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1. City of Gold
"A self-proclaimed 'culinary geographer,' Gold logs more than 20,000 miles a year in his truck, traversing the vast grid of Los Angeles, navigating the enclaves of its nearly 20 million residents. He manages to tame its almost unfathomable scale into something that might be comprehended through Oaxacan mole, Ethiopian doro wat, and Szechuan toothpick lamb. He maps how immigrant culture has defined, and continues to define, what Los Angeles looks like—and how it tastes." ANGELA GARBES
2. Eye in the Sky
"If Eye in the Sky accomplishes one thing, it's to function as a gripping thriller despite dealing almost exclusively with people staring at screens while talking on the telephone. But if the film accomplishes two things, it also generates awareness of what modern warfare technology looks like (awesome, brimming with unintended consequences), and encourages careful consideration of the ethical liability that comes with this power. What Eye in the Sky doesn't do, however, is provide a faithful portrayal of how those who are in power have weighed that responsibility." MARJORIE SKINNER
3. Embrace of the Serpent
"Embrace of the Serpent is a densely packed, swiftly moving river journey that is constantly nodding at beloved cinematic tropes. The Colombian film, nominated for best foreign language film at this year's Academy Awards, brings up images of Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo and even Deliverance, by a short stretch of the imagination. Insanity inspired by the river and its surrounding wilderness, cultural conflict left behind and reencountered, and the punctuated momentum (alternating moments of paddling serenity with the anticipation of climbing ashore) all feel comforting—and like a part of a film that will soon join the ranks of our many river-based artistic landmarks." JULIA RABAN
This family drama with an astonishingly low budget, written and directed by Trey Edward Schults, blew audiences away at the SXSW Film Festival in 2015.
5. The Wizard of Oz
The beloved tale of a young girl who travels to a faraway land and kills the first person she encounters. (It proceeds from there, and is forever awesome.)
Inspired by King Lear and centered around a Sengoku-era warlord, this critically acclaimed 1985 film directed by Akira Kurosawa is considered his last epic.
7. The Silence of the Lambs
David Schmader called Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs “the scariest movie ever to win a best picture Oscar,” so if you somehow haven’t seen it, prepare for acting and directing that will leave you truly unsettled.
8. 10 Cloverfield Lane
"It starts conventionally: with a crash. Our heroine, Michelle, is driven off the road by a truck and careens into a nearby ditch. She twists and turns and flips – then, for the next two hours, 10 Cloverfield Lane takes us through its own wild ride. Essentially, what Dan Trachtenberg (a new face to the directing scene) has done is presented a compelling genre movie in a blender. Thriller and sci-fi. Sci-fi and mystery. Mystery and horror. They combine and intertwine and coexist so fluently, it's often difficult to tell what kind of movie you're seeing. But one thing's for certain: It's damn good stuff." JACOB LICHTY
9. The Big Short
"The most important film in the 2016 Oscar race is The Big Short, which has five nominations, one of which is for best picture. The reason for its importance is the relevance of its subject matter—the greed, stupidity, and corruption that led to the collapse of the financial markets in 2008." CHARLES MUDEDE
10. The Bronze
"The Bronze is a mutant baby of a movie that shouldn’t work as well as it does (though as the X-Men have proven, mutants can be cute, too). In Bryan Buckley’s clunky if affecting debut, the jerk-com melds with the rom-com in the tiny blonde form of Hope Ann Greggory (four-feet-eleven cowriter Melissa Rauch), a former Olympic gymnast whose post-athletic existence is so empty that she spanks it to a video of her 2004 bronze-winning routine." KATHY FENNESSY
11. The Confirmation
"The Confirmation doesn't whip up anything you haven't tasted before, but like a home-cooked meal, its warmth and consistency make up for any missing spiciness. A sweet, gentle riff on Bicycle Thieves, it's the directorial debut of screenwriter (and Stranger Genius Award finalist) Bob Nelson. Like his Nebraska, it's a father-son story told with streaks of bleak humor." NED LANNAMANN
12. Hail, Caesar!
"It doesn't matter that Hail, Caesar! barely hangs together. It's too much fun to watch. With Hail, Caesar!, [Joel and Ethan Coen] have foregone the brow furrowing and decided to revel in their favorite topic of all—movies. In what amounts to little more than an extended string of cameos and hilarious set pieces, Hail, Caesar! is a firm, feature-length pinch on Hollywood's swollen, self-absorbed posterior.” NED LANNAMANN
13. Hello, My Name is Doris
"Michael Showalter’s Hello, My Name Is Doris banks on [Sally Field's] mix of insecurity and charm to winning, if discomforting, effect...What starts out as Harold and Maude by way of Marvin's Room ends like a John Hughes tale with an ever-so-slightly older heroine." KATHY FENNESSY
14. How to Be Single
"Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the filmmakers focus-grouped my approximate demographic of women and attached sensors to us to see what made our hearts, brains, and nether regions tingle, then checked what we hearted on Tumblr, and then crammed all that shit into one movie with a crowd-pleasing soundtrack. Is this a cheap grab at our base emotions? Yes. Is it effective? Abso-fucking-lutely." ELINOR JONES
15. Knight of Cups
"Leaning hard into Malick's trend toward abstraction, Knight of Cups—which deals with things as tangible as sex and earthquakes, but also spends time in orbit, watching auroras twist across the surface of the earth—can feel like watching Malick try to out-Malick Malick. True, Knight of Cups might not be for everybody—hell, it definitely won't be for everybody—but for those of us who have followed Malick this far, it can feel like nothing less than a gift." ERIK HENRIKSEN
16. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
"WTF is well-cast, is what I'm saying, which is key for a film that seems unable to decide if it is a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy, or a serious tale of war, or an unlikely romance, or, IDK, an episode of This American Life? SURE. It's uneven. But what's utterly convincing is that somehow, this good-but-not-great movie has accurately captured that particular moment when a reporter discovers the ineffable joy of chasing a high-stakes story for the first time." MEGAN BURBANK
17. The Witch
"The long wait for The Witch, the darling of last year’s Sundance Film Festival (which won Robert Eggers the best director award), has been worth it. If you like your horror smart, slow-burning, and suffused with allegorical dread, then you can’t do better than this dark folktale of colonialism, religion, family, and nature gone amok in 1630s New England." SEAN NELSON
"Zootopia may ostensibly be an animated buddy cop flick with a few winks to Chinatown, but it's also chock full of smart, incisive observations on race and gender, as well as front-loaded with tons of laughs and heart. Disney is doing better." WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY