10.) Panic Room – Easily director David Fincher’s most Hitchcockian effort to date, Panic Room evolves the home invasion thriller by using a slab of steel to separate the feminine prey from the thuggish predators who force their way inside a NYC Brownstone. Like the multi-level home (that’s as much of a character as the people walking its halls), Panic Room takes the binocular’s objective lenses from Rear Window and turns their gaze intensely inward, exploring the floor plan and navigating the harrowing story line with force and agility, culminating in a movie that pairs a 21st century look with a 20th century attitude. Truly inventive, industrious, edge of your seat storytelling.
Where to watch: Vudu, Crackle
9.) Amélie – The biggest takeaway I’ve always gathered after each viewing of Amélie is the unsubtle reminder that giving delivers and returns love to its sender more than solely receiving ever can or will. It’s an early 2000’s French film, signaling just how twee and tart its taste might be. And as a film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, those familiar with his work will know the picture is painted and stylized with his deft blend of surrealist visuals, often elevating by a story steeped in realism. Amélie is an ode to cinema of old, a celebration of servitude, and above all else, a romance that requires its scheming, sly leading lady to finally allow herself to be caught in the act of love red-handed. Her expressive eyes say it all.
Where to watch: Hulu
8.) The End of the Tour – Nothing explosive happens in The End of the Tour. That’s the beauty of it. The film follows the late, verbose novelist David Foster Wallace (played by Jason Segel, delivering one of 2015’s best performances) and his few days spent with journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). Lipsky opines over DFW’s heralded work and masterful prose; meanwhile DFW shrugs it off, lumbering about while gorging himself on junk food. They’re two very different men who bond and fight and forgive each other over their shared struggles with being alone, and the movie authentically captures the ups and downs of friendships as seriously as few have in recent memory. What a commemorative, lovely in memoriam.
Where to watch: Netflix
7.) A Ghost Story – I’ve been met with muffled guffaws from many when I’ve said that A Ghost Story might be a masterpiece. And sure, the plot abides in the cosmos: the leading man dies early on and the majority of the film sees him as a ghost, sauntering around variations of his former home while he’s visualized as a drab white sheet with two black holes for eyes. But he’s not there for a Halloween haunt; he’s there to observe a life of his that could have been, and to see how the cycles of life are, in actuality, quite cylindrical. A Ghost Story lives up to its name even in death, and like its ragamuffin looking protagonist, lingers around long after the credits roll. The film doesn’t cast a magic spell or stir up fear. A Ghost Story goes so far as to assure those on both sides of the heavenly divide that they mattered then, matter now, and will matters always. Like a parent trying to get a child to eat their vegetables, it tricks us into believing hope is a treat.
Where to watch: Netflix
6.) Last Action Hero – Movies have always been a vehicle for the audience to get lost in, and Last Action Hero takes that pursuit quite literally, breaking the barrier between cinema and reality to allow a teen boy into his favorite action picture. It’s such a self-aware story, poking fun at tired action flicks tropes while adhering to some and eviscerating others, consistently turning enough on their head to feel surprisingly imaginative. Last Action Hero brings all of the most expected elements, and it physically draws us into another world, reminding us of what it’s like to get lost in a movie even when we can’t go to the theater.
Where to watch: Hulu
5.) It Comes at Night – More than any other film on this list, It Comes at Night puts into writing and cements on the screen all of the structural, symptomatic neuroses that hunker down in and harvest on the obsessive hearts of the most suspicious among us. Here, a prepared family facing an invisible outside threat reluctantly welcomes in to their discreet home a family of refugees from an outside world on the brink. Horror stories can be at their best when they examine the means and the whys of humanity at their worst, and It Comes at Night uses its stark, stringent setting to comment on fear tactics and power optics deployed during a time of trepidation, tension, and ultimately terror.
Where to watch: Netflix
4.) Train to Busan – Graft the caravan concept of Snowpiercer onto the viral outbreak of 28 Days Later and you’re left with Train to Busan, a bloody South Korean thriller based in the country’s capital Seoul. It’s a simple, fast-paced, diligently constructed film about survival and sacrifice when going up against unprecedented fears and it shows how South Korean filmmakers continue to churn out some of the most twisted, insightful movies of the modern era. Punch your ticket to this one. Zombie flicks aren’t often more visceral or vital.
Where to watch: Netflix, Tubi, Vudu
3.) Take Shelter – Featuring my favorite performance from the already legendary Michael Shannon, Take Shelter is a film that is, more or less, about the costs and benefits of preparation fueled by paranoia. About whether or not the unhinged, self-professed prophet Curtis LaForche can convince his small town inhabitants to take his many apocalyptic visions seriously. He builds a bunker and drives his family into increasing debt, and one breathtaking scene features the local yokels hamming it up during a Lions Club dinner, crucifying and castigating him with their eyes and actions. There’s a fire in his belly, in his soul. A storm is coming. In the matters of life or death, maybe it really is better to be considered crazy and safe than it is to end up sorry.
Where to watch: Crackle
2.) Up in the Air – You don’t have to hole up or fly to the moon to distance yourself from others as far as you can. Take Up in the Air for example. Released during our most recent recession, and now looking more like an unheard history lesson with an economy on the same verge, the film uses the timelessness of its plot (and George Clooney’s ageless charm) to tell a story about willful isolation. Through Clooney’s character, we see a detached and untethered, business-class flying, corporate hit-man hired to fire and dispose of unessential employees. He’s most comfortable stowed away in a 747’s cabin. Some people need contact and permanent residence; others, like him, rent and lease until the day they die. And while a recent rewatch proved that Up in the Air hasn’t aged as gracefully as I would’ve hoped, its ending still lands with the kind of nomadic poetry that can only be asserted with wheels up, some 30,000 feet above, with eyes looking down at the same clouds so many will only ever see from below.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Hulu
1.) Lars and the Real Girl – If you’re going to watch any movie from the 10 laid out in this list, I’m most hopeful that you’re willing to give the admittedly peculiar Lars and the Real Girl a try. The synopsis is sure to turn some folks away. In this one, Ryan Gosling (a chameleon of an actor) plays a timid, painfully shy, romantically lost man who has otherwise unplugged from reality. He feels alone, wallowing and pacing around in his detached garage apartment. But then a package arrives. To his family it’s an eerily real sex doll; to Lars she’s a partner and a confidante to help him burst out of his bubble for a fresh breath. Lars and the Real Girl is odd, quirky, and takes some getting used to, and I think that’s why the film resonates so deeply. It goes to such great efforts to show why we should care about others, to empathize whenever possible, and how – at the end of the day – we’re all in this inexplicable thing together.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Tubi