn’t matter. None of this matters. As videogames and action movies parabolically draw closer and closer to one another, John Wick 3 may be the first of its kind to figure out how to keep that comparison from being a point of shame. Accordingly, each action set piece is an astounding feat, from the first hand-to-hand fracas in narrow library stacks, to a comic knife fight amidst cases of antique weapons, to a chase on horseback and, later, a chase on motorcycles care of katana-wielding meanies. John Wick 3 revels in its ludicrous gore without losing sight of the very real toll of such unmitigated havoc. It’s as much a blast of blood and guts as it is an immersive menagerie of pain, a litigation of the ways in which we imbibe and absorb and demand violence, in which we hyperstylize death. Every gun shot, body blow, shattering jaw and gut slicing rings out sonorously from the screen, so that even if yet another faceless henchperson loses their life, leaving this mortal plane unnoticed, at least the act of violence that ended them will be remembered. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review


1. Annihilation
Year: 2018
Director: Alex Garland
Annihilation is a movie that’s impossible to shake. Like the characters who find themselves both exploring the world of the film and inexplicably trapped by it, you’ll find yourself questioning yourself throughout, wondering whether what you’re watching can possibly be real, whether maybe you’re going a little insane yourself. The film is a near-impossible bank shot by Ex Machina filmmaker Alex Garland, a would-be science fiction actioner that slowly reveals itself to be a mindfuck in just about every possible way, a film that wants you to invest in its universe yet never gives you any terra firma to orient yourself. This is a film that wants to make you feel as confused and terrified as the characters you’re watching. In this, it is unquestionably successful. This is a risky proposition for a director, particularly with a big studio movie with big stars like this one: This is a movie that becomes more confusing and disorienting as it goes along. Garland mesmerizes with his visuals, but he wants you to be off-balance, to experience this world the way Lena (Natalie Portman) and everyone else is experiencing it. Like the alien (I think?) of his movie, Garland is not a malevolent presence; he is simply an observer of this world, one who follows it to every possible permutation, logical or otherwise. It’s difficult to explain Annihilation, which is a large reason for its being. This is a film about loss, and regret, and the sensation that the world is constantly crumbling and rearranging all around you every possible second. The world of Annihilation looks familiar, but only at first. Reality is fluid, and ungraspable. It can feel a little like our current reality in that way. —Will Leitch / Full Review

More good movies coming soon:
The Art of Racing in the Rain
Good Boys
Abonimable
Ad Astra
Downton Abbey

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