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The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (December 2017)

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The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (December 2017)

The best movies on Netflix right now are not always the easiest to find. Rather than spending your time scrolling through categories, trying to track down the perfect film to watch, we’ve done our best to make it easy for you at Paste by updating our Best Movies to watch on Netflix list each month with new additions and overlooked gems alike, bringing you our favorites from across genres: Oscar-winning dramas, independent and art-house films, action blockbusters, documentaries, comedies, sci-fi flicks and animated movies for both kids and adults. Though its classics are still drastically dwindling (this month seeing the loss of Young Frankenstein, since Netflix has all but totally liquidated its pre-2000 notables, though Full Metal Jacket took a month hiatus, weirdly), Netflix has a handful of our 50 Best Movies of 2016 and 2017 available to stream on demand.

For extensive guides to the best movies on other platforms like HBO, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Showtime, Redbox, On Demand, YouTube, Shudder and The Best Movies in Theaters, visit the Paste Movie Guides.

You can also check out our genre-specific Netflix lists, in varying degrees of being updated (we do our best):
The 50 Best Comedies on Netflix, The 60 Best Dramas on Netflix, The 60 Best Action Movies on Netflix, The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix, The 50 Best Documentaries on Netflix, The 70 Best Horror Movies on Netflix, The 50 Best Romantic Comedies on Netflix, The Best Independent Movies on Netflix, The 20 Best Animated Movies on Netflix, The 40 Best Foreign-Language Films on Netflix, The 20 Best Martial Arts Movies on Netflix, The Best Movies of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s on Netflix. Now let’s get to Paste’s answer to “what should I watch on Netflix?”

Here are the top 100 movies streaming on Netflix in December 2017:

the-big-short.jpg 100. The Big Short
Year: 2015
Director: Adam McKay 
The Big Short, Adam McKay’s kaleidoscopic look into the months leading up to the 2007 financial meltdown, is an angry film. And rightfully so—the amount of callous thievery characters uncover here is enough to make any rational person’s blood boil. It’s also, unquestionably, a funny film, tempering its acerbic leanings by highlighting just how blatantly surreal the whole ordeal truly was. McKay looks to counteract the inherently dry, impenetrable subject matter on display with boatloads of vibrant, cinematic style. The Big Short may not always succeed, but it stands as an essential film nonetheless. —Mark Rozeman


the-wailing.jpg 99. The Wailing
Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Though The Wailing ostensibly falls in the “horror” bin, Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as representing the genre. He isn’t out to terrify us—he’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. You may not leave the film scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


christine.jpg 98. Christine
Year: 2016
Director: Antonio Campos
Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness. —Tim Grierson


chasing-trane-poster.jpg 97. Chasing Trane
Year: 2016
Director: John Scheinfeld
Those old and new to John Coltrane will find something to appreciate in this vivid, albeit effusive, tribute to the jazz legend. Family members, former bandmates and famous fans (Kamasi Washington, Wynton Marsalis, John Densmore, Bill Clinton) recount the genius of the sax player’s compositions and evolution of his talents, from his Charlie Parker-mimicking early work to his later, freeform experimentation. Devotees shouldn’t expect much of a deep dive here on any level; via home movies, archival footage and personal diaries read by Denzel Washington, the film takes a linear, survey-style approach to his North Carolina childhood and drug-addled twenties, two marriages, and quick succumbing to liver cancer in 1967 at only 40. Filmmaker John Scheinfeld dips in and out of the music—too much so, it turns out, and with too little insight into the specifics of his gifts. Still, the overarching salvation Trane found in music resonates with such joy. The sequence about his civil rights opus “Alabama,” which took its phrasing cues from the cadence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a stirring illumination of his creative process. As Coltrane’s notes unfold atop King’s words, music and speech flow into and out of each other in a still urgent, impassioned release. Elsewhere, the doc looks at the transformative power of Coltrane’s faith, his relationships and his legacy with iconic works such as “My Favorite Things” and “A Love Supreme.” Midway through the film Dr. Cornel West describes Coltrane as a thermostat, not a thermometer, of the times, an instrument personified that adapted rather than just measured. In its best moments, Chasing Trane succeeds in that as well. —Amanda Schurr


the-fury-movie-poster.jpg 96. The Fury
Year: 1978
Director: Brian De Palma
Two years after the critical and box office success of Carrie, Brian De Palma worked the last vestiges of his obsession with psychokinetic psychosis out of his system, releasing the comparatively goofy The Fury, bringing back Amy Irving to star and convincing both Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes to buy in. Somewhere between a thriller and a sci-fi horror, never quite able (or seemingly interested) in attaching to any particular tone of genre, The Fury splits its time between two narratives: the Fugitive-like travails of Peter Sandza (Douglas) as he avoids capture at the hands of his former super-secret government employers—which can be hilarious, because there’s no way anyone couldn’t pick out Douglas’s formidable chin dimple out of a crowd—while searching for his son (Andrew Stevens), who, he learns, is being held by the same government agency due to the teen’s valuable brain powers; and the slight coming-of-age tale of Gillian Bellaver (Irving), coming to terms with her own psychic skills. When the two storylines converge, De Palma holds nothing back, orchestrating weirdly operatic action scenes and giving Cassavetes’ slimy MIB character a brutal fate that Pauline Kael once described as an “orgasm.” The Fury may flounder where Carrie thrived—especially in exploring female maturation with a terrified male gaze—but it nonetheless confirms that the late ’70s were a Golden Age for the director indulging his best tendencies. —Dom Sinacola


i-dont-feel.jpg 95. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, writer-director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonally audacious genre outing unafraid to slip for a moment or two into the sweet relief of magical realism. Blair’s premise is simple—Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, cast to perfection), a quiet loner, comes home to find her house robbed, and when the police won’t help, she seeks vigilante justice with equally socially inept neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood)—but his ever-increasingly sprawling plot is fueled by a myopic moral perspective rendered in black and white. Ruth wonders aloud why everyone is an asshole (moreso, why assholes so easily get away with being assholes), and Blair seemingly wonders the same thing, punctuating his mundane neo-noir with gruesome violence and unexpected physical comedy (a projectile vomit scene, in particular, rivals the classic back-alley puke-fest from Team America). Blair’s worked extensively with his friend Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room), so the two share a startling sense of pace and a knack for making even the most sloppy action sequences feel precise, but Saulnier is so much bleaker, whereas Blair allows each of his film’s supposed assholes a chance to redeem, or at least explain, themselves. A crappy cop is going through a messy divorce; a delinquent son acts out against the specter of an absentee father; a guy whose dog craps on your lawn just wasn’t really paying attention—as Ruth struggles to confront the callousness of her cold world, she realizes that we’re all pretty much doing the same thing too: We’re struggling. —Dom Sinacola


ornithologist-poster.jpg 94. The Ornithologist
Year: 2016
Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
There are times during João Pedro Rodcrigues’s newest film, The Ornithologist, wherein you can’t tell if it’s all a big sexy joke or if it’s an earnest, religious and intellectual inquiry into the boundaries of spiritual and physical adventure. There’s enough evidence in the film—which follows a strapping studier of birds on his journey to note black storks and the various surreal things that occur to him—to argue that it’s both. Fernando (Paul Hamy), our bird man, is over the course of the film: pissed on, tossed about by river waters in his kayak, badgered by a presumed lover from back home via text, without medicine, has the eyes on his passport photo burnt through, has sex with a twink deaf and mute twink named Jesus, and is tied up St. Sebastian-style by two lost Chinese lesbians on a religious pilgrimage. Rodrigues easily integrates an aesthetic reminiscent of a nature documentary into scenarios that, like a modern Portuguese take on “The Aristocrats,” mount in their ludicrousness. Yet, the oddball adventures that color Fernando’s journey seem embedded logically within the film’s universe, and even better, within Rodrigues’s own screenplay. However strange it may be to watch a Satanic ritual occur on screen, the director has seemingly mapped out precisely how to transition from weird scene to weird scene, making The Ornithologist and effectively coherent fever dream. As Fernando walks down a busy road in the end of the film, literally transformed into Rodrigues (who may also be St. Anthony) and magically transported from the jungle, one can’t help but think of The Ornithologist as a hallucination brought on by heat stroke. In the best way possible. —Kyle Turner


tower-doc-jpg 93. Tower
Year: 2016
Director: Keith Maitland
The 1966 University of Texas clock tower shooting ought to be a footnote in American history and not a reference point for contemporary national woes. That Tower, documentary filmmaker Keith Maitland’s animated chronicle-cum-reenactment of that massacre, should feel as relevant and of the moment as it does, then, is startling, or perhaps just disheartening. It was 50 years ago this past August that Charles Whitman ascended the university tower with a cache of guns, killed three people inside, and went on to kill another 11 plus an unborn baby over the course of an hour and a half. Back in those days, a public act of violence on this level was an anomaly piercing the veil of our sense of security. Today, it’s just Sunday. Tower wraps the horror Whitman wrought in a rich, rotoscoped blanket, the vibrancy of Maitland’s palette lending urgency and vitality to the horror he and his cast recreate on screen. —Andy Crump


xx.jpg 92. XX
Year: 2017
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, Sofia Carrillo
It’s important that the scariest segment in XX, Magnet Releasing’s women-helmed horror anthology film, is also its most elementary: Young people trek out into the wilderness for fun and recreation, young people incur the wrath of hostile forces, young people get dead, easy as you please. You’ve seen this movie before, whether in the form of a slasher, a creature feature, or an animal attack flick. You’re seeing it again in XX in part because the formula works, and in part because the segment in question, titled “Don’t Fall,” must be elementary to facilitate its sibling chapters, which tend to be anything but. XX stands apart from other horror films because it invites its audience to feel a range of emotions aside from just fright. You might, for example, feel heartache during Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” or the uncertainty of dread in Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son,” or nauseous puzzlement with Sofia Carrillo’s macabre, stop-motion wraparound piece, meant to function as a palate cleanser between courses (an effectively unnerving work, thanks to its impressive technical achievements). Most of all, you might have to bite your tongue to keep from laughing uncontrollably during the film’s best short, “The Birthday Party,” written and directed by Annie Clark, better known by some as St. Vincent, in her filmmaking debut. XX is a horror movie spoken with the voices of women, a necessary notice that women are revolutionizing the genre as much as men. —Andy Crump


stranger-by-lake-movie-poster.jpg 91. Stranger By the Lake
Year: 2014
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Thrillers and horror movies have long benefited from their ability to juxtapose sex and death, the mixture of ecstasy and terror creating a bewitching combination. (It’s no coincidence that all those slasher films were populated with buxom beauties.) But the moody French thriller Stranger by the Lake is an especially chilly brew. And borrowing a tenet of horror movies, it’s set in an idyllic spot in the middle of nowhere. Writer-director Alain Guiraudie takes us to the French countryside, to a lovely beach overlooking a quiet, clear lake that’s a favored summer spot for gay men looking for random, no-strings-attached hookups. The newest visitor is Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a handsome young man who immediately responds to the locale’s natural beauty and available conquests—which of course hides darker simpulses and secrets. Guiraudie gives the proceedings an almost clinical detachment, and consequently Stranger by the Lake has an air of Hitchcock to it: Instead of the icy blonde seducing the leading man, it’s a buff, shirtless man doing the wooing. Cannily, even the sex is given a blasé, matter-of-fact treatment. Repeatedly, Guiraudie shows how as Franck enters the beach he’s coldly surveyed by the other men—a piece of meat to be quickly evaluated and then either pursued or rejected as a possible hookup. The film is juiced by its inherent juxtaposition: The beach is so inviting, and yet everyone there is quietly judging everyone else, sex stripped down to its animalistic, biological essence. —Tim Grierson


transfiguration-movie-poster.jpg 90. The Transfiguration
Year: 2017
Director: Michael O’Shea
Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration refreshingly refuses to disguise its influences and reference points, instead putting them all out there in the forefront for its audience’s edification, name-dropping a mouthful of noteworthy vampire films and sticking their very titles right smack dab in the midst of its mise en scène. They can’t be missed: Nosferatu is a big one, and so’s The Lost Boys, but none informs O’Shea’s film as much as Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s unique 2009 genre masterpiece. Like Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration casts a young’n, Milo (Eric Ruffin), as its protagonist, contrasting the horrible particulars of a vampire’s feeding habits against the surface innocence of his appearance. Unlike Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration may not be a vampire movie at all, but a movie about a lonesome kid with an unhealthy fixation on gothic legends. You may choose to view Milo as O’Shea’s modernized update of the iconic monster or a child brimming with inner evil; the film keeps its ends open, its truths veiled and only makes its sociopolitical allegories plain in its final, haunting images. —Andy Crump


rogue-one-210.jpg 89. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Year: 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Gareth Edwards’ venture into a galaxy far, far away is the Star Wars film we never knew we needed. It’s a triumphantly thrilling, serious-minded war movie that is incalculably stronger for the fact that it’s NOT the first chapter in a new franchise. Rogue One is a complete film in a way that no other Star Wars movie other than A New Hope is capable of being. It doesn’t “set the stage” for an inevitable next installment, and its characters are all the realer for the fact that they’re not perpetually sheathed in blasterproof Franchise Armor. It is, so help me, a satisfyingly complete story, and I had no idea until I watched the film how refreshing that concept would be. Our protagonist is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a plucky young woman whose brilliant scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) has been controlled throughout her life by the Empire and coerced into designing superweapons of the moon-sized, planet-killing variety. Forced into a young adulthood on the fringes of the Rebel Alliance, she’s assembled a Jack Sparrow-esque rap sheet and, as the film begins, finds herself in Imperial prison on various petty charges. What Rogue One is, most accurately, is what it was sold as all along: a legitimate war movie/commando story, albeit with some familial entanglements. —Jim Vorel


evolution-2015-poster.jpg 88. Evolution
Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic
Year: 2015
Hadžihalilovic’s gorgeous enigma is anything and everything: creature feature, allegory, sci-fi headfuck, Lynchian homage, feminist masterpiece, 80 minutes of unmitigated gut-sensation—it is an experience unto itself, refusing to explain whatever it is it’s doing so long as the viewer understands whatever that may be on some sort of subcutaneous level. In it, prepubescent boy Nicolas (Max Brebant) finds a corpse underwater, a starfish seemingly blooming from its bellybutton. Which would be strange were the boy not living on a fatherless island of eyebrow-less mothers who every night put their young sons to bed with a squid-ink-like mixture they call “medicine.” This is the norm, until Nicolas’s boy-like curiosity begins to reveal a world of maturity he’s incapable of grasping, discovering one night what the mothers do once their so-called “sons” have fallen asleep. From there, Evolution eviscerates notions of motherhood, masculinity and the inexplicable gray area between, simultaneously evoking anxiety and awe as it presents one unshakeable, dreadful image after another. —Dom Sinacola


blue-warmest.jpg 87. Blue is the Warmest Color
Year: 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Three-hour movies usually are the terrain of Westerns, period epics or sweeping, tragic romances. They don’t tend to be intimate character pieces, but Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie D’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2) more than justifies its length. A beautiful, wise, erotic, devastating love story, this tale of a young lesbian couple’s beginning, middle and possible end utilizes its running time to give us a full sense of two individuals growing together and apart over the course of years. It hurts like real life, yet leaves you enraptured by its power. —Tim Grierson


high-rise.jpg 86. High-Rise
Year: 2016
Director: Ben Wheatley
High-Rise begins with the past tense of Wheatley’s traditional mayhem, settling on tranquil scenes of extensive carnage and brutal violence inflicted before the picture’s start. Dashing Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) wanders waste-strewn halls. He goes to have a drink with his neighbor, Nathan Steele (Reece Shearsmith), who has enshrined a dead man’s head within a television set. Seems about right. But the film’s displays of squalor and viscera are a ruse. Spoken in the tongue of Wheatley, High-Rise is a tamer tale than Kill List or Sightseers. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you go into Wheatley films anticipating unhinged barbarity, you may feel as though the film and its creator are trolling you here. High-Rise is based on English novelist’s J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, a soft sci-fi dystopian yarn fastened to a through line of social examination. In context with its decade, the book’s setting could be roughly described as “near future England,” and Wheatley, a director with a keen sense of time and place across all of his films, has kept the period of the text’s publication intact, fleshing it out with alternately lush and dreggy mise en scène. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that High-Rise is a lost relic of 1970s American cinema. —Andy Crump


casting-jonbenet.jpg 85. Casting JonBenet
Director: Kitty Green
An unlikely cross-section of humanity also populates Casting JonBenet, which boasts a provocative idea that yields enormous emotional rewards. Filmmaker Kitty Green invited members of the Boulder, Colorado community where JonBenet Ramsey lived to “audition” for a film about her. But in the tradition of Kate Plays Christine or The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, that’s actually a feint: Green uses the on-camera interviews with these people to talk about Ramsey’s murder and the still-lingering questions about who committed the crime. She’s not interested in their acting abilities—she’s trying to pinpoint the ways that a 21-year-old incident still resonates. It’s a premise that could seem cruel or exploitative, but Casting JonBenet is actually incredibly compassionate. Green wizardly finds connective tissue between all these actors, who have internalized the little girl’s killing, finding parallels in their own lives to this tragedy. High-profile murders like Ramsey’s often provoke gawking, callous media treatment, turning us all into rubberneckers, but Casting JonBenet vigorously works against that tendency, fascinated by our psychological need to judge other people’s lives, but also deeply mournful, even respectful, of the very human reasons why we do so. —Tim Grierson


invitation-movie-poster.jpg 84. The Invitation
Year: 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
The less you know about Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, the better. This is true of slow-burn cinema of any stripe, but Kusama slow-burns to perfection. The key, it seems, to successful slow-burning in narrative fiction is the narrative rather than the actual slow-burn. In the case of The Invitation, that involves a tale of deep and intimate heartache, the kind that none of us hopes to ever have to endure in our own lives. The film taps into a nightmare vein of real-life dread, of loss so profound and pervasive that it fundamentally changes who you are as a human being. That’s where we begin: with an examination of grief. Where we end is obviously best left unsaid, but The Invitation is remarkable neither for its ending nor for the direction we take to arrive at its ending. Instead, it is remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. —Andy Crump


heaven_knows_what_poster.jpg 83. Heaven Knows What
Year: 2015
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Harley (Arielle Holmes) is a young woman who’s as addicted to heroin as she is to her brutally apathetic boyfriend, Illya (Caleb Landry Jones). Aesthetically, the Safdies’ have made a picture of urgent, abrasive beauty. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams captures Holmes and her excellent supporting cast through a combination of tight close-ups and long shots that lend the film an air of removed intimacy. Ultimately, he’s almost as much the star of Heaven Knows What as Holmes, who matches up well with Jones, the film’s most notable professional actor. Cinema lets us engage with difficult subject matter through a veneer of security. But something like Heaven Knows What pierces that veil. By its very nature, it pushes the boundaries of our personal comfort. It’s clear we need more films like that. —Andy Crump


meyerowitz-stories-poster.jpg 82. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Year: 2017
Director: Noah Baumbach 
In maybe his most well-tuned chamber drama (let’s use this phrase loosely) since Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach takes time to observe the ways in which his characters run, their ambulatory gifts (or lack thereof) representing both their struggles to express their innermost selves and the ways in which they can’t escape the parents who must pass themselves—their failures, their quirks, their anger—to their offspring. One gets the sense that Baumbach wants to literalize the act of “running from” one’s deepest problems, but such tracking shots are largely played for laughs: Family patriarch Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a sculptor seeking acknowledgement in his old age, shuffles dopily down New York’s streets; Matt Meyerowitz (Ben Stiller) possesses the grace of a well-used corporate gym membership; Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler, deserving of an Oscar) hobbles around denying that he’s got a major medical problem; and Jean Meyerowitz (Elizabeth Marvel) just seems like she shouldn’t be running, Matt and Danny at one point consorting about how they’ve never actually seen her run before. In these moments, Baumbach allows the cerebral to awkwardly take on corporeal life, wondering aloud how the many themes and ideas we conceptualize (and thus internalize) break free in some sort of physical melee. It’s his tennis scene in The Squid and the Whale made feature length—and it may be the most viscerally moving film he’s ever made. —Dom Sinacola


tintin-movie-poster.jpg 81. The Adventures of Tintin
Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg 
It’s actually amazing that The Adventures of Tintin marks the first big screen treatment of the immensely popular comic book character in nearly 40 years (and, really, the first one of note originating from Hollywood, ever). After all, the intrepid carrot-topped reporter/sleuth stands with fellow Franco-Belgian characters Asterix and Obelix as a titan of European comics. Created by Belgian artist Georges Remi (under the pen name Hergé), Tintin’s adventures have been translated into more than 50 languages and inspired a decently rabid following of “Tintinologists” who have discussed, debated, critiqued and theorized on virtually every imaginable aspect of Tintin and his friends. (For proof, check out www.tintinologist.org.) Part of that can be attributed to careful guardianship of the property, first by Hergé himself and then by his estate. How else can one explain how a series started in 1929 and involving a resourceful boy and his resourceful and cuddly dog has escaped the clutches of the Disney merchandising behemoth? But then there’s also the fact that the new film’s director, some guy named Steven Spielberg, has held the film rights for nearly 30 years, waiting for the right moment to give Tintin his cinematic due. The Adventures of Tintin does just that. Not since Rob Reiner’s pop culture quote font, The Princess Bride, or perhaps Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, has a film worked so hard—and so successfully—to capture the spirit of the source material. —Michael Burgin


coraline.jpg 80. Coraline
Year: 2009
Directors: Henry Selick
Director Henry Selick matches the Gothic whimsy of Nightmare Before Christmas and adds even more compelling emotional content with this adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella. An unhappy little girl discovers an alternate reality that seems to offer all the magic and wonder her real home lacks, only to discover the sinister implications behind the candy-colored exteriors. Gaiman’s inventive approach to fairy-tale rules matches Selick’s luminescent colors and blend of everyday emotions and dream-like wonders. Perhaps the greatest stop-motion film ever, it even looks great in 3D. —Curt Holman


phoenix_ver2.jpg 79. Phoenix
Year: 2014
Director: Christian Petzold
Nobody knows anyone. The insoluble mystery of “other people” is the subject of plenty of films, but rarely in recent memory has the insoluble mystery of other people been so potent a driving force as it is in Phoenix. In it, Nelly (Petzold regular Nina Hoss), a Jewish singer, is a survivor from the Nazis’ concentration camps, her heavily bandaged face a visible sign of the untold horrors she’s witnessed. Reunited with her friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), Nelly requires reconstructive surgery, deciding that rather than remaking her face, she wants to look the way she did before the war. But the rehabilitation doesn’t end there: Nelly is on the lookout for her husband, a piano player named Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). Lene is convinced that Johnny, who isn’t Jewish, ratted Nelly out to the Nazis, an accusation Nelly doesn’t want to believe. When she does find him, he (like the bombed-out Berlin) seems mostly concerned with picking up the pieces and putting some distance between himself and the past. Intriguingly, though, he doesn’t recognize his wife: Here’s a drama that starts off with a seemingly simple conceit but eventually grows more and more troubling—and fascinating—into a critique of collective moral blindness and an up-close examination of marriage. The latest from German filmmaker Christian Petzold, Phoenix works best for all the answers it doesn’t provide, honoring the mysteries of everyday life rather than explaining them away. —Tim Grierson


finding-dory.jpg 78. Finding Dory
Year: 2016
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of the 2003 Disney-Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo. The adorably bumbling blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is still best friends and the third wheel to clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), testing their patience on a daily basis. But this is fully Dory’s tale, as she searches for her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and re-discovers the past she lost in the process. Finding Dory is the rare sequel that repurposes the original as character foundation rather than as a cheap form of fan service. What could have been an easy cash-in becomes something surprising—a sometimes terrifying and sometimes inspiring follow-up that reaches new emotional depths. —Michael Snydel


life-aquatic.jpg 77. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Year: 2004
Director: Wes Anderson 
A once-famous oceanographer and explorer, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) now can barely bother. He feels things quietly, but deeply. And throughout The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Murray plays the sad wash-up as he has so many roles in this late phase of his career, like a classic Pixies song: Zissou possesses a chilly, utterly subdued state of being towards the insanity around him, until his frustrations burst to the surface with a brilliantly cutting line like, “Son of a bitch, I am sick of these dolphins.” Murray’s enigmatic preference for keeping his characters’ emotions close to their chests provides ample contrast between sardonic humor and something sincerer, even during big action sequences, like when the Zissou team rescues Jeff Goldblum’s Allistair Hennessey (“Steven, are you rescuing me?” Murray’s response, a pained half-smile and barely-there head cock, is deadpan brilliance). It’s arguable Anderson helped Murray initially make that marked 180 from his constantly talking, wisecracking comedic personas in classics like Ghostbusters or Caddyshack, and, in my humble opinion, The Life Aquatic is undoubtedly the most fruitful of his and Anderson’s collaborations. —Greg Smith


called-morgan-poster.jpg 76. I Called Him Morgan
Director: Kasper Collin
I Called Him Morgan is the story of two troubled people, one of whom killed the other. Documentarian Kasper Collin—who previously made My Name Is Albert Ayler, also about a jazz musician—looks at the difficult, abbreviated life of trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was shot dead in the winter of 1972 in New York. It’s not a mystery who pulled the trigger—it was his common-law wife, Helen, who was more than 10 years his senior—but I Called Him Morgan isn’t about solving a crime, rather, it’s about connecting the dots regarding why the crime happened. Throughout the film, you feel the slow, grim pull of inevitable tragedy set against a lush visual palette. (Oscar-nominated Arrival cinematographer Bradford Young is one of I Called Him Morgan’s credited cameramen.) Talking heads’ tales are crosscut with dreamy images—snowy nights in New York, a hypnotically colorful fish tank—that always feel pertinent to what’s being discussed. And then there are the interview subjects and the milieu. Jazz musicians such as Wayne Shorter and Charli Persip talk about their friend with specificity and insight, and Lee Morgan’s music—as well as the music he played in other people’s bands—fills the soundtrack. The film will be heaven for jazz aficionados, but those who don’t know the difference between bebop and hard bop won’t feel lost. Collin understands that his film is about people, not art, but his deft storytelling—and the endless sadness that comes from his tale—flexes its own nimbleness and beauty. —Tim Grierson

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