40. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
The Coen Brothers’ depiction of the early ‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene is one of their more affectionate confections, but don’t call it nostalgic. Oscar Issac’s titular figure is a talent worth rooting for, but he’s also often boorish and self-sabotaging. This has some of the nihilism and absurdity of their late-career masterpiece A Serious Man, but it’s also more contemplative—dare I say, soulful, even.
39. WINTER’S BONE
Debra Granik’s surprise indie hit about a teenager in the Missouri Ozarks gave Jennifer Lawrence her breakthrough role, but don’t forget about good work from John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt or Dale Dickey, the latter brilliant as the film’s vicious yet maternal force-of-nature. Stark, deeply affecting and with a vivid sense of place, Winter’s Bone dexterously humanizes a world foreign to most of its audience.
38. GIVE ME LIBERTY
Following a young medical transport driver over a single day in Milwaukee, this American indie is one of the more ambitious and exciting to emerge in recent memory. Focusing on multiple populations that aren’t affluent, white and/or fully abled, it’s breakneck-intense and more than a bit messy, especially in its artier moments; it’s also funny, lyrical and full of outstanding performances.
37. EIGHTH GRADE
I still can’t understate how terrific Elsie Fisher is as Kayla, an awkward, average fourteen-year-old who’s quirky enough to stand apart from any other similarly-aged protagonist you’ve seen before and also recognizable to an almost painfully universal degree. With his debut feature, comedian Bo Burnham’s understanding of this ultra-specific world (one most of us who’ve lived it would rather forget) remains fully palpable.
36. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES
In this lyrical rumination on death, long deceased or disappeared relatives return to guide the titular character towards his next rite of passage. With his usual wry, mystical bent, Apichatpong Weerasethakul blends fantasy and reality together so fluidly that both become interchangeable and otherworldly—particularly in the final scene where he throws in a monkey wrench of sorts that perplexes but also engages in its offhanded whimsy and swiftness.
35. KNIVES OUT
As for Rian Johnson’s spirited neo-whodunit, I can’t recall the last time I had so much pure, unadulterated fun at the movies. That Knives Out not only concerns familial bickering but also class differences and illegal immigration firmly renders it a film of its time, and one I suspect will serve as a defining record of it decades from now. Bonus points for Daniel Craig pulling off his ridiculous Foghorn Leghorn accent.
This Haruki Murakami short story adaptation focuses on a peculiar male-female-male triangle; to get further into the story would lessen much of its mystique. Only know that director Chang-dong Lee sets up any number of expectations only to masterfully defy most of them without leaving the viewer feeling cheated. “Haunted” is word used far too often in film criticism, but that’s the exact tone Burning leaves one with.
33. HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
The story of ACT UP, a 1980s coalition of New York-based AIDS activists unfolds so effectively that not one archival clip in it feels unnecessary. A few, like Larry Kramer’s passionate address to a mob scene that inspires the film’s title, are more powerful as anything in even Angels In America. Essential viewing for those wanting to understand how a disease ravaged a culture, and what that culture did to combat it.
32. SWORD OF TRUST
An inspired screwball romp regarding the sale of a sword from the Civil War, this benefits considerably from Marc Maron, who’s equally adept at deadpan humor and convincing pathos as a laconic pawn shop owner. Director Lynn Shelton’s ease at letting him and the likes of Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins and Jon Bass improvise and play off each other results in a hilarious, somewhat overlooked comedy.
As the bus driver/poet with the same last name as the titular New Jersey city he lives in, Adam Driver has never been more attuned to a director’s sensibilities than Jim Jarmusch’s in this meditative film. Still, don’t overlook the rest of the cast: everyone from real find Golshifteh Farahani (as his wife) to William Jackson Harper (Chidi from The Good Place!) leaves deep traces fortifying what Paterson is actually about: a community.