July 4, 2022

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The 50 Best Movies on HBO Max Right Now

23 min read

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+.

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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Doing his own audacious twist on Douglas Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows,” a heartbreaking romance about a wealthy widow’s affair with a humble gardener, Rainer Werner Fassbinder offers a much odder couple, attempting to bridge the gulfs of age and race. The mismatched pair here are a Moroccan laborer (El Hedi ben Salem) in his 40s and a German house cleaner over two decades his senior (Brigitte Mira), and Fassbinder uses their relationship to expose the societal forces that both unite and divide them. Our critic Vincent Canby praised “the careful detail” with which Fassbinder dramatizes the couple’s ostracism. (Also by Fassbinder: “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” “Fox and his Friends,” “The Marriage of Maria Braun”)

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Before her international breakthrough, “The Piano,” the director Jane Campion carved this television mini-series into an impassioned 158-minute portrait of the New Zealand author Janet Frame, based on her three autobiographical novels. With different actors playing Frame at three stages of her life — most notably Kerry Fox as the adult Janet — the film celebrates her resilience under the terrible hardships of poverty and a long stint in a mental institution. Her writing was her escape and her salvation. Vincent Canby admired how film “records the world as Janet sees it, sometimes beautiful and as often frightening.” (Also by Campion: “Sweetie.”)

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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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With their uncommonly assured neo-noir debut, Joel and Ethan Coen set the tone for a brilliant career that has frequently touched on amateur criminality and its tragicomic consequences. Nodding to James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” the film is about a bar owner (Dan Hedaya) who hires a shady contract killer (M. Emmet Walsh) after he learns of an affair between his wife (Frances McDormand) and his bartender (John Getz). The result is a riveting, slow-motion disaster. The critic Janet Maslin praised the film for its “black humor, abundant originality and brilliant visual style.” (Also by the Coens: “No Country for Old Men”)

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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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Through his incisive, hilarious comedy-drama about TV journalism, the writer-director James L. Brooks exposes sins of ethics and taste that seem quaint by today’s diminished standards, but the richness of his characters stands the test of time. The friendship between a high-strung producer (Holly Hunter) and a star reporter (Albert Brooks) frays when she takes a romantic interest in a handsome anchorman (William Hurt) who represents everything about news they despise. The critic Vincent Canby admired how Brooks “has so balanced the movie that no one performance can run off with it.”

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Amy Heckerling’s bright, ingenious twist on Jane Austen’s “Emma” imagines the 19th century matchmaker as a Beverly Hills rich girl whose Cupid-like machinations lead to her own romantic makeover. Pulling off mid-90s fashion and Heckerling’s mock-teen slang with equal aplomb, Alicia Silverstone stars as a popular girl who tries to hook up a new kid (Brittany Murphy) with a good-looking “Baldwin” in her social group. Critic Janet Maslin called it “a candy-colored, brightly satirical showcase” for Silverstone’s “decidedly visual talents.”

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Based on the first of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries, this luxuriant and twisty neo-noir evokes “Chinatown” in exploring the racial fault-lines of post-World War II Los Angeles. Denzel Washington flashes effortless movie-star charisma as Rawlins, a nascent gumshoe hired to find a missing white woman known for frequenting juke joints. As his trigger-happy friend, Don Cheadle gives an electric, scene-stealing supporting performance that set the course of his career. Janet Maslin called it “an unusually vibrant film noir.”

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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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Released widely just a few months after James Gandolfini’s death, this funny, mature romantic comedy from Nicole Holofcener proved that the charisma Gandolfini brought to the lead role in “The Sopranos” didn’t always have to be dark. As a divorced empty nester who starts dating a masseuse (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in the same situation, Gandolfini carries himself with gentle good humor as Holofcener throws their relationship for a screwball loop. A.O. Scott called it “line for line, scene for scene,” one of the “best-written American film comedies in recent memory.”

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Before upending film and television with genre-expanding work like “Blue Velvet” and “Twin Peaks,” David Lynch burst onto the scene with this Midnight Movie classic, an experimental feature that turns domestic anxiety into surrealist science fiction. In Lynch’s black-and-white, creepily industrialized setting, a man with an outsized shock of curly hair (Jack Nance) tries to come to terms with his changing family, which now includes a mutant newborn. The critic Tom Buckley called it “interminable,” but Lynch’s reputation (and this film’s) has grown immensely in the years since it was released. (Also by Lynch: “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”)

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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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Perhaps the brashest of the new wave of Italian filmmakers, Paolo Sorrentino all but declares himself Federico Fellini’s heir apparent with this spectacularly decadent experience, which evokes Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” In fact, Toni Servillo could be an older version of Marcello Mastroianni in that film, a 65-year-old journalist whose lavish birthday party reminds him of the emptiness of a lifetime schmoozing among the elites. As with Fellini’s film, the formlessness of the evening allows for maximum spontaneity. Our critic Manohla Dargis called it “deliciously alive.”

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When Joe Dante’s family-friendly horror-comedy “Gremlins” was a huge hit in 1984, the studio gave Dante creative carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with the sequel. He basically treated the offer like an oversized gremlin. Channeling the manic pop energy of Frank Tashlin and Tex Avery, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” uses the opening of a high-tech skyscraper to unleash chaos, with dozens of nasty creatures gumming up the works. Janet Maslin wanted to “add this to the very short list of sequels that neatly surpass their predecessors.” (Also by Dante: “Gremlins,” “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”)

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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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After the first two Harry Potter movies dutifully established the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling onscreen, the director Alfonso Cuarón took the franchise to a more mature and fantastical level, better suiting a hero who is getting older and facing greater obstacles. This time, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his Hogwarts friends, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), square off against one of the evil Voldemort’s aides, a vicious prison escapee named Sirius Black (Gary Oldman). A.O. Scott called it the first Harry Potter adaptation “that actually looks and feels like a movie, rather than a staged reading with special effects.” (Also: The entire Harry Potter collection.)

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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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In the lead-up to his epic “Seven Samurai,” the director Akira Kurosawa tried his hand at this intimate, heartbreaking work about a man whose imminent death finally teaches him about how best to live. Takashi Shimura stars as a faceless bureaucrat who gets a terminal cancer diagnosis near the end of his 30-year career and struggles to figure out what to do with the time he has left. Bosley Crowther called it “a varied and detailed illustration of middle-class life in contemporary Japan.” (Also by Kurosawa: “The Hidden Fortress,” “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai,” “Throne of Blood,” “Yojimbo.”)

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Released in the midst of the civil rights movement, this best picture winner from Norman Jewison muscled its way into the conversation with a police drama about racial hostilities and prejudices in the Deep South. In a career-defining role, Sidney Poitier stars as a Philadelphia police detective who is mistakenly collared for murder in small-town Mississippi, then asked by the local police chief (Rod Steiger) to help solve the case. Bosley Crowther found “the juxtaposition of resentments between whites and blacks” in the film to be “vividly and forcefully illustrated.”

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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 year after his international breakthrough, “L’Avventura,” beguiled and mystified audiences, Michelangelo Antonioni brought the same theme of alienation to the city with “La Notte,” which turns Milan into a hauntingly beautiful and empty place. Set within a 24-hour time frame, the film stars Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau as an unhappily married couple who go out for a rare night on the town and have their relationship tested. Bosley Crowther wrote that “the subtle attunement of one’s mood” will largely determine how much viewers will connect with the film. (Also by Antonioni: “L’Avventura,” “Red Desert.”)

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Call it elevator music. Call it sonic wallpaper. Call it whatever you like, but the fact is that Kenny G is the most popular jazz musician of his time, a solo saxophonist who has sold over 75 million records and dominated the adult contemporary scene. “Listening to Kenny G” takes a step back and examines this unique cultural phenomenon from every perspective, including that of fans, critics and the indefatigable man himself, who keeps finding new ways to stay in the conversation. The critic Glenn Kenny found that “the link between what makes Kenny G a star and what makes him annoying is spot on.”

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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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Three years after “Do the Right Thing,” the director Spike Lee was expected to ignite controversy again with his adaptation of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” but the film turned out to be a studio biopic of the first order, arguing for the humanity and vision of a civil rights figure whose activism was forged by life experience. Denzel Washington gives a towering performance as Malcolm, who survived a misspent youth, became a Muslim and grew into a leader. Vincent Canby called it “an ambitious, tough, seriously considered biographical film.” (Also by Lee: “4 Little Girls,” “He Got Game,” “Inside Man,” “When the Levees Broke”)

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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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Over two decades after his superior Elmore Leonard adaptation “Out of Sight,” the director Steven Soderbergh headed back to Detroit for another witty, suspenseful, star-packed thriller, set deeper in the city’s racially fraught past. Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro and Kieran Culkin star as mismatched henchmen hired to hold a businessman’s family hostage while he attempts, as subtly as possible, to steal documents for them at work. A.O. Scott called it “a tight and twisty against-the-clock crime caper.” (Also by Soderbergh: “Beyond the Candelabra,” “Magic Mike,” “Ocean’s Eleven.”)

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It seemed impossible to turn the “Paddington” of Michael Bond’s storybooks into a good movie. And when that happened, it seemed improbable for the sequel to be an improvement. Yet “Paddington 2” is another adorable comic adventure, given an additional boost by memorable supporting turns, most notably from Brendan Gleeson as an ill-tempered prison cook and Hugh Grant as a vain actor turned diabolical villain. The critic Teo Bugbee wrote that the filmmakers “spin good writing and seamless digital effects into Rococo children’s entertainment.”

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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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After a decade of flops in the ’80s, the director Robert Altman burst back on the scene with a Hollywood satire that doubles as an act of revenge. Through the story of Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), a soulless studio executive who murders a disgruntled screenwriter, Altman had the narrative scaffolding he needed to land jab after jab about an industry that had been unfriendly to him for decades. Vincent Canby hailed “the return of the great gregarious filmmaker whose ‘Nashville’ remains one of the classics of the 1970s.” (Also by Altman: “M*A*S*H” and “Popeye.”)

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A signature achievement of the Japanese horror boom of the early-to-mid ’00s, this unnerving shocker from Kiyoshi Kurosawa taps into the fears of an increasingly tech-driven world by imagining literal ghosts in the machine. After a friend commits suicide, a group of young people in Tokyo start to believe that digitized spirits are emerging as an unstoppable threat in the real world. The critic Anita Gates called it a “fiercely original, thrillingly creepy” film.

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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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It may not look like a revolution, with its static black-and-white camerawork and deadpan sensibility, but Jim Jarmusch’s minimalist comedy set a new course for American independent film, changing how stories are told and who they can be about. Jarmusch wrings humor from the modest premise, about a Brooklyn layabout (John Lurie) who plays reluctant host to his Hungarian cousin (Eszter Balint), a woman whose understanding of the country begins and ends with the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song “I Put a Spell on You.” Vincent Canby wrote that the film “is something quite special.” (Also by Jarmusch: “Dead Man,” “Down by Law,” “Night on Earth.”)

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A big-screen version of a no-frills Cartoon Network show like “Teen Titans Go!” may not sound like a promising proposition. But this inspired film goes all out from the very beginning, when our backbench DC heroes, led by the tiny-hand sidekick Robin, introduce themselves in a Beastie Boys-style rap. Envious of all the better-known superheroes getting their own movies, the Teens are thrilled to get their own offer from Tinseltown, but their quest for fame has a villainous catch. The Times’s Ken Jaworowski called it “giddy with in-jokes, meta-moments and quick asides.”

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Though often framed as a triumph-over-adversity story, Tina Turner’s life isn’t so easily packaged; even Turner’s extraordinary durability as an artist cannot chase away the abuse and tragedy in her past. Built around a candid Turner interview, this authorized documentary allows her to lay final claim over a life she struggled to control. It also allows us to marvel again at her mental fortitude and her electric stage presence, which was the one constant over the decades. The critic Glenn Kenny called it “not just a summing up but a kind of farewell.”

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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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Clint Eastwood owes his career to playing sharpshooting heroes in Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns like “A Fistful of Dollars” and Don Siegel action films like “Dirty Harry.” But after decades on the job, he decided the time was right to reflect deeply on the violence his characters had wrought. Eastwood directors and stars in this powerful Oscar-winner as a retired gunslinger reluctantly drawn into a bounty hunt for two men who disfigured a prostitute. Vincent Canby called it “a most entertaining western that pays homage to the great tradition of movie westerns.” (Also by Eastwood: “Gran Torino,” “Mystic River,” “Changeling.”)

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A turbulent satire for a turbulent era, Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” uses the greed of a bourgeois couple (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne) as the starting point for an increasingly surreal and violent road movie that seeks to rattle its audience at every turn. When the couple heads out to the country to collect an inheritance — willing to murder a dying man (and each other), if necessary — their plans are upended in multiple ways, including a series of car crashes. The critic Renata Adler wrote that the film “must be seen for its power, ambition, humor and scenes of really astonishing beauty.” (Also by Godard: “Breathless,” “Masculin Feminin,” “Vivre Sa Vie.”)

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Two queens of Golden Age Hollywood melodramas, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, were brought together for another one in Robert Aldrich’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,” but their screen personas are thrown for a noir loop in this scabrous treatment of movie stardom. Davis plays a former child star whose delusions of reviving her career are held in check by her wheelchair-bound sister (Crawford), who plots revenge for the accident that crippled her. Bosley Crowther called the actresses “a couple of formidable freaks.”

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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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This shaggy-dog comedy about academia, based on the brisk novel by Michael Chabon, translates effortlessly to the screen, with Michael Douglas ingeniously cast as a Pennsylvania creative writing professor who has been coasting for years on the reputation of his debut book. In the meantime, he gets roped into lives of two admiring students, played by Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes, and into petty escapades involving a dead dog and a stolen piece of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. A.O. Scott wrote, not all that admiringly, that “the heart of the novel has been carefully preserved.”

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