Illustration by Beck Kramer

Now we’re past the halfway point of The A.V. Club’s half-decade film survey. Yesterday, we introduced the first 50 of our 100 favorite films of the past five years. Today, we’ll be taking a look at numbers 50 through 21, where you’ll find sci-fi enigmas, small-town murders, fractured marriages, wolves both real and figurative, and three very different visions of the end of the world.

The final part of the list, which includes our 20 favorite films of the 2010s so far, will appear tomorrow.

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50. Amer

Even the most devoted fans of giallo, that Italian genre of rampaging killers and intrepid detectives, would probably concede that nobody loves these movies for their stories. Who hasn’t watched, say, Suspiria, and secretly felt the urge to just fast-forward from one amazing set piece to another? With Amer, two French directors, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, do the fast-forwarding for you. Their tribute to the Mario Bava school of horror is nothing but set pieces. There’s the barest impression of a plot here, a young girl’s coming of age told in three parts, but it’s just an excuse to constantly indulge in the kind of virtuosic showboating—the jutting and leering camerawork, the harsh pools of primary color, the fetishistic close-ups of blades and retinas—that most movies of this sort relegate to isolated pockets of running time. Close to wordless and borderline abstract, Amer purifies giallo of its superfluous elements, leaving behind only uncut awesome. [A.A. Dowd]

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49. House Of Pleasures

Set during the waning days of the 19th century, Bertrand Bonello’s sensuous portrait of a Paris brothel announces its offbeat intentions early, with an opening-credits montage set to The Mighty Hannibal’s “The Right To Love You.” Later, an emotional highlight involves the women, in a moment of wrenching despair, dancing to The Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin,” which anachronistically appears to actually be playing within the scene. (When the film cuts to characters in another room, the song can still be heard very faintly, as if at a distance.) Only in the film’s stunning final juxtaposition—a blunt cut to the same location in the present, accompanied by Lee Moses’ “Bad Girl”—does Bonello fully reveal his intention: to celebrate a group of formidable women who, no matter how bleak their circumstances may have been, at least had each other. [Mike D’Angelo]

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48. The World’s End

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have the eyes of parodists, but the way they interact with the genres in their Cornetto Trilogy—horror in Shaun Of The Dead, buddy-cop action in Hot Fuzz, and sci-fi in The World’s End—goes beyond mere spoofery. They dig into genre clichés and figure out how they relate to life as it’s actually lived, then retell these stories with Wright’s unifying visual pop. The World’s End may be Wright, Pegg, and Frost’s finest hour; it’s certainly their darkest, even more so than the movie that features multiple characters killed by zombies. Pegg’s Gary is a rowdy comic hero gone to seed, more sad alcoholic than beloved party animal, who drags his former school chums into completing a pub crawl, only to find out their hometown is ground zero for an alien assimilation. The World’s End doesn’t spoof Invasion Of The Body Snatchers so much as reconcile it with a coming of age that may, in fact, be coming too late. [Jesse Hassenger]

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47. We Are The Best!

If teen girls ever needed a defender, they could find one in Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. With the likes of Show Me Love (1998) and Lilya 4-Ever (2002), Moodysson treated the lives of adolescent women as serious subject matter, not just the terrain of pink-hued stories about sleepovers and first kisses. We Are The Best! follows this refreshing pattern, following three girls in early-’80s Stockholm who believe punk isn’t dead. Casting unknowns Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv LeMoyne as the trio, the film at times takes on an uncanny realism—not that surprising, given the script was based on a biographical graphic novel by Coco Moodysson, the filmmaker’s wife. Never condescending, We Are The Best! treats the girls’ dilemmas with sincerity, negotiating what it means to like boys and Ebba Grön, to be into radical politics, or to wonder about wearing mascara. You know, punk stuff. [Kiva Reardon]

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46. A Touch Of Sin

In a way, Jia Zhangke’s whole career has been building toward the righteous anger of A Touch Of Sin. From Platform (2000) to The World (2004) to 24 City (2008), Jia has been exploring the impact of modern capitalism on the people of China. While the director’s films are often described as lyrical (and they are), A Touch Of Sin dispels with any softness, ruthlessly exposing the violence of multi-national industry, wage labor, and the pursuit of commodities through four ripped-from-the-headlines stories. Toying with genre (especially that of wuxia), A Touch Of Sin is far less subtle in style than Jia’s other films, but that just makes its message all the more powerful. [Kiva Reardon]

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45. Upstream Color

The A.V. Club first described Shane Carruth’s years-in-the-making film as a “transcendent experience,” and for good reason: It’s a stunningly original vision, the kind of movie that seems destined to be deconstructed by film-school grads and coffeehouse obsessives for decades. (They already do that with Carruth’s Primer, but this takes it to another level.) The story of a damaged woman (Amy Seimetz, never better) discovering the bizarre connection she has with a stranger (Carruth) is dense and oblique, involving pigs, psychic ties, and kidnapping. It’s got a controversial reputation—plenty are more perplexed than entranced by it—but the film is so evocative, and so startlingly beautiful, that criticisms about coherence are almost beside the point. [Alex McCown]

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44. Stranger By The Lake

Stranger By The Lake is a far less wacky and more straightforward variation on Alain Guiraudie’s previous forest-heavy comedies (movies few Americans have had the chance to see; Stranger was the first to receive U.S. theatrical distribution). In earlier films, characters in magic realist circumstances ran, perched, and made their home, Robin Hood-like, in the woods. More sober, set in the recognizable real world, and building to an excruciatingly suspenseful finale, this cruising-in-the-woods drama draws Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) closer to good-looking Michel (Christophe Paou). Franck’s attraction makes him toy with the idea of overlooking a murder he sees Michel commit, but then a police detective (Jérôme Chappatte) comes calling. In observing the uneasy interactions between a mecca for gay men where everyone’s on the same page and the straight officer of the law sent to regulate them, Stranger adds a dimension of political allegory to its arrestingly composed images of relaxed lust and conflicted passions. [Vadim Rizov]

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43. Computer Chess

After making his reputation with a series of talky relationship dramas that inspired the word “mumblecore,” Andrew Bujalski did an unexpected about-face with this truly bizarre period piece, set during a computer-chess tournament circa 1980 and shot using an antiquated video camera that the director found on eBay. Stray cats wander a hotel, a shy nerd gets propositioned by swingers, and unnerving tales of artificial intelligence are told, all of it combining to form a crazy-quilt exploration of the digital-analog divide. Bujalski plumbs the past to shed light on the present, with ample affection and eccentricity. He also puts to rest the notion that eloquently inarticulate young people are his sole purview. [Mike D’Angelo]

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42. The Loneliest Planet

Can a perfect relationship be destroyed in a split second by an involuntary reaction? That’s the question posed by Julia Loktev’s magnificent three-hander, in which a pair of blissfully happy, engaged hikers (Hani Furstenberg and Gael García Bernal) take a guided trek in the mountains of Georgia—the country, not the state—and experience an event that instantly reconfigures everything they know about each other and themselves. The film covers emotional terrain not unlike that explored by one of last year’s most acclaimed movies (see a few slots below), but Loktev boldly chooses to have her characters avoid discussing what happened at all, in part because they’re always accompanied by their guide (Bidzina Gujabidze). It’s a bifurcated narrative in which the second part, especially, relies almost entirely on body language to convey an assload of pure feeling. [Mike D’Angelo]

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41. The Wolf Of Wall Street

In GoodFellas and Casino, disreputable mobsters explained the ins and outs of their trade via colorful and fascinating narration. In Martin Scorsese’s spiritual successor The Wolf Of Wall Street, stock trader Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) tries to do the same, and sometimes succeeds. More often, though, he interrupts himself to say that the process is boring and doesn’t really matter. He talks a little about business, but Belfort is really narrating his own excess and bravado—perfect for an industry that doesn’t do much of anything except make money into more money. As with his gangster characters, Scorsese seems both fascinated and sickened by Belfort’s appetites and exploits, and DiCaprio’s go-for-broke comic performance—an evil twin to his charming Jay Gatsby from earlier that same year—serves this duality perfectly. Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker do an expert job cutting together a three-hour marathon of more, more, more. Only when the ride stops does the appropriate exhaustion set in. [Jesse Hassenger]

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40. Gone Girl

Because of his technical ingenuity and famous (infamous?) perfectionism, David Fincher has been called the heir apparent to Stanley Kubrick. Yet isn’t there a bigger hint of Hitchcock in his choice of projects, the “disreputable” material to which he applies his immense talent? For all its Eyes Wide Shut echoes, last year’s Gone Girl is further proof that Fincher chiefly fancies himself an entertainer. And entertain he does, twisting a bestselling beach read into another of his sinister, atmospheric procedurals. Not that this is a solo victory: Novelist-turned-screenwriter Gillian Flynn locates the black-comic essence of her own story, a missing-person mystery that becomes an investigation into a tumultuous marriage. Blessed with a dream cast and the memorable throb of another Trent Reznor score, Gone Girl takes “low” art to dizzying new heights. In Hitchcock parlance, it’s a slice of cake with a sour aftertaste. [A.A. Dowd]

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39. Force Majeure

All it takes is a minor tremor to bring a mountain or a feeble family to its knees. Ruben Östlund’s peerless dark comedy opens with the (literal) picture-perfect family and then spends its running time gleefully poking and prodding at the weak foundations holding it together. Johannes Kuhnke gives a captivating comedic performance as a father grasping at the last vestiges of his manliness and self-worth, while Lisa Loven Kongsli is devastating (and equally hilarious) as the mother, struggling to cope with everything that once came so easily. Their children are casualties of the slow-motion implosion and, refreshingly, react like real kids: scared, sad, and mostly confused. Unlike the inciting avalanche, the family feud is not contained, sending rifts through friends and fellow tourists alike. Those fissures also reach the viewer: Force Majeure breezes by with laughs, but can knock the wind out of the unsuspecting. [Cameron Scheetz]

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38. Bernie

Richard Linklater strikes a seemingly impossible tonal balance in this stranger-than-fiction true-crime comedy about character judgment. When an East Texas mortician (Jack Black) kills his crabby millionaire companion (Shirley MacLaine), his fellow townsfolk, who have their say here in documentary-style “interviews,” lobby to keep him out of jail. Black, meanwhile, turns in his most disciplined performance by a country mile. In the last few years, Linklater has gone on to receive all manner of well-deserved awards-season recognition. But no other Linklater movie will likely have a more remarkable afterlife than this one: As was widely reported, Bernie’s real-life subject, Bernie Tiede, was released from prison last year on the condition that he move into the room above Linklater’s garage. [Ben Mercer]

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37. Magic Mike

Channing Tatum’s own stripping days served as the unlikely inspiration for this smart (and soon-to-be-sequelized) spin on the summer movie, Steven Soderbergh’s successful exploration of self-marketing’s seedier side. “Entrepreneur” Mike labors to stay solvent enough to pay his bills and respectable enough to win the girl as his cobbled-together work life revolves ever more heavily around a precarious onstage gig at the Tampa venue Xquisite. A film not short on pleasures, Magic Mike also features perhaps the most head-spinning performance of Matthew McConaughey’s much-celebrated comeback, as shirtless, bongo-toting club owner/impresario Dallas. [Ben Mercer]

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36. 13 Assassins

Takashi Miike’s well-deserved reputation for non sequitur weirdness tends to overshadow his considerable gifts as a filmmaker, which are on full display in this supremely entertaining (and still quite weird) samurai flick. A hardened veteran (Kiyoshi Kurosawa regular Kôji Yakusho) assembles 13 warriors—12 samurai, plus a tramp who may or may not be a forest goblin—to take down the shogun’s sadistic, rampaging half-brother. The first hour or so is propulsive, but mostly action-less, assembling the team with the precision of a jewel heist. The final 45 minutes are one uninterrupted, breathlessly staged battle scene, pitting the eponymous devil’s dozen against hundreds of soldiers in a booby-trapped town. Miike—the prolific punk who broke through internationally by shocking festivalgoers and cult-film aficionados—had matured into a master genre craftsman, albeit one who wasn’t afraid to throw in some flaming CGI bulls or a random resurrection every now and then. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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35. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible III may have gotten short shrift at the box office thanks to its star’s couch-jumping antics. But the espionage series nonetheless continued to carve out its own distinctive path with 2011’s propulsive Ghost Protocol, which found Brad Bird triumphantly making the move from animation (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) to live action. Bird’s direction gives a sleek, fleet energy to the franchise’s fourth go-round, and he’s aided in his transition to blockbuster cinema by the movie’s always-charismatic lead. As indefatigable IMF super-spy Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise manages here to escape a Russian prison, duck underneath a flipping car, outrun a raging sandstorm, and perform what may be the single most impressive action-movie stunt of the decade—climbing, swinging, running, and leaping around the outside of the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper. [Nick Schager]

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34. The Grey

No movie on this list (not even the next one down) feels more thoroughly and disturbingly obsessed with death than Joe Carnahan’s gritty dismantling of the wilderness survival tale, the best thing to come out of Liam Neeson’s late-career reinvention as an action star. Pitting a ragtag band of plane crash survivors—led by Neeson’s grizzled and, frankly, largely ineffectual Ottway—against wolves in the white nothingness of Alaska, Carnahan starts grim and then heads straight into existential bleakness. His approach is mythical (the wolves look like they belong in a European fairytale) and meditative; it subverts the story’s pulp origins without exactly betraying them. Man versus nature thrillers are typically about finding the will to live. This one is about what it means to die in a void. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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33. Amour

Aww, it’s a Michael Haneke movie about a couple of lovable octogenarians! It’s even titled with the French word for love! Well, yes and no. Amour is, in fact, a Michael Haneke movie, so it’s also a portrait of slow deterioration and death, as Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) gradually goes downhill following a stroke while her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), does his best to ease her suffering. This is no disease-of-the-week movie, however. Haneke skips past every aspect of treatment, focusing exclusively on the toll Anne’s illness takes and on the agonizing decisions people sometimes must make in the name of love. It’s also a sublime showcase for two great actors, both actually in their 80s, who remain as vital as ever. [Mike D’Angelo]

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32. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Who is Martha Marcy May Marlene? Don’t ask the young woman herself, played—in one hell of a breakthrough performance—by a trembling Elizabeth Olsen. She spends most of the gripping indie drama that bears her name(s) trying to cobble back together an identity that’s been starved, screwed, sleep-deprived, and brainwashed out of her. Martha Marcy tracks its heroine’s programming and deprogramming in parallel, demonstrating how the world she returns to—a cozy life of privilege with her WASP sister (Sarah Paulson)—is as ruled by rules as the horrific cult she escapes. A horror movie in all but genre, it’s also a dual debut, blessing American cinema with a new Roman Polanski (writer-director Sean Durkin) to go with its new Catherine Deneuve. The repulsion they generate together is as powerful as poisoned Kool-Aid. [A.A. Dowd]

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31. Take Shelter

There’s no scarier plausible scenario than slowly losing your mind, especially when you’re at least partially aware that it’s happening. In Jeff Nichols’ masterfully suspenseful Take Shelter, Michael Shannon plays a husband (to a steely, fantastic Jessica Chastain) and father whose visions/hallucinations of world-ending storms take a slow-motion toll on his sanity and his family. Shannon’s edgy intensity sells the story of a man so brittle and delusional (maybe) that he could snap at any second, but whose problem has a real-world solution: at least in his mind, a backyard storm shelter. It’s a thriller with no real antagonist, only the threat of a psyche that’s threatening to create a monster. [Josh Modell]

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30. Inception

Is there such a thing as “minimalist rococo?” Christopher Nolan’s architectural-fantasy heist flick packs all of its director’s obsessions—building facades, menswear, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, dead wives, water—into an IMAX-ready frame. Despite the somber, brainy tone, this is chiefly about aesthetic pleasure, with Nolan lookalike Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leading a pack of one-name-one-trait dream-raiders through a compulsively intercut barrage of special effects, chases, repeating brass and guitar figures, and slow-motion splashes. Even the ambiguous ending feels like a final, recursive design element. It’s a handsome M.C. Escher print of a blockbuster, which feels personal in ways both overt (e.g., the use of Cobb—a name that goes back to Nolan’s debut, Following—as a director stand-in) and subconscious. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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29. Leviathan

The most aesthetically aggressive work from the formally driven documentarians teaching and studying at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, this portrait of a commercial fishing trawler assumes, at various points, the POVs of a dead fish head sliding on the floor, a curious duck, and an entire net of fish. Pushing contemporary digital cameras past their ostensible limits (GoPros were lost), Leviathan arrestingly renders abstract a dangerous workspace, often forcing viewers to ask themselves what they’re seeing. The overall aesthetic takes its cue from the workers’ heavy-metal work music: loud, aggressive, turned up way past 11, and distorting the familiar into new forms. [Vadim Rizov]

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28. 12 Years A Slave

While British director Steve McQueen made back-to-back triumphs with Hunger and Shame, it wasn’t until his third movie that this master of capturing ugly realities found subject matter large enough for his outsize talent. 12 Years A Slave applied McQueen’s eye for the gritty minutiae of impossible situations to a Hollywood-sized canvas and story, and addressed the worst of our nation’s history with an unwavering eye. When his protagonist Solomon Northup is noosed to a branch, nothing but his dangling toes to keep him from strangling, and the rest of the plantation quietly goes about its day, it’s a cinematic punch in the gut. The film captures—like few others have—the barbarous spirit that birthed America. It seems we needed an outsider to show us ourselves. [Alex McCown]

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27. Melancholia

Plagued by clinical depression, Lars Von Trier produced possibly the mental disorder’s most unmediated and honest depiction on screen in Melancholia. Wealthy newlywed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) seems personally and professionally successful, but she’s disconnected from everyone at her wedding reception. She greets news of the world’s imminent end (at the hands of Planet Melancholia, no less) with calm bordering on the ecstatic. The movie is empathetically and thoroughly with her, thrilling to the gloomy sight of a morning horse ride through fog and adding on Wagner to drive home the enthralling majesty of apocalypse. Melancholia is a film about what it feels like to want to die all the time, and it’s devastatingly successful at transferring that sensation to viewers. [Vadim Rizov]

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26. Drive

Here’s a dirty secret about Ryan Gosling: He’s a good actor, but a better movie star. His range of silence to tortured mumbling can feel like shtick in serious relationship chronicles like Blue Valentine, but in a stripped-down pastiche like Drive, it becomes more iconic than the shiny scorpion jacket he wears as the movie’s hero, an unnamed stuntman and part-time getaway driver. Nicolas Winding Refn’s penchant for slow, quiet build-up and occasional bursts of horrific violence gets its most seductive workup in service of this non-action movie, wherein a couple of car chases, Gosling’s minimalism, and one horrible handshake add up to a retro impression of the genre. [Jesse Hassenger]

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25. The Immigrant

James Gray works in archetypal narratives: sons are pitted against families (Little Odessa), men are pitted against society (The Yards), brothers are placed on opposite sides of the law (We Own The Night), paramours are torn apart (Two Lovers). With The Immigrant, Gray doesn’t stray far from another classic theme, and one present in his previous works: the American Dream. But as in those past films, the director infuses his narrative with deep emotional resonance, making a well-told tale of “trying to make it in America” echo with a new profundity. Shifting away from masculine antiheroes for the first time (Marion Cotillard rocks a perfect Polish accent as Ewa), Gray takes the symbol of Lady Liberty and elegantly transposes it onto the symbol of prostitute. The result is a moving, alternate (i.e., female) history of what it means to survive and thrive in the so-called Land Of Opportunity. [Kiva Reardon]

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24. Zero Dark Thirty

Now that the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty has largely tapered off, it’s possible to view its complicated politics with clear eyes. Yes, the film may implicitly condone torture, at least so far as it potentially exaggerates the role enhanced interrogation techniques played in hunting down Osama Bin Laden. But in Maya, the fictional CIA operative Jessica Chastain portrays, Zero Dark Thirty also offers the perfect embodiment of America’s win-at-all-costs determination. It’s obsession that ultimately fuels this decade-spanning procedural, which reunites The Hurt Locker’s Mark Boal and Katherine Bigelow for a vision of consummate professionals whose drive to succeed eclipses any questions they might have about ends and their relationship to means. A spiritual relative to Zodiac, the film digs deep into the most mundane details of intelligence work, before building to a powerhouse climax. Where can one possibly go, the ambivalent finale asks, from “Mission accomplished?” [A.A. Dowd]

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23. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson has often used child or teenage characters in his work, and perhaps more even more frequently, adults who act like children or teenagers. But the young-love story of Moonrise Kingdom, in which two 12-year-olds run away together on a quiet New England island in 1965, feels particularly keyed to the joys, frustrations, and loneliness of both childhood and adolescence. Similarly, the characters’ carefully arranged totems make a special amount of sense for a pair of tweens on a perilous adventure (Record player stolen from younger sibling? Check!). The movie makes clearer than ever that Anderson’s stylistic tics are his artistic tools, not affected hindrances. Moonrise Kingdom isn’t as wildly ambitious or layered as The Grand Budapest Hotel, but the two films—one small, one country-hopping, both hilarious—complement each other perfectly. [Jesse Hassenger]

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22. Everyone Else

Winner of the Silver Bear (second prize, basically) and Best Actress at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, German filmmaker Maren Ade’s sophomore feature tells the discomfitingly intimate story of a young couple on vacation in Sardinia, and may or may not depict the final days of their relationship. (The hilariously unexpected ending isn’t so much ambiguous as just inconclusive, acknowledging the uncertainty that goes with the territory.) As record-label publicist Gitti, Birgit Minichmayr is a tough yet needy dynamo, with budding architect Chris (Lars Eidinger) as her maddeningly passive-aggressive foil. When their already fragile partnership is jostled by the presence of another, seemingly happier couple, both Gitti and Chris devolve into bratty children, running ludicrous mind games on each other. “Everyone else” is who neither of them wants to be, but Ade’s razor-sharp film flays them to the bone, where we’re all the same. [Mike D’Angelo]

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21. Meek’s Cutoff

Bonnets rarely take center stage in Westerns. Other than Nicolas Ray’s Johnny Guitar, this genre belongs to the 10-gallon hat and the man who rides off alone into the sunset wearing it. Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff addresses this gender gap by focusing on the often-forgotten women who lived on the frontier. Set in 1845, the film follows a group of pioneers trying to make the treacherous journey on the Oregon Trail, only to find themselves at the whims of a stubborn man who won’t admit he’s lost. Reichardt’s first (and so far only) foray into period-piece drama doesn’t succumb to mere dress-up; quiet and slow-moving, it evokes a mode of experiencing time that’s not often applied to visions of the Wild West. [Kiva Reardon]

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