Natalie Portman in Annihilation

Natalie Portman is always proving herself.

It’s not a conscious effort, not some desperate act of retribution. There’s nothing cloying or even necessarily deliberate about her methods of reinvention, if you can even call it that. She’s been a professional actress since she was 11 years old. She’s a Harvard graduate, a wife and mother, an Oscar winner. Her career is peppered with both high-caliber performances and less sexy – but certainly more impressive – scientific accolades. She’s a woman who’s starred in three Star Wars films and penned an academic study called “Frontal lobe activation during object permeance: data from near-infrared spectroscopy.”

And yet, she still feels under-appreciated, occasionally disregarded. Her new film, Annihilation, is a reminder that she’s one of the finest, and most interesting, actresses working right now.

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The Best Superhero Movies You Can Stream Right Now

Movies Coming to Netflix

There’s never been anything quite like Black Panther before. The latest Marvel movie is one of the first major comic book adaptations with a black lead, and it’s already poised to be one of the franchise’s most successful entries, having sold more advance tickets than any other film in Marvel history. And as Candice Frederick put so eloquently in a piece for /Film, Black Panther is “specifically a black movie that celebrates the strength and beauty of black womanhood in an era in which both get tossed aside.” It may be one-of-a-kind for now, but it will surely usher in a new wave of superhero films that celebrate other races and cultures, and ones that emphasize the power and strength of women.

So yes, Black Panther is a singular film, one that comes at an interesting time in the surge of high-grossing – and occasionally prestigious – superhero flicks. If you’re looking to wade through the waters of what came before, there are a surprising number of excellent-quality superhero flicks currently available on major streaming services. Here are some you can mull over while you wait for your Black Panther screening this weekend.

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The True Story of the Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

In the annals of bizarro American history, there exists a house so notoriously elaborate and kookily constructed that – despite tales of hauntings, accidents, and disorientation – it remains a viable tourist trap to this day. Nestled in the heart of San Jose, California, the Winchester Mystery House has been the subject of intense fascination since its construction in 1884. And for good reason: the house is a literal maze, with staircases that lead nowhere, a custom-made Tiffany window designed to look like a spiderweb, and hidden messages meant to ward off spirits throughout its many tangled rooms.

The new horror movie Winchester, in theaters today, is a fantastical interpretation of the house’s history, with Helen Mirren as the famously offbeat Sarah Winchester. But this is a house so historic and strange, with a backstory full of twists and turns – like the house itself – that the Hollywood version trades in for ghostly apparitions and jump scares. The truth may not be scarier than fiction, but it’s certainly more interesting.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the true story of the Winchester Mystery House: why it was built, what it means, where you might have seen it before, and why it remains a fascinating artifact of American spiritualism.

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The Best Depictions of Cults in Film and Television 

best cult movies

Tonight, the Paramount Network premieres the first installment in a six-part miniseries about real-life cult leader David Koresh and the tragic siege of his compound in Waco, Texas. Waco stars Taylor Kitsch as Koresh and Michael Shannon as FBI agent Gary Noesner, and will dig into the complexities of Koresh’s spiritual sect, the Branch Davidians, including their strange living conditions, and their leader’s penchant for marrying and sleeping with preteen girls. It’s the second fictional portrayal of Koresh in the last few months: Evan Peters’ also briefly tackled the part in an episode of American Horror Story: Cult late last year.

Koresh is having his day in the sun, but public fascination with cults and cult leaders is nothing new. There’s something inherently compelling and cinematic about the mass mania that permits these institutions. It’s a goldmine of character development and analytics, of drama and personal spectacle; a way of lifting the hood on human psychology and playing with the gears.

As cults rage on as potent storytelling devices, we’ve compiled a list of the best-ever depictions of cults and cult mentality in narrative film, documentaries, and television.

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lady bird 3

Lady Bird is a big deal. It’s one of the best-reviewed films of all time, is raking in major awards nominations and wins (like its recent Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Musical/Comedy), has no shortage of famous fans (Stephen Colbert called it one of the best movies he’s ever seen), and has made writer/director Greta Gerwig the figurehead of a movement to better-respect female filmmakers and storytellers. Awards season hype is often prone to hyperbole, but in the case of Lady Bird – a film so soft, quaint, and realized – the praise doesn’t feel like too much. It feels exactly right, if somewhat surprising.

Why is that? I’ve been wondering since I saw the film in early autumn why Lady Bird is so magnetically and universally appealing. Perhaps it’s the relatable aspects: it’s hard to find a woman who doesn’t connect with it in some way, whether it’s through the titular Lady Bird’s idiosyncrasies, her relationship with her mother (played with devastating accuracy by the great Laurie Metcalf), or in Sacramento’s class dynamics. But that’s all surface-level. There are deeper-layer elements of Lady Bird that make a film that, in other years, would be written off as light teenage girl fare rather than a major awards contender.

Here are some of the reasons Lady Bird has transcended its teen genre to become one of the most instantly beloved films in recent years.

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The 10 Best Episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’

breaking bad ozymandias

10 years ago tomorrow, a show with no discernible qualities of longevity aired on AMC, a network that was only a few months into its first tentpole series, Mad Men, and not yet an established ratings and awards player. Breaking Bad arrived without much fanfare; it was midseason, January, a dreary time of year for a show so propulsive and colorful. And though immediately critically acclaimed – Bryan Cranston won a Best Actor Emmy for the first season – it took years to crystalize as a full-blown hit. Now, 10 years later, Breaking Bad is one of the most beloved and valued series of all time, a behemoth that cleared the way for a slew of imitators, and redefined what Golden Age television looks and feels like.

To celebrate the show’s 10-year anniversary, we’re counting down the 10 best episodes it ever produced.

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Awards Contenders You Can Stream From Home Right Now

Awards Contenders streaming

Awards season is officially in gear, with the Golden Globes kicking off a string of fancy red carpets, overflowing bubbly, and office Oscar pools that will carry us straight through to March. It’s a fun time of the year for film fans drawn into the fluffiness of such affairs, but it can also be contentious: everyone has a stake in the gauntlet, and awards season can be brutal to the films we’ve grown closest to as they fight for gold. Any major Oscars fan call tell you that awards season is, at times, downright personal.

It’s also a stressful time of the year for completionists. Unless you’re in a major metro city like Los Angeles or New York, your options are extremely limited. Films like Call Me By Your Name, The Post, and Phantom Thread are still making their way to non-coastal markets, expanding at what feels like a glacial pace for impatient cinephiles.

But thanks to some non-traditional contenders sneaking their way into major awards conversations, and services like Netflix snagging the rights to big-name features, plenty of 2017’s best and most lauded films are already available to stream and rent. Streaming services are also a great place to catch up on the films sure to dominate technical categories, from visual effects to sound to costume design.

If you’re behind on some of 2017’s most celebrated films, or don’t want to leave the house thanks to the gloomy cold, here’s a handy list of what’s currently available for streaming and rental.

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princess leia lives

This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

It’s been one year since we lost Carrie Fisher, and to borrow a sentiment from her “space brother” Mark Hamill, it’s hard to think of her in anything but the present tense. She was so beloved, and so larger-than-life, that death was but a blip in her biography. She will live on forever as a writer, a personality, a mother, godmother, and actress. And she will, of course, always be our cherished princess and general, Leia Organa of the Star Wars universe.

One unfortunate byproduct of her untimely passing was that we’ll never get to see what was meant to be her star turn in Star Wars Episode IX, the script of which is being completely retooled to write Leia out in a way that honors the character. Luckily for J.J. Abrams, the writer/director tasked with bidding Leia adieu, Rian Johnson set up some easy reroutes in the text of The Last Jedi. Near that film’s end, Leia passes the reins of the Resistance to Poe Dameron. She also suffered a near-fatal injury in the film, one she’s still recovering from by the end. Perhaps a worn-down Leia – fresh from the loss of her husband and brother, and troubled by her son’s ascension to the Supreme Leader throne – succumbs to her ailments. Or perhaps she’s taken down in a First Order strike.

Whatever the case, Leia will still be a major part of Episode IX. Part of that is plot, but it’s also in her symbolic influence on all of the women in this era of Star Wars. It was present in The Last Jedi, and it will be present going forward. Here are the hooks she already has in the legacy of the women of Star Wars.

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best female star wars characters

Star Wars is back in full swing with the long-awaited arrival of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the heavily praised eighth entry in the Skywalker saga. The movie picks up just after the events of The Force Awakens, with our newly anointed heroine, Rey, coming face-to-face with Luke Skywalker. Rey was an instant fan-favorite, her strength a subject of intense debate, adoration, and speculation. She enters The Last Jedi as a powerful force to be reckoned with, and as the first female lead of the series, she blazed a trail that paved the way for Jyn Erso in Rogue One, and – hopefully – whole cadres of empowered intergalactic women.

But Rey wasn’t the first (or last) important woman in the world of Star Wars. The previous films – not to the mention the TV shows, books, and comics – are chocked full of a diverse selection of female heroines and villains. In honor of Rey, and The Last Jedi’s two new lady leads – Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico and Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo – we’re counting down the very best female characters in the Star Wars universe.

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halloween movies

Family friendly movies set on Halloween are a dime a dozen, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find true horror films that take place on the holiday. Perhaps it’s an effort to avoid comparisons with John Carpenter’s eponymous Halloween masterpiece, or an attempt to escape cliché. Whatever the case, the few that do make use of the spooky iconography – jack-o-lanterns, costumes, fall colors – are all the more special.

As Halloween fast approaches, here are 11 mood-setting horror films that take place on and make great use of the holiday.

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