The 30 Best Movies on Showtime (May 2021)

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The 30 Best Movies on Showtime (May 2021)

Showtime boasts one of the largest offerings of streaming movies of any premium cable channel with more than 500 movies available on demand. The channel not only has a massive library of films, but has a ton of exclusive movies that you just won’t find anywhere else. We’ve gone through its extensive catalog and collected the best movies available now, this May. Three films left our list this month, losing out on Do the Right Thing but gaining Wet Hot American Summer.

And Showtime’s not just a cable add-on anymore: You can add a subscription to your Amazon, Hulu or PlayStation accounts or access it via Apple, Android or Roku devices via Showtime Anytime.

You can also check out our guides, some more updated than others, to what’s on other platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO and Redbox, as well as The Best Movies in Theaters. Visit the Paste Movie Guides for all our recommendations.

Here are the 30 best movies streaming on Showtime now:


1. 1917

1917-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: George McKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

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One suspects that Sam Mendes’ latest film might have made a bigger splash at the box office with slightly different timing. Like most cinematic sub-genres that have experienced robust popularity and saturation during a decade or two, the war movie benefits from “lying fallow.” (Someday, the same will be true for superhero films, as well.) With Dunkirk, another artfully shot and presented war film—albeit a different World War—still “fresh” in movie-goers’ minds, and another type of Wars movies dominating discussion, it seems unlikely many from those most sought-after demographics are going to say, “Hey, you know what I want to see? A film set during World War I!” No matter that both its director and cinematographer have Oscar statuettes, or that the latter is the Roger Deakins (no slight to Mendes—but just check out Deakins’ resumé). Nonetheless, 1917 is one of the most technically challenging and visually satisfying movies of the year. The “continuous shot” approach, so often a gimmick in lesser films, is executed here with such deftness that it’s fascinating to observe in and of itself—it’s like watching a juggler or tightrope walker pull off a routine …for two straight hours. In this case, the approach meshes perfectly with the setting and story, pulling the viewer into the tension of trench warfare and the overall horror of a prolonged stay in a place where the enemy is always trying to kill you, while also achieving a certain character-centric intensity that may feel familiar to anyone who has logged many hours in videogames. (It may sound strange to praise a film in those terms, but “viewer immersion” is one quality to which all great art—from brows low to high—aspires.) As a result, if you give 1917 an inch of attention, it will drag you along for miles. —Michael Burgin


2. First Reformed

first-reformed-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 2018
Director: Paul Schrader
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, and Cedric the Entertainer
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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What makes a man start fires? What if that person were a man of God? Paul Schrader, now 71, has perhaps spent his entire career as a filmmaker attempting to ask that question, to breach the impenetrable truth of whatever that question’s answer could be, beginning with Blue Collar, a story of auto workers and union members in Detroit compromising their values to survive in the shadow of forces too large and too immovable to compromise themselves. With First Reformed, Schrader’s 20th feature as director, that question absorbs the whole film—not through cries of nihilism, as in his previous, garbage Dog Eat Dog, but as a sustained act of faith: What must the devout do for a world God has abandoned? The question lingers wetly in Ethan Hawke’s eyes as he carries every frame of Schrader’s film. Playing Father Ernst Toller—a minister who in a former life had a wife and a son and a military career, an end brought to all three by that son’s death in Iraq—Hawke has spent the past 20 or so years sublimating the radical tendencies of his iconic slackerdom into a fiercely simmering anxiety, as if the purposelessness of his past malaise has left him stewing on how little he can or could do to change anything in this world. Not only does First Reformed directly butt heads with Dog Eat Dog, but it indulges melodrama without losing its calm. It works in obvious metaphors not for their own sakes, but as seamless extensions of theme. It’s a gorgeous film, mourning the impossibility of being alive as it celebrates that which binds us, a conscious-rattling, viscera-stirring piece of art. And ultimately, it’s a shocking film, powerful images gripping even more powerful fires within the bodies of those unequipped, as we all are, to put them out. —Dom Sinacola


3. Green Room

green-room.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years. —Kenji Fujishima


4. Wet Hot American Summer

wet-hot-american-summer-poster.jpg
Year: 2001
Director: David Wain
Stars: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd
Runtime: 96 minutes

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A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 18 years later and with two Netflix seasons in the can, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst. —Dom Sinacola


5. First Cow

first-cow-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Rene Auberjonois, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 121 minutes

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Kelly Reichardt’s Oregonian ode to the human desire for comfort and friendship takes us back to the territory during the mid-19th century, when the economy of beaver pelts and gold rush hopefuls brought waves of migration to the area. A baker from Maryland, Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (John Magaro), finds himself amid a hostile group of fur trappers on the way to Oregon when he runs into King Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant fresh on the run from scorned Russians. A fraternal bond between the two quickly materializes, and when a coveted dairy cow is brought to the territory by an English nobleman known as Chief Factor (Toby Jones), King Lu immediately recognizes that fresh milk combined with Cookie’s baking expertise could give the duo a unique trade in an area where the predominant sweet is a bland concoction of water and flour crackers. And so, in the dead of night, King Lu and Cookie leave the small shack they share with a metal pail in hand, sneaking through the pasture until they reach the dairy cow. Reichardt makes no moral judgement on them for stealing; the irony is that Cookie and King Lu’s act of theft is so small compared to the pillaging and exploitation that propelled America into an economic superpower in the first place. First Cow takes place when slavery was the main economic drive of the country, when Native Americans were facing genocide, when women were second-class citizens. First Cow will win most viewers over; it is funny in the most earnest way, with the beauty of friendship presented as the foundation of the film. Yet if the film wants to implore us to understand the essence of our species, its portrayal of burgeoning American capitalism is undoubtedly, jarringly, at odds with the nature of mankind. —Natalia Keogan


6. Hustlers

hustlers-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Stars: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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If you only saw the trailer from Hustlers, the flashy cash throwing, fake meltdowns outside of a hospital and, of course, the incredible athletics of Jennifer Lopez on the pole might lead you to assume that writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s film is a female version of The Hangover. Instead, Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the Universe) has crafted a story of survival and friendship that more accurately compares to classics like The Apartment. At the center of the story resides Destiny (Constance Wu). Destiny’s elderly grandma accumulated a lot of debt, her parents disappeared from her life when she was a child, and all that stands between the little family she has left and homelessness is her ability to work as a stripper. For her, being an exotic dancer pays better than anything she could get with her GED-level education. It’s legal, and it allows her to help her grandma from pawning all of her jewelry. Enter Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). If Ramona showed up at the World Pole Dance Competition, all of the other competitors would go home. She’s confident in a way that makes everyone fall in love with her. Accordingly, Lopez and Wu are dynamic together. Their back and forth works when they’re fighting, when they’re figuring out how to best cook up their drug cocktail, and when they’re sitting around the Christmas table. The gaggle of women who join their crew feed into that energy, culminating in a wonderful ensemble. Rich in character portrayal and energy, the crew is wonderful to watch—even as they systematically destroy lives. An enviably stacked cast and gorgeous cinematography by Todd Banhazl (Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer) come together to present a heartbreaking story of the distance some will travel to get their piece of the American dream. —Joelle Monique
Planes, Trains & Automobiles


7. Dark Waters

dark-waters-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 2019
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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In Dark Waters, we follow corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), whose primary job is, for all intents and purposes, to find legal loopholes and excuses to protect large chemical companies, such as potential client DuPont. With a city job in Ohio, he has a nice home and burgeoning family. But a farmer (Bill Camp) in Parkersburg, West Virginia whose stock has been mysteriously dying comes knocking to ask Robert to turn away from the big corporate institution that provides him such personal security (two cars, private school tuition for the kids) so that he can return to the part of his past he usually sweeps beneath the rug. Through the tedium of paperwork and a case that lasts over a decade, Bilott pieces together a scandal about unregulated forever chemicals and Teflon and the illusion of safety—the American Dream—that’s been sold to us since the 1960s. For Haynes, the systems and institutions at play present themselves in multiple scales: as small as the pan in your dishwasher and as gigantic as an international company. It recalls Haynes’ relationship to the legacy of AIDS, which informs nearly all of his films in some way, notably [Safe] and Poison. Here Dark Waters conjures the ghosts of corrupt pharmaceutical companies in the late ’80s and ’90s, reminds of their fraught relationship with patient testing and the safety of such drugs as AZT. The trauma of the AIDS crisis, and the people with the power to stop who didn’t, haunts the film. Those same companies with beloved slogans (“Better Living Through Chemistry”) embed themselves deeply into public consciousness, into communities, parasitically, tricking them into believing their success and sustainability is predicated on the success and sustainability of the company. If Haynes’ career-long project is to situate the United States as a kind of “house,” one with rules and systems, one that keeps a watchful eye on its inhabitants, one that operates like an institution filled with other powerful institutions, then that house has the stench of secrets. Not just of how willfully chemical companies put people at risk, particularly those of Parkersburg, WV—the stench is the American Dream itself. —Kyle Turner / Full Review

8. The Fits

the-fits.jpg
Year: 2016
Director: Anna Rose Holmer
Stars: Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Da’Sean Minor
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 72 minutes

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It’s not difficult to imagine a different cut of Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits that hews closer to the arc of a traditional sports story. Hers has the makings of a familiar one, of a misfit who wants more than anything to compete—but unlike most stories of inspirational audacity, The Fits is as much about discomfort as the catharsis that comes with achievement. In it, Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old who has more experience with stereotypically male pursuits like lifting weights and punching speed bags than the usual interests of a pre-teen girl. She spends nearly all of her time at the Lincoln Recreation Center alongside her boxer brother, Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), pushing her body to the limit. While she shows a remarkable aptitude for the ascetical devotion required for boxing, she still dreams about competing on the dance team, “The Lincoln Lionesses.” Framed with a rigid sense of space by cinematographer Paul Yee, and backed by the groaning score from veteran composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, The Fits is infused with such dread that one can’t help but imagine that characters’ muscles and bones could break or shatter at any moment. The film’s most explicit example of which may be Toni pulling off a temporary tattoo, but The Fits is firmly a story of metaphysical body horror, an allegory about our greatest fears of physical fragility shot brilliantly through a feminist lens. With that, the film manages to reinvent the sports story as something both brainy and physically pure. —Michael Snydel


9. Ex Machina

5-best-so-far-2015-Ex-Machina.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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While popular science-fiction films have taught us that, no matter what we do, robots that become self-aware will eventually rise up and kill us, recent advances in artificial intelligence in the real world have confirmed something much seedier about the human imperative: If given the technology to design thinking, feeling robots, we will always try to have sex with them. Always. Alex Garland’s beautifully haunting film seems to want to bridge that gap. Taking cues from obvious predecessors like 2001: A Space Odyssey and AI—some will even compare it to HerEx Machina stands solidly on its own as a highly stylized and mesmerizing film, never overly dependent on CGI, and instead built upon the ample talents of a small cast. The film’s title is a play on the phrase deus ex machina (“god from the machine”), which is a plot device wherein an unexpected event or character seemingly comes out of nowhere to solve a storytelling problem. Garland interprets the phrase literally: Here, that machine is a robot named Ava, played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, and that nowhere is where her creator, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), performs his research and experiments. Ava is a heavenly mechanical body of sinewy circuitry topped with a lovely face, reminiscent of a Chris Cunningham creation. Her creator is an alcoholic genius and head of a Google-like search engine called Bluebook which has made him impossibly rich. Enter Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who is helicoptered in after winning a lottery at work for which the prize is a week at Nathan’s house. Nathan also intends to use Caleb to conduct something of a Turing test on steroids with Ava to determine if she can truly exhibit human behavior. In fact, Ex Machina seems designed around the performances of its excellent mini-ensemble; it’s an awfully attractive film, appropriately seductive. No doubt it was intended to provoke conversations about the morality inherent in “creating” intelligence—as well as whether it’s cool to have sex with robots or not. —Jonah Flicker


10. Lethal Weapon


lethal-weapon.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Rating: R
Runtime: 109 minutes

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In Lethal Weapon—and particularly in Murtaugh and Riggs—we have the mother of all buddy-cop pairings. Through the years, this Mel Gibson/Danny Glover partnership went on to become a four-movie franchise, but it’s the first one that sets the stage for the entire genre. Both men hate working in pairs (a typical tropes in this type of movie), but set aside their differences to stop a gang of drug smugglers. Even though there were buddy-cop pairings before this 1987 film, Lethal Weapon became both the prototype and the standard by which all others are judged.—Christian Becker


11. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

assisnation-jesse-james.jpg Year: 2007
Director: Andrew Dominik
Stars: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Sheperd, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel
Genre: Drama, Western, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Rating: R
Runtime: 160 minutes

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Is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford an ode to the first of its two title subjects, or a dirge about the second? Is it a loyal and authentic screenshot of history, or a folk-style retelling of historical events? It’s certainly more than the sum total of the answers to the questions it poses, but above all else it’s a movie that attained near-instantaneous iconic status on its release. The film’s great achievement is its ease. You get the sense that Andrew Dominik didn’t make this movie as much as it simply flowed out of him, an anecdotal recount of a legend brought to his end by the toxic punch of hero worship and betrayal. The Assassination of Jesse James affixes intimate narrative to wide scope, as befits the commodious quality of the Western genre, and sets about getting to the promise of its name in as leisurely a fashion as possible. We know what’s coming, but the film is in no hurry to get there, and when the trigger is pulled minutes before the credits roll, the shot rings all the louder for it. —Andy Crump


12. Extra Ordinary

extra-ordinary-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Directors: Michael Ahern, Enda Loughman
Stars: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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It can be difficult to organically thread “romance” into horror-comedy, broadening a film to equally weigh a third major genre, but it’s the quirky relationship fodder where Extra Ordinary ultimately displays its greatest strength. This Irish indie never truly takes the frightening side of paranormal investigation seriously—it’s a true comedy all the way, and probably stronger for it—but it’s the unexpectedly quiet, thoroughly human lead performances that make it memorable. Those come from Irish actors Maeve Higgins and Barry Ward as two unassuming but uniquely talented people, imbued with abilities that allow them to touch the spirit plane rather more easily than they’re able to socialize with living, breathing humans. Higgins in particular really owns the character of Rose Dooley, imbuing her with a good-natured and immediately relatable soft-spokenness on top of an aura of melancholy that belies her ability to bring closure to spirits stuck in limbo. The scenes the two have together contain a certain warmth, a feeling that two people have been brought together who complete one another nicely—if only Ward’s ex-wife wasn’t still in the picture (in poltergeist form). Nevertheless, it’s Will Forte’s charismatic performance as washed-up prog rock star/demonic cultist Christian Winter that is likely to draw more U.S. viewers to Extra Ordinary, given that he’s the film’s most recognizable star. He makes the most of the opportunity to play another deeply eccentric character in a career that has been full of them, although his performance almost feels like something from a different movie when compared to the more grounded focus on the relationship between Higgins and Ward. That central duo, and their emerging rapport, make Extra Ordinary a heartfelt, breezy entry that gets a lot of mileage from very few moving pieces. —Jim Vorel


13. Hereditary

hereditary-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Ari Aster
Stars: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: R
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Ari Aster’s debut film begins in miniature. Later we learn of the trade Annie (Toni Collette), the film’s family’s matriarch, plies—meticulously designing doll-house-sized vignettes of the many domestic traumas she’s experienced, and still does, throughout her life, not for children but for art gallery spaces—though in the moment, in the beginning of Hereditary, the effect simply alludes to Aster’s ancestral preoccupations. From a tree house, pulling back through Annie’s workshop window, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski’s camera pans to a tiny recreation of the house we’re currently within, then pushes into the simulacrum of high school student Peter Graham’s (Alex Wolff) bedroom, which transforms into the room itself, perspectives already ruined so early in the film. Father Steve (Gabriel Byrne) enters to give his late-snoozing son the black suit needed to attend his late grandmother’s memorial. Aster’s intent, as is the case throughout Hereditary, is both blunt and oblique: worlds exist within worlds, shadows within that which casts them, or vice versa, reality represented like the rings of a tree or the spirals of DNA holding untold secrets within the cores of whoever we are. Colin Stetson’s brain-churning score rattles the frame’s edges; menace looms—and menace soon unfolds, tragedies upon tragedies. The Graham family unravels over the course of Hereditary, which derives its power from testing the binds that force families together, teasing their strength as each family member must confront, kicking and screaming (or in Collette’s case: making the noise of one’s soul fleeing through every orifice), just how superficial those binds can be. In the absence of a reason for all of this happening, there is inevitability; in the absence of resolution there is only acceptance. —Dom Sinacola


14. Lean on Pete

lean-on-pete-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Andrew Haigh
Stars: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Steve Buscemi
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

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Lean on Pete flows with such gentle beauty that it may be hard to grasp precisely what it’s about or where it’s going. But the power of writer-director Andrew Haigh’s sublime drama is that it can support myriad interpretations while remaining teasingly mysterious—like its main character, it’s always just a bit out of reach, constantly enticing us to look closer. Based on Willy Vlautin’s 2010 novel, the movie is a smashing introduction to Charlie Plummer, who was the kidnapped John Paul Getty III in last year’s All the Money in the World. Here, he plays Charley Thompson, a 15-year-old living with his drinking, backslapping dad (Travis Fimmel) in Portland. Charley has a sweet face and a soft-spoken manner—when he talks, the last few words evaporate into the air, as if he’s too shy to even be bold enough to enunciate—but early on, we get a sense that there’s a craftiness underneath that demeanor. The first indication is his willingness to lie about his age to Del (Steve Buscemi), a craggy horse owner who reluctantly takes him on as a caretaker for his elderly racehorse Lean on Pete. Charley doesn’t know a thing about horses, but he’s anxious to find something to do now that he’s in a new town with his father, their reasons for leaving Spokane unspecified but clearly dispiriting. Familiar narrative tropes emerge in Lean on Pete: the boy-and-his-dog drama, the coming-of-age story, the father-and-son character piece, the road movie. Haigh breezes past them all, seeking something more elliptical in this deceptively slim story. With the patience and minimalist command of a Kelly Reichardt, he doesn’t dictate where his film goes, seemingly letting Charley’s restlessness call the shots. The boy’s journey gathers force and poignancy as it moves forward, and the more we understand about Charley the more unknowable he becomes. Along the way, we meet other people and see other worlds—the life of young military veterans, the reality of homelessness, the grind of the low-rent racing circuit—but Haigh views it all with the same unassuming compassion we see in Charley’s quiet eyes. —Tim Grierson


15. Iverson

iverson.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Zatella Beatty
Stars: Allen Iverson
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 97 minutes

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For some of us, a great sports documentary is the kind of film that makes you forget you’re not that interested in sports—or better yet, the kind of film that makes you wonder why you’re not that into sports. Iverson starts out as a portrait of a young black man nearly lost to a criminal justice system that seemed determined to derail his life. Allen Iverson would go on to survive this attempt on his life and become one of the greatest basketball players of all time, as well as a representative of the dangers of respectability politics, which seep into all American organizations, including the NBA. Iverson invites you to sit with the complexities of fame, especially for black men and women who are expected to represent much more than their individual selves, and it also demands that—even if you don’t fall in love with the great Allen Iverson by the end, you have to respect his game. —Shannon M. Houston


16. Under the Skin

under-the-skin-poster.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Krystof Hádek
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Under the Skin is unified in purpose and in drive. It is a biting examination of sexual politics and a dissertation on the bodies we inhabit—how those bodies create a paradigm of ownership. Scarlett Johansson plays the alien avatar, the predator, the cipher whose weakness is her awakening humanity. When she looks in a mirror, lost in a gaze at her own body, it’s a reminder to us to find some remove from our weary familiarity with ourselves, to think, “Golly, what strange things we are.” The film’s tragic conclusion is an assertion that we achieve some positive ideal of what it is to be human when we accept a state of vulnerability, when we forsake the power position in our sexual communication. When we allow for the reality of our frailty, we can care for the frailty in all around us—and this is a very dangerous thing to do. Especially in a world riddled with corruption and malice that seeks to press its advantage. Under the Skin shows us these truths with images that are impossibly beautiful, terrifying and ultimately haunting. There is no exposition, only voids which suspended shells of victims float in, laser sharp lights piercing darkness, menacingly stoic bikers, snowflakes falling into lenses. There is a scene on a beach that plays out like a Bergman or Haneke set-piece and is just as heartbreaking as that would entail. Under the Skin is a soul-crushing work and yet, somehow, the film reiterates that we must continue working towards finding our souls. An artful cascade of multiple exposures of random people, about midway through the film, would seem to symbolize the birth of empathy in Johansson’s femme fatale, and while this is the beginning of the end for her, it can’t help but resonate in Under the Skin with all the radiance of beatitude. These are scenes, statements, questions that are only possible within the framework that the film’s science fiction aspect provides, for these are not the thought processes bound by what is real, but what could be. —Chad Betz


17. Frances Ha

frances-ha-poster.jpg
Year: 2012
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Zegen, Adam Driver
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 85 minutes

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In a single gesture from actor/writer/Baumbachian collaborator Greta Gerwig, there is an entire universe. She makes a sort of “trespassing” buzz when Lev (Adam Driver) reaches out to touch her shoulder, then, taking a deep sigh of resignation, her body once tense in obligatory “Am I into this guy?” reservation, she relaxes. They might as well be friends. Nothing really goes the way Frances plans; not when she’s asked to move in with her then-boyfriend at the start, not her prospects as a dancer, not her relationship with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner). But she’s a dancer, right? Her body awkwardly tries to roll with the punches life throws her way—maybe not with the wherewithal of actually trying to figure out what the next thing should be.

Even as she continually loses stability after effectively losing her constant (Sophie), Frances has an irrepressible exuberance, running all about Chinatown to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” scouring the Lower East Side for an ATM and hiding her whole body as she serves as university benefactor’s wine pourer/ward. There is a gracefulness to Gerwig’s gangly gracelessness, as if all of her warmth, fear, pain and joy cobbles itself together in beautiful unwieldy movements. It’s in these moments, and in the shared body language between Frances and Sophie, that Baumbach and Gerwig find the tenderest moments in their career. And in digital black and white, the movie shimmers, recalling not just the buoyancy of the French New Wave, but the economic and social uncertainty of young New Yorkers (perhaps of a particular social subset) who want everything—with the heart, body and soul—except to grow up. —Kyle Turner


18. The Witch

the-witch.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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From its first moments, The Witch strands us in a hostile land. We watch (because that’s all we can do, helplessly) as puritan patriarch William (Ralph Ineson) argues stubbornly with a small council, thereby causing his family’s banishment from their “New England” community. We watch, and writer-director Robert Eggers holds our gaze while a score of strings and assorted prickly detritus—much like the dialogue-less beginning to There Will be Blood —rise to a climax that never comes. It’s a long shot, breathing dread: The wagon lurches ever-on into the wilderness, piling the frontier of this New World upon the literal frontier of an unexplored forest. It’s 1620, and William claims, “We will conquer this wilderness.” Eggers’ “New England Folk Tale” is a horror film swollen with the allure of the unknown. To say that it’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, which take place 70 years after the events in the film, would be an understatement—the inevitable consequences of such historic mania looms heavily over The Witch. All of this Eggers frames with a subconscious knack for creating tension within each shot, rarely relying on jump scares or gore, instead mounting suspense through one masterful edit after another. The effect, then, is that of a building fever dream in which primeval forces—lust, defiance, hunger, greed—simmer at the edges of experience, avoided but never quite conquered. But what’s most convincing is the burden of puritanical spirituality which blankets the film’s every single moment, a pall through which every character—especially teenage Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy)—struggles to be, simply, a regular person. There is no joy in their worship, there is only gravitas: prayers, fasting, penitence and fear. And it’s that fear which drives the film’s horror, which eventually makes even us viewers believe that, at the fringes of civilization, at the border of the unknown, God has surely abandoned these people. —Dom Sinacola


19. Fargo

fargo-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy. Steve Buscemi
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

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In exploring the unsavory implications of “Minnesota nice,” the Coen Brothers created one of the most beloved, acclaimed and quotable films of all time. Fargo explores the tension that accompanies polite social norms and the quiet desperations they often mask, setting up one scene after another so awkward it’ll make your skin crawl. The emotional restraint displayed by such characters as Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) and Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) is a thin and disingenuous veil over yearnings for money or companionship, while their foil, obviously, is Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), who really is that nice and hardworking and downright normal. The Coens strike a careful balance between gentleness and a stark gruesomeness underneath a typical all-American veneer, making you appreciate the art behind postage stamps as deeply as they make you cringe at the sound of a wood chipper. —Allie Conti


20. Taxi Driver

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Year: 1976
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Taxi Driver was Scorsese’s breakthrough: a seething condemnation of alienation—not to mention New York’s descent in the 1970s into a crime-ridden hellscape—delivered with such clinical coldness that when Scorsese’s star (and longtime collaborator) Robert De Niro finally explodes, it’s unspeakably upsetting. If Taxi Driver now feels slightly overrated, it’s only because the movie’s DNA has crept into so many subsequent filmmakers’ efforts. Scorsese grew up loving Westerns, and Taxi Driver could just as easily be his version of The Searchers—except his man-out-of-time finds no redemption. —T.G.


21. Room

room.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Stars: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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A potentially sensational premise is handled with grace and incisiveness in Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel. Scripted by the author herself, and hewing closely to her book’s adolescent point-of-view, the film opens in what is initially known only as “Room,” a small, crowded space filled with a bed, a wardrobe, a few kitchen appliances, a table and drawings that decorate its walls. In this environment, which boasts a skylight but no windows, live Joy (Brie Larson) and her long-haired son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), the latter of whom has apparently never stepped outside Room’s sole door. That entryway is locked via a keypad, and only opened and closed by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), a bearded figure who appears in the night while Jack sleeps (or pretends to) in order to deliver supplies and have his way with Joy. Abrahamson’s film immediately sets itself alongside Jack, assuming his perspective as he narrates his thoughts, anxieties and skewed comprehension of reality. In the traumatic events that follow, what emerges is a stirring portrait of maternal altruism, as Joy sacrifices their safety, as well as her one true connection to the real world, in order to potentially offer her offspring a future that expands past the constricting walls of his makeshift prison home. —Nick Schager


22. Spring Breakers

spring-breakers.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Harmony Korine
Stars: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67%
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Watching James Franco in Spring Breakers, one has to ask: Is this a put-on? But the scarier question is, What if it’s not? The brilliance of his portrayal of Alien, a Scarface-aspiring dirt-bag, is that no matter how outlandishly over-the-top it goes—“Look at my shit!”—there remains a deeply unsettling edge to the performance that suggests a white-trash nightmare who could do real damage to those around him. We laugh at Franco as Alien, but the laughs get stuck in our throat: Just like the movie, his performance is a wickedly satiric look at our worst impressions of youth culture—until it gets so frighteningly real that we’re left dazed and amazed.—Tim Grierson


23. The Last Temptation of Christ

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Year: 1988
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey, Harvey Keitel, David Bowie, Harry Dean Stanton, Verna Bloom
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: R
Runtime: 164 minutes

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Three quarters of the way into The Last Temptation of Christ, for three and a half minutes—transformed into an eternity by the incessant scream-whinnying of a horse off-screen—David Bowie plays Pontius Pilate as a tired bureaucrat mildly amused by Jesus (Willem Dafoe) until the maybe-Messiah’s message of love becomes an irritating waste of time. He leaves the film softly exasperated: “We have a space for you up on Golgotha. Three thousand skulls there right now, probably more…I do wish you people would go out and count them sometime. Maybe you’d learn a lesson—no, probably not.” Director Martin Scorsese knew that to keep Pontius Pilate from being villainized in the eyes of an audience conditioned to behold Jesus’s crucifiers as the bad guys, he needed an actor in the role who could be worshipped as easily as he could be despised. Because The Last Temptation of Christ is Scorsese’s take on the human side of the Jesus story—how the divinity of the Christian figure is bolstered by that side of the “man”—the director required someone who could pass the death sentence on Jesus with the gravity of a figure of authority sadly but confidently doing his job—and only that. Bowie bears that cinematic cross. Like Bowie, Scorsese’s film, greeted with expected controversy and hand-wringing from the religious right upon release, holds aloft an ambiguous grey throughout, sticking pretty closely to the Biblical account of events—at least as closely as author Nikos Kazantzakis hued in his novel, adapted by Paul Schrader. We’re never quite sure where Jesus precisely falls, navigating rage and penance and humility and lust, Scorsese’s Messiah the extremely culpable, extremely flesh-and-blood normal carpenter who must come to terms with his unbelievable responsibility up until the film’s (literally) shattering final moment. Just as we inevitably had to reconcile Bowie’s vulnerability with his iconic status, so does Scorsese expect us to realize Christ’s spirituality through the impossible obstacle of his humanity. —Dom Sinacola


24. Mississippi Grind

mississippi-grind.jpg Year: 2015
Directors: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton, Alfre Woodard, Robin Weigert
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden don’t work within genres as much as they wander around inside them. Their Half Nelson took on the inspirational-teacher film, while Sugar had a darker, more realistic perspective on the prototypical sports movie. Repeatedly, the filmmaking duo utilize the tenets of a genre but mostly focus on their characters’ specific desires, opening themselves up to criticism that their movies are too meandering for their own good. But oftentimes, those laid-back, intimate observations are where the most interesting things happen. Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Fleck and Boden finally got around to making a Robert Altman film (before taking on the MCU with Captain Marvel). Altman, of course, was the king of the revisionist genre movie, and Fleck and Boden have taken his underrated 1974 gem California Split as their guide for Mississippi Grind, a low-key but affecting story about two gamblers (played by unexpected companions Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn) on a car trip. To be sure, this terrain—addiction, the road movie, the buildup to the big competition—has been explored plenty by other filmmakers. And, yet, moment to moment, Mississippi Grind digs into you. —Tim Grierson


25. The Lobster

the-lobster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos starts The Lobster with the familiar, leading man visage of Colin Farrell, gone full dad-bod for a role that is debatably the actor’s best example for his still unheralded genius. With a remarkable dearth of charm, Farrell inhabits David, a man who, upon learning that his wife has cheated on him and so must end their relationship, is legally required to check in to a hotel where he has 45 days to find a new mate, lest he be transformed into an animal of his choosing. David easily settles upon the titular namesake, the lobster, which he explains he picks because of their seemingly-immortal lifespans, the creatures like human ears growing and growing without end until their supposed deaths. At the hotel, David tries his best to warm to a beautifully soul-less woman, knowing his remaining days are numbered, but the depths to which she subjects his resolve eventually encourages him to plan an escape, through which he matriculates into an off-the-grid conglomerate of single folk, led by Léa Seydoux. There, of course, against all rules he has a meet-cute with another outsider (Rachel Weisz) involving elaborately designed sign language (a metaphor maybe, like much in Lanthimos’s world, for the odd ritual of dating), and they fall in love. The world of The Lobster isn’t a dystopian future, more like a sort of mundane, suburban Everywhere in an allegorical alternate universe. Regardless, Lanthimos and Filippou find no pleasure in explaining the foundations of their film, busier building an absurdly funny edifice over which they can drape the tension and anxieties of modern romance. In that sense, The Lobster is an oddly feminist film, obsessed with time and how much pressure that puts on people, especially women, to root down and find someone, no matter the cost. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a significant other concerned about the increasing dangers of becoming pregnant in one’s late 30s, then The Lobster—and its ambiguous but no less arresting final shot—will strike uncomfortably close to the home you’re told you should have by now but probably can’t afford. —Dom Sinacola


26. Swiss Army Man

swiss-army-man.jpg Year: 2016
Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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It should be ridiculous, this. A buddy comedy built atop the premise of a man (Paul Dano) lugging around, and bonding with, a flatulent talking corpse (Daniel Radcliffe)—but cinema is a medium in which miracles are possible, and one such miracle occurs in Swiss Army Man. A film with such a seemingly unpalatable concept becomes, against all odds, a near-profound existential meditation. And, for all the increasingly absurd gags about the utilities of that talking corpse’s body—not just as a jet-ski propelled by bodily gas, but as a giver of fresh water through projectile vomiting and even as a compass through its erection—there’s not one iota of distancing irony to be found in the film. Directors Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan are absolutely serious in their attempts to not only re-examine some of the most universal of human experiences, but also explore the idea of a life lived without limits, casting off the shackles of societal constraints and realizing one’s best self. It’s a freedom that the Daniels project exuberantly into the film itself: Swiss Army Man is a work that feels positively lawless. Witness with amazement what bizarrely heartfelt splendors its creators will come up with next. —Kenji Fujishima


27. Eighth Grade

eighth-grade-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Bo Burnham
Stars: Elsie Kate Fisher, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

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In Eighth Grade, the feature debut of comedian-singer-songwriter Bo Burnham, you’re either a Kayla (Elsie Fisher) or you know a Kayla from your days as an over-it-all punk-ass. The distinction is key to your experience. The film stages a too-real reenactment of middle school’s rigors, but it’s the people we endure those rigors with who shape our turbulent pubescence. Sure, sitting through Ms. Hawking’s ornithology lessons was hell, but hell’s preferable to striking up conversation with your classmates. Burnham uses the awkward terrain of juvenile social interaction as Eighth Grade’s focal point, painting the daunting exercise of talking to other kids as a stairway to embarrassment. We meet Kayla pre-humiliation, recording clips for her YouTube channel in her room, dispensing life advice in the coltish manner of a newly minted teen. She’s extraordinarily inarticulate, but in her ramblings we find the profound insight only a 13-year-old can offer. “Aren’t I always being myself?” she says to her camera, the sage instructing the benighted. “Well, yeah, for sure.” She’s a self-help layman, but her sincerity is charming. Don’t change who you are to impress others. Words to live by. Kayla, like anyone else trying to stay afloat in the sometimes cutthroat world of middle school, sells out her ideals almost immediately, a defensive posture to deflect her loneliness. Being a teenage girl isn’t easy. Occasionally, it’s perilous. That Eighth Grade so genuinely conveys those difficulties and dangers is miraculous considering its source. Burnham invites us to recall our own adolescence, and also to consider how adolescence has changed in the time of social media. It’s compassionate, radiating retroactive kindness for the children we all were to soothe the adults we are now. —Andy Crump / Full Review


28. Amy

amy-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Asif Kapadia
Stars: Tony Bennett, Salaam Remi, Nick Shymansky
Genre: Music, Documentary
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 128 minutes

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Director Asif Kapadia wisely puts his subject front-and-center; friends, family members and music industry associates are all interviewed for the film, but nearly all of them are presented as voiceovers rather than talking heads. Even when others are speaking, it’s impossible to take your eyes off Winehouse in Amy. He has a way of making her reality feel cinematic, lingering in slow motion as she looks back at the paparazzi and rolls her eyes after rushing into a car amid a flurry of camera flashes. When she wins the Grammy for Record of the Year and gazes up at a screen broadcasting the ceremony, the way her eyes light up will make you briefly think you’re not watching a documentary, but rather an awards-season biopic with some actress in a beehive wig trying to earn her Oscar. Then you’ll pity anyone dumb enough to try to top Amy with something scripted—there’s nothing like the real thing. —Bonnie Stiernberg


29. The End of the Tour

end-of-tour.jpg Year: 2015
Director: James Ponsoldt
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Becky Ann Baker
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 minutes

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The latest from director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now, Smashed) is about journalist/author David Lipsky as much as it is the late author David Foster Wallace. Adapted from Lipsky’s book about his sometimes-confrontational interview with Wallace just after the publication of Infinite Jest, The End of the Tour raises some of life’s most difficult questions about identity, the perception of others and intellectual honesty. But Jason Segel’s performance as the earnest Midwesterner Wallace is the grounding heart of the film. Wallace’s eventual suicide is a specter haunting the entire affair, but it’s never maudlin or manipulative. Instead, these few days in the passenger seat are welcome, listening to an original man’s original perspective on life and loneliness. —Josh Jackson


30. No Country For Old Men

No Country_Cover.jpg
Year: 2007
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson
Genre: Drama, Western
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

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What is it about the Coen Brothers’ inconsolable No Country for Old Men that still chills the blood, even under the South Texas sun? No doubt its inscrutability plays a role: Is it a Western, a noir or a morality play? And the Academy Award-winning performance by Javier Bardem disturbs because he himself remains a mystery: Is Anton Chigurh a merciless hitman or the Angel of Death? The story of a drug deal gone wrong soon reveals its true theme—the futility of being good and just in the face of abject evil—but the Coens also meditate on the faltering of the physical body. “Age’ll flatten a man,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell esteems, and for this Texan, the evocation of my childhood landscape—right down to the tiniest detail—means that the specter of Chigurh will haunt not only the end of my life but stomp through its earliest remembrances as well. —Andy Beta

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