The best movies on Netflix

Clockwise from top left: Moonlight (A24); Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures); Scott Pilgrm Vs. The World (Universal Pictures); Homecoming (Parkwood Entertainment/Netflix); Uncut Gems (A24)
Clockwise from top left: Moonlight (A24); Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures); Scott Pilgrm Vs. The World (Universal Pictures); Homecoming (Parkwood Entertainment/Netflix); Uncut Gems (A24)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular show? Click the movie title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

There are plenty of great classic films available on Netflix, but this list is compiled of movies featured on The A.V. Club’s Best of the Year lists and ballots going back to 2010.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Amazon Prime, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu.

This list was most recently updated May 25, 2020.

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American Factory

The first film from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions is inherently political, but it’s more complex than agitprop. Following the reopening of a shuttered factory in Dayton under the new ownership of a Chinese auto-glass company, directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert offer a startling intimate look at the struggle to blend two working cultures. Never descending into xenophobia or condescension, their documentary makes the point that the issues matter because of the effect they have on the people. [Allison Shoemaker]

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American Honey

Andrea Arnold presents a dynamic vision of young, weird America in American Honey, a sprawling road movie that winds its way from wealthy suburban cul-de-sacs to poverty-stricken trailer parks on a cross-country trip. Newcomer Sasha Lane stars as Star, an impulsive teenager who abandons her abusive home life to sell magazines town to town and door to door with some misfits she meets dancing to Rihanna in the middle of Kmart, including rat-tailed heartthrob Jake (Shia LaBeouf). Driving the barren highways of red-state America in a white-paneled van, the kids tell their stories in between swigs of vodka and hits of an ever-present joint, each of them a block in the patchwork quilt of the U.S. underclass. Arnold allows her actors—many of whom were cast off of the street—to improvise organic, loosely constructed scenes that bring a documentary feel to their adventures. Take the aesthetics of a Harmony Korine movie, but substitute the nihilism with boundless humanity, and you’ll come close to understanding American Honey’s wild charm. [Katie Rife]

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Amy

From its opening scene, Amy is almost more noteworthy for what it doesn’t do as a documentary than for the sad story of its famous subject. Director Asif Kapadia (Senna) opens his film not with a montage of talking heads spouting money quotes about Amy Winehouse, but with a home movie of teenage Winehouse hanging out with friends for someone’s birthday. A few of them begin tunelessly singing “Happy Birthday To You,” their voices fading when an off-camera Winehouse finishes the song with the kind of overstated flair possessed by someone who likes showing off her knockout pipes. [Kyle Ryan]

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Aquarius

For a very brief period in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Brazilian actress Sonia Braga looked poised to become a major Hollywood star. Her significant supporting role in Kiss Of The Spider Woman (1985), a Brazilian-American co-production that won William Hurt the Oscar for Best Actor and was nominated for Best Picture, got studio suits’ attention; a few years later, she appeared in Robert Redford’s The Milagro Beanfield War and Paul Mazursky’s Moon Over Parador (both of which, oddly, are set in fictional locations, with Milagro somewhere in New Mexico and Parador an entirely invented South American country). Neither film was a hit, and the same tepid box-office fate met her last big Hollywood showcase, The Rookie (1990). So it’s marvelous to see Braga setting the big screen ablaze—speaking her native language, for once—in Aquarius, a Brazilian drama constructed entirely around her. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Barry

The name Obama is never once uttered in Barry, Vikram Gandhi’s minor-key presidential origin story. Only in the film’s final few minutes does the title character even call himself Barack—and then only in his head, reading a letter to his absent father. Dramatically announcing that some sprightly figure is actually a famous person before they were famous is an especially hackneyed biopic convention, but Barry doesn’t avoid it just to stay out of Walk Hard’s sphere of parody. It also does so because the young man we’re watching here—a smart, lonely college kid new to New York, and originally from “Hawaii, Indonesia, Kenya—you name it”—is decades and miles removed from the commander-in-chief he’ll one day become. He’s not President Barack Obama yet. For the modest moments chronicled, he’s just Barry. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Oz Perkins’ deeply unnerving directorial debut requires no “trick” to be properly appreciated, provided you like your horror slow-roasted to atmospheric perfection. All the same, it’s diabolically fun to pretend that The Blackcoat’s Daughter is actually a genre-jumping spinoff of one of the most acclaimed TV shows of the decade. Remember how Sally Draper spent the last couple seasons of Mad Men away at boarding school? Well, Blackcoat drops Kiernan Shipka, the young actress who played Sally, into a nearly identical academic setting. When no one comes to pick her up for holiday break (classic Don move), Shipka’s character falls under the influence of an unholy force. Or does she? It wouldn’t take too big of a mental leap to deduce that poor Sally, after years of repressed traumatic events (catching her father cheating, confronting a burglar), just totally snapped. Of course, one might hope for a brighter future for the eldest Draper kid than the strangely, powerfully sad denouement Perkins cooked for his terrific inaugural creepshow. [A.A. Dowd]

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Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance’s relationship drama Blue Valentine conducts a harsh, unblinking autopsy on the doomed marriage of Ryan Gosling, a heavy-drinking slacker much too comfortable with his complete lack of ambition, and Michelle Williams, a practical wife who comes to the bitter realization that she needs to grow old with a man, not a boy, no matter how impishly charming the boy might be. It’s an emotionally claustrophobic drama, played with frayed nerves and raw emotions, and it serves as an unrelenting glimpse into relationship hell. It could easily have devolved into sweaty, pretentious melodrama or ersatz John Cassavetes if Cianfrance and his actors didn’t maintain perfect control over the material. [Nathan Rabin]

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The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

Everyone knows the old saw about anthology movies being less than the sum of their parts; it’s a tale as old as the singing cowboy or the stagecoach ghost story. Joel and Ethan Coen should be especially familiar, having contributed to Paris, Je T’Aime and faced assumptions that The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs was really supposed to be a TV series. But it’s hard to imagine breaking their six Western mini-movies into a Netflix “season,” because they complement each other so gracefully. Set in a beguiling netherworld between unforgiving real-life grimness and heightened tall-tale pulpiness, the stories range from delightfully mordant musical slapstick starring Tim Blake Nelson to a heartbreaking gut-punch starring Zoe Kazan, to name just two standouts. Death haunts the whole thing, which builds toward the simultaneously hilarious and hushed “The Mortal Remains,” as satisfying and language-besotted a closer as the Coens have ever concocted. Their sometimes-fatalist outlook has seen them tagged as nihilists, a group they savaged as well as anyone in The Big Lebowski. But nihilists don’t put this much thought into endings. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Blue Ruin

To call Blue Ruin a “revenge thriller” would be accurate but somehow insufficient, as doing so makes it sound ordinary and crass. Some have already compared the film to the work of the Coen brothers, by which they must mean No Country For Old Men; the bloodshed comes nearly as fast and hard as it did there, and there’s a comparable focus on the details of life on the run—on staking out a location, or acquiring a weapon, or getting away from somewhere fast. But in its unusual cross section of moods, Blue Ruin rarely resembles anything but itself. Much of the singularity can be attributed to the film’s atypical hero, surely one of the year’s great characters. Actor Macon Blair makes Dwight driven but hapless, locating a lot of sly comedy in his imperfect foray into crime: He disables a vehicle, only to realize he needs it as a makeshift getaway car; later, he makes an amateur attempt to treat his own leg wound. (Don’t try his method at home.) But Dwight is also a lost soul, his face sunken with ancient grief, and Blair invests him with the reckless forward momentum of someone running on last-ditch desperation. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open

Netflix’s strategy of buying up films and then ignoring them is always frustrating, but it can be fatal for a film like The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open. Released on the streaming platform in late November after a handful of festival dates, the first film from Ava DuVernay’s distribution company ARRAY is so unassuming, you might not even notice that it’s composed of a handful of long takes stitched together to create the illusion of a single shot. But this is also a movie with a lot to say about indigenous identity in the 21st century, told through the story of two native women—one middle class and white-passing, the other working class and dark-skinned—who meet one afternoon on a Vancouver street corner. Even critics seemed unaware of the film’s release; had more of them seen it, I bet it would have popped up on a number of best-of lists this season. [Katie Rife]

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Burning

A bone-dry comedy of class warfare. A perplexing missing-person mystery worthy of Hitchcock or Antonioni. An existential meditation on the little hungers and great hungers that drive us. There’s no single right way to classify Burning, so why not just call it the best movie of the year and leave it at that? Returning after an eight-year hiatus from filmmaking, South Korean master of the slow burn Lee Chang-dong (Poetry) did more than perfectly capture the subjective ambivalence of Haruki Murakami’s original short story, “Barn Burning.” In stretching it out to fill two-and-half perfectly paced hours, he also teased from his source material a wealth of new meanings and ambiguities, percolating through the love triangle of sorts that envelops an introverted writer (Ah-in Yoo), his hometown classmate-turned-crush (Jong-seo Jun), and her slick, wealthy new beau (Steven Yeun, rivetingly loathsome in a tricky role). You didn’t have to look hard to see a disturbing relevance in the film’s simmering stew of resentments, the working-class and explicitly male rage that boils over into a shocking climax. (Not for nothing does Donald Trump make a televised cameo.) But Burning’s power is more timeless that it is timely, located as it is in big questions without clear answers: real riddles of desire, longing, and motivation, none any easier to solve than the disappearance at the center of this captivating enigma. [A.A. Dowd]

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Cam

For years now, I’ve found it strange that there were only two or three good movies about the internet, the most important thing in the world. My wish for a film truthfully capturing all the connection, gratification, desperation, and despair of living online came true with this sophisticated thriller, in which a cam girl (Madeline Brewer, making a convincing argument for herself as a bona fide star) discovers that an automated doppelgänger has taken over her channel. There’s a lot to love here, from the low-key sex-positivity to the cringe comedy to the delectable supporting turn from former love witch Samantha Robinson. But I like Cam best as our most ruthlessly honest film about the nightmares of full-time freelancing. [Charles Bramesco]

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Chloe

Atom Egoyan’s erotic thriller (based on Anne Fontaine’s French film Nathalie…) is a decided change of pace for the usually chilly Canadian writer-director. Chloe is gloriously, deliriously overheated—like Hitchcock by way of De Palma. Julianne Moore plays a fussy gynecologist who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her, so she hires a prostitute played by Amanda Seyfried to tempt him. From there, a series of misunderstandings leads to crazy plot twists interspersed with steamy sex scenes. Egoyan and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson emphasize the shock and camp, and the result is a treat for fans of arty trash. [Noel Murray]

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The Death Of Stalin

Though still grimly hilarious, Armando Iannucci’s historical farce The Death Of Stalin adopts a more serious tone than his TV series Veep and The Thick Of It. For this satirical recreation of bloody power grabs in the early 1950s Soviet Union, Iannucci sacrifices some punchlines in order to underscore the ferocity of Nikita Khrushchev (sharply played by Steve Buscemi), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), and others. As with his television work, Iannucci is depicting high-stakes politics as the clumsy work of petty boobs, more interested in frat-boy pranks and cruel machinations than in good governance. [Noel Murray]

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Divines

Divines, written and directed by French-Moroccan filmmaker Houda Benyamina, rivals Girlhood as a portrait of combustible banlieue femininity, emanating raw energy and scrappy good humor even as it builds to an unexpectedly tragic and horrifying finale. The film also showcases a potentially star-making performance by Oulaya Amamra, who happens to be the director’s younger sister. Chosen despite a cattle call in which Benyamina looked at over 3,000 other young women, Amamra is so arrestingly alive onscreen that thoughts of nepotism seem ludicrous. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Dolemite Is My Name

For a movie where someone says “motherfucker” every few seconds, Dolemite Is My Name is surprisingly wholesome. The film is a biopic about stand-up comedian and blaxploitation leading man Rudy Ray Moore, an Arkansas native who, after several failed attempts at becoming famous, finally succeeded by combining the rhythms of traditional African American storytelling with the sexually liberated energy of the early ’70s on raunchy X-rated “party records” with titles like Eat Out More Often. And as such, any film about Moore’s life that didn’t include wall-to-wall dirty jokes would be a disservice to his foul-mouthed legacy. At the same time, however, Dolemite Is My Name posits Moore’s story as a feel-good inspirational tale about outsiders succeeding despite all odds. And while Moore’s sexuality was more complex than this movie lets on, characterizing him as an underdog who forces Hollywood to notice him through sheer talent and force of will is right on. [Katie Rife]

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Drive

“I’m a driver,” says Ryan Gosling in Drive, and he doesn’t need to say another word. With that simple utterance, Nicolas Winding Refn’s minimalist thriller defines its aesthetic—lean, efficient, and sharpened to the finest point. At a time when action films routinely pass off freneticness as excitement, Drive is a reminder of how powerful the genre can be when every shot and every line of dialogue has a purpose, deployed for maximum impact. Owing a debt to the Zen-like simplicity and nocturnal L.A. ambience of Walter Hill’s The Driver—which, in turn, took a page from Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï—the film is little more than an exercise in style, but it’s dazzling and mythic, a testament to the fundamental appeal of fast cars, dangerous men, and tension that squeezes like a hand to the throat. [Scott Tobias]

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Den Of Thieves

It’s very early morning and still dark as an armored car moves west through the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. The armed crew hits during the guards’ coffee stop at a donut shop. They are shit-hot and move tactically, so it’s obvious that these guys are professional, probably ex-military. But shots are fired, leaving behind four dead bodies as the crew speeds off in the armored car toward the airport. “Big Nick” O’Brien (Gerard Butler, looking like he just ate Russell Crowe), the gruff and loud boss of a major crimes squad in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, stuffs a dead guard’s donut into his mouth as he looks over the scene hours later. Why go through all this trouble to steal an empty armored truck? And could a movie that stars Gerard Butler, the undisputed king of junk, be actually kind of good? [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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The End Of The Tour

Voracious readers of the late David Foster Wallace, an author of massively ambitious fiction and casually revealing nonfiction, could be forgiven for regarding a movie about his life with some skepticism. How, after all, could one normal-sized film hope to capture the spirit and legacy of a writer who many came to regard as a voice of his generation? Wouldn’t any attempt to get into his famously bandana-wrapped head feel insufficient, at least compared to the sheer volume of work Wallace himself produced on the subject? But that’s the gentle genius of The End Of The Tour, James Ponsoldt’s witty and poignant new gabfest. Not only does the film productively narrow its time frame, dramatizing just five days in the life of the revered wordsmith, it also unfolds from an outside perspective—that of the reporter who accompanied Wallace on the final leg of the Infinite Jest book tour. The result is less portrait of an artist than snapshot of a brief, meaningful encounter, shared between two men enjoying different stages of professional success. That one of these men happens to be a modern literary hero is almost, if not quite, incidental. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Endless

Compared to their last film, the genre-bending Spring (2015), Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless is positively straightforward—but only in the sense that you can comfortably call it a sci-fi drama. The subject matter, a heady brew of quantum physics, time travel, doomsday cults, and callbacks to the filmmakers’ earlier movies, is both convoluted and ingeniously applied, allowing The Endless to intrigue rather than confound. Keeping the whole thing grounded are Benson and Moorhead, starring as brothers who return to the rural California UFO commune where they grew up. There, they discover that while flying saucers may not be real, there’s definitely something uncanny going on in the scrub-covered hills around them. [Katie Rife]

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Ex Machina

Make no mistake, this is a film of ideas—sadder, quieter, more delicate than the Hollywood sci-fi standard—where every sliding wall of opaque glass suggests something about technology and the way people would use it. The AI, Ava (Alicia Vikander) is specifically gendered, but so is everything else in the film, from the friendship and tension that develops between the two men to Caleb’s (Domhnall Gleeson) unconcealed attraction to this demure robot, who lives in a little glass box with a closet full of floral print sundresses. In both his screenplays and his prose, director Alex Garland often focuses on makeshift societies; here, he creates a tiny one, limited to a few rooms and hallways, but with a future of infinite technological possibilities. As is often the case, it can’t fully let go of the world it’s supposed to replace. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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The Eyes Of My Mother

Horror fans and art-film aficionados alike have struggled some with what to make of writer-director Nicolas Pesce’s debut film, which is disgusting enough for gore-hounds and pretty-looking enough for aesthetes, but which doesn’t push either the genre or prestige buttons especially hard. That, though, is exactly what makes this story of a lonely, psychopathic farm-dweller such a kick. At only 76 minutes, Pesce’s stark black-and-white nightmare lingers just long enough to leave a strong impression, without forcing itself into any confining boxes. The Eyes Of My Mother is ultimately a darkly alluring vision of one deranged human’s struggle to engage with others, and striking for how it keeps taking the most appalling narrative turns possible. Does it have a deeper point to make? Maybe not. But that doesn’t matter as much as how melancholy and uncomfortable an experience the movie is. [Noel Murray]

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Frances Ha

There’s a moment midway through Frances Ha when the title character, unforgettably embodied by Greta Gerwig, runs into a former roommate and his date, whom Frances has never met. Speaking directly to the date, Frances launches into an explanatory litany, making specific references to people and places, until the other woman can do nothing except say, as a friendly reminder, “I don’t know you.” Such casual solipsism gives this freewheeling New York comedy an acerbic aftertaste (Gerwig says she was inspired by David Thewlis’ performance in Mike Leigh’s Naked, though Frances shares none of his venom or brutality), even as it manages to engineer a relatively happy ending for its “undateable” heroine. Working with a screenplay he and Gerwig crafted together, director Noah Baumbach tells Frances’ story in short, jagged bursts of loopy intensity, following her as she drifts from apartment to apartment after her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), suddenly moves out of their shared idyll. It’s an impressionistic mood piece, shot in black and white and heavily influenced by the rhythms of the French New Wave, but it also showcases a winning combination of Baumbach’s cutting sarcasm and Gerwig’s dorky optimism. And it ends with one of the year’s very best punchlines, one that belatedly explains the film’s title with a lovely symbolic flourish. [Mike D’Angelo]

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A Ghost Story

Every once in a while, a particularly effects-heavy blockbuster gets singled out as being particularly post-actor, usually due to a reliance on CG imagery. David Lowery’s A Ghost Story earns that distinction better than most, but it uses only a common bedsheet to obscure its central performer. Casey Affleck plays a musician who dies, then returns to haunt his lover (Rooney Mara) and their house as a stereotypically garbed specter, visible only to the audience. As the ghost cannot or will not leave his former home, the world moves on without him. The film initially resembles a close-up study of relationship strife and grief, but as it drifts forward in time, it turns into something both sweeping and unknowably intimate. Lowery continues to separate his actors with blocking, a taller 1.33 frame, a Will Oldham monologue, and, as ever, that bedsheet, yet the effects aren’t entirely isolating. Quite to the contrary: This is one of the year’s most transporting experiences. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Good Time

Abel Ferrara’s downtown Manhattan is long gone, replaced with sterile, half-filled high rises and wildly overpriced bistros. But there’s still plenty of grit left on the streets of New York City. You just have to travel to the outer boroughs, as directors Josh and Benny Safdie did for their frenetic crime drama Good Time. The film pulses with the energy of the city as manic scumbag Connie (Robert Pattinson, practically unrecognizable in a dirty hoodie and ratty goatee) fumbles his way through a hastily conceived rescue mission after his disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) gets arrested at the end of a foot chase following a botched bank robbery. The breakneck pace and scuzzy desperation of Connie’s quest gives the film—which takes place entirely over the course of one night—a certain fun-house quality, enhanced by the delirious close-up cinematography, aggressively stylized lighting, and synthesizer score. The fact that part of it literally takes place in an amusement park doesn’t hurt, either. [Katie Rife]

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Goon

Easily the raunchiest (and funniest) hockey comedy since Slap Shot, the gleefully vulgar Goon stars Seann William Scott as a sweet, dumb guy with a mean right hook that gets him drafted to be the enforcer for a minor-league Halifax team. Scripted by Judd Apatow protégés Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, Goon is mostly about creative profanity and violence, but it’s also full of funny, true details about hockey and Canada, and features a career-best performance from Scott, who plays the hero as hilariously dim without ever losing his humanity. [Noel Murray]

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Green Room

There’s a moment in Green Room that never fails to send a collective gasp through any living room or auditorium. It’s the one involving a box cutter, an exposed belly, and the point of no return for its desperate heroes, a hardcore band holed up backstage at a backwoods concert venue, as violent skinheads circle like sharks on the other side of the door. Putting its good guys on the inside and its bad guys on the outside, like some punk-rock remake of Assault On Precinct 13, Jeremy Saulnier’s hellishly intense indie thriller shows no mercy to its characters or its audience. That this artful mayhem looks both chillingly relevant and borderline cathartic has everything to do with Green Room’s scary timeliness—its emergence, in our new age of politically emboldened hatemongers, as an accidental zeitgeist movie. Which is to say, even if you don’t have the stomach for the carnage, it’s darkly satisfying—here, now, and always—to see Nazis get the disemboweling they deserve. [A.A. Dowd]

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Happy As Lazzaro

The first half of Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy As Lazzaro unfolds in a sharecropping tobacco farm known as Inviolata, its name (literally, “inviolate”) redolent of a place pure and untouched, sheltered from the ravages of time. When the film opens, an electric light bulb—that enduring marker of human progress—is being shuttled through a house in which there are evidently too few. Though it’s soon clear that we are in a secluded pocket of rural Italy, a viewer would be forgiven for mistaking precisely when this tale takes place. And that’s no accident, since the Italian director’s beatific third feature (which took the Best Screenplay award at Cannes, alongside Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces) fully evokes a sense of temporal dislocation—a feeling of being unstuck from the flow of history—and in doing so, clarifies our very relationship to modernity. [Lawrence Garcia]

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The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s stubbornly theatrical, three-hour-long snowed-in Western is a difficult movie by a director who’s not known for making them. Keeping action to a minimum up until the intermission, it then explodes into the nastiest, most gruesome and nihilistic violence of Tarantino’s career, before ending on a disquieting note of hope. This is the writer-director’s take on the promise of American ideals, even more so than Django Unchained, for which it was originally intended as a sequel. (Hence the protagonist, an anti-heroic black bounty hunter who, in the movie’s post-Civil War setting, is about the age Django would be.) Who could have guessed, in the days of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, that Tarantino would become an overtly political filmmaker? [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Hell Or High Water

A vision of the modern West that ranks up there with No Country For Old Men, the offbeat, entertaining, and elemental Hell Or High Water made for an unlikely breakthrough for the gifted Scottish director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Starred Up). Two bank-robbing brothers are pursued by a couple of lawmen across a landscape dotted with wildfires and foreclosures. Hearkening back to the creative wild days of 1970s American cinema, Mackenzie’s direction strikes a perfect balance between the relaxed atmosphere and eccentricity of the West Texas setting and the tension and desperation of the characters; his long takes put viewers in the moment and never feel ostentatious. The screenplay (by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan) has earned well-deserved praise for its dialogue, but is just as impressive for the richly novelistic structure it gives to a fairly straightforward tale of crime and pursuit. Full of evocative detours, memorable bit characters, and potent reminders of the West’s legacy of theft and exploitation, the film builds to an epilogue that more than earned its place on our list of the year’s best scenes. And we haven’t even mentioned the cast. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Her

In a near future not so different from our plugged-in present, a sad-sack writer falls for his operating system, cooing sweet nothings into the speaker of his smart phone. What might have been an easy joke, or maybe a cynical lecture about gadget addiction, becomes something more intimate, perhaps even personal—a melancholy comic fable about coming together, growing apart, and coping with loneliness in an era when you’re never really alone. Spike Jonze, the soulful eccentric who made Being John Malkovich and Where The Wild Things Are, treats the romance between man and machine with a disarming sincerity. Part of that is the immaculate casting: Joaquin Phoenix, softening his volatile energy, seems to secrete heartache from his pores. And he’s perfectly matched by Scarlett Johansson, creating a fully fleshed character—the most neurotically alive A.I. since A.I.—with nothing but her disembodied voice. Set in a shimmering, utopian facsimile of Los Angeles, Her presents a cosmetically, technologically plausible tomorrow. But, as with the greatest science fiction, its real beauty lies in what it says about today—about trying to live, and find happiness, in the here and now. [A.A. Dowd]

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 High Flying Bird

Steven Soderbergh’s filmography is dotted with portraits of people who are very good at what they do professionally, from Brad Pitt’s constantly eating con artist in the Ocean’s franchise to Gina Carano’s thigh-smothering operative in Haywire. In High Flying Bird, Soderbergh applies that same interest to the high-powered world of the NBA, where everyone is grasping for power and paper. During a six-month lockout, agent Ray Burke (André Holland) plans to revolutionize how basketball is played. His vision is of organized labor, worker solidarity, and profound upheaval, and Moonlight playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney deftly moves Ray from penthouse offices to community courts as he criticizes each component of this multibillion-dollar system. “They invented a game on top of a game,” says Bill Duke’s Coach Spencer of the capitalist structure of professional sports. How High Flying Bird dismantles that makes it one of Soderbergh’s most urgent films in years. [Roxana Hadadi]

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Homecoming

“When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella.” Though she chuckles warmly at her joke, there is a quiet power couched in Beyoncé’s mission for her historic 2018 festival set, stated roughly 32 minutes into the Netflix documentary Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé. The idea of carving out a space at the largest music event of the year—one that is not-so-secretly consumed by a predominately white audience—to unabashedly celebrate black culture might ring as too ambitious of an undertaking for most to seriously entertain. But as we witness throughout this vibrant documentary, the journey isn’t exactly for the faint of heart and can be an upward climb for even the most time-tested of legends among us. [Shannon Miller]

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Hugo

By now, the story of Martin Scorsese has become legend: As an asthmatic kid, he watched from his bedroom window in Little Italy as other children played on the street, and he retreated into the fantastical worlds conjured up by filmmakers like Alexander Korda. Based on Brian Selznick’s popular illustrated book The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese’s enchanting Hugo burnishes that legend, filtering a whimsical half-fiction about silent pioneer Georges Méliès through a childhood of loneliness salved by the movies. In other words, it’s both a movie about young Scorsese and a movie that young Scorsese would have loved, while also bearing the distinct signature of the filmmaking world’s most passionate historian and preservationist. [Scott Tobias]

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I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House

The horror renaissance continued unabated in 2016, as films like The Witch, The Invitation, The Eyes Of My Mother, Under The Shadow, Don’t Breathe, brought increased respectability to this frequently disrespected genre. But one of the year’s most singular horror movies, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, still slipped through the cracks. Maybe it was the unwieldy title. Maybe it was the fact that the movie, an immersive sensory experience, went straight to Netflix. I’d wager the real reason Oz Perkins’ one-of-a-kind ghost story was slept on or even disliked (average grade from the A.V. Club comment community: C+) is that it’s entirely out of step with contemporary horror conventions and trends. It’s an exercise in pure unsettling atmosphere—one so off-kilter that it seems downright haunted itself. A small cult following, as opposed to widespread popularity, is probably apropos for something this rewardingly unusual. [A.A. Dowd]

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I Lost My Body

The best animated film of 2019 is partly about a luckless, lonely young man falling in love, and partly about a severed hand that’s slowly crawling across a city filled with small-scaled dangers. The two pieces complement each other, frequently pushing I Lost My Body toward the poetic and metaphorical. But the movie is also just beautiful and exciting on a moment-to-moment basis—as both a low-key romance and as a gory thriller. [Noel Murray]

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Inception

There are only a handful of filmmakers capable of infusing spectacle with ideas, and among those, director Christopher Nolan feels uniquely tapped into the anxieties of the day. Two separate but related millennial fears drive Nolan’s ambitious, mostly dazzling new opus Inception: We have no control over our lives, and reality as we used to understand it no longer exists—or at least has been fundamentally destabilized. Squaring the beautifully engineered puzzles of Memento and The Prestige with the chaos and anarchy brought by the Joker in The Dark Knight, Inception takes place largely in a dreamscape where thieves of the mind fend off attacks from rebellious agents that clutter the subconscious. It’s a metaphysical heist picture, staged in worlds on top of worlds like nothing since Synecdoche, New York, and executed with a minimum of hand-holding. [Scott Tobias]

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Insidious

An easy way to determine the year’s most underrated movies is to ask, “What was the scariest horror movie?” Perhaps their reputation as the team responsible for Saw pitted film critics against them, but director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell didn’t get enough respect for Insidious, a clever play on the haunted-house movie that’s steeped with cheeky references to Poltergeist and Ghostbusters, but stakes out its own scrap of horror territory. Though it’s concept better demonstrated than explained, the use of astral projection in Insidious gives a nice sliver of originality to a film that’s otherwise devoted to the back-to-basics creaks and displacements that have long defined the genre. It pays homage to horror-movie classicism while amplifying its effects. [Scott Tobias]

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The Irishman

One day, Martin Scorsese will die. That’s a difficult thing to accept—difficult because it will be a staggering loss for film culture, but also pretty hard to even believe. Scorsese, at a very spry 77, was everywhere in 2019: igniting a debate about what is or isn’t cinema; inspiring autumn hits so indebted to his style that he should have received royalties; executive-producing two of the other movies on this very list and piecing together a lost Bob Dylan concert. And yet to watch The Irishman, his gangster opus to end all gangster opuses, is to be constantly reminded of the promise of mortality—his, ours, everyone’s. Make no mistake, this is a remarkably brisk three and a half hours, dramatizing half a century of organized crime through dark-comic confrontations (and an outsized Al Pacino performance) so deliriously funny, they’ve already generated a whole library of memes. But right from his opening shot, a morbid parody of the Copacabana sequence in Goodfellas, Scorsese foregrounds the inevitable. And his film becomes, in its magnificently bleak final stretch, a meditation on the true consequences of the mob life, the ignoble end awaiting men like Henry Hill, Sam Rothstein, and the film’s own protagonist, mafia hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, weaponizing the sleepiness of his latter-day work into a devastating portrait of moral absence). One of the many ironies of the movie is that it uses distinctly modern means—from de-aging technology to streaming-platform resources—to eulogize a time-honored genre and the careers of the artists who shaped it. But however firmly Scorsese has planted himself on the vanguard, however relevant and vital and, yes, alive he remains as an artist, his latest triumph is a stark acknowledgment of what’s coming. If we’re lucky, The Irishman says, we get to pick out our own coffin. Watching the movie, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Scorsese has picked his. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Unfolding with the inevitability of a bad dream, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is Lanthimos’ darkly intense, almost biblical spin on one of those thrillers about a yuppie family terrorized by a vengeful stalker. It’s like Cape Fear by way of The Shining, just in the same absurdist register as all of the Greek director’s trips to the Twilight Zone. To say where the plot goes would be unfair, but it involves a mysterious malady, an impossible choice, and a terrible reckoning. Those up on their Greek tragedy may recognize the outline of Iphigenia’s tussle with Artemis—a dispute that began, hint hint, with a slain deer. But you needn’t know for mythology to recognize a false deity, courting comeuppance by deciding who lives and who dies. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Lobster

In a bizarre near-future dystopia, recently divorced David (Colin Farrell, cast very effectively against type) is sent to a seaside compound full of single adults to find a new partner in 45 days or else be transformed into the animal of his choice. Perfecting his style of absurdist deadpan comedy, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) introduces new rules, activities, and gruesome punishments at every turn: Matches are made based on arbitrary similarities; trial couples are assigned children; and time extensions can be earned by hunting down renegade singles who live in the woods and only listen to electronic music. More than just a witty parody of meaningless couplehood, The Lobster becomes more probing as it gets further and further into its strange and cruel world, building to a finale that asks whether two people can love one other on any terms except those forced on them by society. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Marriage Story

In Noah Baumbach’s most complete picture to date, the stalwart indie filmmaker combines the vivid slice-of-life vignettes of Frances Ha with the unflinching self-examination of The Squid And The Whale. He also tells a rich and provocative story, about two basically decent people who suffer mightily once they turn their irreconcilable differences over to the rough justice of family court. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson—joined by an all-star cast of supporting players—are at their best, bringing such nuance to their characters that the audience can see both why this couple fell in love and why they have to split. But Marriage Story is really Baumbach’s show, as he takes what he’s learned from Brian De Palma and The New Yorker short stories, breaking the arc of a messy divorce down to a series of riveting set pieces. [Noel Murray]

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The Master

Shot on a 65mm canvas, The Master takes a format usually reserved for the grandest spectacles and deploys it to startlingly intimate ends; the true landscape of the film isn’t a battleground or the outer reaches of the galaxy, but the contours of Joaquin Phoenix’s face. Though no less ambitious than previous Paul Thomas Anderson period pieces like Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood, The Master forgoes their sprawl in favor of intense chamber drama, focusing on the titanic struggle between two men rather than the clash of armies. It’s a feisty, contentious, deliberately misshapen film, designed to challenge and frustrate audiences looking for a clean resolution. Just because it’s over doesn’t mean it’s settled. [Scott Tobias]

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Menashe

Menashe Lustig brings warmth and a lumpen charisma to Menashe’s lead role, giving life to a film based in part on his own experiences as a Hasidic Jew. It would’ve been easy for documentarian Joshua Weinstein to make Menashe into a melodrama about heroes and villains: the misunderstood free spirit versus the stodgy pillars of the community. Instead, the model here is more the classics of docu-realism, like Little Fugitive, or anything by the Dardenne brothers. The focus is largely on the fascinating and strikingly filmed visual contrasts of an old-fashioned people against a modern city. [Noel Murray]

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)

No one second-guesses like Noah Baumbach; his characters would wonder aloud what they could have done to make the proper best-of list with a wryness belying their insecurities. Meyerowitz, loosely structured as a series of short stories, bears some superficial resemblance to the films of Baumbach’s pal Wes Anderson, particularly The Royal Tenenbaums, but it inverts the family dynamics of a ne’er-do-well father parenting stunted child geniuses. Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is like a Tenenbaum kid in dotage, half-ignoring his successful but non-glamorous children, and Baumbach captures both the affection and the unpleasant reality of dealing with a middling-at-best parent whose frail humanity remains in full view. This movie isn’t as snappy as his collaborations with Greta Gerwig, but it’s very funny and beautifully acted, particularly by a career-best Adam Sandler as a stay-at-home dad who dotes on his smart teenage daughter. No second-guessing is needed for me to call this yet another Baumbach career highlight. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Mississippi Grind

The dynamic at a casino poker table is unique. In every other table game, all players are battling the house (and its stacked odds). Poker, by contrast, requires them to play each other, with the casino merely taking a fee—usually a small cut of each pot—for providing space on the floor and a dealer. So it’s perfectly understandable that Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), one of the two main characters in Mississippi Grind, is a bit wary when a stranger named Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) sits down at his table and starts chatting up a storm. Curtis is friendly, sure, and he seems to be there primarily to socialize, to have a good time. In this context, however, having a really good time often involves taking money from his new buddies. Trust is an unstable commodity in the gambling world, even for two people who share exactly the same goals. As it turns out, all Gerry and Curtis have in common is recklessness, but it’s possible that that’s enough. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Moonlight

In the broadest sense, Moonlight could be called a movie “about being black” or “about being gay” or even “about being raised in the drug-ravaged Liberty City neighborhood of Miami.” But writer-director Barry Jenkins treats identity as more of a prism than a lens in his adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. In three haunting vignettes, set years apart, Jenkins examines the complicated urges and influences within a young man, Chiron, as a friendly dope-pusher (beautifully played by Mahershala Ali) offers the kid some guidance, and an affectionate classmate helps awaken his sexuality. From moment to moment, Moonlight is small in scale. But its various echoes and callbacks coalesce into an at-times sweet, at-times heartbreaking portrait of someone who hesitates to articulate his desires. [Noel Murray]

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Mud

“His name is mud” isn’t a likely expression for a film to make literal, but writer-director Jeff Nichols—whose previous film, Take Shelter, repeatedly featured the protagonist and his family taking shelter—doesn’t shy away from bluntness or directness. Yes, Matthew McConaughey is Mud, a laconic ne’er-do-well hiding from the authorities on a small island off the Southern coast after killing a man in anger. The movie, however, isn’t so much about him as it is about the pair of teenage boys, Tye Sheridan (from The Tree Of Life) and Jacob Lofland, who happen upon him there and get drawn into his efforts to reconnect with his childhood girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) back on the mainland. Sheridan, in particular, deeply identifies with McConaughey’s ostensibly pure love—a sense of kinship that blinds the boy to the real danger his friendly outlaw chum represents. And as if that isn’t enough potential mayhem, Joe Don Baker, playing the dead man’s understandably pissed-off father, is gearing up for some serious vigilante justice. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Mudbound

Drawn from the pages of Hillary Jordan’s 2008 international bestseller, Mudbound has the heft—the narrative and thematic meatiness, the thicket of characters and subplots and years-spanning incident—of a book you can’t put down. But if the film is novelistic in its sprawl, maybe sometimes to a fault, it’s written in poetry as well as prose. For Dee Rees, writer and director of the tender (if dramatically overfamiliar) Sundance sensation Pariah, this handsome literary adaptation is a big leap forward in scope and craft—a sophomore swing for the fences. But Rees’ singular sensibilities haven’t dimmed with the expansion of her ambitions. They still glow brightly, illuminating Jordan’s vision of hardship, simmering conflict, and racial inequity in 1940s Mississippi. [A.A. Dowd]

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My Happy Family

Georgian writer-director Nana Ekvtimishvili (In Bloom) brings a rare subtlety and sensitivity to this ironically titled domestic drama. Ia Shughliashvili stars as a middle-aged woman named Manana, who one day decides to move out of the crowded apartment she shares with her grown children, her inattentive husband, and assorted in-laws. My Happy Family’s minimal plot mostly follows the family’s efforts to shame her into returning—or at least to understand why she left. What makes the movie so resonant is that Manana’s choice feels so obvious. Leaving aside her clan’s various personality defects and moral failings, the heroine’s clearly much more content in her own place, with no responsibilities, listening to her own music, staring off her own balcony, eating sweets. Ekvtimishvili turns simple solitude into a fantasy more powerful than any science-fiction story. [Noel Murray]

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Photo: Eriekn Juragan (Netflix)

The Night Comes For Us

Fusing the themes of a classic Hong Kong action movie with the mayhem of a modern Indonesian martial-arts flick and enough gore to satisfy fans of extreme, midnight-circuit horror, Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us takes “heroic bloodshed” to a new level of indescribable, gut-splattered ickiness. As is often the case, the symbol of innocence takes the form of a little girl: Joe Taslim is the dangerous killer who’ll stop at nothing to protect her; his The Raid co-star Iko Uwais is the former gangland partner sent to take him down. But the real central conflict in this panorama of death and dismemberment is between the archetypal, coded characters and the heaps of bloodied, chopped-up bodies they leave in their wake. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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The Other Side Of The Wind

To quote Twin Peaks: “What year is this?” After more than four decades languishing in post-production limbo, Orson Welles’ final project arrives like a missive from a bygone era. No less than a Herculean act of reconstructive surgery, The Other Side Of The Wind tells an ostensibly familiar tale of protégé (Peter Bogdanovich’s Brooks Otterlake) surpassing mentor (John Huston’s Jake Hannaford), here in the context of ’70s-era Hollywood. But it’s also a delirious, wildly entertaining implosion of unstable meta-text, filled with nonstop callbacks, withering bon mots, and thinly veiled send-ups of then-contemporary personalities, not to mention some of the most electric (and unabashedly libidinous) filmmaking of Welles’ legendary career. Shifting freely between black-and-white footage and lurid color photography, it’s a veritably prismatic object, a kind of cracked crystal that’s all the more fascinating for its supposed flaws. Putting it on a year-end list feels inadequate. [Lawrence Garcia]

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Paddleton

Opening with a diagnosis of cancer that’s soon revealed to be terminal, Paddleton more or less amounts to an hour and a half of slow-motion assisted suicide. Sound like fun? Remarkably, this low-budget two-hander—arriving on Netflix just a few weeks after its Sundance premiere—manages to generate a fair number of laughs, even as it does full justice to the scenario’s underlying gravity. Written by Alex Lehmann (who also directed) and Mark Duplass (who also plays one of the two lead roles), Paddleton takes its emotional cue from Terms Of Endearment, expanding that film’s final stretch into an entire feature and replacing mother-daughter bonds with the deep but usually unspoken love shared by two male buddies. A bit of cheating is necessary to achieve the stripped-down dynamic that Lehmann and Duplass apparently wanted, but the payoff is an atypically intimate portrait of testosterone-fueled friendship. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Private Life

“This is my private life,” cries Danny Elfman in the Oingo Boingo song of the same name. “Come and get me out of here.” That’s more or less how Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) feel in Tamara Jenkins’ long-awaited third feature, which explores in minute, often excruciating detail this infertile couple’s Herculean efforts to either conceive or adopt a child. Jenkins apparently went through a lot of this herself (which partially explains why it’s been 11 years since The Savages), and she expertly threads the needle, finding ways to make her ordeal both scrupulously accurate and enormously entertaining. And the narrative that gradually emerges, in which Rachel and Richard become surrogate parents to their college-age niece (Kayli Carter), who volunteers to be an egg donor, beautifully conveys the idea that love and guidance don’t necessarily require a traditional family structure, and that sometimes we find what we’re looking for without even realizing it. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Remember

Atom Egoyan may never make another movie as great as Speaking Parts, Exotica, or The Sweet Hereafter, but at least he’s finally figured out how to craft satisfying trash. Remember’s log line is breathtakingly dopey: A Holocaust survivor (Christopher Plummer) suffering from dementia leaves his nursing home in an effort to track down and kill the Auschwitz commander who murdered his family seven decades earlier, even though he can barely recall his own name from moment to moment. Egoyan leans into the absurdity, treating the material more like an exploitation flick than the prestige drama that Plummer’s magisterial presence in the lead role would suggest. When the film was released in March, the alt-right hadn’t yet penetrated national consciousness; a key scene, featuring Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris as a proud neo-Nazi, probably has even more of a disturbing charge now than it did in those comparatively innocent days. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Roma

Alfonso Cuarón followed up his blockbuster science-fiction picture Gravity with something unexpected: an intimate, semi-autobiographical slice-of-life, set in early ’70s Mexico City. Even more surprising? Roma has just as much cinematic panache as the director’s previous fantasy films and sex comedies. Shot in dreamy black-and-white (with Cuarón himself serving as cinematographer), the film tracks the dissolution of a marriage, as well as the social changes in Mexico, all through the eyes of one middle-class family’s maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). In long, astonishingly well-choreographed takes, Cuarón creates the impression of a larger world rushing by outside the window of an increasingly dysfunctional home. But his camera keeps finding its way back to Cleo, as she manages the smaller domestic dramas—including some of her own—while quietly contemplating what gives her life meaning. [Noel Murray]

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Room

In a way, Room is an exceptionally well-produced Lifetime Original Movie. The story is female-centric, ripped from the headlines, and pits a fiercely loving mother and her vulnerable child against a predatory older man, all tropes of the type of TV movie that makes middle-aged moms cry into their chardonnay. What lifts it above movie-of-the-week status is Lenny Abrahamson’s sensitive direction, eliciting powerful performances from Brie Larson as a kidnapping victim who’s been held in a garden shed for seven years and Jacob Tremblay as her 5-year-old son, whose young mind can’t even conceive of a world outside “Room.” Telling the story from Tremblay’s perspective allows us to share his sense of wonder at discovering the world, turning what could be a horribly bleak story into a touching affirmation of human life. (And, for the record, there is nothing wrong with crying into your chardonnay.) [Katie Rife]

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Based on a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a manga-doodle that draws from the wellspring of popular culture, viewing youthful infatuation through a filter of indie rock, action comics, and a selection of classic arcade and Nintendo games. It’s a series steeped in irony, bestowing magnificent powers on an ineffectual Canadian who can barely muster the courage to talk to a girl, yet reluctantly does battle with her ex-boyfriends. There’s perhaps no better director to bring it to the screen than Edgar Wright, whose Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz are similarly informed by a culture-addled mind, and he brings a great elasticity to Scott Pilgrim, which stretches the medium to accommodate O’Malley’s comic-book universe. [Scott Tobias]

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Shadow

Politically, there are no shades of gray in Shadow, the latest from Hero and House Of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou. You’re either on the side of the patriotic freedom fighters who dream of liberating the walled city of Jingzhou from its occupiers, or you’re on the side of the spoiled, cowardly king of Pei (Zheng Kai), who glorifies his own selfish inaction in the form of an epic poem called “Ode To Peace” painted on screens placed around his throne room. Morally, things are a bit murkier. “Some things don’t have a right and wrong,” says the wife of the king’s right-hand man Commander Yu (Chao Deng, in a dual role), who has been secretly training a body double to take his place in court and on the battlefield ever since a festering combat wound forced him onto the sidelines of both. Visually, the film is nothing but shades of gray—so much so that the tones of the actors’ skin, and the blood pouring from their wounds, are the only other colors in Yimou’s palette. [Katie Rife]

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Shirkers

In Singapore of 1992, Sandi Tan and her two best friends decided to make an independent road film with their enigmatic filmmaking teacher Georges Cardona. Inspired by American independent auteurs of the era, their film, Shirkers, was poised to create a new national cinema. But at the end of filmmaking, Cardona absconded with the footage, never to be seen again. More than 25 years later, Tan recovered the footage (sans sound) and crafted a memoir-style documentary about the turbulent making of the film and its aftermath, effectively reclaiming it from the hands of her sociopathic mentor. While the story of Shirkers fascinates in its own right, Tan’s film also serves as a tribute to underground artists of yore. Tan and her friends, with their clandestine videotape syndicate and international zines, were countercultural pioneers when and where that still meant something. The Shirkers documentary feels as much like a handcrafted relic from another era as its original, lost-and-found inspiration, which makes its Netflix release all the more ironic. [Vikram Murthi]

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Sleeping With Other People

Sleeping With Other People, the second feature by writer-director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette), doesn’t so much subvert the conventions of its genre as redeem them, one terrific gag and remarkably frank sex scene at a time. Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, as old college hook-ups trying to preserve their rekindled friendship by staying out of the sack, invest familiar material with the full force of their comic charm. Even the positive reviews (ours included) compared the familiar premise to When Harry Met Sally…, but this is the rare romantic-comedy that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as that classic. It also deserves to find its audience, which is really just anyone that appreciates a date movie done right. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Social Network

When The Social Network was released in 2010, some questioned whether David Fincher’s film was being too hard on poor Mark Zuckerberg. Nine years later, as Facebook’s true (and truly alarming) potential to undermine democracy is finally under discussion, it seems the real question is whether the movie was harsh enough. It certainly turned out to be prescient: As well as warning against putting too much power in the hands of the petty and vindictive, The Social Network also diagnosed the bitterly misogynist, perpetually aggrieved cancer metastasizing throughout nerd-bro tech culture while most observers were still in the thrall of millennial techno-utopianism. In retrospect, the film also turned out to be a clearing house for young actors whose careers were at a turning point in 2010, including Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, and Rooney Mara, who would go from supporting character to star in Fincher’s next film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (Speaking of transitions, the film was also the first to feature a full score from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor.) One thing about The Social Network that hasn’t changed is the remarkable skill with which Fincher spins suspense out of abstract ones and zeroes, even if Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue doesn’t feel as fresh as it used to. [Katie Rife]

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The Spectacular Now

A Sundance coming-of-age movie is on the short list of Things We Never Need To See Again, but James Ponsoldt’s romance between a teenage alcoholic and his sweetly shy classmate was executed with uncommon sensitivity and featured two of the year’s best performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (as well as Short Term 12’s Brie Larson and Nebraska’s Bob Odenkirk). In a sense, The Spectacular Now is a teen riff on Ponsoldt’s previous film, Smashed, but it’s both more hopeful and more melancholy, charged with the possibilities peculiar to adolescence as well as the knowledge that few ever live up to their potential. [Sam Adams]

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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

If you had told me at the beginning of 2018 that a new superhero movie, let alone one featuring multiple Spider-Men, would be one of the best films of the year, I wouldn’t have believed it. All it took was a confident, funny script and comic-book-style animation to prove me wrong. If we’re going to keep churning these things out until the end of time, please keep them animated and make them as powerful as this one. [Vikram Murthi]

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Spring Breakers

Having shot Trash Humpers on VHS, Harmony Korine goes the opposite direction with this gorgeous, widescreen, neon-splattered approximation of a mainstream effort, achieving a near-perfect fusion of exploitation and poetry. It’s certainly his funniest and most aesthetically accomplished film, from a long-take chicken-shack robbery seen from the getaway car’s point of view to fragmented editing as graceful as any in To The Wonder. Following the odyssey of four Christian-college students (mostly played by Disney TV graduates) who travel to Florida to test their boundaries of getting fucked up, the movie turns increasingly satirical as it becomes clear their definition of being bad doesn’t stop short of violence. As Alien, the drug kingpin who ushers the women into a new world (and leads them in them in a jaw-dropping rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime”), James “I’ve got shorts, every fuckin’ color” Franco delivers his most entertaining performance. [Ben Kenigsberg]

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Coming from a veteran of British intelligence, le Carré’s fiction offers a counterpoint to the glamorous spy tales of Ian Fleming and others. In his books, espionage is a high-stakes game of bluffs and double-bluffs played by unsmiling men in sparsely appointed rooms. Here, Gary Oldman plays one of the most famous of those unsmiling men, frequent le Carré protagonist George Smiley, a British-intelligence lifer who, as the film opens, has been forced into semi-retirement following the high-profile failure, and subsequent death, of his mentor (John Hurt). When it becomes apparent that a mole remains in place in a position of power back at “The Circus,” Oldman doesn’t get to enjoy his time off for long. [Keith Phipps]

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Uncut Gems

Expanding the frenetic, panic-attack-inducing cinema of Good Time with novelistic ambition, the brothers Josh and Benny Safdie created a thrilling study of one man’s compulsive self-destruction with this tragicomedy about a hustling Manhattan jewelry dealer (Adam Sandler, in the best performance of his career) who owes a fortune in gambling debts. Already on the brink of implosion, Sandler’s Howard Ratner can’t stop making bets, convinced that his financial (and personal) salvation will come by way of a grapefruit-size lump of Ethiopian black opal. He’s reckless, neurotic, self-deluding, an addict, equal parts sucker and scammer—and perhaps more like us than we’d care to admit. Packed with memorable supporting characters (and impressive turns from newcomers like Julia Fox, Keith Williams Richards, and NBA star Kevin Garnett, who plays himself), Uncut Gems establishes the Safdies as masters of anxious existential grit; their style of overlapping dialogue and tension feels like the unlikely fusion of Robert Altman and Abel Ferrara. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Under The Shadow

There’s a moment in Under The Shadow where the heroine does something that people in haunted-house movies almost never do: She grabs her child and bolts straight out the front door. Recent additions to the genre have devised some clever justifications for keeping the characters planted, ranging from financial incentive to house arrest to the explanation that the haunters will simply follow the haunted to their new digs. But Under The Shadow cuts through all that noise, allowing its scared-witless protagonist to make a sensible break for it. Trouble is, this young mother lives in Tehran circa 1988, and in her instinctive dash for safety, she fails to cover her head with a hijab. Forget abandoning the haunted house. How many horror movies feature someone fleeing the unholy terror in their home, only to be arrested for not wearing proper attire in public? [A.A. Dowd]

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Under The Skin

Jonathan Glazer’s first feature since Birth (2004) ambitiously attempts the near-impossible, viewing human existence through the eyes of an alien that sees us only as meat. Technically, the film is an adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel, but Glazer and co-screenwriter Walter Campbell tossed most of the book aside, choosing to tell a more abstract story through images and sounds infused with sheer dread. As the alien seductress, seen driving around Scotland in a van picking up men whose sorry fate is almost too bizarre to describe, Scarlett Johansson empties herself of all affect whenever she’s alone on-screen, offering no clues regarding what she—or, rather, it—is thinking. That’s entirely implied by Glazer’s astonishing ability to render the world unfamiliar, assisted by a nerve-shredding score from Mica Levi (a.k.a. Micachu). Even when the narrative takes a predictable turn, with Johansson’s predator starting to identify with her borrowed form, Under The Skin portrays this existential crisis in the least sentimental way imaginable. It’s a nearly unparalleled feat of creative imagination—the kind for which the word “visionary” was coined. [Mike D’Angelo]

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War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel—adapted into a popular play in 2007—follows a boy and his horse from England to the battlefields of World War I. It’s a self-consciously old-fashioned piece of storytelling that draws on past masters—particularly John Ford—to reaffirm film’s ability to express humanistic values, even when the din of war threatens to drown those values out. It’s idealistic but unflinching, growing grimmer and bloodier as it goes along, while letting the horse at the center reflect humanity’s best and worst impulses. Spielberg directs with the control of a master craftsman, which should go without saying, but few directors this deep into their careers are still as committed to finding new ways to startle and move moviegoers. [Keith Phipps]

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The Week Of

Even (maybe especially) for a practiced Sanderologist, a new Happy Madison picture getting uploaded to Netflix does not inspire much genuine hope for a good time. Imagine my surprise, then, that Adam Sandler enlisted his old pal Robert Smigel to make his best broad comedy in at least a decade—a funny and sweetly grounded story about a couple of dads hitting assorted bumps in the lead-up to their kids’ wedding. Smigel ditches most of the usual Sandler hangers-on, keeps the best ones (Rock, Dratch, Buscemi), and makes a movie rooted in the specifics of suburban Long Island, rather than the latest Happy Madison-favored resort. [Jesse Hassenger]

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While We’re Young

Laying out its anxieties right there in the title, While We’re Young is Noah Baumbach’s midlife crisis movie, a funny, talky portrait of an aging artist reaching for the vitality he sees in some younger friends. Coming from the neurotic New Yorker behind Frances Ha and The Squid And The Whale, it also feels like the latest stage in a career-long project—an attempt to chart every stumbling step of post-adolescence, from the shell shock of the late-teen years to the scary free fall of life after college to the self-imposed waiting station occupied by grownups who refuse to grow up. Baumbach has gone softer than usual, not probing as deeply into his slow-to-mature characters. But that may be because he seems to have made a certain peace with delayed development. Adulthood, this less-caustic comedy concludes, is a perpetual work in progress. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Witch

A title card at the outset reads, in full, “The Witch: A New-England Folktale.” Technically, in fact, it’s The VVitch, with two capital V’s (more or less interchangeable with the letter “U” for centuries) instead of the modern “W.” These details matter, because Robert Eggers’ singularly creepy debut derives much of its power from stringent period accuracy. Set early in the 17th century, among a Puritan family that’s been exiled to a solitary existence in the woods, it features dialogue taken directly from diaries and court records of the era, creating an additional layer of distance that heightens the already pervasive feeling of strangeness. For those not disturbed by this alienation effect, there’s also an infant-snatching (and -devouring) witch, as the title promises, along with escalating paranoia, multiple crises of faith, hallucinatory madness (culminating in one brief but unforgettable shock), and a literally diabolical goat called Black Phillip. In the end, The Witch poses a question that some found irresponsible, but that makes first-rate nightmare fuel: What if the women who were hanged in Salem a few decades later were, to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy? [Mike D’Angelo]

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Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom

Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom represents a new breed of documentary that reflects this major upheaval. Commissioned by Netflix and directed by Russian filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, Winter On Fire isn’t the first doc about the Euromaidan protests that took place from November 2013 to February 2014, nor necessarily even the best; Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan, which covers similar territory, was released in the U.S. almost exactly a year ago, to rave reviews. But where Maidan focuses on the protesters themselves (emphasizing a “behind the scenes” portrait of solidarity), Winter On Fire, which employed a dozen cameras shooting constantly for three months, provides what almost literally amounts to a blow-by-blow account of the entire nightmarish showdown, assembling so much harrowing footage that one can do little but gape in horror. There’s a huge difference between seeing 20 or 30 upsetting seconds on the evening news every so often and watching a gradual descent into sheer anarchy, as it happens. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Wormwood

Running a mammoth four hours, this investigative whatsit (now available as a six-part Netflix series after a limited theatrical release) has zero interest in maintaining a strict line of demarcation between fiction and nonfiction. Much of Wormwood consists of Errol Morris’ usual probing interviews, digging into the details of a cold case dating back to 1953. This time, though, the Thin Blue Line director’s speculation about events takes more concrete form, with actors like Peter Sarsgaard, Molly Parker, Tim Blake Nelson, and Bob Balaban acting out scripted scenes (written by Steven Hathaway and Molly Rokosz) that are intercut with the talking heads and archival footage. Cinema has been moving toward a hybrid form for ages, but leave it to a longtime innovator like Morris to push it this far. [Mike D’Angelo]

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