The best movies on Hulu

Clockwise from top left: Colossal (Neon); Mission: Impossible-Fallout (Paramount Pictures); Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (Neon); Super 8 (Paramount Pictures); Parasite (Neon)
Clockwise from top left: Colossal (Neon); Mission: Impossible-Fallout (Paramount Pictures); Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (Neon); Super 8 (Paramount Pictures); Parasite (Neon)

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 as part of your standard Hulu subscription, 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 Netflix, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Amazon Prime.

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American Ultra

American Ultra is one of those geeky genre mishmashes that’s very clever about being dumb. Written by Max Landis (Chronicle), the movie takes a one-joke premise—“What if Jason Bourne couldn’t remember his past because he was baked all the time?”—and gives it more layers of shading than a viewer probably has any right to expect. Nima Nourizadeh’s direction skews eclectic: overhead shots, extreme telephoto close-ups, quasi-ironic slow-mo sequences, digitally composited long takes. The violence is exaggerated into explosive blood spurts and doors ripped apart by gunfire—the stuff of scrappier genre fare, in which the viewer gets hooked on the fun the filmmakers must have had in making it. It’s demented, occasionally inspired, and often very funny. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Photo: Paramount Pictures

Annihilation

Alex Garland’s bewitching follow-up to Ex Machina is the answer to a question unasked: What if a chilling piece of science fiction were also a tone poem? Exploring the notions of love, betrayal, hopelessness, fear, rage, and identity through flower-people, screaming bears, and a gorgeous atrocity in a lighthouse, Annihilation proves itself to be every bit as alluring and upsetting as the anomaly on which it centers. [Allison Shoemaker]

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Photo: Neon

Apollo 11

Shutting down conspiracy theorists probably wasn’t high on director Todd Douglas Miller’s to-do list when he was making the documentary Apollo 11. So just consider it a bonus that his film about the first manned moon landing is so immersive that it feels like it’s happening in real-time on screen—and definitively un-faked. Apollo 11 doesn’t run through the usual grainy footage that has been recycled from doc to doc: those well-worn shots of a booster rocket falling to Earth, Neil Armstrong exiting the “Eagle” module, the American flag being planted, Buzz Aldrin hopping around on the lunar surface, and the big final splashdown. Instead, Miller and a team of editors, historians, and government archivists have dug deep into the NASA and broadcast news vaults, finding angles and audio that in some cases no one has seen or heard in 50 years, if at all. Everything looks strikingly fresh… and overwhelmingly so. [Noel Murray]

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Photo: Neon

Border

Like the eccentrically gifted border-patrol agent at its center, Border is a rare and special thing. It’s a highbrow surrealist cringe comedy with a grim police-procedural subplot, a tragic tale of star-crossed love between fairytale creatures, and a challenging philosophical thought exercise with unforgettably bizarre sex scenes. The less you know about the specifics of its plot going in, the better, but suffice to say that the screenplay from Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, and Let The Right One In’s John Ajvide Lindqvist won’t be replicated any time soon. [Katie Rife]

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The Cabin In The Woods

Where Scream put a postmodern twist on slasher films, The Cabin In The Woods takes on the whole genre and twists even harder. Director Drew Goddard, screenwriter of Cloverfield and a veteran of Lost and Alias, co-wrote the film’s script with Joss Whedon, who worked with him on Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. The script brings to the fore Whedon’s love of subverting clichés while embracing them and teasing out their deeper meaning. [Keith Phipps]

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The Challenge - Official Trailer
The Challenge - Official Trailer
Screenshot: kinolorber (YouTube)

The Challenge

Less a traditional documentary than a superb photography collection in which the pictures all move, Yuri Ancarani’s The Challenge doesn’t bother with exposition, or even with basic contextualization. Nobody gets interviewed, and the film’s subject is never formally announced in any way. Instead, Ancarani serves up various outré images—an airplane with hooded falcons in every seat; SUVs drag-racing over sand dunes; a sheikh and a cheetah in a Lamborghini—that gradually create a portrait of phenomenally wealthy, incredibly bored Qatari men. Whether one chooses to see The Challenge as an indictment of the idle mega-rich or as a gorgeous aesthetic object (it can arguably be both) is a matter of taste. Nobody, however, could possibly deny that it features some of the most stunning falcon-cam shots ever captured. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Coherence

Shot in a single location (director James Ward Byrkit’s house) with a tiny budget and a largely unknown cast, this fiendishly clever throwback to golden-age Twilight Zone mindfucks assembles eight yuppie friends for a dinner party and then unleashes hell when a comet passes over them. The power goes out all over the neighborhood, with the exception of a single house down the block; when a couple of guys go over there to check it out, they return with a box—which contains individual photos of the whole group, each with an unexplained number on the back—and a crazy story. Or do they return? Byrkit and Alex Manugian (who’s also part of the cast) devised a freaky exercise in escalating paranoia, then had the actors improvise their way through the narrative, not knowing what would happen next. Miraculously, the result plays like tightly scripted drama, building relentlessly toward a decisive moment for one character in particular. Those with a little layman’s knowledge of quantum physics will be extra prepared for the question Coherence ultimately poses: If there are an infinite number of things you could be doing with your life right now, why on earth are you doing that? (But keep reading, please.) [Mike D’Angelo]

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Photo: Neon

Colossal

Colossal’s early April release date all but eliminated star Anne Hathaway from the 2017 awards-season conversation, which is a shame because she turns in a witty, sympathetic performance as Gloria, a self-destructive alcoholic who discovers that she has a psychic connection to the giant monster who started ravaging Seoul right around the time she moved back home in disgrace. At first, this high-concept sci-fi drama appears to be pushing a straightforward (and rather obvious) metaphor for alcoholism. But by the surprisingly moving final scene, Nacho Vigalondo, who wrote as well as directed the film, deftly pivots it into a much more interesting statement about toxic masculinity, as well as a character study of a woman taking back her life from the forces, both internal and external, that want to tear her down. [Katie Rife]

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Photo: Lionsgate

The Commuter

Non-Stop on a train,” the latest collaboration between Liam Neeson and B-movie whiz Jaume Collet-Serra is a dazzlingly contrived and compartmentalized funhouse thriller that casts the towering Irish actor as a debt-ridden insurance salesman (and ex-cop) who becomes the fall guy for a bizarre conspiracy on his commute home. A delirious blend of Hitchcock, Fincher, and post-subprime-crisis middle-class anxiety, The Commuter jumps the rails (literally and figuratively) in its third act. But for much of its running time, it’s the Platonic ideal of a January release: rollicking, screwy, and pissed-off. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Photo: IFC Films

The Day Shall Come

The frustrations humming just beneath the surface of The Day Shall Come, the bitter and bracingly funny new political satire from British dark-comedy master Chris Morris, are evident in its opening text: “Based on a hundred true stories.” If Morris’ first film, the implausibly hilarious suicide bomber farce Four Lions, deliberately raised questions about where its audience’s sympathies should land, his second feature is unequivocal. What else are we to make of a movie about a terrorist plot in which every single gun, rocket launcher, and dirty bomb ingredient is bought, paid for, and provided by the U.S. government? [William Hughes]

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The Duke Of Burgundy

At first glance, Peter Strickland’s misleadingly titled romance—it’s named after a butterfly, and takes place in an alternate universe devoid of men—appears to be a riff on European softcore films from the 1970s. Gradually, however, the master/servant relationship between Cynthia (Borgens Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) takes on unexpected dimensions, as it becomes clear who’s really in charge and who’s struggling mightily to meet her lover’s needs. For all its surface-level kinkiness (including a hilarious conversation with the vendor of a custom-made “human toilet”), The Duke Of Burgundy is less concerned with sex per se than with the inherent difficulties involved in sharing your life with another person, which sometimes requires a sincere effort to share their interests even when you’re not especially interested. It’s not every film that can achieve overpowering emotional catharsis using water sports as a metaphor. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Photo: Codeblack Films

Fast Color

Apologies to Captain Marvel, the Avengers, and the kids of Shazam, but the best superhero story of the year (on film at least) was Julia Hart’s intimate post-apocalyptic family drama. Anchored by the tremendous Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Hart’s film takes a bunch of familiar tropes and breathes new life into them by folding in issues of fear, addiction, and race. It’s also beautiful—give me Fast Color’s spare special effects over the bombastic blockbusters any day. [Allison Shoemaker]

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Friends With Kids

While it’s true that most romantic comedies merely make minor tweaks to a rusted-out formula, it’s also true that many critics approach rom-coms with a sense of eye-rolling obligation, while solidly unspectacular movies like Lockout get praised to the skies. There’s formula in Jennifer Westfeldt’s directorial debut, but feeling as well. And anyone who thinks it’s far-fetched to see two friends of opposite gender agreeing to raise a child while they continue to date other people hasn’t touched base with single urbanites in their late 30s recently. (It’s absurd, but only by about 10 percent.) If nothing else, the film deserves endless praise for its bombshell kicker, a final line that blasts through the coy innuendo at the heart of most screen romances. [Sam Adams]

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Photo: Neon Releasing

Gemini

Let’s get this out of the way up-front: Aaron Katz’s low-key neo-noir about the thorny friendship between an actress (Zoe Kravitz) and her beleaguered assistant (Lola Kirke) is too subdued for a flashy payoff. But that doesn’t mean it lacks flash; this is Katz’s most visually distinctive film yet, awash in neon and street-light, creating a Los Angeles that gains a kind of clarity and personality at night, even when the characters are throw into a confounding mystery. The movie’s thematic concerns are more subtle, considering Hollywood morality with an enigmatic (and half-comic) flair that will strike some as insubstantial. But its mood and images linger. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Hail Satn?

What makes a religion, anyway? Historically, Christian churches have served as community centers for their congregants, provided those congregants conformed to a certain moral code. More recently, thanks to the evangelical movement’s (re)positioning of itself as the “moral majority” in the wake of Roe v. Wade, those functions have evolved into something blatantly political, as evidenced by that community’s hypocritical embrace of twice-divorced adulterer Donald Trump. So why not take the good parts of religion—the camaraderie, the organization—and use them to advance a more liberal moral and political agenda, one that values pluralism and bodily autonomy over all? And as long as you’re fighting back against creeping crypto-fascist theocracy, why not do it in the name of Satan? He has the best music, after all. That’s basically how The Satanic Temple came to be, as it’s depicted in documentarian Penny Lane’s film about the group, Hail Satan? [Katie Rife]

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Photo: Factor 30 Films

Hounds Of Love

Hounds Of Love is a striking film, but it’s not a fun one to watch. Australian director Ben Young’s pseudo-true-crime character piece dramatizes the cycles that enable domestic abuse by taking them to their extremes, examining why someone would participate in the most heinous of crimes in an attempt to please their partner. Stephen Curry and Emma Booth star as John and Evelyn White, a working-class couple whose relationship revolves around the kidnapping, torture, and murder of young women; the majority of the film focuses on one of those women, headstrong teenager Vicki Mahoney (Ashleigh Cummings), and how her captivity disrupts the Whites’ sick domestic routine. Booth gives a standout performance as Evelyn, whose shattered psyche forms the broken heart of the film, and for a first-time director, Young shows remarkable control, giving Hounds Of Love moments of visual beauty to offset all of its emotional ugliness. [Katie Rife]

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I, Tonya

From the opening minutes of Craig Gillespie’s unreliably narrated, glibly entertaining biopic I, Tonya, it’s clear that Margot Robbie has disappeared into the role of disgraced figure skater and pop culture punching bag Tonya Harding. It’s not a precise imitation: However hard the wardrobe and makeup teams have worked to deglamorize this glamorous Hollywood star, she still doesn’t look much like the person she’s playing—a truth reinforced by the obligatory, closing-credits appearance by the real Harding, conquering the ice in archival footage. But as she wraps her mouth around a cigarette, a cornpone accent, and some well-delivered profanity, Robbie channels the antagonistic, take-no-shit attitude of her infamous “character,” while adding notes of disappointment and even dignity missing from every headline or Hard Copy treatment of The Tonya Harding Story. In the process, the actor wrestles a rare role worthy of her abilities from an industry that’d just as soon keep her in bubbles. [A.A. Dowd]

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Photo: Annapurna Pictures

If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins’ dazzling adaptation of a 1974 novel by James Baldwin approaches the blossoming love between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) with great reverence, cinematographer James Laxton capturing the almost internal glow they radiate, as Nicholas Britell’s score swells and swoons. Yet an undercurrent of tragedy runs through even the film’s most sun-kissed moments, not just the ones of hardship. Baldwin’s story, remarkably adapted by Jenkins as his follow-up to the Oscar-winning Moonlight, looks upon the injustice laced throughout the lives of black Americans with the same steadfast gaze the film turns on its moments of tenderness. It’s all there, found in the blue skies; in Fonny’s sculptures; in the thoughtful performances of Layne, James, and standouts Regina King, Colman Domingo, and Brian Tyree Henry; and in the warmth that passes between two palms pressed together, even when they’re separated by glass. [Allison Shoemaker]

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Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey topped a resurgent 2012 as the eponymous character in Killer Joe, a redneck noir that bristles with sleazy wit. McConaughey plays a police detective who moonlights as a contract killer, a double life that gives McConaughey an advantage in investigative cover-ups (see also: Morgan, Dexter), but one that requires careful management so McConaughey doesn’t cross the streams. He’s utterly psychotic, but he keeps his anger and creepy peccadilloes in check while spending much of his time leveraging power and control from the desperate, greedy pond scum that requires his services. Whatever threat he poses is hidden behind the eyes. [Scott Tobias]

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“The Last Race - Trailer”
“The Last Race - Trailer”
Screenshot: Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing (YouTube)

The Last Race

There were plenty of celebrated documentaries this year, but my favorite by far (which few of my colleagues even saw) was noted photographer Michael Dweck’s formally dazzling portrait of Long Island’s last surviving stock-car racetrack. This isn’t a subculture in which I have any inherent interest—quite the contrary, in fact—but The Last Race enthralled me by making it strange and beautiful. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Luce

There’s a scene early in Luce, a riveting new psychodrama about race and preconceptions, that’s as tense as any thriller, and all it really comes down to is two people talking in a classroom, their deceptively polite conversation shading into passive-aggressive antagonism. One of the two is the title character, a beaming A-student played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. The other is his government and history teacher, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer), the only instructor at their Virginia high school who ever seems to challenge the star athlete, debate-club champion, and soon-to-be valedictorian—though she, too, views him as an “important example to the school,” a Black kid who’s climbed his way to the top of the class. Harrison perfectly captures the poise and charisma of an academic golden child, the kind who knows just how to talk to adults, projecting sincerity and gratitude with just a touch of good humor, so as not to come off an unlikable, Tracy Flick-like overachiever. But the actor also lets us see, early and often, how that congeniality is a kind of front: a whole manufactured persona Luce can toggle on or off. And as Ms. Wilson carefully questions the promising pupil about an assignment he’s turned in that’s raised some red flags for her, his mask of ingratiation slips, just long enough for him to issue what sounds an awful lot like a veiled threat. It’s a remarkable, chilling performance: from Harrison, certainly, but also from his character, playing code-switching mind games with his teacher. [A.A. Dowd]

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Meek’s Cutoff

Following three families on an arduous journey through the Cascade Mountains via the Oregon Trail in 1845, director Kelly Reichardt adopts the austerity and pace of Gus Van Sant’s “death trilogy,” especially Gerry, which also conveyed the sheer ardor of traveling on foot to a water source that’s perpetually beyond the horizon. Yet Meek’s Cutoff isn’t a minimalist experiment: Instead, it advances a story full of tension and slow-burning suspense, as the fates of weary pioneers rest in the hands of two men of dubious intent. [Scott Tobias]

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Photo: Kartemquin

Minding The Gap

From the house that fronted Hoop Dreams comes another absorbing, heartbreaking documentary about coming of age on the economic fringe of the American Midwest. It’s boards, not basketball, that the young subjects of Minding The Gap looked to as an escape hatch, back when they were teenagers delivering themselves, an afternoon at a time, from the shared trauma of their home lives. Bing Liu, the director, was one of them, a budding filmmaker shooting skating videos with his friends. Returning to his old stomping grounds of Rockford, Illinois, he catches up with these childhood companions, still haunted by the abuse they experienced as kids, which has shaped their adulthoods in ways both obvious and not. As usual, the Kartemquin long-term filming model pays enormous dramatic dividends. But Liu is just as interested in where these real lives have been as where they’re headed, because the two are intimately related—just one profound takeaway from his multifaceted portrait of boys growing into men, trying to outpace their demons along the way. [A.A. Dowd]

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Photo: Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible—Fallout

Only about 30 rocket-paced minutes have whizzed by before Mission: Impossible­—Fallout first flirts with truly impossible odds. Ethan Hunt, the human missile of American intelligence that Tom Cruise has been popping back in to play for more than 20 years now, is masquerading as a mysterious terrorist, the perfectly named John Lark, to buy back some plutonium he’s lost to a cabal of doomsday extremists. The bad guys, alas, will accept only one form of payment: the sneering anarchist supervillain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who Hunt put away in the last Mission: Impossible and is now forced to bust out of police custody to avert nuclear catastrophe. Forget, for a moment, the risk that our hero will unleash the world’s most dangerous man back on the world. How, exactly, can Hunt free his nemesis without either killing a lot of innocent cops or blowing his cover as an agent of chaos who wouldn’t think twice about leaving a trail of bodies in his wake? [A.A. Dowd]

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Monos

Boys and girls on the precipice of adulthood kick a can around, blindfolded, playing some makeshift hybrid of soccer and Marco Polo to pass the unfilled hours. They live near an actual precipice, in a stone bunker carved into the top of a mountain and surrounded by clouds—their modest castle in the sky. By day, they perform military training exercises, but also just goof around and make out and eat mushrooms. By night, they dance around bonfires and scream toward a heaven they can almost reach out and touch. They’re somewhere in Latin America, possibly Colombia, though where exactly is never specified. For all intents and purposes, this foggy, isolated, high-altitude kingdom is Neverland. But there’s no Peter Pan around to fill their lives with meaning or magic. Going only by code names, like Smurf and Boom Boom, the young commandos do answer to someone: They’re at the bottom of a chain of command, the lowest-ranking grunts of a mysterious guerilla group called The Organization. But they’re also just kids—horny, confused, unsupervised kids, tasked with grave responsibilities they’re nowhere near emotionally mature enough to handle. That’s the reigning contradiction, maybe the tragic tension, of the gripping Monos. [A.A. Dowd]

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Mortdecai

Look, comedy’s highly subjective, and Johnny Depp’s aggressive onscreen quirkiness wore out its welcome about four Tim Burton movies ago. That’s all fine. Still, the violently negative reaction to director David Koepp’s adaptation of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s cult pulp novels seemed wildly out-of-proportion to the actual quality of the film, which is an uneven but mostly genially wacky globe-hopping adventure. The same critics who rightly pegged Koepp’s similarly hyperactive Premium Rush as a must-see somehow weren’t willing to extend the same goodwill to Mortdecai, even though it has the cinematic flourish and distinctive sensibility so often missing from modern movie comedies. Although it’s not exactly a criminally neglected masterpiece, this picture does stand a good chance of being a flop that gets an Ishtar/Hudson Hawk-style reassessment in the decades to come. [Noel Murray]

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Photo: Kino Lorber

The Mountain

With this expertly wrought period piece, Rick Alverson peels back the placid surface of midcentury Americana to reveal the squirming hotbed of anxiety, repression, and predation lying just beneath the “good ol’ days.” Good doctor Jeff Goldblum takes young ward Tye Sheridan on the road as he goes from hospital to hospital demonstrating his barbaric lobotomy technique; the banal horrors Sheridan witnesses along the way lay bare the ugliness of our national character. [Charles Bramseco]

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Photo: IFC Films

The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is a Western revenge yarn of such heightened cruelty and suffering that it basically demands to be read as allegory. Westerns, as a rule, are violent, and that perhaps goes double for the Aussie ones, which tend to be more pitiless than their American cousins, stripping the genre of its romance and derring-do. Even by those standards, The Nightingale is tough to take. Set in the Oz of 1825, it confronts audiences with the full horror of colonialism, including enough scenes of sexual assault to warrant the trigger warning offered up before several screenings of the film. But while what we see and can never unsee over the course of a grueling two-plus hours is certainly extreme, it’s not gratuitous. That’s partially because Kent, who made the spectacular spookfest The Babadook, isn’t some B-movie shockmeister, rubbing our noses in ugliness for the sake of it. She’s pulled back the veil of awful history to find a cracked reflection of the modern world—and a corresponding, hard-won beauty in solidarity among survivors. [A.A. Dowd]

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Parasite

The last time Bong Joon Ho made a parable of class warfare, he set it aboard one hell of a moving metaphor: a train looping endlessly around a frozen Earth, its passengers divided into cars based on wealth and status, upward mobility achieved only through lateral revolution. Parasite, the South Korean director’s demented and ingenious new movie, doesn’t boast quite as sensational a setting; it takes place mostly within a chicly modern suburban home, all high ceilings, stainless steel countertops, and windows instead of walls, advertising the elegant interior decoration within. But there’s a clear class hierarchy at play here, too; it runs top to bottom instead of front to back, vertically instead of horizontally. And though we’re watching a kind of warped upstairs-downstairs story, not a dystopian arcade brawler, Parasite races forward with the same locomotive speed as Snowpiercer, with plenty of its own twists and turns waiting behind each new door. [A.A. Dowd]

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Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Person To Person

A sweet, light puff of a movie, Person To Person succeeds on the strength of its affection for shaggy-dog stories and the personalities who waltz in and out of them. In theory, it’s the sort of indie that’s already been done to death: an ensemble-cast love letter to the prickly character of New York. (Even worse, it’s shot on fuzzy Super 16mm.) But writer-director Dustin Guy Defa, a prolific director of short films making his first feature since 2011’s Bad Fever, has developed a feel for American eccentricity that brings to mind Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater in its best moments, albeit in a scruffier style. Taking its title from a superb, more or less unrelated short that Defa directed in 2014, the movie follows several stories, which are set over the course of a single day but don’t always overlap. It’s a film of ephemeral pleasures, adorned in a rich variety of voices, non-verbal gestures, and speech patterns: unfussy, unrushed, at times very funny. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

Love at first sight is a fairy-tale fantasy that grows less beautiful the more you think about it. Can you really love someone if you don’t know them? And how can you know them at a single glance? Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, which has to be the most rapturously romantic movie of the last few years, is a story of love at umpteenth sight. For two hours, the film’s characters—two women who meet on the edge of society and propriety—never stop studying each other, their eyes sweeping across candlelit rooms and windswept cliffs, the increasing intensity of their gaze and simmer of their passion melting the barriers between them. To fall for someone, the French filmmaker posits, is to really see them. And to see them requires time and attention—a process of discovery that only begins with that first look. [A.A. Dowd]

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Proxy

To begin a thriller with a shot of ultrasound gel dripping onto a bare, oversized stomach is to portend trouble for the life gestating inside of it. And sure enough, no more than one scene passes before the violence arrives, as Proxy’s pregnant protagonist loses her unborn child in a vicious assault. Who would commit such a heinous crime and why? For Esther (Alexia Rasmussen), such questions seem less important than the tricky matter of moving forward. Without a support system—she has no friends or family, and no ties to the sperm-donor father—the young woman drifts through her post-miscarriage life in a distant haze. It’s only when Esther begins attending meetings with other grieving mothers that she begins to regain a sense of balance, thanks largely to her budding friendship with group regular Melanie (Alexa Havins). Neither woman, however, is quite what they claim to be—a fact that dawns slowly on each (and the viewer), and shapes the shocking events that follow. [A.A. Dowd]

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Photo: Paramount Pictures

A Quiet Place

Nothing in his previous work behind the camera suggested that John Krasinski was any kind of master craftsman. But maybe the nine sitcom seasons he spent emoting directly to the camera taught the Office-drone-turned-director something about nonverbal storytelling, as he does wordless wonders with this taut suspense contraption about an Earth hushed into silence by blind, echolocating monsters. The sleeper hit of the year, A Quiet Place smuggled some pure visual filmmaking into the multiplex, getting moviegoers to sit still (and, yes, maybe even shut up) for a nearly dialogue-free portrait of a family in mourning. The monsters helped, of course. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Rider

Asking non-professional actors to re-enact events from their own lives doesn’t always work out well—just ask Clint Eastwood—but The Rider successfully straddles the tricky line between awkwardness and authenticity. Injured rodeo cowboy Brady Jandreau essentially plays himself, surrounded by real-life friends and family, in a story about coming to terms with the abrupt, involuntary end of one’s lifelong dream. Director Chloé Zhao (whose Songs My Brothers Taught Me was likewise set in and around the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation) intimately knows both these people and the South Dakota landscape. It all feels true. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Shoplifters

In the opening moments of Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, a man and a boy exchange a nod that’s at once solemn, playful, and astonishingly efficient. It tells us that these two are connected, practiced, that they’re here to work, but that the work is fun. They’re stealing, and it’s a necessary but enjoyable ritual. That density of meaning runs throughout Shoplifters, which explores how families can be both chosen and needed, built on love and formed for convenience all at once. It’s a film of gentleness and compassion, brought to life by an ensemble of actors as committed to the playfulness and poetry of ordinary life as the director who brought them together. Like a practiced thief, Shoplifters knows how to direct your attention; it’s more than capable of sneaking in while you’re distracted and lodging somewhere behind your ribs, never to leave again. [Allison Shoemaker]

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Photo: Lionsgate

A Simple Favor

Gallons of ink have been spilled on Paul Feig’s female-focused approach to comedy, so why isn’t one of the year’s best vehicles for women getting more press? Starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in a twisted tale of suburban intrigue, A Simple Favor pioneers the subgenre of mommy-blog noir. But while it lives in the mundane realm of play dates and PTA meetings, the film also recognizes that, while they might spend a lot of time with kids, its characters (and target audience!) are still intelligent adults with sophisticated tastes, from dry gin martinis to designer menswear. [Katie Rife]

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Photo: Annapurna Pictures

The Sisters Brothers

When Quentin Tarantino coined the term “hangout movie,” he was describing one of the greatest Westerns ever made: Rio Bravo, Howard Hawks’ 1959 masterpiece, which kills most of its running time just laying low with a small-town sheriff and the motley posse he’s assembled to guard a jailhouse, eavesdropping on their conversations as they dig in their spurs and chew the cud. The film, talky and at times nearly plotless, brought the Wild West to life in a different way: These weren’t just mythic archetypes we were watching but complicated people, with personalities and hang-ups and whole interior lives. The Sisters Brothers, a Western directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Dheepan) and adapted from the acclaimed novel by Patrick DeWitt, spans a larger geographic radius than Rio Bravo—it’s a kind of road picture, ambling across two states, instead of plunking us down in (basically) a single locale. Nevertheless, there’s a strong whiff of Hawks’ classic in the movie’s conception of its titular outlaws as neurotic chatterboxes. It’s something of a hangout Western, too, and its pleasures mostly come down to the company we get to keep with the characters and the actors easing into their eccentricities. [A.A. Dowd]

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Photo: Annapurna Pictures

Sorry To Bother You

It’s hard to imagine a cinematic depiction of Oakland, California as grabby or arresting as Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You. Though it uses real locations from the city, Riley’s version depends less on particular landmarks or geography than the filmmaker’s eye for which quotidian details can be nudged into the realm of absurdity—and how to pull them back down to the ground. It’s a push-pull best depicted by the movie’s visualization of a job at a rundown call center: When Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) places a cold call, the movie briefly throws him and his workstation into the personal space of whoever he’s speaking with, sort of a physicalized split-screen that thrusts him back into the bleak office space when the conversation ends. It’s a neat trick that emphasizes both the intrusiveness of cold calling and the discomfort the caller might feel, all while keeping the scenes of call-center drudgery from becoming as dull as the actual work. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Photo: Magnolia Pictures

The Square

The centerpiece moment of Ruben Östlund’s The Square pits a dining hall’s worth of self-proclaimed art lovers against the evening’s “entertainment”: a performance-art stunt that pushes way beyond the outer limits of their comfort zones. It’s an exaggerated version, perhaps, of what audiences might experience watching this super-sized cringe comedy, awkward enough to get Larry David hot under the collar. Another savagely funny savaging of male ego, à la Östlund’s Force Majeure, the film takes place behind the scenes of a museum, where a pretentious curator (Claes Bang) grapples with personal and professional crises of his own making. But far from just poking fun at a hypocritical modern art world, the Swedish writer-director casts a wide satirical net. His biggest catch: the withering insight that there’s often a giant gap separating values from actions, flattering self-image from reality, “helping” from helping. Thankfully, Östlund wants to make us laugh as well as squirm; scene for scene, The Square is often gut-bustingly hilarious, provided you can see the humor in foibles that might mirror your own. [A.A. Dowd]

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Super 8

For a stretch of the 1980s, there wasn’t enough Steven Spielberg to go around. While continuing to direct a movie every year or two, Spielberg produced films that had the look and feel of Spielberg-by-proxy, films filled with end-of-childhood adventures, suburbs, and small towns that doubled as unexpected sites of wonder or horror. In the best of them, directors like Joe Dante and Robert Zemeckis put their personal stamp on Spielbergian themes while creating popcorn-friendly films to rival their inspiration. Set in the streets, magic-hour-blanketed hills, and cluttered suburban homes of a small Ohio town as the 1970s edge into the ’80s, the J.J. Abrams-scripted-and-directed Super 8—which Spielberg produced—consciously, and successfully, looks back to an era of abundant Spielbergiana. [Keith Phipps]

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Support The Girls

So many movies perform grotesque contortions (or extraordinary acts of denial) to avoid showing their characters at work, at least if their jobs aren’t cop, lawyer, or secret agent. And who can blame them, really? A lot of work is a soul-crushing slog, something that Support The Girls understands intuitively—so intuitively that writer-director Andrew Bujalski doesn’t need to sink his characters into a swamp of misery to acknowledge the drudgery of working at Double Whammies, sort of a poor man’s Hooters in the Texas suburbs. Applying a one-crazy-day structure to a day that isn’t all that crazy, Bujalski follows Lisa (Regina Hall), the restaurant’s manager, as she plays boss, dutiful employee, counselor, and mother, depending on which crisis she’s addressing. Hall, in exactly the kind of performance that’s too grounded and true to receive the awards attention it deserves, shows deft command of the subtle differences between our various selves—work, family, uncomfortable fusions of the two—that so many working people are forced to navigate. Yet for all of its dead-end realism, this is also a warm and funny movie, with boundlessly charming supporting turns from Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, and Dylan Gelula. Workplace drudgery doesn’t preclude glimmers of humanity—and humanity doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, as the movie’s perfectly open final shots indicate. [Jesse Hassenger]

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True Grit

Joel and Ethan Coens direct True Grit with a light touch, but like Portis’ stark, funny novel, their adventure tale shaves off none of the rough edges. It’s simultaneously rollicking and grave, alternating moments of fine dark humor with startling violence as it drags 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played crisply and unsmilingly by then-newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) into the world of adult responsibilities and the danger and lost innocence that come with them. She tries to buy revenge using the terms of trade her father taught her, then discovers she’s made a purchase that won’t fit easily fit onto a sum-filled balance sheet. The West here is a place of blood, black humor, and unsparing consequences, a land to test the character of even the toughest men, to say nothing of a willful girl with revenge in her heart and braids still in her hair. [Keith Phipps]

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Photo: Neon

Vox Lux

In a culture where truth is malleable, spite and greed are celebrated, and unimaginable atrocities are reduced to just another fleeting set of stimuli, how could you not be exhausted? A similar sense of existential fatigue permeates Vox Lux, The Childhood Of A Leader director Brady Corbet’s new film starring Natalie Portman as a pop star whose inner life is a sinkhole she vainly attempts to fill with booze, drugs, and flippant cruelty. It’s a more cynical, and arguably more realistic, depiction of the unique malignancies of fame than 2018’s other Oscar-baiting pop musical, A Star Is Born. [Katie Rife]

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Wild Rose

Country music has a long history of brazen women doggedly persevering over daunting personal and societal odds. As far back as 1952, Kitty Wells shredded the hypocrisy of sexual double standards in her song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” and Loretta Lynn had already given birth to three children when she taught herself to play the guitar in 1953, at the age of 21. Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley), the protagonist of Tom Harper’s new social-realist musical drama Wild Rose, has a life story that’s similar to those of her idols: She’s in her early 20s, fresh off of a 12-month prison sentence on drug charges, and trying—but mostly failing—to reconnect with her 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. Her disapproving mother Marion (Julie Walters) wants Rose-Lynn to give up her dream of becoming a country (not “country and western”) singer. But to Rose-Lynn, country music is “three chords and the truth.” And you can’t deny the truth. [Katie Rife]

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Photo: Dale Robinette (Lionsgate)

Wonder

Earnest dramas about little kids overcoming adversity rank pretty low on my most anticipated list, and I wouldn’t likely have gone anywhere near Wonder (even the title makes me gag) had another publication not assigned me to review it. But director Stephen Chbosky—whose The Perks Of Being A Wallflower I sort of mildly ridiculed three categories back—deftly avoids most of this genre’s usual pitfalls, earning throat lumps honestly. Following the lead of R.J. Palacio’s source novel, Wonder focuses not just on Auggie (Room’s Jacob Tremblay, beneath heavy makeup), a genetically disfigured 10-year-old venturing into the potentially cruel wider world for the first time, but on all of the people in Auggie’s orbit: his loving parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), his older sister (Isabela Vidovic), his new best friend (Noah Jupe), and even his sister’s estranged best friend (Danielle Rose Russell). This empathetic panorama prevents the film from ever getting too maudlin. It’s not one of the year’s best, but it’s much better than you might expect. [Mike D’Angelo]

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