The 50 Best Movies on HBO Max, Ranked (December 2021)

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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Max, Ranked (December 2021)

The best movies on HBO Max reflect nothing if not the culmination of our streaming dystopia. Ostensibly, this is a good thing: Below you’ll find masterpiece after masterpiece from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Agnes Varda, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Barbara Kopple, Jacques Demy, Akira Kurosawa, the Maysles, Pennebaker, Ingmar Bergman—those looking for a crash course in world cinema can pretty much single-handedly thank Turner Classic Movies’ folding under the HBO banner for the bounties they’re about to inhale. Basically, it’s like Criterion Channel Lite in some of its more highbrow corners.

Like most other streaming services that aren’t owned by, say, the House of Mouse, there is no real overarching theme to what HBO Max presents, which is exactly why HBO Max represents such a powerful urge to just roll over and let it all happen. Even Hayao Miyazaki, notoriously against having his movies available on streaming services, finally gave in. Whereas once these streaming services represented a more accessible alternative to an overpriced cable TV package, now we’re given no alternative, even though pretty much every movie imaginable is available for us to watch right now. Welcome HBO Max: You get a piece of us too.

You’ll find a lot of French gems here, not to mention an essential selection of documentaries, silent films, sci-fi staples, psychedelic monster movies, musicals and every shade of Oscar bait in between.

Here are the 50 best movies on HBO Max right now:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001-a-space-odyssey-poster-low.jpg Year: 1968
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain, William Sylvester
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: G
Runtime: 139 minutes

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Fifty years ago, Stanley Kubrick told the story of everything—of life, of the universe, of pain and loss and the way reality and time changes as we, these insignificant voyagers, sail through it all, attempting to change it all, unsure if we’ve changed anything. Written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (whose novel, conceived alongside the screenplay, saw release not long after the film’s premiere), 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with the origins of the human race and ends with the dawn of whatever comes after us—spinning above our planet, god-like, a seemingly all-knowing, hopefully benevolent fifth-dimensional space fetus—spanning countless light years and millennia between. And yet, despite its ambitious leaps and barely comprehensible scope, every lofty symbolic gesture Kubrick matches with a moment of intimate humanity: the sadness of a mighty intellect’s death; the shock of cold-blooded murder; the minutiae and boredom of keeping our bodies functioning on a daily basis; the struggle and awe of encountering something we can’t explain; the unspoken need to survive, never questioned because it will never be answered. So much more than a speculative document about the human race colonizing the Solar System, 2001 asks why we do what we do—why, against so many oppositional forces, seen and otherwise, do we push outward, past the fringes of all that we know, all that we ever need to know? Amidst long shots of bodies sifting through space, of vessels and cosmonauts floating silently through the unknown, Kubrick finds grace—aided, of course, by an epic classical soundtrack we today can’t extricate from Kubrick’s indelible images—and in grace he finds purpose: If we can transcend our terrestrial roots with curiosity and fearlessness, then we should. Because we can. That the end of Kubrick’s odyssey returns us to the beginning only reaffirms that purpose: We are, and have always been, the navigators of our destiny. —Dom Sinacola


2. Malcolm X

malcolm-x-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1992
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 201 minutes

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Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing (1989) could have also easily made this list, but the other pinnacle of Lee’s career is his epic biopic of the controversial ’60s activist. Denzel Washington’s towering performance is at the crux of the film, with a fiery charisma pulsing under a collected exterior. Unafraid to plumb the depths of the man’s weaknesses—both ideological and personal—Lee takes on the task of demythologizing a modern legend. An eerie high point in the movie comes during the evocative use of Otis Redding’s A Change is Gonna Come; as the stirring plea for civil rights is set against the dramatic lead-up to Malcolm X’s assassination.—Christina Newland


3. Spirited Away

spirited-away-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Yumi Tamai
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 125 minutes

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What is it about Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away that makes it one of his greatest—if not the greatest—films he has ever made? Perhaps it’s because it represents the best expression of his most defining themes and concepts—the strength and perseverance of a young woman, the rapturous glory of flight, the spiritual struggle of personal and cultural amnesia with Japanese society, the redeeming power of love. Maybe it has something to do with the crux of the film’s story being so archetypically identifiable, not so much a modern reimagining as it is a spiritual evocation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a childhood odyssey in a world that feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. Whatever the case, there is nothing quite like watching Spirited Away for the first time. The image of Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi), having discovered her parents transformed into pigs, running frantically through the streets as the town surrounding her comes to life, lights flickering into existence and spirits rising up from the earth, is nothing short of magical. Films like Nausicaä, Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro introduced the world to Hayao Miyazaki, but it was Spirited Away that secured his name among the canon of the greatest animators to have ever lived, ensuring his legacy for decades to come. —Toussaint Egan


4. The Passion of Joan of Arc

joan-arc-Criterion.jpg Year: 1928
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Renée Jeanne Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Antonin Artaud, Maurice Schultz
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: NR
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes

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Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s face is in your brain, whether you’re aware of it there or not. Its contours and stipples, topped by hair shorn of substance or style—her head centered by two wide eyes rimmed with tears, in superposition between ecstasy and misery even though we’re staring at her—consumes boundless space in Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent masterpiece, seemingly suspended over the long course of history between now (whenever now happens to be) and when Dreyer first envisioned this immersive, expressionist experience. Dreyer wrote of his film, “What counted was getting the spectator absorbed in the past,” and then, “A thorough study of the documents from the rehabilitation process was necessary; I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present.” Though The Passion of Joan of Arc Dreyer based on the 1491 transcripts of its titular saint’s trial for heresy (the director welcomed by the Société Générale des Films to make a film in France, his choice of subject bolstered by France’s canonization of Joan of Arc after World War I), he provides little visual detail or historical context. Instead he submerges the viewer in Joan’s perspective, keeps his hand on our heads as we drown in the torment of what she’s subjected to, rarely releasing his weight except for in the film’s final moments, when Joan’s execution at the stake unleashes violence throughout the citizenry. But mostly: that face, awestruck throughout time. Most notably, in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, the director watches as his protagonist, Nana (Anna Karina), watches Joan of Arc, lighting her tear-streaked face in close-up as she experiences something of the same images before her. Godard reflects Falconetti’s face in Karina’s, spanning more than three decades as if they’re nothing. There is perhaps no better ode to the power of what Dreyer achieved: Timelessness borne by the tragedy of our all too weak, all too human, flesh. —Dom Sinacola


5. 8 1/2

8-1-2.jpg Year: 1963
Director: Federico Fellini
Stars: Marcello Mastroiani, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 140 minutes

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With Fellini we wander through a shadow of his psyche, wondering where his memories begin and where Guido’s (Marcello Mastroiani) psychoses end. Perhaps Fellini’s most impressive blending of dreams and fantasies, of moral truth and oneiric fallacy, of space and time, 8 ½ tells its story in Möbius strips, wrapping realities into realities in order to leave audiences helplessly buried within its main character’s self-absorption. Guido’s obsession is so inward-looking he can’t help but destroy every single close relationship in his life, and yet, in hanging the film’s narrative on the struggle of one filmmaker to make his latest film—the title refers to the fact that this was Fellini’s eighth-and-a-half feature—the iconic Italian director seems to claim that artistic genius practically demands such solipsism. It’s a brazen statement for a film to make, but Fellini does so with such grace and vision, with such seamless intent, 8 ½ becomes a bittersweet masterpiece: Clear, aching and steeped in nostalgia, it celebrates the kind of glorious life only cinema can offer. —Dom Sinacola


6. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

umbrellas-of-cherbourg-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon
Genre: Musical, Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: G
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Jacques Demy’s masterpiece is a soaring, vibrant, innately bittersweet story of love lost, found and forever disbanded, another wartime casualty in a country scarred by military conflict. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is lived-in, a story derived from Demy’s life experience, and that keyword—“experience”—is essential to making the film click. Take away its musical cues, and you’re left with a narrative about a young man (Nino Castelnuovo) and a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) who fall deeply in love with one another, only to be torn apart when he’s drafted to fight overseas. The story remains rooted in Demy’s pathos, and pathos gives Umbrellas’ gravity. The music, of course, is a critical part of its character, a dose of magic Demy uses to buttress the rigors of life in wartime with grandeur and meaning. It’s a film about people in love falling out of love, and then falling in love all over again with new partners and altered sentiments, a beautiful picture as likely to make you swoon as to crush your heart. —Andy Crump


7. Seven Samurai

seven-samurai-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1956
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Yoshio Inaba, Kuninori Kodo
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: R
Runtime: 207 minutes

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The heart’s favorite Akira Kurosawa film is Ikiru, while the brain’s is always dead-set on Seven Samurai. Forget the myriad of official and unofficial remakes and re-imaginings, just think of practically any ambitious action/adventure yarn, of rousing tales of underdogs battling seemingly unbeatable forces threatening their existence, with only bravery, wits and bravado on their side: Seven Samurai is built into that DNA. From the smallest details of its structure, right down to specific framing, design and choreography, Kurosawa’s choices solidify it as easily one of the greatest films ever made. —Oktay Ege Kozak


8. Casablanca

casablanca.jpg Year: 1942
Director: Michael Curtiz
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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There are probably a decent number of auteur-theorist types who’d quibble with me for saying Casablanca is a perfect film. The production team didn’t consider it a big deal, in fact; just one of hundreds of films being made that year (despite a major league cast and great writers). It performed solidly at the box office, though not spectacularly. Then it won a bunch of Academy Awards. Then its reputation began to grow. One of the many interesting things about Casablanca is its epic durability – the story feels as fresh and real today as it did in 1945. A romantic drama with political tones and a ton of wit, it features superb performances by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Paul Henreid (for starters). Doomed love, self-sacrifice, Bogie one-liners galore, and one of the most quintessential cinematic moments of its age (both of my kids were born after 9/11 and even they cheered when that chorus of La Marseillaise drowned out the Nazis). Smart, sweet, and witty; probably the quintessential film of the 1940s, and one of the best feel-good movies of the 20th century. —Amy Glynn


9. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dr-Strangelove-Criterion.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens
Rating: PG
Runtime: 94 minutes

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While attempting to adapt Peter George’s novel Red Alert for the big screen, director Stanley Kubrick found that he kept needing to cut out certain real-life details about the emergency nuclear bomb procedures because they were simply too absurd to work in a serious drama. Deciding to rewrite the project as a dark comedy, he recruited renowned satirist Terry Southern to help pen the script. From there, it’s all history. To this day, Peter Sellers’ three very different (and very funny) performances remain a feat by which few actors have matched. Moreover, the image of Slim Pickens riding the bomb to its destination as well as the final montage of destruction set to the wistful “We’ll Meet Again” are the stuff of movie legend. Worldwide Armageddon has never been so hilarious.—Mark Rozeman


10. Citizen Kane

citizen-kane-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 120 minutes

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Obviously, Citizen Kane is no stranger to any list of movies like this, but there’s no denying that part of what makes this film ostensibly the “greatest of all time” is the way it uses the process of journalism to create a style and structure of storytelling that felt totally unique at the onset of the 1940s. We experience much of the film through the eyes of a reporter (the great Joseph Cotten) attempting to understand the life and death of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (director Orson Welles): In a sense, it is film-as-investigative journalism, which enables Welles to take an innovative approach, dissecting Kane’s life in flashbacks, newsreels and interviews from not-always reliable sources. See only: its visually stunning newspaper montage—just one example of the film’s spectacular editing, which even today seems ahead of its time. —Maura McAndrew


11. Jules et Jim

jules-and-jim-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1962
Director: François Truffaut
Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre, Michel Subor
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Widely regarded as a French touchstone, François Truffaut’s classic WWI-era love triangle is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by Henri-Pierre Roche, which Truffaut stumbled across in a Paris bookstore in the 1950s. The adaptation tells the tragic story of Jim (Henri Serre), a French Bohemian, Jules (Oskar Werner), his Austrian friend, and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), Jules’ girlfriend/wife. The two men are besotted with Catherine, who bears an eerie resemblance to a statue they both love. She marries Jules. The war breaks out, and the two men, on opposing sides of the conflict, struggle with the fear that one might unwittingly kill the other in battle. (What actually happens is arguably worse.) Both survive, and later, Jim visits Jules and Catherine in their Black Forest cottage. Jules confides he’s miserable, that Catherine has constant affairs, has left him and their baby, Sabine, for months at a time, and that he lives in terror of losing her. Catherine tries to seduce Jim. The three try an experimental situation where Catherine is with both men, but tragedy only ensues from there. Perhaps a definitive example of the French New Wave, the film incorporates a vast lexicon of cinematic techniques—newsreel footage, stills, wipes, panning shots, freeze-frames, voiceover narration (by Michel Subor)—though shades of its towering influence in subsequent films, television and music are almost innumerable. —Amy Glynn


12. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

mr-smith-goes-to-washington-poster.jpg Year: 1939
Director: Frank Capra
Stars: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Similar to All The King’s Men (and not just because it’s incredibly old), this film chronicles the tale of Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart). He’s the leader of a boy-scout troop before being recruited to the Senate by a team that believes he’ll do whatever he’s told—specifically, allow the building of a dam that will make said team rich. But unlike All The King’s Men, the main character isn’t corrupted by politics, but rather defies and decries the corruption. Another film directed by the iconic Frank Capra, who’s responsible for a bunch of film classics (It’s A Wonderful Life, No. 6 Meet John Doe), Mr. Smith has major sentimental overtones and desire for a fantastical world, as Stewart’s character displays a fortitude and integrity we wish all politicians had. It’s old, but it’s still incredibly good. —Nathan Spicer


13. Inception

inception-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 148 minutes

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In the history of cinema, there is no twist more groan-inducing than the “it was all a dream” trope (notable exceptions like The Wizard of Oz aside). With Inception, director Christopher Nolan crafts a bracing and high-octane piece of sci-fi drama wherein that conceit isn’t just a plot device, but the totality of the story. The measured and ever-steady pace and precision with which the plot and visuals unfold, and Nolan mainstay wally Pfister’s gorgeous, globe-spanning on-location cinematography, implies a near-obsessive attention to detail. The film winds up and plays out like a clockwork beast, each additional bit of minutia coalescing to form a towering whole. Nolan’s filmmaking and Inception’s dream-delving work toward the same end: to offer us a simulation that toys with our notions of reality. As that, and as a piece of summer popcorn-flick fare, Inception succeeds quite admirably, leaving behind imagery and memories that tug and twist our perceptions—daring us to ask whether we’ve wrapped our heads around it, or we’re only half-remembering a waking dream. Director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a book about his philosophy towards filmmaking, calling it Sculpting in Time; Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t sculpt, he deconstructs. He uses filmmaking to tear time apart so he can put it back together as he wills. A spiritual person, Tarkovsky’s films were an expression of poetic transcendence. For Nolan, a rationalist, he wants to cheat time, cheat death. His films often avoid dealing with death head-on, though they certainly depict it. What Nolan is able to convey in a more potent fashion is the weight of time and how ephemeral and weak our grasp on existence. Time is constantly running out in Nolan’s films; a ticking clock is a recurring motif for him, one that long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer aurally literalized in the scores for Interstellar and Dunkirk. Nolan revolts against temporal reality, and film is his weapon, his tool, the paradox stairs or mirror-upon-mirror of Inception. He devises and engineers filmic structures that emphasize time’s crunch while also providing a means of escape. In Inception different layers exist within the dream world, and the deeper one goes into the subconscious the more stretched out one’s mental experience of time. If one could just go deep enough, they could live a virtual eternity in their mind’s own bottomless pit. “To sleep perchance to dream”: the closest Nolan has ever gotten to touching an afterlife.—Michael Saba and Chad Betz


14. Godzilla

godzilla-criterion-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1954
Director: Ishiro Honda
Stars: Sachio Sakai, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Akira Takarada
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Early in Godzilla, before the monster is even glimpsed off the shore of the island of Odo, a local fisherman tells visiting reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) about the play they’re watching, describing it as the last remaining vestige of the ancient “exorcism” his people once practiced. Hagiwara watches the actors “sacrifice” a young girl to the calamitous sea creature to satiate its hunger and cajole it into leaving some fish for the people to enjoy—at least until the next sacrifice. Ishiro Hondo’s smash hit monster movie—the first of its kind in Japan, the most expensive movie ever made in the country at the time, not even a decade after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is, after 20-something sequels over three times as many years, a surprisingly elegiac exorcism of its own, a reminder of one nation’s continuing trauma during a time when the rest of the world jonesed to forget. As J Hoberman describes in his essay for the film’s Criterion release, much of Honda’s disaster imagery is “coded in naturalism,” a verite-like glimpse of the harrowing destruction wrought by the beast but indistinguishable from the aftermath of the Americans’ attacks in 1945, especially when the U.S. and Russia, among other powers, were testing H-bombs in the Pacific in the early 1950s, bathing the Japanese in even more radiation than that in which they’d already been saturated. And yet, Godzilla is a sci-fi flick, replete with a “mad” scientist in an eye patch and a human in a rubber dinosaur suit flipping over model bridges. That Honda handles such goofiness with an unrelentingly poetic hand, purging his nation’s psychological grief in broadly intimate volleys, is nothing short of astounding. Shots of Godzilla trudging through thick smoke, spotlights highlighting his gaping maw as the Japanese military’s weapons do nothing but shock the dark with beautiful chiaroscuro, have been rarely matched in films of its ilk (and in the director’s own legion of sequels); Honda saw gods and monsters and, with the world entering a new age of technological doom, found no difference between the two. —Dom Sinacola


15. Bloodsport

bloodsport poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1988
Director: Newt Arnold
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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There are tomes to be written and classes to be taught on the perplexing existence of Bloodsport—purportedly our current President’s favorite movie, if one were to fast-forward through the talking parts, directed by an adult man named Newt—but perhaps the film is best summarized in one moment: the infamous Scream. Because in these 40 seconds or so, the heart and soul of Bloodsport is bared, with little concern for taste, or purpose, or respect for the physically binding laws of reality—in this moment is a burgeoning movie star channeling his best attributes (astounding muscles; years of suppressed rage; the juxtaposition of grace and violence that is his well-oiled and cleanly shaven corporeal form) to make a go at real-live Hollywood acting. Although Bloodsport is the movie that announced Jean-Claude Van Damme and his impenetrable accent to the world—as well as serving as the crucible for (seriously) every single plot of every Van Damme movie to come—it’s also a defining film of the decade, positioning martial arts as certifiable blockbuster action cinema. Schwarzenegger and Stallone? These were beefy mooks that could believably be action stars. Van Damme set the bar higher: his body became a better and bloodier weapon than any hand-cannon that previous mumbling, ’80s box-office draws could ever wield. —Dom Sinacola


16. The Wages of Fear

wages-of-fear-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Stars: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 149 minutes

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About an hour has passed before Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film reaches its real plot—a whole hour before our four impoverished expatriates take on the death-defying gig of driving two trucks filled with nitroglycerine across 300 treacherous miles, from the South American oil town of Las Piedras to the site of an oil field explosion overseen by an American corporation. Clouzot sets his stakes simply: Because nitroglycerine is so volatile, and because the corporation does not have the proper transportation equipment available, volunteers must, with exquisite care, drive trucks full of the chemical across mountainous terrain to be used to damper the oil fire with a huge controlled explosion. But that journey doesn’t begin until after Clouzot has waded through the stagnant world of our drivers, introducing us to the kind of men who rarely deal in the currency of hope: Corsican lothario Mario (Yves Montand), warm-hearted Italian Luigi (Folco Lulli), slippery ex-gangster Jo (Charles Vanel) and stoic German cool guy Bimba (Peter van Eyck) are each trapped in the town, wasting away their interminable time there with odd jobs, liquor and local women. With almost effortless allegorical control, Clouzot strands the men at the mercy of American capitalism, giving them the choice to continue to die slowly in Las Piedras, or risk their lives for enough money to finally get out (which is really no choice at all). Rather than cast them as heroes and future martyrs, Clouzot’s wallowing with them in Las Piedras exposes their ne’er-do-well natures, such as Mario’s womanizing, Bimba’s near-sociopathic aloofness and Jo’s latent cowardice. Even with such unpleasantness, we grit our teeth and hold our breath as these anti-heroes teeter over the maw of their own inevitable obliteration, Clouzot knowing full well he’s got us by our throats. In its unbelievable tension, The Wages of Fear can be a harrowing watch, but it’s shot with such a total dearth of sentimentality that the bleakness of the landscape Clouzot’s created forces us to care about those who don’t deserve it. We have affection not because Clouzot’s manipulated us, but simply because these broken men are as much at the mercy of an indifferent universe as we are, ruled by fate and classism and whatever else we’ll never control, whether we know it or not. —Dom Sinacola


17. The Great Dictator

chaplin_Great_dictator.jpg Year: 1940
Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: G
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Charlie Chaplin’s first “talkie” was a biting satire that he wrote, directed, produced, scored, and starred in-as both of the lead roles, a fascist despot who bears a rather marked resemblance to Adolf Hitler and a persecuted Jewish barber. Good satire can be powerful, and this film was: Released while the United States was still formally at peace with Germany, it stirred greater public attention and condemnation of the Nazis and Mussolini, anti-Semitism and fascism. (That said, Chaplin later recounted that he could never have made the satirical film even a year or two later, as the extent of the horrors in German concentration camps became clearer.) The choice to play both the tyrant and the oppressed man was an inspired one, underscoring the frightening but inescapable truth that we all contain a little bit of both characters. This is a strikingly pertinent film for our particular moment in history, and well worth dusting off and queueing up not only for its incredible craft but for its resonance as a study in projection. —Amy Glynn


18. Beauty and the Beast

beauty-and-the-beast-poster.jpg Year: 1946
Director: Jean Cocteau
Stars: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély
Rating: G
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Before there were Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury voicing animated animate household items, there was Jean Cocteau. This story’s been with us since the 18th century and rendered in countless iterations, so I’ll forego the plot summary and just say: From the fourth-wall-breaking preamble, in which the director entreats the audience to approach the film with inner-child-forward faith in the magic of fairy tales, to the end, Beauty and the Beast remains a treasure of subtle imagery, mesmerizing music, baroque opulence, sexual intensity and total indulgence in fantasy, aided by Jean Marais (Beast) and Josette Day (Belle) delivering enchanting performances. The themes explored here are traditional fairy tale tropes: innocence and greed, the transformative power of love, the fear of the unknown, magic. Cocteau was a celebrated poet as well as a filmmaker, and this is a strong example of how the two crafts inform one another, in the way it harnesses imagery to create metaphorical connections. Weird and powerful filmmaking. —Amy Glynn


19. Solyaris

solaris-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1972
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Genre: Sci-fi & Fantasy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 168 minutes

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In 2002, Steven Soderbergh adapted Stanislaw Lem’s classic science fiction novel into a perfectly fine and handsome movie. It’s the one time that the story of a Tarkovsky film has been duplicated, sharing source material, and it illustrates an important truth: Andrei Tarkovsky’s vision is singular, inimitable; it towers over all others. Where an accomplished director like Soderbergh made a serviceable sci-fi flick, Tarkovsky made visual poetry of the highest order. Tarkovsky’s artistic instincts rarely failed him, and even though it was a big budget genre picture, Solyaris takes risks with the same confidence of expression and the same depth of resonance as any other Tarkovsky film. The science fiction concept of the titular planet-entity allows Tarkovsky a new angle at the same themes pondered in many of his works: the pivotal roles of history and memory in our present and future; the fraught responsibility of the individual in responding to the calls of the sublime; the struggle to know truth. Tarkovsky’s long-take, free-associative aesthetic was predicated on his philosophy of filmmaking as “sculpting in time,” and in Solyaris there is a fascinating confluence between the way time and perception is manipulated by Tarkovsky, and the way those things are manipulated by Solyaris itself. Solyaris gives back the protagonist, astronaut psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), his dead wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), for what purpose is unclear. But Tarkovsky’s films work in a similar fashion; difficult to say exactly why they do what they do, yet they pull at the deepest roots of ourselves. They elicit emotional, meditative realities unlike any other. Like Kelvin’s resurrected Hari, the stimuli are simulacrums, symbols mined from a collective dream, but this does not diminish the worth of experiencing them. Sometimes they lead you to a place like Solyaris leads Kelvin: an island of lost memory—or perhaps of an impossible future, awash in the waters of some Spirit. That makes the unreal real; that gives the dream life. —Chad Betz


20. Taste of Cherry

taste-of-cherry-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Stars: Homayoun Ershadi
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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An existential tone poem of exasperating pace and deliberation, Taste of Cherry takes the long way in almost every conceivable fashion. Kiarostami stages a bare minimum of plot in his favorite setting—a moving vehicle—his middle-aged protagonist driving around the dusty roads of the Northern Iranian village of Koker. Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), a Range Rover-driving stoic, surveys stranger after stranger, inviting a few into his car to discuss a low-effort, high-paying job. He needs help committing suicide. The ensuing conversations are uncomfortable, philosophical, layered, sometimes labored. When Kiarostami isn’t taking viewers on a physical journey of unflinching confrontation, he’s likewise keeping us at a literal distance—behind windows and from wide, curiously flat shots, the isolation of the car contrasted with expansive landscapes of industrial machinery. Mr. Badii’s voice is at times obscured behind glass; we strain to see him through semi-sheer curtains or a ticket booth—we don’t even get a first name. We are denied the slightest of intimacy, determinacy or logic. In turn, there’s something transient and yet immemorial to Taste of Cherry, a confounding, transcendental bridge between extremes and experiences, cultures and politics, passenger and driver, viewer and Kiarostami himself, between our respective unknowns. —Amanda Schurr


21. Modern Times

modern-times.jpg Year: 1936
Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: G
Runtime: 88 minutes

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If time is a flat circle, then Modern Times is like a flat sprocket—the travails of the Little Tramp navigating a mechanical world being so incessant and repetitive that elements like luck and hope only serve to spur along Chaplin’s farce even though they hold little grip on his characters’ futures. Not much changes for the Little Tramp throughout: He tries to survive, and yet the institutional system craps him back out to where he started, desperately hungry and penniless, left with nothing to do but try again. This was also Chaplin’s last go as the Tramp, and it’s easy to imagine that, throughout the film’s many misadventures—joined by equally good-natured partner in crime, the gamin (Paulette Goddard)—as he gets sucked up and sublimated into the modern industrial machine, this “disappearance” was kind of by design. It’s a weird way for Chaplin’s beloved character to go out, but so are the many ways in which Chaplin shows how the modern industrial machine becomes part of the Tramp, too. He may get squeezed through a giant, sprocket-speckled apparatus, becoming one with its schematics, but so too does the assembly line—with all that twisting, wrenching, and spinning—impress itself onto the Tramp, leaving him unable after a long shift to do anything but waggle his arms about as if he’s still on the assembly line. It’s no wonder, then, that the President of Modern Times’ factory setting bears a striking resemblance to Henry Ford: Chaplin, who toured the world following the success of City Lights, witnessed the conditions of automobile lines in Detroit, how the drudgery of our modern times weighed on young workers. The Great Depression, Chaplin seems to be saying, was the first sign of just how thoroughly technology can kill our spirits, not so much discarding us as absorbing our individuality. Modern Times, then, is a film with a conscious far beyond its time, a kind of seamless blending of special effects, sanguine silent film methods and radical fury.—Dom Sinacola


22. Ikiru

221_BD_box_348x490_original.jpg Year: 1952
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Takashi Shimura, Yunosuke Ito, Miki Odagiri
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 144 minutes

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Watching Ikiru, you get the feeling that Leslie Knope would love it: The film is as much a celebration of life as it is of one life in particular, but it’s also an affirmation of what local government can do if just one dogged public servant can grease the wheels of bureaucracy. Ikiru is one of Akira Kurosawa’s finest, a big-scale movie built to house a small-scale story, clocking in at just under two and a half hours as it details the final days of section chief Kenji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), an aging government employee reeling from a stomach cancer diagnosis. (The doctors give him less than a year to live.) Over the course of Kurosawa’s film, he is guided by two very different figures—a debauched novelist (Yunosuke Ito), and the cheery Toyo (Miki Odagiri), one of Kenji’s subordinates—toward purpose and meaning. A simple life lived in service to others isn’t a life wasted, the film tells us as it throws jabs and japes at the hypocrisy of Kenji’s callous, apathetic peers. A sentimental message, maybe, but one that’s earnestly felt and well earned through the stature of Kurosawa’s craft. —Andy Crump


23. Au Revoir les Enfants

au-revoir-les-enfants-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Louis Malle
Stars: Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto, Francine Racette
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 105 minutes

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Au revoir les enfants portrays one French schoolboy’s (very limited) view of the Holocaust in a manner both reserved yet devastating. Set in a Catholic boarding school in France, Louis Malle’s Golden Lion-winning film follows a pampered rich boy (Gaspard Manesse) as he befriends a new classmate who is secretly a Jew (Raphaël Fejtö) harbored by the boarding school’s benevolent priest (Philippe Morier-Genoud). Malle based the film on his own childhood, effortlessly imbuing it with a quiet simplicity that allows its saddest, potentially melodramatic moments to be gut-wrenchingly real. Along with cinematographer Renato Berta, Malle merely lets the camera linger; in one scene, in particular, he films an empty passageway, beautifully emphasizing a terrible moment that his main character—and his audience—will never forget. —Jeremy Mathews


24. The Birdcage

the_birdcage_poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane
Rating: R
Runtime: 119 minutes

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You know what’s awkward? When you’re a middle-aged gay Jewish South Beach drag club owner (Armand, played by Robin Williams) and your straight son shows up and asks for your blessing to marry his girlfriend who is the daughter of a Neocon senator (Gene Hackman) who heads something called “The Coalition for Moral Order.” You want to support your kid, but you don’t love being closeted by him, and the dinner meet-up ends up meaning you and your partner, Albert (Nathan Lane), are forced into a whole new level of drag in which you are straight, a cultural attaché to Greece, and married to the one-night stand straight-sexperiment (Katherine, played by Christine Baranski) that led to the conception of your son. Your partner’s offended, the Senator’s being investigated by the tabloids, tensions are running high and your houseboy Agador (Hank Azaria) has agreed to transform into a Greek butler named “Spartacus,” but let’s face it, tensions are running high on all sides-and that’s before your baby-mama gets caught in traffic and Albert sees the opportunity for the drag role of a lifetime. Fully Shakespearean hijinks ensue. The 1996 Mike Nichols remake of Edouard Molinaro’s La Cage Aux Folles was not really blistering social commentary, but beneath its glib feel-good star-vehicle exterior there are some depths you could easily miss while you’re distracted by the batshit-crazy and heavily sequined antics of Williams and Lane. It’s actually not only rambunctious and witty but, as with many of Robin Williams’ film roles, The Birdcage has a serious streak where a genuine investigation of personal identity is underway, and hypocrisy, acceptance, snobbery, and most of all, everyone’s individual style of “drag” (and hey, we all have one, even if we don’t always express it by putting on fake lashes and singing Sondheim) gets taken out for a much-needed exam. —Amy Glynn


25. Kwaidan

kwaidan-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Stars: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsua Nakamura, Osamu Takizawa, Noboru Nakaya
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 184 minutes

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Ghost stories don’t get much more gorgeous than the four in Masaki Kobayashi’s sprawling Kwaidan. Between two acerbically political and widely lauded samurai epics, Hara-kiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), Kobayashi led what was then Japan’s most expensive cinematic production ever, an anthology film with its parts loosely connected by Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales and Kobayashi’s intuitive penchant for surreal, sweepingly lush sets. In “The Black Hair,” a selfish, impoverished ronin (Rentaro Mikuni) abandons his wife to marry into wealth, only to realize he made a dire mistake, plunging him into a gothic nightmare of decay and regret. “The Woman of the Snow” follows a craftsman (the always welcome Tatsuya Nakadai) doomed to have everything he loves stolen from him by a patient bureaucratic specter. The movie-unto-itself, “Hoichi the Earless,” pits the titular blind monk musician (Katsua Nakamura) against a family of ghosts, forcing the bard to recite—in hushed, heartbreaking passages on the biwa—the story of their wartime demise. Rapt with indelible images (most well known, perhaps, is Hoichi’s skin completely covered in the script of The Heart Sutra to ward off the ghosts’ influence), “Hoichi the Earless” is both deeply unnerving and quietly tragic, wrung with the sadness of Kobayashi’s admission that only forces beyond our control hold the keys to our fates. The fourth, and by far the weirdest, entry, “In a Cup of Tea,” is a tale within a tale, purposely unfinished because the writer (Osamu Takizawa) who’s writing about a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who keeps seeing an unfamiliar man (Kei Sato) in his cup of tea is in turn attacked by the malicious spirits he’s conjuring. From these disparate fairy tales, plenty of fodder for campfires, Kobayashi creates a mythos for his country’s haunted past: We are nothing if not the pawns of all those to come before. —Dom Sinacola


26. Police Story

police-story-crtierion.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Jackie Chan
Stars: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Remember that scene in The Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood drive the Bluesmobile through a mall and wreck it up good? That’s basically what Jackie Chan does to a shopping center in Police Story, except it’s with his own two hands. Seriously, there’s enough breakaway glass in that one, nine-minute fight scene for ten martial arts movies. Chan plays a cop (again) who goes after bad guys (again). Why complicate the plot synopsis any more than that? The only sensible way to rank Jackie Chan movies is simply to focus on the action and the death-defying stunts. Chan has called Police Story his greatest film, and who are we to argue? —Jim Vorel


27. Ugetsu

Ugetsu285x400.jpg Year: 1953
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Stars: Mitsuko Mito, Masayuki Mori, Eitaro Ozawa, Kinuyo Tanaka
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 98 minutes

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During an incredibly prolific point at the end of his career, Kenji Mizoguchi released Ugetsu between The Life of Oharu (1952) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), only three years before his death. Like in those two films, Mizoguchi set Ugetsu in feudal Japan, using the country’s civil war as a milieu through which he could explore the ways in which ordinary people are kept from seeing to their basest needs, ground instead to dirt by forces far beyond their control. So it goes with two couples: Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), a potter hoping to profit from wartime, and his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka); Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), who rightly indicts her husband’s dreams of being a well-decorated samurai as foolish, especially considering that Tobei shows no signs of physical mettle, let alone a brain with any sense of militaristic prowess. Ignoring both their wives’ grave concerns and the ecliptic tide of war, the two men set out to make one last big bid for fame and fortune, setting out only to find a country haunted, literally sometimes, by casualties. Ugetsu is a lushly elemental film, epitomized by Mizoguchi’s long takes and aloof mise-en-scene, highlighted the callousness of what he was trying to capture. Seamlessly shifting between ethereal setpieces—the iconic rendezvous between boats, set amidst a hellish waterscape of mist and portent is perhaps the crux around which the film unwinds—and grittier clusterfucks of mass pain in progress, Mizoguchi conjures up a sense of inevitability: No matter how much these characters learn about love or family or themselves, they are doomed. Misery unfolds supernaturally and pointlessly in Ugetsu—so much so that by the time anyone’s noticed that tragedy’s struck, it’s already well-burrowed into the bones of those at its mercy. —Dom Sinacola


28. Cléo from 5 to 7

cleo-from-5-to-7-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1962
Director: Agnès Varda
Stars: Corinne Marchand, Dorothy Blank, Antoine Bourseiller
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Halfway through Agnès Varda’s sophomore film, the titular Cléo (Corinne Marchand), a pop singer awaiting the potentially devastating results of some sort of medical test, looks directly into the camera, weeping as she sings a song during an otherwise typical practice session. It’s a revelatory moment: Varda addresses her audience directly through her character addressing her audience directly, all while on the precipice of total dissolution. Cléo, a beautiful, burgeoning celebrity, seems to understand that she may be empty without her looks, just as she rails against the forces that put her in such an untenable position. In other words, realizing in that moment of melodrama, of the heightened emotion she knows all too well is the stuff of pop music at its most marketably patronizing, that her attractiveness may be soon over, she’s driven to tears, unable to reconcile her talent with her face, or her fragility with her livelihood, leaving it to the audience to decide whether she deserves our sympathy or not. If not, Varda wonders, then why not? Shot practically in real time, Cléo from 5 to 7 waits along with our character as she waits for life-changing news, floating from coffee shop to home to park to wherever, not doing much of anything with the life she has, the life she may find out she’s losing soon enough. She watches a silent film featuring cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, meets a soldier on leave from the Algerian front (Antoine Bourseiller) who confesses he believes people are dying for nothing, drives past a murder scene and senses that the universe maybe has misdirected her bad luck towards another soul. One of the defining films of the Left Bank branch of the French New Wave (as opposed to those of the “Right Bank,” the more famous films of Truffaut and Godard, the movement’s more commercial, cosmopolitan cinephiles), Cléo from 5 to 7 is a fever dream of the ordinary, a meditation on the nothingness of everyday living, as existential as it is blissfully bereft of purpose. —Dom Sinacola


29. 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

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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


30. In the Heights

in-the-heights-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Jon M. Chu
Stars: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits
Genre: Musical
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 143 minutes

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In 2018, director Jon M. Chu imbued the standard rom-com plot of his Crazy Rich Asians adaptation with classical Hollywood decadence, hanging it all on a framework of well-constructed cultural specificity. It was big, spectacular and embarrassingly novel for an American movie of its kind. Now, in 2021, we’re getting Chu’s version of In the Heights, the musical that put Lin-Manuel Miranda on the map (and won him his first Tony). It’s incredible. The exciting electricity of a non-white blockbuster cast becoming superstars before your eyes, the maximalist style of a modern smash updating its influences, the intertwining of hyper-specific and broad themes—Chu’s strengths and his cast soar, bringing In the Heights as high as it’s ever been. It’s the best Hollywood musical in years. Tracking a few sweltering days in New York’s Washington Heights, the film meshes Do the Right Thing’s hot summer tension with School Daze’s teasing affection for its song-slinging genre. It just so happens that the corner we’re on is the collision point for the intersecting lives and romances of two couples—bodega boss Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and aspiring designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and dispatcher Benny (Corey Hawkins) and recent Stanford dropout Nina (Leslie Grace)—who serve as the neighborhood’s most vocal examples of those that life’s rigged lottery left putting their patience and faith in a daily scratcher. There’s no real pivotal struggle (especially not between Sharks and Jets, though wouldn’t it be incredible if Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story gave 2021 two great NYC musicals?) aside from the ever-present and myriad anxieties of Nth generation Americans living in a racist country. Yes, those familiar with the themes of Miranda’s Hamilton will find a similar rhythm and thematic flavor here—though with the showtunes’ style slipping into a salsa or bolero as easily as the rap bars dip in and out of Spanish—but with a purity of form and meaning that’s lyrical critiques and observations are even sharper than those mired in the phenomenon’s historical metaphor. In fact, almost all the songs are bangers that keep emotions high—you’ll weep, you’ll cheer, you’ll hum the songs to yourself on the way out of the theater—bolstered by orchestration that, while restrained when limited to its lovers, explodes when the choruses finally incorporate the neighborhood at large. Head-bobbing bops and moving melodies match rhythmic editing and a vibrant, fittingly populous background that’s constant choreography sustains the perpetual, organic flow of a community. In the Heights is great, and its greatness is amplified by the joy that it will inspire in theaters full of people for years to come.—Jacob Oller


31. North by Northwest

north-by-northwest-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint
Rating: NR
Runtime: 137 minutes

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When a mild-mannered ad man (Cary Grant, in some seriously natty threads) is mistaken for a secret agent and finds himself in the crosshairs of a dangerous spy, suspense is a given. Add a romantic entanglement with the epically gorgeous Eva Marie Saint, who might or might not be in cahoots with the spies, and you’ve got Hitchcock at his tongue-in-cheek best, turning a surrealist fever dream of a plot into something light-handed and smooth. North by Northwest might also be his most utterly entertaining and arguably his most visually stunning, with some of the most iconic scene compositions in film history (particularly, though not solely, the incredibly shot sequence at the top of Mount Rushmore). Saint’s cool and intriguing, and if Grant ever had one day in his life where he wasn’t unbelievably charming, it was not captured on film. This is definitely a thriller, too, but it’s also witty as hell (maybe even a little self-satisfied, but this viewer isn’t complaining—if anyone’s earned that, Alfred Hitchcock has). Skillful, clever, charming—if for some reason you don’t already know why Hitchcock is an enduring god of cinema, this film ought to clear it up for you. —Amy Glynn


32. The Aviator

aviator.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Ian Holm, Jude Law
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 170 minutes

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With Howard Hughes’ larger than life personality and those action-packed scenes of him flying (and crashing) planes, it’s hard not to first think of the famous businessman and aviator as a sort of superhero: A man capable of almost any feat, of withstanding any sort of struggle. But a movie that only captures that side of Hughes’ life would be an incomplete one. A hollow one. What makes The Aviator one of the greatest biopics of all time is that it shows Hughes’ vulnerabilities as well, most notably of which was his battle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hughes at his lowest, during Hughes’ anxiety-ridden spirals is far more compelling and suspenseful than the Beverly Hills plane crash scene itself.—Anita George


33. Pather Panchali

pather-panchali-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1955
Director: Satyajit Ray
Stars: Runki Banerji, Kanu Banerji, Subir Banerji
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 126 minutes

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Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali is, depending on who you ask, either the saddest movie ever made or one of the saddest—though whether the film makes you weep more or less is, perhaps, besides the point. Pather Panchali’s influence may be best evinced on a micro scale, in specific relation to Indian cinema, presenting a watershed moment that sparked the Parallel Cinema movement and altered the texture of the country’s films forevermore. Which isn’t proof of Pather Panchali’s actual substance, though let’s be realistic here: Ray’s masterpiece is an aching, vital movie crafted to transmute the harshest rigors of a childhood lived in rural India into narrative. Maybe it’s presumptuous for an American critic with no frame of reference for Pather Panchali’s cultural context to describe the film as “true to life,” but Ray is so good at capturing a small, specific world with his camera that we come to know, to understand, the life of young Apu, regardless of who we are or where we come from. Isn’t that just the absolute definition of cinema’s transporting power? —Andy Crump


34. Eraserhead

eraserhead-poster.jpg Year: 1977
Director: David Lynch
Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allan Joseph
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

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It can be a painful experience to watch a film and have no idea what it’s about—to have the film’s meaning nagging at the core of you, always out of reach. Yet, that’s exactly the molten, subterranean fuel that pushes David Lynch’s visions forward, and with his debut, the perplexing and terrifying Eraserhead, the director offers no consolation for the encroaching feeling that with him we’ll never find any sort of logical mooring to keep our psyches safe. A simple tale about a funny-haired worker (Jack Nance) trundling nervously through a phantasmagoric industrial landscape, in the process fathering a mutant turtle-looking baby who he’s left to raise after his new wife abandons her “family,” Eraserhead is an astounding act of burying independently-minded cinematic experimentation in the popular consciousness. You may not know much about Eraserhead, but you probably know what it is. And whether or not it’s a meditation on the horrors of fatherhood, or a glimpse of the weird devolution of physical intimacy in a dying ecosystem, or a groundbreaking work of DIY sound design, or whatever—Eraserhead is a black hole of influence. It’s gross, it’s soul-stirring, it’s a visceral nightmare, and to this day, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Which may or may not be a compliment. I can’t be sure. —Dom Sinacola


35. The Evil Dead

evil-dead.jpg Year: 1983
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell
Rating: NC-17
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Infamously pieced together from $350,000 and an exceptional amount of goodwill, The Evil Dead, when looking back at it, seems to have created a kind of horror unto itself. Sam Raimi’s debut, of course, is notable for so much more than that: like how it was edited by Joel Coen; or how Stephen King’s rabid interest caught the attention of a major studio, giving Raimi and close bud Bruce Campbell the chance to pour everything they knew about slashers, slapstick, camp, pulp and fantasy into Evil Dead II, a kind of sequel/reboot hybrid. But the real gauge of The Evil Dead’s tenor is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that its 2013 remake was something of a sickening feast for gore-hounds. For those familiar with Evil Dead II and the even sillier Army of Darkness, the fact that the original film was more of a straightforward genre affair feels somehow off; behold cognitive dissonance in full effect. And yet, somehow this rudimentary story of five Michigan State students who unwittingly unleash ancient demons in a cabin in the woods is still surprisingly, mercilessly skin-crawling. Leave it to Sam Raimi to stretch a dollar so far the sound of it snapping has the same effect on our stomachs as a classic bump in the night. —Dom Sinacola


36. The Maltese Falcon

maltese-falcon-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1941
Director: John Huston
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 101 minutes

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Referred to by many as the first major noir (after the more obscure 1940 film Stranger on the Third Floor), this John Huston classic set the bar for the archetypal detective, the subgenre as a whole, and the rest of star Humphrey Bogart’s career. On the surface a murder mystery revolving around yet another archetype, that of the titular MacGuffin, The Maltese Falcon is in essence a character study, a definitive assurance of masculinity and the cool objectivity it entails, by way of one Sam Spade. Bogart’s antihero is a man of honor, as it suits him—he has no qualms about kissing his dead partner’s widow while the body’s still warm, or turning in the guilty woman he loves to the police. He’s nobody’s “sap.” Interestingly, Spade’s creator, Dashiell Hammett—who once worked as a P.I.—called the character “a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been, and, in their cockier moments, thought they approached.” In Bogart’s brusque yet smooth hands, that sounds about right. Likewise, this is the adaptation to which vastly inferior attempts, including a 1931 version of the same name and 1936’s Satan Met a Lady, could only aspire. It is impeccable in every sense. Huston also penned the screenplay, on Howard Hawks’ advice, almost verbatim from Hammett’s hard-boiled novel. He painstakingly storyboarded the drama to include complex camerawork and lighting schemes, evocative POVs, and an uninterrupted seven-minute take whose logistics boggle the mind. The violent, stylized set pieces are as visceral as the verbal confrontations. Aside from Bogie’s legendary turn, the other performances are spot-on: among them, an already scandalized Mary Astor as the femme fatale; Sydney Greenstreet (Casablanca) as hulking baddie Kasper “Fat Man” Gutman—astonishingly, his film debut; and Peter Lorre as an obviously gay associate of Gutman’s whose homosexuality was muted for the folks at the Hays Code. One of the first titles to be preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, The Maltese Falcon is landmark filmmaking. —Amanda Schurr


37. Tina

tina-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Dan Lindsay, TJ Martin
Runtime: 117 minutes

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Tina Turner’s story is one of promise: Promises kept and broken, promise stifled then fulfilled. A vow of loyalty to her abusive ex-husband Ike suppressed her own potential. She might not be a comeback story, but she’s certainly a story of escape, growth and self-actualization in the face of personal and industrial adversity. The singer’s status in musical history is unimpeachable, but those recounting her story tend to drift towards its most lurid tabloid tellings. Tina directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin attempt to subvert this legacy of salacious headlines by examining it from the inside out. The documentary doesn’t fully escape the exploitative feeling of the talk show circuit it critiques, but putting it in context with new interviews and archival material of Turner explains what it’s all got to do, got to do with it. Performances of soaring freedom, where Turner struts and shakes on stage like the rock god she truly is, convert new disciples with every long-legged kick and howl. Martin, Lindsay and editors Taryn Gould and Carter Gunn crosscut live performances over tracks with an energy that isn’t random or erratic, but with the same glowing confidence of their subject. Her voice may be a raw force of nature, but her performances are all skill and professionalism. Together, combined across stages and eras to find the biggest and best movements to emphasize the songs, her magnetism is inescapable. Just when we’ve comfortably settled into a concert doc’s rhythms, hypnotized by her charisma and ability, bang—we’re back on her past. It took her the whole first half of the film to leave and now what she’s left is dragged back out for her. It’s a sharp mimic of Tina’s career. Even soaring as the biggest pop star in the world, people focused on the scars. Despite its pain, Tina is a feel-good epic, an escape from the systemic internal and external forces that conspired to corrupt and consume one of the most influential individuals of a generation. Its association and inherent need to power through a lifelong link with Tina’s abusive ex-partner can sometimes feel a bit hypocritical, even knowing that by doing so, Tina offers more freedom than pain. It has, in some ways, the same purpose as What’s Love Got to Do with It. It is educational, leading to equanimity. Where What’s Love Got to Do with It was a midlife coming-of-age—a “Hello, here’s my story”—Tina is a redefining, empowering farewell that adds perspective as she tips her hat and has her happily ever after out of the limelight.—Jacob Oller


38. The Philadelphia Story

philadelphia_story_poster.jpg Year: 1940
Director: George Cukor
Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 112 minutes

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Can you believe there was a time when Katharine Hepburn was known in Hollywood as “box office poison”? This adaptation of a Broadway hit was a vehicle to get her career back on track after a series of flops. Her performance as icy heiress Tracy Lord in this “remarriage” comedy is a force of nature. Happily, her no-longer-drunken ex is played by Cary Grant, who is a fabulous foil. Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey round out the cast as reporters in not-so-clever disguise. Pretty much everything about this movie is a pure delight, and the script is a masterpiece. —Amy Glynn


39. Princess Mononoke

princess-mononoke-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Yôji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 134 minutes

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One persistent theme across all of Studio Ghibli’s work, in particular Miyazaki’s, is that there rarely are any true villains. This sentiment is perhaps most apparent in Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki’s seventh film and notably one of his darkest. Set during the early 16th century, the film follows the story of Ashitaka (Yôji Matsuda), the last remaining prince of a small eastern village who is wounded while defending his home from a wild boar overtaken by a malicious spirit. Mortally cursed with no hope of a cure, Ashitaka takes it upon himself to journey to the West to discover (and halt) whatever malevolent force is causing this havoc. What he finds there is more complicated than he could have imagined: a settlement of humans mining the region to build a home while fending off the forces of the nearby forest who see their world being destroyed. Later he meets San (Yuriko Ishida), a young woman raised by the clan of wolves who defend the forest as he attempts to broker an uneasy peace between the two sides. Accordingly, Princess Mononoke is the epitome of Miyazaki’s appeal to environmentalism, melding traditional fantasy and Japanese folklore to create one of the director’s most serious and adult-oriented works. The film’s violence is a sharp divergence from Miyazaki’s relatively goreless body of work, with limbs severed with callous abandon and wild boar gods weeping blood as they trudge on a death march through the forest. It’s an exhilarating, heartbreaking and colossal film whose message will leave audiences changed by its final scene. Quite simply, it is everything that one would come to expect from the pedigree of Hayao Miyazaki. —Toussaint Egan


40. Fantastic Planet

fantastic-planet-poster.jpg Year: 1973
Director: René Laloux
Stars: Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Topart
Rating: PG
Runtime: 71 minutes

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It doesn’t matter if you’re watching René Laloux’s excellent, eccentric Fantastic Planet for the first time or the fortieth, under the influence or stone sober: The film is such a one-of-a-kind oddity in cinema that each viewing feels like its own wholly unique experience. Put simply, there’s nothing quite like it. If you’ve yet to see this masterwork of 1970s psychedelia-meets-social-commentary, you’re missing out. If you have seen it, chances are you haven’t seen anything quite like it since, because there isn’t much in animated cinema to match it. The closest you’ll get is Terry Gilliam’s paper strip animation stylings in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or maybe the still painting approach of Eiji Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness. Neither of these equate with Fantastic Planet’s visual scheme, though, which just underscores its individuality. Where does a movie like Fantastic Planet come from? How does it even get made? Laloux has offered few answers over the years, though the documentary Laloux Sauvage holds some insight into how his mind works. Maybe the answers aren’t worth pursuing in the first place, and maybe the best way to understand Fantastic Planet is just to watch it, and then watch it again. —Andy Crump


41. A Shot in the Dark

movie poster shot in the dark.jpg Year: 1964
Director: Blake Edwards
Stars: Peter Sellers, Elke Sommer, George Sanders, Herbert Lom
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Amazing to think that when the first film in the Pink Panther series was made, it was intended as a vehicle for its top-billed star David Niven. Wisely, director Blake Edwards realized the true star of the show was the bumbling French policeman Inspector Clouseau, as embodied by the brilliant Peter Sellers. So, they rushed another film into production (it was released in the States a mere three months after The Pink Panther) and comedy greatness was born. Ever the sport, Sellers quite literally threw himself into the part, crashing and stumbling through his investigation of murder and mangling the English language each step of the way. Try as they might to recapture the fire of this first sequel, nothing quite matched the freewheeling spirit of A Shot in the Dark. —Robert Ham


42. Salesman

salesman-criterion-cover.jpg Year: 1969
Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

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The Maysles’ ode to the can-do attitude of the so-called “Greatest Generation” is an ever-saddening study in charisma: who has it, what it is and just how deeply, unintentionally ingrained it is in our whole model of the American Dream. In following four Bible salesmen, each with an animalistic nickname to handily keep them apart, we’re able to observe the pitch process from seemingly every persuasive angle. Some salesmen are wise and respectful, others enthusiastic and joking, and still others resort to bullying nervous stay-at-home moms or emasculated husbands into signing a pay stub. Couple that ethical conundrum with the product they’re hocking—the original “Good Book,” apparently—and it’s no surprise when one of the salesmen (Badger, who hits a streak of shitty luck, never living up to his name) loses all hope in his vocation and spends every night in his shared hotel room complaining to his fellow salesmen that what they’re doing is existentially bound to fail. And yet, Rabbit has no trouble keeping his sales up, and the Bull always walks out with scribbled-on chits. Badger just happens to be a dying breed of salesman, a guy whose charisma refuses to adapt. What’s worse: He’s got no one to blame but himself. And capitalism. —Dom Sinacola


43. The Wind Rises

wind-rises-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Hideaki Anno, Naoko Satomi, Hidetoshi Nishijima
Genre: Drama, Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Of all of Miyazaki’s most persistent tropes and motifs, there are none more consistently threaded throughout the whole of his body of work than that of the depiction of flight. So it’s no surprise that The Wind Rises, his 11th and final feature film as of this writing, would focus squarely on the life of Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi and the complicated legacy of his creations. A story of how a creator cannot control what their work becomes, only the dedication and craft to which they pour into the work itself, The Wind Rises relates not only to the pacifist cultural identity of contemporary Japan but also, on a personal level, to Miyazaki himself. The film is nothing short of Miyazaki’s final artistic testament to humanity’s paradoxical capacity for both the redemptive act of creation and dogged pursuit of self-annihilation. It is in no uncertain terms a conclusion—if not to Miyazaki’s venerable career as one of the undisputed patriarchs of modern Japanese animation, then a thematic coda that ties an elegant knot at the end of his storied career as a director. —Toussaint Egan


44. Persona

persona.jpg Year: 1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 84 minutes

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Ingmar Bergman didn’t seem to have any answers to the questions he raised in this film—or those raised in many others—but he kept asking them, bringing his stories to appropriately dramatic conclusions without cauterizing all of his characters’ wounds. He was a smooth, precise director, but one who worked within the conventions of ?lm grammar rather than pressing at the medium’s edges—most of the time. Persona not only acknowledges this medium but rips it wide open. Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson—who both worked with Bergman many times—play a stage actress and a nurse, respectively. The actress has had a breakdown—rendered mute in the middle of a performance—and she’s recuperating at a seaside cottage. This simple plot is the skeleton for a very complex examination of identity and psychology. The two women seem to merge at certain points—perhaps they’re two sides of the same woman—and their histories bleed into the present through a variety of cinematic techniques, from the ?rst shot of a projector lighting up and the infamous, dazzling montage that seems to unearth the unconscious, to the moment in the middle of the film, when the stock seems to burn and run in reverse. Persona doesn’t reveal its meaning easily; Bergman was forever balancing the world of the theater with the world of ?lm, an artist with a split personality. —Robert Davis


45. Mikey and Nicky

mikey-nicky-criterion.jpg Year: 1976
Director: Elaine May
Stars: Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, Ned Beatty, William Hickey
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Everyone’s got a friend like Nicky (John Cassavetes), though the Nickys of the world exist on a sliding scale. Not every Nicky works for the mob, or womanizes, or betrays the mob, or generally acts like a large diameter asshole at any provocation or under any amount of strain. But strip Mikey and Nicky of its genre particulars, its gangster trappings, and what remains is a recognizable story of two friends at loggerheads, joined by the history of their lifetimes, inseparable, and yet chemically volatile when standing in arm’s reach of each other. Mikey (Peter Falk) and Nicky go way back. They’ve been pals since always, since before they became small time crooks, since before their parents shuffled their mortal coils. Mikey’s the equanimous one, Nicky the hothead, though Mikey’s only cool and composed when stood next to Nicky. “You give me that in 30 seconds or I’ll kill you, you hear me?” he roars at a diner counterman, desperate for a cup of cream to help soothe Nicky’s ailing stomach. Neither is especially good to women, and both are in boiling water, though Mikey’s only up to his toes and Nicky’s waist-deep, having ripped off his boss and earned a hit on his forehead. The most honest move Mikey can make is to leave Nicky to the mob’s mercies, but he’s not an honest man and honestly, male relationships aren’t all that honest. Elaine May understands how quickly men oscillate between emotion and violence, rancor and play. One minute Mikey’s fretting over Nicky catching a cold. The next, they’re scrapping in the street, as if their friendship never mattered in the first place. Amazing how easily men can transgress from adults to boys, whether they’re trading blows or just gleefully racing one another down the sidewalk. Even when they’re all grown up, they’re still children at heart. Over 40 years later, Mikey and Nicky has aged better than both of them. —Andy Crump


46. House

house.jpg Year: 1977
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Stars: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Movies are rarely, if ever, as whirringly rich and strange as House. The 1977 fairy-tale-as-fever-dream from Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi was the debut of a guy who was known mostly for his TV commercials. Given a shot at making his first feature by a struggling studio that had nothing to lose, Obayashi did what any aspiring auteur would do: He went to his 11-year-old daughter Chigumi for ideas. What they came up with is a tragi-comic festival of the uncanny about a posse of seven Japanese schoolgirls, a maiden aunt with heartbreaking secret, her freaky-ass white cat named Snowflake and the house of the title, an ooky-spooky hallucination out of gothic myth and Japanese folklore, jazzed by an animated, ADD-afflicted spirit like something from the minds of Tex Avery and Busby Berkeley on crack. Though: No summary really does House justice, and every little thing about it demands attention, from the schoolgirls themselves—precocious archetypes who go by the nicknames Gorgeous, Melody, Fantasy, Prof, Sweet, Mac and Kung Fu—to the anything-goes flourishes of gimmick and technique, which evoke everything from silent film to children’s shows, classic surrealist cinema to Italian giallo. Obayashi crams every frame with a surplus of mad ideas, as if his background in 30-second spots demanded he never let the screen remain calm for an instant. House suggests that the nitrous-oxide hyperdrive of Japanese pop culture—as vivid now as ever—is a brilliantly imagined, if not in fact transcendental brand of therapy. —Steve Dollar


47. King Kong

king-kong-1933-poster.jpg Year: 1933
Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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There had been monster movies or “creature features” before Kong, but it became the key reference point for that entire film demographic from the time of its release until the genre underwent an atomic-age reimagining with the likes of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 and Them! in 1954. Likewise, it set the bar on its special effects at such a high level that in many instances, shots and sequences from King Kong weren’t suitably duplicated for decades to come. Much of the credit belongs to pioneering stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, who was inventing new techniques on the set of Kong on a daily basis, laying a foundation for an entire field of visual effects that are still being refined by studios such as Laika today. Those techniques were likewise carried on and further refined by O’Brien’s arguably more famous protege, Ray Harryhausen, who used them to great effect in the second golden age of the monster movie, from the 1950s through the 1970s. Kong, though, stands as an unparalleled achievement for its time—far grander and more ambitious in scope than most anything you can compare it to back then. On one hand it’s a rollicking adventure film, with a classic “journey into the unknown” plot that is still being recycled for modern monster installments like Kong: Skull Island. At the same time, though, it was likewise an interesting experiment in genre-blending—an FX-driven adventure-drama film with horror elements and no clear-cut, traditional “antagonist.” Carl Denham might fit the bill, but he’s better described as a naive dreamer with stars in his eyes, oblivious to the ethical quandary of shanghaiing a huge beast to display in the middle of New York City. Kong, meanwhile, is a misunderstood creature, operating on the sense of self preservation he learned in a home where he’s only ever known a daily fight for survival against a neverending stream of monsters. The film’s empathy for Kong, and its condemnation of the hubris that led to his ascent of the Empire State Building, are what helped make the story such an emotionally affecting classic. —Jim Vorel


48. My Neighbor Totoro

my-neighbor-totoro-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi
Genre: Drama, Animation, Kids & Family
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: G
Runtime: 87 minutes

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My Neighbor Totoro is not only Miyazaki’s most iconic film to date, it’s also an all but perfect family film that manages to distill the essence of childhood whimsy down to its purest state. Set in 1958, the film follows university professor Tatsuo Kusakabe (Shigesato Itoi) and his daughters Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto) as they move into an old house along the countryside in order to be closer to their mother, who is recovering from a long illness. We see the world through the girls’ eyes: leaping through the fields along the house, chasing skittering dust mites, tumbling down holes in the base of trees to land safely on the bulbous stomach of a benevolent spirit animal. My Neighbor Totoro was revolutionary for its time for luxuriating on quiet contemplative moments in a time when most of anime was otherwise dominated by the chase from one flash to the next spectacle. In this way, the film has a sort of timeless appeal, disarming audiences new and old of their cynicisms and suspicions with beautiful settings, empathetic characters and an infectious marching band theme. The late film critic Roger Ebert described it best, “My Neighbor Totoro is based on experience, situation and exploration—not on conflict and threat.” It’s a film sprung fully formed from the imagination of a master animator, a movie about the everyday magic of being a child and the simple power of meeting the world with an open heart. —Toussaint Egan


49. Eyes Without a Face

eyes-without-a-face-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1959
Director: Georges Franju
Stars: Édith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Francois Guerin
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

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I remember seeing my first Édith Scob performance back in 2012, when Leos Carax’s Holy Motors made its way to U.S. shores, in which she donned a seafoam mask, every bit as blank and lacking in expression as Michael Myers’, in the film’s ending. I thought to myself, “Gee, that’d play like gangbusters in a horror movie.” What an idiot I was: Scob had already appeared in that movie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, an icy, poetic and yet lovingly made film about a woman and her mad scientist dad, who just wants to kidnap young ladies that share her facial features in hopes of grafting their skin onto her own disfigured mug. (That’s father of the year material right there.) Of course, nothing goes smoothly in the film’s narrative, and the whole thing ends in tears—plus a frenzy of canine bloodlust. Director Franju plays Eyes Without a Face in just the right register, balancing the unnerving, the perverse and the intimate, as the most enduring pulpy horror tales tend to do. If Franju gets to claim most of the credit for that, at least save a portion for Scob, whose eyes are the single best special effect in the film’s repertoire. Hers is a performance that stems right from the soul. —Andy Crump


50. The Seventh Seal

seventh-seal-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Max von Sydow, Bengt Ekerot, Bibi Andersson
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 97 minutes

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Like any cultural touchstone, any ubiquitous landmark of the arts more mitotically absorbed than actually experienced, The Seventh Seal is bound to be misremembered. We know well the chess game with Death (Bengt Ekerot), as well as Death’s get-up—a sort of gothic mix between Musketeer and monk—etched into the firmament of our pop obsessions (for most my age, it was in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey that the bone-white face and cape were first encountered), even if we’ve never actually seen the film. We know well the name of director Ingmar Bergman or that of star Max von Sydow, even if we aren’t familiar with their work, so ingrained into any working conception of “international cinema” are they, much of which is due to The Seventh Seal. We know well the dour chiaroscuro of Swedish cinema, the arch-symbolic pretension of art house stuff that squeezes all mirth from every orifice of the viewer. But do we forget how little of this movie is the chess game—how dimwitted Death can be? How funny The Seventh Seal actually is? “Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses?” asks knight Antonius Block (von Sydow). “What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren’t able to?” With The Seventh Seal, a simple story about a jaded knight returning from the Crusades to find that the world he fought for has seemingly been abandoned by God, Bergman sought clarity in the problem of faith—he wanted to map the vast spiritual terrain between experiencing and knowing, between feeling and believing. The reason why today the film still resonates, why we know the movie without having to experience it, is because of that clarity in Bergman’s vision: The Seventh Seal is all symbol, metaphor, allusion—but what it’s symbolic of, a metaphor for or alluding to isn’t too hard for any of us to figure. When the knight asks a question, God answers with silence—and there’s little humans understand better than how that feels. —Dom Sinacola