6. The Way of the Gun
Now Streaming on Netflix

Release Date: 2000

Genre: Crime-Thriller

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Benicio del Toro, Juliette Lewis, Taye Diggs, Nicky Katt, Scott Wilson, James Caan

Before he became one of the best action movie directors with the Mission: Impossible franchise, Christopher McQuarrie made his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun. It didn’t go so well…at least in terms of box office. The film was such a financial dud that McQuarrie wouldn’t direct again until 2012’s Jack Reacher. But forget box office: The Way of the Gun is damned good. It’s a violent, expertly plotted modern day Western, and McQuarrie stages it excellently – there’s an incredibly slow car chase sequence in the middle of the movie that has to be seen to be believed.

Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro are a pair of low-rent criminals in need of a big score. They find it when they decide to kidnap a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) who is pregnant with the child of an extremely wealthy criminal. The duo pull off the kidnapping, but things begin to go really wrong, really fast, and getting the desired ransom money isn’t going to be a piece of cake. It all builds towards a bloody, lengthy shootout sequence that travels through streets, buildings, and more. This is a brutal, unforgiving, often harsh movie – which might be the reason it failed at the box office, since trailers sold it as more of a dark comedy. If you can stomach the nastiness McQuarrie is putting on display here, you’ll find a lean, mean movie worth reappraisal.

For fans of: Jack ReacherButch Cassidy and the Sundance KidNatural Born Killers, creative articulation.


7. Cinderella Man
Now Streaming on Netflix

Release Date: 2005

Genre: Drama

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger and Paul Giamatti

Cinderella Man flopped like a KO’d boxer hitting the canvas, and that’s unfortunate. Because this is one of Ron Howard‘s best movies. In fact, it might be the very best. This is the story of James J. Braddock, a professional boxer who had to give up the sport after breaking his hand. But as the U.S. succumbs to the great depression, Braddock finds it harder and harder to find enough work to feed his family. So he decides to climb back into the ring, and box his way to fortune. Russell Crowe turns in a memorable performance as Braddock, playing him a soft-spoken, slow-moving man who just happens to be able to beat the shit out of people with ease. Ron Howard often gets a lot of guff as workman director, but Cinderella Man proves he has the goods, and can deliver a style all of his own. The movie looks incredible, with Howard getting up close and personal in the ring during the fights, and portraying Braddock’s sorry, weary life outside the ring as well. Salvatore Totino‘s cinematography is awash in slate grays, sea greens, muddy browns, and inky blacks, and the movie has a lived-in feel as a result. And then there’s Thomas Newman‘s lovely, lovely score. This film is a feast – enjoy it.

For fans of: RockyThe FighterAli, Paul Giamatti yelling.


8. The Brothers Bloom
Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Release Date: 2008

Genre: Comedy-Drama

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi

You all know Rian Johnson, right? He’s the guy who ruined Star Wars (I’m kidding – The Last Jedi is great, don’t even think of @ing me). Before Johnson became a big budget filmmaker, he started small. His debut Brick is like bottled lightning, and he followed it up with The Brothers BloomBloom is not Johnson’s best – Brick, Looper and The Last Jedi are all better. But it’s a fascinating film in its own right, primarily because Johnson hasn’t made a film like it since.

Brothers Bloom is a caper film…and yet not. Two con artist brothers (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) reunite after years apart for one big job: swindling a slightly, possibly crazy heiress (Rachel Weisz). It should be an easy gig, but it doesn’t work out right, primarily because Brody’s character falls in love with Weisz. Johnson’s plotting here is a bit off – the film plays a lot with deception and perception, so it’s never entirely clear if what’s happening is really happening, and that gets frustrating after a while. But the leads are charming as hell – Weisz in particular is a hoot as the goofy heiress, and Rinko Kikuchi is dynamite as a silent demolitions expert. Johnson would go on to bigger, and better, things. But The Brothers Bloom, with its whimsical atmosphere giving way to darkness, is an interesting pit-stop along the path of his career.

For fans of: RushmorePunch-Drunk LoveLogan Lucky, sudden explosions.


9. Hostiles
Now Streaming on Netflix

Release Date: 2017

Genre: Anti-Western

Director: Scott Cooper

Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, and Timothée Chalamet

Despite its prestigious cast, Hostiles didn’t make much of an impact when it rode into theaters last year. Maybe that’s because the film is so unrelentingly bleak. The first ten minutes of the film alone involve small children being massacred, as if to tip you off to what type of movie you’re about to see. Scott Cooper‘s anti-Western borders on tripping into misery-porn territory, but he pulls back enough to make it all somehow bearable. Christian Bale plays a racist army captain tasked with transporting a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi, incredible here) back to his home. Bale begrudgingly agrees to the assignment, and along the way he and his party come across a traumatized widow (Rosamund Pike). And just when you think you know where Hostiles is going, it travels off in another direction. There’s violence and rage here, but there’s also introspection. There’s an unexpected humanity that begins to find its way out from under all the bloodshed and hatred.

For fans of: Unforgiven, The New WorldRide with the Devil, Christian Bale’s facial hair.


10. Cropsey
Now Streaming on Hulu

Release Date: 2009

Genre: Documentary

Director: Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio

Cast: Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio

Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s documentary Cropsey is part mystery, part horror. The duo set out to chronicle the story of Cropsey, a mythical boogeyman who is said to prey on children on Staten Island. Along the way, however, the filmmakers strike upon something bigger. The story becomes less about the murder mystery, and more about myth-making, and the spread of urban legend. They also come across the story of Andre Rand, a Staten Island man convicted of killing children. Is Rand the inspiration for the Cropsey legend? Is Rand even guilty? Cropsey is rough around the edges – this isn’t a polished, high-profile documentary. But that roughness contributes to the success of the film. There’s a DIY-atmosphere, which draws us in, and makes us feel as if we’re right there with the filmmakers as they get deeper and deeper into the story.

For fans of: Killer LegendsThe BurningThe Poughkeepsie Tapes, Staten Island accents.


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