The 50 Best Movies on HBO Max Right Now – The New York Times

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In addition to new Warner and HBO films, the streamer has a treasure trove of Golden Age classics, indie flicks and foreign films. Start with these.
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When HBO Max debuted in May 2020, subscribers rightfully expected (and got) the formidable catalog of prestige television associated with the HBO brand. But, if anything, its movie library draws from a much deeper well. WarnerMedia, which owns HBO, is a huge conglomerate, and its premiere streaming service comprises decades of titles from Warner Bros., Turner Classic Movies and Studio Ghibli, as well as new work produced directly for HBO Max.
That means a lot of large-scale fantasy series like Harry Potter and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and selections from the DC extended universe. HBO Max is also an education in Golden Age Hollywood classics and in independent and foreign auteurs like Federico Fellini, Satyajit Ray and John Cassavetes. The list below is an effort to recommend a diverse range of movies — old and new, foreign and domestic, all-ages and adults-only — that cross genres and cultures while appealing to casual and serious movie-watchers alike. (Note: Streaming services sometimes remove titles of change starting dates without notice.)
Here are our lists of the best movies and TV shows on Netflix, the best movies on Amazon Prime Video and the best of everything on Hulu and Disney+.
Topping the most recent decennial Sight & Sound poll of the “Greatest Films of All Time,” Chantal Akerman’s 198-minute domestic study of a middle-aged widow, mother and afternoon prostitute (Delphine Seyrig) presents a much stiffer challenge than previous poll-toppers like “Citizen Kane” and “Vertigo.” But “Jeanne Dielman” has the power to alter your metabolism, turning her daily routines into a mesmerizing, suffocating piece of anthropology. Vincent Canby admired how its “precise, unsettling clarity” has “the effect of finding threats in mundane objects and doom in commonplace characters.”

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A “Dr. Strangelove” for our current era of half-baked conspiracies and Cold War paranoia, Joel and Ethan Coen’s delirious spy-movie parody revolves around two dimwitted gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who mistake the memoirs of an ex-C.I.A. analyst (John Malkovich) for classified information. Their efforts to blackmail their way to a quick fortune lead to the Russian embassy — and a series of needless, bloody, inexplicable catastrophes. Roderick Morris wrote that it “mercilessly satirizes some modern obsessions and the doubtful abilities of those entrusted to run state institutions.” (Also by the Coens: “Blood Simple,” “No Country for Old Men.’)

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Since writing “Taxi Driver” in 1976, Paul Schrader has specialized in the torments of lonely, alienated men, including the heroes of films he later directed like “Light Sleeper” and “Affliction.” “First Reformed” is among his most powerful works, focusing on a pastor (Ethan Hawke) in upstate New York who undergoes a crisis of faith, triggered by worries over climate change and tension with the evangelical organization that owns his small historic church. A.O. Scott called the directness of Schrader’s drama “all the more powerful for being so rigorously conceived and meticulously executed.” (Also by Schrader: “The Card Counter.”)

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The “In Bruges” team of the writer-director Martin McDonagh and the actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson pull off another ingenious twist on the buddy picture with “The Banshees of Inishirin,” in part by opening with the end of the friendship. Upending a daily routine of drinking pints and shooting the breeze on a tiny Irish island, Colm (Gleeson) decides abruptly not to spend time with the younger Padraic (Farrell) anymore, and Pádraic’s efforts to win him back lead to funny, shocking and heartbreaking consequences. A.O. Scott called it “a good place to start if you’re new to [McDonagh’s] work, and cozily — which is also to say horrifically — familiar if you’re already a fan.”

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While rarely mentioned in the same breath as cinema studies standards like “Rashomon” and “The Seven Samurai,” Akira Kurosawa’s ingenious noir thriller “High and Low” deserves a place alongside them, turning an Ed McBain novel into twisty, stylized play on police procedurals. The Kurosawa favorite Toshiro Mifune stars as a shoe company executive whose plans to buy out the business unravel when kidnappers demand ransom money for abducting his son. The one hitch? They took his chauffeur’s son instead. It usually takes years for a film to earn the superlatives the critic Howard Thompson offered in his original review: “One of the best detective thrillers ever filmed.” (Also by Kurosawa: “The Hidden Fortress,” “Ikiru,” “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai,” “Throne of Blood,” “Yojimbo.”)

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Though he had a small role in “The Bounty”—and an even tinier one in “Gandhi”—Daniel Day-Lewis’ true breakthrough arrived in this rambunctious provocation, which casts him as a racist punk who winds up falling for Pakistani laundromat manager (Gordon Warnecke). Despite the obvious racial and sexual volatility embedded its premise, “My Beautiful Laundrette” has a buoyant spirit that lightens the tone, tied to an odd couple whose unlikely chemistry is a bulwark against the hostility that surrounds them. Vincent Canby called it “a rude, wise, vivid social comedy.” (Also by Stephen Frears: “The Queen.”)

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The musical-comedy trio known as The Lonely Island — Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone and Andy Samberg — return to the pop parody of “Saturday Night Live” shorts like “Lazy Sunday” with this consistently hilarious sendup of the vanities and eccentricities of fame. Samberg plays Conner4Real, a former boy band dreamboat whose solo career hits the skids after critics and fans reject his insipid new album, leaving his arena tour in jeopardy. “Popstar” uses his crisis as a jumping-off point for dumb-great Lonely Island songs, a ton of celebrity cameos and inspired, off-the-wall conceits. A.O. Scott called it “welcome fan service.”

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“The Silence of the Lambs” may have won all the Oscars, but the serial killer thriller wasn’t a true subgenre until this grisly neo-noir from David Fincher came along, inspiring a wave of imitators that mimicked its fetishistic villain while missing its sober, existential tone completely. In a nameless, rain-soaked Everycity, two homicide detectives (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) attempt to track down a killer inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins but get drawn unwittingly into his master plan. The critic Janet Maslin panned “Seven” at the time but praised Freeman for the “polish and self-possession” of his performance.

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Before moving on to big studio movies like “Creed” and “Black Panther,” the director Ryan Coogler and his frequent star, Michael B. Jordan, collaborated on this wrenching true story about Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man killed by a transit officer in Oakland on New Year’s Eve 2009. To humanize Grant, Coogler covers the day leading up to the tragic event as Oscar argues with his girlfriend over past infidelity, tries to get his job back at the grocery store and attends his mother’s birthday party. A.O. Scott called it “a powerful and sensitive debut feature.”

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In telling the story about the rise and fall of the middleweight boxing champ Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), the director Martin Scorsese turns the entire film into a psychic arena where LaMotta, a man consumed by primal jealousy and self-loathing, reserves his most punishing blows for himself. More than any of the great films about the sport, “Raging Bull” emphasizes the brutality of “the sweet science” and the inherent drama of combat, which spills out of the ring and into every aspect of LaMotta’s life. As Vincent Canby wrote, the film’s territory is “the landscape of the soul.”Watch it on HBO Max
Though rarely included among the wave of arty revisionist Westerns that directors like Sam Peckinpah and Robert Altman made in the same era, this box-office smash from the director George Roy Hill found its own creative ways to liven up a dying genre and appeal to a hipper, more modern audience. Much of its vitality is owed to the buddy pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford as outlaw members of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, who hatch a plan to flee to Bolivia after a botched train robbery puts a posse on their heels. In a mixed review, Vincent Canby called it “very funny in a strictly contemporary way.” (Also by Hill: “The World According to Garp.”)

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One of the true watershed moments in American indie cinema, this slice-of-life picture from Richard Linklater strings together the philosophers, conspiracy theorists, cranks and other assorted Austin, Texas, oddballs into a half-funny, half-profound celebration of outsidership. There was no model then for the film’s formless roundelay of fascinating talkers, but “Slacker” resonated with art-house audiences, launched Linklater’s career and expanded the possibilities of what low-budget films could do. Vincent Canby marveled that Linklater’s nonprofessional cast is “so amazingly effective that it’s hard to believe they didn’t make up their own lunacies.” (Also by Linklater: “Waking Life,” “Bad News Bears.”)

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For their gag-a-second spoof of disaster movies, the Zucker brothers, David and Jerry, along with Jim Abrahams, unearthed an obscure 1957 drama called “Zero Hour!” and followed the story with remarkable fidelity, needing only minor tweaks to make it funny. With that foundation in place, “Airplane!” unleashes a barrage of puns and silly wordplay, references to popular films like “Saturday Night Fever” and “From Here to Eternity,” and oddball cameos from figures like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ethel Merman. Janet Maslin called it “clever and confident and furiously energetic.”

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The films of French director Claire Denis often feel more like poetry than prose, and they count on the audience’s intuition in piecing together their elliptical passages. But when the sounds and images are as seductive as those in “Beau Travail,” her loosely inspired take on Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd,” the experience isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Moving Melville’s seafaring tale to the striking landscapes of Djibouti, the film chronicles a long triangle among French Legionnaires in training. Stephen Holden called it “the visually spellbinding equivalent of a military ballet.”

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A science-fiction drama about the apocalypse from cinema’s most notorious provocateur sounds like a duck-and-cover situation, but Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia” greets the possible end of the world with insight, beauty and uncharacteristic tenderness. As the large planet of the title bears down on Earth, two sisters — one (Kirsten Dunst) who suffers from crippling depression, the other (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a more grounded woman with a family — react to the situation in wildly contrasting ways. A.O. Scott wrote that it “leaves behind a glow of aesthetic satisfaction.”

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In their Palme d’Or-winning breakthrough, the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, deploy a rigorous, hand-held camera technique in charting the patterns and limits of a 17-year-old Belgian (Émilie Dequenne) on a near-feral quest to make ends meet. Living with her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux) in a broken-down trailer without running water, she frantically searches for work while dangling on the precipice of disaster. The film, wrote Stephen Holden, “addresses a great subject, the Darwinian struggle to survive and its dehumanizing effects.”

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Known for his scrupulously detailed dramas about contemporary working-class life, the British director Mike Leigh switched gears with this dazzling period piece about the Victorian era heyday of the musical geniuses W.S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner). Where most biopics make the mistake of covering too much territory, Leigh focuses entirely on the staging of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” which arriving during a particularly fragile period in their collaboration. Janet Maslin called it “grandly entertaining.”

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With its potent fusion of explicit neo-noir and coming-of-age story, this David Lynch thriller explores the dark shadows of small-town America through the eyes of an innocent young man who is confronting his own curiosity and desire. Kyle MacLachlan stars as a student who discovers a severed human ear in a field and seeks out its origins, which lead him to a criminal underworld and into an unsettling relationship with a lounge singer (Isabella Rossellini). Janet Maslin wrote that “there’s no mistaking the exhilarating fact that it’s one of a kind.” (Also by Lynch: “Eraserhead,” “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.”)

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When a bored, penniless 15-year-old (Charlie Plummer) moves to a small town in the Pacific Northwest with his mostly absent single father, he takes refuge at a local racetrack, where he does muck work for a grizzled trainer (Steve Buscemi) and gets attached to a horse that is one bad run from the glue factory. Although “Lean on Pete” owes a debt to boy-and-his-horse stories like “The Black Stallion,” director Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) embarks on an immensely moving journey through little-galloped areas of the country. Manohla Dargis called it “a very fine movie that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw it.”

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The plot of this beguiling sci-fi mood piece from Jonathan Glazer is deceptively simple: Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien who takes the form of an attractive human to lure Glaswegian men into a trap. Yet “Under the Skin” allows the mystery of why she is doing it to linger, along with other more existential questions about this strange, lethal orphan on Earth. Glazer augments this minimalist premise with mesmerizing sound design and music, along with ravishing views of the Scottish countryside. Stephen Holden wrote that the film “conjures a mood of nightmarish alienation.”

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Drawing on the previous decade of political turmoil, this operatic thriller from Brian De Palma serves as a paranoid commentary on American power and a sophisticated look at how images can be manipulated to reveal the truth or advance insidious fictions. But on the garishly colorful surface, it’s still a dazzling entertainment about a B-movie sound man (John Travolta) from Philadelphia who witnesses a Chappaquiddick-like accident and becomes ensnared by the cover-up that follows. Vincent Canby called it “a flashy, eclectic suspense thriller.”

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After a 20-year hiatus from the Australian post-apocalyptic road trilogy that made his (and Mel Gibson’s) reputation, the director George Miller returned, sans Gibson, for perhaps the most gob-smacking entry yet, a relentless action film about women leading the fight against tyrannical men. Although Tom Hardy takes up the role of Max Rockatansky, it’s Charlize Theron who draws focus as Furiosa, a warrior determined to travel back to her homeland and confront a ruling tyrant and the gangs that support him. (Also in the series: “The Road Warrior”)

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Packed with wry jokes, historical allusions, zany Rube Goldberg set pieces and beautiful handcrafted bric-a-brac as far as the eye can see, this ensemble comedy from Wes Anderson may sound overloaded, but it moves with astonishing grace. Ralph Fiennes anchors the film as the legendary concierge of a hotel in a fictional European country that once thrived between the two world wars but has since fallen into disrepair, leaving only stories behind. For his part, A.O. Scott found himself “not only charmed and touched but also moved to a new level of respect.”

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In an African cinema largely defined by austerity and social realism, Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Senegalese classic “Touki Bouki” stands out for its rule-breaking irreverence, inspired by Jean-Luc Godard. With little formal training and a minuscule budget, Mambéty liberated himself to work blackout gags and avant-garde touches into an impressionistic road movie about a cowherd (Magaye Niang) and a student (Mareme Niang) who scramble to raise money to leave Dakar for Paris. Vincent Canby praised the director for mixing “neo-realism and fantasy to create a mood of unease and aimless longing.”

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For this landmark L.G.B.T.Q. documentary, Jennie Livingston spent six years immersing herself in the underground ball scene in New York City, where minority, gay and transgender people come together to “vogue” in joyous drag competitions. But far beyond detailing these events, “Paris Is Burning” casts a sympathetic eye on the individual performers, whose lives are often defined by poverty, ostracism and the still-raging AIDS epidemic. Vincent Canby admired Livingston for studying her subjects “with the curiosity of a compassionate anthropologist.”

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Although it functions beautifully as a lively documentary about ACT UP, an organization that emerged from Greenwich Village in the ’80s to address the AIDS crisis, “How to Survive a Plague” is more valuable still as a how-to manual on effective activism. As ACT UP members staged audacious protests to call public attention to the issue, another branch infiltrated various power centers in Washington, pushing for research, drug access and political leverage. Stephen Holden wrote that it is “charged with the exhilarating excitement felt by soldiers on the front lines of battle.”

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After spending the ’60s stealing scenes in independent films like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Easy Rider,” Jack Nicholson ushered in the New Hollywood of the ’70s with one of his most subtle performances, suggesting the bruised interiority of a man on the run from his past. Nicholson stars as a blue-collar California oil rigger who reveals his surprising upper-class roots when his father becomes gravely ill and he returns with his waitress girlfriend (Karen Black) to the family home in Washington. Roger Greenspun called it “satiric in thrust and elegiac in mood.”

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From its “dawn of man” sequence to its cosmic exploration of the future, this science-fiction classic from Stanley Kubrick traces mankind’s evolutionary and technological leaps, as well the conflicts that inspire and are inspired by them. Still astonishing in its mammoth ambition and philosophical scope, “2001: A Space Odyssey” turns a mission to Jupiter, guided by the sinister supercomputer HAL 9000, into a journey for the mind and the eye. The New York Times critic Renata Adler complained about its “uncompromising slowness” at the time, but the film has aged well to say the least. (Also by Kubrick: “A Clockwork Orange,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Shining.”)

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Gillo Pontecorvo’s scrupulous depiction of insurgent and anti-terrorist tactics in the Algerian War of Independence proved so persuasive in its newsreel style that it required a disclaimer to let audiences know it was a work of fiction. Though hugely controversial in Europe for its treatment of the Algerian resistance and French torture tactics, “The Battle of Algiers” is such a cleareyed and accomplished vision of modern warfare that it has been studied by the Pentagon. Bosley Crowther called it “an uncommonly dynamic picture.”

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Shot with a Technicolor vividness that pops with sensuality, this simmering melodrama from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is a rapturous exploration of forbidden pleasure. Deborah Kerr stars as the well-meaning mother superior of a convent in the Himalayas, where the nuns try to expand a former pleasure palace into a school and hospital. But as she struggles to hold the convent together, she and the other nuns can’t help but be swept up by the wildness of the place. The critic Thomas M. Pryor called it “a work of rare pictorial beauty.” (Also by Powell and Pressburger: “49th Parallel,” “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” “The Red Shoes.”)
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The director David Lean may be better known for epics like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago,” but he was equally skilled in rendering the intimate emotions at play in modest productions like “Brief Encounter,” which saves most of the waterworks for the dingy refreshment room off a railway. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard star as married people who fall in love inadvertently while nursing their platonic friendship every Thursday at a Milford train station. The sad inevitability of their relationship makes it no less romantic. Bosley Crowther called it “extremely poignant.” (Also by Lean: “Blithe Spirit,” “Great Expectations,” “Summertime.”)

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A three-hour Japanese drama from a small independent distributor wasn’t the most likely candidate for a best picture nomination. But this multilayered treatment of grief, relationships and creativity from Ryusuke Hamaguchi, based on a story by Haruki Murakami, is a special piece of work. Hidetoshi Nishijima stars as a sought-after theater director who agrees to stage a version of “Uncle Vanya” in Hiroshima and further agrees to the company’s directive that he allow a driver (Toko Miura) to escort him to the venue and back. A.O. Scott called the film “a story about grief, love and work as well as the soul-sustaining, life-shaping power of art.”
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With its combination of grade-scale world building, thrilling space adventure and hallucinogenic imagery, Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel, “Dune,” has a unique allure that’s difficult to translate to the screen. Yet Denis Villeneuve’s attempt miraculously cracks the code, preserving the language and politics of the novel while following Paul (Timothée Chalamet), a gifted young man thrust into a galactic battle over the desert planet Arrakis and a precious resource called “the spice.” Our critic Manohla Dargis called it “a starry, sumptuous take on the novel’s first half.”

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Though rarely cited among established Alfred Hitchcock classics like “North by Northwest,” “Vertigo” and “Psycho,” “Foreign Correspondent” is every bit as masterly, a subtle and generously entertaining piece of wartime intrigue made for and about fraught times. Joel McCrea plays a bored city desk reporter in New York who gets all the action he can handle as a foreign correspondent in Europe, but the assignment soon embeds him in a treacherous web of shifty diplomats and Nazi spies. The Times critic Bosley Crowther raved that the film “should be the particular favorite of a great many wonder-eyed folk.” (Also by Hitchcock: “The 39 Steps,” “The Lady Vanishes,” North by Northwest”)

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Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s “Wiseguy,” a biography about the gangster turned informant Henry Hill, this electrifying epic from Martin Scorsese evokes the seductions of organized lawlessness before the consequences come down like a hammer. In contrast to “The Godfather,” which focused on the head of a New York family, “Goodfellas” settles on low- to midlevel gangsters, tracking the rise and fall of Hill (Ray Liotta) and his cohorts, played by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as they’re undone by their own criminal excesses. Vincent Canby called the film “breathless and brilliant.” (Also by Scorsese: “The Aviator,” “The Departed,” “Mean Streets.”)

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This landmark labor documentary by Barbara Kopple brought cameras into coal country in 1973, covering the herculean efforts of 180 miners in southeast Kentucky to sustain a strike against the Duke Power Company. As the strike wears on, Kopple captures the rising tensions and violence between the two parties, with the company bringing in replacement workers and armed strikebreakers to intimidate their employees. More than once, even Kopple’s safety is put in serious jeopardy. The critic Richard Eder called it “a brilliantly detailed report from one side of a battle.”

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For four years, the director Steve James and his crew followed two gifted Chicago high school basketball players as they pursued a long-shot ambition to make it to the N.B.A. and lift their families out of poverty. “Hoop Dreams” is about the impossible burden they’ve chosen to carry, one in which an errant free throw or a tweaked knee can have serious real-life consequences. The critic Caryn James called it a “fascinating, suspenseful film [that] turns the endless revision of the American dream into high drama.”

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Few films are as ravishingly beautiful as Wong Kar-wai’s intoxicating film about Hong Kong in the early to mid-60s, starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, two screen icons at the peak of their powers. Leung and Cheung play lonely-hearts who form a special kinship because of their spouses’ neglect, but they’re reluctant to follow through on the intense romantic longing they feel for each other. Wong’s story of unrequited love in a changing city earned him the best reviews of his career, including one from the critic Elvis Mitchell, who called the film “a sweet kiss blown to a time long since over.” (Also by Wong: “Happy Together.”)
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When Kurt Cobain died, he left behind a treasure trove of footage from his childhood, along with expansive musical archives and live performances with Nirvana. In Brett Morgen, the montage maestro who co-directed “The Kids Stays in the Picture” and directed the day-in-the-life 30 For 30 documentary “June 17th, 1994,” Courtney Love found the perfect filmmaker to approach with the material. “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is a sad, raucous, play-it-loud music documentary that ties the source of Cobain’s creative genius to the lifelong vulnerabilities that led to his early death. Our critic Mike Hale called it “both an artful mosaic and a hammering barrage.”

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The more films and TV shows attempt to mimic the world-building majesty of Peter Jackson’s fantasy epic, the better his three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy looks. “The Fellowship of the Ring” has the unenviable task of setting the table for adventures to come, but it establishes the scope and characters of Middle-Earth with thrilling verve, starting with Frodo (Elijah Wood), a humble hobbit asked to destroy a ring of corrosive power. Elvis Mitchell praised Jackson’s “heroic job in tackling perhaps the most intimidating nerd/academic fantasy classic ever.” (Also in the trilogy: “The Two Towers,” “The Return of the King.”)

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Gina Prince-Bythewood’s sexy, heartfelt romantic drama stood out among the abundant rom-coms of its time for the sincerity and complexity of its two main characters, whose hoop dreams lead them in and out of each other’s lives. Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan star as childhood sweethearts who bond over a passion for basketball (and trash-talking) but follow rocky paths through the professional game — and through a relationship that suffers from the same patches of instability. Elvis Mitchell appreciated its “enchanting, lived-in homeyness.”

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In their follow-up to “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show,” the director Christopher Guest and his first-rate troupe of improvisatory performers returned with a folk music parody that is notable for its disarming sweetness, despite the many digs at granola culture. The death of a beloved producer brings the acts he discovered together for a reunion concert, including The Folksmen (Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) and the estranged Mitch & Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara). A.O. Scott wrote that the cast is “capable of being funny in so many different ways.” (Also by Guest: “Best in Show.”)

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For her first feature, the writer-director Dee Rees expanded a short film into a sensitive, big-hearted and surprisingly funny coming-of-age drama about a Brooklyn teenager who is as marginalized as the title suggests. Played by Adepero Oduye, Alike is a Black lesbian who steps tentatively into her queer identity while keeping her sexuality a secret from her parents — even though it’s obvious they have their suspicions. The critic Stephen Holden wrote that Oduye “captures the jagged mood swings of late adolescence with a wonderfully spontaneous fluency.”

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The opening minutes of Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” shocked international audiences with its experimental imagery, but the remaining minutes are no less audacious in Bergman’s willingness to push his expected dramatic intensity to a new, more abstract realm. Liv Ullmann plays a famed stage actress whose mid-performance breakdown leads first to hospitalization and later to a retreat on the Baltic Sea, where her relationship with a nurse (Bibi Andersson) takes on peculiar dimensions. Bosley Crowther called it a “lovely, moody film which, for all its intense emotionalism, makes some tough intellectual demands.” (Also by Bergman: “Cries and Whispers,” “The Seventh Seal,” “Wild Strawberries.”)

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The French new wave was borne out of collective cinephilia, and nothing expressed that movie-crazy spirit quite as infectiously as François Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player,” a dazzling 81-minute mash-up of techniques, references and genres. Charles Aznavour stars as a self-effacing pianist who unwittingly becomes embroiled in the criminal scheme of a noir. In this story, however, the bad guys are bungling gangsters and the femme fatale is a waitress with a heart of gold (Marie Dubois). Bosley Crowther called it “a teasing and frequently amusing (or moving) film.” (Also by Truffaut: “The 400 Blows,” “Jules and Jim,” “The Soft Skin.”)

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The Studio Ghibli maestro Hayao Miyazaki never made an animated fantasy as enchanting, complex and visually lush as this beautiful moral tale of a 10-year-old girl who finds her place in a dreamlike world of witches and spirits. After her parents disappear in an abandoned resort, the girl goes looking for them, but as night falls, the main building turns into a spa for the supernatural, where humans like herself are not welcome. Elvis Mitchell praised “the towering, lost dreaminess at the heart of the film.” (Also by Miyazaki: “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke.”)

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The most revered of Yasujiro Ozu’s dramas is also one of the most accessible, a profound statement on the grief and laments of getting older and on the widening generation gaps of a newly westernized Japan. When an elderly couple (Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama) visit their adult children in Tokyo, the kids barely have time for them, but their dead son’s widow (Setsuko Hara) is a welcoming host. The critic Roger Greenspun wrote that the film “understands that a calm reticence may be the true heroism of ordinary old age.” (Also by Ozu: “Late Autumn,” “Late Spring,” “A Story of Floating Weeds.”)

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Few films have been wiser about love than Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” and none of the other contenders have sung through every word, redefining in glorious terms what could be done with a screen musical. Told in three distinct acts — each in gorgeous primary colors, with unforgettable music by Michel Legrand — the film follows a shop owner’s daughter (Catherine Deneuve) and a mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) in Normandy as their union is challenged by war, time and other circumstances. Bosley Crowther called it “a cinematic confection” and didn’t mean it kindly. (Also by Demy: “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”)

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Nothing about Maurice Sendak’s spare, beautifully illustrated storybook classic “Where the Wild Things Are” suggested a feature-length adaptation, but the director Spike Jonze and his co-screenwriter, Dave Eggers, expand the material without losing its essence. This is still the simple story of an angry kid (Max Records) who gets sent to his room after a tantrum and sails off to an island populated by creatures who “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth.” But its emotional spectrum is expanded along with the scale. Manohla Dargis called it “a film that often dazzles during its quietest moments.”

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For many years, two angels have looked eternally and sympathetically over the citizens of Berlin, but when one (Bruno Ganz) falls in love with a mortal trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin), he gives up his wings for the wonderful, terrible privilege of being human. This profound art-house hit from Wim Wenders asks whether eternal life is all it’s cut out to be, and Peter Falk, as a version of himself, does valuable work in breaking the somber mood. Janet Maslin called it the director’s “most ambitious effort yet.” (Also by Wenders: “Buena Vista Social Club,” “Paris, Texas.”)

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