The best movies on Hulu

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)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

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 was first compiled of movies featured on The A.V. Club’s Best of the Year lists and ballots going back to 2010. We continue to update it as new movies are added to Hulu’s library.

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.

This list was most recently updated May 8, 2021.

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’71

’71

Jack O’Connell in ’71
Jack O’Connell in ’71
Photo: Universal Pictures

What might a movie called ’71 be about? The Pentagon Papers? War between India and Pakistan? The release of Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album? Had director Yann Demange taken a cue from Vincent Gallo (Buffalo ’66) and called his film Belfast ’71, no confusion would be possible. Arguably the most violent year in the history of the Troubles, 1971 saw riots (in response to mass internment of nationalists by British security forces) that prompted thousands to flee Northern Ireland, and culminated with the December 4 bombing of McGurk’s Bar, which killed 15 people. Demange’s film, a work of fiction, doesn’t dramatize any of these specific events, but it captures, with harrowing intensity, the chaos and terror of the era, depicting a single night during which a particularly green British soldier gets separated from his unit in the Catholic part of Belfast—a foul-up that practically amounts to a death sentence. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Almost Famous

Almost Famous

Billy Crudup
Billy Crudup
Screenshot: Almost Famous

As director Cameron Crowe’s alter ego in Almost Famous, 15-year-old Patrick Fugit is a passive observer to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, a starry-eyed innocent who’s affected far more often than he affects. Just as he struggles to make sense of everything going on around him, so does the film. After some freelance work in his native San Diego—home of his mentor, legendary music critic Lester Bangs, played by habitual scene-stealer Philip Seymour Hoffman—Fugit is assigned by Rolling Stone to write about an up-and-coming band called Stillwater. Against the protestations of overprotective mother Frances McDormand, Fugit goes on tour with the group during a volatile time when its middling lead singer (Jason Lee) is losing the spotlight to electrifying guitarist Billy Crudup. Fugit is befriended by Kate Hudson, a whimsical groupie (or “band-aid,” as she prefers to be called) blinded by her intense devotion to Crudup and his music. In its best moments, Almost Famous taps into the immediacy of a great rock song, the soaring mini-epiphanies that could lead Crowe (or anyone) to helpless, lifelong addiction. Perhaps because the nature of touring is so ambling and listless, the behind-the-scenes relationships never really gel, leaving Crowe to insert a pair of desperately contrived crises to spike up the third act. Still, as a well-thumbed collection of scrapbook vignettes, Almost Famous is a wounded, heartfelt triumph. [Scott Tobias]

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American Ultra

American Ultra

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Screenshot: 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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Annihilation

Annihilation

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Photo: Annihilation (Paramount Pictures

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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Any Given Sunday

Any Given Sunday

                 Jamie Foxx and Al Pacino
Jamie Foxx and Al Pacino
Screenshot: Any Given Sunday

Oliver Stone employs his hyper-stylized aesthetics for a titanic, from-all-angles portrait of professional football in Any Given Sunday, an all-star 1999 film that brazenly strives for Shakespearean grandeur, thanks in part to the scripting of playwright-turned-screenwriter John Logan. At the center of this gladiatorial gridiron epic is Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), wearied championship coach of the Miami Sharks, who’s grappling with numerous dilemmas, from the disloyalty of owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) to his lovelorn loneliness to—most crucially of all—a severe injury to his veteran quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid). The last of those problems manifests itself in the opening sequence, and sets the stage for the emergence of third-string QB “Steamin’” Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), an arrogant bad boy who quickly becomes a league and media sensation, even as he slowly alienates his coach and teammates—including Lawrence Taylor’s linebacker and LL Cool J’s running back—with his me-first attitude. Those are only a few of the issues tackled by Any Given Sunday, which manages to touch upon the myriad ways that money, sex, race, gender, fame, ego, fear, amorality, and greed factor into the sport. [Nick Schrager]

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Apollo 11

Apollo 11

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: Apollo 11 (Neon

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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Arrival

Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival
Amy Adams in Arrival
Photo: Paramount

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s spookily majestic sci-fi spectacle, is on a mission of multiple objectives. Focused on the nuts and bolts of interspecies communication, this is an unusually intelligent object from Hollywood, where science fiction is usually just a fancy word for an action movie set in space or the future. But there’s also a surprisingly affecting emotional core to Villeneuve’s enigma—a stealth poignancy woven into the fabric of its cerebral design. Arrival has come, like a visitor from the cosmos, to blow minds and break hearts. One does not generally attend a film from the director of Sicario expecting four-hankie catharsis. But Villeneuve is a chameleon: Having expertly imitated the sleek moodiness of David Fincher with his missing-kids potboiler Prisoners, the French-Canadian director conjures some Malickian grandeur here during an elegiac prologue, underscoring a family tragedy with the symphonic ache of Max Richter’s “On The Nature Of Daylight.” Based on an award-winning short story by sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, Arrival possesses a setup not so different from Sicario, given that it puts another highly skilled professional woman under the jurisdiction of dismissive, trigger-happy male superiors. But a more personal dimension is immediately plain, as Villeneuve introduces the extraterrestrial fleet through a reaction shot of his heroine, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), gaping in muted disbelief at a lecture-hall television we don’t see. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Assassin

The Assassin

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Screenshot: The Assassin

Enigmatic and often mesmerizing, super-saturated with color, drawn like a still plain ripped by brief, unexpected gusts of wind—The Assassin is one of the most flat-out beautiful movies of the last decade, and also one of the most puzzling. Returning to features after a prolonged absence, Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-Hsien has made a martial-arts period piece like none other, keeping to the classic principles and conventions of wuxia—the storied Chinese genre of wandering warriors and codes of honor—while casting them in a mysterious light. Bold takes on popular genres generally set out to de-mystify, but Hou has accomplished the opposite. Washing away centuries of film and fiction, he envisions a tale from the Tang dynasty—about a deadly martial artist who must kill the man to whom she was once betrothed—as a window into the haunted otherworld of the mythic past. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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The Assistant

The Assistant

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: The Assistant

As its title indicates, The Assistant looks at a powerful serial abuser—at the patterns of exploitation, at the network of enablers he builds around himself over several decades—through the at-once limited and privileged perspective of someone very low on the totem pole of his empire. Her name is Jane (Julia Garner, Emmy-winning costar of Ozark) and for 87 minutes, we’re immersed in her professional world, a mundane and exhausting and sometimes degrading series of routines through which the undeniable evidence of transgression emerges. Perhaps dramatization is the wrong word. The Assistant is more of a spartan procedural, its narrative a methodical accounting of one day—typical in incident, atypical in dawning realization—for an entry-level employee at the New York production house of a Weinstein-like figure. “First in, last out,” Jane is shown, in the wordless opening passage, climbing into a car in the dark early hours of the morning, making the long commute from Astoria to the cluttered Manhattan office building where she toils tirelessly seven days a week. We’ll see her turn on lights and electronics, open bottles of water, take phone calls, unclog printers, sign for packages, book flights and hotels, even babysit the children of women who come to meet with Him behind closed doors. [A.A. Dowd]

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Babyteeth

Babyteeth

Babyteeth
Babyteeth
Photo: IFC Films

Eliza Scanlen, best known abroad for playing little-sister roles in HBO’s Sharp Objects miniseries and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, stars as Milla, a sheltered 15-year-old cancer patient who falls immediately and hard for Moses (Toby Wallace), the scuzzy 23-year-old drifter who literally runs into her on a train platform in the opening scene. It’s obvious from the start that Moses is trouble, and not just because he looks like a Soundcloud rapper. He’s also a one-man illegal pharmacy who’s caught stealing pills from Milla’s psychiatrist dad Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) more than once before Henry invites him to move in. You read that correctly; after several attempts to keep him and Milla apart, Henry and his wife Anna (Essie Davis) invite Moses to come live with the family, as a comfort for their daughter in the last weeks of her life. Sure, Moses is a drug dealer. But so’s Henry, in his way. Both Murphy and screenwriter Rita Kalnejais view the grey areas of this unconventional arrangement both cuttingly and compassionately; their film is less cynical than Cory Finely’s Thoroughbreds but in the same polished black-comedy wheelhouse. In playing along with Milla’s fantasy of a great romance in her dying days, Anna, Henry, and Moses create a convincing replica of a happy family that’s both comically demented— “He’s a drug dealer!” Anna cries after first meeting Moses; “Don’t pigeonhole him like that!” her daughter snaps back—and oddly sweet. [Katie Rife]

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Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday
Screenshot:

On Jan. 30, 1972, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 13 Irish civil-rights activists were killed (and many more injured) when British soldiers opened fire on a peace demonstration that had turned unruly. From the opening minutes, the sick dread of inevitability hangs over director Paul Greengrass’ emotionally charged re-creation Bloody Sunday, as the two sides hold fast to their positions, refusing to swerve out of a game of chicken. The British authorities, acting on a decree to suppress all parades and processions—not to mention an underlying thirst to avenge its fallen soldiers—take a heavy-handed approach to breaking up the march; in response, the agitated demonstrators can only add to the chaos. (Only the audience seems to hear the most pragmatic officer ask the obvious question, “Why not let the march go ahead?”) Greengrass’ rigorous, you-are-there documentary style has earned the film comparison to Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle Of Algiers, which brought the French-Algerian conflict to life with stunning, unprecedented verisimilitude. At its best, Bloody Sunday produces the same chilling illusion of history writ large, clearly detailing the strategies of both sides, then blankly observing the conflict through unadorned, newsreel camera stock and the precise orchestration of large-scale chaos. [Scott Tobias]

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Border

Border

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: Border (Neon

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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Bound

Bound

Jennifer Tilly
Jennifer Tilly
Screenshot: Bound

To say Bound is a double-meaning title understates the way the Wachowskis thread the concept into the fabric of the movie, where Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are bound literally, bound to each other, bound to the powerful men who control their destinies, and bound by their own ideas about what intimacy could mean for them. Since this is a crime film, getting unbound involves a plan to steal $2 million in mob money and run off together, but the Wachowskis remain conscious of how their theme is developing, even as they choreograph suspenseful setpieces with a “Look, ma!” flair that’s only occasionally distracting. The stakes are high, but to the Wachowskis’ credit, the question isn’t “Will they get away with the money?” but “Will they make it out together (with their lives and their tenuous trust intact)?” That’s a different level of engagement than the crime genre usually encourages. [Scott Tobias]

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Bug

Bug

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Screenshot: Bug

Like William Friedkin’s underrated previous film, The Hunted, the relentlessly claustrophobic Bug strips its story down to the basics. A dramatically grunged-up Ashley Judd is all jangled nerves and edgy intensity as a hard-luck waitress with a drinking problem, a coke habit she can’t afford, a missing son, and an abusive ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr.) fresh out of jail and eager to pick up where he left off. Judd spies a brief respite from loneliness in the person of mysterious drifter Michael Shannon, an AWOL veteran with demons of his own. As in The Exorcist, Friedkin establishes a tone of hard-edged, almost documentary-style realism before ratcheting up the horror to nearly unbearable levels. Bug skirts camp ridiculousness throughout, especially during a fever-dream last act in which Judd embraces Shannon’s insanity with disconcerting conviction. Like a thinking man’s The Number 23, Bug seems to take place largely inside the demented psyche of someone with a loosening grasp on reality. At other times, Bug suggests Safe as remade by David Cronenberg, both in its biological, venereal horror, and in its paranoia about a contemporary world hopelessly corrupted by viruses, germs, and infections, literal and metaphorical. Judd and Shannon’s unnerving performances ensure that even when Bug leaps deliriously off the deep end, it remains rooted in the loneliness of two very sad people desperate for any kind of meaningful connection, no matter how mad or destructive. Even at its most preposterous—Friedkin’s latest rivals his Druid horror flick The Guardian for sheer lunacy—Bug remains disconcerting, real, and raw. It poignantly suggests that some lost souls would rather be crazy and doomed than alone. [Nathan Rabin]

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Burning

Burning

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Photo: 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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Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

Paul Newman and Robert Redford
Paul Newman and Robert Redford
Photo: Silver Screen Collection (Getty Images)

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid might not have invented the modern buddy comedy, but it may as well have. While Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black was still toddling around playing cowboys and Indians, director George Roy Hill, cinematographer Conrad Hall, composer Burt Bacharach, stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and screenwriter William Goldman were meticulously crafting the gold standard for movies about rugged pals quipping and wisecracking their way through one perilous bonding situation after another. Goldman has criticized his Oscar-winning screenplay for being overly clever, which is akin to job applicants who cite their biggest flaws as “I’m too hard-working” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” But Goldman has a point. Butch Cassidy’s dialogue is so unrelentingly sarcastic and irreverent that the film sometimes feels like an especially sharp Mad Magazine parody of itself. In one of the special features included in the two-disc special edition, Hill is reported to have complained following a screening that people were laughing at his tragedy. But tragedies are seldom this glib. Then again, they’re seldom this fun or consistently entertaining, either. [Nathan Rabin]

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The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin In The Woods

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Screenshot: 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

The Challenge

The Challenge - Official Trailer
The Challenge - Official Trailer
Screenshot: kinolorber

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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Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

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Screenshot: Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

Still Smokin’, their fifth effort remains an improvement on the previous films under just about every vector of criticism. This film finds director Chong tentatively experimenting with form and structure, devoting the first half of the film to a comic mishap that sends the pair to Amsterdam for a Dolly Parton/Burt Reynolds film festival, and then shooting the second half as a stand-up concert documentary. If stoner comedy has a Stop Making Sense, this would have to be it; there’s a winning sense of spontaneity to the grainy footage of Cheech and Chong’s onstage set, bouncing around the theater and employing the occasional distorted exposure to nod to their countercultural roots. More exciting still, Still Smokin represents the series’ first effort to actually tussle with legitimate thematic concerns, forming cogent thoughts beyond a desire for the nearest bag of Lay’s. Most of the first half plays out as a Q&A between the esteemed European press and our dudes, affecting a Godardian aloofness as if they had just been kicked out of Cannes for taking bong rips in the bathroom of the Grand Palais. They deliver some strong one-liners (“A lot of people say we’re just in it for the drugs, but that’s true,” Cheech deadpans) and more than that, they confront their own growing public profile with more self-awareness than in the literally self-aware flourishes. They lampoon their own cult of celebrity, but there’s a genuine unease beneath the jokes as they reconcile the stardom they stumbled into with the enduring desire to remain a toasty slacker forever. Chong mutters that “responsibility’s a great responsibility, man” in Next Movie, and those words ring loud and clear over his semi-reluctant fame. [Charles Bramseco]

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Clemency

Clemency

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Photo: Clemency

Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency begins not with an act of mercy but a state-sanctioned death. The details are agonizing: a weeping mother clutching a rosary; the squeaking leather of the straps on a lethal injection table; a pool of blood forming around the needle transmitting first sedative, then poison. That horrifying introduction is in line with most movies about prison, which nearly exclusively focus on the dehumanizing experience of incarceration, from classics like Papillon and Cool Hand Luke to the more contemporary Starred Up and A Prayer Before Dawn. But Clemency subverts expectations with an unblinking exploration of how serving as a state-approved executor of the death penalty is its own form of degradation. Alfre Woodard captures with exquisite nuance the emotional and physical toll it might take on someone, spending years overseeing executions; she grounds the film, which otherwise strikes a balance between broad empathy and a pointed call for criminal justice reform. [Roxana Hadadi]

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Coherence

Coherence

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Photo: 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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Collective

Collective

Collective
Collective
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Early in the 21st century, a new wave of Romanian filmmakers like Cristian Mungiu, Cristi Puiu, and Corneliu Porumboiu began drawing international recognition for their gripping, docu-realistic dramas, addressing the power imbalances and the social dysfunction plaguing their country, post-Communism. The best way to describe Alexander Nanau’s documentary Collective is to say that it’s a non-fiction version of those new Romanian classics: like The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu or 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, but with real people. It’s a taut, intense procedural, with a resonant story that simultaneously follows a journalistic investigation and an attempt to fix a fatally dysfunctional medical bureaucracy—all while criminal organizations, corrupt politicians, and rabble-rousing television hosts work in concert to stymie any real reform. [Noel Murray]

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Colossal

Colossal

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Photo: Colossal (Neon

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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The Commuter

The Commuter

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Photo: The Commuter (Lionsgate

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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The Day Shall Come

The Day Shall Come

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Photo: The Day Shall Come (IFC Films

The frustrations humming just beneath the surface of The Day Shall Come, the bitter and bracingly funny 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 Dead Zone

The Dead Zone

Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken
Screenshot: The Dead Zone

The rare Stephen King adaptation to capture the author’s signature sense of inexplicable, internal/external terror, The Dead Zone stands as one of David Cronenberg’s most straightforward and eerily effective early works. Trimming King’s source material down to its lean essence—and benefiting from the lack of his imaginative monsters, which never properly translate to the screen—the film concerns Maine schoolteacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), who turns down an offer to stay the night with his girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams), subsequently gets into a traffic accident, and awakens from a coma five years later with the gift of second sight. Far from a blessing, however, the power proves to be a damnable curse, turning Johnny into a freak show whose time and attention is coveted by many, but only for their own selfish ends. As the man’s vision expands, his life shrinks down to nothing—an isolated existence which Cronenberg depicts through direction that routinely lingers on the empty silences between words and the distant whooshing of wintry New England wind. Cronenberg’s icy directorial detachment lends The Dead Zone a haunting creepiness, greatly amplified by Walken, whose halting verbal rhythms and glassy stare imbue Johnny with an alienated (if not outright alien) quality. [Nick Schager]

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The Descent

The Descent

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Screenshot: The Descent

Is there a more ideal setting for a horror film than a cave? (Pretend for a moment that the movie The Cave never happened.) More than monsters and viscera, great horror movies are about the keen manipulation of light and space, the mere suggestion that something lurks in that patch of darkness around the corner. While the unrelenting white-knuckler The Descent includes plenty of monsters and viscera, it’s scary enough well before the creepy-crawlies first appear. Following six female adventurers through an unexplored cave system in the Appalachians, writer-director Neil Marshall creates a Rube Goldberg contraption of nightmarish proportions, with collapsing walls, bottomless crevasses, and tunnels that squeeze the abdomen like a tube of toothpaste. It’s almost an afterthought that the cave system happens to be occupied by predatory beasts; these women were in serious enough jeopardy already. [Scott Tobias]

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The Dictator

The Dictator

Sasha Baron Cohen
Sasha Baron Cohen
Photo: Four By Two Films

The Dictator keeps the gags coming as fast as it can manage, sometimes in big gross-out setpieces like an impromptu baby delivery, but more often in the general fusillade of hit-or-miss jokes that hit at a better-than-average rate. While Admiral General Aladeen certainly has a place in Baron Cohen’s gallery of human cartoons, the key point about The Dictator is that it’s a departure from his previous films and not another trip to the well. His needling instincts to shock and provoke are still present—and still merrily juvenile—but the film is both more conventional than Borat and Brüno and a more accommodating vehicle for different types of comedy. In reaching back to the past, Baron Cohen finds a viable way forward. [Scott Tobias]

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Die Hard

Die Hard

Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis
Screenshot: Die Hard

During the ’80s golden era of American action movies, there was a certain way these movies looked: burnished steel, gleaming sweat, bulging muscles that couldn’t possibly exist without chemical enhancement. The movies that people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were making looked nothing like real life. One fascinating thing about 1988’s Die Hard, quite possibly the best action movie ever made, is that it didn’t look anything like that. As played by Bruce Willis, McClane was something other than a steroidal superman. He was an ordinary human being, and kind of an asshole. As the movie opens, we see McClane grumpily huffing at his airplane seatmate, his affable cartoon-character limo driver Argyle, and finally at his estranged wife. He’s a New York cop who wants to remain a New York cop, and he can’t accept that his wife’s business career has taken off in Los Angeles or that she’s using her maiden name. Seeing her for the first time in months, he freaks out at her and then immediately realizes that he’s being an asshole when it’s too late to do anything about it. But fortunately for McClane, before he has a chance to make more of an ass out of himself, some terrorists show up. And all of a sudden, he’s his best self. [Tom Breihan]

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The Donut King

The Donut King

The Donut King
The Donut King
Photo: Colin Kennedy

As an energetic montage at the beginning of The Donut King states, Los Angeles has a much higher percentage of donut shops than any other city in the U.S.—one for every 7,000 residents, as opposed to the national average of one per 30,000. And almost all of those donut shops are owned by Cambodian people, whose market dominance is so complete that even East Coast staple Dunkin’ Donuts struggled to break into Southern California in the ’90s. Remarkably—almost miraculously—this is all the work of one man: Ted Ngoy, who sponsored hundreds of refugees to come to the U.S. and gave them turnkey loans to run their own donut shops in the ’70s and ’80s. The first part of Gu’s documentary celebrates Ngoy, as well as the ingenuity and tireless work ethic of immigrants in general, with a vivid hybrid of biographical documentary and food porn set to colorful animation and a hip-hop beat. In fact, The Donut King plays much like an extended episode of Ugly Delicious, before diving into darker territory in its second half that actively dismantles the myths it spent the first hour building. And although this abrupt turn destabilizes the film’s structure in a way it never quite recovers from, it also makes The Donut King much more than simple food porn—not that there’s anything wrong with that, particularly when creative, mouthwatering treats like cronuts and emoji donuts are so lovingly showcased. [Katie Rife]

Available May 31

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Downhill Racer

Downhill Racer

Robert Redford
Robert Redford
Screenshot: Downhill Racer

Robert Redford stars as an innately talented small-town skier who behaves as if he’s already won a championship when coach Gene Hackman calls him up to replace an injured star on the U.S. men’s team. Redford’s entitled behavior seems tame by the standards of today’s athletes, but that just makes the film feel prescient. Redford looks and acts the part of a winner, though he has yet to prove himself. If Hackman, a skiing lifer often seen struggling to stir up any interest from potential sponsors of the then-fringe sport, wants his American athletes to establish a foothold in the European-dominated field, he has to keep his prize pony happy. Ritchie works fast, loose, and with little concern for sports-movie formulas. And as a sports movie, Downhill Racer doesn’t always work. It alternates amazing POV shots with undercranked footage shot with the distance of a ’60s highlight reel, and it sets both to Kenyon Hopkins’ pedestrian score. As a look at how Redford’s character and those orbiting him spend their time between runs, however, it’s superb. He’s learned how to do one thing, and only one thing, well. As long as he does it better than almost anyone, and only that long, the world bends to him. But when he tells his stoic father that he wants to be a champion, the old man responds simply, “World’s full of ’em.” It sounds cruel, but it’s true. He’s seen what his son can’t: Redford he may have done the work to be a champion, but that doesn’t make him a man. [Keith Phipps]

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The Duke Of Burgundy

The Duke Of Burgundy

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: 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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Fast Color

Fast Color

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: Fast Color (Codeblack Films

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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Flight

Flight

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington
Screenshot: Flight

For the opening scene of Flight to have maximum impact, it’s probably best to go in knowing nothing about its protagonist’s profession, which is unfortunately revealed in the film poster, if not the title itself. Waking in an anonymous hotel room, Denzel Washington stares at the naked woman he bedded the night before, while his ex-wife calls him to argue about money. Bleary-eyed and surrounded by the remnants of a party only hours dead, he swigs the dregs from a beer bottle, stumbles around the room, does a line of coke to get straight. And then he eventually strides confidently into the hallway in his airline pilot’s uniform, to the tune of Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright.” Directing his first live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away, Robert Zemeckis paces it brilliantly, slowly ramping up the energy from hungover lethargy to coke-fueled confidence, while creating undercurrents of dread as Washington hits his stride. He looks the part of the perfect pilot, and he may feel all right, but beneath the surface, something has clearly gone wrong. Whatever his problems—and by the film’s end, they’ve been depicted in exhaustive detail—his confidence isn’t misplaced. There’s only one flight in Flight, what should be a routine morning transit from Orlando to Atlanta. It’s destined to be more harrowing than usual, however. As a new co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) looks on in concern after their plane takes off in the rain, Washington punches through a narrow corridor of clouds while traveling at a speed just on the right side of what’s considered safe. It’s how he flies and how he lives: pushing the limit but never going over, thanks to his perfect control. Then, as the plane nears its destination, events beyond Washington’s control take over. [Keith Phipps]

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Friends With Kids

Friends With Kids

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Screenshot: 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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Gemini

Gemini

Gemini
Gemini
Photo: Neon Releasing

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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The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer

Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor
Screenshot: The Ghost Writer

It is both easy and impossible to separate Roman Polanski the person from Roman Polanski the filmmaker when considering his briskly entertaining new thriller The Ghost Writer, and that’s entirely to the film’s benefit. It’s easy because Polanski remains a consummate craftsman, just as capable of making swift, witty, precisely stylized diversions now as when he made Knife In The Water nearly 50 years ago. And yet there’s no mistaking the oppressive sense of isolation and exile that hangs over the proceedings, and how it relates to a man who has known public disgrace and life on the run. Based on Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost, the film opens with cars pulling off an island ferry onto the mainland; every car, that is, but one. The driver washes ashore a couple of days later, presumed dead from an accident or a suicide, but of course there’s more to the story. As it turns out, the deceased is a close confidant to a disgraced former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), and he’d been on the island to help put the finishing touches on Brosnan’s highly anticipated memoir. Brosnan’s publisher, eager to get the book out fast, hires Ewan McGregor, who normally specializes in quick-and-dirty celebrity autobios, to punch up the tome and turn it around in a month. When McGregor arrives, he finds the book a terrible bore, but he runs into much bigger problems once he learns of the deeper, darker intrigue surrounding Brosnan and his inner circle. [Scott Tobias]

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Girl With A Pearl Earring

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson
Screenshot: Girl With A Pearl Earring

Adapting Tracy Chevalier’s novel, Girl With A Pearl Earring seeks not so much to clear up the mysteries Johannes Vermeer’s painting as to capture more moments of pregnant ambiguity where lives find their potential, and to show the unspoken codes that keep that potential in check. As the film opens, its eponymous heroine, beautifully played by Scarlett Johansson, seems incapable of her immortal expression, or even of looking anyone else in the eye. A Protestant among Catholics, a woman in a man’s world, and a new servant in the established ranks of the busy, precariously prosperous Vermeer household, she keeps her hair covered and her head low. It takes time for her to develop any relationship at all with Vermeer (Colin Firth), and more time still for that relationship to blossom into something between infatuation and mutual admiration. When it does, Firth is struck by her beauty, but also by her instinct for color and composition, which has no outlet other than helping him. Making the transition from British television, director Peter Webber displays a great sense of understatement and a keen eye for careful framing, with cinematographer Eduardo Serra beautifully re-creating Vermeer’s signature play of shadow and light. Within Pearl Earring’s brisk running time, Webber sketches out the boundaries that money and tradition place around his characters’ lives, and shows how far their dreams overshoot those boundaries. Conveying a wicked sense of entitlement, Tom Wilkinson plays Firth’s patron as a man fully aware of the bottomless pit over which he dangles painter and subject alike, and equally aware that he need never speak of his power. Only the usually reliable Firth seems somewhat off, too much a brooding artist and too little a man. Yet this ends up working in the film’s favor, keeping the mystery of Vermeer intact until a final, offscreen gesture gives his most famous model a melancholy dignity to match the shroud of immortality. [Keith Phipps]

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Gretel And Hansel

Gretel And Hansel

Gretel And Hansel
Gretel And Hansel
Photo: Orion Pictures

Gretel And Hansel comes from Oz Perkins, the cult director who made a name for himself on the strength of two films, The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House. This was Perkins’ first film to receive a wide theatrical release, and so perhaps it’s to be expected that it would also be his most commercial one to date. Sort of. Though it moves at a much brisker clip, “commercial” is a relative term for a film where the camera lingers on a character pulling a lengthy tress of child’s hair from the back of her throat. The balance Perkins strikes in Gretel And Hansel is reminiscent of another contemporary arthouse horror director, Robert Eggers, whose films aren’t impossibly dense but are too slow for a decent chunk of the horror audience. In fact, screenwriter Rob Hayes borrows a favorite technique of Eggers’, employing stylized dialogue that takes a few minutes to get used to but eventually helps the viewer sink into the film’s world. Sophia Lillis stars as a teenage Gretel, whose name is put in front of her brother’s in the title for reasons that become clear later on. As the film opens, Gretel is looking for work as a servant, and nearly takes a job with a foppish landowner in makeup and sock garters until he asks her if her “maidenhead” is intact. This is the first of a handful of nods to the dangers of moving through the world in a female body, a theme that’s handled surprisingly well considering the film has both a male director and a male screenwriter. It’s also important to what happens after Gretel and her little brother, Hansel (Sammy Leakey), are sent away by their mother, who’s both unwilling and unable to feed them any longer. As in the fairy tale, they fall into the clutches of a sinister witch after nearly starving to death in the woods. But this witch (Alice Krige) lives in a wooden house instead of one made out of gingerbread and gumdrops. She also shows a special interest in Gretel, who seems to have an inborn talent for magic. [Katie Rife]

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Hail Satan?

Hail Satan?

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: Hail Satn? (Magnolia Pictures

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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Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

John Cho and Kal Penn go to White Castle
John Cho and Kal Penn go to White Castle
Screenshot: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

While Cheech and Chong’s career is the exception that proves the rule, there was a time when Caucasians possessed an apparent monopoly on lead roles in dopey, lowbrow stoner comedies and raunchy teen-targeted fare. Happily, cinema and society have advanced to such a degree that now Asians, blacks, gays, and other minorities all have inept teen- and young-adult-oriented comedies to call their own. The wildly uneven but intermittently funny new feature-length fast-food commercial Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle fits squarely into this brave new paradigm. It boldly subverts stereotypes and challenges conventional wisdom by presenting affable Korean and Indian antiheroes who are just as sex-crazed, irresponsible, mischief-prone, and chemically altered as their white counterparts. Danny Leiner’s theatrical follow-up to 2000's Dude, Where’s My Car?, which has enjoyed a surprising second life as a national punchline, Harold & Kumar stars John Cho and Kal Penn as twentysomethings with just two things on their minds: getting baked and grabbing White Castle food. [Nathan Rabin]

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Hell Or High Water

Hell Or High Water

Hell Or High Water
Hell Or High Water
Photo: CBS Films

Hell Or High Water is the kind of movie that makes you fall in love again with the lost art of dialogue, getting you hooked anew on the snap of flavorful conversation. Whenever one of its characters opens their mouth, you’re reminded of how flatly expositional or distractingly florid so much movie dialogue is, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s aiming for the wiseguy patter of Tarantino or Mamet. But in Hell Or High Water, everyone speaks with a plainspoken wit that provides even the most functional of scenes—say, an interview with a bank teller who’s recently been robbed—a charge of pleasure. “Black or white?” asks the officer investigating. “Their skins or their souls?” the victim retorts. These are cops, robbers, and struggling wage slaves, not poets or philosophers. But they all have a way with words, and hearing them exercise it is like guzzling a gallon of water in the desert. Two men do a good portion of the talking. They are Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), brothers heisting their way across sleepy, one-horse Texas. The Howard boys are not your typical bank robbers. For one, they hit only the registers, pocketing a modest few thousand from every score. For two, they’ve targeted a specific bank—a local company with a few branches scattered across the state. The regional nature of the crime spree keeps it out of federal jurisdiction; it falls instead on the desk of grizzled Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges, because who does grizzled better?) a few days out from retirement. Marcus spots the pattern and suspects a motive beyond money. He and his partner, Alberto (a terrific Gil Birmingham), take chase. [A.A. Dowd]

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Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Sally Field and Max Greenfield
Sally Field and Max Greenfield
Screenshot: Hello, My Name Is Doris

Sally Field, looking fabulous in cat-eye glasses and eccentric knits, stars as Doris, a sixtysomething woman who at the beginning of the film is living a lonely existence in Staten Island. Her mother, to whose care she has devoted much of her adult life, recently died, leaving her with little but her old-school leftist pal Roz (Tyne Daly) and her menial data-entry job to occupy her time. It’s the confluence of these two that inspires Doris to change things up, actually: After Roz takes her to a lecture by self-help guru Willy Williams (Peter Gallagher), Doris is motivated to pursue a relationship with her office crush, a recent L.A. transplant several decades her junior named John Fremont (Max Greenfield). Field keeps both hands firmly on the wheel as Doris, skillfully maneuvering through both the comedic and dramatic scenes like the two-time Oscar winner that she is. [Katie Rife]

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Hounds Of Love

Hounds Of Love

Hounds Of Love
Hounds Of Love
Photo: Factor 30 Films

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

I, Tonya

I, Tonya
I, Tonya
Photo: Neon

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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I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Raoul Peck’s docu-essay I Am Not Your Negro is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, speaking in a voice so low and affected that he hardly sounds like himself. He doesn’t quite sound like James Baldwin either—or at least not like the mellifluous, twangy Baldwin seen in the old clips from talk shows and public affairs programs scattered throughout Peck’s film. Jackson sounds more like the author late at night, exhausted, half-whispering bitter truths into a tape recorder. I Am Not Your Negro could be considered one of the final statements from a great American writer, and it’s a sadly resigned one, summarizing centuries of overt and subtle racism and expressing a feeling of hopelessness. To say that this movie is as relevant now as it was when Baldwin was alive is no great analytical leap. The trends of these times would not have surprised the man himself. As repeated throughout Peck’s film, Baldwin never had much faith that black people could ever live in a United States where they’d wake up in the morning without at least some worry that they’d be shot dead by nightfall. [Noel Murray]

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I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor
Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor
Screenshot: I Love You Phillip Morris

Based on the book by Houston Chronicle journalist Steve McVicker, I Love You Phillip Morris marvels at the impulsive, diabolical brilliance of Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey), a.k.a. “King Con,” a multi-talented con artist who frustrated and embarrassed detectives and jailers for years. In a breathless series of scenes, it’s established that Steven, upon discovering he was adopted, became so motivated to impress his birth mother that he fashioned a straight-arrow life as a Georgia policeman, and a respected husband and father of two. When he finally meets his mother and is shown the door, Steven embraces who he really is—gay—and proceeds to build a new life in South Beach on embezzlement and fraud. While in prison, he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a sweet but taciturn love object, and his criminal exploits are pushed to another level. Beyond the aggressive black comedy, most of it funny and the rest compensated for via pacing, I Love You Phillip Morris examines the fascinating contradictions of a man who spun an elaborate web of lies in order to sustain a love that was fundamentally true. [Scott Tobias]

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If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk
If Beale Street Could Talk
Photo: Annapurna Pictures

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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Into The Arms Of Strangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport

Into The Arms Of Strangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Screenshot: Into The Arms Of Strangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport

At the end of Into The Arms Of Strangers, Mark Jonathan Harris’ moving documentary about the 10,000 Jewish children who fled to foster homes in England during WWII, the titles post a dispiriting reminder of the 1.5 million children who weren’t so fortunate. The overwhelming number offers a sense of perspective, but, like Schindler’s List, the film is less interested in probing the horrors of the Holocaust than in locating small, redemptive pockets of courage and humanity. Produced with the assistance of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Into The Arms Of Strangers archives the heartbreaking testimonials of a handful of survivors, now in their 70s but each with vivid memories of the period. [Scott Tobias]

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The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant

The titular Iron man
The titular Iron man
Screenshot: The Iron Giant

A pacifist morality tale set during the height of the Cold War sounds more like a trip to school than fun for the whole family. But at its core, The Iron Giant is basically E.T. in reverse: same starry-eyed story of a boy befriending an alien, only here, it’s the boy’s simple wisdom that makes an impression on the alien, not the other way around. And while there’s no single image in The Iron Giant to match the iconic shot of children cycling in silhouette under the moonlight, there isn’t much difference between that flight and a young boy cradled into the palm of a 100-foot-tall robot, catching a bird’s-eye view of a seaside town in New England. The bond between boy and alien may just transcend the bond between boy and dog. [Scott Tobias]

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Killer Joe

Killer Joe

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: 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 Mistress

The Last Mistress

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: The Last Mistress

Early in The Last Mistress, a quietly sinister period drama based on Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly’s scandalous 19th-century novel, a pair of old gossips discuss the engagement of a virginal aristocrat to a notorious libertine. They worry the naïve young woman is overmatched, but more ruinous still is the possibility of love: “In love,” one says, “the first to suffer has lost.” And with that, all the film’s period trappings can no longer hide the act that we’re in the world of Catherine Breillat, the French director behind Fat Girl, Romance, and other frank chronicles of bedroom politics. For Breillat, love and exploitation go hand in glove, because the more people give themselves over to each other, the more vulnerable they become. And once two people share that lasting a connection, a power struggle intensifies and the real suffering begins. [Scott Tobias]

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The Last Race

The Last Race

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

There were plenty of celebrated documentaries in 2018, 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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The Little Hours

The Little Hours

The LIttle Hours
The LIttle Hours
Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

One of the first things Aubrey Plaza says in The Little Hours is “Don’t fucking talk to us.” Anachronism, as it turns out, is the guiding force of this frequently funny, agreeably bawdy farce, which imagines what a convent of the grubby, violent, disease-infested Middle Ages might look and sound like if it were populated by characters straight out of a modern NBC sitcom. Plaza’s Fernanda, a caustic eye-rolling hipster nun born eons too early, sneaks out to get into mischief, using a perpetually escaping donkey as her excuse. Uptight wallflower Genevra (a priceless Kate Micucci) tattles relentlessly on the other women, reporting every transgression to Sister Marea (Molly Shannon, playing her dutiful piousness almost totally straight—she’s the only character here that could actually exist in the 1300s). And Alessandra (Alison Brie), the closest the convent has to a spoiled rich kid, daydreams about being whisked away and married, but that would depend on her father shelling out for a decent dowry. If the plague doesn’t kill them, the boredom will. When Plaza, Micucci, and Brie get smashed on stolen communion wine and perform a drunken sing-along of a wordless choral staple, like college girls sneaking booze past the RA and belting some radio anthem in their dorm, the true resonance of all this anachronism slips into focus: An itchy desire for a better life is something women of every century experience, regardless if their catalog of curses yet includes “fuck.” [A.A. Dowd]

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Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky
Logan Lucky
Photo: Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street

As a heist picture, Logan Lucky knows just how often to alternate straight exposition with cagey withholding. The full robbery blueprint is revealed slowly—new details are still twisting the narrative even after the big heist day has passed, perfect for Steven Soderbergh’s control-freak tendencies (once again, he shoots and edits himself). The snappy script by unknown (and possibly pseudonymous) newcomer Rebecca Blunt offers some Coen brothers-like dialogue, which Soderbergh complements with his compositions. Sometimes he gets a laugh just by how he positions the actors in the frame, and there are multiple gags predicated on the timing of explosions. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Luce

Luce

Luce
Luce
Photo: Neon

There’s a scene early in Luce, a riveting 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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Malcolm X

Malcolm X

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Screenshot: Malcolm X

Malcolm X contains one of the greatest screen performances of the ’90s. As Brother Malcolm, Denzel Washington conveys the oratorical fire that swayed millions, capturing the original’s cadence and wit with uncanny accuracy. But it’s not an impersonation. Just as director Spike Lee’s sensibility suffuses the movie as a whole, Washington is wholly present in this role. He’s not bringing an icon to life; he’s playing a fully realized character, with weaknesses and fears as well as strengths. Washington anchors a sprawling story, allowing Lee, Dickerson, Brown, and company to experiment with different visual styles and editing structures without losing the audience. Malcolm X offers a nuanced and persuasive take on a volatile period in American race relations, using the changes that Malcolm himself went through in his faith and his philosophy as a way of showing that nothing is as static or fixed as it looks in a history book. But even aside from its content, Malcolm X is a powerhouse piece of cinema, serving as a culmination of everything Lee had done up to that point. From She’s Gotta Have It on, Lee used every opportunity to make a movie as an opportunity to express his enthusiasms, his politics, and his point-of-view. Malcolm X was no different. He made a sweeping Hollywood epic, and he made A Spike Lee Joint. [Noel Murray]

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The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere
The Man From Nowhere
Screenshot:

The Man From Nowhere, the highest-grossing movie, foreign or domestic, in South Korea in 2010. (For comparison’s sake, America’s highest-grossing movie that same year was Toy Story 3.) The Man From Nowhere is a raw fucking film. It tells its story with an all-out intensity that no American action movie could ever hope to match. It gets complicated, but here are the broad strokes: A quiet, mysterious loner lives by himself in an apartment building and runs a pawnshop. The only person he ever talks to is one neighbor, a little girl whose mother is a reckless heroin addict. He acts annoyed whenever the little girl comes around, but he looks after her. The mother steals some heroin from some gangsters, and so they kidnap both the mother and the girl. And they’re not just drug traffickers; they’re also organ harvesters, and they plan to do some bad things to these poor people. So the pawnshop owner, who happens to be a former special forces assassin, has to take on this entire merciless criminal syndicate to get his friend back. [Tom Breihan]

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McQueen

McQueen

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: Ann Ray (Bleecker Street

Rising quickly from a protegé of fashion editor Isabella Blow to creative director of Givenchy and owner of his own label, McQueen rose to prominence during a period where not just models but also fashion designers were becoming celebrities in their own right. He had an undeniable talent and a knack for getting the fashion gatekeepers that his work was designed to piss off to write him checks anyway. And he hated it—hated being famous, hated being respectable, hated pretty much everything but his dogs and working in his studio with the close-knit group of colleagues who were his only real friends. Those colleagues, along with members of McQueen’s family and former lovers, provide a rare, intimate look into the designer’s private world in McQueen, a film that’s refreshingly free of the gushing sound bites from sycophantic celebrities that too often dominate fashion documentaries. [Katie Rife]

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Meek’s Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: 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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Minding The Gap

Minding The Gap

Minding The Gap
Minding The Gap
Photo: Kartemquin

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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Mission: Impossible—Fallout

Mission: Impossible—Fallout

Mission: Impossible — Fallout
Mission: Impossible — Fallout
Photo: Paramount Pictures

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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Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the series’ fourth film, charges director Brad Bird with the task, betting that the animator behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille would have similar luck with flesh and blood in his live-action debut. The bet pays off. And then some. Bird brings a scary amount of assurance to Ghost Protocol. His action scenes are clean, coherent, thrilling, and visceral, never more than in a mid-film sequence in Dubai that piles setpiece atop setpiece as the action moves in, around, up, and down the Burj Khalifa skyscraper—the tallest building in the world. As Tom Cruise clings to the side of the building using malfunctioning equipment, and a sandstorm looms in the distance, the question shifts from whether Bird can direct an action film to whether there’s anyone out there who can top him. [Keith Phipps]

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MLK/FBI

MLK/FBI

Martin Luther King Jr. in MLK/FBI
Martin Luther King Jr. in MLK/FBI
Photo: IFC Films

Rather than a didactic Martin Luther King Jr. biographical endeavor, this project about the African American experience from veteran director Sam Pollard is an in-depth examination of the bureau’s history as it relates to their surveillance of the pastor-turned-galvanizing-orator. In place of talking heads, Pollard deploys only the audio from MLK’s interviews, filling the screen instead with archival footage and photographs. For context, Pollard talks to some of King’s closest contemporaries, like Andrew Young and Clarence Jones, as well as as notable academics like Donna Murch and David J. Garrow. Their observations, opinions, and first-hand accounts are the building blocks of a pragmatic history lesson. The tone of MLK/FBI can be excessively solemn at times, though maybe that’s a preemptive measure—a reflection of how those wronged in this country are expected to present their arguments in level-headed fashion or be deemed too emotional and hence not “objective.” Never forget that white America polices even the way in which those who are othered choose to talk about their trauma. [Carlos Aguilar]

Available May 14

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Monos

Monos

Monos
Monos
Photo: Neon

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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Monster’s Ball

Monster’s Ball

Halle Berry
Halle Berry
Screenshot: Monster’s Ball

Spelled out in its broadest outlines, Monster’s Ball reads like a crude liberal fantasy worthy of the late Stanley Kramer (Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner): It’s a message movie about a white racist redeemed by the love of a poor black woman, who is, in kind, redeemed by his generosity. The action could have swayed toward unbearably turgid and patronizing, but director Marc Forster and his stellar cast transform Ball’s dubious premise into a surprisingly nuanced and resonant melodrama, bolstered by an unusually strong feeling for the crawling tenor of life in the Deep South. Though its vision of racial harmony appears too tidy and simple-minded at times, Monster’s Ball sticks closer to its characters than its message, smartly deferring any questions of authenticity to the actors. [Scott Tobias]

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Mortdecai

Mortdecai

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: 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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The Mountain

The Mountain

The Mountain
The Mountain
Photo: Kino Lorber

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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Neil Young: Heart Of Gold

Neil Young: Heart Of Gold

Neil Young
Neil Young
Screenshot: Neil Young: Heart Of Gold

Concert films became more common as MTV (and later, DVDs) grew more popular. They used to be reserved only for the biggest stars; now it’s rare to find a band that hasn’t shot a concert. But that doesn’t make all concert films equal. Anyone can point a camera at Journey while the music plays. It takes talent to make a concert film a film. Enter Jonathan Demme, whose 1984 Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense took the form to a place that its predecessors (with the possible exceptions of The Last Waltz) had only suggested. Namely, he took it to the stage, putting viewers close enough to see the sweat drip off David Byrne’s brow, but maintaining just enough distance that it looked like art. The shots seemed composed but the action spontaneous, a balance that few directors ever find. Demme repeated the trick on a much smaller scale with the little-seen but priceless Robyn Hitchcock feature Storefront Hitchcock. With Neil Young: Heart Of Gold, he more or less splits the difference, capturing a Young performance before a small crowd at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. [Keith Phipps]

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The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling
Screenshot: The Nice Guys

Not since Blue Ruin has a movie gotten as much mileage out of having its hero fuck up as The Nice Guys does. Shane Black’s entertaining but shaggy homage to The Rockford Files-era detective series and mid-to-late 1970s cheese finds its offbeat gumshoe in Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a smartass with no sense of smell who tends to make bad guesses, lose guns, misread addresses, drink whatever’s handed to him, and defenestrate himself repeatedly; early on, he tries to break into a window, only to slice his wrist up so badly that he passes out from blood loss. Structured like a TV pilot, the movie partners March with Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), the Yoo-hoo-loving goon who broke the private eye’s arm just days before, in the search for a missing activist. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Nights And Weekends

Nights And Weekends

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Hulu
Photo: Nights And Weekends

In Nights And Weekends, Joe Swanberg and his frequent leading lady, script collaborator, and now directing collaborator Greta Gerwig dissect a long-distance relationship that dies, then gets briefly, sadly resurrected. First seen during a rare weekend together, Swanberg and Gerwig are making their usual transition from sexual bliss to mutual whining about incompatibility and the stress of trying to keep the romance alive. A year later, Swanberg travels to New York on business and reconnects with Gerwig, in a series of clumsy encounters where neither knows what role they’re supposed to play. When Gerwig cheerfully shoos Swanberg out of her apartment so she can change for their not-quite-a-date, then crumples into sobs as soon as he steps out, it’s both a powerful, beautifully acted scene and a critical study of what becomes of the noncommittal. [Noel Murray]

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The Nightingale

The Nightingale

The Nightingale
The Nightingale
Photo: IFC Films

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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Nomadland

Nomadland

Frances McDormand in Nomadland
Frances McDormand in Nomadland
Photo: Searchlight Pictures

Unless the political landscape changes significantly over the next few years, the number of Americans facing an old age like the one profiled in Nomadland will only continue to grow. A longtime resident of Empire, Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) watched her town shrivel up and die after the gypsum mine that employed the majority of the community shut down in January 2011. A dandelion seed left to float on the fickle winds of capitalism, Fern now lives in a custom van she calls “Vanguard,” traveling in search of temporary employment and a safe place to park overnight. In the winter, she packs boxes at an Amazon warehouse; in the summer, she fries burgers and cleans toilets at tourist attractions. Her pleasures are simple, her struggles immense. Her hair is short, her shoes sensible. She keeps moving so she doesn’t dwell on the past for long. In different hands, Fern’s story might be tragic. But while Nomadland director (and writer and editor and co-producer) Chloé Zhao is interested in the material realities of a sixtysomething widow living an itinerant lifestyle, she also brings a dignity to the film that verges on sublime. [A.A. Dowd]

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Once Upon A Time In The West

Once Upon A Time In The West

Henry Fonda
Henry Fonda
Screenshot: Once Upon A Time In The West

As much as anyone, with the possible exception of Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda was the face of decency in American cinema–a gentle, blue-eyed beanpole who exuded a quiet authority that was never imperious, perhaps because his plainspoken drawl identified him as a man of the people. The Grapes Of Wrath, The Lady Eve, and Young Mr. Lincoln paint him as an unusually sturdy and even powerful figure, but with a trace of naïveté, unsullied by knowledge of corruption in the world. All of which helps make his shocking appearance in Sergio Leone’s 1968 masterpiece Once Upon A Time In The West one of the great introductions in film history. Hovering over a little boy after his henchmen slaughter the kid’s entire family, Fonda not only knows evil, but also embodies it in every inch of his towering frame. Unmoved by compassion or pity, he considers sparing the harmless boy, until one of his men reveals his name, which makes squeezing the shotgun trigger a cold-blooded practicality. But in Leone’s epic story of growing pains in the Wild West, Fonda is merely one of four larger-than-life figures who stand literally at the juncture of progress, fighting over a train line that stands to drag the lawless frontier into civilization. [Scott Tobias]

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Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Palm Springs
Palm Springs
Photo: Hulu

Andy Samberg stars as Nyles, a slacker doofus stuck at a destination wedding in Southern California, which he’s attending as the date of a bridesmaid. Blithely wandering the reception in a loud and very informal short-sleeve shirt, Nyles clearly doesn’t have any fucks to give. But he also seems to have a suspiciously premonitory sense of how the night will play out. And before long, Palm Springs reveals the reason for both: He’s stuck in a time warp, waking up every morning to find himself still in Palm Springs on the morning of the wedding. The film employs its magical conceit as a multi-purpose metaphor for a long-term relationship. The flip side, of course, is that monogamy can leave you feeling as stuck as the characters, living the same day over and over again, with only your significant other for company. But Palm Springs wears all that baggage lightly. It’s a sadly rare thing: a sweet, madly inventive, totally mainstream romantic comedy, buoyed by inspired jolts of comic violence (some of them provided by J.K. Simmons as another wedding guest with a very big bone to pick with Nyles). [A.A. Dowd]

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Parasite

Parasite

Parasite
Parasite
Photo: Neon

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 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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Paycheck

Paycheck

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck
Screenshot: Paycheck

Based on a short story by paranoid futurist Philip K. Dick, whose work inspired the similar Minority Report, John Woo’s smart thriller Paycheck may not intend to be political, but it’s marked as much by its era as post-Watergate thrillers like The Parallax View or Three Days Of The Condor. In considering a machine that works like a giant crystal ball, the film questions the Bush Doctrine of preemptive warfare, saying that once the future can be predicted with any degree of certainty, the world is destined to be destroyed. Of course, like most science fiction that contends with such fortune telling, Paycheck gets snared by the usual questions of free will versus predestination, raising all the unavoidable paradoxes that are impossible to resolve. But the inherent slips of logic do nothing to undermine the Dickian anxieties at the story’s core, which looks to the future in order to comment meaningfully on the present. [Scott Tobias]

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Person To Person

Person To Person

Person To Person
Person To Person
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

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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Possessor

Possessor

Andrea Riseborough in Possessor
Andrea Riseborough in Possessor
Photo: Neon

Possessor is a mindfuck without a safe word: a slick, nasty bit of science-fiction pulp that’s as interested in shredding nerves as buzzing the brain they’re attached to. The premise, a nightmare vision of bodies snatched and unwillfully weaponized, could have been extracted straight from the racing noggin of Philip K. Dick. But that author’s dystopian premonitions are just one aspect of its genre alchemy, a stylish mash-up of Ghost In The Shell, Inception, Under The Skin, and Olivier Assayas’ corporate-espionage thriller demonlover. And as it’s both written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of Canadian horror maestro David, it should probably come as no great shock that Possessor includes some truly gnarly mutilation of the flesh alongside the mental variety. [A.A. Dowd]

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Proxy

Proxy