10. First Reformed (2018)
The movie: The one where Ethan Hawke somehow wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader writes and directs this story about a small-town pastor, Ernst Toller (Hawke) whose entire life revolves around his parish. Dedicating time each day to pen a brutally-honest diary, Toller finds truth at the bottom of the bottle and a lack of belief steering him towards an ultimatum of faith. Enter newlyweds, Mary and Michael Messana, who shake up Toller’s existing beliefs.
Why it’s worth a watch: A real slow-burn that champions the big moments in life that come to define us, you won’t anticipate the twists and turns that occur, because they feel so at odds with the tone of the movie. It’s these risky story decisions that, in places, echo Taxi Driver.
9. You Were Never Really Here (2018)
Region: UK, US
The movie: Probably not one to watch when you need a pick-me-up, this 2017 thriller from Lynne Ramsay focuses on the life of a New York City hitman played by Joaquin Phoenix. A contract killer, Joe dispenses with his targets for crummy wages and with a hammer, adding a dose of up-close brutality to his work that contrasts massively with his down-time which he typically spends with his ageing mother. When a Senator’s teenage daughter is believed to have been kidnapped, Joe is summoned to track her down, and to bring her captors to justice.
Why it’s worth a watch: Aside from its captivating central performance by Joaquin Phoenix, you should be checking this out for the stellar work of Ramsay, who continues to deliver unusual takes on darker topics. You might have seen similar issues dealt with on screen, but none with such a unique and unflinching approach. Oh, and did I mention it’s only 90 minutes?
8. Eighth Grade (2018)
The movie: At last, a movie that approaches early adolescence with a certain degree of seriousness. That’s not to say Eighth Grade isn’t funny, because it is packed with humour and charm, most of which hails from newcomer Elsie Fisher who unveils her mastery of awkwardness as Kayla Day. Even whilst suffering through her own social anxieties, Kayla attempts to better herself and her peers by offering advice through her vlog, and even taking her own pointers in order to get more friends and make it through the school year.
Why it’s worth a watch: Writer-director Bo Burnham taps into the reality of what it means to be a 13-year old today in the current culture of sharing every detail of our lives on social media. Really, it’s Fisher’s performance that makes Eighth Grade such a winning watch. She truly illuminates the struggle of adolescence, from the very first scene through to the last, letting us witness up-close those battles that seem life-or-death when you’re a kid.
7. Hereditary (2018)
Region: UK, US
The movie: The most critically-praised horror movie of recent years is also one of the best movies on Amazon Prime. Ari Aster’s directorial debut is a compelling concoction of family battles, claustrophobic crafting, and some of the best acting you’ll never see on an Oscar ballot. Toni Collette leads the stellar cast as Annie Graham, a woman racked with grief following the death of her mother. Will grief bring her closer to her husband, her son, or her daughter? One thing’s for certain, there’s plenty of domestic drama to come, but you won’t expect any of it.
Why it’s worth a watch: It takes a lot for esteemed horror experts to throw up their hands and say they’re scared witless. That’s exactly what happened with Hereditary, which has proven to be a highly effective method of incurring lifelong insomnia. Aster is a skilled curator of mood, which, when tied together with the horrific events burning through the centre of Hereditary, will shake your very soul.
6. Heat (1995)
The movie: What do you get when you unite two of cinema’s most iconic actors in the same film? Michael Mann’s Heat. Of course, to say this is essential for any film fan purely because of that would be to discount everything else that makes this one of the best action films ever made. It’s also a heist flick, that finds Robert De Niro cast in the role of criminal mastermind Neil McCauley, who’s out to do “one last job” with his crew before calling it a day. On the other side of the law, is Al Pacino’s Lieutenant, who is eager to bring down McCauley and his team.
Why it’s worth a watch: De Niro. Pacino. They’ve since appeared together onscreen, in the lacklustre Righteous Kill, so it’s always a riot to revisit this duo in the mid-90s, especially when they work their magic for that one particular scene. Oh, and the shoot-outs? Epic.
5. Under the Skin (2013)
The movie: A cold, washed-out Glasgow is an unusual location for a cerebral sci-fi flick. But this is Jonathan Glazer's point: weird shit can happen anywhere, so why not there? Scarlett Johansson stars as a perplexed extraterrestrial disguised as a perplexed young woman, who ambles around the Glaswegian streets luring men into her Transit van. Why? Well, you'll have to watch it. Shot using what Glazer calls “covert filming” - most of the movie was lensed undercover to help achieve an extra layer of odd.
Why it’s worth a watch: This is a haunting exercise in painting a mood. Don't go in expecting a dense plot or an clearly-outlined goal and you'll be happy. It also birthed the Scarlett Johansson falling down meme and features the most bizarre response to carrot cake ever.
4. Seven (1995)
The movie: Following a disastrous experience on the set of his first feature, Alien 3, David Fincher swore off studio films. He had no interest. That is, until the script for Seven landed on his desk. Penned by a former record store employee with a penchant for dark cinema, something about Seven caught Fincher’s attention and he climbed aboard. Set in an unnamed, gloomy American city, the story follows two cops, Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) as they pursue a serial killer who models his murders after the seven deadly sins.
Why it’s worth a watch: Remember that surge of serial killer movies in the ‘90s? Seven is the one that started them all. And, like all good trendsetters, it’s stood the test of time, proving that a good twist can be an integral part of the plot and not just a one-and-done gimmick.
3. Carol (2015)
The movie: One of 2015's award darlings deserves all the praise it can get. Adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, the film stars Cate Blanchett as an exotic, affluent housewife who takes a trip to a department store to pick up something for her son, and in the process, completely charms Rooney Mara's shopgirl. From thereon, the pair become friends, quickly realising there is something deeper to their kinship. It's a 1950s piece, through and through, thanks to the costumes and production, but told through a distinct modern lens. Gorgeous and utterly compelling.
Why it's worth a watch: Far From Heaven director Todd Haynes knows how to do period pieces. Every tiny detail of the production is given its time in the spotlight, adding to the love story between the two leads. That in itself is a breath of fresh air, as LGBTQ relationships in cinema are rarely represented this way.
2. Ghost World (2001)
The movie: A superhero-free comic book adaptation, Ghost World revels in the ordinary lives of two high schoolers leading up to graduation. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are on the cusp of adulthood, each possessing very different ideas about where they’re headed, which is what makes the film a unique entry into the teen movie canon: this pair are pals now, yet will they be six months into the future? Does it even matter when right now is all we have? Director Terry Zwigoff works the funniest and most touching moments from the comic panels into a darkly funny modern classic.
Why it’s worth a watch: Zwigoff strikes that perfect balance between flagrant laugh-out-loud humour (see: Illeana Douglas’ art teacher) and quiet poignancy. That’s not an easy tone to master. Birch and Johansson are excellent, channeling their own youth into their characters who are both excited and embittered by the world.
1. Brazil (1985)
The movie: What’s amazing about Terry Gilliam’s slapstick homage to George Orwell’s 1984, is that at time of release it didn’t even scrape back its meagre $15 million dollar-budget. That’s the sign of true genius, though, right? Brazil gives a righteous two fingers to The Man over and over, while telling one of the wackiest stories ever committed to celluloid. Jonathan Price plays Sam Lowry, a miserable worker at the Ministry of Education desperate to break free from the shackles of a totalitarian regime. Daydreaming of rescuing the same woman over and over, as he tries to locate a terrorist, Sam encounters his fictional woman and tries to aid her quest.
Why it’s worth a watch: A surreal, batty takedown of bureaucracy might sound at odds with itself, and to be honest, that’s exactly Gilliam’s point. The dreary dystopian city in which it takes place is driven by automated technological systems that are seldom monitored by humans. In fact, it’s an error caused by one that leads to the movie’s first major plot point. Even at 30 years old, Brazil is eerily prescient about today’s “smart” living.