Robert De Niro has been appearing in films since the 1960’s, and many of these are considered classics. While, it’s a difficult task to pick out the best films from an actor who has appeared in so many terrific ones, it’s also an enjoyable one. From oldest to most recent, here are the finest (arguably) Robert De Niro movies!
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Although critics at the time this film came out thought that the story line featuring Robert De Niro, who played godfather Vito Corleone in his youth, slowed down the main plot featuring Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, over the years this film has come to be recognized as one of the best films in American cinema history. It also firmly established the powerful on-screen chemistry of De Niro and Pacino.
Taxi Driver (1976)
In Taxi Driver, De Niro plays a character who goes from slightly eccentric to full-blown violent. As with other characters, he gains sympathy even as he repulses, and his dark deeds become understandable. It’s hard to imagine many actors other than De Niro who would be able to play an individual who becomes an assassin for no good reason and still be able to portray him sympathetically.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Released at a time when America was just beginning to try and process its national experience in Vietnam. The viewer sees De Niro’s character in his normal and happy youth, and then they see what happens to him as a result of serving in Vietnam. The before and after is a metaphor for the entire nation, and audiences felt like they were watching a real person who they knew in De Niro’s character.
Raging Bull (1980)
Filmed in black and white, this film is haunting. De Niro plays an aging boxer who becomes a comedian after he has been beaten to the pulp in the ring too many times. While his character is not likable, he earns the viewer’s respect for his perseverance.
The King of Comedy (1982)
This film explores the relationship between fans and celebrities, and it looks at the warped perceptions ordinary people often have of the famous. De Niro plays a part where he drifts to the wrong side of the line between being a fan and being a stalker, and he does it in his own inimitable way.
The Untouchables (1987)
Robert De Niro plays Al Capone in this film, and he even gained weight for the picture so that he could look even more intimidating. Even as his character is pursued by good cops played by Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, it’s De Niro’s performance, especially in the infamous baseball-bat scene, that stays with the viewer.
This film is one of several where the combination of Martin Scorcese’s direction and De Niro’s acting, combined with a mafia-related script, yields an awesome film. The fast-pace and violence of this film captivates the viewer, and it’s impossible to look away from the first scene to the last. Although Ray Liotta’s character is the protagonist in this picture, De Niro’s performance is at its heart.
Cape Fear (1991)
In this film, De Niro plays a deranged ex-convict bent on getting revenge on the lawman who put him in jail. De Niro takes creepiness to another level in his portrayal of a bad guy who is persistent, cunning and obsessed. He’ll even go after his enemy’s teenage daughter.
With Al Pacino’s cop to De Niro’s robber, this film has two very strong leads. Even as De Niro plots bank robberies, you gain sympathy for him as you see him struggling with the challenges of running his crew and trying to have a relationship. This film also has one of the best gunfight scenes in film history.
As in Goodfellas, this film has De Niro and Joe Pesci playing gangsters who work together. In Goodfellas, however, the relationship is more volatile, and casino-manager De Niro is sometimes repelled by the disregard Pesci’s character shows for the boundaries. Set in 1970’s Las Vegas, this film sparkles.
Most people look at Mark Hamill and can’t see past Luke Skywalker. Though his iconic role in the “Star Wars” franchise is one to remember, he’s been in many other movies. Here’s a look at the six best Mark Hamill movies.
1. Joker – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
It may come as a surprise, but Hamill has been playing Joker for about 30 years. Hamill plays Batman’s adversary in “Batman: The Animated Series.” His voiceover work is stunning as he shows his wide voice range of acting between mayhem and evil.
2. Ted Mitchum – Brigsby Bear
Hamill jumped into show off his dramatic side in the indie drama/comedy “Brisby Bear.” He played an obsessive father raising his adult son as if he were still a child. The movie reveals Ted abducted the son as a baby. He and his wife raised the boy by watching the fictional series, “Brigsby Bear.” The adult son finds out the truth, and decides to make the series into a movie. The movie shows off Hamill’s sweet side so much that you forget he kidnapped the boy.
3. Professor James Arnold – Kingsman: The Secret Service
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a goofty, raunchy movie. Hamill played Professor James Arnold, a fun, edgy dude. The movie is wild and crazy, but provides a way for Hamill to show off his diverse acting skills.
4. Firelord Ozai – Avatar: The Last Airbender
Hamill gets to play the antagonist voiceover card again with Firelord Ozai in “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” As the main bad guy, Firelord Ozai tries to destroy nations and destroy anyone in his way. Hamill has a way to make people fall in love with, yet hate the villian. No one knows why, but Hamill is one of the best voiceover villainous characters out there.
5. Private Griff – The Big Red One
Hamill stepped away from the galaxy into a very serious 1980 war drama in “The Big Red One.” As Private Griff, a member in a squad of soldiers in Africa during World War II. He showed off his serious, dramatic side in this supporting role. Though it’s a smaller role, Hamill stands apart in this film. He was trying so hard to step away from his Skywalker role into something else. He succeeded.
6. Colonel Muska – Castle in the Sky
Enter another amazing showcase of Hamill’s voiceover acting. Hamill played Colonel Muska in Disney’s “Castle In The Sky” in 1986. Muska was an evil man who tried to take control over a castle in the sky. Though usually known for his “good guy” roles, Hamill turned the tables to play an animated antagonist. People say he’s so good at voicing Colonel Muska they often don’t even recogize him.
There are always so many movies to pick from these days, and oftentimes movies do not seem to meet the expectations of every viewer. To help simplify the matter, I have compiled a list of 10 must-see movies as well as a quick synopsis of each.
‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’ is set to release on November 22nd. Tom Hanks plays the role of Fred Rogers, and the greatest criticism in regards to the film seems to fall along the lines of stating that it’s too obvious. If you loved Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, then this is a film you do not want to miss.
‘Little Women’ is another well-known classic, and it is set to release on Christmas day. This is the 8th big-screen remake of the classic, however, there is a star cast that has been picked to make this film a little different from the original 1868 classic. Greta Gerwig has written and directed this film, and there is great anticipation in regards to what she has in store for audiences.
‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ will hit theatres on December 20th. This film is the third installment of the sequel trilogy, and it is sure to please every Star Wars fan who has been waiting for the latest edition of the Star Wars saga. If you have wanted to see the greatest battle between good and evil, then do not miss the latest edition of Star Wars this year.
I list ‘Frozen 2’ as a classic simply because the first film created such a stir among the movie industry. If you have ever wondered about the origins of Elsa’s magic, then you will definitely want to mark your calendars for November 22nd.
If you have always wanted to see the Broadway classic ‘Cats,’ then do not miss your chance to see the movie on December 20th. You will enjoy many of the well known songs as well as a twist on the live show that captivated audiences for years.
‘Knives Out’ will hit theatres on November 27th. If you have waited for an action, comedy, and mystery movie all rolled into one, then you will definitely want to check out the whodunit movie of the year.
‘Uncut Gems’ is set to release on Christmas Day. Adam Sandler plays a more serious role as he walks the audience through the life of a compulsive gambler who constantly places high stake bets.
‘1917’ will also be released on Christmas Day, however, this film is set during the first World War.
Movies Based on True Stories
‘Bombshell’ is set to release on December 20th, and with Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman as the leading ladies of this film, you can expect nothing short of great acting. The story of the Fox News creator is told from the viewpoint of these highly acclaimed actresses who play the role of high profile on-air personalities.
‘The Banker’ is due to hit screens on December 6th. This movie highlights the problems that two African American businessmen fought in the 1950s. You can expect humor, racial injustice, and the fight for equality.
These are the top 10 must-see movies before the end of 2019. Each film is unique and has been suggested to present some of the greatest adaptations and stories of all time. Mark your calendars to ensure you don’t miss a single one.
As Fall season approaches, this is a great time to be a movie fan. Oscar season is also rapidly approaching, which means that movie studios will release films as they look to make one final award-winning push. If you are a fan of movies and the film industry in general, here is a look at several movie-themed podcasts that you should consider listening to.
For over a decade, Filmspotting has produced weekly installments of film analysis. Many of the episodes start with an in-depth look at one of the top new releases. Each episode also features filmmaker interviews and theatrical reviews. The podcast is hosted by Adam Kempenaar, Josh Larsen, and Sam Van Hallgren. Kempenaar has a film studies degree from the University of Iowa. He is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. Larsen is a former film critic for the Chicago Sun Times. Filmspotting is known for creating several unique lists based on a number of different movie topics. The podcast also has a popular segment where listeners try to figure out which movie the hosts are recreating a scene from.
How Did This Get Made
The How Did This Get Made podcast explores the deconstruction of movies that are universally recognized as terrible. The comedic podcast is hosted by June Diane Raphael, Jason Mantzoukas, and Paul Scheer. The hosts make jokes about the films as they try to figure out the plot. Scheer discusses online reviews of each film. Eventually, the hosts make a final decision on the overall quality of the film. Some episodes of the podcast are recorded live in front of an audience. Every other week, Scheer answers fan questions and discusses different movies and TV shows that he personally enjoys.
The Scriptnotes podcast strives to provide listeners with a clear idea of how the film industry operates. The podcast is hosted by screenwriters Craig Mazin and John August. Mazin wrote Chernobyl, a miniseries which helped him win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series. August helped create Go, Charlie’s Angels, and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Mazin and August offer advice on how to create a great screenplay. Mazin and August also discuss current events within the industry. During the Three Page Challenge segment, Mazin and August review screenplays submitted by different readers.
The Rewatchables podcast is available through The Ringer network. The podcast features sportswriter Bill Simmons and a guest discussing movies that are considered culturally significant. Some of the movies discussed on the podcast include Remember The Titans, The Shining, and Den of Thieves.
You Remember This
The You Must Remember This Podcast is highly recommended for film historians. Karina Longworth explores many of the secrets during Hollywood’s first century. Longworth is a former film editor at LA Weekly. She has also written for Grantland and Vanity Fair. As Longworth discusses topics such as Marilyn Monroe and The Hollywood Black List, she strives to educate readers about an industry that has greatly relied on spin and myths.
Masculinity gets a beatdown in Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense, a scathing satire about the fragile and toxic variations of modern manliness. After nearly dying from an assault by helmeted motorcyclists, wimpy Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) finds empowerment at the karate dojo of Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), a martial-arts guru who helps him become that which he most fears. Stearns’ off-kilter script is defined by awkward conversations and absurd twists, and its droll approach to its material generates considerable black humor. As he becomes more devoted to the dojo, Casey is drawn deeper into a demented space marked by homoeroticism, sexism, and devious criminality. What he learns, ultimately, is that violence has the power to both transform and corrupt — a lesson that Eisenberg brings to amusingly wacko life via a performance in which Casey’s seething anger and resentment at his own powerlessness lies just beneath his placid surface, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice in a flurry of kicks and punches.24. Toy Story 4
Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of Pixar’s animated toys are back in Toy Story 4, and though their return engagement may not be wholly necessary — considering 2011’s ideal franchise-capping Toy Story 3 — it proves a charming, funny and deceptively weighty saga about independence, purpose and loyalty to both loved ones and, just as importantly, to one’s self. Now the property of kindergarten-bound Bonnie, who’s disinterested in playing with him, Woody finds meaning in life by protecting her newest plaything: Forky (Tony Hale), a makeshift weirdo crafted from trash. Their ensuing road-trip odyssey leads Woody to Bo Peep (Annie Potts), now enjoying her freedom as a “lost toy.” Director Josh Cooley and writers Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom pepper their material with the usual barrage of sharp jokes, and the voice cast — including Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as a conjoined bunny and duck — is, as always, top-notch. Plus, it has Keanu Reeves stealing every scene he’s in as Duke Caboom, the greatest Canadian motorcycle daredevil to ever grace the silver screen.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
23. The Dead Don’t Die
Jim Jarmusch crafts an undeadpan comedy of apocalyptic proportions with The Dead Don’t Die, a Night of the Living Dead riff played for bleak satire. In the “nice” town of Centerville, chief Cliff (Bill Murray) and officer Ronnie (Adam Driver) are forced to contend with a zombie outbreak caused by…well, maybe it’s the polar fracking that’s knocked the Earth off its axis, or the MAGA-type insanity peddled by local farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi), or simply good ol’ fashioned American materialism. “This isn’t going to end well,” warns Ronnie at regular intervals, which he knows because he’s read Jarmusch’s script — just one of many instances in which the film indulges in goofy self-referentiality. A stellar cast that also includes Chloë Sevigny, Larry Fessenden, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, and Tom Waits (looking like a reject from Cats) go through their end-of-the-world motions with laid-back confusion and panic (they’re barely animated themselves). Meanwhile, Jarmusch stages scenes of gruesomeness with a shrug-ish good humor that belies this simmering-with-anger critique of a world going, perhaps deservedly, to hell.22. Fast Color
“If something’s broken, it stays broken,” intones Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) at the outset of Fast Color, which then proceeds to show that things — and people — can be mended through the power of family, love, and connection to the past. Director Julia Hart’s sophomore feature (co-written with Jordan Horowitz) is an unconventional superhero saga about Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who in a near future decimated by lack of rain, flees government agent Bill (Christopher Denham) while trying to control her extraordinary abilities, which manifest themselves as seismic seizures. Ruth’s flight takes her to her childhood home and her mom Bo and daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), both of whom have the capacity to wield swirly-colored constructive/deconstructive energy. The volatility of youth and the vitality of kinship (with present and former relatives) serve as sturdy thematic undercurrents for this low-key genre tale. Far more subdued than its summer-blockbuster brethren, it’s a showcase for Hart’s vibrant visuals and Mbatha-Raw’s heartfelt performance as a woman finding strength not from independence but, instead, from bonds of blood.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
The kindness of strangers is exploited for demented purposes in Greta, Neil Jordan’s playfully bonkers thriller about the trouble that befalls young Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) after she finds a pocketbook on a New York subway and returns it to its owner, lonely Greta (Isabelle Huppert). Courtesy of that humane act, Frances –grieving the death of her beloved mom, as well as adjusting to her new Manhattan environs with the help of her wealthy roommate (Maika Monroe)—nets herself a surrogate mother figure. Their friendship, however, is eventually revealed to be predicted on a lie that turns the proceedings cockeyed. Jordan laces the film with erotic undercurrents but otherwise refuses to unduly embellish his material, instead content to keep it on steady ground even as it grows loopier. It’s Huppert who truly elevates this story about twisted maternal obsessiveness, her Greta a cunning predator who uses sophistication and solitary sorrowfulness to mask more devious desires. Sad, elegant and extremely unhinged, she’s a stalker to remember. 20. Avengers: Endgame
Marvel saves the best for last—at least in terms of this phase of its sprawling cinematic universe—with Avengers: Endgame. This entry is theculmination of its decade-plus run of interconnected films, which offered not only surprising twists and electric superhero spectacle, but also routine chances for its illustrious cast to actually act. Helmed by Joe and Anthony Russo with the same juggling-multiple-strands craftsmanship they brought to their prior franchise installments, this latest saga finds Earth’s Mightiest Heroes trying to undo big bad Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) population-halving “Snapture.” To discuss plot particulars would be to spoil some of the fun, although the real enjoyment derived from this extravaganza comes from its self-referential fan-service nods, its ability to embellish every portentous moment with character-specific humor, and its satisfyingly seamless and cohesive conclusion. It’s a superior piece of tentpole cinema, thanks in large part to A-game performances from stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Ruffalo.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
19. The Mountain
A hallucinatory nightmare of loneliness, alienation, and Oedipal desire, Rick Alverson’s The Mountain boasts shades of Stanley Kubrick and Yorgos Lanthimos even as it carves out its own peculiar, penetrating identity. Set free from the company of his remote skating-instructor father (Udo Kier), miserable Andy (Tye Sheridan) — desperate to reconnect with his institutionalized mother — sets out on a trip with Dr. Wallace Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), who wants Andy to photograph the psychiatric patients he treats with his unique electroshock-and-lobotomy procedures. Set during the 1950s, theirs is an expedition marked by disintegration and yearning for escape and deliverance, and it ultimately leads to the home of a French healer (Denis Levant) who wants Fiennes to perform his technique on his daughter Susan (Hannah Gross), with whom Andy develops a connected-by-disconnection relationship. Aided by unnervingly stoic, expressive turns from his leads, Alverson dramatizes this off-kilter madness via painterly compositions of figures trapped in cramped, confining architectural spaces, set to ominous audio tones and blowing wind. In this surrealist landscape, humor and horror are almost indistinguishable, epitomized by Levant’s unforgettable dance of the deranged.18. Plus One
Weddings can be a torturous drag for singles, so longtime friends Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid) decide to spend their overbooked nuptials season tag-teaming events as platonic dates. Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer’s romantic comedy is, per formula, bound to have its seemingly opposite protagonists discover their attraction for one another, yet predictability is of no concern when the amorous action is as consistently funny and charming as it is in this jaunty indie. Be it stumbling their way through one ceremony and party after another, or embarking on their own unlikely relationship while dealing with their troublesome parents, Alice and Ben prove to be exceptional company. She uses booze and a sharp tongue to cope with her loneliness, and he clings to high standards as a way to avoid commitment and stave off potential abandonment. Erskine in particular is a revelation—a charismatically uninhibited riot, she seems destined for Hollywood’s A-list.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
17. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
John Wick dispatches adversaries in a frantic knife-throwing fight, on horseback through the streets of New York City, and with a library book (!) in Chad Stahelski’s latest go-round—and that all happens in the first 20 minutes. No franchise delivers more crazily choreographed violence than John Wick, in which savagery is carried out with both concussive force and dancer-like grace. In Parabellum, Wick teams up with Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, and Halle Berry (and her two crotch-fixated German shepherds) in order to stave off death at the hands of the world’s assassins, all of whom seek a bounty on his head. Improving on Chapter 2, director Stahelski stages his set pieces as exercises in vicious physicality. Through it all, Keanu Reeves strikes a dashing pose as the increasingly harried (and bloodied) Wick, his trademark designer suits and walk-softly-and-carry-a-big-gun demeanor once again employed to expert effect in a series that continues, like Reeves himself, to improve with age.16. High Life
Fertility and desolation, creation and destruction, isolation and togetherness all intermingle in hypnotic fashion in High Life, Claire Denis’ entrancing sci-fi reverie. Indebted, spiritually if not narratively, to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Denis’ story concerns a space ship on which a doctor (Juliette Binoche) attempts to successfully conceive children through experiments with convicts as they all hurtle toward a black hole whose energy they seek to harness. One of these passengers is Monte (Robert Pattinson), who’s introduced caring for an infant, alone, in what’s soon exposed as a flash-forward. Barren spaces abound, and the French auteur infuses her material with a sense of ominous hollowness, born from longings—for purpose, conception, and reinvention—that remain unfulfilled. No clear-cut answers await those who make it to the end of this mesmerizing journey, only a mood of enigmatic ennui, bursts of sexualized violence and hunger (the latter coming via Binoche’s unforgettable visit to a room known as the “f–k box”), a superbly cagey Pattinson turn, and a finale of cautious optimism.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
15. Birds of Passage
Capitalist modernity, taking the form of the marijuana trade, corrupts a local Colombian culture in Birds of Passage, an ethnographically rich crime drama from Embrace of the Serpent director Ciro Guerra. Split into five sections spanning 1960-1980, and set in the country’s northern La Guajira region, Guerra’s film (co-directed by his wife and producing partner Cristina Gallego) details the disintegration of a Wayuu community thanks to enterprising Rapayet (José Acosta), who marries the daughter of terrifying matriarch Ursula (Carmiña Martinez) and transforms everyone’s fortunes by smuggling weed procured from relatives. The tension between tradition and progress is almost as taught as that between mercy and brutality, as the clan’s rise to drug-running prominence comes at a catastrophic cost. Interjecting their verité tale with doses of hypnotic dreaminess, Guerra and Gallego capture the insidious ways that greed spreads like a poison, cutting people off from their heritage, their morality, and ultimately, from their loved ones and themselves.14. Ash Is Purest White
Cohen Media Group
Love is fractured and the past is torn asunder in Ash is Purest White, another remarkable saga from Chinese auteur Jia Zhang-ke about individuals trying to plot a course through a rapidly developing nation. Employing expansive and boxy aspect ratios to denote different time periods, and embellishing his action with pop songs (including the theme from John Woo’s “The Killer”), Jia dramatizes the romance between gangster Bin (Liao Fan) and girlfriend Qiao (Jia’s wife and favorite leading lady, Zhao Tao). This abruptly ends after the latter is imprisoned for using a firearm to save her beau during an attack. Upon release, Qiao strives to acclimate herself to a modernizing world that doesn’t care about the collateral damage left in progress’ wake. From young upstarts looking to take Bin’s position, to work along the Three Gorges (which will ultimately submerge towns), change is afoot. Divided into three sections, it’s an epic vision of sacrifice and tenacity in a tumultuous age, led by Zhao’s commanding performance as a woman whose cunning resourcefulness is matched by her devotion. ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
13. Her Smell
Elisabeth Moss gets her riot-grrrl on in Her Smell, delivering a tour-de-force performance of rampant egomania and self-destruction that galvanizes Alex Ross Perry’s film. A mid-‘90s Courtney Love-type who resides in the center of a tornado of her own making, Moss’ Becky Something leaves only chaos in her wake, much to the chagrin of her bandmates (Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin), ex (Dan Stevens), young daughter (Daisy Pugh-Weiss), mother (Virginia Madsen), collaborators/rivals (including Amber Heard and Cara Delevingne), and heroically loyal manager (Eric Stoltz). Split into five chapters that are interlaced with flashback home videos of happier early times, Perry’s tale traces Becky’s journey from apocalyptic drugged-out collapse to cautious resurrection. Throughout, his handheld camera is exactingly attuned to his protagonist’s scattershot headspace. There’s a vicarious thrill to watching this rocker spiral into the abyss and pull herself back out. While Moss doesn’t hold back in depicting Becky’s ugliness, she taps into the underlying hurt and vulnerability fueling her firestorm heart, peaking with a heart-rending single-take piano rendition of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.”12. Shadow
Well Go USA
As evidenced by Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou is no stranger to dazzling martial-arts action. Still, Shadow is an aesthetic wonder, drenched in ash-gray hues and wielding serpentine cinematography to enhance its tale. The film follows a military commander’s “shadow” (Deng Chao)—i.e. double—who, when not falling in love with his superior’s wife (Sun Li), attempts to incite a war with a rival kingdom against the wishes of his self-serving king (Zheng Kai). Epitomized by the yin-yang symbol on which many battles are fought, dualities (masculine and feminine, light and dark, real and imitation, mortal and ghostly) are rampant throughout. Romance and court intrigue are also part of this stunning package, yet far more exhilarating than the stock story is the director’s precisely choreographed wuxiacombat, highlighted by Zhang’s signature slow-mo shot—in which his camera trails behind a running fighter’s blade as it scrapes against the ground, casting water skyward—and often carried out with the most badass umbrellas ever committed to film.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
Diane (Mary Kay Place) is always looking out for others, be they her good friends, her older relatives, or her son Brian (Jake Lacy), who can’t get his drug habit under control. Kent Jones’ Diane is a character study of this solitary Massachusetts woman, filled with telling details and sharply observed moments that speak to her Christian altruism, her tough love, and the secrets that continue to torment (and, perhaps, drive) her. Revelation, resurrection, abandonment, and mourning all factor into her haunting story. In his debut, the critic-turned-writer/director cuts efficiently. No gesture or expression is wasted, and yet he also tends to linger—on a notepad’s to-do list, or a face trying to hide the reality behind a recent utterance—in order to evoke greater unspoken truths. Buoyed by a script attuned to the sorrowful rhythms of older age (and New England), Jones’ film rests on the shoulders of Place’s stellar, lived-in performance as Diane, a fallible woman whose selflessness is colored by anger and regret. 10. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Kaili Blues director Bi Gan concludes his sophomore feature with a 56-minute single-take sequence shot in 3D, his camera trailing alongside (and above, and behind) his protagonist, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), as he navigates a rural dreamscape that he’s travelled to while sitting in a movie theater. The past, memories, and the cinema are inextricably intertwined in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The story—about Luo’s return to his Kaili hometown, where he remembers an old comrade and looks for former love Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei)—comingles today and yesterday in poignant fashion. Motifs involving broken timepieces, dripping water, starry skies, flight and fire all pepper Gan’s latest, which is bookended by telling images of rotating colored ceiling lights and a room spinning around blissful lovers. As beguiling as it is gorgeous, his oblique film charts Luo’s experience in a world at once real and imagined, along the way spying him in, and through, numerous mirrors and glass filters until he resembles a displaced ghost in search of home.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
9. Apollo 11
The term “awe-inspiring” may be overused in critical circles, but it roundly applies to Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, a definitive documentary about the United States’ first trip to the moon. Premiering on the 50th anniversary of that momentous event, it utilizes a treasure trove of recently discovered 65mm footage and audio recordings to offer an up-close-and-personal view of the preparations for launch, the men and women toiling behind the scenes to ensure its safety, the crowds gathering to witness history, and the outer-space flight itself, shot by cameras accompanying (and sometimes manned by) Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. That imagery boasts breathtaking scale, conveying the literal and figurative enormity of everything involved with the Apollo 11—making it ideally suited for IMAX. Nonetheless, in any format, Miller’s curatorial effort is a work of thrilling enormity, presenting this pioneering triumph as the byproduct of myriad individuals, immense ingenuity, and the colossal bravery of three men who dared to venture to the stars. 8. The Souvenir
Young love is a vehicle for self-definition in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, the writer/director’s finely calibrated coming-of-of age drama. Aspiring London filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) falls for older, cultured Anthony (Tom Burke), who has a habit of making every compliment sound self-serving. Hogg depicts their affair with little concern for superfluous in-between stuff, cutting pointedly to the couple’s most crucial incidents together, and in the process she strikes an assured balance between realism and impressionism. A semi-clandestine drug habit eventually becomes a complicating factor for the duo, but the real heart of this enthralling film is Julie herself, whose interior state is brought to vivid life by the director’s intimate, aesthetically diverse approach. Awash in talk about movies and moviemaking, Hogg’s feature is elevated by Byrne’s star-making turn as a young woman caught between genuine love, her recognition that her relationship is perhaps doomed to fail, and her desire to find her voice—personally and artistically—on her own.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
7. An Elephant Sitting Still
Tragedy comes from rejection, resentment, alienation, rage, and sorrow in An Elephant Sitting Still, an intimate epic about Chinese citizens who view themselves as powerless and worthless. The outstanding debut feature from Hu Bo (who died shortly after production was completed) concerns a collection of individuals whose lives intersect during the course of a single day. This includes Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang), an angry high-school student who accidentally commits a catastrophic crime; Yu Cheng (Zhang Yu), the guilt-stricken gangster brother of Wei Bu’s victim; Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen), a classmate of Wei Bu’s who’s involved with her vice dean; and Wang Jin (Liu Congxi), a grandfather being coerced by his son and daughter-in-law to move into a nursing home. Hu shoots each protracted scene in long, unbroken takes, habitually foregrounding his subjects in shallow focus while staging key action in the fuzzy background. At nearly four hours, the film imparts an overpowering sense of its characters’ despair, and the misfortune that befalls them whether they remain alone or try to engage with others—a despondency only amplified by its empathy.6. Gloria Bell
Growing old isn’t easy for Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore), the single heroine of Sebastián Lelio’s outstanding English-language remake of his 2013 Chilean drama. Between friends being laid off, concerns about retirement, and adult children navigating their own fraught romantic paths, Gloria makes her way through middle age with a brave face, finding temporary solace on the dance floor and, for a time, in the arms of Arnold (a magnificent John Turturro), a recent divorcé struggling to break free from his ex-wife and two needy daughters. With a light touch that allows for instances of escapist lyricism (none better than recurring shots of Gloria spinning amidst swirling colors), Lelio fashions a tender, incisive, heartbreaking ode to the myriad complications of adulthood, where efforts to move forward are burdened by regrets, entanglements, and longing for connection. Led by a tour-de-force turn by Moore, whose expressive work is some of her finest to date, it’s a small-scale story marked by a profound understanding of life as it’s actually lived, and felt.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
Dark, demonic power courses through Hagazussa, a legitimately evil folk story of inheritance, corruption, and damnation. In the Austrian Alps circa the 15th century, young Albrun (Celina Peter) tends to her mother (Claudia Martini), a supposed witch, in their remote log cabin. Years later, adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) cares for her infant daughter in that same abode, whose only visitor is Swinda (Tanja Petrovsky), a neighbor who, like the local priest, seems concerned with saving ostracized Abrun’s soul. Light on dialogue but heavy on black-magic mystery, writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld’s fable casts its spell via slow-burn plotting and malevolent imagery, culminating with a kaleidoscopic underwater visual orgy of blood, roots, bone, tendrils, and mutating shapes. Like the mist that covers the mountainous region’s treetops, suggestions of profane forces are everywhere—in the sight of Albrun milking her goat, or a shrine for a skull—and they burrow under one’s skin, much like the unholy whispering and thunderous bass heard on a soundtrack that heralds madness, doom, the end.4. The Beach Bum
Matthew McConaughey is the king of bongo-drumming laissez-faire cool, and in The Beach Bum, he assumes the role he was born to play. That would be Moondog, a South Florida “bottom feeder” who, having set aside his once-illustrious poetry career, is now content to coast through his beachside town’s many imbibing establishments. He’s looking for his next toke, drink, and beautiful woman to bed. Writer/director Harmony Korine’s shaggy-dog saga follows the bedraggled Moondog from one absurd adventure to the next (with, among others, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence, and Jonah Hill), channeling both his gift for taking life as it comes, and his ability to derive sensualist pleasure from each new encounter. With long hair and a fanny pack permanently affixed around his waist, McConaughey is a magisterial stoner hedonist, and if his rollicking escapades aren’t enough to deliver a potent contact high, Korine and cinematographer Benoît Debie’s rapturously colorful portrait of Florida’s posh and downtrodden landscapes more than do the delirious trick. ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW3. Climax
Gaspar Noé’s cinema routinely traces the line from harmony to chaos, and that’s once again true in Climax, the inspired-by-real-events tale of a dance party descending into hellish madness. Beginning, portentously, with interviews seen on a television set surrounded by the director’s favorite VHS horror films, the French auteur’s latest is arguably his least provocative to date. Regardless, it’s still an escalating nightmare scored to thumping electronica and populated by a raft of potential monsters. Even during its more serene early scenes, his characters’ choreographed numbers exhibit a frightening intensity, and once these artists unwittingly drink some LSD-spiked punch, their emotional equilibrium and interpersonal relationships spiral terrifyingly out of control. Often executed in long single takes, Noé’s swirling, floating, slithering camerawork is as dexterous as his physically agile subjects. The result is an aesthetic performance piece that feels like the psychosexual underworld dance freak-out that Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria wanted to be, replete with a finale that takes up residence in some hallucinatory ninth circle of Hell. 2. Under the Silver Lake
There are codes within codes within codes in Under the Silver Lake, David Robert Mitchell’s deliriously shambolic neo-noir about stoner sleuth Sam (Andrew Garfield, never better) traversing a Lynch-ian L.A. landscape in search of a mysterious missing beauty (Riley Keough). Also channeling the spirit of Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, Alfred Hitchcock, and Hollywood golden-age classics (set to a Henry Mancini-esque score), Sam’s cine-odyssey is a quest for meaning in an overstuffed pop-culture world. Movies and myths collide, both mirthfully and mournful, as Sam strives to uncover the knotty conspiracy-theory connections linking everything and everyone. From Super Mario Bros.,new-age cultists, pirates and bomb-shelter tombs, to masturbatory porn patterns, dog killers, comic books (Spider-Man, wink wink) and song lyrics scribbled on pizza boxes, secret world-governing ciphers are ubiquitous. Mitchell reveals them through an adventure that’s witty, aesthetically dexterous, and laced with dark disillusionment about the puppetmaster powers-that-be and their covert machinations. Reconfiguring noir’s fatalistic heart for our tangled modern condition, it’s a portrait of the surreal new bleakness, with everything part of a grander whole that offers no substance or solace—leaving only that eternal desire for truth, and togetherness.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
Music Box Films
In a Europe that simultaneously resembles today and 1940, German expat Georg (Franz Rogowski) endeavors to escape Paris before the arrival of encroaching Nazi-esque fascists. Arriving in Marseilles, he befriends the African son (Lilien Batman) and wife (Maryam Zaree) of a former comrade. Through circumstance, he also assumes the guise of famous writer Weidel, whose possessions he acquires and whose documentation permitting travel to Mexico await him at the port city’s embassy. So too does Weidel’s wife Marie (Paula Beer), who repeatedly mistakes Georg for her husband, and who longs for reunion even as she continues an affair with a man (Godehard Giese) whose obsessive amour prevents him from departing. Borders to cross and barriers impeding passage are omnipresent in Transit, which like so much of writer/director Christian Petzold’s transition-fixated oeuvre, is a forlorn romantic reverie about identity, regret, trauma, and rebirth. Moreover, it’s another of his masterworks to confront issues of personal and national consciousness through a distinct cine-filter, with Casablanca and The Passengerproving two of its many spiritual touchstones. It’s an entrancing and inherently mysterious ghost story that’s both timeless and, sadly, of our particular moment.
The worst thing about Cars 2, even worse than the fact that it is 106 minutes of Larry the Cable Guy doing his unfunny Larry the Cable Guy shtick against a backdrop of borderline offensive clichés and regional stereotypes, is that the animation is frequently dazzling. It’s flashy, colorful, full of intricate and eye-pleasing detail, and far, far lovelier than this terrible movie deserves.
The first Cars movie was a tired story about a cocky race car who needs to learn humility from a bunch of small-town yokels, but it still managed to deliver at least some charm and character variety. In contrast, Cars 2 puts all of its energy into a bafflingly insipid mistaken-identity spy plot, entirely centered on Larry the Cable Guy, a.k.a. Mater. It’s North by Northwestby Hee-Haw, and no matter how hard you wish for it, there is no reprieve; Larry the Cable Guy keeps being in the movie, and the movie keeps happening, and the movie is 106 minutes long.
Here is a list of other movies that are 106 minutes long: Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief,Gremlins,D2: The Mighty Ducks,Whiplash,Fright Night,Lars and the Real Girl,Something’s Gotta Give,The Lego Movie 2,Halloween (2018). None of them contain uncomfortably long bidet gags, or references to “pains in my undercarriage,” or a scene where Larry the Cable Guy’s talking tow truck character pees himself in public. This makes them all five-star movies by comparison; highly recommended. —Aja Romano
20. Cars 3 (2017)
For a movie that largely exists to allow Disney’s merchandising arm to create more toys, Cars 3is better than it has to be. Like the other Cars movies, its world-building feels especially half-assed (unless you assume it’s the post-apocalyptic tale of a world where sentient cars have killed all humans). But unlike the first two movies, it’s a surprisingly involved story about aging, the dismantling of white male privilege, and our coming artificial intelligence-dominated future.
Befitting its characters, Cars 3 feels more assembled than gracefully created, and its distinctly episodic nature holds it back. But it’s the rare movie whose protagonist learns that winning at all costs isn’t the only thing. Consider it the computer-animated version of a classic sports film like Bull Durham. —Emily VanDerWerff
19. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Even now, four years after its release, The Good Dinosaur can make a claim to being the most beautiful Pixar movie. Its photorealistic backdrops provide a gorgeous canvas for a story of a talking dinosaur and a silent human child trying to make their way across the American West to the dinosaur’s home.
The problem stems from how obvious it is that the story is cobbled together from the elements of other, better stories. Pixar made its name by taking wild scenarios that could only happen in animation — toys wake up, bugs have a secret society, there are monsters in the closet, etc. — and grounding them in old-fashioned, classic Hollywood storytelling. But The Good Dinosaur (which went through a tumultuous production process) doesn’t have much to add to the old tropes it’s updating. —EV
18. Cars (2006)
My 2-year-old nephew’s favorite movie — before he saw Toy Story, that is — was Cars. But then he saw Toy Story and he stopped talking about Cars (to my brother’s chagrin, since my brother loves cars, and Cars). I have to side with my nephew on this one. Cars is an absolutely fine movie, and it has a sweet affection for small-town, forgotten life by way of Radiator Springs. But Cars fails to match the ambition of some of its Pixar cousins, instead coming across as relaxed to the point of low stakes. And once you’ve seen any one of the studio’s other films, your love for Cars will most likely become but a passing phase. —Alex Abad-Santos
17) Finding Dory (2016)
Over the years, Pixar — or more specifically director-screenwriter Andrew Stanton — has perfected the basic studio sequel formula of repeating the previous movie’s plot without making it feel like more of the same. Prime example: Finding Dory doesn’t have much to add to the original story of Finding Nemo, but it does have the great reveal that Dory really cantalk to whales! Yes, that’s a small way to move things forward, but a fun one nonetheless.
The themes at the heart of Finding Nemo are still present in this film; there’s still an emphasis on the importance of found family, the unique challenges and delights of navigating life with a neuroatypical brain, and the vast and stunning splendor of the ocean. But Finding Dory diminishes Nemo’s philosophy of perseverance and communal kindness a bit, drowned out by a plot whose daring rescues frequently verge into the extravagant and often undermine the urgency of Dory’s quest to find her parents. That said, it’s still a fun kids’ movie, it’s still Pixar, and wow, the ocean: pretty cool, huh? —AR
16. A Bug’s Life (1998)
A Bug’s Life is something of a sophomore slump for Pixar. The studio’s follow-up to Toy Storywas one of two animated movies about insects to hit theaters within months of each other, dampening some of the excitement around it. (The movie’s competitor, Dreamworks’ Antz,came out first.) That was a strange move on both studios’ parts: Ants and grasshoppers aren’t the most endearing or marketable main characters. But few (if any) of the characters from A Bug’s Life are likely to rank among Pixar fans’ favorites.
The film culls from an old Aesop fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, to tell a story that feels much folkier than Pixar’s more modern fare: Flik is an inventor who wants to help save his home from invading grasshoppers in an effort to prove his worth to his suspicious neighbors. Instead of recruiting real fighters, he collects a traveling circus group of other bugs and tries to pass them off as the saviors his fellow ants are looking for … an amusing premise, but ultimately not one that really sticks.
There’s still some value in watching A Bug’s Life, if only just to see how much Pixar’s animation and storytelling have evolved in the years since. And the movie does have some unique touches, like an explicitly romantic ending and a villain, the terrifying Hopper, that straight-up dies. Otherwise, A Bug’s Life is but a quirky footnote in Pixar’s catalog. —Allegra Frank
15. Monsters University (2013)
One of Pixar’s lesser follow-ups is this college-set prequel, which fails to leave as much of an impression as the film it’s based on. Mike Wazowski and his future BFF James P. “Sulley” Sullivan are college freshmen who, as we know from Monsters, Inc., are about to become lifelong pals. The stakes are low as a result, and in the end, it’s not all that interesting or exciting to watch their friendship develop. The college setting doesn’t really expand on the world of Monsters Inc., and watching these characters flail as their younger selves hardly adds to a story already defined best by its humor.
To the movie’s credit, there is a nice theme of learning to make peace with yourself when you fall short of achieving your dreams. Mike wants to be an accomplished scarer of humans, just like Sulley is — and again, we already know that isn’t to be. But when he realizes it’s not quite in the cards for him, he chases another passion instead. It’s not necessarily the most uplifting message from Pixar, but it plays out nicely (and realistically) enough. —AF
14. Brave (2012)
It felt, and in a way still feels, like so much was riding on Brave: It was Pixar’s first female-driven film, the first film with a girl as the hero, the first film with a woman as director. But Brenda Chapman, presiding over a depressinglygender-imbalanced art production team, found herself abruptly replaced in the director’s chair, on the orders of a CEO who later resignedfrom Pixar following allegations of sexual misconduct and accusations of “open sexism” that referenced Chapman’s firing.
Did Brave manage, then, to live up to expectations despite that production hurdle? I vote yes: Brave, by Pixar standards of excellence, is a delight. You feel the lovingly detailed animation in every curl on Princess Merida’s head, in every stitch of each intricate wall tapestry. Its story, about a fiery Scottish lass whose desire to fight and hunt like her father inadvertently leads her mother to be cursed and transfigured into a bear, is as interesting as the studio’s best. Its stakes — the restoration of Merida’s family and, oh, just her lifelong happiness and ability to be treated with respect in a violently patriarchal society — are as high as ever.
The plot isn’t as tightly wound as those of other, more highly regarded Pixar films, but that’s just fine. Brave takes its time reinforcing its emotional connections, lingering on the bond between Merida and her mom, and building Merida into one of Pixar’s most fully realized characters. Brave did everything the boys’ movies did, and it did it backward, in high heels, while frequently fending off inappropriate workplace behavior. If you want a better movie, well, here’s what you can do. —AR
13. Monsters Inc. (2001)
Remember how Monsters Inc. lost the first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature to Shrek? Awards aren’t everything — not to mention they’re both political and subjective — but the loss still feels like a sore spot in Pixar’s history. Unlike the movie that took the crown that year,Monsters Inc. holds up as something like an even more intimate Toy Story. It’s in part a platonic love story between an odd couple of monsters, the one-eyed Mike Wazowski and furry blue Sulley. Throw in a human toddler nicknamed Boo, who ends up in the guys’ care after getting lost in the monster world, and things get a bit more special.
Boo, Mike, and Sulley’s makeshift family is where Monsters Inc. wrings out its most emotional moments, even if it may be easy to cynically consider her a human plot device meant to inspire coos from viewers and create drama between her two fumbling monster dads. But Monsters Inc. is charming, funny, and often moving nonetheless.
In contrast to the more meme-friendly Shrek,Monsters Inc. doesn’t have an extensive internet legacy. And maybe that has clouded somefolks’ memory of its quality — there’s nothing like Shrek’s “All Star” sequence. (A high-energy musical number from Billy Crystal’s Mike comes really close, though.) But there’s a reason Pixar revisited the film with a (much less engrossing) prequel: Mike and Sulley are as classic a pair of best friends as Buzz Lightyear and Woody. It just may be harder to remember it because there’s no goofy alt-rock song attached. —AF
12. Incredibles 2 (2018)
It took 14 years for director Brad Bird to return to the world of 2004’s The Incredibles (one of Pixar’s finest films), and in that time, the world had gone absolutely gaga for superheroes. So this sequel engages with questions of what we’re looking for from superhero storytelling and from our current superhero boom.
But it’s also interested in a whole host of other questions, like what it means to be exceptional and how to balance the needs of the self against the needs of the community. That it wraps all this up in a zippy plot filled with brilliant action sequences and is centered on Holly Hunter’s Helen Parr (a.k.a. Elastigirl) gives the movie plenty of visual and storytelling verve. It’s messier than the first film, and at times, it’s hard to parse exactly what its villain’s motivations are. But that pales in comparison to all the stuff that works, because it works so, so well. —EV
11. Toy Story 4 (2019)
If Toy Story 4 is the end of the 24-year-old Toy Story franchise, it will be a satisfying one. While its predecessors are more ensemble-focused, this movie is really about Woody, the pull-string cowboy, as he comes to terms with his own obsolescence. Bonnie, who inherits Woody at the end of Toy Story 3, doesn’t love him as much as his original owner, Andy — leaving Woody to look for meaning in a life that doesn’t match up with the way he’s always believed it was supposed to go. Woven into the plot are vulnerable moments about how we deal with love, our feelings, and relationships that fall off with age.
Toy Story 4’s message to viewers is that we don’t have to stop loving someone just because they’re not in our lives anymore. And even if those relationships end, it doesn’t make them any less special or powerful.While one could argue these themes were already explored in the second and third Toy Story movies, Toy Story 4 still stands out with its rich storytelling and focused story. —AAS
10. Inside Out (2015)
When it was released in 2015, on the heels of a rough patch for Pixar (from when 2011’s Cars 2became the only Pixar movie with a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes to when The Good Dinosaur had to abandon a late 2014 release date due to production problems), Inside Out felt like the studio finally righting its way. Its depiction of the emotions guiding the inner life of a girl on the cusp of adolescence was clever and visually innovative, while its cast (including Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader) was perfectly chosen.\
The movie’s superb storytelling introduces incredibly complex ideas — like the notion that two emotions can combine into some third emotion, more complicated than either of them alone — in ways that make instant sense to the audience without tons of exposition. And the message that sometimes feeling darker emotions like sadness and anger is necessary is a meaningful one. Inside Out has its problems (particularly its perhaps too simplistic view of the divide between men and women), but on the whole, it’s a sneakily devastating good time. —EV
9. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 is a heartbreaker. It’s the perfect culmination of a story that, when it came out in 2010, had been 15 years in the making. Andy, the kid who owned the franchise’s familiar ensemble of toys, grew up and out of his once-beloved playthings. As viewers, maybe his choice to ditch his toys as he preps for college feels unfair, even cruel. We love Woody and Buzz, after all — doesn’t Andy remember that he once did, too?
Of course he does. But as he enters a new phase of life to be filled with new people, new memories, new loves, his toys must accommodate him. And they have to come to terms with their own growth too; as new residents of Sunnyside Daycare, they’re about to meet new kids and learn to love them, as scary as that can seem.
As a viewer around Andy’s age when Toy Story 3came out, I found the film beautiful, if very difficult to watch. Yes, it’s beautiful and emotional at any age (there’s a scene toward the end with an incinerator that should be used as a sociopathy test, because if you don’t cry, there’s an issue). But watching it as I sat on the cusp of college myself, I found it to be the most affecting, realistic portrait of the transition to adulthood I’d ever seen in animation. This was the dramatic, necessary conclusion that Pixar had been building toward since the first Toy Story. All apologies to Toy Story 4, but Toy Story 3 will always feel like the series’ true finale. —AF
8. Coco (2017)
Coco doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the most beautiful films of Pixar’s entire run — if not the past 25 years overall. That first glimpse of the soaring, stupendous, and sweetly spooky Land of the Dead is breathtaking. But a failure to fully recognize Coco’s beauty could be blamed on how wonderfully Coco tells a story about how crucial our families are to who we become.
Miguel, the movie’s plucky protagonist, travels to the underworld to find out about himself and his family’s history, but ends up finally understanding his grandmother and, for the first time, truly discovers who she is. Through the journey, he realizes that love is the only way for him, and for those who have died, to forever remain in the world of the living — at least in spirit. In Coco’s world, and in ours too, love, life, and survival are one and the same. —AAS
7. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2’s magic lies in its ability to add world-shattering wrinkles into the fabric of everything we thought we knew about Toy Story. In this installment, Woody’s going through an existential crisis, as he has to choose between leaving Andy to “live” (a loose interpretation of the word) in a Japanese museum forever or staying with Andy, despite Woody’s fears that Andy will outgrow him. The narrative twists and trapdoors in making Woody more cognizant of his own existence, and his wants and desires, are equal parts stress-inducing and thought-provoking for those of us who have grown attached to the pull-string cowboy. The creativity, adventure and emotional depth in Toy Story 2 make it, in the eyes of some viewers, the bestToy Story of all time. [Ed. note:Our collective ranking suggests otherwise, but it’s all subjective, right?] —AAS
6. Up (2009)
One of my favorite things about Up is the delighted conversation my friends had upon its release about Kevin the Bird. Granted, there are lots of reasons to love Up: It’s masterful at wrangling its openly bittersweet emotions, particularly showcased in Pixar’s best and most memorable opening montage. It’s dotted with faint touches of magical realism that befit its South American locale, and many of them are warmhearted surprises: Balloon-ship houses! Dogs that can tell you they love you! “Squirrel!”
But none of them top my excited group of friends explaining to me, a clueless white person, how funny it is that Russell, the eager boy scout who accompanies grieving widower Carl on his mission to the Venezuelan tepuis, names the exotic bird they find “Kevin.” Russell is a tiny Asian kid, they explained, and Asian guys named Kevin are a whole Thing. To me, Kevin was just a bird named Kevin; to them, it was an entire sly cultural in-joke.
Look, Up is only the second animated film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, deservedly, and it’s my favorite Pixar film because of its warmth, its humor, and its painful truths about grieving and letting go. But it’s also full of small coded details like “Kevin,” and they remind me that it might be even more special for eager Asian kids like Russell than it is for me. I love Up all the more for that. —AR
5. Ratatouille (2007)
Ratatouille is best remembered for its triumphant finale, which serves as a thesis on the nature of criticism — one that almost feels like director Brad Bird is speaking to film critics directly through the intimidating food writer Anton Ego. But Bird isn’t thumbing his nose at critics or their work. Instead, his film’s message is that love for art of all forms is what inspires all critics, professional or otherwise; that’s what drives us, and that’s what we mustn’t forget.
What makes this remarkably strong takeaway so effective is that Ratatouille works as a great example of why film critics are so drawn to the medium. The movie is a work of art on its own — beautifully animated, with a well-constructed story. And its characters, from the dopey cook Linguini to “little chef” Remy the rat, each tell us something about art itself. Art is an opportunity to share our passion, and it can offer pleasure, no matter the bona fides of its origin.
This resonates even if you aren’t a critic by trade. In all art, we seek entertainment, or joy, or excitement. And Ratatouille offers all of that in spades.The movie benefits from the work of a Pixar crew performing at its height, even if its high-concept, slightly bizarre story — a rat that cooks? It’s weird! — could suggest at first that it may not sing for audiences quite as beautifully as some of Pixar’s other stories. Not the case: As Anton Ego says, “A great artist can come from anywhere.” Ratatouille is a great artist, and great art. —AF
4. Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo’s greatness can be measured in the sheer number of characters — minor and major — that you think about long after the movie’s over. There’s Nemo, Dory, and Marlin, the core trio, but there’s also Gil, Bruce, and even smaller characters like Peach, the Allison Janney-voiced starfish, and Pearl, the baby octopus who inked herself. Nemo succeeds in not only capturing the natural beauty and wonder of our real-life ocean but also telling a story about parenthood and friendship and, to our own deep sadness, the fragility of life in a way — and through diverse, myriad characters — that we don’t usually think about. —AAS
3. Toy Story (1995)
Rare is it that a film studio gets its first-ever feature just right. But Pixar came out of the gate as a unique breed: a studio that dared to release a full-length animated movie created entirely with computer-generated graphics. In 1995, that was unheard of; traditional animation was still dominant. Despite having little competition on that front, Pixar wowed audiences not just on the basis of Toy Story’s impressive novelty but also through the film’s sheer wit, storytelling, and maturity. Its introduction of Woody and Buzz Lightyear, opposites who very much repel each other until they naturally attract, contends with love, friendship, and the meaning of life in funny and thoughtful ways.
While Pixar’s work has become more technically advanced in the past two decades, I’m still so drawn to how the original Toy Story feels lived-in and expansive, like every nook and cranny of Andy’s room could be worth exploring. As a kid, I found that world to be, well, a world: somewhere I felt safe and comfortable and excited to see more of. That’s something I continue to look for in movies, particularly animated ones; while Pixar continues to craft living, breathing universes for its stories, Toy Story’s remains the one I feel as though I know best.
It helps that Toy Story is the longest-running franchise in Pixar’s oeuvre, just slightly edging out Cars. What makes Toy Story so essential where Cars feels exhausting, though, is the toys. Watching Buzz and Woody’s friendship grow is an emotional experience; the 90-minute journey they take to accepting one another remains powerful. Above all, their relationship is why the toys’ (and Pixar’s) inaugural outing remains as funny, dazzling, and satisfying today as it was in 1995. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” indeed. —AF
2. The Incredibles (2004)
Brad Bird is the closest thing Pixar has to an auteur filmmaker, who makes movies with a strong, personal vision that keep returning to the same ideas over and over. And his first movie for Pixar, The Incredibles, showed off his talent for large-scale action sequences balanced against small-scale domestic comedy, in a tale of a family of superheroes living in a world that’s made superpowers illegal after some unfortunate incidents and massive amounts of property damage.
What’s great about Incredibles is how it balances the two sides of its personality, while also allowing for a surprisingly meaty dive into ideas about what it means to be “special” and making room for other people to have their own sense of specialness. The ideas in this film have gotten Bird accused of being a Randian objectivist, but what’s so smart about The Incredibles is how Bird never pins himself too thoroughly to any one point of view. This is a movie that can be read on many different levels, from a simple family comedy to an action movie imbued with philosophy to a genuine war of political principles that manages to pack in some great sight gags. —EV
1. Wall-E (2008)
All by itself, Wall-E’s sublime, dreamy opening sequence, in which a lonely android compacts trash on a desolate planet while enjoying the strains of Hello, Dolly!, would warrant its place at the top of our list. Like a little mermaid who’s been collecting human gadgets and gizmos for several hundred years, Wall-E has managed to retrieve something like a soul out of all that discarded refuse; like us, he’s entranced by musical theater, baffled by sporks, and full of love. This image of an adorable Curiosity-like rover keeping his spirit alive after centuries of solitude is simultaneously full of heartbreak and hope, and the film rides that delicate balance all the way through its wrenching highs and lows as Wall-E and his fellow android Eve fight to bring humanity home.
Pixar’s finest movie trusts frequently in its purely aesthetic storytelling, keeping viewers absorbed through long, dialogue-less scenes that marry stellar animation, intricate world-building, and superb sound engineering. Its perfectly humanistic androids have deeply human hearts, in contrast to actual humans, who’ve been navigating in space for so long that they’ve fallen into a lethargic simulacrum of real life. Writer Andrew Stanton has constructed one near-perfect story after another for Pixar over the years, but with Wall-E, he gets more private than ever, simply by presenting the dystopian future as a product of everyday environmental mismanagement, corporate greed, and out-of-control consumption and wastefulness, and letting the results largely speak for themselves.
Even as it dives into a conversation with Kubrick and Sagan, Atompunk and Heinlein, Wall-E never fully feels retro, because it never stops asking painfully contemporary questions. We need its dose of clear-eyed, restorative faith, perhaps even more now than we did a decade ago. —AR
ust because someone is a musical artist does not mean that they cannot act. Sometimes they can even act better than they sing. Here are the 10 best acting performances by musicians in movies:
1. Cher in “Moonstruck”
Cher made a name for herself as a pop star in the 60s and the 70s, but in 1987 she showed that she could act as well. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of a middle-aged woman trying not to fall in love with the younger brother of her fiance.
2. Barbara Streisand in “The Way We Were”
Like Cher, Streisand first made a name for herself as a singer. Even before this 1973 film, she had proven she could act. But her performance in this star-crossed love story demonstrated that she could act without the aid of music.
3. Ice Cube in “Boyz n the Hood”
In 1991, Ice Cube — who was born O’Shea Jackson Jr. — showed that even rappers can act. It helped that the part was written for him and was about a character who was not much different from him.
4. Madonna in “A League of Their Own”
Madonna was one of the biggest pop stars in the world when she performed in this 1992 film. While she had been in some films prior to this, this movie would be the one that would demonstrate that she could act as well as she can sing.
5. Prince in “Purple Rain”
Prince was already a huge music star when he starred in this 1984 film loosely based on his life. But this movie, in which he acted for the first time in his life, showed that he had the charisma to be a superstar.
6. Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls”
Many singers have catapulted to fame through TV competitions, but Jennifer Hudson did not even place in “American Idol.” Still, she won a role in this 2006 film, and she won an Oscar for it, too.
7. Dolly Parton in “9 to 5”
Country music sensation Dolly Parton had never acted before starring in this 1980 film about harassment in the workplace, where she wowed moviegoers and critics alike.
8. Mark Wahlberg in “Boogie Nights”
Like Ice Cube, Mark Wahlberg started his career as a rapper, back when he was known as Marky Mark. But in this 1997 film he rocketed to fame as an actor, playing an ill-fated porn star.
9. Björk in “Dancer in the Dark”
Björk was an international music sensation prior to starring in this 2000 film about a factory worker who is going blind. The role won her a Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
10. Eminem in “8 Mile”
Rapper Eminem — whose real name is Marshall Mathers — won the hearts of audiences everywhere for his performance in this 2002 film, which is largely based on his own life. Jump to top
Everyone has their own taste, but there are some movies that we can all hopefully agree are just bad. These are ones that have ridiculous plots, awful acting, and inept direction. If you’re someone who sees the glass as half-full, though, you should be able to admit that some good can be wrought from bad movies. Even if these movies were awful, their results weren’t so bad.
The downward trajectory of M. Night Shyamalan’s career was painful to watch. “After Earth” might not be the worst addition to his filmography, but the sci-fi film, starring Will and Jaden Smith, is still a colossal misfire that audiences stayed away from. Shyamalan wisely scaled things back significantly with his next film, the well-received “The Visit.” Then, “Split” shocked and delighted audiences. Going through rough patches is common for directors, but not all of them can get out of them.
The Emoji Movie
Remember when movies, particularly animated ones, were a way to escape your daily life and all the sights and sounds you’re exposed to ad nauseam? Well, “The Emoji Movie,” an 86-minute excuse to show kids how awesome various apps are, might be the nadir of cross-promotional cinema. Savaged by critics and gifted with multiple Razzies (including Worst Picture), “The Emoji Movie” could be the end of forced branding in children’s films.
No film in recent memory has been as synonymous with “so bad, it’s good” as Tommy Wiseau’s misguided melodrama, “The Room.” Ostensibly the story of a man dealing with his fiancée’s infidelity, “The Room” has earned its cult status through inexplicable scenes involving drug dealers and football, and for some of the most ridiculous dialogue you’ve ever heard. In doing everything wrong, “The Room” somehow ends up doing everything right.
Back in 2003, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez was arguably the most influential couple in Hollywood. Tabloids couldn’t get enough of them, but audiences clearly had their fill by the time “Gigli” rolled into theaters. A bomb for the ages, “Gigli” seems to have been the wake-up call Affleck needed to get his career back on track. He most notably found a second wind as a director, making multiple critically-acclaimed films, including Best Picture winner, “Argo.”
Batman & Robin
When “Batman Begins” came out in 2005, it wasn’t clear if it would be a blockbuster. How did it get to the point where the bankability of one of the most iconic superheroes of all-time was in doubt? We can thank “Batman & Robin” for sullying the brand almost irreparably. Joel Schumacher’s film was a campy nightmare and put a halt to any further Caped Crusader plans. The franchise was revived with Christopher Nolan’s inspired and grittier take on Batman, and the new Batman trilogy changed the way we view comic book movies forever.
Music enthusiasts will delight in these top 15 documentaries, offering a cornucopia of varying styles and sounds:
GIMME SHELTER: Although there are many documentaries about the Rolling Stones, none are as comprehensive as this gem from the Maysles brothers. This film chronicles the last weeks of the infamous 1969 tour of the United States, climaxing with the violent concert at Altamont Speedway.
BOB DYLAN: DON’T LOOK BACK: Well-respected filmmaker DA Pennebaker follows Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of Great Britain.
IN BED WITH MADONNA: Alek Keshishian chronicles pop star Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour, giving special emphasis to her entourage of dancers.
BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB: This 1999 documentary garnered an Oscar nomination for its portrayal of the Cuban ensemble band and the emergence of this cultural phenomenon in America.
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON: Director Jeff Feuerzeig offers a sympathetic look at folk musician Daniel Johnston as he struggles to balance his music with his debilitating bipolar disorder.
DOA: A RITE OF PASSAGE: This quintessential punk documentary is a film diary of the 1978 US tour of the Sex Pistols, giving a glimpse into the dynamic between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER: The timing of this film was such that it was able to accurately document the falling apart of heavy metal giant Metallica as they struggle with the downfalls of success.
AMY: This Oscar-winning documentary follows the tumultuous life of Amy Winehouse from the early hope-filled days all the way to the singer’s tragic end.
STARSHAPED: British pop band Blur is the focus of this documentary right before their rise to stardom.
I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART: A FILM ABOUT WILCO: Photographer Sam Jones was able to capture Wilco at the bottom as they were released from their label and were forced to drop two of their band members. The film also chronicles the bounce back with the release of the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album.
20 FEET FROM STARDOM: As unsung musical heroes, concert backup singers finally get their voice in this documentary from Morgan Neville.
DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY: This film exposes a 2004 bash thrown by Dave Chapelle with invited performers including Lauryn Hill and Kayne West. A political undertone is a commentary on the culture of the times.
RUDE BOY: Director Jack Hazan demonstrates the technique of using both documentary filmmaking skills and staged reality to create an accurate and entertaining portrayal of The Clash.
THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART I: This film documents punk music and the American response to the movement with performances by iconic bands such as X and Black Flag and Germs.
THE ROAD TO GOD KNOWS WHERE: The less glamorous parts of band road life are chronicled in this film following the Bad Seeds and their 1989 US tour.
Many critically acclaimed films never won an Oscar in any category. Many of these same movies were also very popular with audiences as well. Here are 7 movies that never won an Oscar, but probably should have:
1. The Shawshank Redemption
This 1994 film based on a novella by Stephen King tells the story of a banker who is sent to prison for a murder that he did not commit. The film actually received 7 Oscar nominations, but it did not win any. Though it was eventually recognized by the National Film Registry as being a significant film.
2. Fight Club
This classic 1999 film was based on a critically acclaimed novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The movie, which is about a group of men trying to find purpose in their lives through extreme violence, was also popular with both critics and audiences. But it was only able to garner a single Oscar nomination for Best Sound Effects Editing, which it lost.
3. A Clockwork Orange
In 1971, this Stanley Kubrick film about a violent gang of youth living in a futuristic dystopia shocked audiences and critics alike, much as the novel by Anthony Burgess had years earlier. While the movie was a big success and gathered 4 Oscar nominations, it failed to win any of them. But it would remain a cult classic decades after its release.
In 1960, well before there was a Freddy Krueger or a Jason Voorhees, there was Norman Bates. Based on a book, which in turn was based on a real-life killer, this movie singlehandedly created the slasher genre. It also was able to avoid the censors, who at the time placed strict controls on sex and violence in films. Though while it did get nominated for 4 Oscars, it won none of them.
5. Wolf of Wall Street
This 2013 Martin Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCaprio is based on the true story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, and it chronicles corruption and deceit in the financial industry. The movie was a huge commercial success, and it was popular with critics as well. But it was not as popular with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While they gave the film 5 Oscar nominations, it did not win any.
6. The Prestige
Based on a 1995 novel by Christopher Priest, this 2006 film told the story of two competing magicians, played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Like other movies in this list, it was popular with both critics and moviegoers. But it only got 2 Oscar nominations, and it did not win either one.
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
This 1986 teen classic starring Matthew Broderick won the hearts of a diverse group of fans that included both Kurt Cobain and former Vice President Dan Quayle. It was also popular with critics. But not only did it not win any Oscars, but it was also not even nominated for one.