The 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix (2014)

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08.12.2014
Complex

Having combed through the site’s entire Watch Instantly catalog, we’ve made wait-less gratification infinitely easier with this list of The 100 Best Movies Streaming On Netflix Right Now. Now go forth, budding film junkies, and step your movie knowledge games up.

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100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix :

Sightseers (2013)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram

Um, Sightseers is about a new couple, Chris and Tina, (Steve Oram and Alice Oram) who decide to go on a road trip to strengthen their relationship—and along the way Chris turns out to be a sociopath and kills everyone who insults them. So it’s not your traditional romance, but it’s hilarious. The beauty of Ben Wheatley’s film is that you don’t even have to be into that sort of dark, messed up thing to enjoy it. When you look past the blood and bludgeoning, it’s actually an endearing look into a relationship between a couple of socially awkward messes. All credit goes to careful directing by Ben Wheatley and witty lines crafted by Lowe and Oram.

The Master (2012)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ambyr Childers, Jesse Plemons, Laura Dern, Rami Malek

Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t make easily consumed films. Even at his most accessible (see: Boogie Nights orPunch-Drunk Love), he’s an ambitious storyteller who’s interested in writing contemplative and complex scripts anchored by multifaceted characters. The Master—the always challenging Anderson’s most divisive movie to date—stands as the ultimate example of Anderson’s singular sensibilities. It’s cold, enigmatic, unconventionally structured, and altogether dreamlike. Fortunately, it’s also brilliant, and, sadly, a source of widespread misunderstanding and rejection.

One can’t blame viewers for leaving the film feeling either drained or negatively chilled. Inspired by the origins of Scientology, The Master centers on the combustible Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, in 2012’s best performance next to Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln), a troubled drifter who difficultly connects on an emotional level with a jovial yet manipulative cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman, another marvelous performance).

Theirs is a strong, somewhat impenetrable bond that Anderson never sugarcoats or trivializes—not all friendships have happy endings or thrive on simple commonalities, and the writer-director commendably presents their complicated union with bewildering ambiguity.

Pain and Gain (2013)

Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris

Deservedly, Michael Bay has earned a not-so-enviable reputation as being a shameless purveyor of hollow, glossy CGI orgies that lack character depth or any other byproducts of good screenwriting. Not that he really gives a shit, though, since he has a fourthTransformers movie on deck. But there’s definitely a part of Bay that’d love to silence the naysayers with a smaller, less computer-generated hit.

Enter Pain and Gain, a dark, violent, and hilarious action-comedy that harkens back to Bay’s Bad Boysmovies and features Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie hamming it up as three dim-witted and totally ripped bodybuilders on the run from the Miami Police Department. Sure, it didn’t win any awards, but tell us that the proposition of watching Wahlberg and The Rock playing bumbling steroid junkies doesn’t sound, at the very least, entertaining. (Spoiler: It’s incredibly entertaining.)

 

Gimme the Loot (2013)

Director: Adam Leon
Stars: Ty Hickson, Tashiana Washington, Zoe Lescaze, Meeko, Sam Sighor, Joshua Rivera

There’s a moment nearly halfway into writer-director Adam Leon’s feature film debut Gimme the Loot where its two leads, teenage NYC graffiti bombers Sophia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson), debate the efficiency full-member-sized condoms. Malcolm thinks that rubbers should just cover the “head,” like a “fitted cap”; Sophia, as in most of their chats, thinks he’s full of shit. It’s a funny exchange that doesn’t feel scripted, mainly because of the actors’ naturalistic performances, and that’s what lifts Gimme the Loot above the threshold of excellence as a whole: The film always feels in-the-moment and real.

Living in the Bronx, and, as a result, pledging allegiance to the New York Yankees’ pinstripes, Sophia and Malcolm hatch a plan to “tag” the Mets Home Run Ball at the Queens-located Citi Field, an incredibly ambitious scheme that’s halted when Sophia gets robbed by members of a rival spray-can-toting gang. The theft inspires Malcolm to hatch a heist of his own, one that involves jacking a case of expensive jewelry from an upper-class floozy (Zoe Lescaze) to whom he recently brought drugs.

In Leon’s vibrant, warm, and consistently amusing film, the characters’ sticky-fingered, urban adventure itself ranks secondary to Gimme The Loot fluid direction and breathlessly witty dialogue, spoken by a squad of first-time performers who uniformly come off as real-deal people, not fictional creations. It’s every bit as authentic in spirit as Larry Clark’s similarly presented Kids (1995), only, with its amiability, it’s much more accessible. —MB

Frances Ha (2013)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Patrick Heusinger

Noah Baumbach begins many of his movies with a line of dialogue that acts as a kind of summary or central thematic statement. The first words spoken in his divorce drama The Squid and the Whale, for instance, are, “Mom and me versus you and Dad.”

Frances Ha, his funny valentine to his girlfriend, Greta Gerwig, opens with a long montage of Frances’ life in New York. She’s a twenty-something with aspirations to dance, and she lives with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who works in publishing. In the montage, Frances reads aloud to Sophie about attacks on sincerity in art. Those of you who simply hate the social milieu of middle-class white Brooklynites who dream of doing something creative, this is your cue to leave.

Like a great episode of Girls (minus the body art), Frances Ha examines friendship between young women in New York, 2013. Baumbach cares for Gerwig, and it’s clear in the film. Though the characters around Frances make comments that skewer themselves and their specific sub-culture (shout out to everyone working on a Gremlins 3 screenplay), her own faults are celebrated. Frances is socially awkward and self-sabotaging, and she is lovely and loved by the film’s camera and screenplay (which Gerwig wrote with Baumbach). In the hands of other filmmakers and stars, this could become numbing satire or something equally lifeless. Instead, it’s exuberant, a pristine black-and-white snapshot of love and the city. —RS

Adventureland (2009)

Director: Greg Mottola
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Kelsey Ford, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader

It’s hard to believe that this star-studded cast wasn’t handpicked by a major studio, but Adventurelandpremiered at Sundance in 2009. Set in 1987 and filmed in Pittsburgh, this comedy follows virginal college graduate James, played by the ever-awkward Eisenberg, as he deals with working at his hometown’s theme park. There, he meets Em, played Kristen Stewart to such effect that she earned High Times Magazine’s Stonette of the Year award.

The two twentysomethings drink, smoke, and fight off the monotony of their lives, all while falling in love as they work the game booths.

In the Loop (2009)

Director: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, David Rasche, Mimi Kennedy, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi, Steve Coogan, Anna Chlumsky, Gina McKee, Paul Higgins

If all politicians, military officials, and political reporters were as funny as the men and woman in Armando Iannucci’s hilarious satire In The Loop, we’d probably be more willing to root for undesirables like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

They’re not, of course, but who could really expect them to be? Hardly many popular comedy screenwriters themselves are as humorously on-point as Scottish comedian/writer/filmmaker Iannucci, whose spoofing of pre-war turmoil ranks as one of the best laugh-fests of the last decade, although you’d have to be a die-hard cinephile to know as much.

Amelie (2001)

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Andre Dussollier, Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Serge Merlin

We’ll be the first to admit that Amélie is not a film suited to everyone’s taste. With its whimsical style and cute-as-a-button leading lady (Audrey Tatou), it’s a Disneyfied version of life in Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood. One where young Amélie works as a waitress on a mission to make life happier for those around her, concocting a number of elaborate schemes in order to manipulate joy from the strangers who surround her. Until she eventually realizes that it is she who is need of a personal pick-me-up.

Though dismissed by some for being too cutesy (it was famously rejected from screening at Cannes when a programmer described it as being “uninteresting”), the film’s fanciful depiction of The City of Light conjured up more than $30 million at the box office, making it the most successful French film to hit American shores.

The Grandmaster (2013)

Director: Wong Kar-wai
Stars: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Song Hye-kyo, Wang Qingxiang

Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai has made some of theprettiest movies (In the Mood for Love, 2046) in recent memory. His latest is The Grandmaster, a biopic about legendary martial arts instructor Ip Man (Tony Leung). Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, it’s a dreamy, meditative take on the kung fu epic, just as invested in love and character as the work of foot and fist.

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara

No ’80s film could inspire you to live out your youth to its extreme more than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s the perfect amalgam of everything you fantasized about while stuck in homeroom. If a joy ride in a Ferrari with your best friend and beautiful girlfriend wasn’t already a mind-blowing idea to you, toss in a downtown parade where you perform “Twist and Shout,” a free lunch at a fancy restaurant, and the image of your crusty, pornstached principal getting chewed out by your dog. Heaven was never represented so accurately in the movies.

Drinking Buddies (2013)

Director: Joe Swanberg
Stars: Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, Ti West

Fans of tradition will hate Drinking Buddies. If you go into this expecting a Shop Around the Corner-type story, then sorry ’bout it, you’re shit outta luck. Sure, the IMDB synopsis mentions that the film is about a couple of craft brewery co-workers (Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson) who flirt and clearly have more chemistry than the people they’re actually dating (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, respectively). But given this, know that Drinking Buddies doesn’t follow the tried and true beat of a romcom, which is something you’d expect if you’re familiar with director Joe Swanberg’s work.

Considering all the lines are entirely improvised by the cast (within a story outline, provided by Swanberg), the nuanced portrayal of modern relationships in the movie comes from a very real place. It’s a reminder that what’s obvious and what’s right in a fairytale land doesn’t matter because real life isn’t that cut and dry. Real life, as examined in Drinking Buddies, is essentially a compilation of lies and excuses we tell ourselves to make the day easier. Now who’s up for a beer?

Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann
Stars: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker

On paper, Heathers isn’t all that funny. Set in an everyday high school, Winona Ryder’s breakout film hinges on a clique of hateful, stuck-up girls, bullies, and teenage suicide. In all, it’s one of the darkest high school movies ever made, and a big part of that mystique is credited to screenwriter Daniel Waters’ crackerjack of a script, which flip-flops from vicious black comedy to emotionally gruesome moments with unwavering poise.

Ryder plays the only member of an all-girl crew of social terrorists with a conscience; after watching her cohorts torment her undeserving fellow classmates, Ryder’s character and her derelict boyfriend (Christian Slater) plot to dethrone the queens of mean. Soon, one of the girls dies, along with a pair of football stars, whose corpses are positioned in a homosexually suggestive manner, spawning the memorable line, “I love my dead, gay son!”

Heathers veers into some rather twisted and bleak territories, yet, somehow, it’s consistently amusing. In other words, it’s the quintessential dark comedy.

American Psycho (2000)

Director: Marry Harron
Stars: Christian Bale, Chloë Sevigny, Willem Dafoe,Justin Theroux, Cara Seymour, Reese Witherspoon

From the moment Christian Bale was cast in Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial novel American Psycho, the film had no choice but to depart from the source material. Bale, by virtue of his stupidly attractive features and glowing charm, could not be the Pat Bateman that appears (or fails to appear) on the pages of Ellis’ novel.

In the novel, Bateman is a loser. Though he tries to buy the right clothes, listen to the right recordings of Les Mis, and land reservations at the hottest restaurants, no one respects him. He’s the butt of all the jokes, a bore, a square. And so, as a howl against his own lack of cultural capital, he slaughters people, forcibly inserts vermin into the genitals of living women, eats a live jellyfish, et cetera. That’s in the book.

In the movie, Bale turns Bateman into an icon. When he lights a cigar after axing a colleague to death, a bright splash of red artfully coating half his face, he looks fucking amazing. The violence in the film doesn’t work like the violence in the novel, partially because of how much the camera loves Bale, and largely because what Ellis describes would be unfilmable. And yet both are successful works of art, anchored by successful, albeit different, portraits of the same villain. —Ross Scarano

Oculus (2014)

Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff, James Lafferty

It’s a minor miracle that Oculus received such a big, widespread theatrical release in April. Typically, horror films as thoughtfully made and artistically ambitious as writer-director Mike Flanagan’s sophomore feature are relegated to VOD and/or smaller art-house cinemas. But thanks to super-producer Jason Blum (InsidiousSinister,The Purge), who snatched up the film’s distribution rights at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Oculusdefied the odds.

And, unsurprisingly, audiences were mostly confused. Rather than just another cookie-cutter Hollywood horror film, Flanagan’s progressive Oculus—about a haunted mirror that destroys a once-loving family over decades—pushes the genre’s boundaries in ways serious horror fans wish more films would. First and foremost, it’s character-driven, spending enough time with its emotionally tortured protagonists, brother and sister duo Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) to make its wildest conceit all the more impactful. That conceit is Flanagan’s intricately executed dueling of realities, with the past repeating itself directly alongside the present—it’s a risky supernatural trick that Flanagan tightly maneuvers around.

It’s been a middling year for mainstream horror so far;Oculus, however, is evidence that the independent scene’s as vibrant and imaginative as ever—even if films of this kind are ultimately better served outside of multiplex chains.

A Teacher (2013)

Director: Hannah Fidell
Stars: Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, Jennifer Prediger, Julie Dell Phillips, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek

As the old saying goes—and the prophetic Nasir Jones once turned this into a song title—no idea’s original.

When it comes to storytelling, what matters is how one gets to the heart of a narrative, not the narrative itself. Case in point: Hannah Fidell’s taut character study A Teacher. It’s centered around a familiar concept, that of an attractive high school instructor conducting a secret love affair with one of her male students. Notes on a Scandal, much?

Yet, regardless of her script’s surface-level familiarities, Fiddell’s devastating knockout of a motion picture (which first caught a strong buzz during January’s Sundance Film Festival) never feels rudimentary. Creating a pair of believable, honest characters, she’s delivered a controlled and intricately volatile moment in time: the phase of the student/teacher relationship in which one person’s sexual interest transforms into infatuation.

Ms. Diana Watts (newcomer Lindsay Burdge in a powerhouse turn) is an Austin, TX, high school English teacher whose obsession with likable hunk Eric (the equally strong Will Brittain) is leaving her in a perpetual state of on-the-verge internal combustion. Fidell takes full advantage of Burge’s dynamite face, keeping the camera fastened on Burge’s reaction to news of a freshman female’s recently discovered, topless camera phone pic (which brings to mind a photo Watts took for Eric). Burge conveys near eruption without so much as blinking.

As A Teacher swiftly moves towards its intelligent and downbeat resolution, Fiddell captures a mood that’s reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s similarly dour The Piano Teacher—and that’s one lofty compliment.

Manhattan (1979)

Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway

In the greatest love letter ever written to America’s biggest city, Woody Allen explores the complexities of relationships with a careful eye for self-doubt and neuroses. Isaac’s (Allen) self-conscious nature makes him uncomfortable in his current relationship with the underage Tracy (Hemingway). It doesn’t help that his ex-wife has just published a scathing memoir about the death of their marriage. He decides to pursue his best friend’s mistress instead, finding through all of the turmoil that he needs to think less and feel more. You’ll get past the pervy parts. Trust.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson

It might not seem like it, but this is ultimately a feel-good movie about a loser who saves himself through love. In the beginning, Barry (Sandler) is angry at the world and helpless, partially because his seven abusive, manipulative sisters make his life a living hell. To make matters worse, he gets in trouble with a phone-sex company that tries to extort money from the unstable wimp.

Amidst his chaos, he pursues Lena (Watson), and she likes him. THe weirdness that follows is sweet and unpredictable, just the kind of love story you’d expect from Paul Thomas Anderson, the greatest living American filmmaker.

Say Anything… (1989)

Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: John Cusack, Ione Skye

Since 1989, every girl has wanted the boom box moment: the moment when John Cusack stands outside Ione Skye’s house blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in a bid to prove how much she means to him. This half-baked idea—just standing there and letting a pop song do the talkin’—would not work in real life, but that’s beside the point. The point is, this is a go-to for all things coming-of-age in the 80s.

 

Flashdance (1983)

Director: Adrian Lyne
Stars: Jennifer Beale, Michael Nouri, Lilia Skala, Sunny Johnson

Even if you haven’t seen Flashdance, directed by Adrian Lyne, you’ve probably heard about it. It’s responsible for smash hits “Maniac” and “Flashdance…What a Feeling.” Flashdance shows the story of  Alex Owens, played by Jennifer Beals, a welder tryna make it as a big time dancer despite being in small-town America a.k.a. Pittsburgh. When she’s not welding she’s an exotic dancer at a neighborhood bar & grill where she gets discovered.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when she Alex has to audition for the fancy schmancy dance school she wants to get into and nails the audition. So watch the movie and get hopeful that you too one day will make it out of your hellish hometown. And if you can’t dance well…Good luck. Debbie Encalada

Blue is the Warmest Color(2013)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
StarsAdèle Exarchopolous, Léa Seydoux

First love is a wet, fucked up mess. And the worst part is, it’s a wet, fucked up mess you’ll never forget. Like the topic it tackles, Blue Is the Warmest Color is just as unforgettable. Carried by the harrowing performances from leads Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, the film is a frank and tellingly uncomfortable chronicle of a young woman’s (Exarchopoulos) rocky journey of self-discovery. Along the way, she falls for another woman (Seydoux), with whom she begins a long-term relationship. You travel with her from puppy love to the open water of whatever the hell lies beyond the honeymoon phase.

But don’t be fooled by its familiar premise. The winner of the Cannes film festival grand prize, the Palme d’Or, the story (based on the graphic novel by Julie Maroh) isn’t wispy young adult fare. It’s a naturalistic portrayal of the pain, obsessive attachment, and the passion you feel when you first fall in love—and the shell of yourself you’re left with when it’s taken away.

Image via Lionsgate

Mud (2013)

Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks

If Mud‘s writer-director were to ever turn his excellent screenplay into a book, it’d be the perfect summer-reading assignment for kids entering high school.

A modern-day Huckleberry Finn of sorts, Nichols’ follow-up to 2011’s darker, more psychologically unnervingTake Shelter is the kind of young-adult adventure tale that, frankly, doesn’t seem to exist anymore. The film centers on Mississippi youngster Ellis (Tye Sheridan, a fine young actor), who, along with his awesomely named buddy Neckbone, befriends the grizzled yet charismatic Mud (Matthew McConaughey) on a secluded, backwoods island. While helping Mud reunite with main squeeze (Reese Witherspoon) and further hide from the men out to kill him, Ellis learns valuable lessons about trust, love, and what it means to be a man.

Mud‘s emotional impact, however, is deeper than its coming-of-age themes. Nichols, quite cleverly, uses the film’s genre elements to fashion one hell of an allegory for how kids process weighty, potentially devastating issues like divorce, betrayal, and heartbreak.

Tiny Furniture (2010)

Director: Lena Dunham
Stars: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham

One of the surprise hits of the festival circuit, Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture is a movie about a modern New York that few had thought to portray: the milieu of privilege without the extravagance of manners you encounter in a film like Metropolitan. With HBO’s Girls, Dunham cemented her knack for capturing the particular unpleasantness of certain millennials, but that project began with this film. Dunham plays a character much like herself, an artist fresh out of a liberal arts education, living with her photographer mother and precocious sister. Much has been said about what Dunham’s project doesn’t examine, but what she does focus on is too important to be dismissed. In particular, her candid, fearless take on sex and the female body is to be applauded. We need more artists doing this kind of work.

The Conspiracy (2013)

Director: Christopher MacBride
Stars: Aaron Poole, James Gilbert

There’s nothing better than when adventurous young filmmakers see an excellent yet tricky idea through to a satisfying end. That’s one way to describe the viewing experience of watching Christopher MacBride’s first-rateThe Conspiracy, an engrossing faux documentary about a couple of filmmakers descending deeper and deeper into the world occupied by those who nervously believe in the Illuminati, 9/11 conspiracies, and other New World Order paranoias.

MacBride and company intriguingly use real-life theories and sources of investigation, namely The Tarsus Club and the Bohemian Grove rituals, to construct an airtight thriller that starts off as an investigative mystery before a third act where first-person horror takes over. In that final section, The Conspiracy pulls off that always complicated trick known as “the ambiguous ending,” leaving viewers with plenty to think about and, depending on your tolerance for bizarro horse-face masks, even more to lose sleep over.

Zodiac (2007)

Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake GyllenhaalMark RuffaloAnthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Chloë Sevigny

David Fincher (SevenFight ClubThe Social Network) has yet to top 2007’s Zodiac, a granular look at one guy’s destructive search for the identity of the notorious Zodiac serial killer, who terrorized San Francisco in the 1960s and ’70s. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle, who becomes so obsessed with the mystery, he upends his life. And to what end?

Fincher’s film revels in the details of the investigation while capturing the evolution of one of America’s most beautiful cities with a digital camera. But the details won’t add up, and ultimately the truth proves to be the most slippery thing of all. Along the way, Fincher slowly builds suspense in the best way possible: making the viewer wait. This is particularly true of a brutal scene with the killer and a picnicking couple. There’s so much dread packed in every shot, there’s barely room to breathe.

The Grey (2012)

Director: Joe Carnahan
Stars: Liam Neeson, Frank Grilo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale

The commercials for The Grey promised one thing: Liam Neeson knuckling up against a pack of vicious wolves in freezing cold, snowy conditions. Action movie gold, right? So imagine our surprise when director Joe Carnahan’s remarkabe film brought us close to tears. Much like Warrior, it’s a pure guy-cry experience, though, in The Grey‘s case, the spiritual undercurrent lingers long after its bravura final scene.

Guided by an extraordinary, well-rounded performance from Neeson, The Grey is anything but a man-versus-animal smackdown. Pitting a small group of airplane crash survivors against not only the threat of malicious wolves but also ferocious weather and depleting hope, Carnahan’s uniquely solemn action film challenges feelings of spirituality, masculinity, and emotional fortitude, all with superior deftness. It’s the uncommon “guy movie” with an active brain and a big, beating heart.

Carlos (2010)

Director: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Édgar Ramírez, Alexander Scheer, Fadi Abi Samra, Ahmad Kaabour

If only American TV miniseries were as badass as Carlos,the epic three-part chronicle of Carlos the Jackal, the famous terrorist, produced by French and German television in 2010. Yes, HBO and Todd Haynes gave us the fantastic Mildred Pierce, but we’re greedy for more, groveling for something bigger in the face of this international production that spans languages, continents, decades.

Olivier Assayas directs with verve, employing anachronistic post-punk on the soundtrack. You haven’t lived ’til you’ve seen Édgar Ramírez admire himself in the mirror, drunk off booze and his own ego, while New Order’s “Dreams Never Fade” plays.

The set pieces, in particular the 1975 OPEC siege, are assured and tense, but its the quiet moments whereCarlos impresses. You won’t forget the moment where he teases a woman’s lips with a grenade, rubs the bomb against her bare thighs.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman

Has any other film in recent memory spawned more imitators than Quentin Tarantino’s breakout smash? And not just crime movies. Everything from Donnie Darko to Juno has borrowed from Pulp Fiction‘s smart synthesis of pop culture detritus. What separates the originator from the pale imitations though, is the sense of real stakes.

Ultimately, the movie isn’t punch-line after punch-line. You remember the humor, the talk of foot massages and brain matter, but it all serves a serious end. The final scene in Tarantino’s most celebrated work, where the hitman Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains his philosophy on life resonates in a way that goes beyond references to ’70s cult TV.

Man of Tai Chi (2013)

Director: Keanu Reeves
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Iko Uwais, Tiger Hu Chen, Simon Yam

Don’t hold 47 Ronin against Keanu Reeves— he man knows his martial arts. Man of Tai Chi, his first movie as a director, is a bare-bones throwback to old-school kicking and punching in the Bruce Lee model. Set in an underground fight club, it showcases some of the slickest fight choreography in recent years.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day(1991)

Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Swarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong

His holier-than-thou public persona might drive us up a wall, and Avatar is still an unholy mating of Dances With Wolves and FernGully, but we’ve got to hand it to James Cameron: He’s the king of sequels.

Showing that his extraordinary sequel to Alien, 1986’sAliens was no fluke, Cameron followed up his own sci-fi standout The Terminator with a second round that’s much more ostentatious and ultimately superior to its predecessor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger once again plays the mostly silent cyborg sent back from the future, though this time he’s a good guy; the villain is a ‘borg that’s able to regenerate its human shell (dressed in a cop uniform and played with imposing menace by Robert Patrick) and hell-bent on killing young John Connor (Edward Furlong).

Cameron didn’t waste a penny of the film’s reported $100 million budget (a staggering sum back in ’91), packing the visceral T2 with a ridiculous amount of explosions, car wrecks, man-sized robots, and bodily transformations. Just as audiences emitted collective gasps at the sight of Avatar’s groundbreaking visual effects, ticket-buyers back then greeted the best sci-fi sequel ever made with similar astonishment. The main difference being that T2 still kicks tremendous amounts of ass 20 years after its release; we’re expecting first-time viewers in 2029 to watch Avatar and say, “That generic shit was actually nominated for Best Picture?” Meanwhile, students of American film will be studyingT2 forever.

Antiviral (2013)

Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Stars: Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Malcolm McDowell, Douglas Smith

Brandon Cronenberg, the son of acclaimed genre filmmaker David Cronenberg, doesn’t seem all that interested in people embracing his feature film debut, Antiviral; cold, unwelcoming, and at times emotionally impenetrable, it’s a challenging effort from a young director who’s clearly inspired by his father’s older classics, like Videodrome andThe Fly. Fortunately for Cronenberg, Antiviral just so happens to be formidably directed, ripe with sharp wit, and filled with quite a few visually dazzling moments. As tough as it is to crack, the film is impossible to ignore.

Motivated by our culture’s unhealthy obsession with celebrity, Cronenberg’ conceives an otherworldly society where doctors, like the intensely creepy Syd March (a marvelous Caleb Landry Jones), treat patients to injections of their favorite famous person’s disease of choice; for example, simply by forking over your hard-earned cash, you can feel closer to that desirable Hollywood dream girl by battling through her strand of herpes.

Naturally, that process has dire consequences in Antiviral, especially when March secretly unknowingly indulges in a starlet’s (the radiant Sarah Gadon) fatal illness and has to fight through his deteriorating health to find the cure. And that’s when Cronenberg really lets his creative freak flags fly.

MASH (1970)

Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Roger Bowen, Rene Auberjonois

If you were once a teen girl, or teen boy—screw gender norms— MASH was the game you played with your friends to decide what your future would be like. The initials stood for Mansion Apartment Shack and House and decided who you were going to marry, what car you would have. The important things. Anyway, Robert Altman’s 1970 movie of the same name has nothing to do with that. The film, is a satirical take on war, set during the Korean War, but released in the midst of Vietnam. It stars Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt, Elliott Gould and Robert Duvall, among others, as members of a medical unit who get into all sort of shenanigans too funny for the seriousness of war. One of the gags includes a surgery performed while drunk. Like a game of Operation gone horribly horribly wrong.

Image via Turtle Releasing

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West

Remember 2009’s Assault on Precinct 13?  Yeah, the one co-starring Ja Rule. Forget about your one-time favorite rapper/singer’s flick and check out the 1976 original, directed by the dude behind Halloween and the remake of The Thing, John Carpenter. Made back when Hollywood wasn’t afraid to get nasty, Assault on Precinct 13 is action cinema at its meanest. How mean? Just wait until you see what happens to the little girl with the ice cream cone.

The Avengers (2012)

Director: Joss Whedon
Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow

Yes, we’re aware that The Avengers is the third-highest grossing American movie of all time. Indeed, we loved every second of Mark Ruffalo’s interpretation of the Hulk, a Marvel character previously unable to make a triumphant leap to cinemas.

Enormously entertaining, Joss Whedon’s superhero blowout is a towering accomplishment that should be applauded, namely because Whedon somehow managed to fit so many larger-than-life characters into one movie and give them all breathing room.

The film’s closing action sequence, an eye-popping siege upon New York City that runs for nearly an hour and never loses its appeal, is extraordinary enough to excuse the script’s flaws (read: some hokey jokes and a slightly lagging first act). Simply for re-instilling that old, childlike feeling of cinematic grandiosity, previously experienced back in the Independence Day and Jurassic Park days, Whedon’s The Avengers deserves every bit of its staggering success.

Dredd (2012)

Director: Pete Travis
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson

When adapting a bleak and violent comic book character, there are a few things you shouldn’t do, and chief amongst those crimes are the following offenses: Don’t cast Rob Schneider in any role whatsoever, and stay as true to the beloved source material as humanly possible. Back in 1995, director Danny Cannon committed both wrongheaded acts when he made Judge Dredd, an abysmally acted, uneven, and cheesy affair starring a confused Sylvester Stallone as the title character, whose origins trace back to the old British comic strip 2000 A.D.; not only did Cannon and company have Dredd walk around without his signature helmet, but, again, they cast Rob Schneider as his (unfunny) comedic sidekick.

Seventeen years later, though, the judge finally has his day. Dredd 3D, an amazingly violent and to-the-point romp, does everything that the ’95 film should have done, giving the character a slick, sardonic sense of humor that never undermines his ability to cave in a person’s Adam’s apple with a club and blast deviants through their cheeks with bullets. Hats off to screenwriter Alex Garland (the writing brains behind director Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… and Sunshine), who opens Dredd with a show-stopping chase sequence and never lets the characters stop to catch any breath after that. And Pete Travis, the film’s imaginative director, upstages Danny Cannon every step of the way, lending Dredd a striking visual palette of glossy, Blade Runner-esque shine offset by dank, grimy interiors.

It’s clear that, in making Dredd and attempting to restore the character’s once-good name, Travis and Garland had a simple plan and saw it all the way through: Give the fans all of the carnage and black comedy they’ve been wanting and never look back. For that, the second shot at giving comic writer John Wagner’s creation an effective big screen presence is a rousing triumph. Memories of Rob Schneider cracking wise alongside Sly Stallone, be damned.

Gomorrah (2008)

Director: Matteo Garrone
Stars: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, Gianfelice Imparato

Goodfellas and The Godfather are amazing movies-there’s no denying that. But that’s the catch: Those are unavoidably viewed as just that, “movies,” with known actors, showy set-pieces, and omnipresent soundtracks.Gomorrah, on the other hand, could very well pass for a documentary, even though it’s just as much a cinematic production as anything shot by Martin Scorsese. Providing a brutally realistic look at organized crime in Naples, Italy, director Matteoo Garrone’s pulverizing crime saga is as close to the real thing as we’d ever hope to get without having to pack an Uzi’s clip.

Berberian Sound Studio (2013)

Director: Peter Strickland
Stars: Toby Jones, Tonia Sotiropoulou, Susanna Cappelaro, Cosimo Fusco

Peter Strickland’s wonderfully strange Berberian Sound Studio doesn’t have much going on in terms of story—a nebbish British sound technician named Gilderoy (the great Toby Jones) abandons his usual ho-hum movie jobs to work on the sound effects for an Italian giallo film, a.k.a. the latest in Italy’s signature brand of gruesome, stylish horror, titled, brilliantly, The Equestrian Vortex. And while surrounded by the production’s colorful array of filmmakers and actors, Gilderoy slowly loses his mind.

And, story wise, it’s as simple as that. But, technically speaking, Berberian Sound Studio is anything but simple. Strickland utilizes a large arsenal of visual and sonic trickery so that the film itself mirrors Gilderoy’s fever dream reality. It’s a horror movie that isn’t interested in scaring its viewers, but, rather, hypnotizing them into a state of dark, twisted confusion. Which, thanks to Strickland’s talents and Jones’ dynamic performance, it accomplishes tenfold.

Maniac (2013)

Director: Franck Khalfoun
Stars: Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Jan Broberg, America Olivo, Liane Balaban, Morgane Slemp, Genevieve Alexandra, Megan Duffy

Maniac shouldn’t be as great as it is—it’s a serial killer movie starring the pint-sized dude who plays Frodo Baggins, directed by the filmmaker behind the lame 2007 parking garage thriller P2, and, on top of that, it’s yet another horror remake. And yet.

With its simultaneously retro and haunting score, impressive use of first-person POV camerawork, and Wood’s multi-layered performance as a perverse sociopath, Maniac hits on every possible level. Wood’s character, Frank, stalks beautiful young women, murders them, scalps them, and then places their severed head-tops on mannequins…and, through it all, he remains impossibly sympathetic. Maniac isn’t a slasher movie, or a monster movie, as much as it’s an urban tragedy, one that, mind you, is sadistic and voyeuristic.

For genre fans looking for something special, though, it’s also a nasty crowd-pleaser. It’s rare to find a new horror film that’s an audacious, form-bending exercise in style matched with, not placed over, substance.Maniac is exactly that.

Image via Sony Pictures Classics

Capote (2005)

Director: Bennett Miller
Stars:  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Bruce Greenwood, Mark Pellegrino, Amy Ryan, Chris Cooper

In 2005, Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the greatest actors in recent memory, won his only Oscar for his performance as legendary writer Truman Capote inCapote, an account of the writer’s research for In Cold Blood. It’s a big, showy performance, and the Academy loves that kind of stuff. That it’s a biopic also explains why Hoffman took home a trophy.

But it’s also a great performance, mannered and lived in.

Philip Seymour Hoffman has been dead for a little over a month. Likely the void he left will never be filled. —Ross Scarano

Room 237 (2013)

Director: Rodney Ascher

Oh, you’re a big fan of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining? Prepare to see the iconic director’s Stephen King adaptation in all new, mind-bending ways, thanks to documentary filmmaker Rodney Ascher’s bewildering, deconstructive knockout Room 237. Using the committed, albeit seemingly delirious, voiceovers from five Shining obsessives, Ascher’s endlessly fascinating film pulls apart every minute detail within Kubrick’s horror masterwork to present a series of crackpot theories that, by the picture’s end, actually sound probable.

As in, The Shining was Kubrick’s way to atone for staging the Apollo 11 moon landing; or, Kubrick’s masked commentary on both the Holocaust and the genocide of Native Americans in our beloved U.S.A.—sounds batty, right? With Ascher’s stellar craftsmanship and slick editing to thank, the strangely hypnotic Room 237 begs to differ. MB

Hitch (2005)

Director: Andy Tennant
Stars: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta

Will Smith stars as an infallible casanova, Alex Hitchens, who makes a living for himself helping game-less dudes land girls (in a significantly less douchey way than it sounds). However, when Hitch meets gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), the characteristically cool love doctor finds himself about 1,000 times more spastic than any of his clients.

What, like you wouldn’t be?

Short Term 12 (2013)

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Stephanie Beatriz, Kevin Hernandez, Rami Malek

Short Term 12 flirts with several forms of hokeyness, from the white savior movie to the troubled-teen after school special. And in the hands of an inferior filmmaker, either one of those would have surely happened. But indie writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton is too gifted for that.

With a remarkable knack for character development and storytelling, Cretton crafts a film that’s got more in common with Half Nelson than Hardball. Except thatShort Term 12 is better than Half Nelson.

Carrying most of the emotional weight is breakout actress Brie Larson (21 Jump Street), playing Grace, a supervisor at a California group home who has deep, troubling issues of her own. Through one kid in particular, a female newbie with serious daddy issues (played by Kaitlyn Dever), Grace is forced to confront her inner demons, and, yes, Short Term 12 then heads into some rather dark places, but it’s never morose. Cretton loves his characters too much to send them into the abyss—by Short Term 12‘s beautifully optimistic end, all’s not right in their world, but it’s certainly hopeful. Just like in real life.

The Kid with a Bike (2011)

Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Stars: Thomas Doret, Cécile De France, Jérémie Renier

Imagine a Disney movie about a compromised nuclear family, but with the sentiment razored away, most of the dialogue removed, the performances dialed down to only the essentials, and with a genuine magic that borders on the religious. That’s The Kid With a Bike, the latest from the Dardenne brothers. A boy who’s been abandoned by his father is taken in by a single woman who works as a hairdresser. The boy races everywhere, his body acting out the vertiginous loss of his dad. Competing for the boy’s attention is a neighborhood thug with cigarettes, schemes, and slick-backed hair.

By cooking down the story to its fundamental parts, the Dardennes have made a hyper-real fairy tale that takes the viewer low and high on the wings of grace.

The Piano Teacher (2001)

Director: Michael Haneke
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Annie Girardot, Benoît Magimel

The tender Michael Haneke of Amour? Don’t look for him here. The Piano Teacher, an adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek’s novel of the same name, has a set-up that horror fans should find appealing. A tightly wound piano teacher, Erika (Isabelle Huppert), lives with her possessive, abusive mother (Annie Girardot). Because of mom’s chokehold on her life, not limited to curfews and dress codes, Erika has an unhealthy relationship with sex. It’s not limited to self-mutilation and sniffing semen-filled tissues discarded at the viewing booths of a porno shop. And then Erika finds herself pursued by a young man (also, a pig) who wants to study with her.

Rough going but rewarding because of Huppert’s honest performance and Haneke’s devilish dressing down of classical music, usually regarded as one of civilizatin’s high points, but here, not so much.

The Conversation (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield

When people talk about Francis Ford Coppola’s string of ’70s classics, The Conversation inevitably receives the least shine. It’s a smaller story, and a deeply personal and uncomfortable one, at that. No gangsters, no Vietnam, this modest picture only tackles the loss of security in the modern world.

Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, a surveillance expert hired for a routine case-record a conversation-that seems to have led to a murder. This sends Caul, already a paranoid person, into a downward spiral of disquiet. Along the way, Coppola’s explores heavy head-scratchers like responsibilty and privacy. Skip The Social Network and watch The Conversation.

A Touch of Sin (2013)

Director: Jia Zhangke
Stars: Jiang Wu, Zhao Tao, Wang Baoqiang

In the war between the haves and the have-nots, don’t underestimate the less blessed latter group—put someone’s back against the wall, and they’re liable to lash out. That’s the main theme in Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke’s hard-hitting A Touch of Sin, a brutal, in-your-face look at four different lower-class Chinese characters who fight back against various forms of oppression.

The most startling of the film’s four stories comes from Dahai (Jiang Wu), a coal miner enraged over his presumption that his industry’s leaders aren’t sufficiently compensating him. It results in Dahai going on a rampage with a shotgun. A second character, a sauna receptionist who’s treated like a prostitute, chooses a knife to exact her revenge. In all four chapters of A Touch of Sin, though, the outcomes are alternately shocking and profound, with Zhangke intelligently balancing action movie visuals with social analysis. The violence is brutal, and what’s more, probably useless.

The Cook, Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)

Director: Peter Greenaway
Stars: Alan Howard, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Tim Roth

Peter Greenaway is a singular filmmaker. Like Wes Anderson, his shots are composed in a way that’s immediately recognizable. Watch one of his films and it should come as no surprise that he was a painter first. A true aesthete, his films are full of references to classic literature, theater, opera-name something highbrow, and he folds it into his features. What makes The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover such a perfect entry point into Greenaway’s rarefied world is the film’s obsession with shit, rot, and the most corporeal aspects of sex.

The story is stylized and removed from reality to the point of allegory. A gangster (Michael Gambon) takes over a restaurant. His wife, Georgina Spica, takes a lover (Alan Howard). From there, the movie becomes a visceral examination of food become feces, passion become penetration, and flesh become meat. Watch it for the cannibalism, or the shots at Margaret Thatcher. Or both. After all, excess is important.

Here Comes the Devil (2013)

Director: Adrián García Bogliano
Stars: Francisco Barreiro, Laura Caro, Alan Martinez, Michele Garcia

Argentina’s own Adrián García Bogliano can’t be put into any one kind of box within the horror genre. With each new film, the young writer-director totally shifts gears and challenges himself to subvert a common scary movie trope; in Here Comes the Devil, Bogliano tries his hand at the supernatural, telling an unsettling and unpredictable tale about two loving, though romantically fragile, parents struggling to figure out where their two young kids have been acting so oddly after returning from a mysterious cave.

Achieving a steady, overwhelming mood of dread from start to finish, Bogliano’s latest twists and turns its way into a lane occupied by the most daring of horror movies, where familiar concepts and images never play out how one might expect and interesting, if not sometimes questionable, behind-the-camera choices show a director who’s gamely open to risks.

Thale (2013)

Director: Aleksander L. Nordaas
Stars: Silje Reinåmo, Erlend Nervold, Jon Sigve Skard

Norwegian filmmakers clearly have a thing for ancient folklore. In 2011, the fairy-tale-inspired Trollhunterinjected the found-footage subgenre with Jurassic Park-esque wonder, pointing its camera at Godzilla-sized trolls and keeping the humor consistently effective. On the far more serious end of the spectrum, there’s Thale, a lean and efficient almost-horror film based around the mythical “huldra,” a naked female creature with a cow’s tail that hangs around in the woods and pounces upon disrespectful men.

Writer-director Aleksander Nordaas finds a simplistic entry into the legend: Thale, the film’s primary huldra (played by gorgeous Shakira lookalike Silje Reinamo), has been confined to a cabin in the woods by a loving man, and, after the guardian is slaughtered, two clean-up men, tasked with wiping all the blood away, discover the naked woman in the basement and try to befriend her. Antisocial and silent-mouthed, Thale is never trustworthy, and, just as she begins warming up to one of the guys, her fellow tailed creatures join the party. And the bodies hit the floor.

At only 75 minutes long, Thale hastily settles into its dread-soaked tone, operating as a dark one-location genre film and tightening its grips on viewers’ nerves. That is, until the frustrating conclusion, a pile-on of heart-tugging sentiments that betrays the tension that came before it. Still, though, Nordaas’ engrossing supernatural drama’s plusses, of which there are many, outweigh the finale’s missteps.

Trainspotting (1996)

Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald

Giving our readers the benefit of the doubt here, we’re going to assume that none of you have tried any narcotics, beyond, perhaps, your mistress named Mary Jane. What’s the best way to stay on the straight and narrow, then? Give Danny Boyle’s disturbingly comedicTrainspotting a gander.

The loopy, anything-goes saga of drug users on inexorable downward spirals, it’s one of the few movies concerning abuse that genuinely makes the viewer feel as if he or she has snorted, inhaled, or injected. And, based on the reaction Ewan McGregor’s character has after diving into a feces-littered toilet to recover his drugs, it’s not a fun time.

Dead Man (1995)

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Crispin Glover, John Hurt

Dead Man is an indie movie fan’s wet dream. It’s got Johnny Depp at his most twitchy (and then badass), a score improvised by Neil Young, and Iggy Pop as a cross-dressing student of the Bible. What the hell else do you want?

Jarmusch’s acid western follows William Blake, an accountant who gets mixed up with the wrong type of people in a town called Machine. He kills a man in self-defense and spends the rest of the movie on the run from bounty hunters. Along the way, Nobody helps him. Really, Nobody is his name; he’s a Native American played by Gary Farmer.

It’s got the best poetry-quoting gun fights in the history of the world. Do you know my poetry…

Big Bad Wolves (2014)

Directors: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papsuahdo
Stars: Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Doval’e Glickman, Rotem Keinan

Big Bad Wolves opens with a beautifully staged, slow-motion sequence in which two little girls and their boy pal play a game of hide-and-seek in and around a cabin in the woods—ending with one of the girl’s disappearance and only a shiny red shoe in her place. It’s a clear indicator that Keshales and Papushado have fairy tales on their minds, albeit one incredibly grim tale. A police investigation leads to the discovery of the little girl’s body in an empty field, tied to a chair. The lead detective, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) has his sights on a schoolteacher suspect, Dror (Rotem Keinan), a nebbish, lonely guy who lives in his dead parents’ house and only finds companionship in his snippy pet dog.

Also ready to pin the girl’s death on Dror is her father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), a former member of Lebanon’s armed forces who buys an isolated cabin, redecorates the basement into a torture chamber, and, soon enough, sees both Miki and Dror down there with them. Along with a rusty pair of pliers, a hammer, a blow torch, and other weapons of bodily destruction that Gidi’s not about to let sit idly by.

The dark beauty of Big Bad Wolves is that, considering how familiar that plot synopsis no doubt sounds, nothing happens predictably, or even safely. Keshales and Papushado cleverly blur the lines between good and evil, treating the prime suspect as more of a victim than his sadistic, law-breaking abusers, though they don’t spell out whether Dror is innocent or if he’s indeed a serial child murderer. The closer Big Bad Wolves gets to its downbeat yet fully earned conclusion, the more difficult it is to form an allegiance to any one character.

Keshales and Papushado pull off a difficult tightrope act here, teetering back and forth tonally from comedy to thriller and psychological horror. Big Bad Wolves is all of those without ever tipping its scale toward any particular style—it’s the slickest and most entertaining serial killer film since Kim Jee-woon’s 2011 gem I Saw the Devil, and a film that deserves to be seen on wide scale.

Image via Orion Pictures

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn, Brooke Smith, Kasi Lemmons

In a loose way, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is a sequel to Michael Mann’s 1986 flick Manhunter, their connecting thread being the presence of the world’s classiest cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played in Lambs by Anthony Hopkins (in Manhunter, the character is portrayed by Brian Cox). And, for extra background, The Silence Of The Lambs is based on author Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel of the same name, itself the literary sequel to Harris’ ’81 book Red Dragon (the source material for Manhunter).

Got all of that? Cool, now that we’ve ironed out the logistics, let’s get right down to it: The Silence Of The Lambs remains the best serial killer movie of all time. Point blank. The only horror movie to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Demme’s white-knuckler weaves together phenomenal acting (by Hopkins and Jodie Foster, specifically), gruesome visuals, psychological tautness, and one of the creepiest movie villains out there, the lady-killing and skin-suit-making Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). In terms of credibility, horror doesn’t get much more legit than Lambs.

American Mary (2013)

Director: Jen and Sylvia Soska
Stars: Katharine Isabelle, Tristan Risk, Antonio Cupo, John Emmet Tracy, David Lodgren, Twan Holliday, Paula Lindberg

At around the 40-minute point in American Mary, one thing becomes official: Jen and Sylvia Soska have officially arrived as formidable filmmakers.

Debuting last year with the cheaply made but vibrantly enjoyable exploitation flick Dead Hooker in a Trunk, the Canadian sisters, known as the Twisted Twins, showed tons of potential, and the first half of their equally depraved follow-up displays an immense growth as both storytellers and directors. With sexy, in control star Katharine Isabelle holding things down, American Maryopens up as its eponymous character deals with medical school stress, financial troubles, and her introduction into the underground world of body modification.

Up until Mary gets bloody revenge on a professor who violated her, the Soskas’ sophomore effort develops its narrative with prowess; throughout American Mary‘s second half, though, the story loses focus as the sibling directors opt for unconnected sequences of carnage, black comedy, and graphic sexuality. Which, mind you, all entertain greatly, but it’s a shame that American Maryturns into a delightful hodgepodge when it could’ve been a revelatory achievement.

Still, there’s a lot to be said about a couple of young female directors who, after only two movies, have nailed their own unique style and aren’t afraid to get down and dirty. Get familiar with the names Jen and Sylvia Soska, people—they’re here to stay. A good thing, indeed.

Turner & Hooch (1989)

Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Stars: Tom Hanks, Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson, Reginald VelJohnson

For whatever its worth, Turner & Hooch is by far the best cop-and-his-canine-partner movie out there. The premise is admittedly goofy: An uptight police investigator (Tom Hanks) teams up with a slobbering, disobedient Dogue de Bordeaux, a doggy witness to its owner’s murder, to apprehend an unidentified criminal. The humor mainly comes from slapstick animal gags, such as Hooch tearing up the inside of Hanks’ car, or Hooch drooling all over Hanks’ CD collection and home entertainment center.

Somehow, though, within the flick’s rampant “That dog is crazy!” scenes, Turner & Hooch establishes a believably loving bond between owner and pooch. And when director Roger Spottiswoode’s action-comedy reaches its shoot-’em-up climax, Hooch gets hit by a fatal bullet and dies in Hanks’ arms.

How about some more hyperbole: Beasley the dog (Hooch) is one of the great canine actors of our time.

Something in the Air (2013)

Director: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Clement Metayer, Lola Creton, Felix Armand, Carole Combes, India Menuez, Hugo Conzelmann

Olivier Assayas, one of France’s most consistently exciting directors (go stream Carlos on Netflix right now), contemplates his adolescence in his latest, Something in the Air. (The French title is Après mai, which translates toAfter May—it’s far more evocative than the blandness we were stuck with.)

Assayas’ gorgeous, meandering movie opens not long after the May ’68 student revolt in Paris. His high school-age stars want to keep the fervor burning, and so they vandalize and riot, meet to talk about radical politics and art practices. Gilles (Clement Metayer), a brooding kid with a mop of hair and a blank look-book face, can’t decide whether he’d rather paint, protest, or just hump around. When a security guard at his school is seriously injured by Gilles’ and his band of bougie rebels, the group scatters across Europe, the better to lay low in the wake of the altercation.

Something in the Air is part road movie, part reflection on the complex relationship between political action, political art, and artistic innovation, and part coming-of-age tale. The film succeeds because, though everything from the stars to the scenery is very beautiful, Assayas doesn’t douse the proceedings in sentiment. These are kids who are probably going to grow up to be the middle-class types they hate, and their aspirations are driven as much by fashion and hormones as anything else. And yet their shifting radical convictions do seem real, too. By refusing to parse the mess, Assayas gets at something like the truth. —RS

Fish Tank (2009)

Director: Andrea Arnold
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing, Harry Treadaway, Jason Maza

Most moviegoers know Michael Fassbender as X-Men‘s young Magneto or Shame‘s swinging dick. But in the coming-of-age tale Fish Tank, Hollywood’s most reluctant leading man plays Connor O’Reilly, the handsome new guy dating 15-year-old Mia’s mom. Mia, played by Kate Jarvis, loves rap and wants to become a dancer (sidebar: this movie uses rap better than 90 percent of movies). When O’Reilly initiates an inappropriate relationship with Mia, the film begins taking shocking turns that will leave the viewer breathless.

Old Joy (2006)

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Will Oldham, Daniel London, Matt McCormick, Tanya Smith, Autumn Campbell, Keri Moran

This road movie takes two old friends, played by Daniel London and Will Oldham (otherwise known as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) trying to catch up via an overnight camping trip in the mountains of Oregon. The tension of the meandering scenes frames the changes the friends have undergone through since last they saw each other. Yo La Tenga provides the atmospheric score, setting the stage for a strange turn you won’t see coming.

The Loneliest Planet (2011)

Director: Julia Loktev
Stars: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal, Bidzina Gujabidze

The true test of a couple comes when they’re far from home. Living together is one thing, but backpacking in Georgia (the country, not the state) is a far more difficult undertaking, as the couple in The Loneliest Planet soon discover.

The pair hires a guide to take them through the stunning Caucasus Mountains, but a bizarre encounter with an irate stranger creates a fissure in their relationship that they might not come back from. Sumptuous scenery, meaty performances, and more subtext than a Hemingway short.

Blue Valentine (2010)

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman, Faith Wladyka, Mike Vogel

Take everything you know about romance in movies and throw it out the window. Heed the title: Blue Valentine isn’t for those who grew up viewing love and courtship as a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan rom-com, noranyone who fell for Ryan Gosling in The Notebook.

It’s a jarring, emotionally violent look into the kaleidoscope of a broken relationship as it evolves and changes. The fragmented narrative is only intensified by the wall-to-wall Grizzly Bear on the soundtrack.

Heartbeats (2010)

Director: Xavier Dolan
Stars: Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider, Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval

Heartbeats follows the unraveling of a love triangle between three close friends, but don’t expect this to play out like Bridget Jones’ Diary. Instead, a guy and girl vie for the affection and attention of one man, turning the film into a heartbreaking tale of jealousy, tension, and uncertainty. The cinematrography alone will have you open.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Maribel Verdú, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal

Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón’s bawdy and beautiful tale puts two young best friends on a road trip with an older woman they’re both digging. They convince her to come by telling her outlandish tales of a fantastical beach where they’ll live in paradise, only to find that they aren’t the only ones keeping secrets. The vibrancy and raw sexual nature make it one of the most successful road films ever made.

Image via Netflix

Mitt (2014)

Director: Greg Whiteley
Stars: Mitt Romney

It’s taken almost a decade, but we finally have proof that Mitt Romney is indeed a human being. The critically acclaimed documentary follows Mr. Binders Full of Women throughout his two failed presidential campaigns. If you’re in the mood for a good cry, here you go.

The Act of Killing (2012)

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous

What does it feel like to kill a man? To kill a thousand? To be revered for mass murder? These are questions that documentarians Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn ask in the powerful and unsettling doc The Act of Killing, which focuses on old, fat, and white-haired Indonesian gangsters who rose to prominence by leading a North Sumatran death squad in 1965-1966, purging the country of alleged communists in the wake of a failed military coup by the 30th of September Movement. Because the current ruling Pemuda Pancasila regime rose out of the death squads, their genocidal acts are considered heroic.

In an utterly surreal and stomach-turning twist, the gangsters revisit their killing days in re-enactments, full-on stylized movie scenes where they play themselves and their victims with the eagerness of children toying around with a video camera they got for Christmas. Some of these are comically bad, like Z-grade horror flicks. Others are so terrifying that the women and children who are playing the women and children who the death squads once pulled from their burning homes, are visibly terrified. Scenes like these are delicate, as the Pemuda Pancasila, which supports the filming as propaganda to remind challengers how truly medieval they’re willing to get, doesn’t want to come across as bloodthirsty and savage.

The most disturbing thing about The Act of Killing is how human the mass murderers are. In many ways, they appear as genial and unremarkable as your next door neighbor. It appears that anyone, given the right circumstances, could become part of a genocidal machine and devise ways to snuff out life more efficiently and with less mess. The documentary and its re-enactments force reflection, and yet it’s little solace to see Anwar, one of the most exalted executioners, struggle with portraying his victims, gag violently when he revisits the roof where he strangled many to death with a wire system he invented, and cry about his fears of being haunted. The dead are dead and wishing it were some other way can never change that.

Blackfish (2013)

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

When parents take their children to Sea World, they’re hoping for that look of innocent amazement in their kids’ eyes. The family watches huge, extraordinary Orca whales jump from the water. Then animals perform tricks, the kids gape, and then the family goes home.

But what about the Orcas? They’re stuck inside those tanks with many other whales, and they’re getting angrier by the second. Especially since many of Sea World’s workers are abusive, basically prodding the Orcas until they lash out at them, which some have done, particularly a giant male whale named Tilikum. Tilikum has killed three humans and seriously injured several others. Because it’s not supposed to be caged like that. Have you never seen Free Willy?

In the grim, eye-opening documentary Blackfish, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite presents that reality with an unflinching gaze. You’ll never want to visit Sea World again—that or you’ll be returning on a mission to free the animals back to their natural ocean habitat. There, they’d be able to function normally and in their own personal spaces, not forced to coexist with other Orcas in one tank, a recipe for angry whales ready to hurt people.

Through archival footage and candid interviews with people who’ve worked alongside these confined whales, Cowperthwaite brings previously unrecognized human-on-animal cruelties to light, ones in which little kids and their parents unknowingly participate.

Paris Is Burning (1990)

Director: Jennie Livingston
Stars: Carmen and Brooke, Andre Christian, Dorian Corey

Livingston’s stunning documentary captures ball culture in the ’80s, with gay New Yorkers doing some of the finest stunting the city has ever seen. Before TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race brought walking into the prime time, there was Paris Is Burning, an incredible time capsule of old New York. Your slang and swagger will grow one-thousand fold. And you’ll marvel at how much contemporary rap has in common with the incredible houses that populate the film.

R.I.P. Pepper LaBeija.

The Invisible War (2012)

Director: Kirby Dick
Stars: Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick, Kori Cioca

Documentaries most often expand or focus our views on issues that are already topics of conversation. It’s uncommon for a doc to break a story. But Kirby Dick’sThe Invisible War did just that, alerting the nation to the appalling cover-up of sexual assault within the armed services. This is the first film to explore rape in the military, and as such viewers will be horrified and angered. As they should be.

The Queen of Versailles (2012)

Director: Lauren Greenfield
Stars: Virginia Nebab, David Siegel, Jaqueline Siegel

Jackie and David Siegel, Americans, are building a home to live in. The cameras are rolling because the house is the most expensive single-family home in the country. They’re calling it Versailles, obviously. These are the essential details of Lauren Greenfield’s acclaimed documentary, a film that is a better document of the Great Recession than any stuffy best-seller or long-winded op-ed. The wincing comedy has the feel of contemporary reality TV, but the trenchant political points make The Queen of Versailles a profound experience.

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Director: David France
Stars: Bob Rafsky, Larry Kramer, Peter Staley

When Ed Koch died last month, many were quick to point out the former NYC mayor’s failure to address the AIDS crisis in his city. David France’s powerful doc, How to Survive a Plague, covers the early days of AIDs, when the general public seemed content to paint it as punishment for being gay. The film was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards.

Man on Wire (2008)

Director: James Marsh
Stars: Philippe Petit, Jean Francois Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau

You’d be hard-pressed to find a film with more humanity than James Marsh’s Man on Wire, which tells the story of Philippe Petit, who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in 1974. The generosity of spirit displayed by Petit’s beautiful (and illegal) act takes on special significance in light of the destruction of the Towers, making the film even more emotional.

Really, if you need to find a glimmer of hope in a nasty world, Man on Wire will convince you that being human in the face of oppressive superstructures is possible.

Cropsey

Director: Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio

During the 1980s, Staten Island kids were told the urban legend of “Cropsey,” a child-killer said to stalk the remains of the remaining buildings of the abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution. Turns out, though, that Cropsey was real, and thought to be a former Willowbrook employee named Andre Rand, who was pinned to the disappearances of five children. Cropseydetails those cases and, in the process, makes Freddy Krueger’s track record seem like child’s play.

The boogeyman is real, kids, and this film reminds us of that without flinching. Child abduction and murder is inherently disturbing, of course, but surprisingly the film’s unsettling pièce de résistance has nothing to do with homicide. An argument is made that Rand’s fractured mental state traces back to his days working inside Willowbrook, a decrepit hellhole where handicapped patients sat in filth and underwent extensive neglect.

Geraldo Rivera famously documented the institution’s poor practices back in 1972 in an exposé titledWillowbrook: The Last Disgrace, shown raw and uncut inCropsey. It’ll make you hate mankind for a good hour or two.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Director: Errol Morris

Private detective turned documentary filmmaker extraordinaire, Errol Morris and his film The Thin Blue Line got an innocent man out of prison. How’s that for impactful? While investigating a prosecution psychiatrist named Dr. James Grigson, Morris beame interested in the case of  Randall Dale Adams, who was sentenced to life in prison for murder.

In November 1976, a Dallas police officer was shot and killed during a traffic stop. Adams, who was riding in the car with a man named David Ray Harris, was convicted of killing the shooting, but through recreations and new interviews, Morris proves his innocence. Powerful stuff.

Hoop Dreams (1994)

Director: Steve James
Stars: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Emma Gates

Hoop Dreams, the gripping story of Chicago high-school basketball players William Gates and Arthur Agee is as much about race, class, and education as it is about sports. Those qualities make this cinematic masterpiece not just the greatest sports doc, but also one of the best documentaries in recent memory. Don’t be intimated by the long run time-Steve James’ achievement is thoroughly compelling. It’ll be the shortest three hours of your life.

A Band Called Death (2013)

Directors: Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett

When people think about punk rock, a few usual suspects come to mind: the Ramones, Bad Brains, and the Sex Pistols, for example. But, as Howlett’s film points out, the Detroit-based group simply known as Death (siblings Dannis, David, and Bobby Hackney) were just as, if not even more so, trailblazing as those aforementioned iconic acts. The only problem was, Death’s Motown roots left record label heads and fans confused when it came time to listen to their 1974 demo: Why weren’t these three black brothers from the D crooning harmonies? Why all of the aggressive, nihilistic rock?

Similar to last year’s Oscar-nominated Searching for Sugar ManA Band Called Death is all about redemption. Thirty years after the siblings recorded their failed demo, they found a fan base; and now, courtesy of filmmakers Jeff Howlett and Mark Christopher Covino, they’ve been given a superb platform to inspire music fans and family-minded viewers alike.

A Band Called Death thankfully doesn’t posit the group, like less music documentaries would, as a recording industry treasure that people have unfairly slept on, even with on-camera commentary from Death fans like Kid Rock, Questlove, and Elijah Wood—Howlett and Covino focus on the Hackney family’s deep, personal bonds. Through that, the film resonates as poignant character study, not a glorified Behind the Music episode.

Into the Abyss (2011)

Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Werner Herzog, Richard Lopez, Michael Perry

Werner Herzog, the director behind Grizzly Man, sets his sight on prison with Into the Abyss, a chronicle of two men convicted of a triple homicide. Michael Perry received a death sentence; Jason Burkett is serving a life sentence. The Huntsville “Walls” Unit in Texas is America’s most efficient death row, and Herzog conducts interviews with Perry up until just eight days before his execution. Into the Abyss is essential viewing if you’ve ever wondered about the death penalty, if you’ve ever considered the value of a life.

Marwencol (2010)

Director: Jeff Malmberg
Stars: Mark Hogancamp, Emmanuel Nneji, Edda Hogancamp

In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was badly beaten outside a bar. After nine days in a coma, Hogancamp came back to the world, but nothing was the same. His memory had been irrevocably damaged; his life before the beating was a fog. A new man, Hogancamp found himself drawn to action figures of WWII GIs. He created hyper-real recreations of a Belgian town he called Marwencol. Creating the sets and then acting out stories functioned as therapy for Hogancamp, a way to piece together his life after the disaster. Jeff Malmberg’s film documents the man’s life as he makes beautiful art from a terrible conflict.

Undefeated (2011)

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin
Stars: Montrail ‘Money’ Brown, O.C. Brown, Bill Courtney

Undefeated, the winner of last year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, is proof that resonant characters and honest emotions can trump familiarity-even more so when those characters are real-life people.

Directed with non-intrusive, observational clarity byfirst-time documentarians Daniel Lindsay and T.J. MartinUndefeated follows the Manassas Tigers, a high school football team in Memphis, TN, coached by a great man named Bill Courtney. Over the course of one particularly dramatic season, the Tigers achieve excellence both on the gridiron and off, despite many negative forces.

Lindsay and Martin focus on Courtney and three specific players, each representing a different facet of the squad’s collective resiliency. The directors also benefit from capturing a few spontaneous moments of teary-eyed, unscripted warmth that can only come from the documentary format.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Director: Bryan Singer
Stars:Gabriel Mann, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollack, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Chazz Palmintieri, Pete Postlethwaite

On its surface, The Usual Suspects sounds like a hybrid ofReservoir Dogs and Rashomon, with its exploration of an elaborate criminalistic plot gone wrong, as recounted by its seemingly untrustworthy lone survivor. And, truth be told, that’s exactly how director Bryan Singer’s twisty thriller plays out. Except that, well, it’s much more complicated than that.

Without divulging too much of the film’s enigmatic pleasures, The Usual Suspects takes the traditional thieves-gone-wild premise and, like Tarantino’s aforementioned Reservoir Dogs, totally subverts it with a large dose of Agatha Christie-level intrigue.

Who is Keyser Soze? Why would these loser deviants sign up for what’s so clearly a suicide mission? And how in the hell were Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie able to pull the imaginary rug out from under viewers with a final reveal that should be obvious but is nonetheless a mind-scrambler?

Night of the Creeps (1986)

Director: Fred Dekker
Stars: Jason Lively, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Wally Taylor, David Paymer

Back in October 2009, fanatics who know a superlative ’80s horror flick when they see one all breathed a huge sigh of relief when writer-director Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps finally arrived on DVD and Blu-ray; before then, the only home video option was the dated VHS from 1986.

And why were fans so tired of waiting? Because Night of the Creeps is a B-movie mash-up of the best kind, cramming together zombie movie tropes, old drive-in-cinema styled science fiction, and dashes of slasher flick butchery into a snappy horror-comedy concoction.

Set around a college campus, Dekker’s nutty gem shows what happens when slug-like alien parasites start turning frat guys and Summa Cum Laude geeks into killer, slow-moving cadavers. As for the humor, look no further than ’80s genre staple Tom Atkins, whose angry cop character, Detective Cameron, alerts a sorority house full of excited chicks prepping for their dress-up formal via an immortal exchange with one of the girls:

Cameron: “I got good news and bad news, girl. The good news is, your dates are here.”
Sorority girl: “What’s the bad news?”
Cameron: “They’re dead.”

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Director: James Foley
Stars: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin

One of the most self-assured plays ever written meets one of the best casts ever assembled, and the results are as expected: fucking stupid good. Glengarry Glen Rosscaptures the bravado and ruthlessness of American capitalism, personifying its masculine energy and pain.

A group of salesmen working off leads struggle to win a contest where the main prize is not being fired. Alec Baldwin’s “Always Be Closing” pep talk is just one high point in a film riddled with them.

Pi (1998)

Director: Darren Aronofksy
Stars: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Samia Shoaib, Ajay Naidu

Before the powerfully depressing Requiem for a Dream, Mickey Rourke’s comeback vehicle The Wrestler, and Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning psycho-horror flickBlack Swan, acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky was a struggling first-time filmmaker with little money and huge ideas. The result of his pre-fame hunger is Pi, a black-and-white mind-fuck about an unstable math whiz (Sean Gullette) whose obsessive work gains unwanted attention from Hasidic extremists, Wall Street players, and his own insanity. For bleak, hypnotic atmosphere, Pi is tough to beat.

Melancholia (2011)

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Keifer Sutherland

Lars von Trier’s latest odyssey assaults the upper class with a crashing planet. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, the glowing bride who, on her wedding night, can’t help but create drama-as if there wasn’t enough, what with the planet heading for Earth.

Featuring some of the most stunning cinematography of the Danish director’s career, including shots that recreate works of fine art, Melancholia is powerful and thought-provoking—and all without having to resort to genital mutilation.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon, Bill Hinzman, Russell Streiner

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a national treasure; shot on a shoestring budget in and around Evans City, Pennsylvania, the zombie classic stands as a crucial milestone for independent cinema, an untouchable gem amongst horror purists, and an intelligent, thought-provoking time capsule from the Civil Rights era. Not bad for a movie about corpses devouring humans.

Ask The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman or original series showrunner Frank Darabont-George A. Romero’s genre-defining Night of the Living Dead is the most important zombie movie of all time. It’s also one of the most important horror movies of all time.

The set-up is basic: Seven random people barricade themselves inside a nondescript farmhouse as flesh-eating corpses stalk around outside. Independently made back in 1968, Night Of The Living Dead pushed horror’s boundaries with extraordinarily graphic scenes of cannibalism and the ballsy choice to have a black leading man during the Civil Rights era.

Above all else, though, it’s still scary as hell. —Matt Barone

Bernie (2012)

Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

In Richard Linklater’s dark and wildly funny Bernie, Jack Black plays Bernie Teide, a real-life mortician who kills the wealthy widow that he recently befriended. But Teide isn’t caught right away; instead, he makes excuses to the townsfolk as to why she’s no longer around, and uses her large fortune to donate to people in need. When Teide is put on trial, the town comes to his defense, claiming that the old woman was hated by everyone and deserved to die. More than a pitch-black comedy, Bernieis a study in perception, and how people view murder when it’s perpetrated by someone they like against someone they despise. It also contains the performance of Black’s career.

Upstream Color (2013)

Director: Shane Carruth
Stars: Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins

Upstream Color—writer-director Shane Carruth’s long-awaited follow-up to his bewildering 2004 time-travel knockout Primer—is a textbook example of a movie that’s best seen with little to no prior knowledge of its plot machinations. We’ll restrict the explanation to this: Two morose strangers (Amy Seimetz and Carruth) meet on a train, slowly begin seeing each other, and have no idea that they share a common past experience that neither one of them truly understands. Somewhere not all that far from their city, meanwhile, resides an eccentric farmer with a giant pen full of pigs.

How all of those pieces connect is what Carruth challenges audience members to formulate for themselves—the necessary details are there, but laid out in such a way that posits Upstream Color as a slightly less menacing relative of Mulholland Drive. Carruth is working on several artistic levels here. The film’s core is the whirlwind romance, but, true to his idiosyncratic form, Carruth surrounds that beating heart with other particular influences, including body horror, bleak drama, and (bizarre) biology. Which, on the whole, could leave viewers cold if not for his ability to capture moments of sublime beauty.

Even at its most impenetrable, Upstream Color is a superb technical achievement.

D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)

Director: Sam Weisman
Stars: Emilio Estevez, Joshua Jackson, Michael Tucker, Jan Rubes, Kathryn Erbe

The more colorful supporting cast and international scope make this sequel to The Mighty Ducks more entertaining than its predecessor, but not by much. The fresh cast of new characters, from Dwayne Robertson (Ty O’Neal) to Ken Wu (Justin Wong) give the film a little flavor, and help provide a more memorable viewing experience than the first film.

If for no other reason, D2 stands out as the best of the trilogy for the “Greenland is covered with ice and Iceland is very nice” scene which remains the only thing an entire generation of Americans knows about these two countries.

Kill List (2012)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley, Emma Fryer, Harry Simpson, Ben Crompton, Struan Rodger

2012’s most disturbing genre movie is also one of most lingering mind-fucks to come around in years. With the scarring Kill ListEnglish filmmaker Ben Wheatleyestablishes himself as a fearless storyteller, keeping the mood pitch-black while concealing several jarring twists and maintaining a firm ambiguity that, by the film’s end, will leave you bewildered.

Most importantly, though, Kill List will burrow into your nightmares, which is fitting, since the movie’s shocking imagery and brutal ideas come directly from Wheatley’s own scary dreams. At its core, Kill List is about an out-of-work, married military vet and former hit-man (Neil Maskell) who reconnects with an old partner-in-crime (Michael Smiley) to off a few unlucky folks for a mysterious new client. And that’s all we can say here.

Though Wheatley himself has been open to discuss the film’s crazier elements in the press, like he did with us, we’re suggesting that you wait and see Kill List for yourselves before probing its deep, dark enigmas. But just know that you’re not likely to see a more psychologically damaging horror flick any time soon.

Nosferatu (1922)

Director: F.W. Murnau
Stars: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder, Alexander Granach, Wolfgang Heinz, Ruth Landshoff

Yes, that is a real person you see above. Well, at least we think Max Schreck wasn’t actually a creature of the night, though the terrifying German silent flickNosferatu makes quite a case against that notion. A sparse, visually chilling interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula, director F.W. Murnau’s nightmare on celluloid benefits endlessly from ultimate method actor Schreck’s obsessive dedication to the vampire’s look, mannerisms, and overall demeanor. We’d applaud his commitment, but we’re afraid that Schreck’s ghost will visit us tonight to thank us in person.

Existenz (1999)

Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm

The year 1999 was an exceptional one for challenging and unique science fiction cinema. On the blockbuster front, there was The Matrix, a heady blend of action and otherworldly intrigue that, with its glossiness and wide theatrical release, played well for mainstream audiences. On the other hand, folks looking for an even stranger and less zeitgeist-tapping dose of complicated sci-fi were treated to the celluloid puzzle eXistenz.

Fourteen years later, we’ve grown a closer fondness to the latter, namely because of the man who wrote and directed the picture: David Cronenberg, who’s ability to combine his love of body horror and cerebral sci-fi ineXistenz sets it apart. The plot isn’t the easiest to describe, but let’s give it a shot: A video game designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and one of her trainees (Jude Law) weave in and out of virtual realities while assassins track them down.

There’s much more to it than that, of course, but the bizarreness of Cronenberg’s last shot of Videodrome-like weirdness is best left experienced for one’s self, spoiler free.

All Cheerleaders Die (2014)

Directors: Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson
Stars: Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Tom Williamson, Chris Petrovski, Leigh Parker

All Cheerleaders Die is a mainstream horror-comedy living in the independent horror movie world. With a cast of young actors who believably look and behave like actual high-schoolers, co-directors Lucky McKeeand Chris Sivertson‘s raucous film is a Mean Girls/Heathers/Evil Dead hybrid that’s far more deserving of a wide release than, say, Vampire Academy, that Hollywood-minded box office catastrophe from earlier this year.

A revenge movie at its core, All Cheerleaders Die tweaks zombie movie tropes with black magic. A Wiccan teenager (tapping into The Craft‘s sensibilities as well) resurrects four gorgeous cheerleaders after a bunch of asshole football players run their car off a mountain road following a campfire party gone awry. They come back looking the same but now undead and harboring newfound supernatural abilities, like superhuman strength, misplaced souls, and, because this is one crazy f’n movie, shared orgasms.

Always aware of their film’s camp factor, McKee and Sivertson treat the material with both a charming recklessness and a dedication to never turning All Cheerleaders Die into overly cutesy pap like Jennifer’s Body.

Crave (2013)

Director: Charles de Lauzirika
Stars: Josh Lawson, Emma Lung, Ron Perlman, Edward Furlong

Have you ever wanted to bash a talkative, obnoxious person’s brains in during a lecture? Or wished you could annihilate a pair of young thugs harassing an innocent, cute chick on a subway train? If so, first-time director Charles de Lauzirika’s hugely impressive Crave should hit close to home.

In a magnificent performance, actor Josh Lawson plays a crime scene photographer who daydreams about killing those who irritate him and gets involved with a much younger, and emotionally confused, neighbor (the adorable and charismatic Emma Lung). Through wonderful dialogue and rich characters, Crave mixes several genres—specifically psychological drama, romantic comedy, and violent noir—while also demonstrating that de Lauzirika is a fresh-voiced filmmaker to watch. The kinds of storytelling elegance and deviant imagination shown here aren’t to be taken lightly.

The Host (2006)

Director: Joon Ho-bong
Stars: Kang-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Hae-il Park

The best creature feature since Jaws hails from South Korea. In the terrifying opening, a beast rises from the polluted Han River in Seoul, snatches a young girl, and takes her to its lair under Wonhyo Bridge. The rest of the film is concerned with the rescue of the girl, as her family gathers weapons to defeat the fishy abomination.

Balancing jokes, scares, and more than a few jabs at the influence of the American government on Korea, The Host is a satisfying, throwback horror flick.

Re-Animator (1985)

Director: Stuart Gordon
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton

For fans of the extreme, Stuart Gordon’s cult favorite Re-Animator truly has it all: blood, guts, cunnilingus with severed heads, and the darkest of comedy. And, surprisingly, critics such as Roger Ebert and old New York Times writer Janet Maslin loved Gordon’s flick back when it premiered in 1982, the latter going so far as to call Re-Animator“ingenious.”

Not even stuffy film purists can hate on this totally fucked up take on legendary horror and sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West-Reanimator.” Jeffrey Combs, who quickly became a genre icon thanks to his role, plays Herbert West, a college student who gets mixed up with unruly medical experiments designed to rejuvenate dead human tissue. They do, but, in good horror fashion, the side effects include zombies, mind control, and dismembered bodies that maintain horny libidos.

Those who complain about the lack of originality in cinema should give Re-Animator a look-if they’re not already in the know, they’ve assuredly never seen anything else like it.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Director: Drew Goddard
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker, Brian White, Jodelle Ferland

Give it up for 2012’s most difficult-to-market movie, a meta-horror-comedy so ambitiously self-aware that its distributors had no choice but to sell it as a generic slasher movie. Written by Joss “Mr. Avengers” Whedon and first-time director Drew GoddardThe Cabin in the Woods inevitably suffered a quick demise at the box office, surely on its way to cult infamy and home video glory. Is that fate frustrating for all of us who quote-unquote “got” it? No question, but we’re also just happy that it exists.

Deconstructing practically every overused horror movie trope in the bookThe Cabin in the Woods winks at savvy genre fans in every scene, all while delivering several genuine shocks and a plethora of intelligently comedic moments. And then comes the see-it-to-believe-it final act, a fan-pleasing climax that’s both totally batshit and amazingly generous. Even if general audiences didn’t pay attention, we passionate horror lovers salute you, sirs Whedon and Goddard.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Stars: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar

Say your girl loves vampires, but her measuring sticks for great bloodsucker characters are Edward Cullen and Bill Compton-first off, we feel your pain. Secondly, it sounds like she’s ready for the “Let the Right One InTest.”

Antithetical to Twilight and True Blood in every way, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s slow-burning undead drama handles budding love better than Bella/Edward (even though, yes, the suitors are a little boy and an equally little girl vamp) and is scarier in its quietest moments than True Blood‘s Eric Northman ever is at his most diabolical.

Show Let The Right One In to wifey and see if she’s willing to admit its superiority; if not, try not to hide your disappointment beneath a Taylor Lautner shirt.

In Bruges (2008)

Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

In Bruges first hit the festival circuit in 2008 with very little hype surrounding it, but by the time the end credits rolled, it was evident that acclaimed playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh had created a comedy destined to be a cult classic. In the film, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason star as two Irish hitmen forced into hiding in the city of Bruges after Farrell’s character accidentally kills a young boy during a hit gone wrong.

From there, the two hired guns ruminate on the nature of life and guilt as they plunge into the eccentric underbelly of the quirky city. This thoughtful morality tale offers darkly comedic flourishes, including a drug-addicted dwarf who gets into a brawl with Farrell and a rabid performance by Ralph Fiennes, who plays the boss of our two heroes.

All of these elements coalesce by the end to form a wholly unique comedy and masterfully written piece of art.

The Brother From Another Planet (1984)

Director: John Sayles
Stars: Joe Morton, Rosanna Carter, Ray Ramirez

Writer-director Sayles doesn’t beat viewers over the head with the racial themes in his quirky and mellow dramedy The Brother From Another Planet; in other words, he’s no Spike Lee.

Joe Morton gives a nicely controlled performance as the titular brother, an alien who climbs out of a cheap-looking spaceship, walks into Harlem and must blend into society despite the fact that he can’t talk. Made on a shoestring budget, the indie Brother foregoes elaborate special effects in favor of heavy dialogue and simplistic character development; in that regard, it’s about as unconventional a sci-fi film as one could imagine.

Sayles (who previously co-wrote the 1981 cult horror classic The Howling) finds the perfect balance between social commentary and fish-out-of-water humor, givingThe Brother From Another Planet a uniquely unassuming vibe. With all due respect to our dude Meteor Man, Morton’s Brother is our favorite African Alien movie character.

G.B.F. (2014)

Director: Darren Stein
Stars: Sasha Pieterse, Megan Mullally, Natasha Lyonne, Evanna Lynch, Andrea Bowen, Xosha Roquemore, Joanna “JoJo” Levesque, Michael J. Willett, Horatio Sanz, Paul Iacono, Molly Tarlov

G.B.F. is exactly about what it stands for, “gay best friends.” But before you call the morality police, hear this out. More than just the shallow idea of popular girls recruiting homosexual boys to be their arm candy, it’s about coming out, being confident in yourself, and standing up for what you believe in.

Dumbo (1941)

Director: Norman Ferguson
Stars: Edward Brophy, Herman Bing, Margaret Wright, Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards

Dumbo is considered to be one of the saddest movies of all time, so it’s perfectly normal that its target audience shoots below 13. The awkward, big-eared baby elephant, whose bullies call him “Dumbo” instead of his real name, “Jumbo Jr.,” embodies the outcast in all of us, with all our social anxieties. When Dumbo’s mother is captured, he blames himself (this is why a lot of people need therapy). But, of course, this is a Disney movie, and Dumbo comes to terms with himself. He also gets his happiness back thanks to Timothy Q. Mouse and champagne that’s spilled into his water. Yeah, champagne is what makes him fly (this is why a lot of people are alcoholics).

Rather than simply being a kid’s movie, this early Disney feature is a great piece of art. Dumbo is a silent character, often portrayed as the unwilling clown, a la Buster Keaton, while the characters move about him and often pick on him. Despite being considered only a “filler” movie for Disney, Dumbo‘s poignant message about outcasts makes it a must-watch animated flick.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Director: Henry Selick
Stars: Catherine O’Hara, Danny Elfman

If you’ve avoided this film just because every girl at Hot Topic rides for it, we understand-completely. But hear us out. The Nightmare Before Christmas introduced a new generation to some amazing stop-motion animation. Before this, all that was prevalent were the iconic Rankin/Bass Christmas specials (i.e. The Year Without a Santa Claus). In turn, The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a traditional Christmas film of its own. Or, wait-Halloween film? Uh, just watch it on both days.

Produced by Tim Burton, and directed by Coraline‘s Henry Selick, the film follows Jack Skellington, a skeleton living in Halloween Town who opens a portal to Christmas Town. The movie follows his adventures in trying to get his spooky town to accept the more joyful holiday, all set to the music of Danny Elfman. It’s a haunting twist on the traditional saccharine sweet Christmas fare we usually see, making it an amazing, original film worth checking out.

ParaNorman (2012)

Directors: Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Casey Affleck, John Goodman, Tucker Albrizzi, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe, Ariel Winter

Keep the little pre-school-aged kids away from ParaNormanunless you want to promote night terrors. Though its anti-bullying, wholly positive story (about forgiveness and finding one’s purpose in life) is meant to uplift, not petrify, this magnificent achievement in stop-motion animation is decidedly too grown-up for wee lads.

Blame that on filmmakers Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s shared affinity for, and readiness to pay homage to, classic horror films. Nightmarish-looking zombies stumble about, corpses are used for sight gags, and the olden days’ practice of executing women thought to be witches is the basis for the script’s villainous sub-plot. Yeah, ParaNorman is a bit darker than, say, Ice Age.

More importantly, though, it’s also stronger in the originality department, striking a delicate balance between adult horror and child-friendly wonder. Also worthy of praise is the fact that its protagonist, the kind-hearted, spirit-seeing Norman (voiced with heartfelt conviction by Let Me In‘s Kodi Smit-McPhee), is a well-realized, multifaceted triumph of a kiddie character offering something more than aww-shucks naïveté. If not for the little girl at the center of this countdown’s top-ranked film, Smit-McPhee’s Norman would rank as the summer’s most inspiring hero.

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8 Comments on "The 100 Best Movies Streaming on Netflix (2014)"

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moneywithmanuel
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Good movies in there

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emilyawidger
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Theres so many good movies on Netflix! Thanks for the share Manny

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