The best movies on Paramount Plus

The best movies on Paramount Plus

Clockwise from top left: The Faculty (Screenshot); Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade; Mission: Impossible (Screenshot); The Ring (Screenshot); Clue (Screenshot); Trainspotting (Screenshot); Boomerang (Screenshot
Clockwise from top left: The Faculty (Screenshot); Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade; Mission: Impossible (Screenshot); The Ring (Screenshot); Clue (Screenshot); Trainspotting (Screenshot); Boomerang (Screenshot

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 film? Click the author’s name at the end 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.

The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film is available as part of your Paramount Plus (previously CBS All Access) subscription, (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as Paramount Plus announces new additions to their library.

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

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2 / 75

76 Days

76 Days

76 Days
76 Days
Photo: MTV Documentary Films

One of the three people who directed 76 Days, a documentary portrait of the COVID-19 crisis in Wuhan, is credited only as Anonymous, perhaps due to some legally problematic association with the hospital where most of the film was shot. That seems apropos in another way, though: Virtually everyone who appears on screen is functionally anonymous. All of the doctors and nurses working tirelessly to save lives are decked out in protective equipment that’s just one notch down from a hazmat suit; the film occasionally names them via superimposed text, but it’s still nearly impossible to keep track of who’s who. The patients, similarly, have their faces largely obscured, either by standard face masks or (much too frequently) by oxygen masks and intubation tubes. The visual interchangeability serves as a reminder that this exact same nightmare has played out all over the globe this year. Wuhan just happened to go through the wringer first, totally locking down a city more populous (11 million) than any in America. [Mike D’Angelo]

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3 / 75

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Jude Law
Jude Law
Screenshot: A.I. Artificial Inteligence

Historically, science-fiction films have come in two varieties: one driven by ideas, the other by gadgets, gimmicks, and bug-eyed monsters. The former type has mostly been in retreat for years, if not since its apotheosis, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But A.I.—a realization of a long-discussed, never-realized Kubrick project, written and directed by Steven Spielberg—has enough ideas to make up for the extended shortage. Working with wild ambition that occasionally (and inevitably) overwhelms itself, Spielberg launches an inquiry into humanity itself, its origins, its nature, and its end. His vehicle is a robotic boy created by scientist William Hurt and played by Haley Joel Osment, a machine that, unlike any before him, comes programmed to love his adoptive parents. Kubrick would have made a different film, but discussing the hows and wherefores is as pointless as debating whether his version would have been better. Spielberg’s best tribute to 2001's director is this: With A.I., he has created what history should confirm as one of the defining films of its time, a compelling, moving inquiry into the most basic elements of existence, told with fear and awe in a vocabulary exclusive to moviemaking. [Keith Phipps]

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4 / 75

The Adventures Of Tintin

The Adventures Of Tintin

The Adventures Of Tintin
The Adventures Of Tintin
Image: Paramount

From the opening credits to an early gag involving a portrait artist, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin formally announces its intent to respect the style and vision of Hergé, the Belgian artist who created Tintin and took the boy reporter/adventurer through two dozen books of comic-book adventures over the course of more than 40 years. Conscious hat-tips aside, though, Adventures Of Tintin is far more a modern movie experience than a retro one. Its motion-capture CGI renders the characters in rubbery, apple-cheeked versions that sometimes slide queasily into the uncanny valley; its script (written by the dream team of Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat, Hot Fuzz writer-director Edgar Wright, and Attack The Block writer-director Joe Cornish) is an of-the-moment action movie, little more than a lengthy series of big setpieces, crammed with fights and chases. But most of those fights and chases are worth watching. When Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) casually buys a model ship in a street market, then shrugs off the two men who immediately try to buy it from him, he unwittingly launches a massive McGuffin-hunt centering on an object hidden within the model. In typical Tintin fashion, one clue leads to the next, with the characters hopping from country to country, from ocean to desert, from a ruined country house to a sheik’s palace. And as in Hergé’s work, Tintin himself doesn’t have much personality, apart from determination and curiosity; he’s the narrative equivalent of a crowbar, a simple, sturdy tool that’s largely useful for prying and occasionally thunking a goon on the head. But while Tintin lacks backstory or personal development, Adventures Of Tintin compensates with his new partner Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who’s crammed with color, curses, and whiskey. As in the books, they make solid foils. [Tasha Robinson]

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5 / 75

Aeon Flux

Aeon Flux

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Aeon Flux

The feature-film version of Aeon Flux begins by tossing out an undigested lump of seemingly too-fussy, too-detailed exposition (ultra-short version: it’s 2415, Marton Csokas is the head of a fascistic regime, Charlize Theron as vengeful super-rebel Aeon Flux is out to kill him), then leaping into what looks like 90 minutes of numbing Theron-on-mook violence. But without warning, Theron gets distracted and the film turns into something drier and more thoughtful; what initially seemed conceptually slight but visually neat expands into a much more complicated story where the ideas lead the action instead of the other way around. Director Karyn Kusama gives the film some of the visual chill of Resident Evil and some of the future-slick of Equilibrium, and like those movies, Aeon Flux may only appeal to genre fans who prefer their fast-paced, well-choreographed, martial-arts-inflected ass-kickery flavored with a complicated backstory and a lot of freaky CGI widgets and video-gameish special effects. But as geek-chic goes, Aeon Flux is reasonably smart in its slower moments, and a whipcrack-quick ride when it speeds up. It doesn’t much resemble the vision of Peter Chung, the creator of the original animated shorts, but it’s enough that it actually has a vision of its own. [Tasha Robinson]

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6 / 75

American Teen

American Teen

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: American Teen

The title of Nanette Burstein’s documentary American Teen sounds like an absurd generalization, more so when the movie itself turns out to be about high-school students in small-town Indiana, which could never be called a diverse cross-section of the country’s youth. Things get even broader when Burstein introduces her four main subjects, who are instantly broken down into Breakfast Club types: The Popular Girl, The Jock, The Nerd, The Rebel. As such, the film will inevitably be misunderstood as a sweeping statement on teenage life, when Burstein really means to explore the relationship between these labels and the complicated individuals who fall under them. Though it’s compelling enough as soap opera, American Teen digs deeply into why kids grudgingly accept the roles they’ve been given and the brutal consequences that come with straying outside the lines. [Scott Tobias]

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7 / 75

Asylum

Asylum

Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson
Screenshot: Asylum

Patrick McGrath, Asylum takes place in the high-Freudian days of the 1950s, when psychiatry had started to flex its muscles as a science. But while this has allowed Hugh Bonneville’s acclaimed psychiatrist to achieve professional success, as the film opens, his wife, Natasha Richardson, has already exhausted the era’s possibilities for a loving spouse. She adores her 10-year-old son, but her marriage has long since faded into endless days, gray evenings sipping scotch by the fire, and badly concealed contempt. Before long, she seeks diversion in the arms of handsome inmate Marton Csokas, a failed sculptor who killed his wife after, by his account, she betrayed him. In their moments of passion, they look like two ordinary people. Eventually, Richardson stops worrying about the distinction altogether. Is Richardson truly crazy, or has she just found an exit from an insufferable life? What’s to be made of Bonneville’s impeccably sane rival Ian McKellen, who quietly turns the situation to his advantage? And where is evil when moral failings have clinical treatments? [Keith Phipps]

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8 / 75

Avalon

Avalon

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Avalon

By now, anyone who’s seen a movie by Japanese writer-director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The Shell, The Red Spectacles, Talking Head) should be familiar with the pattern: high-concept genre ideas, beautifully shot and composed images, pacing somewhere between languid and draggy, lengthy meditative silent environmental studies. Oshii’s 2001 movie Avalon takes all of the above and blends it with a William Gibson brand of cyberpunk and half a dozen visual and textual concepts drawn directly from The Matrix. Shot in Poland, with a Polish cast and a Polish-language script, Avalon takes place in a grungy future in which the most popular entertainment is a virtual-reality military game called Avalon. Most players team up in order to survive the game’s dangerous battles, but one woman (Malgorzata Foremniak), burned by a bad team breakup, has achieved near-mythic status as a solo player. When former teammate Jerzy Gudejko, also playing solo, winds up comatose–one of the many “unreturned” who never log out of Avalon–Foremniak begins to follow up rumors of a game level called “Special A,” a challenge which has apparently destroyed all previous players. The plot is formulaic, and much of the rest is familiar, particularly the grubby, sunken-eyed, rag-bedecked people who lie in metal recliners and plug themselves into a machine in order to retreat to a shinier world where they can wear black leather and carry big guns. But while it wears its influences unabashedly, Avalon also bears Oshii’s unmistakable stamp, his usual stately pacing, and the gorgeous music of frequent Oshii collaborator Kenji Kawai. These elements combine to give Avalon the weight of high religious ritual, and the visuals, mostly filmed in high-contrast sepia tones, are often breathtaking. [Tasha Robinson]

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9 / 75

The Aviator

The Aviator

Leonardo Di Caprio
Leonardo Di Caprio
Screenshot: The Aviator

A frenzied, sometimes overreaching biopic that paints in bold colors on a huge canvas, the film stars a never-better Leonardo DiCaprio—as perfectly cast here as he was miscast in Gangs—as aviation giant and show-business mogul Howard Hughes. Kicking off with a bang, the film begins with a bravura string of setpieces involving Hughes’s obsessive involvement in Hell’s Angels (the Titanic of its day). The sequence peaks when Hughes takes to the crowded skies to shoot aerial scenes himself, in a jaw-dropping scene that suggests a child’s fantasy of delirious flight rendered dazzlingly concrete. Yet even as Hughes conquers Hollywood, aviation, and a veritable who’s who of filmdom’s most glamorous leading ladies, the germophobia and obsessive-compulsive behavior that became his downfall linger in the background. Of course, any filmmaker who attempts to show, subjectively and cinematically, the horrors of mental illness runs the risk of lapsing into camp, but through deft filmmaking and acting, The Aviator subtly conveys how a simple doorknob can seem like a seething cesspool of bacteria, or how sharing a container of milk can become a sweeping romantic gesture.

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10 / 75

Big Night

Big Night

Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub
Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub
Screenshot: Big Night

One of the most delectable films ever made about food—and everything that goes with it—Big Night exudes a warmth, depth, and nuance of character and relationship dynamics that’s impossible to resist. Directed by Stanley Tucci (who stars) and Campbell Scott (who co-stars) from a stellar script by Tucci and Joseph Tropiano, this acclaimed 1996 indie charts the ordeal of brothers Primo (Tony Shaloub) and Secondo (Tucci) to save their struggling 1950s New Jersey Shore restaurant, Paradise, from bank foreclosure—a fate caused by the success of the rival across-the-street Italian eatery run by Pascal (Ian Holm). Unlike Pascal, who panders to his American customers, the uncompromising Primo believes in teaching his patrons about the magnificence of “real” Italian cuisine, as evidenced by an opening sequence in which an unhappy diner (Caroline Aaron) requests a side of spaghetti with her seafood risotto, and an outraged Primo responds by slandering her as a “criminal.” [Nick Schager]

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11 / 75

Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan

Christina Ricci
Christina Ricci
Screenshot: Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan delivers the sentimental, heartwarming tale of a boozy, drug-crazed white sex addict (Christina Ricci, a long way from Casper) and the nice older black man (Samuel L. Jackson) who chains her to his radiator as part of an unconventional crash course in self-respect and morality. Craig Brewer’s nouveau blaxploitation/arthouse mash-up is pitched uncomfortably but compellingly between homage and exploitation in its big-hearted exploration of the steamiest corners of black life. Like the strangely simpatico films of fellow Southern humanist David Gordon Green, Moan fetishizes sweat and decay as it surveys a very dirty South seemingly devoid of computers, iPods, cell phones, and other ubiquitous fixtures of contemporary life. Ricci struts defiantly through this ‘70s-style time warp as a lusty nymphomaniac who falls back into her bad old ways after jittery boyfriend Justin Timberlake departs for boot camp. When Timberlake’s redneck brother viciously beats Ricci and leaves her for dead, grief-stricken bluesman Jackson brings her back to his shotgun shack and tries to set her on the straight and narrow. [Nathan Rabin]

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12 / 75

Blue Car

Blue Car

David Straithairn
David Straithairn
Screenshot: Blue Car

Staying after school to meet with teacher David Straithairn, aspiring high-school poet Agnes Bruckner receives some advice that’s as valid as it is clichéd: Start with the details and work your way out. She takes that lesson to heart, as does writer-director (and sometime actress) Karen Moncrieff in her feature debut, Blue Car. Moncrieff makes the clinking of keys in the bowl by the door of the tiny apartment Bruckner shares with her troubled younger sister and her frequently absent, recently divorced mother (Margaret Colin) into a keynote signaling the tone their home will assume for the night. Usually, it’s not a pleasant sound. Forced to assume the responsibilities of motherhood from within the constraints of daughterhood, Bruckner naturally seeks a channel for her discontent, or goes looking elsewhere for affirmation. She never questions Straithairn’s support, and the film never directly implies that she should. He’s full of good advice, takes a genuine interest in her talent, and is obviously a nice, sensitive guy. And, in an extraordinary performance, Straithairn plays him as such from start to finish. There’s an edge to his scenes with the equally impressive Bruckner, however, that suggests the relationship will reach a crisis, as either his needs or hers push it into unsafe terrain. Blue Car becomes, at least in part, a long wait for the inevitable, but the acting, moody cinematography, and Moncrieff’s controlled, uncompromising approach to the material rescues it from predictability. A talented miniaturist reminiscent of Victor Nuñez, Moncrieff has made a film with all the qualities of a good short story, focusing on one truthful moment, the past from which it emerged, and, by suggestion, its impact on the future, all via the slow accumulation of telling details. [Keith Phipps]

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13 / 75

Boomerang

Boomerang

Halle Berry and Eddie Murphy
Halle Berry and Eddie Murphy
Screenshot: Boomerang

Give or take how you classify Coming To America (it’s structured around romance, but I’d call it more of a straight comedy), Boomerang is Eddie Murphy’s only foray into the true romantic comedy genre. It’s also one of his few films in which he just plays a normal guy. Successful advertisement executive Marcus Graham may be a womanizer, but Murphy channels Cary Grant more than the Roxbury Guys. When Marcus delivers a lie about catching his fiancée with the best man and the priest on his wedding day, it’s with the grounded demeanor of a guy trying to sell himself as heartbroken, not a comedian trying to sell the ridiculousness of a joke. Murphy’s still hilarious in the film; it’s just in a much more low-key, naturalistic way. Marcus soon gets a taste of his own medicine from his new man-eating boss, Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens), all while becoming best friends with artsy, empathic Angela Lewis (Halle Berry, still a relative unknown). As those experiences change Marcus for the better, Murphy gets a chance to stretch his dramatic wings, too. [Caroline Siede]

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14 / 75

Buffalo Soldiers

Buffalo Soldiers

Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix
Screenshot: Buffalo Soldiers

Buffalo Soldiers takes place during the fall of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain, when the dismantling of the Berlin Wall gave way to freedom, capitalism, and unprecedented opportunity, as well as greed, opportunism, and black-market profiteering. Joaquin Phoenix plays a smart-ass crook who uses his position with the Army as a convenient front for his more lucrative dealings in drugs and weapons. His criminal endeavors flourish under the clueless reign of kind-but-incompetent officer Ed Harris, but trouble arrives in the form of sadistic bad-ass Scott Glenn, who immediately recognizes Phoenix as a hustler and swoops down on him like an avenging angel. In a neat bit of symmetry, Phoenix has two love interests to complement his contrasting father figures: Anna Paquin, Glenn’s rebellious daughter, and Elizabeth McGovern, Harris’ bored and frustrated wife. Tightly plotted and well-acted, the film litters its brisk run time with darkly funny and haunting setpieces–most notably a climactic shootout that plays like a macabre burlesque of battle, and an early show-stopper where a tank operated by oblivious junkies runs roughshod over a festival and a gas station. A welcome and winning black comedy, Buffalo Soldiers takes a smart, funny, corrosive look at the way ideologies divide and fracture, while greed and self-interest remain universal. [Nathan Rabin]

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15 / 75

Children Of Heaven

Children Of Heaven

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Children Of Heaven

Iranian writer/director Majid Majidi’s 1996 film The Father was filmed from a child’s point of view, and his splendid, wonderfully shot Children Of Heaven features a similar perspective. When Mir Farrokh Hashemian loses his sister Bahareh Seddiqi’s just-mended sneakers, the two siblings must share one ratty pair of canvas running shoes without alerting their poor parents to their plight. Seddiqi, jealous of her classmates, longs for new sneakers, while Hashemian, feeling guilty, wants nothing more than to help his sister. The premise is deceptively simple, as this film about children navigating through an adult world gradually begins to take on a more socioeconomic meaning. Majidi uses the quest for shoes to reveal the wide class gap in contemporary Tehran: Every child seems to have a different pair, ranging from plain sandals to ornate sneakers, and a family’s wealth is often determined via the fancy footwear on display in the schoolyard. Majidi masterfully balances the serious subtext with entertaining vignettes, such as a trip uptown where Hashemian and his father care for the lawns of the privileged few or an invitational long-distance race where, for Hashemian, winning might actually mean losing. While Children Of Heaven is as bright and well-paced as the best Disney films—a poetic shot of a boy’s blistered feet soaking in a glistening goldfish pond is particularly magical—Majidi avoids easy sentimentality, delivering an unexpected conclusion that provides a surprising change of pace. [Joshua Klein]

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16 / 75

Clue

Clue

Lesley Ann Warren
Lesley Ann Warren
Screenshot: Clue

How do you come back from the phrase “Based on the Parker Brothers game”? Clue smartly incorporates elements of the game into a farcical structure that can sustain them and give the whole enterprise surprising legitimacy. It’s true that many of the comic situations, like the one above, are boilerplate, but even those who find Clue manic and unfunny have to admit that it’s a real effort, far more sophisticated in its design than its silly source might have suggested—or deserved. Director Jonathan Lynn and his co-writer John Landis are playful with the board-game references—divvying up the weapons like Christmas presents is cheerfully ridiculous, and giant envelopes play a prominent role—but they’re film historians first and foremost, and they use this opportunity to pay grand homage to genres that haven’t been in fashion for decades, if they ever were. [Scott Tobias]

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17 / 75

The Crying Game

The Crying Game

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: The Crying Game

In some ways, 1992's The Crying Game had the best of all possible worlds: Though its crucial late-film twist was heavily praised by critics and touted by the media, it prompted a deathly serious cooperative conspiracy of public secrecy. The controversial subject matter that initially caused several studios to balk became a key selling point, and the combination of media enthusiasm and mystery helped make the film a critical and commercial breakthrough for writer-director Neil Jordan and for many of the cast members, including TV vet Stephen Rea, experienced but underexposed actors Miranda Richardson and Forest Whitaker, and newcomer Jaye Davidson. More than a decade later, the film’s “secret” has been generally disseminated and the hype has long dispersed, but it’s been proved unnecessary: The Crying Game’s powerful performances, tense direction, and deceptively low-key Oscar-winning screenplay easily withstand the test of time. [Tasha Robinson]

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18 / 75

Dear Frankie

Dear Frankie

Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, and Gerrard Butler
Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, and Gerrard Butler
Screenshot: Dear Frankie

Dear Frankie serves as an example of how fine acting, subtle direction, and a strong sense of atmosphere can steer potentially mawkish material away from excess. Explosive one moment, tender the next, Emily Mortimer captures a woman going about the tough business of motherhood. After all, no one else is going to do it. Expressive without speaking, Jack McElhone suggests a kid who’s already learned more lessons from his mother than she could imagine. The hazy, seaside setting, evocatively photographed by debuting director Shona Auerbach, drains the story of sentimentality as effectively as Auerbach’s tendency to favor awkward pauses and knowing looks over spell-it-out dialogue. An even better film might have dug into the ethics of Mortimer’s choice to favor a comforting lie, or avoided a few too-convenient late-film developments that let almost everyone off the hook, sending them toward a happy ending. But on its own terms, Dear Frankie works much better than it really has any right to. Auerbach tells a small, contrived story, but gives it the weight of life. [Keith Phipps]

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19 / 75

Dragons Forever

Dragons Forever

Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, and Jackie Chan
Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, and Jackie Chan
Screenshot: Dragons Forever

In the mid- to late- ‘80s, legendary Hong Kong star and director Sammo Hung made a string of kung-fu action comedies which came to be called the Lucky Stars series. Featuring a revolving cast of the Asian film industry’s top action stars and comedians—but almost always including Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and later Yuen Biao—the six films were an enormously successful growing experience for all involved. In addition to being lots of fun and making lots of money, these six films allowed Hung to polish his directorial style, Chan to display his considerable comedic talents and physical ability, and Biao to break out of his Ed Harris-esque eternal-costar mode and eventually star in movies of his own. The first, and shakiest, of the Lucky Stars films was Winners And Sinners (1983), in which bumbling burglar Hung gets in hot water, goes to jail, and meets up with Hong Kong’s top comics. Winners is ultimately haphazard but the second film—Dragons Forever, made just four years later—is far better in every way. Hong Kong’s top comics, whoever the hell they were, are gone; Chan is allowed to be his wide-eyed slapstick best; Biao has a starring role; and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez (the man all Asia loves to hate) is the top bad guy. The plot is even mildly interesting. When a polluting industrialist is hassled by a nice-lady environmentalist, he hires high-priced mercenary lawyer Chan, who then hires Hung and Biao to spy on the woman. When they find that the industrialist isn’t just polluting but refining drugs, they turn the tables and raid his factory. But the real fun is, of course, in watching the three leading men interact. While no single scene stands out as a definitive example of Hung’s/Chan’s/Biao’s brilliance, the three are pure magic together, providing good-natured physical comedy, long, demanding, acrobatic fight scenes, and the indefinable, irrepressible energy that runs through the best Hong Kong cinema. [John Krewson]

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20 / 75

The Duchess

The Duchess

Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes
Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes
Screenshot: The Duchess

Back in the late 18th century, while England was dealing with rebellion in its colonies and a call for greater democratization at home, Georgiana Spencer married William Cavendish, the Duke of Devonshire, and via her husband’s Whig-affiliated circle of associates, she began taking an interest in politics, primarily by supporting the career of future prime minister (and lover) Charles Grey. In Saul Dibb’s The Duchess—adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from Amanda Foreman’s biography Georgiana—Keira Knightley plays the duchess as a freethinking fashion plate, admired by the ladies of London for her sense of style and her insistence that there’s no such thing as “freedom in moderation.” But her domestic situation tests her public calls for universal liberty, as her husband—played with creepily calm menace by Ralph Fiennes—reminds her that she has no real power in their relationship. He can sleep with whomever he wants, and squelch her ambitions at any time, just by threatening to take away her children. To some extent, The Duchess recalls Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, in that it’s about bed-hopping and courtly ritual during a time of revolution. Dibb isn’t interested in delivering an audience-unfriendly art film, though. His Duchess is thoroughly populist and middlebrow, full of all the high wigs, thick powder, perfect diction, and straightforward dialogue that define bodice-ripping prestige pictures about silently suffering souls. Knightley’s brand of muted iconoclasm has always been well-suited to just these kind of coach-and-corset movies, and as a result, the story of her character’s fall from idealism to practicality becomes fairly moving. [Noel Murray]

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21 / 75

Eddie Murphy: Raw

Eddie Murphy: Raw

Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy
Screenshot: Eddie Murphy: Raw

Before Coming To America, before The Nutty Professor, and long before Norbit, Eddie Murphy proved he could occupy the skin of multiple characters without the aid of elaborate prosthetic work. Raw, his 1987 blockbuster stand-up movie, remains the fullest showcase of the comedian’s gift for impression. Over a long, consistently hilarious set at Felt Forum in New York, Murphy imitates Michael Jackson, Mr. T, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, an Italian hothead, a Jamaican lothario, an African trophy wife, philandering guys, gold-digging women, and—in the film’s showstopper of a final bit—his own inebriated, self-aggrandizing father. He’s a one-man Saturday Night Live, and there’s a control of inflection and facial expression on display that marks Murphy as one of the great comics of his generation. It’s no wonder the full show was never released in an audio-only format. Simply hearing Eddie perform would do no justice to his animated, physical approach to the craft. [A.A. Dowd]

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22 / 75

Election

Election

Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Brodrick
Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Brodrick
Screenshot: Election

Alexander Payne’s Election centers on a divisive student-council race between three students, meant in the original Tom Perrotta novel as a sort-of echo of the 1992 presidential race, particularly the rise and fall of that year’s third-party candidate Ross Perot. But the film doesn’t really boil down to the competition that pits striver Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) against popular doofus Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and his wild-card sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell); from the beginning, it’s a face-off between Tracy and her teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick). The conflict starts off passive-aggressive, with Broderick’s student government advisor “Mr. M” claiming genial, student-friendly impartiality (as well as expertise in both “morals” and “ethics,” neither of which ever quite get defined in the film). But his problems with Tracy are evident from their first classroom scene, where McAllister leads his morals-versus-ethics discussion and quietly looks around for any student to call on but Tracy, whose focused, goal-oriented insistence gets under his skin. The hostility simmering underneath their early interactions comes to a boil in a terrific scene where McAllister accuses Tracy of destroying opposing campaign signs and she fires back without blinking. But this isn’t a movie of dramatic confrontations. Ambition squares off against corrupt would-be decency, and life goes on. So many movies about high school pit groups against other groups: jocks against nerds, mean girls against the unpopular, students against unfeeling teachers. In Election, the showdown between McAllister and Flick resonates because both characters feel so utterly alone—before and after. [Jesse Hassenger]

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23 / 75

Extract

Extract

J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman
J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman
Screenshot: Extract

As with Ron Livingston in Office Space and Luke Wilson in Idiocracy, director Mike Judge centers the film around a put-upon everyman, played here by Jason Bateman, who watches his small universe collapse at his feet. Though his extract business is successful enough to win him a nice house and a pending takeover offer from General Mills, he’s having problems on two separate fronts. His sexual frustration at home leads him to make the drastic decision—encouraged by his dimwitted bartender (Ben Affleck, in top form)—to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife (Kristen Wiig) so he won’t feel guilty about cheating on her. Bateman is unaware, however, that the object of his desire, a fetching new temp played by Mila Kunis, is actually a con artist using her feminine charms to sabotage his business. [Scott Tobias]

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24 / 75

The Faculty

The Faculty

Clea Duvall and Elijah Wood
Clea Duvall and Elijah Wood
Screenshot: The Faculty

On its surface, The Faculty is a conceptually clever if fairly unsurprising tweak on the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers formula: What if your high-school teachers had been taken over by aliens intent on taking over the world? That’s a sound premise for a horror movie. What makes The Faculty stand out is just how slyly it executes. Released on Christmas Day 1998, the film was a modestly successful slice of counter-programming, something for the kids who had no interest in seeing You’ve Got Mail or Shakespeare In Love with their families. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it’s endured as an entertainingly glossy B-movie, with a script by Scream’s Kevin Williamson, who had initially planned to make it his directorial debut. It’s a clever teen-oriented fusion of Body Snatchers and The Thing—with a hint of Stepford Wives camp in the way the aliens turn everyone they possess into a well-mannered, conservative, overachieving versions of themselves. But the truly inspired and subversive elements of the film come in the way the story plays out: Not just in the choice to embrace drug use as a means of combatting the extraterrestrial invaders for the most productive use of narcotics arguably ever shown onscreen, but in how Rodriguez and Williamson slyly undercut the overt message of the narrative by implying that these people are not our heroes, and that even an alien invasion can’t wake people up from their boorish, nihilistic behavior. That’s a dark Christmas delivery, indeed. [Alex McLevy]

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25 / 75

Ghost Town

Ghost Town

Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear
Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear
Screenshot: Ghost Town

It takes an awful lot of effort for a contemporary comedy to win an audience back after opening with yet another “Holy crap, that guy just got hit by a bus!” scene, but Ghost Town perseveres, and eventually emerges as a likeable time-waster, albeit more sweet than funny. The bus-victim in Ghost Town’s opening scene is Greg Kinnear, a stock “asshole New York businessman” who’s working on buying a love-nest for his mistress when the city’s mass-transit system gets the better of him. Now reduced to quietly haunting ex-wife Téa Leoni, Kinnear sees a ray of hope when he meets a living man who can talk to the dead, and potentially help Kinnear sort out his unfinished business on earth. The problem? The ghost-talker is irascible dentist Ricky Gervais, who wants nothing to do with the legion of spirits who’ve been hassling him ever since a near-death experience gave him the gift. [Noel Murray]

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26 / 75

The Gift

The Gift

Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett
Screenshot: The Gift

In a performance every bit as magnetic and powerful as her career-making turn in Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett stars as a semi-professional psychic and widowed mother of three who serves as a paragon of virtue and honesty in a Southern small town desperately in need of both. Although alternately blessed and cursed with legitimate psychic powers, Blanchett mostly provides support and counsel to her working-class clients, who include a terrified battered wife (Hilary Swank) whose husband (Keanu Reeves) doesn’t take kindly to the idea of her seeking supernatural advice. Although regarded with suspicion and contempt by much of the town, Blanchett is put to use by police after the promiscuous daughter (Katie Holmes) of a respected businessman disappears, and the process eventually leads to Reeves’ arrest after Holmes’ body is discovered. As in A Simple Plan, director Sam Raimi captures the desperation and sadness of life among the working poor through countless telling details—anachronistic hairstyles, Kmart ensembles, homes that barely qualify as functional—without resorting to the condescension and ridicule that typify most Hollywood depictions of working-class life. [Nathan Rabin]

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27 / 75

The Godfather trilogy

The Godfather trilogy

Marlon Brando in The Godfather
Marlon Brando in The Godfather
Screenshot: Paramount (Getty Images)

In The Godfather films, family sustains until it starts to kill. The first film traces the decline of Don Vito Corleone and the ascent of his son Michael (Al Pacino), a war hero whose stated intention to stay out of the family business matches his father’s ambitions to keep him clean. But in the world the Don’s helped create, it’s a foolish wish. Coppola uses the peerless dark lens of cinematographer Gordon Willis to capture the eclipse of Pacino’s soul as he casts his commitment to a law-abiding life aside in order to protect his family. What starts as a familial obligation slowly turns Michael into a colder version of the father he set out to protect. His mounting sins give the famous christening finale the tone of a satanic rite. [Keith Phipps]

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28 / 75

Golden Door

Golden Door

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Golden Door

From the phrase “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” the “huddled masses” part rings most profoundly in Golden Door, a ground-level portrait of Italian immigrants and their arduous journey to the New World. As soon as a group of villagers abandon Sicily’s wide-open expanses for a ship across the Atlantic, they and their fellow travelers rarely have more than an inch between them: From the boat’s pipe-framed bunks to the maze of pens at Ellis Island, they’re shuffled along like cattle to the slaughter. Even when America is on the horizon, a cruel fog denies them a glimpse of the Statue Of Liberty, and the opaque windows at Ellis are no relief, either. At no point during Emanuele Crialese’s scrupulous historical drama does anyone assuage these immigrants’ uncertainty about making the voyage; all their superstitious minds can imagine are glorious rivers of milk and a harvest of olives the size of Plymouth Rock. [Scott Tobias]

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29 / 75

Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone

Casey Affleck
Casey Affleck
Screenshot: Gone Baby Gone

Child-abduction stories are a sticky proposition, because their inherent suspense invites the most sickening sort of exploitation, as audiences are left to wonder what’s being done to an innocent, defenseless creature. But Gone Baby Gone, based on the Dennis Lehane novel and directed with steady assurance by Ben Affleck, works hard to defuse this tension in favor of a deeper, more unexpected meditation on parenthood. Behind the camera, Affleck’s presence is as modest and workmanlike as his performances in front of it have often been brash; as a Bostonian and a new father, he has a strong connection to the material that makes itself felt in the well-tended performances and the authentic portrait of working-class Dorchester. There’s little pretense to it, and none of the Method distractions that nearly sabotaged Clint Eastwood’s Lehane adaptation Mystic River. The film simply dives headlong into a swamp of ambiguities and considers how to do right in an imperfect situation.

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30 / 75

Hamburger Hill

Hamburger Hill

Dylan McDermott
Dylan McDermott
Screenshot: Hamburger Hill

There was such a glut of Vietnam-set war films in the late ‘80s that “Vietnam movie” practically became its own genre, like slasher flicks and horny-teen romps. Somewhat lost in the shuffle was 1987's Hamburger Hill, an ideology-free two-fisted tale about one platoon’s attempt to seize a strategic position near the Laotian border. Screenwriter-producer James Carabatsos and director John Irvin do follow the Vietnam-movie blueprint, right down to scenes where the jaded short-timers freeze out the FNGs (“fuckin’ new guys”), but the bulk of Hamburger Hill is narrow in scope and pulpy in content—similar to a vintage Sam Fuller war story. Between its dreamy Philip Glass score, vivid location shooting, and strong early performances by future stars Dylan McDermott, Courtney Vance, Steven Weber, and Don Cheadle, Hamburger Hill stands out from the pack as one of the best of the Vietnam movies. [Noel Murray]

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31 / 75

Hey Arnold! The Movie

Hey Arnold! The Movie

Arnold and the gang
Arnold and the gang
Image: Nickelodeon

On a purely visual level, Hey Arnold! is an abomination: Arnold and his freakishly misshapen cohorts boast some of the creepiest character design this side of The Family Guy, while the limited animation recalls the hackwork of Hanna-Barbera. Thankfully, the film’s strengths rest elsewhere, most notably in its smart, funny, affectionate depiction of a close-knit, vibrant community filled with memorable characters. Arnold and his best friend are both a little bland, but the film wisely surrounds them with enough loopy scene-stealers for several movies, including an incorrigible, escape-prone grandmother and a monobrow-sporting oddball who professes to loathe Arnold while nursing a borderline-psychotic obsession with him. Surprisingly political for a kids’ film, not to mention a piece of cross-marketed product from a multinational corporation, Arnold’s subtext—including a subplot borrowed from Watergate—will probably go unnoticed by much of its audience, but that doesn’t make it any less refreshing or pointed. [Nathan Rabin]

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32 / 75

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie

Hey Arnold, and friends
Hey Arnold, and friends
Image: Nickelodeon

The Jungle Movie maintains Hey Arnold!’s warm tone and careful pacing, its willingness to let its young characters absorb dramatic moments and contemplate within silences. It’s not an aesthetic many kids may be accustomed to—today’s youth-oriented programming is geared more toward wackier, faster-paced TV animation—but newcomers familiar and comfortable with an energy that’s between Steven Universe and Gravity Falls will be satisfied. And the Hey Arnold! vets will feel right at home, noticing various deep-cut references to the show that rarely distract from the story being told. The Jungle Movie’s strengths are in the quiet moments, the ones in which the camera lingers on characters at their most emotionally honest and vulnerable, or when it tracks across city landscapes populated with people engaged in their own lives. The film utilizes montages for concentrated community work or emotional poignancy: Arnold’s grandparents (Dan Castellaneta and Tress MacNeille) confronting their grandson’s desire to ditch the class trip and search for his parents, or the testing of the complex, tenuous relationships between Arnold (Mason Vale Cotton), his best friend Gerald (Benjamin Flores Jr.), and his schoolyard bully/secret admirer Helga G. Pataki (Francesca Marie Smith). Letting characters and moments breathe was always Hey Arnold!’s hidden forte, and the same is true of The Jungle Movie. [Kevin Johnson]

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33 / 75

The Hunted

The Hunted

Benicio Del Toro
Benicio Del Toro
Screenshot: The Hunted

Starring as an elite warrior whose battlefield mentality makes him ill-equipped to handle civilian life is Benicio Del Toro, who plays a highly skilled government assassin who snaps and begins killing civilians. Tommy Lee Jones co-stars in the Richard Crenna role as the man who trained Del Toro to kill, and must now bring him in dead or alive. The Hunted establishes Del Toro’s motivations in clumsy and sometimes unintentionally comic fashion. When he first baits a pair of machine-gun-using hunters in the forest, for example, he sounds like the PETA member with the all-time-highest body count. The Hunted similarly overdoes the father-son angle between its protagonists: Even as he’s brutally killing civilians and cops, Del Toro behaves like a peeved adolescent acting out because Daddy didn’t give him enough attention. Like his protagonists, director William Friedkin seems more comfortable with action and movement than words, which makes it fortunate that The Hunted’s second half contains only a few scattered lines of dialogue. Aided by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, Friedkin works economically, lending the film the mark of a master craftsman, albeit of the coldly efficient variety. The terseness and surplus of technical skill make The Hunted surprisingly engaging, even as its screenplay suggests that all of Del Toro’s mayhem, violence, and destruction could have been averted through a reassuring hug and a few words of fatherly concern. [Nathan Rabin]

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34 / 75

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford
Screenshot: Raiders Of The Last Ark

Released in 1981, Raiders Of The Lost Ark puts Harrison Ford in search of the Ark of the Covenant, racing against Nazis who would use it for their own purposes, and bulldozing through one action-packed episode after another. Much of the blame for the all-action-all-the-time approach of current summer blockbusters can be placed on Raiders, but if any of the copycats had Steven Spielberg’s command of storytelling and visual gags, it wouldn’t matter. Raiders finds the right balance between reverence and wit, and the sight of Ford outrunning that giant boulder thrills as much on the 14th viewing as the first. [Keith Phipps]

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35 / 75

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Sean Connery and Harrison Ford
Sean Connery and Harrison Ford
Screenshot: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

This 1989 sequel captures Raiders’ spirit and nutadds a layer of human warmth. Trotting from Utah to Venice to Berlin to the Middle East in search of the Holy Grail, Ford is forced to team up with estranged father Sean Connery. The two stars have a natural chemistry, and even though some of the big setpieces seem like rehashes of the first film, Crusade possesses a sweetness that no other Indiana Jones movie can claim. Even when Harrison Ford and Connery are pursuing game as big as the Grail, their personal quests keep bringing them back to each other. It’s a small world after all. [Keith Phipps]

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36 / 75

Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Infernal Affairs

Early in the poorly named, brilliantly executed Hong Kong cop thriller Infernal Affairs, the fiancée of high-ranking police officer Andy Lau talks excitedly about her next novel, the story of a man with 28 personalities; she sees potential in a character who doesn’t know who he’ll be when he wakes up in the morning. Having lived that way for a decade, Lau takes less delight in the idea: Though his sanity remains intact, his loyalties have been divided since he enrolled in the police academy 10 years earlier at the prompting of his true boss, merciless gangster Eric Tsang. But in spite of his police-force double agent, Tsang still has his share of problems, most of which are caused by a police mole in his own organization: undercover cop Tony Leung. Like Lau, Leung has been on the job for a decade. Also like Lau, Leung fears his luck may soon run out. [Keith Phipps]

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37 / 75

Intimate Strangers

Intimate Strangers

French director Patrice Leconte specializes in movies about lonely, eccentric souls who seem ordinary enough to neighbors or passing acquaintances, but who secretly harbor peculiar secrets and obsessions. Intimate Strangers confines the action mainly to the four walls of an office space, though with some subtle cinematic touches. Leconte begins with a premise that sounds like a silly comedy of misunderstanding, but evolves into a deeper, more complicated undertaking. Late for her first appointment with psychiatrist Michel Duchaussoy, Sandrine Bonnaire accidentally stumbles into the office of tax attorney Fabrice Luchini, who listens patiently and attentively as she discusses her marital problems. (Leconte doesn’t let the audience know Luchini’s real profession until later, but the lawyer’s deer-in-the-headlights expression gives it away.) Comfortable with this illusory doctor-patient relationship, Luchini takes weekly sessions with Bonnaire, continuing even after the truth is revealed. Each has a reason: She takes comfort in a good listener, while he is falling in love. [Scott Tobias]

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38 / 75

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

With apologies to Don Siegel and Abel Ferrara, the best adaptation of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers is still the 1978 version, which unleashes the allegorical bogeymen-from-above on an unsuspecting metropolis. Whereas the 1956 original is either anti-Communist or anti-anti-Communist, depending on whom you ask, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion takes on the Me Generation—the way hippies transformed into yuppies, basically overnight. Of course, to attribute just one agenda to the film is to deny the whole spectrum of anxieties it probes; Kaufman taps into fears of biological contamination, government surveillance, urban alienation, and waking up one day to discover that the people you know and love are not who you thought they were. More so than The Conversation or All The President’s Men or any of those Watergate-era milestones, this is the great paranoid thriller of the 1970s. [A.A. Dowd]

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39 / 75

Iron Monkey

Iron Monkey

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Iron Monkey

Based on Chinese folk legend, Iron Monkey revitalizes the Robin Hood archetype in the Douglas Fairbanks mold, while showcasing elegant swordplay, sleight-of-hand humor, and “wire-fu” action sequences as expertly choreographed as a Golden Age song-and-dance number. Co-written and produced by the great Tsui Hark, Iron Monkey doesn’t quite rival the sumptuous period trappings of Hark’s Once Upon A Time In China, but it’s wittier and fleeter of foot, a model of sleek Hong Kong craftsmanship. In a mid-19th-century Chinese province lorded over by corrupt officials and greedy merchants, the only force of justice for the peasants is the titular hero, a black-masked Shaolin master who plunders rich men’s coffers and food warehouses to give the poor their share. Played by Rongguang Yu, he’s a kindhearted doctor by day, running a clinic with assistant Jean Wang, who has considerable ass-kicking skills of her own. Casting a wide net for anyone in town who could pass for the Iron Monkey—including a guy who looks like a monkey when he sneezes—the sinister governor (James Wong) forces Donnie Yen, a mysterious stranger with considerable fighting abilities, to find the bandit or risk losing his son. Though he handles the requisite plot mechanics with more feeling and suspense than necessary, Yuen doesn’t allow much slack between kung-fu sequences, and he keeps topping himself as he goes along, culminating in a stunning battle on poles over a raging fire. From a whimsical scene in which Yu and Wang flutter around a room after loose papers to the deft use of an umbrella as weapon and shield, Iron Monkey seems just as rooted in musicals like The Red Shoes and Singin’ In The Rain as it is in the martial-arts genre. And, like the best musicals, Iron Monkey emphasizes beauty and fun, with combatants taking so much pleasure in their moves that they yell out names for them. (“Fisherman’s Paddle!” “Flying Sleeves!” “Rod That Sweeps Away Injustice!”) In Yuen’s incomparable hands, their joy is infectious. [Scott Tobias]

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40 / 75

Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown

Pam Grier
Pam Grier
Screenshot: Jackie Brown

Probably the last thing anyone expected as Quentin Tarantino’s follow up to the moment-defining Pulp Fiction was a low-key, leisurely paced film about aging, gracefully and otherwise. Beneath the intricate and entertaining adapted-from-Elmore Leonard heist plot, however, that’s what Jackie Brown is—and it’s to Tarantino’s credit that he makes the film work on both levels. Blaxploitation icon Pam Grier plays the title character, a middle-aged flight attendant who gets caught smuggling cash and drugs for an arms-dealer acquaintance (Samuel L. Jackson). To avoid serving time, she has to work Jackson and his cohorts (Bridget Fonda, Robert DeNiro) and the law (Michael Keaton) against each other while relying upon the help of a bail bondsman (played by the sweetly winning Robert Forster), who may be falling for her. That B- and C-list actors Grier and Forster both walk away looking like stars is further testament to Tarantino’s uncanny ability to cast his movies effectively, but the most exciting thing about Jackie Brown is the director’s seamless transition to a less flashy, revealing style; it’s well-suited to the more character-oriented focus of the film. The signature touches remain, and the crime plot is effective, but as in Leonard’s source material (Rum Punch), it’s not those elements that stay in your mind. Jackie Brown will probably alienate the fans who latched onto the more immediate pleasures of Tarantino’s past work—the giddily staged violence and the funny pop-culture talk—and that’s just as well. It should, more importantly, please anyone appreciative of an assured, accomplished, and very good film. [Keith Phipps]

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41 / 75

Jackie Chan’s Project A

Jackie Chan’s Project A

Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan
Screenshot: Project A

There’s a scene early in the 1983 pirate caper Project A that pretty perfectly sums up Jackie Chan’s entire filmmaking style. The first of the movie’s many big, insane set pieces is a wild bar fight between Hong Kong’s police and Coast Guard. (For reasons the movie never really adequately explains, they completely fucking hate each other.) It’s a hectic, busy scene, with bodies and bottles and pieces of furniture flying in all directions—the sort of scene where the music starts when a combatant gets his head slammed into a record player. Chan, a sailor, and Yuen Biao, a police officer, smash wooden chairs over each other’s backs. They then stare each other down while retreating behind a column, where they can’t see each other. Once hidden, they both silently grab their backs and spend a few instants writhing in agony. Then they get their game faces back on and stare each other down again. [Tom Breihan]

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42 / 75

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Jason Segel and Ed Helms
Jason Segel and Ed Helms
Screenshot: Jeff, Who Lives At Home

In Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Jason Segel plays a quintessential mumblecore fixture: the eternal adolescent whose life is locked in a holding pattern. Too old for a quarter-life crisis but not old enough for the mid-life variation, Segel lacks a rudder. But he does have a vague conception of destiny, which leads him in a series of surprising and then predictable directions. Segel begins the film with a wonderfully spacey monologue about M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, then sets off into the world in search of symbols and codes. He’s a spiritual seeker with a mind clouded with cannabis, and an animal decency that makes it easy to root for him, no matter how misguided his actions. Life changes for Segel’s 30-year-old slacker when his mother (Susan Sarandon) sends him to the store for wood glue. Before Segel can get it, he catches Judy Greer, the wife of his estranged brother Ed Helms, with another man, and reconnects with Helms to conduct a half-assed surveillance on her. Sarandon, meanwhile, receives mysterious messages from a secret admirer at work and contemplates giving romance another go late in the game. [Nathan Rabin]

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43 / 75

The Lookout

The Lookout

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Screenshot: The Lookout

There’s nothing terribly original about The Lookout at all, especially once it breaks down into a rote but efficient heist picture with gears that click a little too smoothly into place. Yet writer-director Scott Frank—who scripted Malice, Out Of Sight, and Minority Report, among other solidly crafted Hollywood thrillers—has cleverly cross-pollinated the genre with a rich character study, raising the stakes considerably. Anchored by yet another exceptional performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film plumbs deep inside the mind of a young man whose deficiencies make him ripe for exploitation. In the prologue, a wealthy, confident Gordon-Levitt cruises down a country road in a convertible at top speed, then shuts off his headlights to give his passengers a better view of the lightning bugs. When he crashes into a combine, two of his friends die and a third is maimed. Four years later, Gordon-Levitt struggles with the short circuits in his mental and motor capacities, and with his lingering guilt and shame. He bunks with Jeff Daniels, a wise, good-humored blind man he met in recovery, and works nights as a janitor at the local bank in his small Midwestern town. A group of professional thieves targets Gordon-Levitt by preying on his vulnerability and loneliness, providing him with a friend (Matthew Goode) and a girlfriend (Isla Fisher) to lure him into giving them access to the bank. [Scott Tobias]

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44 / 75

Mad Hot Ballroom

Mad Hot Ballroom

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Mad Hot Ballroom

Before they leave elementary school, most kids have ballroom or square dancing introduced in their physical-education classes, which means dropping the fun of game-playing for the horror of touching their cooties-infected gender opposites. Throughout the irresistible Mad Hot Ballroom, an uplifting documentary about dance programs in New York City public schools, it’s hard not to suspect that director Marilyn Agrelo cut all the shots of the kids recoiling from each other. But it appears that the American Ballroom Theater’s Dancing Classrooms, the non-profit organization that sponsors the program, has found the right moment for students to get into dancing in earnest. At 11 years old, these 5th graders are at the perfect age: They’re too old to view the opposite sex as foreign creatures, and too young to discard a thoroughly parent-approved activity as uncool. And as Agrelo’s cheerleading chronicle attests, the dance lessons make “little ladies and gentlemen” out of them, at least for this precious window of time. [Scott Tobias]

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45 / 75

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

John Ford did more to shape the American Western than any other director; in every decade of his career, he led the charge to define and redefine it. By 1962, he didn’t have many films left in him, but The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance still provided a glimpse of future interpretations of the past. The late ’60s and ’70s found filmmakers demythologizing the Old West; with Liberty Valance, Ford beat them to it, offering a bittersweet look at the closing of the frontier by focusing on two strikingly different men who help one town choose law and order over the chaos of the open range. James Stewart stars as a lawyer from the East who doesn’t even make it to his new home in the town of Shinbone before his life savings is stolen. The robber is the notorious Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), a gang leader given free rein to terrorize the locals in exchange for his work assisting a group of powerful ranchers. Penniless, Stewart takes a job washing dishes at a small restaurant staffed by Swedish immigrants; they include the lovely Vera Miles, an illiterate woman all but married to John Wayne, a goodhearted tough guy who runs a small horse farm and believes security means carrying a gun and being willing to fire it. As Stewart settles into town, he and Wayne strike up an occasionally uneasy friendship—Stewart advocates improvement through education and democracy, while Wayne clings to the tools that helped him tame the unsettled land. Neither fully acknowledges that only one will have a place in a more civilized Shinbone. [Keith Phipps]

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46 / 75

Minority Report

Minority Report

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Screenshot: Minority Report

“What keeps us safe, keeps us free,” declares a propagandistic advertisement for the controversial Pre-Crime Division of the Washington D.C. police force, a unit that uses three visionary “Precogs” (short for “precognizant”) to apprehend would-be killers before they kill. The inherent contradiction of the “safety is freedom” proverb seems as lost on the leaders of 2002 as it does on the ones in 2054, which is only part of what gives Steven Spielberg’s astonishing Minority Report such enormous relevance and power. Expanding on a Philip K. Dick short story, the film could be the mirror image of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, only instead of violent crime being deterred after the fact, the perpetrators are arrested before it happens. Free will is lost in both cases, but the certainty is enough for Tom Cruise, a “future crimes” detective who synthesizes the visions of three Precogs like he’s conducting a virtual orchestra. Few directors are capable of marrying ideas and entertainment—one is often sacrificed for the other—but Spielberg peppers one gripping action setpiece after another with trenchant details about a near-future robbed of the most basic freedoms and privacy. [Scott Tobias]

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47 / 75

Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Screenshot: Mission: Impossible

The biggest hit of his career, Mission: Impossible was the culmination of De Palma’s brief heyday as a Hollywood hit maker. (Just to try to imagine him getting a summer tentpole gig like this today.) But it’s no anonymous sell-out move: From its opening scene, which conflates government surveillance with the voyeurism of cinema, the film is unmistakably the work of the same director who made Blow Out or Dressed To Kill or any of those fabulously stylish, psychosexual ’80s thrillers. By asserting his authorial personality upfront, by conforming this franchise launcher to his own obsessions, De Palma set the precedent for the series. From here on out, the Mission: Impossible films would smuggle personal preoccupations into their crowd-pleasing packages. [A.A. Dowd]

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48 / 75

Mommie Dearest

Mommie Dearest

Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford
Screenshot: Mommie Dearest

Less a conventional biopic than a Hollywood horror psychodrama, Mommie Dearest casts Faye Dunaway as Crawford, a brittle, abusive alcoholic who terrorizes her two adopted children as she enters a steep professional decline. In Mommie Dearest, celebrity and glamorous femininity function as painfully artificial constructs that must be rigorously maintained at all costs, lest ugly truths bubble to the surface. The film echoes Joseph Ruben’s masterful thriller The Stepfather in its portrayal of a domineering monster intent on projecting the image of the perfect family, even if that means destroying it. [Nathan Rabin]

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49 / 75

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford
Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford
Photo: Morning Glory

Few actors have a narrower range than Harrison Ford. He doesn’t do accents. He doesn’t emote. He can’t be expected to display any real exuberance. Yet within that range, he can be immensely appealing: irascible yet charming, with a rogue’s smile. It’s been a while since Ford has been cast properly—or, let’s face it, has looked engaged in what he’s doing—but as a grizzled Dan Rather type in the smart, generously entertaining comedy Morning Glory, he reconnects to his inner Han Solo, accessing the loveable bastard that made him a movie star in the first place. And he has the perfect foil in Rachel McAdams, who stars as a TV news producer whose unflagging positivity and stick-to-it-iveness chip away at his defenses like a battering ram against a fortress wall. [Scott Tobias]

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50 / 75

The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear

The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear

The Naked Gun 2 1/2
The Naked Gun 2 1/2
Graphic: Paramount

Setting aside the fact that O.J. Simpson’s participation now interferes with—rather than enhances—its humor, The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell Of Fear remains that oh-so-rare comedy sequel to equal, if not surpass, its illustrious predecessor. A masterpiece of farcical absurdity—labeled in its credit sequence “Un Film De David Zucker”—picks up with Police Squad’s bumbling Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) on the trail of Quentin Hapsburg (Robert Goulet), a villain in league with the oil, coal, and nuclear power industries. Hapsburg plans to sabotage Dr. Albert Meinheimer’s (Richard Griffiths) recommendation to President Bush for clean renewable energy by replacing the expert with a body double—a plot almost as dastardly to Drebin as Hapsburg’s romancing of his beloved Jane (Priscilla Presley). Yet anyone familiar with the Naked Gun franchise knows that said storyline is merely a flimsy vehicle for all manner of lunacy, which here takes the form of pratfalls, visual gags, non-sequiturs, and Drebin’s trademark cluelessness. [Nick Schager]

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51 / 75

The Nutty Professor

The Nutty Professor

Jerry Lewis as The Nutty Professor
Jerry Lewis as The Nutty Professor
Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis (Getty Images)

While there are Lewis movies with more technical brio (e.g., The Ladies Man), none are as internally tense as The Nutty Professor, the Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde variation that might be his real masterpiece. Lewis’ performance in the movie (which he also directed and co-wrote) is one of the great comedy twofers. He plays Julius Kelp, probably his most notorious and imitated creation, a buck-toothed, accident-prone nerd with granny glasses and a nasal yawp—but also Buddy Love, Kelp’s alter ego, a smooth-talking wolf let loose for hours at a time by a chemical serum. Some have called Love a parody of Dean Martin, Lewis’ straight-man comedy partner in 17 movies, and The Nutty Professor’s central conflict a professional revenge fantasy. But the facts don’t support that reading; it was Martin who felt overshadowed, and not the other way around. Besides, Buddy Love doesn’t sound or act like Martin, but like Lewis—the off-camera Lewis, a prickly, condescending bully, speaking in the star’s deeper natural voice. That’s the key psychological subtlety of The Nutty Professor. Love isn’t Julius Kelp’s devilish dark side; he’s the actor who’s been playing him all along. [Ignatiy Vishnevestky]

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Ordinary People

Ordinary People

Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore
Screenshot: Ordinary People

When Robert Redford cast Mary Tyler Moore in the pivotal role of Beth for his 1980 directorial debut, he was accused of stunt casting. Redford had purchased the rights to Ordinary People while the novel was still in galleys, having sparked immediately to the story about a seemingly perfect upper-crust family that’s torn apart after the elder son dies in a sailing accident, leaving behind his troubled younger brother. Before Ordinary People, Moore had never played anything even close to the unsympathetic character that was Beth Jarrett—a perfectly coiffed, never-a-wrong-move suburban mother who’s incapable of giving her remaining child the compassion he so desperately needs. Timothy Hutton, making his Oscar-winning debut performance as her son Conrad, is as floppy and appealing as a Newfoundland puppy, which makes his mother’s distance all the more painfully acute. That Moore’s Beth remains affectionate with her husband, Calvin (Donald Sutherland, also playing against type), makes her inability to communicate with Conrad as fascinating as it is devastating. Moore injects an icy tension into their every scene together. [Gwen Ihnat]

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The Quiet American

The Quiet American

Michael Caine
Michael Caine
Screenshot: Michael Caine

In the narration that opens The Quiet American, a fine adaptation of Graham Greene’s prescient 1955 book, British correspondent Michael Caine confesses his love for Vietnam, an exotic country that “promises everything in exchange for your soul.” Being a Greene hero, Caine would give his soul away with pleasure if he could continue to bask in the country’s lush, opiate sensuality, but once political realities drag him reluctantly into the daylight, his conscience won’t allow it. Director Phillip Noyce’s film lacks the overwhelming passion and immediacy of the last Greene novel adaptation, Neil Jordan’s The End Of The Affair, but it captures the same mood of wry cynicism and heady romance, set against a tumultuous backdrop that presses insistently to the fore. In a remarkably supple and understated performance, Caine buries his ego in a character who desperately wants to remain passive in a changing world, and who treats his heroic instincts like a creeping plague that’s slowly taking over his body. [Scott Tobias]

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The Ring

The Ring

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: The Ring

In spite of the technological twists, The Ring is at heart a classic ghost story, and it knows it. It allows the horror to unfold out of a campfire-ready opening scene, as two teenage girls exchange the story of the videotape while left alone in a seemingly peaceful house. The evening doesn’t go well, which prompts single mom and Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Naomi Watts to investigate. Her efforts lead her to a remote cabin and, inevitably, an unmarked videotape whose spooky contents could pass for unused dailies from Mulholland Dr. “Very film school,” says unimpressed former flame Martin Henderson. While he’s not far off the mark, the images have an unsettling quality that portends the troubles to come. Expanding on the strong visual sense evinced in the otherwise mediocre The Mexican, director Gore Verbinski creates an air of dread that begins with the first scene and never lets up, subtly incorporating elements from the current wave of Japanese horror films along the way. He succeeds mostly through sleight of hand. When the shocks come, they interrupt long stretches in which the camera lingers meaningfully as characters accumulate details that confirm what they already know: What they’ve seen will kill them, and soon. [Keith Phipps]

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The Road To Perdition

The Road To Perdition

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: The Road To Perdition

An evergreen need for vice allows criminal enterprises to sprout wherever civilization spreads, but it takes discipline and order for such enterprises to thrive. In The Road To Perdition, feared mobster Tom Hanks wears an expression that suggests he abandoned his capacity for pleasure years ago. A father to two sons and the keeper of a large but modest house, he speaks as little as possible—his voice reveals him as among the first generation to lose its Irish brogue. He’s a working-stiff enforcer, serving at the pleasure of Paul Newman, the unchallenged overlord of a remote Illinois kingdom, itself an unofficial outpost of the empire built by Al Capone. Virtually nothing in Perdition comes as a surprise—up through a finale that may as well announce itself with the credits, à la director Sam Mendes’ last film, American Beauty—but that’s not really the point. Adapting Max Allan Collins’ unapologetically pulpy Lone Wolf And Cub-inspired 1998 graphic novel, Mendes’ second effort plays like a familiar song transposed to a minor key, a gangland fable soaked in portent and fatalism until its familiarity ceases to be an issue. The properties around the story, the characters and the style, are what matter and what make the film so engrossing and ultimately moving. [Keith Phipps]

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Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck
Screenshot: Roman Holiday

Rarely do stars emerge as fully formed in their big-screen debuts as Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Everything about the actor, from her radiant appeal to the winning charisma that practically hugs you from within the film, was already in place for her first star turn as Princess Ann, the young royal who slips her handlers and falls for American journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). Even Peck knew something special was happening—midway through the shoot, he suggested to director William Wyler that he share top billing with this unknown ingénue. And the two earn their co-billing, with Peck playing the irascible counterpoint to Hepburn’s wide-eyed determination. It’s a testament to the film’s staying power that, even now, it plays like a cast and crew just discovering how joyful making cinema could be. [Alex McCown]

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Seconds

Seconds

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Seconds

It’s no surprise that John Frankenheimer’s Seconds wasn’t a hit when it was released in 1966. What’s surprising—shocking, really—is that it was made at all. Coming off The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days In May (as well as the great if financially unsuccessful The Train), Frankenheimer was a hot commodity with a gift for taut action and conspiratorial thrills, but Seconds attempts neither. In a sense, it’s a psychological thriller, but the story of a middle-aged bank manager (Arthur Hamilton, played by John Randolph) who fakes his own death and is reborn as a bohemian painter with the body of Rock Hudson is too unsettling to allow for vicarious thrills. In spirit, it’s closer to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, released the same year, than any product of the Hollywood system. [Sam Adams]

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A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan

Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton
Screenshot: A Simple Plan

Based on the best-selling novel by Scott Smith (who also wrote the screenplay), A Simple Plan both simplifies and brings into focus the already simple and effective thriller. Two farm-town brothers (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton) and their friend (Brent Briscoe) discover a bag stuffed with $4.4 million and decide to hold onto the contents until springtime, when the coast is clear. Almost immediately, greed and insecurities get to work, and the plan begins to unravel. The premise is older than The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, and A Simple Plan may remind some of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, particularly for the way both films set bloody, sudden violence against the snow-covered Midwest. But where the Coens’ breakthrough film was often cold, and sometimes mean-spirited and cynical, Sam Raimi’s film beats with a human heart. [Joshua Klein]

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Small Soldiers

Small Soldiers

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Small Soldiers

Just as Gremlins took the stuffing out of cuddly, merchandise-ready creatures like E.T., Dante’s subversive 1998 action-comedy Small Soldiers was like a malevolent twist on Toy Story, which was released three years earlier. Both films play with the premise of toys coming to life, but Dante twists this whimsical idea into a sinister corporate plot borne of merging GloboTech, a defense manufacturing giant, with Heartland toy company to form Heartland Play Systems. Given a directive to make action figures that can “play back” with children, an engineer uses high-tech military technology to create the Commando Elite, a line of steroidal G.I. Joe thugs, and the Gorgonites, their goofy alien enemies. (No prize for guessing which camp gets Dante’s sympathies.) Beyond the ensuing mayhem, Dante makes a strong argument for how children’s toys help normalize the concepts of violence and war, and pave the way for play-fighting to become real fighting. [Read more]

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The Son’s Room

The Son’s Room

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: The Son’s Room

In its opening scenes, writer-director Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room, 2001's Palme D’Or winner at Cannes, carefully establishes the dynamic at work in its happy family. Moretti stars as a successful analyst who, with gallery-running wife Laura Morante, heads an almost idealized middle-class household filled out by teenage son Giuseppe Sanfelice and daughter Jasmine Trinca. Their greatest crisis comes when Sanfelice is accused of stealing a fossil from school, an accusation treated with great concern. In another medium, they could pass for an Italian incarnation of the Cosby family, but this being film, it’s a set-up, a domestic idyll due for disruption when Sanfelice dies during a weekend diving trip. Greeting the loss at first with surprising strength, each survivor begins to lose hold. [Keith Phipps]

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Sonatine

Sonatine

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Sonatine

Takeshi Kitano (a.k.a. “Beat” Takeshi) directs, edits, writes, and stars in this story of a Yakuza boss (played by Kitano) who, as part of a larger campaign against a rival gang, takes a handful of mobsters from Tokyo to Okinawa. There, he loses a large chunk of his followers to violence and cowardice, eventually moving the remaining members to a seaside hideout. At this point, Sonatine becomes more than simply a stylish thriller. In the film’s first half, Kitano plays his character with a stoneface that would do Buster Keaton proud. In the relaxed setting, however, his humanity begins to surface as he falls in love with a woman he rescues from rape (Aya Kikumai), and his soldiers begin to enjoy themselves, playing games and relaxing in an idyll made all the more poignant by its clearly temporary nature. Like the character he plays, Kitano directs the film in a style that alternates between tenderness and brutality, making it a relentlessly tense suspense film one minute and a gentle character study the next. Either half would make Sonatine worth seeing. But taken together as the story of a man who regains his soul but whose face remains permeated with the knowledge of its inevitable loss, it becomes an artful gangster film, Yakuza poetry, and essential viewing. [Keith Phipps]

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner
Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner
Screenshot: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Leonard Nimoy’s second time in the director’s chair, is a polished, well-balanced audience-pleaser. It’s a deeply ingratiating movie, the sort that comes out of the gate with a big goofy grin and a hand out-stretched, and keeps patting your back and offering you sodas for the entirety of its running time. It doesn’t have Khan’s edge, or any edge at all, really; despite the fact that Earth is threatened once again by a giant space probe that could destroy all life on the planet, the only truly serious moment in the film is the opening dedication to the crew of the Challenger. But it does have Kirk saving some whales, and who doesn’t like whales? If Search is for fans only, it’s no real stretch to say that Voyage Home is meant to be a kind of gateway drug. It’s nice to know the characters going in, but it’s not exactly necessary. [Zack Handlen]

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Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact

Patrick Stewart
Patrick Stewart
Screenshot: Star Trek: First Contact

The second Trek movie starring the TNG crew, and their first feature without any hand-holding from original series vets, First Contact has quite a lot in common with the other second Trek movie, Wrath Of Khan. Both films are sequels to financially successful but critically lukewarm predecessor; both films use Moby Dick as a thematic touchstone; and both films feature villains that first appeared on the respective television shows of each crew. Khan debuted in “Space Seed,” the Borg in “Q Who?”, the big difference (at least structurally) being that Khan was only featured once. By the time First Contact hit theaters, the Borg had become a seasonal regular on TNG, and where Wrath effectively cemented Khan’s place in Trek lore, First Contact merely delivered on the inevitable. The only other non-ensemble character who would be as likely to appear when TNG made its transition to the big screen is Q, and he already gets to do a fair bit in the series’ 90-minute-long finale. It’s not particularly surprising that the Borg would make the jump to cinema, but, despite a few episodes that watered down their initial impact, they aren’t unwelcome, either. Which is a good part of the reason behind the fourth connection between Wrath and Contact: Both movies are well-regarded, and considered by some as high-water marks for their respective series. [Zack Handlen]

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Supercop

Supercop

Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan
Screenshot: Supercop

Every so often, someone on Twitter or Facebook or Reddit will ask, “What’s the best Part 3, movie-wise?” It’s a discussion-generating staple, perhaps because the question genuinely demands some thought; most franchises are starting to run out of ideas by their third iteration, so there are a lot more Godfather Part IIIs and Taken 3s than there are, say, Toy Story 3s. People often forget about Supercop, though, since it was released in the U.S. as if it were a standalone film, rather than a followup to Police Story (1985) and Police Story 2 (1988). Arguably, this is the rare Part 3 that improves on both of its predecessors, despite taking longer than usual to reach the truly spectacular action sequences for which Jackie Chan is renowned. Such difficult, expensive set pieces constitute a relatively small percentage of any action film, so keeping viewers entertained during the copious “downtime” makes a big difference, provided the promised stunts deliver as well. Supercop gets the balance just right, with a stronger plot, funnier comedy, and a boffo climax. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd
Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd
Photo: Paramount

A dark cityscape opens Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, but a baby-faced sailor (Jamie Campbell Bower) seems not to notice the gloom. Dismissing all the glories he’s seen in his travels, he cheerily decides that there’s “no place like London,” in a voice chipper enough to force the sun to shine. But Sweeney Todd isn’t that kind of musical. It needs a different kind of hero, and Bower is soon forced out of frame by the more troubled face of Johnny Depp, who sings, “You are young. Life has been kind to you… You will learn.” Life was once kind to Depp’s Sweeney Todd. As a younger man, he was a successful barber with a beautiful wife and child. But the evil Judge Turpin (a perfectly cast Alan Rickman) decided to take Depp’s family as his own, and had Depp arrested and deported. After more than a decade in exile, the newly bloodthirsty Depp returns to reclaim what’s his, or failing that, punish those who took it away. [Keith Phipps]

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Tadpole

Tadpole

Aaron Stanford and Sigourney Weaver
Aaron Stanford and Sigourney Weaver
Screenshot: Tadpole

His amphibian nickname may suggest otherwise, but everyone around Aaron Stanford in Tadpole refers to him as a 40-year-old in a 15-year-old’s body. He mostly lives up to that perception. The divide between 15 and 40 narrows beyond perception over the course of the long Thanksgiving vacation that comprises Tadpole. Home from boarding school, and coping with a crush on stepmother Sigourney Weaver, Stanford bounces from one uncomfortable situation to another, starting with a post-festivities night out that drops him in the bed of Weaver’s chiropractor best friend (Bebe Neuwirth). Throughout the rest of the weekend, two thoughts plague him: the knowledge that he’s settled for the next best thing, and the thought that everyone else will find out. Tadpole has an unforced charm that compensates for the absence of more traditional cinematic virtues. Weaver, Neuwirth, and John Ritter (as Stanford’s dad) all turn in fine work, but the newcomer is the real find. Stanford does a fair amount of acting with nothing more than the sad circles around his eyes, while suggesting that much is at work behind the sadness—that unlike Voltaire’s hero, his character might just make a life directed by forces other than bad luck and the will of those around him. [Keith Phipps]

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The Thing Called Love

The Thing Called Love

River Phoenix
River Phoenix
Screenshot: The Thing Called Love

Taken at face value, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Thing Called Love is a collection of hokey clichés. The story, formulaic as they come, concerns a New York City girl named Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) who ditches the Big Apple for Nashville, where her dreams of being a country music star are complicated by her romance with spotlight-bound rogue James Wright (River Phoenix) and her friendship with aw-shucks songwriter Kyle Davidson (Dermot Mulroney). Equal parts coming-of-age saga and love triangle, it’s a compendium of goofy high jinks and colorful supporting characters, the latter led by Sandra Bullock as Miranda’s boisterous best friend Linda Lue Linden, who tells all her secrets to her dog and has a dutiful, doting boyfriend (Anthony Clark) who functions as her veritable second pet. Yet if the narrative is of a been-here, done-that persuasion, that’s ultimately deliberate, as Bogdanovich treats his material like a country song—namely, as a portrait of courtship, heartbreak, and self-actualization whose earnestness helps its familiar situations and emotions ring true. [Nick Schager]

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To Catch A Thief

To Catch A Thief

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly
Cary Grant and Grace Kelly
Screenshot: To Catch A Thief

In Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Cary Grant plays a former hero of the French resistance who can’t quite convince a skeptical world that he’s mended his ways and abandoned his glamorous old existence as a diamond thief for a life of simple, legal pleasures. Grant’s criminal history works against him in that respect, but it’s also quite possible that the film’s characters would rather inhabit a world in which Cary Grant is a debonair international jewel thief than one in which he’s a mere retiree content to while away lazy afternoons tending his garden. With the possible exception of “secret agent,” “continental master thief” seems like the only job worthy of Grant. As befits a movie with a protagonist nicknamed “The Cat,” Thief proceeds with feline grace, a blissful light-footedness that looks effortless enough, but could only have been accomplished by a master operating at peak form. If nothing else, Thief is a lesson in charisma courtesy of Grant and Grace Kelly, reluctant lovebirds who find love in larceny and larceny in love. [Nathan Rabin]

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Top Secret!

Top Secret!

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Top Secret!

In a 2014 interview with The A.V. Club, noted parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic called Top Secret! his “all-time favorite movie.” That seal of approval alone should indicate the quality of the film, which was produced by the superstar spoofing team of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker (and, therefore, contains plenty of Airplane!-esque language and sight gags). But Top Secret!’s true genius stems from the deft way it simultaneously skewers two separate kinds of movies: Elvis Presley’s musicals and Cold War-era spy films. The results are both debonair and debauched. There’s the intro song, “Skeet Surfing,” a cheerful Beach Boys rip paired with plenty of beach carnage; troops pausing during an intense shoot-out for a choreographed tap dancing scene; and badass characters such as French Resistance member Chocolate Mousse, who’ll eat a smoking cigar without batting an eye. Still, Top Secret! wouldn’t hold together so well if it wasn’t for Val Kilmer, who made his film debut as handsome teen idol Nick Rivers. Not only does he ably channel Presley’s musical performances—see the “How Silly Can You Get/Spend This Night” gig—but he handles the absurdist war situations equally well. [Annie Zaleski]

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Trainspotting

Trainspotting

Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor
Screenshot: Trainspotting

Trainspotting made me want to do drugs. This probably wasn’t the film’s intention. In fact, you could say that Trainspotting goes to great lengths to argue that drugs are a pretty bad idea, actually, destroying relationships, forcing you into increasingly desperate acts of deceit and criminality, and leading inexorably toward death and disease—or worse, sheet-twisting withdrawal. And yet, no amount of watching Ewan McGregor’s Renton scream and sweat could have deterred me from thinking that Trainspotting made the drug lifestyle look really exciting, a rejoinder to “Choose Life” conformity wrapped up in the wry, sexy nihilism of “heroin chic.” These weren’t the lifeless, strung-out zombies of D.A.R.E. public service announcements. They were sexy people in sharp suits who knew a lot about Sean Connery movies, and they got high and went out clubbing every single night. [Sean O’Neal]

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Cheech And Chong Up In Smoke

Cheech And Chong Up In Smoke

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Cheech And Chong Up In Smoke

Cheech and Chong’s auspicious cinematic introduction in their debut film, Up In Smoke, plays like a sad time capsule of a dying counterculture. That first scene of the two men shooting the bull in Cheech’s pimped-out ride illustrates the basis of their comic appeal. They’re never better than when bouncing off one another, mishearing and free-associating in conversations that spiral in on themselves like samaras falling to the ground. They thrive on the chemistry that they had cultivated over the previous decade, with Cheech usually the more wound-up and paranoid of the two and Chong taking a sedated tone for contrast. Through a discursive back-and-forth that involves Chong revealing that they are in fact smoking a joint laced with dog feces, even a clearer-minded viewer can get a glimpse of the easy charm that endeared the pair to their faithful fan base. [Charles Bramesco]

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The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: The Virgin Suicides

Before Lost In Translation established Sofia Coppola as one of the foremost authorities on boredom and ennui, her dreamy debut—an adaptation of the celebrated novel by Jeffrey Eugenides—offered a radical, haunting portrait of girlhood and thwarted puberty draped in floral print and soft pink. Who were the Lisbon girls, and why did they decide to take their own lives? These questions linger in the minds of a group of neighborhood boys, whose perspective we adopt as they struggle to understand these mythical young women and their fiery ringleader, Lux (a luminous Kirsten Dunst). Countering the inadequate words of her male narrator, Coppola steeps the film in intoxicating, impressionistic imagery—white dresses with grass stains, a sweater clinging to a bare shoulder, glossy magazines and sluggish bodies spread out on a carpet. The Virgin Suicides is that rare coming-of-age film in which the mystery of the teenage girl coexists with a palpable understanding of what it feels like to be one, stifled and yearning for more. [Beatrice Loayza]

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Wheels On Meals

Wheels On Meals

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Paramount Plus
Screenshot: Wheels On Meals

One of the toughest fight scenes in the Jackie Chan oeuvre comes at the climax of Wheels On Meals, a 1984 comedy directed by Sammo Hung, a compatriot and fellow alumnus of the China Drama Academy’s Seven Little Fortunes youth troupe. Chan is fighting the American kickboxer Benny “The Jet” Urquidez in the dining room of a Spanish castle. The hits are swift and physical. The falls are hard. In one famous moment, Urquidez kicks so fast that he snuffs out a row of candles. The choreography exemplifies the best of Chan and Hung, which is to say that it’s three-dimensional. But as in the other movies they were making around this time (including Project A, released the same year), there is an element of homage to one’s idols, in this case Bruce Lee: Hong Kong star versus American fighter, tight close-ups of eyes, even a little wack-wacka on the soundtrack. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Zodiac

Zodiac

Jakye Gyllenhaal in Zodiac
Jakye Gyllenhaal in Zodiac
Photo: Paramount

For a brief period in the early ‘70s, the Zodiac killings transfixed the Bay Area, in large part because the killer used the media to hold the city hostage, forcing newspapers to run cryptic puzzles under the threat of further violence. But Zodiac, David Fincher’s masterful procedural about the elusive case, resonates at least as much for depicting what happened in the years after the murders faded from the public consciousness. A sort of flipside to Fincher’s Seven, which pulsed with the urgent need to catch a killer before he reached endgame, Zodiac is about what happens after a case goes cold and only a dedicated few remain to follow a trail that grows murkier by the day. An obsessive movie about the nature of obsession, it stays in perfect step with the men who chased these phantom leads, not so much because they felt some noble connection to the victims, but because they simply couldn’t leave a puzzle unsolved. [Scott Tobias]

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