The 20 Best Movies on Starz (September 2022)

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The 20 Best Movies on Starz (September 2022)

Starz continues to fly under the radar among its bigger premium cable and streaming competitors, but the channel (that many add onto Amazon accounts for extra offerings) has amassed a slew of movies available to its subscribers. HBO may have the prestige, but Starz has the much-better-curated lineup of flicks.

From recent hits like The Father to underrated classics—not to mention a bundle of ‘80s comedies and a classic coterie of Westerns—Starz continues to build a cinematic library to easily rival services like Netflix and Hulu. Needless to say, we’re fans, so here at Paste we want to highlight the many wonderful movies Starz has to offer at the moment.

Here are the 30 best movies on Starz right now:


1. Night of the Living Dead


24. night of the living dead (Custom).jpg Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero

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It’s not really necessary to delve into how influential George Romero’s first zombie film has been to the genre and horror itself—it’s one of the most important horror movies ever made, and one of the most important independent films as well. The question is more accurately, “how does it hold up today?”, and the answer is “okay.” Unlike, say Dawn of the Dead, Night is pretty placid most of the time. The story conventions are classic and the black-and-white cinematography still looks excellent, but some of the performances are downright irritating, particularly that of Judith O’Dea as Barbara. Duane Jones more than makes up for that as the heroic Ben, however, in a story that is very self-sufficient and provincial—just one small group of people in a house, with no real thought to the wider world. It’s a horror film that is a MUST SEE for every student of the genre, which is easy, considering that the film actually remains in the public domain. But in terms of entertainment value, Romero would perfect the genre in his next few efforts. Also recommended: The 1990 remake of this film by Tom Savini, which is unfairly derided just for being a faithful remake. —Jim Vorel


2. The Ox-Bow Incident

the-ox-bow-incident-poster.jpg Year: 1943
Director: William A. Wellman

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In discussing classic films that involve Henry Fonda as he struggles against a rash legal decision, 12 Angry Men is more than likely the film that instantly enters one’s mind. Fourteen years prior, however, Fonda starred in a significantly bleaker version of a similar story. Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident serves as a dark voyage into the dangers of mob mentality and what happens when human emotion supplants the justice system. Fonda plays Gil Carter, an aimless traveler in the 1880s who—along with his companion Art Croft (Harry Morgan)—ends up riding into the wrong town at the wrong time. A local rancher has apparently just been murdered and the hunt is on to find those responsible—by whatever means necessary. Clocking in at a sparse 75 minutes, the film serves as a master class in dramatic escalation, with Gil and Art first joining the posse as a means of self-preservation only to watch as events mount beyond anyone’s control. Though now more than 70 years old, The Ox-Bow Incident’s portrait of a community driven to its worse self by fear and distrust is sadly more relevant than ever. —M.R.


3. Spider-Man: Homecoming

spider-man-homecoming-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Jon Watts

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It’s simultaneously easy and impossible to forget that Spider-Man: Homecoming is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Easy, because unlike most every MCU film before it, with the partial exception of Doctor Strange, it manages to extricate its characters (and especially its scope) from the world-ending catastrophes faced by The Avengers to tell a story that is a little bit more “close to the ground,” to use Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) own words. Impossible because, well, Tony Stark is in this. Quite a bit, actually. Nevertheless, Homecoming manages to pull off the most difficult feat for just about any franchise installment: It justifies its own existence. Briskly paced and charming to a fault, it’s a Spider-Man movie that fully embraces both its source material and the perils of 21st century teenage life.—Jim Vorel


4. The Rider

rider-zhao-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Chloé Zhao

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A dream dissipating. The Rider begins with flashes of a horse, in close-up, so intimately observed we immediately abandon all assumptions of symbolism or pretention of deeper meaning. Chloé Zhao’s second film invites social commentary and political dissection—it’s about the obsolescence of a certain way of life; about the death of toxic masculinity as exigency of a frontiersman’s spirit of adventure; about the failure of rural America to embrace an obvious socioeconomic future—but there’s nothing clearer, or more devastating, in The Rider than the bond between cowboy and horse. Said cowboy, and aforementioned dreamer, is Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young, lithe South Dakotan rodeo rider still recovering from a head injury, a blurry accident we re-watch with Brady via YouTube video on his phone. With a cast of non-professionals basically playing themselves, Zhao rarely pushes her actors to too riskily delve into melodrama, or anything, for that matter, that might make them uncomfortable. Instead, in Jandreau and his family, Zhao discovers a beautiful, intuitive sense of calm, which she reflects in long, mournful shots of Dakotan vistas, so unhurried and unhindered by the boundaries of the screen that each interstitial segment—often of Brady contemplating the world before him as he stands, his hip cocked, before a magnificent sunset—feels overwhelming. What cinematographer Joshua James Richards can do with a camera bears the weight of countless filmmakers in thrall to the pregnant possibility of this marvelous continent. Every frame of this film speaks of innumerable lives—passions and failures and tragedies and triumphs—unfolding unfathomably. —Dom Sinacola


5. Trading Places

trading-places-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: John Landis

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A biting take on the The Prince and the Pauper story as filtered through the prism of the Decade of Greed, Trading Places stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as, respectively, high class broker Louis Winthorpe III and homeless street vagrant Billy Ray Valentine. As part of a “nurture vs. nature” experiment by the Duke Brothers, two wealthy, yet unscrupulous business magnates, Louis and Billy end up abruptly, per the title, trading places on the social ladder. The Dukes frame Louis for drug dealing, resulting in him losing both his job and his girlfriend, and then bail Billy out of jail and provide him with Louis’ old job and high-class apartment. Once Billy and Louis discover this deception, they launch a plan for vengeance. Featuring both Murphy and Aykroyd at the top of their game, Trading Places represents a prime example of the kind of smart, yet decidedly un-PC comedies that could only exist at a certain point in the ’80s (Aykroyd’s blackface-heavy disguise in one scene, for example, would never fly in today’s market). A stone-cold ’80s classic if there ever was one. —Mark Rozeman


6. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

venom-carnage.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Andy Serkis
Stars: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Woody Harrelson
Rating: PG-13

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Just as it felt like the box office may never recover, one film rose from the goo to save movie-going. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a silly, self-aware and just straight up fun movie. The Andy Serkis-directed sequel leaned into the best parts of the original and made a film that abandoned any hope of being serious. Tom Hardy has mastered the art of wacky voices and has such good chemistry with himself you hardly want the plot to continue. And yet Woody Harrelson and Naomi Harris fit perfectly into the strange world of Venom: Let There Be Carnage with their cartoonish and maniacal villains that embrace the comic part of a comic book movie. Wrap all the insanity into a narrative about the power of love and accepting your alien/host for the person they are, and you have a romp of pure delight. Still on the fence? How about a tight 97-minute runtime and a stellar scene where Venom goes to an underground rave and is welcomed into the community (yes with EDM music and glowsticks abound)?—Leila Jordan


7. Alien

Year: 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Conduits, canals and cloaca—Ridley Scott’s ode to claustrophobia leaves little room to breathe, cramming its blue collar archetypes through spaces much too small to sustain any sort of sanity, and much too unforgiving to survive. That Alien can also make Space—capital “S”—in its vastness feel as suffocating as a coffin is a testament to Scott’s control as a director (arguably absent from much of his work to follow, including his insistence on ballooning the mythos of this first near-perfect film), as well as to the purity of horror as a cinematic genre. Alien, after all, is tension as narrative, violation as a matter of fact: When the crew of the mining spaceship Nostromo is prematurely awakened from cryogenic sleep to attend to a distress call from a seemingly lifeless planetoid, there is no doubt the small cadre of working class grunts and their posh Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) will discover nothing but mounting, otherworldly doom. Things obviously, iconically, go wrong from there, and as the crew understands both what they’ve brought onto their ship and what their fellow crew members are made of—in one case, literally—a hero emerges from the catastrophe: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the Platonic ideal of the Final Girl who must battle a viscous, phallic grotesque (care of the master of the phallically grotesque, H.R. Giger) and a fellow crew member who’s basically a walking vessel for an upsetting amount of seminal fluid. As Ripley crawls through the ship’s steel organs, between dreams—the film begins with the crew wakening, and ends with a return to sleep—Alien evolves into a psychosexual nightmare, an indictment of the inherently masculine act of colonization and a symbolic treatise on the trauma of assault. In Space, no one can hear you scream—because no one is listening. —Dom Sinacola


8. Panic Room

Year: 2002
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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A nasty thriller that puts David Fincher’s visual flourishes to tension-raising use, Panic Room is a show-offy yet modest piece of pulp that knows exactly what it is and sees everyone giving their all to the (at times silly) home invasion film. Fincher’s CG-aided long takes and meticulous shot design are there to wow us, but they’re also there to orient us in space and within the magnificent home welcoming our wealthy divorcee (Jodie Foster) and her diabetic daughter (Kristen Stewart). The perfectly cast pair (not only do they play desperate, angsty and tough excellently, but they also have great parental chemistry) struggle against scummy Jared Leto and his burglar buddies (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam) in ways that are sometimes contrived due to the blustery “it’s a movie, c’mon!” plotting of David Koepp’s script, but never bland or unengaging. The set-up is clear, the motivations are simple, and the joy lies in the execution. Panic Room might be Fincher having a dirty little lark, but it’s as careful and nasty a lark as you’d expect from a meticulous craftsman like him. Plus, Jodie Foster gets a sledgehammer.—Jacob Oller


9. Aliens

Year: 1986
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn
Rating: R
Runtime: 138 minutes

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James Cameron colonizes ideas: Every beautiful, breathtaking spectacle he assembles works as a pointillist representation of the genres he inhabits—sci-fi, horror, adventure, thriller—its many wonderful pieces and details of worldbuilding swarming, combining to grow exponentially, to inevitably overshadow the lack at its heart, the doubt that maybe all of this great movie-making is hiding a dearth of substance at the core of the stories Cameron tells. An early example of this pilgrim’s privilege is Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece, in which Cameron mostly jettisons Scott’s figurative (and uncomfortably intimate) interrogation of masculine violence to transmute that urge into the bureaucracy that only served as a shadow of authoritarianism in the first film. Cameron blows out Scott’s world, but also neuters it, never quite connecting the lines from the aggression of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation to the maleness of the military industrial complex, but never condoning that maleness, or that complex, either. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) story about what happened on the Nostromo in the first film is doubted because she’s a woman, sure, but mostly because the story spells disaster for the corporation’s nefarious plans. Private Vasquez’s (Jennette Goldstein) place in the Colonial Marine unit sent to LV-426 to investigate the wiping out of a human colony is taunted, but never outright doubted, her strength compared to her peers pretty obvious from the start. Instead, in transforming Ripley into a full-on action hero/mother figure—whose final boss battle involves protecting her ersatz daughter from the horror of another mother figure—Cameron isn’t messing with themes of violation or the role of women in an economic hierarchy, he’s placing women by default at the forefront of mankind’s future war. It’s magnificent blockbuster filmmaking, and one of the first films to redefine what a franchise can be within the confines of a new director’s voice and vision.—Dom Sinacola


10. 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


11. The Grandmaster

grandmaster.jpg
Year: 2013
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Stars: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Cung Le, Hye-Kyo Song
Genre: Martial Arts, Drama
Rating: PG-13

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Wong Kar Wai will indefatigably make anything elegant, and so it’s a given that The Grandmaster is a gorgeously paced historical epic told in patient piecemeal. A loose chronicle of the nascent legend of Yip Man, the film skirts the line between noir-ish tragedy and chiaroscuro thriller, rarely leaving room to discern the difference. From an opening set-piece that will leave you wondering why any other director since would ever bother capturing rain droplets in slo-motion, to one masterfully orchestrated balsa-wood-tower of martial arts prowess after another, there is little left to say about Wong’s directing other than hyperbole: This is heartfelt and beautiful action filmmaking, but never so far removed from the savagery of the action at hand that it romanticizes the pummeling of so many hapless foes. There are penalties to these punches and consequences to these kicks—there should be little doubt that The Grandmaster is not just a masterpiece of its genre but one of Wong’s best. —Dom Sinacola


12. Heat

heat-movie-poster.jpg
Year: 1995
Director: Michael Mann

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Those first watching Michael Mann’s L.A. crime masterpiece should view it with a clean slate—and from then on dissect it in great detail, with all of its separate elements pulled apart to determine how they eventually came together to complete such an intricately constructed work of storytelling. Anything in between would seldom do this sprawling (yet taut) epic justice. Exploring the concept of the cop and the robber on opposite sides of the same coin is a premise that pretty much every crime drama has delved into in one way or another, yet Mann manages to create the dichotomy’s epitome. By implementing, with surgical precision, an impressively pure vision of a grand, boastful and larger-than-life crime story, Mann delivers a culmination of his previously tight, deliberately stylized work (namely, Thief and Manhunter). With its hauntingly cold cinematography, moody score, terrific performances by a slew of legendary stars and character actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer) and—let’s not forget—the mother of all cinematic shoot-outs in its center, it more than likely represents the peak of Mann’s ever-shifting career. —Oktay Ege Kozak


13. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-poster.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Michel Gondry
Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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In what might be Charlie Kaufman’s finest script, boy meets girl, unaware that they might be living out a doomed eternal recurrence. A brain-wipe firm allows its clients to erase choice people or events from their memory. Turns out, Joel (a repressed Jim Carrey) and Clementine (a vibrant Kate Winslet) have done this before. Technology is the Great Enabler and, perhaps, a secret destroyer—except that the science fiction aspect of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is just an auxiliary to the core relational dynamic. Stripped of fantasy, the film’s theme is no Luddite cautionary tale but rather just a melancholy observation of human relationships. This is how it’s always been. We’re quite accomplished at failing each other…and ourselves. There’s nothing so condemnatory as that statement in Eternal Sunshine, a film that watches and weeps at a whimsical circus breaking down. It immerses us in Joel’s mind, Gondry’s in-camera effects and nearly experimental editing taking us tumbling through the increasingly tragic process of removing Clementine. When I first saw this film in the theater in 2004, I swore I would never do the thing that Joel does to try to heal himself, but I’ve lived some life since then and now I’m not sure I can say the same. I’ve deleted phone numbers and pictures on Facebook, had about a month where I was vigilantly untagging myself; I’m sometimes scared to even look at my feed. It doesn’t matter what the social environment is, humans will use whatever’s available to mitigate pain, especially emotional pain. But sometimes we need the thing we want to be rid of; there’s no actualization without vulnerability, risk, and, inevitably, hurt. The final shot of Eternal Sunshine lingers in my memory, always on loop: Joel and Clementine, stumbling in play away from the camera, on a snowy beach in Montauk. It seems like an extrapolation of the final shot of The 400 Blows: “Stuck in stasis” has become “stuck in repeat.” And, yet, in that shot is acceptance, possibly even hope. There are no spotless minds, but perhaps some still can shine. —Chad Betz


14. Monster Hunter

monster-hunter-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ron Perlman, Tony Jaa
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 103 minutes

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From Mortal Kombat to the Resident Evil franchise, writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson has consistently proven himself to be the king of videogame adaptations. He is able to take beloved properties and mold them into entertaining narratives that encapsulate their ethos and are accessible to both franchise fans and novices alike. This is no different with Anderson’s latest film, Monster Hunter, adapted from the popular Capcom franchise. He continues to create larger-than-life narratives that are just plain old fun. Monster Hunter begins with Lieutenant Natalie Artemis (the always badass Milla Jovovich) leading a team of soldiers in the desert, searching for a missing squad that seemingly disappeared without a trace. The group is suddenly transported into another world via an intense lightning storm. This is a relentless place, full of massive monsters who are out for blood. No matter their firepower, nothing seems to stop Diablos, a giant triceratops-like creature, or the Nerscylla, a nasty group of poisonous spiders the size of elephants. The tools of violence of the US military are rendered useless in the face of these titans. Monsters aside, the film ventures into a buddy action-comedy as much of the story focuses on Artemis and the Hunter’s (Thai martial artist Tony Jaa) developing relationship—and how they depend on one another for survival. They laugh, they joke, they make sacrifices for one another. Jovovich and Jaa make a remarkable team: The chemistry between the two actors is an endearing light in the middle of a gritty and violent film where humans are impaled and eaten. Anderson does not just rely on the monsters, but creates strong human relationships to encourage a deeper engagement than expected with a videogame adaptation.—Mary Beth McAndrews


15. The Father

the-father-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Florian Zeller
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 97 minutes

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The best line reading Anthony Hopkins gives during his monumental performance in Florian Zeller’s The Father comes in the film’s final scene, which is both a blessing and a king bummer. All anyone should want to do is live in that reading, sit awestruck at how Hopkins puts a name to the one thing that can assuage his character’s anguish and stare grief-stricken in the knowledge that the one thing he needs is the one thing he can’t have. The entire movie is an exercise in heartache, but it’s this final piece of dialogue that punctuates the drama preceding it and finally releases the suffering roiling under its surface. Hopkins’ character, also named Anthony, spends most of The Father fighting for his independence like a wolf cornered by hunters, stubbornly refusing to accept his clear mental deterioration and the need for professional help. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) has, as the picture opens, tried and failed several times over to find him a caregiver he’ll take to—and given her announced intention to relocate to Paris, her search has gained in urgency. Anthony isn’t pleased at her news. In fact, as they sit in his well-appointed London flat together, he gives her the business, expressing his opinion of her life plans with his canines bared. He’s not happy. But deep down, in the parts of him that remain self-aware, he’s mostly just afraid. Zeller has adapted The Father from his own award-winning play Le Père, and though he’s left the material of the script untouched, he’s transitioned to his new medium with subtle enhancements: Cinematographer Ben Smithard uses his lens as a screw gun, putting up figurative walls around Zeller’s cast in addition to the literal walls of the set. Visual claustrophobia compliments spatial claustrophobia, trapping the viewer in the flat and, far more importantly, in Anthony’s crumbling psyche. A simple open-concept apartment becomes labyrinthine through his point of view, and that’s before supporting characters begin to wander about its halls and loiter in its doors, in and out of his perception, assuming they were even there to begin with. Similar to how the characters are there to serve Anthony, the supporting cast is there to serve Hopkins. The stage belongs to him. What he does with it is something special, an unmissable performance from an actor with a filmography loaded with them.—Andy Crump


16. Venom

Thumbnail image for Venom Poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Ruben Fleischer

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Deep into the goop of Venom, ersatz Elon Musk, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), performs alien-human hybrid experiments on San Francisco vagrants (of which there are many, the movie implies, because San Francisco is the urban poster child for the housing crisis) to eventually figure out how humans can live off-planet. Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate, token and expendable lady scientist) tells Vice-like multimedia alt-reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) that Drake has been urgently planning his interstellar escape because our species basically has a generation left, if that, before catastrophe. Brock understands completely, nods without flinching at Skirth’s prognostications. He’s also about to understand exactly what those experiments are like, soon to be intimately inhabited by an alien who goes by the name of Venom in an adventure resembling a comic book movie made before there was such a thing as an MCU, or a DCEU, or a Deadpool openly tearing away the veil that separates continuities and studio properties, exposing these enterprises as divided up only by billions of dollars, not by allegiance to canon or adherence to the tenets of comic book release strategies. Which is why Ruben Fleischer’s unabashedly pulpy Venom sometimes feels so special: It exists on its own. It concerns itself with modern problems in a modern world, but it acts like an early-2000s sci-fi blockbuster, molecularly unable to take itself seriously. It relies on a popular existing property within a genre enjoying unprecedented popularity, populated by Oscar-winning actors and unheard-of budgets, but it doesn’t pretend to have any claim to the well-established universes it can only point to, would seem to never dream of awards talk or critical love. It has Tom Hardy chewing so gleefully through its celluloid we should have talked awards and should have flirted with better critical love, but it also doesn’t quite do much of anything, doesn’t quite go far enough, with the insanity it potentially wields. It’s not a buddy comedy, but it’s also not not a buddy comedy. Venom could have been the most original superhero movie to come out in a long time, had it been released ten years ago. They just don’t—and one could argue for good reason—make movies like this anymore. —Dom Sinacola


17. Trainspotting

41.Trainspotting.NetflixList.jpg
Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Based on the gritty Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, this early film from the director of Slumdog Millionaire and Millions follows a thuggish group of heroin addicts in Scotland and features brilliant performances from young Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald and Robert Carlyle. At times funny, gripping and nightmarishly haunting, Trainspotting is not an easy movie to forget. —Josh Jackson


18. The Squid and the Whale

squid-whale.jpg Year: 2005
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin
Rating: R

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Borrowing themes from his previous films—children of failed marriages; characters whose bookish smarts seem to work against them; a floating sense of fatalism—The Squid and the Whale creeps ever closer to Noah Baumbach’s own tempestuous past. His parents’ faltering union isn’t just a detail used to add depth to a certain character. It’s the whole story—a gorgeous, candid portrait of the messy car crash of divorce, from all angles. “It’s hard to even put myself in the mindset of those movies anymore,” he told Paste in 2005. “With Squid, these are reinventions of people that are close to me, and this is the movie I identify with the most. It is a natural extension of what I have intended and what I feel. I trusted myself more on this one.” —Keenan Mayo


19. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

scott pilgrim poster.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 113 minutes

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The films of Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto trilogy” may get more emphasis as the core of the director’s oeuvre, but allow one to submit that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the “most Edgar Wright” film we’ve witnessed yet in the still-young filmmaker’s career. A brilliant adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series of the same name, the film is a perfectly cast wonder of an action comedy that translates with preternatural ability the comic tension between banality and bombast present on the page. Scott’s (Michael Cera) existence as a slacker musician in a crappy Toronto indie rock band isn’t exciting or glamorous, which makes it all the funnier when his day-to-day romantic life is a series of climactic, overly dramatic videogame boss battles. Each Wright presents with a hyperkinetic style that revels in its joyful disconnect from reality or consequences. Freed from such trivial matters, Wright can present dynamic action sequences that still have time for clever asides and banal workplace humor, simultaneously getting the absolute best out of every person he has on hand. Really: When has Brandon Routh, as an actor, been put to better use than as an egomaniacal vegan with psychic powers? An early-career Brie Larson as rock singer Envy Adams is a bonus as well. —Jim Vorel


20. Arrival

Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Your appreciation of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival will hinge on how well you like being led astray. It’s both the full embodiment of Villeneuve’s approach to cinema and a marvelous, absorptive piece of science fiction, a two hour sleight-of-hand stunt that’s best experienced with as little foreknowledge of its plot as possible. Fundamentally, it’s about the day aliens make landfall on Earth, and all the days that come after—which, to sum up the collective human response in a word, are mayhem. You can engage with Arrival for its text, which is powerful, striking, emotive and, most of all, abidingly compassionate. You can also engage with it for its subtext, should you actually look for it. This is a robust but delicate work captured in stunning, calculated detail by cinematographer Bradford Young, and guided by Amy Adams’ stellar work as Louise Banks, a brilliant linguist commissioned by the U.S. Army to figure out how the hell to communicate with our alien visitors. Adams is a chameleonic actress of immense talent, and Arrival lets her wear each of her various camouflages over the course of its duration. She sweats, she cries, she bleeds, she struggles, and so much more that can’t be said here without giving away the film’s most awesome treasures. She also represents humankind with more dignity and grace than any other modern actor possibly could. If aliens do ever land on Earth, maybe we should just send her to greet them. —Andy Crump