The 50 Best Movies on Netflix (December 2021)

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The 50 Best Movies on Netflix (December 2021)

The best movies on Netflix can be hard to find, but we’re not likely to run out of great films any time soon. There’s plenty to choose from, whether you’re looking for the best action movies, the best horror films, the best comedies or the best classic movies on Netflix. We’ve updated the list for December to remove great films that’ve left (Jaws) while highlighting underseen excellence.

Rather than spending your time scrolling through categories, trying to track down the perfect film to watch, we’ve done our best to make it easy for you at Paste by updating our Best Movies to watch on Netflix list each week with new additions and overlooked films alike.

Here are the 50 best movies streaming on Netflix right now:

1. Lady Bird

Year: 2017
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: R

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Before Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)—Lady Bird is her given name, as in “[she] gave it to [her]self”—auditions for the school musical, she watches a young man belting the final notes to “Being Alive” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A few moments before, while in a car with her mother, she lays her head on the window wistfully and says with a sigh, “I wish I could just live through something.” Stuck in Sacramento, where she thinks there’s nothing to be offered her while paying acute attention to everything her home does have to offer, Lady Bird—and the film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, that shares her name—has ambivalence running through her veins. What a perfect match: Stephen Sondheim and Greta Gerwig. Few filmmakers are able to capture the same kind of ambiguity and mixed feelings that involve the refusal to make up one’s mind: look to 35-year-old Bobby impulsively wanting to marry a friend, but never committing to any of his girlfriends, in Company; the “hemming and hawing” of Cinderella on the, ahem, steps of the palace; or Mrs. Lovett’s cause for pause in telling Sweeney her real motives. Lady Bird isn’t as high-concept as many of Sondheim’s works, but there’s a piercing truthfulness to the film, and arguably Gerwig’s work in general, that makes its anxieties and tenderness reverberate in the viewer’s heart with equal frequency. —Kyle Turner


2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Year: 1975
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Connie Booth
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG

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It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film after a few years, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler


3. The Irishman

Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rating: R

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Peggy Sheeran (Lucy Gallina) watches her father, Frank (Robert De Niro), through a door left ajar as he packs his suitcase for a work trip. In go trousers and shirts, each neatly tucked and folded against the luggage’s interior. In goes the snubnose revolver, the ruthless tool of Frank’s trade. He doesn’t know his daughter’s eyes are on him; she’s constitutionally quiet, and remains so throughout most of their interaction as adults. He shuts the case. She disappears behind the door. Her judgment lingers. The scene plays out one third of the way into Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Irishman, named for Frank’s mob world sobriquet, and replays in its final shot, as Frank, old, decrepit and utterly, hopelessly alone, abandoned by his family and bereft of his gangster friends through the passage of time, sits on his nursing home bed. Maybe he’s waiting for Death, but most likely he’s waiting for Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin), who disowned him and has no intention of forgiving him his sins. Peggy serves as Scorsese’s moral arbiter. She’s a harsh judge: The film takes a dim view of machismo as couched in the realm of mafiosa and mugs. When Scorsese’s principal characters aren’t scheming or paying off schemes in acts of violence, they’re throwing temper tantrums, eating ice cream or in an extreme case slap-fighting in a desperately pathetic throwdown. This scene echoes similarly pitiful scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel and Rashomon: brawls between wannabe roughs afraid of brawling, but forced into it by their own bravado. The Irishman spans the 1950s to the early 2000s, the years Frank worked for the Bufalino crime family, led by Russell (Joe Pesci, out of retirement and intimidating). “Working” means murdering some people, muscling others, even blowing up a car or a building when the occasion warrants. When disengaged from gangland terrorism, he’s at home reading the paper, watching the news, dragging Peggy to the local grocer to give him a beatdown for shoving her. “I only did what you should,” the poor doomed bastard says before Frank drags him out to the street and crushes his hand on the curb. The Irishman is historical nonfiction, chronicling Sheeran’s life, and through his life the lives of the Bufalinos and their associates, particularly those who died before their time (that being most of them). It’s also a portrait of childhood cast in the shadow of dispassionate brutality, and what a young girl must do to find safety in a world defined by bloodshed. —Andy Crump


4. Pan’s Labyrinth

Year: 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Sergí Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Alex Angulo, Doug Jones
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Rating: R

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One of the most imaginative films of the 21st century, Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish fable is a triumph of storytelling and nothing short of a work of art. Simultaneously a war saga and a fairy tale, it traces the journey of a young girl and her scavenger hunt through another world to save her mother’s life, set in the midst of the Spanish civil war. Pan’s Labyrinth oozes atmosphere with its stunning cinematography and production values, all guided by del Toro’s keen artistic vision. With this out-and-out masterpiece, del Toro cemented his position as one of this generation’s most exciting and talented visionaries. —Jeremy Medina


5. I Am Not Your Negro

Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck
Genre: Documentary
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


6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Year: 1991
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: R

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That rare sequel that trumps its predecessor, James Cameron and co-writer William Wisher Jr. crafted a near-perfect action-movie script that flipped the original on its head and let Ahnold be a good guy. But it’s Linda Hamilton’s transformation from damsel-in-distress to bad-ass hero that makes the film so notable. Why should the guys get all the good action scenes? —Josh Jackson


7. Uncut Gems

Year: 2019
Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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The proprietor of an exclusive shop in New York’s diamond district, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) does well for himself and his family, though he can’t help but gamble compulsively, owing his brother-in-law Aron (Eric Bogosian, malevolently slimy) a substantial amount. Still, Howard has other risks to balance—his payroll’s comprised of Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), a finder of both clients and product, and Julia (Julia Fox, an unexpected beacon amidst the storm in her first feature role), a clerk with whom Howard’s carrying on an affair, “keeping” her comfortable in his New York apartment. Except his wife’s (Idina Menzel, pristinely jaded) obviously sick of his shit, and meanwhile he’s got a special delivery coming from Africa: a black opal, the stone we got to know intimately in the film’s first scene, which Howard estimates is worth millions. Then Demany happens to bring Kevin Garnett (as himself, keyed so completely into the Safdie brothers’ tone) into the shop on the same day the opal arrives, inspiring a once-in-a-lifetime bet for Howard—the kind that’ll square him with Aron and then some—as well as a host of new crap to get straight. It’s all undoubtedly stressful—really relentlessly, achingly stressful—but the Safdies, on their sixth film, seem to thrive in anxiety, capturing the inertia of Howard’s life, and of the innumerable lives colliding with his, in all of its full-bodied beauty. Just before a game, Howard reveals to Garnett his grand plan for a big payday, explaining that Garnett gets it, right? That guys like them are keyed into something greater, working on a higher wavelength than most—that this is how they win. He may be onto something, or he may be pulling everything out of his ass—regardless, we’ve always known Sandler’s had it in him. This may be exactly what we had in mind. —Dom Sinacola


8. She’s Gotta Have It

Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Tracy Camila Johns, Spike Lee, John Canada Terrell, Tommy Redmond Hicks
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rating: R

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An explosively frank feature debut that immediately announced Lee’s brave, fresh new voice in American cinema, She’s Gotta Have It, shot like a documentary, is a levelheaded exploration of a young black woman named Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) trying to decide between her three male lovers, while also flirting with her apparent bisexuality, in order to, first and foremost, figure out what makes her happy. What’s refreshing about the film is that Lee always brings up the possibility that “none of the above” is a perfectly viable answer for both Nola and for single women—a game changer in 1986. The DIY indie grainy black-and-white cinematography boosts the film’s in-your-face realism. —Oktay Ege Kozak


9. Boogie Nights

Year: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Although Boogie Nights was Paul Thomas Anderson’s first epic production with an ensemble cast, time and perspective show it’s his closest brush with perfection. The auteur specializes in building up characters to break them down, and no one in his 1997 exploration of the pornography business is exempt from his deconstructive impulses: Few directors balance the hilarious and harrowing so seamlessly, and even fewer rely on dramatic irony to achieve both. Boogie Nights may be amusing because its characters—from Mark Wahlberg’s young rising star to Julianne Moore’s fading starlet and Burt Reynold’s once-famous director who must deal with an industry changing without him—are so hapless, but their ignorance is equally heartbreaking; they earnestly desire to make a good product, even if they struggle to figure out what constitutes quality anymore. Anderson’s fictional pornographers may desperately and futilely cling to a time before video and amateur acting, but Anderson himself managed to put out a two-and-a-half hour film that is careful to never overstay its welcome—even when it asks for “one last thing.” —Allie Conti


10. Midnight Run

Year: 1988
Director: Martin Brest
Stars: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina, John Ashton
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rating: R

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The ’80s created the textbook action/comedy formula, and director Martin Brest was smack dab in the middle of it. His Beverly Hills Cop was originally written as a straight action movie, until Eddie Murphy was cast in the lead role. Instead of keeping the overall self-serious tone of the film and just inserting some out-of-place comedy set pieces into the narrative, Murphy and Brest infused a lighthearted tone across the entire project, while keeping the basic requirements of an action structure in place. Midnight Run, Brest’s follow-up to Beverly Hills Cop, perfects this fusion. None of the action sequences take themselves too seriously, and none of comedy comes across as mugging, desperate to extract easy chuckles. The premise and structure are very simple and fairly predictable: It’s a traditional road movie wherein a grizzled bounty hunter (Robert DeNiro) has to transport a mob accountant (Charles Grodin) across the country, with the mob and the police squarely on their tail. What makes Midnight Run still feel fresh after 30 years is Brest’s aforementioned handle on tone, and the terrific chemistry between DeNiro and Grodin, so on point it’s surprising they weren’t reunited for other similar flicks after this. Usually the rough masculine bounty hunter would be the wild card against the accountant’s stuffy straight man, yet DeNiro and Grodin find refreshing ways of tinkering with that formula, with DeNiro’s character eventually coming across as a regular good guy who was dealt more than a few bad hands, and Grodin as a lovable but sometimes infuriating weirdo. —Oktay Ege Kozak


11. It Follows

Year: 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe
Genre: Horror
Rating: R

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The specter of Old Detroit haunts It Follows. In a dilapidating ice cream stand on 12 Mile, in the ’60s-style ranch homes of Ferndale or Berkley, in a game of Parcheesi played by pale teenagers with nasally, nothing accents—if you’ve never been, you’d never recognize the stale, gray nostalgia creeping into every corner of David Robert Mitchell’s terrifying film. But it’s there, and it feels like SE Michigan. The music, the muted but strangely sumptuous color palette, the incessant anachronism: In style alone, Mitchell is an auteur seemingly emerged fully formed from the unhealthy womb of Metro Detroit. Cycles and circles concentrically fill out It Follows, from the particularly insular rules of the film’s horror plot, to the youthful, fleshy roundness of the faces and bodies of this small group of main characters, never letting the audience forget that, in so many ways, these people are still children. In other words, Mitchell is clear about his story: This has happened before, and it will happen again. All of which wouldn’t work were Mitchell less concerned with creating a genuinely unnerving film, but every aesthetic flourish, every fully circular pan is in thrall to breathing morbid life into a single image: someone, anyone slowly separating from the background, from one’s nightmares, and walking toward you, as if Death itself were to appear unannounced next to you in public, ready to steal your breath with little to no aplomb. Initially, Mitchell’s whole conceit—passing on a haunting through intercourse—seems to bury conservative sexual politics under typical horror movie tropes, proclaiming to be a progressive genre pic when it functionally does nothing to further our ideas of slasher fare. You fornicate, you find punishment for your flagrant, loveless sinning, right? (The film has more in common with a Judd Apatow joint than you’d expect.) Instead, Mitchell never once judges his characters for doing what practically every teenager wants to do; he simply lays bare, through a complex allegory, the realities of teenage sex. There is no principled implication behind Mitchell’s intent; the cold conclusion of sexual intercourse is that, in some manner, you are sharing a certain degree of your physicality with everyone with whom your partner has shared the same. That he accompanies this admission with genuine respect and empathy for the kinds of characters who, in any other horror movie, would be little more than visceral fodder for a sadistic spirit, elevates It Follows from the realm of disguised moral play into a sickly scary coming-of-age tale. Likewise, Mitchell inherently understands that there is practically nothing more eerie than the slightly off-kilter ordinary, trusting the film’s true horror to the tricks our minds play when we forget to check our periphery. It Follows is a film that thrives in the borders, not so much about the horror that leaps out in front of you, but the deeper anxiety that waits at the verge of consciousness—until, one day soon, it’s there, reminding you that your time is limited, and that you will never be safe. Forget the risks of teenage sex, It Follows is a penetrating metaphor for growing up. —Dom Sinacola


12. A Cop Movie

Year: 2021
Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Out of the many striking shots captured in the docu-fiction hybrid A Cop Movie, one conveys the essence of director Alonso Ruizpalacios’ examination of Mexico’s police force unlike any other. After tying her wrist to a long, flimsy piece of rope, police academy trainee Teresa prepares to jump off of a 30-foot diving platform and into a swimming pool. It is the last challenge she must overcome in order to graduate—that of “decisiveness”—but poses an enormous threat to her life as she cannot swim, her likely fate of drowning callously counteracted by keeping her wrist tethered to land. Interestingly, Teresa turns out to be less of a documentary subject and more of an avatar for Ruizpalacios to survey the civilian perspective of the country’s police force. Presented as the honest central subject for nearly half of the film, Teresa (who is based on a real person) turns out to be played by actress Monica del Carmen, who has expertly molded herself in the real-life officer’s image, reenacting memories from her days as an academy student to her most recent workplace woes patrolling the streets of Mexico City. At her side is fellow actor Raúl Briones, who portrays Montoya (also a real guy), the second half of the duo dubbed “the love patrol” by other cops due to their flirtatious relationship as partners. Though initially presenting themselves as two officers simply doing their best within a crumbling system, the second half of the film makes it clear that these sentiments are only the biased projections of their real-life counterparts. Through carefully crafting this illusion and then stealthily unveiling the hypocrisy behind it, A Cop Movie is subtle yet audacious in its indictment of police corruption and the individual officers who buy into it—their good intentions be damned. —Natalia Keogan


13. The Florida Project

Year: 2017
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklyn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb landry Jones
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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However useful a surreal approach to reframing paradise may be, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project presents a more acute critique. Baker plunges his audience into his worlds through the lens of social realism, his camera on the same playing field as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and the manager of the motel they live in, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The camera lives with the characters, watches them haul a bed-bug-infested mattress outside, or sit and eat pancakes by a small creek-ish ditch. Nothing climactic happens in these scenes, we just get to watch and not pass judgment—or pass judgment, whatever, it’s up to us. Baker never interferes; the equality of these scenes under the eye of his camera makes his film’s pointed ideas about survival and joy all the more striking. The film may be buoyed with a sense of humor and, occasionally, wonder, but Halley’s life is framed by an internal struggle over whether humor and wonder can help her retain her autonomy at all in spite of her class status. The Florida Project is spattered with profound sadness, with moments of externalized, violent frustration at presumed helplessness, at practically being born into all this. To what degree you believe Baker to be condescending or patronizing or exploitative is up to you, but the film’s bursts of light, its idea of what caregiving looks like when caregiving is a privilege, is handled with sensitivity. When the film switches from 35mm to digital in its final shots, Baker imbues his camera, now mobile, with freewheeling liberation: No matter what happens after The Florida Project ends, in those last moments, these kids are born to live.


14. The Game

Year: 1997
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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One of my more fortunate movie-going experiences was seeing The Game for the first time and not knowing a damn thing about it. I can’t even remember why I saw it; I really didn’t like Seven, felt indifferent to Michael Douglas, thought David Fincher was a cold-hearted megalomaniacal automaton (I still cling to that when it suits). In hindsight, I was in the perfect frame of mind to see it. My low expectations yielded wondrous surprise. And I got the perverse joy of watching mega-yuppie Michael Douglas get the mother of all come-uppances. All this presented in an icy noir-ish Fincher sheen that achieved the rather impressive feat of satirizing conspiracy theories on a purely visual level alone. But what puts this over-the-top for me is the sheer rewatchability of the thing. Sure, it’s a contraption movie, so you always want to see what you might have missed the first time round; but it goes beyond that. I’m convinced now that I want to play The Game. I wish I had a loony left-wing Sean Penn brother who wanted to mess with me. I want that love! I want to feel the ultimate middle-aged epiphany! (And I want to be able to afford it!) Well I want lots of things I can’t have, so I guess I’ll just watch The Game again. Hell, even that ridiculous ending doesn’t seem so bad now.—Harold Brodie


15. The Master

Year: 2012
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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The Master studies its characters with such mystique, tragedy and humor that there’s not a moment that isn’t enthralling. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson continues some of the stylistic tendencies from his last film, There Will Be Blood, but he also finds ways to constantly take risks and make bold choices that are thoroughly unpredictable. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his religion, The Cause, are obviously inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and that link was the focal point of the film’s pre-release press coverage. The parallels between the two ideologies are inescapable, yet they’re not the point. Anderson never adopts the viewpoint of religion/cult as freak show. Even in a brilliant montage depicting a series of grueling exercises that Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) can’t or won’t let enlighten him, the personal struggle is in the forefront. The bizarreness of the rituals is almost incidental. Phoenix gives the performance of his career as a booze-soaked World War II veteran with mental and physical scars. Having gleaned little benefit from a psychiatric crash-course for returning soldiers with post-traumatic issues, he stumbles around one place until he must flee to another, obsessing over sex and making experimental hooch. Anderson has always been a visual virtuoso, and he uses the added detail to superb effect. Dodd first appears during a tracking shot of Freddie, seen in the distance as a tiny but exuberant figure on a cruise ship, small yet still the center of attention. Freddie has not yet met Dodd, but the boat is calling to him. That could be because Dodd knew Freddie in a past life, or it could be because Freddie is a desperate drunk looking for a place to hide. Freddie’s great tragedy is that the less appealing explanation gives him no answer, while the other gives him the wrong answer. —Jeremy Mathews


16. Da 5 Bloods

Year: 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norman Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Jonathan Majors
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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The hunt for buried gold neither ends well nor goes off without a hitch. The long road to reconciliation, whether with one’s trauma, family or national identity, is never without bumps. Glue these truths together with the weathering effects of institutional racism, add myriad references to history—American history, music history, film history—and you get Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a classically styled Vietnam action picture made in his cinematic vision. As in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Lee connects the dots between past and present, linking the struggle for civil rights couched in conscientious objection and protest to contemporary America’s own struggle against state-sanctioned fascism. After opening with a montage of events comprising and figures speaking out against the Vietnam War, referred to predominantly as the American War throughout the rest of the movie, Lee introduces four of the five bloods: Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), bonded Vietnam vets returned to Ho Chi Minh City ostensibly to find and recover the bones of their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There’s more, of course, “more” being around $17 million in gold bars planted in Vietnamese soil, property of the CIA but reappropriated by the Bloods as reparations for their personal suffering as men fighting a war for a country governed by people who don’t care about their rights. Lee’s at the height of his powers when bluntly making the case that for as much time as has passed since the Vietnam War’s conclusion, America’s still stubbornly waging the same wars on its own people and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And Lee is still angry at and discontent with the status quo, being the continued oppression of Black Americans through police brutality, voter suppression and medical neglect. In this context, Da 5 Bloods’ breadth is almost necessary. As Paul would say: Right on. —Andy Crump


17. The Guest

Year: 2014
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick
Genre: Horror
Rating: R

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A slick and sexy slasher thriller from two indie horror darlings (director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett), The Guest rests its no-frills dread on the shoulders of its stars: Maika Monroe and Dan Stevens. Monroe’s scream queen status was solidified early, but Stevens’ range is such that his intense and malicious performance comes as a delightful surprise. You just don’t expect such a pretty boy to go so bad. That’s part of the dark joke of the film, which lusts after Stevens as deeply as it fears him. No mask, no “shape” holds this stalker at arm’s length. He’s human, he’s hot and that makes him all the scarier a monster. The bloody throwback is as tight as they come, and its homage is one that’s found its own place in the genre canon.—Jacob Oller


18. The Conjuring

Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Genre: Horror
Rating: R

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Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


19. Ip Man

Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To, Syun-Wong Fen, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam
Genre: Action
Rating: R

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2008’s Ip Man marked, finally, the moment when the truly excellent but never fairly regarded Donnie Yen came into his own, playing a loosely biographical version of the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chung and teacher of a number of future martial arts masters (one of whom was Bruce Lee). In Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), an unassuming practitioner of Wing Chung tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action fills this semi-historical film, which succeeds gloriously both as compelling drama and martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith


20. There Will Be Blood

Year: 2007
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciarán Hinds, Dillon Freasier
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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There’s an odor of Citizen Kane about There Will Be Blood. Both Charles Foster Kane, the center of Orson Welles’ 1941 masterwork, and Daniel Plainview, the protagonist of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 gem, are Shakespearean in their contradictions—too creative and too wounded to be fully condemned, too ruthless to be fully admired. Like Welles, writer/director Anderson fashioned an original cinematic language to reveal Plainview’s strange mix of genius and monstrosity. Long stretches are virtually dialogue-free, punctuated by close-ups of Daniel Day-Lewis’ glowering face—splattered with blood, sweat and petroleum—and the long shots of rickety derricks and shacks perched precariously on a savage landscape say more than words ever could. —Geoffrey Himes


21. Magnolia

Year: 1999
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus follows multiple plotlines, while still deeply developing each of the film’s many principal characters, played more than ably by some of the decade’s greatest actors—Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards and Alfred Molina, to name but half. Father/child relationships are explored, but the themes throughout are grand ones. Add in Tom Cruise’s best performance of his life and a killer soundtrack from Aimee Mann, and you have one of the greatest movies of the 1990s.—Josh Jackson


22. Christine

Year: 2016
Director: Antonio Campos
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, John Cullum, Timothy Simons
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness. —Tim Grierson


23. Blame!

Year: 2017
Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Stars: Sora Amamiya, Kana Hanazawa, Takahiro Sakurai
Genre: Anime, Sci-fi
Rating: TV-14

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When it comes to dark industrial sci-fi, Tsutomu Nihei is a visionary. Trained as an architect before pursuing a career as a manga author, Nihei’s art is simultaneously sparse and labyrinthine, his body of work defined by a unifying obsession with invented spaces. Byzantine factories with gothic accents spanning across impossible chasms, populated by bow-legged synthoids and ghoulish predators touting serrated bone-swords and pulsating gristle-guns. His first and most famous series, Blame!, is considered the key text in Nihei’s aesthetic legacy, going so far as to inspire everything from videogames, to music, and even art and fashion. Past attempts have been made to adapt the series into an anime, though none have been able to materialize successfully. That is, until now. With the support of Netflix, Hiroyuki Seshita of Polygon Pictures has delivered that long-awaited Blame! film. Set on a far-future Earth consumed by a massive, self-replicating superstructure known as ‘The City’, Blame! follows Killy, a taciturn loner, wandering the layers of the planet in search of a human possessing the ‘net terminal gene,’ an elusive trait thought to be the only means of halting the city’s perpetual hostile expansion. Boasting a screenplay penned by Sadayuki Murai, famed for his writing on such series as Cowboy Bebop and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, and supervised by Nihei himself, Seshita’s film abbreviates much of the manga’s early chapters and streamlines the story into an altogether more narrative and action-driven affair. Art director Hiroshi Takiguchi deftly replicates Nihei’s distinctive aesthetic, achieving in color what was before only monochromatic, while Yuki Moriyama capably improves on the uniform character designs of the original, imparting its casts with distinct, easily identifiable traits and silhouettes that greatly improve the story’s parsability. Blame! is as faithful an adaptation as is possible and as fitting an introduction to the series as the manga itself. Blame! builds a strong case for being not only one of the most conceptually entertaining anime films of late, but also for being one of, if not the best original anime film to grace Netflix in a long time. —Toussaint Egan


24. American Gangster

Year: 2007
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 156 minutes

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With American Gangster, Ridley Scott harkens back to the more measured style of filmmaking evidenced in his defining sci-fi document Blade Runner. The director’s world-building skills, never in doubt, are on full display as he recreates mid-’70s Harlem. But his storytelling once again prioritizes character over fast action. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, with the help of a talented supporting cast, light up this actor’s piece, turning in one audience delight after another. Washington is Frank Lucas, once right-hand man to a Harlem crime lord and eventually the most powerful and independent heroin dealer in New York City. Criminal or not, Lucas defines the American dream. Crowe is Ritchie Roberts, a too-honest cop given license to create an independent anti-drug unit, and he submerges into Roberts, displaying his considerable abilities in every frame. Meanwhile, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ted Levine and Armand Assante all contribute a unique strength nd credibility. Scott even makes T.I. and RZA look like actors. But the movie belongs to Washington and Crowe; the former cool and menacing, the latter slumped and disheveled. When they finally collide, the film sparks into overdrive. From beginning to end, American Gangster crackles with just performances that make genre filmmaking look like art.—Russ Fischer


25. 21 Jump Street

Year: 2012
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Ice Cube
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Against all odds, 21 Jump Street—a movie based on a Fox television series remembered mainly for helping launch the career of Johnny Depp and briefly reminding the world that Dom DeLuise had a son—is an immensely enjoyable, frequently hilarious film. The premise is unchanged. Two youthful-looking (and since this is a comedy, spectacularly incompetent) police officers are assigned to a special division that places undercover agents in schools in an attempt to stop illegal activity. For officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), fresh out of the academy, this is not so much an opportunity as a richly deserved exile. Their mission, as delivered by a purposefully prototypical Angry Black Police Captain (Ice Cube): Contain the spread of a dangerous new drug that has shown up at a local high school. For Jenko, the return to high school represents a return to his glory days. For Schmidt, it’s more of a return to the scene of a crime where the body outlined in chalk looks suspiciously like his own. Unlike so many comic remakes, reboots and long-delayed sequels, 21 Jump Street doesn’t overly rely on nostalgia to generate its laughs. Hill isn’t doing anything he hasn’t done before, but that doesn’t make his deadpan-acerbic delivery any less funny, especially alongside the earnest doofus-ness of his partner. Hill and Tatum are supported by a strong ensemble of recognizable faces, including Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper and Chris Parnell. But though “ensemble piece” usually refers to cast and crew, 21 Jump Street is even more impressive when viewed as an ensemble of comedic approaches. There are laughs to suit all tastes—from sarcastic jibes to pratfalls, from pokes at film conventions (“I really thought that was going to explode.”) to exuberant, undeniably infectious, juvenile displays. And each is conveyed in a measure appropriate to its form. As a result, there’s just not much time spent watching 21 Jump Street without at least a smile on one’s face. —Michael Burgin


26. Dick Johnson Is Dead

Year: 2020
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Stars: Kirsten Johnson, Dick Johnson
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13

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If every great documentary is about the responsibility of observation, then Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson is also about the fragility of that observation. With her follow-up, Dick Johnson Is Dead, Johnson continues to interrogate that fragility, crafting a deeply personal ode to that over which she has no control: her father’s death. It helps that Dick Johnson is a mellifluous soul, an incessantly warm and beaming man surrounded by friends and colleagues and acquaintances who all uniformly, genuinely love him, but from its opening shots, Johnson makes it clear that her father’s wonderful nature will only make saying goodbye to him that much more difficult. And the time when she must do so looms closer and closer. Her impetus, she reluctantly acknowledges, is partly selfish as she decides to help acquaint her father with the end of his life, reenacting in lavish cinematic vignettes the many ways in which he could go out, from falling air conditioner unit, to nail-festooned 2×4 to the face, to your run-of-the-mill tumble down the stairs, replete with broken neck. The more Johnson loses herself in the project, spending more effort consulting stunt people and art directors and assorted crew members than her own dad (sitting peacefully on set, usually napping, never being much of a bother), the more she realizes she may be exploiting someone she loves—someone who is beginning to show the alarming signs of dementia and can no longer fully grasp the high concept to which he once agreed—to assuage her own anxiety. As her dad’s memory dissipates along with his ability to take care of himself, Dick Johnson Is Dead caters less to Dick’s need to preserve some sense of immortality than to his daughter’s need, all of our need, to let go. —Dom Sinacola


27. Good Time

Year: 2017
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Peter Verby, Barkhad Abdi, Taliah Webster
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Rating: R

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The hero of Good Time is one of the canniest individuals in recent cinema, which might seem like an odd thing to say about a scummy lowlife who screws up a bank heist in the film’s opening reels. But don’t underestimate Connie: Several of the people who cross his path make that mistake, and he gets the better of them every time. Connie is played by Robert Pattinson in a performance so locked-in from the first second that it shoots off an electric spark from the actor to the audience: Just sit back, he seems to be telling us. I’ve got this under control. The financially strapped character lives in Queens, unhappy that his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is cooped up in a facility that, Connie believes, doesn’t do enough to help him. Impulsively, Connie strong-arms Nick into helping him rob a bank. They make off with thousands of dollars, but what they don’t realize is that they live in the real world, not a movie. A paint bomb goes off in their bag, staining the money and the criminals’ clothes. Shaken and trying not to panic, Connie and Nick abandon their getaway car, quickly raising the suspicion of some nearby cops, who chase down Nick. Connie escapes, determined to get his brother out of jail—either through bail money or other means. As Connie, Pattinson is shockingly vital and present, unabashedly throwing himself into any situation. Following their star’s lead, the filmmakers deliver a jet-fueled variation on their usual intricate exploration of New York’s marginalized citizens. Good Time features no shootouts or car chases—there isn’t a single explosion in the whole film. The Safdies and Pattinson don’t need any of that. Like Connie, they thrive on their wits and endless inventiveness—the thrill comes in marveling at how far it can take them. —Tim Grierson


28. The Edge of Seventeen

Year: 2016
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Craig may not always get the details right, but her larger vision—alternately pitiless and forgiving of teenage foibles in the midst of adolescence—is still bracing. And the performances she encourages from her actors help pick up the slack. This is Hailee Steinfeld’s first major performance after she burst onto the scene in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit in 2010, and if she showed remarkable pluck and heart there, she shows a talent for comedy here that one might not have been able to guess at from the earlier film. And what a joy Woody Harrelson is here, putting on a master class in minimalist acting, inspiring giggles while barely seeming to move a muscle.—Kenji Fujishima


29. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Year: 2001
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Amy Adams
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly go together like reconciliation and getting thrown out of Applebee’s. In one of the finest films directed by Adam McKay, the duo play race-car drivers in a loving send-up of NASCAR culture. Sacha Baron Cohen is perfect as Ferrell’s European foil Jean Girard, and the film is jam-packed with both sight gags (the live cougar in the race car) and brilliant dialogue (the prayer to eight-pound-six-ounce-newborn-infant Jesus). His sons Walker and Texas Ranger, the random appearance of Elvis Costello and Mos Def in Girard’s back yard, and Amy Adams recreating the Whitesnake video in the bar all provide Hall of Fame moments from the Judd Apatow canon.—Josh Jackson


30. Not Another Teen Movie

Year: 2001
Director: Joel Gallen
Stars: Chris Evans, Jaime Pressly, Randy Quaid
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Chris Evans may have gone on to bigger and better things, but his blisteringly self-effacing performance as a deluded jock in subgenre parody Not Another Teen Movie was an early peak for Captain America. Bolstered by plenty of quotable lines and an expertly sliced cookie-cutter aesthetic from director and Comedy Central staple Joel Gallen, Not Another Teen Movie is a hilarious, barbed response to the wave of convoluted teen sex comedies that ran from the ‘80s to its 2001 release. Basically, this film did to teen rom-coms what Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story did to music biopics: the parody is so good that, after watching it, it’s hard to take earnest entries seriously. Raunchy yet sharp, the movie straddles low and high-brow with plenty of success—with a pissed-off Molly Ringwald capping it all in a perfect cameo.—Jacob Oller


31. Mirai

Year: 2018
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Haru Kuroki, Moka Kamishiraishi, Gen Hoshino
Genre: Anime, Fantasy
Rating: PG

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Most, if not all, of Mamoru Hosoda’s original films produced in the past decade function, to some degree or another, as exercises in autobiography. Summer War, apart from a premise more or less recycled from Hosoda’s 2000 directorial debut Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, was the many-times-removed story of Hosoda meeting his wife’s family for the first time. 2012’s Wolf Children was inspired by the passing of Hosoda’s mother, animated in part by the anxieties and aspirations at the prospect of his own impending parenthood. 2015’s The Boy and the Beast was completed just after the birth of Hosoda’s first child, the product of his own questions as to what role a father should play in the life of his son. Mirai, the director’s seventh film, is not from Hosoda’s own experience, but filtered through the experiences of his first-born son meeting his baby sibling for the first time. Told care of the perspective of Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), a toddler who feels displaced and insecure in the wake of his sister Mirai’s birth, Mirai is a beautiful adventure fantasy drama that whisks the viewer on a dazzling odyssey across Kun’s entire family tree, culminating in a poignant conclusion that emphasizes the beauty of what it means to love and to be loved. Mirai is Hosoda’s most accomplished film, the recipient of the first Academy Award nomination for an anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli, and an experience as edifying as it is a joy to behold. —Toussaint Egan


32. House Party

Year: 1990
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Stars: Kid ‘n Play, Full Force, Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Originally meant as a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, this high school romp follows two best friends (hip-hop duo Kid ’n Play) as they get ready to throw an epic house party. Featuring a cast filled with up-and-coming actors and hip-hop stars, the audience gets to see if, between his no-nonsense father (the late Robin Harris) and his dimwitted bullies (Full Force), Kid can survive the night. Between Hudlin’s keen direction and a hip-hop drenched soundtrack, the film is filled with infectious energy and originality that captures the life of Black American teens in the late 1980s and early 1990s. —Adreon Patterson


33. His House

Year: 2020
Director: Remi Weekes
Stars: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, Matt Smith
Genre: Horror
Rating: NR

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Nothing sucks the energy out of horror than movies that withhold on horror. Movies can scare audiences in a variety of ways, of course, but the very least a horror movie can be is scary instead of screwing around. Remi Weekes’ His House doesn’t screw around. The film begins with a tragedy, and within 10 minutes of that opening handily out-grudges The Grudge by leaving ghosts strewn on the floor and across the stairs where his protagonists can trip over them. Ultimately, this is a movie about the inescapable innate grief of immigrant stories, a companion piece to contemporary independent cinema like Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea, which captures the dangers facing immigrants on the road and at their destinations with brutal neorealist clarity. Weekes is deeply invested in Bol and Rial as people, in where they come from, what led them to leave, and most of all what they did to leave. But Weeks is equally invested in making his viewers leap out of their skins. —Andy Crump


34. Snowpiercer

Year: 2013
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Ko A-sung
Genre: Action, Sci-fi
Rating: R

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There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic world: Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warning, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine and governed by a ruthless caste system. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up the flurry. —Mark Rozeman


35. Apostle

Year: 2018
Director: Gareth Evans
Stars: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rating: NR

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After the first two entries of The Raid made him a monolithic figure among action movie junkies, Apostle functions as the wider world’s introduction to the visceral filmmaking stylings of Welsh director Gareth Evans. Where his first films almost had the aesthetic of a videogame come to life—they’re about as close to a big screen adaptation of Streets of Rage as you’re ever going to find—Apostle might as well represent Evans’ desire to be taken seriously as a visual director and auteur. To do so, he’s explored some well-trodden ground in the form of the rural “cult infiltration movie,” making comparisons to the likes of The Wicker Man (or even Ti West’s The Sacrament) inevitable. However, Apostle forces its way into the year-end conversation of 2018’s best horror cinema through sheer style and verve. Every frame is beautifully composed, from the foreboding arrival of Dan Stevens’ smoldering character at the island cult compound, to the fantastically icky Grand Guignol of the third act, in which viscera flows with hedonistic abandon. Evans knows exactly how long to needle the audience with a slow-burning mystery before letting the blood dams burst; his conclusion both embraces supernatural craziness and uncomfortably realistic human violence. Gone is the precision of combat of The Raid, replaced by a clumsier brand of wanton savagery that is empowered not by honor but by desperate faith. Evans correctly concludes that this form of violence is far more frightening. —Jim Vorel


36. The Other Side of the Wind

Year: 2018
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, Oja Kodar
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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As gaudy and inexplicable as its title, The Other Side of the Wind nonetheless sings with the force of its movement whistling past its constraints. The wind blows: Orson Welles channels it through his studio-inflicted/self-inflicted torpor, in that process finding an organic melody—or rather, jazz. The making-of documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, released by Netflix to go with this film—the streaming giant’s finest moment—shows Welles, enormous and half-baked, describing what he calls “divine accidents.” These accidents were responsible for some of his oeuvre’s best details (wherein God resides), like the breaking of the egg in Touch of Evil; they were something he aimed to chase after (like chasing the wind) with this, his final project, released several decades after its shooting as Netflix opened their coffers to open the coffin in which the raw footage was locked. His former partners on the shoot, Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, make good on their old oath to their master to complete the film for him, and in finding the spirit of the thing, deliver us a masterpiece we barely deserve. A divine accident. John Huston plays John Huston as Jake Hannaford who is also Orson Welles, trying to finish The Other Side of the Wind much like Welles tried to finish The Other Side of the Wind, over the course of years with no real budget and by the seats-of-everyone’s-pants. In contrast, the film’s scenario is set up over the course of one evening and night, Hannaford surrounded by “disciples” and peers who are invited to a party to screen some of the footage of what the director hopes will be his greatest masterpiece, in what Welles hoped would be his. The film within the film is a riff on art film, with perhaps the strongest winks at Michelangelo Antonioni and Zabriskie Point. Life imitates art: Hannaford’s house is just around the rock corner from the one Zabriskie blew to bits. Aptly, that house is the setting for most of the film about Hannaford, in theory constructed from found footage from the cineaste paparazzi. The density is dizzying, the intellect fierce. In terms of Welles’ filmography, it’s like the last act of Citizen Kane felt up by Touch of Evil, then stripped and gutted by the meta-punk of F for Fake. No art exists in a vacuum, but The Other Side of the Wind, more than most, bleeds its own context. It is about Orson Welles, showing himself. Killing himself. —Chad Betz


37. A Silent Voice

Year: 2016
Director: Naoko Yamada
Stars: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Megumi Han
Genre: Anime, Drama
Rating: NR

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In a medium that too often feels at times constricted by the primacy of masculine aesthetic sensibilities and saturated with hyper-sexualized portrayals of women colloquially coded as “fan service,” Naoko Yamada’s presence is a welcome breath of fresh air, to say nothing of the inimitable quality of her films themselves. Inspired by the likes of Yasujiro Ozu, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Sergei Parajanov, Sofia Coppola, and Lucile Hadžihalilovic, Yamada is a director par excellence, capable of arresting attention and evoking melancholy and bittersweet catharsis through delicate compositions of deft sound, swift editing, ephemeral color palettes, and characters with rich inner lives rife with knotty, relatable struggles. A Silent Voice, adapted from Yoshitoki Oima’s manga of the same name, is a prime example of all these sensibilities at play. When Shoya Ishida meets Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf transfer student, in elementary school, he bullies her relentlessly to the amusement of his classmates. One day when Shoya goes too far, forcing Shoko to transfer again for fear of her own safety, he is branded a pariah by his peers and retreats into a state of self-imposed isolation and self-hatred. Years later, Shoya meets Shoko once again, now as teenagers, and attempts to make amends for the harm he inflicted on her, all while wrestling to understand his own motivations for doing so. A Silent Voice is a film of tremendous emotional depth—an affecting portrait of adolescent abuse, reconciliation and forgiveness for the harm perpetrated by others and ourselves. —Toussaint Egan


38. Zodiac

Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

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


39. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Year: 2020
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Many viewers will think of ending I’m Thinking of Ending Things not long after it’s started. A cross-dissolve cascade of crude shots details the interior of a farmhouse or an apartment, or the interior of an interior. A woman we have not yet seen is practically mid-narration, telling us something for which we have no context. It feels wrong, off-putting. Something is not right. This is not how movies are supposed to work. Finally we see the woman, played brilliantly by Jessie Buckley. She is standing on the street as puffy snowflakes start to fall, like we’re within a 3-D snow globe with her. She looks up at a window a couple stories up. We see an old man looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemons looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemmons in the next shot picking up Jessie Buckley in his worn car. The movie music twinkles and swirls. Jessie Buckley’s Lucy or Lucia or Amy is thinking of ending things with Jesse’s Jake. Things aren’t going to go anywhere good, seems to be the reasoning. Jake drives the car and sometimes talks; his behaviors seem fairly consistent until they’re not, until some gesture boils up like a foreign object from another self. Louisa or Lucy is forthcoming, a fountain of personality and knowledge and interests. But sometimes she slows to a trickle, or is quiet, and suddenly she is someone else who is the same person but perhaps with different memories, different interests. Sometimes she is a painter, sometimes a physicist, sometimes neither. Jessie and Jesse are great. Their performances and their characters are hard to describe. The best movie of 2020 is terrible at being a “movie.” It does not subscribe to common patterns, rhythms, or tropes. It doesn’t even try to be a great movie, really, it simply tries to dissect the life of the mind of the other, and to do that by any cinematic means possible. The self-awareness of the film could have been unbearable, except awareness (and our fragmentary experience of it) is so entirely the point of everything that the film is wrapped up within and that is wrapped up within it. To say the film accepts both the beauty and ugliness of life would be a platitude that the film itself rejects. To say that “love conquers all,” even moreso. But these false truths flit in and about the film’s peripheral vision: illusions or ghosts, but welcome ones. —Chad Betz


40. Shutter Island

Year: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s pulp thriller is a brainy and compelling take on that most hoary of film genres: psychological horror. Equal parts parable and cautionary tale, Shutter Island is an expertly-paced thriller that feels far shorter and more exhilarating than its lengthy runtime suggests. Federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio dressed to the nines as a scenery-devouring g-man) is sent to the eponymous isle—a maximum security mental-ward-cum-penitentiary off the New England coast called Ashecliffe—to investigate a criminally insane prisoner’s disappearance. It’s quickly apparent that there’s something amiss about this case, and a palpable sense of foreboding bleeds through Scorsese’s gorgeous and ominous establishing shots: brick buildings loom against murky skies, the prisoners’ screams echo through the facility’s crumbling corridors, and Daniels, a WWII veteran, is haunted by vivid and surreal flashbacks to his dead wife and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Scorsese’s knack for getting his audiences emotionally invested in the ride fosters a near-voyeuristic thrill at seeing DiCaprio (ravenous for what might well be an Oscar nod) break down, so the fragments of his psyche can be sorted out along with the plot. Which is why Scorsese hasn’t just crafted an admirable thriller—he’s damn near made the genre his own.—Michael Saba


41. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Year: 1997
Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Carrie Fisher
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG-13

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Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was a cultural touchstone when it was first released thanks to Mike Myers’ instantly iconic performance and plethora of catchphrases, but it’s really a more clever film than it’s ever truly been given credit for (unlike its sequels). A loving spoof on the entire genre of spy movies, rewatching it now is especially rewarding, given the recent announcement that the upcoming James Bond film will be dealing with the classic villain organization “SPECTRE.” With the possible return of Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, audiences may finally understand that the character of Dr. Evil is an almost perfect parody of more serious Bond source material. Austin Powers may be a true ‘90s time capsule, but many of the jokes have improved with age.—Jim Vorel


42. Under the Shadow

Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
Stars: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi
Genre: Horror
Rating: PG-13

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For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris


43. ParaNorman

Year: 2012
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Stars: Kodi Smt-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rating: PG

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The beautifully crafted stop-motion film ParaNorman opens with two important pieces of information. First, we observe our young hero as he watches a B-zombie flick, complete with choppy edits and a boom mic that creeps its way into the frame. This lets us know that the filmmakers approach the upcoming story with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. Second, Norman carries on a conversation with his grandmother. This part of the scene is only significant once we learn that grandma is quite dead. The tale that follows is part Something Wicked This Way Comes, part The Goonies. The town of Blithe Hollow, once a colonial village, now a struggling tourist trap, has lived under the threat of a witch’s curse for 300 years—long enough for fear to transmogrify into camp. Norman can see and talk with ghosts, an ability that might make him quite popular with the dead set, but one that does little to improve his social standing with his living schoolmates… or his immediate family. At school, Norman is subject to bullying from students and teachers alike, and we quickly come to care for this small, tough, sweet boy as he patiently cleans the word “freak” from his locker. Another social outcast, the rotund Neil latches onto Norman, becoming his new best friend (whether Norman wants one or not). The arrival of Neil also indicates the arrival of the true heart of this endearing film, which is its humor. ParaNorman took two years to animate, and it shows in the exquisite craftsmanship of its design and execution. The artistic direction illustrates such a love for detail and texture that every bit of scenic design, from the town hall to a plastic bag caught in a fence, creates a perfect world for this story. Lead Animator Travis Knight and his sprawling team of animators, designers, and fabricators execute the vision with great flair. The result is a clear-headed and touching film about finding your own purpose, accepting others as they are and, most importantly, forgiveness. —Clay Steakley


44. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Year: 2021
Director: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe (co-director)
Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Olivia Colman
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Rating: PG

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Animated generational divides have never been more like a sci-fi carnival than in The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Writer/director Mike Rianda’s feature debut (he and co-writer/director Jeff Rowe made their bones on the excellently spooky, silly show Gravity Falls) is equal parts absurd, endearing and terrifying. It’s easy to feel as lost or overwhelmed by the flashing lights and exhilarating sights as the central family fighting on one side of the title’s grudge match, but it’s equally easy to come away with the exhausted glee of a long, weary theme park outing’s aftermath. Its genre-embedded family bursts through every messy, jam-packed frame like they’re trying to escape (they often are), and in the process create the most energetic, endearing animated comedy so far this year. And its premise begins so humbly. Filmmaker and animator Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is leaving home for college and, to get there, has to go on a road trip with her family: Rick (Danny McBride), her Luddite outdoorsy dad; Linda (Maya Rudolph), her peacemaking mom; and Aaron (Rianda), her dino-freak little brother. You might be able to guess that Katie and her dad don’t always see eye-to-eye, even when Katie’s eyes aren’t glued to her phone or laptop. That technocriticism, where “screen time” is a dirty phrase and the stick-shifting, cabin-building father figure wants his family to experience the real world, could be as hacky as the twelfth season of a Tim Allen sitcom. The Mitchells vs. the Machines escapes that danger not only through some intentional nuance in its writing, but also some big ol’ anti-nuance: Partway through the trip, the evil tech companies screw up and phone-grown robots decide to shoot all the humans into space. This movie needed something this narratively large to support its gloriously kitchen-sink visuals. The Sony film uses some of the same tech that made Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse look so crisp and unique, adding comicky shading to its expressive CG. In fact, once some of the more freaky setpieces take off, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Miles Morales swing in to save the day. The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ spin on the Spidey aesthetic comes from meme and movie-obsessed Katie, whose imagination often breaks through into the real world and whose bizarre, neon and filter-ridden sketchbook doodles ornament the film’s already exciting palette with explosive oddity. This unique and savvy style meshes well with The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ wonderfully timed slapstick, crashing and smashing with an unexpected violence, balanced out with one truly dorky pug and plenty of visual asides poking fun at whatever happens to be going on.—Jacob Oller


45. Blade Runner (1982)

Year: 1982
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: R

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Just as The Road Warrior set the look and tone for countless post-apocalyptic cinema-scapes to follow, so too did the world of Ridley Scott’s dingy, wet and overcrowded Blade Runner set the standard for the depiction of pre-apocalyptic dystopias. But he also had Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and a cast of actors who all bring this Philip K. Dick-inspired tale of a replicant-retiring policeman to gritty, believable life. Beneath the film’s impressive set design and inspired performances lies a compelling meditation on the lurking loneliness of the human (and, perhaps, inhuman) condition that continues to resonate (and trigger new creations, like Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049) to this day. —Michael Burgin


46. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Year: 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Stars: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Fittingly, Chadwick Boseman’s final role is all about the blues. The late actor’s appearance in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the August Wilson adaptation from director George C. Wolfe and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson, is equal parts actorly showcase, angry eulogy and comprehensive lament—boiled together in the sweaty kitchen of a ‘20s Chicago recording session. A story of ambition’s multiple facets and eventual endpoints, Ma Rainey revolves around those orbiting its title character (Viola Davis). She’s a blues legend at the top of her game, finally appreciated (at least in some parts of the country) and ripe for exploitation by white men in suits. As if she’d let them. She’s comfortably late to record an album, leaving everyone else to kick up their heels and shoot the shit in true Wilson style—with Santiago-Hudson finding the essence of Wilson’s work. Davis’ brutal performance, made all the more potent by her avalanche of makeup and glistening sweat, perfectly sets the scene. She, alongside loosened neckties and whirring fans, gives the film its intended temperature and gravity so that Boseman and the rest of her band members can zip around like fireflies ambling in the summer heat. With tragic serendipity, Boseman leaves us a gift: he is on fire. Lean, with the camera placements and props emphasizing his gangly limbs (there’s a reason he wields a squashed and squat flugelhorn, a jazz staple that happens to work better visually), Levee is a highly physical role despite the chatty source material: It’s all about capturing attention, sometimes literally tap-dancing for it, with any ounce of shame overrun by an anxious energy. High-strung, twitchy and tense during a nearly five-minute monologue, Levee seems to sense the window to his dream is closing: Time is running out. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is more than Boseman’s performance, sure, with Davis and Colman Domingo going on some delicious tears of their own and Wilson’s words continuing to sear and soar in equal measure. But Boseman’s ownership of the film, an Oscar-worthy snapshot of potential and desire, gives an otherwise lovely and broad tragedy something specific to sing about.—Jacob Oller


47. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

Year: 2019
Directors: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn
Stars: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Violet Nelson, Barbara Eve Harris
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR

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Nothing pays off in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Every narrative detail, demanding resolution, goes mostly unnoticed: When Rosie (Violet Nelson) takes money from Áila’s (co-director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) purse, for example, we expect that the ensuing time they spend together, the 90 minutes or so, will teach Rosie a lesson, will encourage her to return the bills. That doesn’t happen. Instead, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open tells of a chance meeting between two First Nations women, divided by socioeconomic stability but united in having both just experienced violations—Rosie’s is the latest in a string of domestic abuse incidents, while Áila’s had an IUD inserted amidst a cold, impersonal procedure, shot by cinematographer Norm Li on 16mm with a commitment to capturing Áila’s every near-traumatized grimace and wince. Li follows Áila from the office, into the street, where she spots Rosie barefoot in the rain, maybe in shock, and from there the two escape Rosie’s infuriated boyfriend to Áila’s dry, airy loft apartment. Li is always just behind, the rest of the film edited together into one, continuous shot as Áila tries to figure out what to do to help Rosie, and Rosie tries to figure out how to keep from being victimized by virtue signalling outsiders. That Áila is also a FIrst Nations woman hardly matters to Rosie; she barely even looks the part. Of course, when they do part, Rosie swallows whatever guilt she may have developed over stealing from Áila, and the caretakers at the safe house remind Áila when Rosie doesn’t want to stay that it sometimes takes people seven or eight times to relent and leave their abusive situation. We wait for resolution, for a sign that things will get better. When they don’t, we look for other signs, and we wait, left only with patience—to watch, and to never stop watching, and to sit with the weight of that, to afford the cost of empathy. —Dom Sinacola


48. The Piano

Year: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Genre: Drama
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill
Rating: R

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Without ever saying a word, Holly Hunter still has one of the great performances of the early ‘90s. The Piano also introduced the rest of the world to New Zealand’s Jane Campion, creator of Top of the Lake, and to actress Anna Paquin (True Blood). Set in 1850s New Zealand, the film tells of a mute, young mother trapped in arranged marriage and the farmworker (Harvey Keitel) who falls for her.—Josh Jackson


49. The Death of Stalin

Year: 2018
Director: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Jason Isaacs
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R

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You can trace that dynamic from The Thick of It, through In the Loop and Veep, and then especially in his new film, The Death of Stalin, whose subject matter can be inferred from a mere glance. The Death of Stalin marks a major temporal departure for Iannucci, known for skewering contemporary political embarrassments and turmoil, by taking us back to 1953 Russia. Years out from the Great Purge, the country remains in the grip of widespread fear fomented by nationalism, public trials, antisemitism, executions, mass deportations and civic uncertainty. Iannucci asks us to laugh at an era not known for being especially funny. That’s the give and take at the film’s core: Iannucci drops a punchline and we guffaw, then moments later we hear a gunshot, accompanied by the sound of a fresh corpse hitting the ground. Finding humor in political violence is a big ask, and yet Iannucci’s dialogue is nimble but unfailingly harsh, replete with chafing castigations. We howl with laughter, though we can’t help feeling bad for every poor bastard caught on the receiving end of trademark Iannucci verbal abuse, which typically means we end up feeling bad for every character in his films. He spares no one from insult or injury, even when they’re lying dead on the floor, soaked in their own piss. A tale of mortal sins as well as venial ones, The Death of Stalin adds modern urgency to his comic storytelling trademarks: As nationalist sentiment rears its ugly head across the globe and macho authoritarian leaders contrive to hoard power at democracy’s expense, a farcical play on the political clusterfuck that followed Stalin’s passing feels shockingly apropos. It takes a deft hand and a rare talent to make tyranny and state sanctioned torture so funny. —Andy Crump


50. Okja

Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Woo Shik Choi
Genre: Sci-fi, Action
Rating: NR

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz