The 50 Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now (January 2023)

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The 50 Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now (January 2023)

Amazon Prime is a teeming streaming treasure trove of some of the most esoteric, wonderful and underseen cinema of the past 80 years, though good picks can feel nearly impossible to cull from the sometimes overwhelming glut of weirdly terrible titles buried in Prime’s nether regions. And that’s not to mention the counterintuitive, migraine-inducing browsing, or the service’s penchant for dropping a title unexpectedly only for it to reappear under a different link just as unexpectedly. Who can keep track of any of this stuff?

Well, we can. Or, at least, we try. Movies come and go every month on the service, sometimes numbering in the dozens. Not to worry, though: There are plenty of great movies waiting to take their place…we just had to dig them up by battling Amazon’s notoriously terrible user interface.

Here are the 50 best movies streaming on Amazon Prime right now:


1. One Night in Miami

Year: 2021
Director: Regina King
Stars: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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A barebones summary of One Night in Miami sounds like a dude’s delight movie: Four men out on the town, no attachments to keep them in line, and a limit to their evening revelry that extends skyward. But the four men are Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and most of all Malcolm X; the town is actually the Magic City; and the specific evening is February 25, 1964, when heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston crossed gloves with Clay and lost his title in an upset. Subjects crossing the characters’ lips include, of course, boxing, and women, and rowdiness, but they’re joined by other, more important subjects like Black American identity, American identity, and how the two interact with one another. But that doesn’t rob One Night in Miami of the “delight” clause, thanks in no small part to crackling performances by a cast comprising a cadre of exceptional young actors (Eli Goree, Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir), and directed with cool confidence by Regina King in her feature debut. Her adaptation of Kemp Powers’ stage play is a historical document written to presuppose what conversations these fellows might’ve had in private and away from prying ears, a compelling fiction rooted in reality. It’s also thoroughly entertaining, witty, and exuberant. This isn’t a film about meaningless carousing. It’s about conversations that actually matter. —Andy Crump


2. Licorice Pizza

Release Date: November 26, 2021
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie
Rating: R
Runtime: 133 minutes

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Licorice Pizza is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s second ode to Los Angeles in the early 1970s: A city freshly under the oppressive shadow of the Manson Family murders and the tail end of the Vietnam War. But while in his first tribute, Inherent Vice, the inquisitive counter-culture affiliate Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) earnestly engages with his surroundings and follows the threads of societal paranoia all the way to vampiric drug smuggling operations and FBI conspiracies, Licorice Pizza’s protagonist, 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim), refuses to follow any such thread. A bored, directionless photographer’s assistant, Alana nonchalantly rejects any easy plot-point that might help us get a grasp on her character. What are her ambitions? She doesn’t know, she tells successful 15-year-old actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) over dinner at a restaurant called Tail o’ the Cock. What interests and excites her? It’s hard to say. When Gary first approaches Alana while she’s working picture-day at his high school, it’s hard to imagine that Licorice Pizza isn’t going to follow the playful design of a sunny Southern California love story. Alana is instantly strange and striking, and—when Anderson introduces her in a languid dolly-shot with a mini-skirt, kitten-heels, slumped shoulders and a gloriously pissed expression—we are compelled to fall in love with her, just like Gary does, at first sight. Of course, Anderson quickly rejects the notion that Licorice Pizza is going to be a straightforward romance. Anderson knows that this ambling, disjointed structure reflects what it’s like to be young, awkward and in love. Each shot, filled with dreamy pastels, glows with a youthful nostalgia. Anderson and cinematographer Michael Bauman balance out this haziness with a unique control of the camera, implementing long takes, slow dollies, and contemplative pans galore. What is it that Alana gets from being friends with someone ten years younger than her? And why does Gary always return to Alana even when she tries her best to put him down? Like gleefully gliding through the streets of L.A. in the midst of a city-wide crisis, it’s a madness you can only truly understand when you’re living it.—Aurora Amidon


3. Carnival of Souls

Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Stars: Herk Harvey, Candace Hilligoss
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter: artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive little story of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman (Candace Hilligoss) on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. Carnival of Souls is vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. —Jim Vorel


4. Tangerine

Year: 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Alla Tumanian, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian
Rating: R
Runtime: 87 minutes

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One of filmmaker Sean Baker’s best, Tangerine’s fable of Christmastime sex workers navigating love and loss in Hollywood is everything the indie great is known for: intimate, warm, silly, heartfelt and just scuzzy enough. Shot entirely on iPhones, this subversive holiday film celebrates found family in donut shops and laundromats and bar bathrooms. It reminds us that sometimes, the best gift of all is a friend who’ll lend you their wig while yours is in the wash. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor carry the film in all its emotional and tonal complexity, while Baker’s compassionate interest in folks just outside the margins make the filmmaking’s guerilla-esque stylings seem more loving than exploitative. Approaching his subjects with empathy, and giving them so much space to suck us into their world, is utterly within the holiday spirit—even if a car wash sexual encounter might not be as wholesome as something from Jimmy Stewart. But for a certain kind of person, and for Tangerine’s very certain kind of friendship, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch” is all that needs to be said. —Jacob Oller


5. Serpico

Year: 1973
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Tony Roberts
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

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You could have a great debate about who had the best acting decade between Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, and while my vote goes to Nicholson (with Hoffman a close second), Pacino has a terrific argument. In Serpico, he plays the complicated figure of a detective who went undercover to rat out corrupt cops. His decision to turn against his own is as fraught as you might imagine, and he faces death at every turn from cops who’d love to shut him up. It’s an exciting street drama with the decrepit-yet-energetic look of urban ‘70s films. —Shane Ryan


6. The Wolf of Wall Street

Year: 2013
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Jon Bernthal
Rating: R
Runtime: 180 minutes

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The decade’s been both kind and not so kind to good ol’ Marty, ten years of bad takes questioning his credentials for directing Silence, for denying Marvel movies the honorific of “cinema,” for forcing audiences to showers en masse following screenings of The Wolf of Wall Street. And yet it’s impossible to keep him down; he’s immune to controversy and he thrives on lively debate, which is why, at 70 years old, his chronicle of the life, times and crimes of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio)—a stock broker and inveterate fraudster who bilked over 1,000 schlemiels, suckers and saps out of billions (and got off easy)—feels like something an artist half his age directed. The Wolf of Wall Street is a pissed off film. It’s also a horny, pervy, brutal, an impeccably made and fundamentally hideous film. At every passing image, Scorsese’s white-hot rage burns around the edges of the frame. The director has his own beefs and conflicts with his Christian faith, but here his presence is felt as a furious deity sitting in judgment on the fun Belfort has screwing over his clients, two-timing his first wife, jerking around his second wife and doing more blow in three hours than Scorsese himself did in the 1970s and ’80s. The easy knock to make against this movie is that it endorses the finance bro culture it navigates over the course of its running time, because at no point does Scorsese impose manufactured morality on what happens in front of us; instead he plays the hits as Belfort wrote them, showing the audience exactly what Belfort did while running his company, Stratton Oakmont, and while running around on his spouses. That the film ultimately ends with Belfort out on the prowl again is the ultimate indictment: Being rich allowed this man to get away with financial murder, because being rich, in the end, makes everything better. “Being rich makes everything better,” for some, is the movie’s embraced philosophy, but The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t appreciate displays of wealth unhinged. It reviles them. Scorsese puts energy into the film, a spring in its every greedy step; one could call such debauchery without consequences a “good time.” But The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t care about that kind of time as much as it cares about hanging Belfort out to dry. —Andy Crump


7. Superbad

Year: 2007
Director: Greg Mottola
Stars: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen, Martha MacIsaac, Emma Stone
Rating: R

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Every generation of teens has its generation of teen movies, and Greg Mottola’s Superbad is the epitome of mine. In Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), my friends and I had a mirror for our own insecurity and awkwardness—they were our modern-day Anthony Michael Halls. In Fogell/McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), we had an icon of weird who somehow ended up a winner, a sort of photonegative of Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick). And in Superbad’s constant dick jokes (care of a script by namesakes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), we had an accurate representation of the way we all talked, maturity be damned. The film would join the pantheon of mid-2000s comedies—most notably Anchorman and Step Brothers—that created a white-adolescent-boy language made up entirely of lewd, absurd references. It’s a rom-com in many respects, but unlike its predecessors, Superbad is a romance between two buddies, a story wherein the ostensible sex drive is secondary to Platonic need. Most of John Hughes’ ’80s oeuvre centers on the cringe-worthy struggle of X character getting Y other character to notice their existence in order to have Y inevitably fall for X. No matter what else Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink have to say, their endgame remains Molly Ringwald getting with the correct Good Guy. Ditto Amy Heckerling’s iconic contributions to the genre, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, and the literary reimaginings (Ten Things I Hate About You, et. al.) that followed in the latter’s wake. In Superbad, Seth and Evan’s versions of the Good Guy aren’t Jules (a precocious Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac): they’re each other. In the film’s denouement, with the two leads snuggled up close in sleeping bags, Seth literally says, “I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream, ‘I love my best friend, Evan.’” For teenage boys struggling with anxiety over the seeming hopelessness of losing their virginity, Superbad provides a welcome respite, an acknowledgement that focusing your entire life upon your dick is pointless when there’s fulfillment to be had by your side the entire time. —Zach Blumenfeld


8. Black Dynamite

Year: 2009
Director: Scott Sanders
Stars: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Tommy Davidson, Kevin Chapman
Rating: R
Runtime: 84 minutes

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It may seem to be a bit late to spoof the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, but don’t tell the guys who made Black Dynamite. Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White and Byron Minns have made a funny satire whose distance from the source material works to its advantage. It pulls its style from films like Shaft and Coffy, using a low-grade film stock, polyester clothing, and afro wigs to mimic their textured look, but it pulls most of its humor from the same vein of silliness that produced movies like Airplane!, expecting an audience that responds to absurdity, not movie allusions. Even if your nearest exposure to Foxy Brown is through a Quentin Tarantino homage, Black Dynamite likely has a joke aimed at you.—Robert Davis


9. Manchester by the Sea

Year: 2016
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Stars: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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Loss and grief—and the messy, indirect ways people cope with the emotional fallout—were the dramatic linchpins of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s first two films, You Can Count on Me and Margaret. And so it is again with Manchester by the Sea, a commanding, absorbing work in which the sum of its impact may be greater than any individual scenes. As opposed to the intimate, short-story quality of You Can Count on Me, Manchester by the Sea bears the same sprawling ambition as Margaret, Lonergan draping the proceedings in a tragic grandeur that sometimes rubs against the film’s inherently hushed modesty. Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler is quietly magnetic as a man who can’t express himself at a time when he really needs to step up and be the patriarchal figure. Lucas Hedges and Kyle Chandler are also both quite good, their characters buried deep in the man’s-man culture of the East Coast communities in which the film is set. But especially terrific is Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife, who has played haunted wives before, in Brokeback Mountain and Shutter Island. Here, though, she really pierces the heart: Her character never stopped loving Lee, but her brain told her she had to if she was ever going to move on with her life. In this film, she’s actually one of the lucky ones. Tragedies drop like bombs in Manchester By the Sea, and the ripple effects spread out in all directions. The movie’s ending isn’t exactly happy, but after all the Chandlers have gone through, just the possibility of acceptance can feel like a hard-earned victory. —Tim Grierson


10. You Were Never Really Here

Year: 2018
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Judith Roberts, Alex Manette, Alessandro Nivola
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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Lynne Ramsay has a reputation for being uncompromising. In industry patois, that means she has a reputation for being “difficult.” Frankly, the word that best describes her is “unrelenting.” Filmmakers as in charge of their aesthetic as Ramsay are rare. Rarer still are filmmakers who wield so much control without leaving a trace of ego on the screen. If you’ve seen any of the three films she made between 1999 and 2011 (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin), then you’ve seen her dogged loyalty to her vision in action, whether that vision is haunting, horrific or just plain bizarre. She’s as forceful as she is delicate. Her fourth film, You Were Never Really Here—haunting, horrific and bizarre all at once—is arguably her masterpiece, a film that treads the line delineating violence from tenderness in her body of work. Calling it a revenge movie doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like a sustained scream. You Were Never Really Here’s title is constructed of layers, the first outlining the composure of her protagonist, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix, acting behind a beard that’d make the Robertson clan jealous), a military veteran and former federal agent as blistering in his savagery as in his self-regard. Joe lives his life flitting between past and present, hallucination and reality. Even when he physically occupies a space, he’s confined in his head, reliving horrors encountered in combat, in the field and in his childhood on a non-stop, simultaneous loop. Each of her previous movies captures human collapse in slow motion. You Were Never Really Here is a breakdown shot in hyperdrive, lean, economic, utterly ruthless and made with fiery craftsmanship. Let this be the language we use to characterize her reputation as one of the best filmmakers working today. —Andy Crump


11. Emma.

Year: 2020
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Miranda Hart
Rating: PG
Runtime: 132 minutes

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Shot as though each frame were a frothy realist painting, scored as though it were a Chaplin-esque silent film and pulled together by a cast of comedically impeccable performances, Autumn de Wilde’s feature-length debut, Emma., is made up almost entirely of thrillingly executed moments. More comedy of manners than straight romance, both Jane Austen’s novel and de Wilde’s film take as their subject a happily single Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), the “handsome, clever, and rich” mistress of an English country estate, as she fills her days as by mounting a series of ego-driven (if well-intentioned) matchmaking schemes. Signaled by the film’s opening in the soft dawn hours of the village’s latest Emma-orchestrated wedding day, these schemes have a history of being remarkably successful—successful enough, at least, that on one side, Emma has her co-dependent, doom-and-gloom father (a charming, if anxious, Bill Nighy) cautioning her not to start any schemes that might take her away from him, while on the other, she has the Woodhouses’ handsome family friend, Mr. Knightley (a refreshingly fiery Johnny Flynn), cautioning her against riding so high on her previous matchmaking coups that she starts an audacious scheme even she can’t pull it off. Beyond creating what would be a solid moviegoing experience in any context, the warm, boisterous sense of community this deep attention to detail works to build is, as Paste’s Andy Crump highlights in his thoughtful interview with de Wilde and Taylor-Joy, exactly what any 2020 take on a 205-year-old comedy of manners needed to cultivate. With our current cultural moment so defined by protracted digital isolation—and its cousin, anonymity-enabled cruelty—the best thing de Wilde’s Emma. could do was lean so hard into the sublimity of Austen’s original that, for the entirety of its gloriously phone-free two-hour runtime, its audience might feel, collectively, transported. —Alexis Gunderson


12. The Big Sick

Year: 2017
Director: Michael Showalter
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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The Big Sick can sometimes be awfully conventional, but among its key assets is its radiant view of its characters. Based on the first year in the relationship of married screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, this indie rom-com has a mildly risky structure and some trenchant observations about the culture clashes that go on in immigrant families living in America. But what cuts deepest is just how profoundly lovable these people are. That’s not the same as being cutesy: Rather, The Big Sick is defiantly generous, understanding that people are horribly flawed but also capable of immeasurable graciousness when the situation requires. So even when the film stumbles, these characters hold you up. Nanjiani plays a lightly fictionalized version of his younger self, a struggling Chicago stand-up who is having as much success in his career as he in his dating life. Born into a Pakistani family who moved to the United States when he was a boy, he’s a dutiful son, despite lying about being a practicing Muslim and politely deflecting the attempts of his parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) to set him up in an arranged marriage. That’s when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), an American grad student with whom he’s instantly smitten. She swears she doesn’t want a relationship, but soon they fall for one another—even though Kumail knows it can’t work out. What’s most radical about The Big Sick is its optimistic insistence that a little niceness can make all the difference. —Tim Grierson


13. Hellraiser

Year: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
Stars: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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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 the Cenobites are 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 Hellraiser, an icky story of sick hate and sicker love. —Rachel Haas


14. The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Year: 2020
Director: Jim Cummings
Stars: Jim Cummings, Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome, Chloe East, Jimmy Tatro, Kevin Changaris, Skyler Bible, Demetrius Daniels
Rating: R
Runtime: 83 minutes

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Snow Hollow police officer John Marshall (Cummings) unsteadily balances Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with the travails of raising his teen daughter, Jenna (Chloe East), looking after his ailing father, Hadley (Forster), maintaining diplomatic relations with his ex, and keeping a lid on his volcanic temper. When a woman (Annie Hamilton) is torn to shreds on a weekend visit to John’s ski resort hometown, just moments before her boyfriend (Jimmy Tatro) planned to propose to her, John stretches to his limits and beyond in his pursuit of the killer, who everyone concludes with baffling swiftness is a werewolf rather than a man. His peers’ and subordinates’ stumblebum character and the ass-backwardness of Snow Hollow itself act like gasoline as is. The consensus that the town is under attack from a mythical creature is the straw that makes the vein in John’s neck go taut with anger. The Wolf of Snow Hollow lands in the space where horror and humor meet, mining laughter in mourning and custody battles. Cummings’ laughs are the sort that signal discomfort: His punchlines are razor sharp, which make the movie’s surrounding unpleasantries go down more easily. Watching a policeman get physical with anybody who sufficiently pushes his buttons induces squirms. When fellow officer Bo (Kevin Changaris) accidentally says too much about the murders in front of reporters, John calls him over to a snowbank and starts smacking the poor schmuck around, a moment that would tip over into pure darkness without the aid of a lighthearted soundtrack and the slapstick of their scuffle. Regardless, the point is made: John’s on edge, and his edge is surprisingly amusing. The wry, snappy banter gives The Wolf of Snow Hollow a prickly skin, and the restrained application of FX gives it tension. At just under 80 minutes, that economy is key. It’s not so much that the horror is elevated as controlled. But rather than clang with the innate savagery of the werewolf niche, Cummings’ command over his material gives the film a certain freshness. He tames the monster in the man so that the man is all that’s left, for better and for worse. John isn’t perfect, but an imperfect man need not be a beast.—Andy Crump


15. Small Axe: Alex Wheatle

Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Johann Myers
Rating: NR
Runtime: 65 minutes

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Alex Wheatle is a coming of age story based on the early life of the eponymous award-winning YA author and is the penultimate film of McQueen’s Small Axe collection. Set in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, we follow Alex from his childhood in an orphanage of Dickensian cruelty to his Brixton youth, where he connects with his Blackness, to his being nurtured by a paternalistic Rastafarian cellmate in prison. Alex Wheatle is accomplished and devastating, with dynamic cinematography, a phenomenal soundtrack and a heartbreaking central debut performance from Sheyi Cole. In many ways, it feels like a melding of the other four Small Axe films: The systemic racism of Mangrove, the musical escapism of Lover’s Rock, the daddy issues of Red, White & Blue and the childhood cruelty of Education. But in its thematic overlapping, Alex Wheatle undermines its own significance. It doesn’t have the distinct identity of the other films and, while it’s always a pleasure to watch filmmaking at McQueen’s level, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression.—Leila Latif


16. The General

Year: 1926
Directors: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckham
Stars: Joseph Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender
Rating: NR
Runtime: 79 minutes

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When Yankee spies steal his locomotive and kidnap his girlfriend, a Southern railroad engineer ("The Great Stone Face" Buster Keaton) is forced to pursue his two beloveds across enemy lines. While a few Charlie Chaplin pictures give it a run for its money, The General is arguably the finest silent comedy ever made—if not the finest comedy ever made. At the pinnacle of Buster Keaton’s renowned career, the film didn’t receive critical or box-office success when released, but it has aged tremendously. It’s a spectacle of story, mishmashing romance, adventure, action (chases, fires, explosions) and comedy into a seamless silent masterpiece. —David Roark


17. The Northman

Release Date: April 22, 2022
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Björk
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes

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Forged in flame and fury, Robert Eggers’ The Northman is an exquisite tale of violent vengeance that takes no prisoners. Co-written by Eggers and Icelandic poet Sjón (who also recently co-wrote A24’s Icelandic creature feature Lamb), the film is ever-arresting and steeped in the director’s long-standing penchant for period accuracy. Visually stunning and painstakingly choreographed, The Northman perfectly measures up to its epic expectations. The legend chronicled in The Northman feels totally fresh, and at the same time quite familiar. King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) is slain by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who in turn takes the deceased ruler’s throne and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) for his own. Before succumbing to fratricide, Aurvandill names his young son Amleth (Oscar Novak) as his successor, making him an immediate next target for his uncle’s blade. Narrowly evading capture, Amleth rows a wooden boat over the choppy waters of coastal Ireland, tearfully chanting his new life’s mission: “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” Years later, Amleth (played by a muscular yet uniquely unassuming Alexander Skarsgård) has distinguished himself as a ruthless warrior among a clan of Viking berserkers, donning bear pelts and pillaging a series of villages in a furious stupor. The Northman is an accessible, captivating Viking epic teeming with the discordant, tandem force of human brutality and fated connection. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that the film feels noticeably less Eggers-like in execution compared to his preceding works. It boasts a much bigger ensemble, seemingly at the expense of fewer unbroken takes and less atmospheric dread. In the same vein, it eschews the filmmaker’s interest in New England folktales, though The Northman does incorporate Eggers’ fascination with forestry and ocean tides. However, The Northman melds the best of Eggers’ established style—impressive performances, precise historical touchstones, hypnotizing folklore—with the newfound promise of rousing, extended action sequences. The result is consistently entertaining, often shocking and imbued with a scholarly focus. It would be totally unsurprising if this were deemed by audiences as Eggers’ definitive opus. For those already enamored with the director’s previous efforts, The Northman might not feel as revelatory as The Witch or as dynamic at The Lighthouse. What the film lacks in Eggers’ filmic ideals, though, it more than makes up for in its untouchable status as a fast-paced yet fastidious Viking revenge tale. The Northman is totally unrivaled by existing epics—and perhaps even by those that are undoubtedly still to come, likely inspired by the scrupulous vision of a filmmaker in his prime.—Natalia Keogan


18. Candyman

Year: 2021
Director: Nia DaCosta
Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd, Vanessa Estelle Williams
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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The problem with writing about Candyman is that you will inevitably have to write “Candyman” five times. What if my monitor suddenly craps out, leaving me to see a paranormal entity rocking a full-length shearling behind my dark reflection? Unlike many of the white Chicagoans in writer/director Nia DaCosta’s slasher sequel, I’m not foolish enough to tempt the Bloody Mary of the Near North Side. I am, however, still drawn to her update of the legend, which manages to pick up the original film’s pieces and put them back together in a compelling, reclamatory collage. Ignoring the rest of the Candyman series in favor of a direct follow-up to Bernard Rose’s allegory-rich 1992 slasher, DaCosta introduces fancy-pants artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to the same urban legend that consumed lookie-loo grad student Helen Lyle. The original story adapted Clive Barker to U.S. racism and wealth inequality—particularly in Chicago, and even more particularly in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green projects. Now its homes and high-rises have been demolished or abandoned. A massive Target overlooks its northwest border, where you can buy athleisure and grab an in-house Starbucks before heading to Panera Bread. Gentrification may have neatly plastered over history, but that history cannot be so easily erased. “A story like that—a pain like that—lasts forever,” says Colman Domingo’s long-timer laundryman Burke. “That’s Candyman.” DaCosta makes it clear that Anthony’s pulled by the legend, by history, more intimately than Helen ever was, and updates her scares in turn. The nightmarish apartments and putrid bathrooms Helen crawled through and photographed neatly reflected the entity haunting them; but the projects have been paved over, and Candyman persists. DaCosta shoots the city accordingly, either in dividing straight lines, or fully warped: You never notice how Marina City’s towers look like beehives until they’re flipped upside-down. Spurred on by Anthony’s interest, Candyman’s now an inevitability in every reflective surface. You can’t look away from DaCosta’s inspired compositions and layouts, your eyes led from one dark corner to the next with an Invisible Man-like mastery of negative space. One of these days, you think, she’s going to run out of ideas about how to shoot a mirror kill. Not so, especially in her world of omnipresent, physically and psychically painful self-reflection. While the kills, perpetrated by a being mostly just seen in mirrors, are sometimes a bit too obfuscated by their gimmick to be viscerally satisfying, they slot in perfectly with the film’s themes and aesthetic even when they’re not dumping cascades of blood. The power of martyrdom, the cycles of economic exploitation, the blood price expected for progress—even if these ideas are imperfectly engaged with, they’re so compellingly introduced as to solidify Candyman as a must-see horror and a must-discuss tragedy.—Jacob Oller


19. Argentina, 1985

Release Date: October 21, 2022
Director: Santiago Mitre
Stars: Ricardo Darín, Peter Lanzani, Claudio Da Passano, Alejandra Flechner, Norman Briski
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes

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The horrendous historical reckoning inherent to Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985 is unmistakably evoked through the film’s title. The Argentine director, who is best known for political dramas that examine the country’s social follies, meticulously recreates the circumstances surrounding what’s considered the most ambitious trial against fascist human rights violations in Latin American history. Co-written by Mitre and Mariano Llinás (the filmmaker behind the four-part epic La Flor), Argentina, 1985 is a stylistically assured procedural that manages to tastefully recount the mass torture, rape, killing and “disappearance” of more than 30,000 Argentine civilians by the military dictatorship during the so-called Dirty War that lasted nearly a decade from 1974 through 1983. Through capturing victim testimonies as they were presented in court during this months-long trial as well as the dogged pursuit for justice by a ragtag team of bravely dedicated prosecutors, the film wholly resists sensationalization, opting instead to faithfully reconstruct the events that culminated in a landmark win for social justice amid a shakily budding democracy. Ricardo Darín plays Julio César Strassera, the lead prosecutor of the Trial of the Juntas, who is initially fearful over the prospect of publicly presiding over the case against these murderous fascists, none more notorious than one-time acting ruler Jorge Rafael Videla. Obviously, Strassera’s apprehension is more than warranted: With the national wounds still raw from the junta’s merry mass extermination of citizens accused of opposing their rule, he immediately begins to fret for the lives of his wife and children. This anxiety manifests in subtle and overt ways — he loses sleep, relies on nerve-numbing cocktails and begins taking his son to school on the subway instead of risking the threat of car bombs being planted in his modest sedan. However, the pressure of this undertaking is partially lifted from his shoulders when deputy prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani) joins the case. Together, they select a legal team to aid in their extensive, labor-intensive hunt for witnesses, incriminating documents and written statements that detail the nauseating cruelty and violence of the junta. While much of the film is focused on the collection of evidence and ensuing court case, Argentina, 1985 is also masterfully imbued with period-specific details in the costume and set design, painstakingly emulated from archival footage. Sumptuously captured by cinematographer Javier Juliá’s lens, these visual facets make the two-hour-and-twenty-minute runtime melt by. Of course, the film’s streamlined, never-clunky narrative is no doubt bolstered by Llinás’ involvement as co-writer. After helming an 808-minute feature in 2018, an 140-minute undertaking must feel like light work.—Natalia Keogan


20. Ambulance

Release Date: April 8, 2022
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Jake Gyllenhaal, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, Olivia Stambouliah, Jackson White, A Martinez, Cedric Sanders
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

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If Ambulance, Michael Bay’s 15th feature currently basking in a gleeful critical reappraisal of Bay’s canon, feels as entelechial as Bad Boys II, it can only be because Bay has found himself in the absolute best time to be Bay. Though an ensemble of Angelenos fills out the film as it barrels to pretty much the only conclusion it could have, Ambulance is about as tidy as a Michael Bay film can get. Within ten minutes we’re deep in Ambulance: Strapped for money to pay his wife’s escalating medical bills, let alone care for their infant son, Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) agrees to join his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal, always a joy to behold) on one last big score, a bank heist that goes inevitably wrong. Subsequently, they shoot a cop (Jackson White) and commandeer the cop’s ambulance, also occupied by the “best” EMT in L.A., Cam Thompson (Eiza González)—just one more embittered soul in the grand gray tapestry that is the City of Angels. As Danny loses control and Will more and more accepts his fate as the offspring of a fabled bank-robbing psychopath, their bank robber father spoken of in hushed tones and unbelievable stories, the entire militarized might of the LAPD descends upon the stolen ambulance, led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt), a man who festishizes the police enough that Bay doesn’t have to. Even when FBI Agent Clark (Keir O’Donnell) gets involved, he’s only invited into Monroe’s inner circle because he went to college with Danny. Bad Boys and the fever dream of Bad Boys II are about how Michael Bay thinks that cops must be psychopaths in order to confront a modern psychopathic world. In Ambulance, as much as his vision of the LAPD comprises sophisticated surveillance and world-killing artillery to rival the most elite military power of the U.S. government—making sure it all looks really fucking cool—he also makes sure to interrupt an especially destructive chase sequence (as he once had Martin Lawrence declare the events happening on screen obligatory and nothing else) among so many especially destructive chase sequences, to have Monroe’s left hand, Lieutenant Dhazghig (Olivia Stambouliah), tell him how many tax dollars they’re annihilating. Later, many, many police officers die in explosions and hails of gunfire, bodies indiscriminately everywhere. One detects glee in these scenes, as if Bay’s countering Monroe’s dismissal of so many flagrantly abused tax dollars by blowing up half the LAPD in a spectacle that practically demands applause. Maybe Michael Bay no longer sees the utility in unleashing psychopathic cops on a psychopathic world, but maybe he never did. In Bay’s L.A., there are no sides, no good guys and bad guys, just a person who “saves my life” or doesn’t—just people with holes punched into their bodies and people without. This is Bay’s distinction between the “haves” and “have nots”: People who have mortal trauma and people who don’t. The film’s disposable blue collar Italian lump, Randazzo (Randazzo Marc), puts it simply: “L.A. drivers! They’re all mamalukes.” Behold this urban wasteland of struggling mamalukes—it teems with more style than we’ll ever deserve.—Dom Sinacola


21. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Year: 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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We Need To Talk About Kevin concerns the experience of a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggling with the aftermath of a school massacre carried out by her son (Ezra Miller). In its narrative construction, it draws upon two key tropes: that of the “whydunnit” thriller, in which the mystery of the perpetrator’s motivations are a driving factor, and that of the family horror, in which some dark element tears a traditional household apart. Indeed, the real horror is not that a teenager chose total negation over the banality of normative family life—it’s that these appeared to be the only two choices available. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in the starring role as a mother who grapples with guilt about what her son has done and reflects on his childhood, wondering what, if anything, could possibly have been done differently when one gives birth to a “bad seed.” The heartbreaking nature of the film is perfectly encapsulated by the scene wherein Kevin as a child briefly drops his sociopathic tendencies while ill, giving Swinton’s character a brief chance to feel like a cherished mother, only to emotionally shut her out again as soon as his physical health returns, dashing her hopes that some kind of breakthrough had been made. —Donal Foreman


22. Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time

Year: 2021
Director: Hideaki Anno, Mahiro Maeda, Katsuichi Nakayama, Kazuya Tsurumaki
Stars: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuko Miyamura, Maaya Sakamoto, Akira Ishida, Kotono Mitsuishi
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 154 minutes

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Since 1995, Neon Genesis Evangelion has penetrated the cultural consciousness with giant robots, angsty teens and esoteric Biblical references. It is the story of Shinji Ikari, a young boy destined to pilot a giant robot called Unit-01 in a future where creatures called Angels are destined to destroy humanity. But Shinji resists his fate, complaining at every turn and freezing with indecision as the survival of humanity lies on his shoulder. It is truly a one of a kind franchise, the brainchild of the genius and deeply depressed Hideaki Anno. It is a franchise that has plagued him for over 25 years, from a series to a slew of movies that worked to rewrite a dissatisfying ending. Now, Anno is finally done. With the release of his latest and last piece of Evangelion media, Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time, the time of the Angels has come to an end. Thrice Upon a Time is the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion film, which is a complete retelling of the events from the original series. The final film in the universe of Shinji, Asuka, Rei and EVAs may not be the best place for franchise novices to start, but it should be a great motivator. Rarely do anime franchises end on such a pitch perfect note, but Anno shows it is possible with Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time. After decades of grappling with what this series means to him and using it as a mechanism to process his own emotional baggage, Anno has finally found closure within his broken world full of angst and hope. This is a gasp of relief, a stifled sob of pride that punctuates a cultural milestone. With the release of this film, Anno is finally free.—Mary Beth McAndrews


23. Detour

Year: 1945
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Stars: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald
Runtime: 68 minutes

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A Poverty Row staple with an unknown cast peering into the post-war dark night of the soul, Detour has come to embody the best film noir has to offer—namely, that budget and schedule concerns indirectly enriched the artistic product, paring down a weightier script and even more bloated source novel into a precise, exquisitely sharp bit of storytelling economy. Trapped within the sweaty mind of always-broke jazz pianist Al Roberts (Tom Neal) as he heads West from New York to settle down with his girlfriend (Claudia Drake), a symbol of stable life for Roberts who absconded with his heart to try to “make it” in Hollywood, we’re stuck with only the unlucky guy’s version of events throughout his increasingly desperate trip. After all, his hitchhiking journey seems doomed to fail from the start, but it grows damn near bleak with the accidental cadaver-ing of a gregarious Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) following a whirlwind buddy meet-cute, and then completely hopeless with the introduction of Vera (Ann Savage), an iconic femme fatale who doesn’t have to try hard to ensnare Roberts, by that point so far out of his league he’s got his pants pulled up well past his nipples. As much an efficient encapsulation of its genre as it is a noir drowning entirely within its own hell-bent nightmare, Detour is most impressive for how gracefully Ulmer can get the most out of so little. —Dom Sinacola


24. A Hero

Release Date: January 7, 2022
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Alireza Jahandideh, Sahar Goldoost, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaie, Sarina Farhadi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 127 minutes

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What’s the price for having a conscience? Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero spirals out a good deed to all its messy conclusions, providing fertile ground for the filmmaker’s command of aesthetic realism and closeknit interpersonal dynamics. Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a jailed debtor, returns a bag filled with money that he found on leave. The consequences from that act, pushed and prodded and wheedled by Farhadi’s script—which adds a deft understanding of social media to a sharply constructed web of relationships and reputations—are an endurance test for the tear ducts. Doomed nobility is the biggest ask for Jadidi, but his big toothy smile and world-beaten posture allow him to find the perfect amounts of charm (whether genuine or off-putting) or pathos (which we know he’d hate) in Rahim. Sahar Goldoost, Maryam Shahdaei and Alireza Jahandideh make the film a truly potent ensemble drama, while Farhadi’s daughter, Sarina Farhadi, has a memorable return to the screen a decade since her last role, in Farhadi’s A Separation.—Jacob Oller


25. Small Axe: Red, White & Blue

Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: John Boyega, Steve Toussaint
Rating: NR
Runtime: 80 minutes

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What Red, White & Blue has going for it are two extraordinary performances from John Boyega and Steve Toussaint. Boyega is charming as the fiery and conflicted Leroy Logan, a Black scientist who—following on a racist police attack on his father—decides to join the force to reform it from the inside. His father is played with equally compelling ferocity and dignity by Toussaint. There is so much to love in this film, as McQueen leans into his skill at suspense—ratcheting up the tension with incomparable style—and brings out performances that are able to convey so much without saying a word. However, the script doesn’t match the rest of the film, with clunky exposition and uncharacteristic sentimentality weighing down the actors. At its core, Red, White & Blue is not about police reform. In fact almost all of Logan’s fascinating career accomplishments take place long after the film’s credits roll. Rather, Red, White & Blue is focused on a complicated father/son relationship. Viewed through that lens (and likely through the lens of your own specific paternal hang ups) it soars.—Leila Latif


26. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss
Rating: R
Runtime: 89 minutes

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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. —Michael Burgin


27. Small Axe: Education

Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Kenyah Sandy, Sharlene Whyte, Tamara Lawrance, Naomi Ackie
Rating: NR
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Education is McQueen’s most personal and tender work, focused on the education of Black children in the 1970s. McQueen, now broadly recognized as a creative genius, was repeatedly told as a child by his teachers that he would never be capable of doing more than basic manual labor. In Education, he reopens those old wounds through Kingsley, a bright young boy who dreams of being an astronaut. Thanks to institutional racism and undiagnosed dyslexia, Kingsley is sent to a “special school” where he is placed alongside white children with intense and apparent learning disorders and other Black children who have no discernible reason for being there. Of all the films he has made, this one is scrubbed clean of most of McQueen’s stylistic signatures: The whole thing resembles a film actually made in the 1970s rather than a modern film in a ‘70s setting. By making a film rooted in his own memories, McQueen entirely transports us there. The film’s heroines are based on the real-life Black activists who fought for West Indian children’s futures and created the Saturday schools that nurtured McQueen. Education serves both as a beautiful tribute to their achievements across the community and in recognizing the talents of one of Britain’s most gifted artistic visionaries.—Leila Latif


28. Love & Friendship

Year: 2016
Director: Whit Stillman
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
Rating: PG
Runtime: 93 minutes

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The title of Whit Stillman’s latest comedy may be Love & Friendship, but while both are certainly present in the film, other, more negative qualities also abound: deception, manipulation, even outright hatred. Underneath its elegant period-picture surface—most obviously evident in Benjamin Esdraffo’s Baroque-style orchestral score and Louise Matthew’s ornate art direction—lies a darker vision of humanity that gives the film more of an ironic kick than one might have anticipated from the outset. Still, the humor in Love & Friendship is hardly of the misanthropic sort. As always with Stillman, his view of the foibles of the bourgeois is unsparing yet ultimately empathetic. Which means that, even as Stillman works his way toward a happy ending of sorts, the film leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste—which is probably as it should be. Such honesty has always been a hallmark of Stillman’s cinema, and even if Love & Friendship feels like more of a confection than his other films, that frankness, thankfully, still remains. —Kenji Fujishima


29. Small Axe: Lovers Rock

Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok
Rating: NR
Runtime: 70 minutes

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In Lovers Rock, McQueen untethers himself from a conventional narrative and leans into style, movement and feeling set over the course of a single house party in Notting Hill—an area of London that (in 1980) was largely populated by the West Indian community, but has since become one of the most expensive neighborhoods on the planet. This film is based generally on the parties the Black community held for themselves, as they were not welcome in London’s bars and nightclubs at the time. At the center of this film are Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), a middle-class British Christian with Jamaican roots and the dreamy code-switching mechanic Franklyn (Micheal Ward). Released in a time of quarantines and social distances, the film had a rapturous reception, bringing a warmth into our homes and a longing to return to an evening of such possibilities. A single scene where the dance floor sings along to “Silly Games” by Janet Kay is McQueen at his greatest and most joyful, transporting the audience into a giddy hypnotic ecstasy. In many ways Lovers Rock is McQueen’s smallest film, but may end up being his most beloved.—Leila Latif


30. Small Axe: Mangrove

Year: 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Alex Jennings, Jack Lowden
Rating: NR
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Mangrove is McQueen’s greatest film not only because it is an exceptional piece of filmmaking, but because it shows off virtually every one of McQueen’s strengths. The first half looks at the state-sponsored terrorizing of the Mangrove restaurant, a Notting Hill restaurant opened by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) in 1968 that became a hub for the West Indian community and British Black Panthers. After a demonstration protesting the Mangrove’s treatment is swarmed by the racist police force, nine of the participants (including Crichlow himself) are framed for inciting a riot. The second half of the film follows their trial and the toll it takes on them. From start to finish, McQueen fires on all cylinders, shining a light on a largely forgotten piece of history and drawing exceptional performances out of the entire cast (but in particular Parkes and Malachi Kirby). Many of Mangrove’s most beautiful moments, including its climax, hold tight on Parkes’ face and let us experience intense pain, rage, fear, joy and relief through the bottomless wells of his soulful brown eyes. And it is thrilling: The earlier scenes of police, skulking down streets like apex predators, both disturb and terrify. But McQueen is able to accomplish seamless tonal shifts, with those same police officers’ interrogation in a later courtroom scene proving absurd and hilarious. Particular praise must also be given to cinematographer Shabier Kirchner. The use of camera in this film is as unpredictable as it is beautiful, making every moment visceral and riveting. McQueen picks out unusual shots and angles to give every scene the thoughtful composition of a Vermeer. There is a pure poetry to Mangrove, and an implicit footnote: The bravery of these activists will eventually be captured by a Black filmmaker and turned not only into his greatest work (so far), but perhaps the best British film of the decade.—Leila Latif


32. Sound of Metal

Year: 2020
Director: Darius Marder
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is challenged by his rehab sponsor: Sit in a room completely silent. If you’re unable to do that, write about what’s going through your mind. As a recovering addict and blossoming rockstar, this is difficult to do by itself. But with Ruben’s rapidly deteriorating hearing, he fears the silence like no other. The Darius Marder-directed Sound of Metal explores a musician’s struggle with identity due to his new disability. An experiment of sound design paired with a stellar lead performance makes for a captivating film. Along with his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), Ruben co-leads the metal band Blackgammon. They travel to gigs in their Winnebago and bond over the open road. Ruben loses his hearing in a sudden way, causing concern. Afraid, he goes to an audiologist to discover his hearing loss is pretty advanced. Concerned about his sobriety being in jeopardy from the shocking news, Lou convinces Ruben to go to a community retreat for the deaf. While there, he balances the warring feelings of learning to live and love himself as a deaf person and wishing for his old life. Boasting a solid story about profound loss (or is it simply profound change?), knockout performances by Ahmed and Paul Raci in a supporting role, and award-worthy sound design, Sound of Metal cuts through the clutter. But most importantly, it does so by prioritizing the deaf/hard-of-hearing community through its hiring of deaf talent, its use of deaf consultants and captions throughout the film. Marder’s film is the kind of movie that could’ve easily gone in the wrong direction (for all the right reasons). Instead, it sticks the landing.—Joi Childs


33. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Year: 2001
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Brendan Gleeson, William Hurt
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 146 minutes

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A.I. may be Spielberg’s misunderstood masterpiece, evidenced by the many critics who’ve pointed out its supposed flaws only to come around to a new understanding of its greatness—chief among them Roger Ebert, who eventually included it as one of his Great Movies ten years after giving it a lukewarm first review. A.I. represents the perfect melding of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s sensibilities—as Kubrick supposedly worked on the story with Spielberg, and Spielberg felt obliged to finish after Kubrick’s death—which allows the film to keep each of their worst instincts in check. It’s not as cold or distant as Kubrick’s films tend to be, but not as maudlin and manipulative as Spielberg’s films can become—and before the ending is brought out as proof of Spielberg’s failure, it should be noted that the film’s dark coda was actually Kubrick’s idea, adamant that the ending not be meddled with moreso than any other scene. A closer inspection of the film’s themes reveal a much bleaker conclusion—and, no, those aren’t “aliens.” —Oktay Ege Kozak


34. The Vast of Night

Year: 2019
Director: Andrew Patterson
Starring: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 89 minutes

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The Vast of Night is the kind of sci-fi film that seeps into your deep memory and feels like something you heard on the news, observed in a dream, or were told in a bar. Director Andrew Patterson’s small-town hymn to analog and aliens is built from long, talky takes and quick-cut sequences of manipulating technology. Effectively a ‘50s two-hander between audio enthusiasts (Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz playing a switchboard operator and disc jockey, respectively) the film is a quilted fable of story layers, anecdotes and conversations stacking and interweaving warmth before yanking off the covers. The effectiveness of the dusty locale and its inhabitants, forged from a high school basketball game and one-sided phone conversations (the latter of which are perfect examples of McCormick’s confident performance and writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger’s sharp script), only makes its inevitable UFO-in-the-desert destination even better. Comfort and friendship drop in with an easy swagger and a torrent of words, which makes the sensory silence (quieting down to focus on a frequency or dropping out the visuals to focus on a single, mysterious radio caller) almost holy. It’s mythology at its finest, an origin story that makes extraterrestrial obsession seem as natural and as part of our curious lives as its many social snapshots. The beautiful ode to all things that go [UNINTELLIGIBLE BUZZING] in the night is an indie inspiration to future Fox Mulders everywhere. —Jacob Oller


35. His Girl Friday

Year: 1940
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Special effects have become so sophisticated that many of us have probably forgotten how much pure amazement you can wreak with a great story and a script that doesn’t let up for one second. This amazing, dizzyingly paced screwball comedy by Howard Hawks stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and takes us back into two of the decade’s hallmark preoccupations: The “remarriage comedy” and the intrigue and obsessiveness of the newspaper world. The minute Russell’s Lindy Johnson stalks into the newspaper office run by her ex-husband Walter Burns (Grant), you know it’s to tell him she’s getting remarried and leaving journalism to raise a family, and you know that’s not how it’s going to end. No high-suspense mystery here. What puts you on the edge of your seat in this film is how you get there. Hilariously acted and expertly filmed, His Girl Friday derives much of its comedic impact from the incredibly clever and lightning-fast banter of the characters. Don’t even think about checking your phone while you’re watching this. In fact, try to blink as little as possible. —Amy Glynn


36. Election

Year: 1999
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Tom Perrotta writes novels that strip the veneer from polite and “civilized” mid-American suburban life to expose it as the Starbucks-ian jungle that it is: The most reptilian impulses of human nature can strike at any time to dismantle the weak ones in the pack, or to at least flirt with pure narcissistic and hedonistic behavior. In fact, two great films based on his work outline this thematic connection—in Todd Field’s Little Children, the sexual indiscretions of small town characters are narrated like an old school National Geographic documentary, and in Alexander Payne’s Election, the soundtrack blares with a screeching, angry tribal chant whenever a character feels slighted, preparing for an attack to socially destroy an enemy. Perrotta and Payne’s narrative covers a rift between a high school teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who isn’t self-aware enough to realize how much of a selfish prick he really is, and a student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), the embodiment of blind and ruthless ambition, during the election to appoint the new student body president. Underneath this simple story rides a precise and nimble exploration about the lengths anyone might go to on the road to success to protect their fragile ego while stabbing many backs. Witherspoon’s now-iconic take on Tracy Flick is the embodiment of that person we’ve all encountered who will do and say literally anything to get ahead in life. However, Broderick’s seemingly caring and guiding teacher also succumbs to his own basest desires. Which one perishes, and which one comes out on top depends not on any preconceived cosmic hierarchy of good morals (or ethics—what’s the difference?), but on who can be the shrewdest and cleverest animal in the pack. —Oktay Ege Kozak


37. The Lost City of Z

Year: 2017
Director: James Gray
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 141 minutes

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James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is an anti-period movie. In the vein of The Immigrant, Gray’s glorious last film, Z is fascinated with its milieu (this time we begin across the Atlantic in Blighty, from 1906 to 1925) and luxuriously adorned with period detail—but the strangulated social climate and physically claustrophobic spaces of its ostensibly sophisticated Western society make that environment appear totally unappealing. Only once we reach the Amazon, untainted by Western hands, does the film relax, its beguiling score and open-air scenery turning inviting. There, in a land of uncomplicated tribes and indifferent wilderness, a man like soldier and explorer Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) can find freedom from the narrow-mindedness infecting early 20th century Britain. Darius Khondji’s cinematography doesn’t just complement Gray’s movie, it deepens its meaning, strengthening the appeal of Fawcett’s jungle, endlessly verdant and mysterious where home in England appears dull and monotone. Every frame is sumptuous and misty-eyed, always pining for a lost era when adventurers might still find corners of the Earth completely untouched. (Gray may show little love for Empire, but he depicts colonial exploration in itself as a romantic adventure.) The film doesn’t make for much complexity, but it feels deeply. Like Fawcett, it aches—like his obsession, the jungle, it envelops, casting a lasting spell. —Brogan Morris


38. Ida

Year: 2013
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

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A compelling examination of how the past can shape us even when we don’t know anything about it, Pawel Pawlikowski’s quiet Polish film takes place in the 1960s, when World War II has ended but still grips people’s lives. In the title role, Agata Trzebuchowska—with a well-tuned balance between naivete and curiosity despite being a non-professional actor—plays a nun-in-training who learns that her family was Jewish and killed during Nazi occupation. She embarks on an odyssey to find their graves with her cynical, alcoholic aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), former prosecutor for the communist government. The relationship between the two characters grows more and more complex as they go deeper down the rabbit hole of their family’s past. Shot in black-and-white and academy ratio (1.37:1) by cinematographers ?ukasz ?al and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida uses its frame to distinct effect, often resigning characters to the lower third of the screen. The effect can be unsettling, but intriguing; that space could contain the watchful power of Ida’s lord, but it could also be nothing more than an empty void. After a life of certitude, Ida has to decide for herself. —Jeremy Mathews


39. I Am Not Your Negro

Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck
Rating: PG-13

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Raoul Peck focuses on James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, a work that would have memorialized three of his friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. All three black men were assassinated within five years of each other, and we learn in the film that Baldwin was not just concerned about these losses as terrible blows to the Civil Rights movement, but deeply cared for the wives and children of the men who were murdered. Baldwin’s overwhelming pain is as much the subject of the film as his intellect. And so I Am Not Your Negro is not just a portrait of an artist, but a portrait of mourning—what it looks, sounds and feels like to lose friends, and to do so with the whole world watching (and with so much of America refusing to understand how it happened, and why it will keep happening). Peck could have done little else besides give us this feeling, placing us squarely in the presence of Baldwin, and I Am Not Your Negro would have likely still been a success. His decision to steer away from the usual documentary format, where respected minds comment on a subject, creates a sense of intimacy difficult to inspire in films like this. The pleasure of sitting with Baldwin’s words, and his words alone, is exquisite. There’s no interpreter, no one to explain Baldwin but Baldwin—and this is how it should be. —Shannon M. Houston


40. The Phantom of the Opera

Year: 1925
Director: Rupert Julian
Stars: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin
Rating: NR
Runtime: 79 minutes

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Before Dracula and the official birth of Universal Horror, there was Phantom of the Opera. (By the way: It sucks that none of the major streamers, including Netflix and Shudder, have the rights to show all of the classic Universal Monster series. I want to be able to watch Son of Frankenstein or The Wolf Man streaming on demand some day, guys! Get those licensing deals in place!) Regardless, it’s nice that Shudder has at least one of these old classics, on account of it being in the public domain. This is the original version of Phantom, starring Lon Chaney Sr., the “Man of a Thousand Faces.” The pace is slow, the acting style on display is rather alien to watch today— overdramatic holdovers from the vaudeville era—and you know how the classic story goes, but man: Chaney’s face. t’s one of the truly iconic faces of horror, right alongside Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Chaney’s own son, Lon Chaney Jr., who would go on to play The Wolf Man. Phantom of the Opera is indispensable for Chaney’s self-devised makeup, which reportedly had theater patrons fainting in the aisles in 1925. —Jim Vorel


41. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Year: 2007
Director: Jake Kasdan
Stars: John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, Raymond J. Barry, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Margo Martindale
Rating: R
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Although Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story claims to be a spoof of biopics and their extreme depictions of artists—especially musicians—biopics’ exaggerations are a reflection of the frailties and eccentricities of the artists which they profile, so it’s hard to distinguish a satire about biopics from a satire about musicians. Regardless of what category the film falls into, Walk Hard does not really tow the fine line of being clever so much as it provides a fun and absurd romp with heaps of laughs. John C. Reilly, who plays rising and troubled music star Dewey Cox, skillfully presents a dopey-yet-conniving and shallow-but-sincere character with a heart of fool’s gold. Looking something like Johnny Cash crossed with Tom Waits, Cox has multiple addictions, wives and musical phases. Aspiring to a level beyond greatness after he accidentally kills his brother by splitting him in half with a machete when they are young boys growing up in Alabama, Cox is compelled to compensate for the loss of his brother, leading to a life of excess and indulgence. But Reilly isn’t the only star of the film. Kristen Wiig shines as Cox’s frustrated wife and the mother of their seemingly infinite amount of children; as Cox’s other frustrated wife and duet partner, Jenna Fischer is superb. Tim Meadows is hysterical with a stand out performance as Cox’s bandmate who can’t seem to stop doing or introducing Cox to increasingly heavy drugs. Additionally, cameos from Jack White (Elvis Presley), Jack Black (Paul McCartney), Paul Rudd (John Lennon), Jason Schwartzman (Ringo Starr), Justin Long (George Harrison), Eddie Vedder, Jackson Browne and Lyle Lovett make the film even more ridiculous. Like most films of its ilk, Walk Hard may go too over-the-top to prove itself, but there is something charming about it, underscored by its genuine love of music and affinity for musicians. It is also obvious from one of the first lines in the film (“Guys, I need Cox!”) that this project neither takes itself too seriously nor asks the same of its viewers. —Pamela Chelin


42. Heathers

Year: 1989
Director: Michael Lehmann
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Kim Walker
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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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


43. In the Heat of the Night

Year: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates
Rating: G
Runtime: 109 minutes

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The racial animosity depicted in director’s Norman Jewison’s Best Picture Oscar winner, about Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), an African-American homicide detective from Philadelphia who stumbles upon a murder mystery in a podunk Mississippi town, tips over into a poignant commentary on art imitating life. Poitier refused to shoot on location, fearing retaliation from southern racists, and even a quick pickup shoot in Tennessee was cut short after Poitier began receiving threats. The genius in Sterling Silliphant’s adaptation of John Ball’s novel, then, is in the borderline anal manner in which he balances social commentary and plot progression. Pretty much every scene contains a new piece of information towards solving the murder case, as well as a damning portrait of racial animosity. The contentious working relationship between Virgil and the local chief of police, Gillespie (Rod Steiger), never resolves cleanly; In the Heat of the Night is smart enough to know that prejudices entrenched within multiple generations will not disappear overnight, if at all. Even moments of bonding between colleagues never steer clear of the racial divide between them. There’s a glimmer of hope in the very final moments, but Jewison always has a handle on his uncompromising tone. —Oktay Ege Kozak


44. The Neon Demon

Year: 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Jena Malone
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

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If Nicolas Winding Refn—anthropomorphic cologne bottle; asexual jaguar—is going to make a horror film, Nicolas Winding Refn will make a horror film about the things that scare Nicolas Winding Refn most: asymmetry, sex, fatherhood. In The Neon Demon, every character is either someone’s daughter or a deranged daddy figure, both thirsty for the kind of flesh only Los Angeles can provide, the roles of predator and prey in constant, unnerving flux. Part cannibal-slasher movie and part endlessly pretty car commercial, Refn’s film about a young model (Elle Fanning) making it in the fashion industry goes exactly where you think it’s going to go, even when it’s trying as hard as it can to be weird as fuck. But despite his best efforts, Refn sustains such an overarching, creeping atmosphere of despair—such a deeply ingrained sense of looming physical imperfection, of death—that it never really matters if The Neon Demon doesn’t add up to much of anything more than a factory showroom of the many gorgeous skins it inhabits, violently or not. —Dom Sinacola


45. It’s a Wonderful Life

Year: 1946
Director: Frank Capra
Stars: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Rating: PG
Runtime: 130 minutes

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Frank Capra’s Christmas fantasy actually kind of flopped at the box office when it was released, and put Capra on the out-to-pasture list as the studio decided he was no longer capable of scoring a hit. Then it was nominated for five Academy Awards and has become known as one of the most acclaimed films ever made. On Christmas Eve, suicidal George Bailey (the sublime Jimmy Stewart) receives a visit from a sort of junior angel who calls himself Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence is charged with pulling Bailey off the ledge, in return for which he will be granted wings. So he shows Bailey visions of his life, progressing from his childhood, showing Bailey all the times he made someone’s live better (or outright saved it). Ultimately Clarence jumps into the river before George can do it; activating the suicidal man to save Clarence rather than kill himself. It’s not enough, so Clarence shows him what the world would look like if he’d never been born. When George sees that his existence has had and continues to have a positive impact on the world, he goes home to his family, Clarence gets his wings and happiness ensues. Yup, it’s a Christmas story. And it’s one of the most enduring ones for a bunch of reasons, including Stewart’s amazing performance and a beautiful script by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett along with Capra. (Both Stewart and Capra commented that it was their favorite of all the films they’d respectively worked on.) Timeless, big-hearted and disarmingly sincere, this film is one I defy you to have one cynical comment about. Go on: be cynical. You can’t, right? Right. Because it’s not possible. —Amy Glynn


46. The Handmaiden

Year: 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Kim Tae-ri, Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Rating: NR
Runtime: 145 minutes

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There are few filmmakers on Earth capable of crafting the experience of movies like The Handmaiden so exquisitely while maintaining both plot inertia and a sense of fun. (Yes, it’s true: Park has made a genuinely fun, and often surprisingly, bleakly funny, picture.) The film begins somberly enough, settling on a tearful farewell scene as Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is carted off to the manor of the reclusive and exorbitantly rich aristocrat Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), where she will act as servant to his niece, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). But Sook-hee isn’t a maid: She’s a pickpocket working on behalf of Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a conman scheming to get his mitts on Hideko’s assets. (That’s not a euphemism. He only wants her for her money.) The reveal of Sook-hee’s true intentions is just the first of many on The Handmaiden’s narrative itinerary. Park has designed the film as a puzzle box where each step taken to find the solution answers one question while posing new ones at the same time. But you’re here to read about the sex, aren’t you? It’s in the sex scenes between the two Kims that Park shows the kind of filmmaker he really is. The sex is sexy, the scenes steamy, but in each we find a tenderness that invites us to read them as romance rather than as pornography. We’re not conditioned to look for humanity in pantomimes of a sexually explicit nature, but that’s exactly when The Handmaiden is at its most human. There’s something comforting in that, and in Park’s framing of deviance as embodied by the film’s masculine component. We don’t really need him to spell that out for us, but the message is welcome all the same. —Andy Crump


47. Ash Is Purest White

Year: 2018
Director: Jia Zhangke
Stars: Tao Zhiao, Fan Liao
Rating: NR
Runtime: 136 minutes

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Ash Is Purest White’s story spans decades, a staggeringly beautiful epic, as comedic as it is heartbreaking, that stills feels impossibly intimate—confined, even, and not by space or imagery, but by emotion. China, over the decades through which the film sweeps, tumbles amidst modernization with little care for those who can’t afford to change with the times. Then there is love, passion and crime: At its heart, Ash Is Purest White is a romance between two criminals, Qiao (Tao Zhao) and Bin (Fan Liao). They are serious people with serious demeanors, their day-to-day lives oscillating between the nothingness of a routine lifestyle and violence. Yet, the violence is rarely ever seen—though when it is, Zhangke Jia directs it with a sense of relentless desperation and urgency—and most of the violence of the emotional sort. Yet, there is also a grand sense of human comedy that hangs over the film’s proceedings, as the stories of Jia’s core characters reflect China at large: Everything is changing, nothing is sacred, the past pales in comparison to the rapidly approaching future. Reality can be fought, but time is inescapable—always encroaching and always passing us by. —Cole Henry


48. Fist of Fury

Year: 1972
Director: Lo Wei
Stars: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Riki Hashimoto, Huang Tsung Hsing
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes

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Bruce Lee’s second feature is a definite upgrade over the rawness of The Big Boss, sporting a bigger budget, better production and a story more important to Lee’s values. His character, Chen Zhen, becomes a Chinese folk hero when he stands up to the invading Japanese occupiers—especially in the classic scene in which he breaks a sign reading “no Chinese and no dogs” in the local park. Fist of Fury marks Bruce Lee’s true arrival, fully formed as an action legend, and if there’s a precise moment when the audience can witness that happen, it’s the iconic dojo fight: Chen shows up at the Japanese training facility to absolutely go to town on everyone inside. Just how iconic would Bruce Lee become? Pretty much every piece of clothing Lee wore in any film became a symbol of martial arts badassery for decades to come, whether it’s a simple white shirt, or this film’s navy blue suit, or, of course, the yellow tracksuit from The Game of Death. That’s how you know the guy is a legend. —Jim Vorel


49. Vivarium

Year: 2020
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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A quirky real estate story, where first-time homeowners Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) get a lot more than they bargained for, Vivarium is a low-key sci-fi nightmare of the mundane in the vein of early David Cronenberg. Director Lorcan Finnegan’s film also functions as a relationship allegory, where Tom and Gemma find themselves stuck in a trendy neighborhood of cookie-cutter homes where starting a family isn’t just an expectation but something foisted upon them. It isn’t as grisly as something like Shivers, but more affecting in its surreal design and hopelessness. Eisenberg and Poots own the screen as a disintegrating couple coping in distinct ways to their newfound terrarium where they are observed, manipulated, and—perhaps most disturbingly of all—objectively provided for by unseen and undefinable forces. Its 2020 release feels especially fitting as repetition and hopelessness become permanent residents of the couple’s home. Genre elements seep into the film, accelerating in hiccups and starts that are as arresting as the film’s intentionally artificial design. Startling sound dubbing, odd colorizing, and a few genuine “Oh shit” moments make Vivarium a tight, nasty fable that would fit in with the best Twilight Zone episodes. —Jacob Oller


50. The Quiet Man

Year: 1952
Director: John Ford
Stars: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara
Rating: PG
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Seen today, John Ford’s 1952 Ireland-set comedy/drama/romance plays as both squarely of its time and enchantingly outside of it. On the minus side, there are its thorny gender politics. Though the female love interest, Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), exhibits a feistiness and a desire for agency that could be seen as proto-feminist to modern eyes, she’s ultimately put at the mercy of the hyper-masculine ex-boxer Sean Thornton (John Wayne), who is finally forced to tap into the violent side he’s so desperate to escape in order to consummate their marriage. The fact that Sean is an American—though of Irish origin, having been born in Innisfree, the village he returns to in the film—and Mary Kate a lifelong Irishwoman gives their dynamic a faint imperialist air as well. And yet, Ford, more often than not, disarms criticism by sheer virtue of his lyrical sensibility, reserves of deep feeling, and humane attention to character detail. The Technicolor Ireland of The Quiet Man is clearly a lush dreamscape: an out-of-time haven of hearty romance and even heartier community. Not that it’s a paradise, necessarily, as Sean finds himself stymied to some degree by Irish traditions that go against his much-more-forthright American upbringing. But this is not the dark and brutal vision of Ford’s later 1956 masterpiece The Searchers, with an outlaw outsider finding himself perpetually unable to fit into any established order. Here, in the looser-limbed and lighter-hearted The Quiet Man, Sean and the Irish locals eventually find common ground, albeit through a perversely extended brawl that plays as a purifying male-bonding session. —Kenji Fujishima