The 20 Best Movies on Cinemax Right Now (January 2022)

Movies Lists Cinemax
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 20 Best Movies on Cinemax Right Now (January 2022)

HBO Max may have begun dominating the Max title among movie streaming apps since its release, but before it burst onto the scene, Max Go was one of the premium ways to watch movies. While its website is still active, the Cinemax streaming companion has since taken a backseat to the HBO parent streamer. That doesn’t mean, however, that Cinemax isn’t still offering up hundreds of great movies. From great action flicks, war movies, and westerns to comedy and drama, the premium channel still has the hits. In our curation efforts, we’ve skipped over Max After Dark options, so those after “Skinamax” offerings will have to venture into that territory on their own. Let us know whether Bikini Avengers or College Coeds vs. Zombie Housewives need to make the list.

This list covers the best on offer, up to date.

Here are the 20 Best Movies on Cinemax and Max Go:

1. City of God

city-of-god.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lun
Stars: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga, Seu Jorge
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

Originally released in January 2003 to critical praise, Fernando Meirelles’ masterful yet brutal City of God receded from view until Miramax re-released it for Oscar consideration. And while it failed to even garner a foreign-language-film nomination that year, the alternately intense and intimate depiction of Rio’s desperate favelas has only grown in stature and power. Based on the novel by Paulo Lins (and adapted by Bráulio Mantovani), Meirelles turned an unflinching eye on a world forgotten by the wealthy and powerful, ignored by police and indifferent to law and order. City of God set the template for other shocking urban films to follow (not to mention a revival of “favela funk” by music-marauders like Diplo and M.I.A.), but whereas other cinematic studies like Gomorrah (about modern Sicily) and the documentary Dancing with the Devil wallow in such viciousness, this film plunges deeper, grips harder, and yet always allows glints of humanity into such darkness. City of God’s harrowing depiction of daily violence in the favelas exemplifies in shocking detail the Hobbesian view of life as “nasty, brutish and short,” but the film never casts judgment. While chaos and bloodshed rule the world of protagonist Rocket and those of his generation—psychotic druglord Li’l Zé, groovy playboy Benny and solemn Knockout Ned (singer Seu Jorge, in his breakout role)—City of God elucidates an underlying symmetry, exhibiting if not poetic justice, then the street version of the same. —Andy Beta

2. Swingers

Thumbnail image for swingers poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Doug Liman

Watch on Cinemax

With their breakout roles in Swingers, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau established the personalities that still define them 20 years later. Vaughn’s a fast-talking Eddie Haskell type who isn’t quite as charming as he thinks, and Favreau’s an affable everyman with a sensitive side. This carries over to their recent work: Vaughn motormouths his way through comedies and dramas alike, while Favreau makes big budget Hollywood films that tend to be a little bit smarter and better crafted than most. The ease and charm of their friendship is what makes Swingers so memorable—it would’ve been called a bromance so often if that portmanteau existed in 1996. Swingers is a character-first comedy that captures a specific time and place in vivid detail. —Alan Byrd

3. Defending Your Life

defending-your-life-poster.jpg Year: 1991
Director: Albert Brooks
Stars: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant, and Buck Henry
Rating: PG
Runtime: 112 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

Miller wakes up in a version of the afterlife, a place called Judgment City, where he has five days to defend his life in a court-like proceeding involving two judges, a prosecutor and his own defender, played to a tee by Rip Torn. 1991’s Defending Your Life, Brooks’ fourth directorial effort, gave a comforting picture of a regular man in the afterlife and sifted through the idea that we all live fear-plagued lives. Defending Your Life which only made around $16 million at the box office but garnered critical acclaim, features understood staples of Brooks’ earlier work and his films still to come: Opening scene speeches, plenty of cameos (or bit parts by known actors) and time spent driving, and a central relationship surrounding Brooks and a woman he (desperately) needs. As always, Brooks skewers a version of himself, exposing parts of his own psyche and personality that negatively impact him and others he loves. Defending Your Life remains Albert Brooks’ directorial peak, a signal that the filmmaker matured beyond the lighter satire of Modern Romance and his Esquire article, each with a decade of progress between them. It contains a sweet combination of relatability and story singularity that Brooks learned from his early projects yet struggled to capture again. His comedy was refined, not relying on physicality or manic energy to find a laugh, thanks in part to his own subtle performance. Defending Your Life becomes worthy of near-endless rewatches, packed with comfort, Brooksian wit, understated acting and an example of a filmmaker evolving in his ability to resonate with audiences. In a diverse career filled with peaks for Brooks as actor, director and writer—who else could pull off both Drive and Finding Nemo?—Defending Your Life becomes one for the three’s intersection, an endearing portrait of the afterlife by a man working at the height of his powers.

4. The High Note

the-high-note-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ice Cube, June Diane Raphael, Zoe Chao, Eddie Izzard, Bill Pullman, Diplo
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 113 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

The entertainment industry is not kind to women over 40. Often movies, including the recent biopic Judy, love to tell the story of an aging star clinging to her (it’s almost always her) last grasps of fame. Oh, let’s all look on her with pity. How sad that she cannot accept her fate and fade gracefully away. Delightfully, The High Note is not that kind of movie. Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a megastar. Yes she’s over 40 with no recent hits, but she still performs to sold-out crowds and is coming off her extremely successful tenth world tour. Caesars Palace wants to lock her in for a decade-long residency. The movie doesn’t necessarily view a Vegas residency as selling out, but it’s definitely not a desired outcome (sorry Mariah, Celine, et. al.), and she is also keenly aware that only five women over the age of 40 have ever had a number one hit. Enter Grace’s assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), or Margaret as Grace insists on calling her: a walking encyclopedia of music trivia, but what Maggie really wants to do is produce and she’s secretly produced an alternate version of Grace’s live album. Happily, a burgeoning romance takes a backseat to the main thrust of the story—the friendship and working rapport between Grace and Maggie. Professional fulfillment for both Grace and Maggie is the crux of the conflict. How often does a movie just allow a woman’s career aspirations to take center stage? Light, fluffy and sugarcoated, The High Note feels like a throwback to another time when studios produced movies with the sole purpose of putting a little spring in viewer’s step. That we would all leave the movie theater (or, as is the case now, the virtual movie theater) smiling. That also makes it seem a little more like a Hallmark movie and less like a major theatrical release, but it still comes close to dependably hitting the right note, even if it doesn’t quite end on the high. —Amy Amatangelo

5. Antwone Fisher

anwone-fisher.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Denzel Washington
Stars: Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 120 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

A beautifully made but oft-overlooked film, Antwone Fisher, an adaptation of Fisher’s haunting memoir, was a heavy story often full of more tribulations than triumphs. But as Fisher (Derek Luke) recounted his days growing up in an abusive Cleveland foster home, one particular dream carried viewers through some incredibly difficult scenes. In the opening moments of the film a young Fisher (Malcolm David Kelley) has his recurring dream of being greeted by his entire family—including the members he never met, and those who may have abandoned him—while sitting at a table filled with all of the foods a deprived and neglected kid might dream of (but mostly pancakes). Fisher, with the help of a therapist on his naval base (Denzel Washington) is able to confront the nightmare realities he lived through to finally achieve the dream of a feast and family.—Shannon M. Houston

6./7. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure / Bill &Ted’s Bogus Journey

movie poster bill and ted.jpg Year: 1989 / 1991
Director: Stephen Herek / Pete Hewett
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Bernie Casey, Amy Stock-Poynton; William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier
Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes / 98 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

Watch on Cinemax

In the end we just can’t pick between these two. Both movies are classics, but for different reasons. Both movies are part celebration and part knowing parody of the California party dude stereotype that was so popular in the ‘80s, and although Excellent Adventure might be the more beloved movie today because of its historical set pieces and the simple fact that it came first, Bogus Journey is the stronger, smarter, and, yes, more challenging movie. It’s a surreal trip through the afterlife that at times feels like Tim Burton with more edge, succeeding at both low brow, crowd-pleasing humor and slightly deeper, more philosophical material. (Yeah, today’s pretentious Rick & Morty Redditors probably love this movie.) Both are far better than they need to be, two hilarious bookends that prove that sequels can be great, actually.—Garrett Martin

8. Deerskin

24-deerskin-poster-itunes.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel
Rating: R
Runtime: 77 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

Christianity counts the following among the signs of the Apocalypse: Death saddling up a pale horse, stars plummeting from the sky, kings hiding under rocks, and seven angels making a racket on their trumpets. “Quentin Dupieux making an accessible film” doesn’t show up in the Book of Revelations, but lo, death abounds all the world over, an asteroid 1.5 miles wide recently hurtled by Earth, and Dupieux’s latest bizarro ode to cinema, Deerskin, is screening virtually while the angelic host’s brass remains silent. John of Patmos got it all wrong. Out of context, “accessible Dupieux” is oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp,” “bittersweet,” and “compassionate conservative,” but Deerskin, though every bit as strange as is to be expected from the Parisian DJ-cum-electronic musician-cum-filmmaker, makes sense without undercutting the qualities that define Dupieux’s body of work. It’s entirely unlike every other movie presently enjoying a last-minute VOD release, being a well-made, proudly weird, genre-agnostic commentary on themes ranging from middle age male vanity to navel-gazing, self-obsessed independent cinema. Unlike Dupieux’s prior work, à la Rubber, Wrong and Reality, Deerskin’s determination to explain itself as little as possible is complemented by its internal logic. The delight the film takes in the script’s eccentricities is inviting rather than alienating.—Andy Crump

9. Lars and the Real Girl

lars-and-the-real-girl.jpg Year: 2007
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, and Patricia Clarkson
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 107 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

Lars and the Real Girl’s premise should have been cringe-worthy: Ryan Gosling dates a life-size sex doll, and the entire town goes to great lengths to protect the fairy tale. But Nancy Oliver’s Oscar-nominated script is so gentle, and so melancholic, that it becomes a quietly powerful story of a stunted man who finally comes of age. Darkly funny but sweet-natured, Lars is a small treasure.—Jeremy Medina

10. Tales From the Darkside: The Movie

31. tales from the darkside (Custom).jpg Year: 1990
Director: John Harrison
Stars: Deborah Harry, Christian Slater, David Johansen, William Hickey, James Remar, Rae Dawn Chong
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

The spiritual successor to the first two Creepshow films was the Tales from the Darkside feature film, also an anthology. The stories are a bit ridiculous and cartoonish, even moreso than Creepshow, but fun in their own zany way. The highlight is probably “Cat From Hell,” a segment that was originally supposed to be featured in Creepshow 2 about a seemingly evil cat tormenting and stalking a wheelchair-bound old man to punish him for his past misdeeds. Although honestly, my favorite aspect of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is the anthology framing story, which involves a child chained up in the kitchen of a witch (none other than Blondie herself, Debbie Harry) who is planning on cooking him for dinner. Like some take on The Thousand and One Nights, the kid plays Scheherazade and distracts the witch by telling horror stories until he can engineer his escape. It’s like something from an overgrown episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?Jim Vorel

11. The King of Staten Island

king-staten-island.jpg Release Date: June 12, 2020
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Pete Davidson, Bill Burr, Marisa Tomei, Bel Powley, Ricky Velez
Rating: R
Runtime: 136 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

It’s hard to pull off a cohesive tone with dramedies about mental illness. The comedy part demands a quippy protagonist who masks their inner pain with killer comebacks. The drama part comes with the obligatory scenes of emotional purge, the defensive walls tumbling down and our protagonist exposing their fragile state. The tonal shift can be sudden enough to give you whiplash. Pete Davidson co-wrote and stars in The King of Staten Island, a messy but honest exploration of a millennial stoner’s journey to finding purpose in life despite living with grief and depression. Davidson is sometimes uncomfortably open about his own struggles with mental health in his stand-up act; his no-fucks-given vibe, combined with co-writer/director Judd Apatow’s brand of R-rated wholesomeness, culminates in a series of beautifully raw moments. The loose character-study structure, or lack thereof, can be both refreshing and frustrating. The weed-infused banter between Scott and his BFFs (Ricky Velez, Moises Arias and Lou Wilson), culminating in a bittersweet confession about Scott’s shitty tattoo work, crackles with the energy that’s expected from Apatow’s reputation as a stalwart of bromance humor. And Bill Burr was born to play the quintessential “cranky working class middle-aged dad with a heart of gold” archetype; he fit the part even when he was an up-and-coming comic in his 20s. The grayscale, docu-drama depiction of Staten Island by P.T. Anderson’s regular DP Robert Elswit mirrors Scott’s depression, and subtly lightens up as Scott discovers his worth. Scott’s growth was always going to be tied to his toxic relationship with Ray, and it’s in this dynamic The King of Staten Island shines. The movie is indulgent and unfocused, but it’s also gripping and full of life. Kind of like its protagonist. —Oktay Ege Kozak

12. Dead Ringers

dead-ringers-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

In Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg reins in the extremities of his earlier genre works into something resembling a chamber drama—except there’s always a catch with Cronenberg, and this time he almost cruelly toys with the identities of identical twins, gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (very loosely based on Stewart and Cyril Marcus), played by a Jeremy Irons who is doubled on himself through black movie magic. Cronenberg also plays with the audience’s perception of the duo, taking steps to establish Beverly as the “good” twin (more sensitive) and Elliot as the “bad” one (more bullish) before eventually degrading those categorizations and blurring the lines between the two characters, in more ways than one. A troubled relationship with actress-patient Claire Niveau (a fierce Genevieve Bujold) creates fissures in the relational dynamic of the twins, which in turn creates fissures in their minds; things get to a point where freakish gynecological tools are created due to imagined mutation spreading. The later scenes of the film take on a haunting quality as Elliot and Beverly become untethered from each other and, thus, their reality. They do manage to find each other again, but this is a David Cronenberg joint; don’t expect a happy ending. Dead Ringers is a brooding rumination on the external realities we use to define ourselves, what happens when our duality is divided and the subconscious ways in which we plant the seeds of our own destruction. More, it’s about doubling our Jeremy Irons intake in one sitting, which is always a worthy cause. —Chad Betz

13. Much Ado About Nothing

much-ado-about-nothing-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Robert Sean Leonard, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 111 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

In the history of film adaptations of Shakespeare, certain performances have so captured the essence of a character that the actor and role are forever linked afterwards. There is Olivier’s Hamlet, Olivier’s Richard III, Welles’ Othello, and Keanu Reeves’ Don John. Um, wait…did I say Keanu Reeves? How can I include the Maestro of the Monotone—the Duke of “Dude!” and the Wizard of “Whoa!”—in such company? Strangely enough, in Much Ado, Reeves’ performance is noteworthy not because he has been cast to his strengths but because he has been cast in a role that feeds upon his weaknesses. Don John, the melancholy, moping bastard brother of Don Pedro, is easily the most impotent of Shakespeare’s villains. Within the vestments of such a pallid villain, Reeves’ own shortcomings as an actor are completely concealed and even flattered. The result is casting and acting synergy fascinating to behold. Much Ado About Nothing merits viewing for a number of reasons—most of the performances are superb, and Branagh’s choice of a sun-drenched Tuscan backdrop is inspired. But as you enjoy the vigor and spirit of the film, please take a moment to appreciate the rare amalgam of poor acting and poor villainy that is Don Keanu. I mean, whoa. —Michael Burgin

14. Pariah

pariah-movie.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Dee Rees

Watch on Cinemax

The first feature by Spike Lee protégé Dee Rees tells the story of teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye), a dutiful and accomplished daughter from a religious household in Brooklyn. As she struggles to find a proper expression of her sexuality, she follows her out friend Laura (Pernell Walker) into a scene of African-American lesbians whose brash liveliness proves a bit unsettling. When Alike’s mother introduces her to Bina (Aasha Davis), Alike contends with both her own sexuality and the ways that her identity ties her to a community she doesn’t quite fit in with. Shot in Brooklyn in a vivid palette of deep primary colors, Pariah is evocative of Spike Lee at his best. However, in content, the film is distinctive in its engagement with characters who seek to belong. Eschewing both hipster navel-gazing and pat clichés, Pariah instead lets its characters exist in a beautiful human ambiguity, on the edge of society but also finding their own place at that edge. The result is a thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining addition to the canon of modern queer film. —Nick Mattos

15. The Mighty Quinn

the-mighty-quinn-poster.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Carl Schenkel
Stars: Denzel Washington, James Fox, Mimi Rogers, M. Emmet Walsh, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Robert Townsend
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

Believe it or not, there was a time when Denzel Washington wasn’t a universally-beloved mega-superstar. One of his first leading roles, The Mighty Quinn, was largely responsible for putting Washington on the map. Directed by Swiss filmmaker Carl Schenkel and written by Hampton Fancher, the film is an adaptation of A. H. Z. Carr’s lauded 1971 crime novel Finding Maubee. The Mighty Quinn follows Xavier Quinn (Washington), the charismatic police chief of a small tropical island, who is on a mission to acquit his childhood friend Maubee (Robert Townsend) from murder accusations. Of course, this doesn’t quite go as planned, and what starts out as a cop flick quickly metamorphoses into a delightful number of things: It’s a spy thriller, a philosophical endeavor, a laugh-out-loud comedy. And this is carried, in large part, by Washington, whose performance is subtle, effortless, and wise beyond his years. I can’t imagine that there was a single person who watched this movie when it came out and didn’t imagine that Washington was going to become one of the biggest stars of his generation.—Aurora Amidon

16. Highlander

highlander-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Stars: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

The premise is delightfully bananas: In this world, a small group of people who are immortal wander the Earth in competition for a vague “Prize.” Unable to have children, they regenerate all bodily harm unless decapitated—whereupon some weird electromagnetic life force is transferred to the victor of the duel in an explosive phenomenon known as “The Quickening.” With each Quickening, an immortal gains the knowledge and power of his defeated foe. The last non-headless man left standing at the end of “The Game” claims “The Prize.” Immortals have a weird ability to sense one another when they get closer—probably because there would be no other way to easily identify one another otherwise. The only specific prohibition on their bloody bouts seems to be that fighting on holy ground of any kind is forbidden. (Why? Who enforces it if somebody violates the rule, the Immortal Police?) This seems pretty promising: Fighters who grow in strength and power, exponentially, with each successive victory, until only the two absolute baddest remain. They’d probably be throwing Kamehameha waves and kicking over buildings after thousands of years of accumulated power, right? Nope, it just comes down to two dudes with swords clanging away at one another in a poorly lit, abandoned, vaguely industrial setting. Despite this, the film has endured with a gritty story, Sean Connery goofing around, an unforgettably crass and vile villain and Queen on the soundtrack. Australian director Russell Mulcahy’s background was in music videos—Highlander has that same kind of stylized, operatic, overblown nature. —Kenneth Lowe

17. Lincoln

lincoln.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 149 minutes

Watch on Cinemax

Steven Spielberg boasts one of the most accomplished bodies of work in American cinema and, to this day, steadily builds upon that dominant track record. From the breathtaking 3D action sequences of The Adventures of Tintin to the comic-yet-poignant reconciliation scene in War Horse, one doesn’t have to look back decades to find Spielberg’s particular genius at work. Still, for filmgoers either too young to have been bowled over by Spielberg’s transcendent initial decade or two—or for those who perhaps just take his signature style for granted—Lincoln shows just how good he is. Thanks to a strong cast and a smart story that’s historically, morally and politically rich, Lincoln is yet another of Spielberg’s many accomplishments. —David Roark

18. In the Heat of the Night

in-the-heat-of-the-night-criterion.jpg Year: 1967
Director: Norman Jewison

Watch on Cinemax

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

19. All the President’s Men

all-the-presidents-men.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Alan J. Pakula

Watch on Cinemax

When watching any contemporary film about journalism, one can more often than not sense the influence of All the President’s Men, the film based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s bombshell 1974 book on the Watergate break-in. It’s journalism at its most compellingly watchable, with sequences that have since become entrenched in our cinematic language: Woodward meeting Deep Throat (played with terse dignity by Hal Holbrook) in a barely-lit parking garage, cigarette smoke curling around them as they whisper; Woodward blasting a Rachmaninoff concerto in Bernstein’s apartment, typing out the words “SURVEILLANCE” and “BUGGING”; and the film’s scathing final sequence, in which we watch Nixon’s inauguration via a newsroom television, then cut to a teletype, which pitilessly delivers the news of each subsequent trial, conviction and resignation. Pakula, whose early career thrived on films about paranoia and conspiracy, directs with a light, precise hand, allowing the script (aided by Hoffman and Redford’s performances), with its mounting series of tense encounters, small victories and larger setbacks, to carry itself. What results is an unsentimental, yet wholly engrossing, glimpse into what was a very cynical time in American history, but an optimistic one for investigative journalism.—Maura McAndrew

20. Adventureland

adventureland.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Greg Mottola

Watch on Cinemax

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