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Don’t miss these modern classics.
When it comes to premium cable, there’s HBO, and everyone else is playing for second. Showtime has a surprisingly solid stable of streaming options accessible through its namesake streaming service and Showtime Anytime platform, a nice blend of current and classic releases. Showtime offers selections that feel more like discoveries, or something you wouldn’t immediately go to. It’s a good place to be in when you’re looking for something new.
The best movies on Showtime
1) Pulp Fiction
Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. “Miserlou” and “Jungle Boogie.” Royale with Cheese. Great vengeance and furious anger. “Bad Motherfucker.” Few movies have an impact on pop culture the way Pulp Fiction has. Twenty-five years later, we’re still quoting, referencing, and stealing from it, much like Quentin Tarantino stole from others to create his great cinematic pastiche back in 1994. The story consists of three non-linear, interwoven narratives, largely focusing on the grisly exploits of two hitmen, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson). As with all of Tarantino’s best films, Pulp Fiction is twisted, darkly hilarious, and incessantly entertaining. Now, say you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction again. I dare you, I double dare you, motherfucker. —Chris Osterndorf
2) Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds may not be Quentin Tarantino’s most iconic film (that would be Pulp Fiction). Nor is it his most fun (that would probably be Jackie Brown). Nor is it his most stylish (the Kill Bills), his most socially conscious (Django Unchained), his most tightly scripted (Reservoir Dogs), or even his longest (The Hateful Eight). Yet it’s possible that Inglourious Basterds is his best. He says as much himself with the film’s winking last line, delivered into the camera by Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine: “I think this just might be my masterpiece.” Inglourious Basterds is a cinematic declaration for the ages. The performances, writing, and directing are all immaculate. More surprising is that the movie feels almost like a play at moments, with certain scenes stretching on for a half an hour at a time. —C.O.
3) Baby Driver
Edgar Wright’s car-chase thriller has at least one advantage over the classic films it’s toasting: a killer soundtrack. Music is the foundation of Baby Driver, which stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a stoic getaway driver who choreographs his turns and peel-outs with his iPod. Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Lily James co-star, and at times the movie is more like a musical than a caper. —Audra Schroeder
4) The Death of Stalin
Armando Iannucci perfected the bumbling power struggle with Veep, and he funnels that talent into an ensemble satire about Joseph Stalin. After the Russian dictator’s 1953 death, his inner circle—including Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, and Jeffrey Tambor—bumbles around trying to figure out who’s next, alternately grieving and plotting. —A.S.
5) There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 film is as representative of his work as any of his masterpieces. Daniel Day-Lewis gives an all-time performance as Daniel Plainview, a prospector of unlimited ambition. There Will Be Blood is a big, sprawling movie that tells a specific story, but it’s also timeless. Any film that turns something as innocuous as a milkshake into an iconic cinematic moment is worth watching. —Eddie Strait
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6) The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project is one of the most important horror films of all time. Its critical and box office success speak to the film’s popularity at the time of its release, but 20 years later, it still holds up. It’s about three young filmmakers who get lost in the woods and go through some scary business. Much of the film’s genius derives from its simplicity. Presented as found footage and with unknown actors, it’s easy to get sucked in alongside the characters as they go deeper into the night and the mythology. —E.S.
Screenwriter Will Reiser tells the story of his own battle with cancer in 50/50. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 27-year-old with nothing but opportunity in front of him when he falls ill. The movie follows a traditional path, with Will battling the disease and the emotional and existential reckoning that comes with it. Gordon-Levitt is tremendous, and Seth Rogen does some of his best work as Adam’s best friend Kyle (echoing his real-life friendship with Reiser), and Anjelica Huston is devastating as Will’s mother. The movie finds plenty of humor in Adam’s situation, but don’t forget to have a box of tissues close by. —E.S.
8) Den of Thieves
A lot of movies want to be Heat, but sometimes it’s okay to just be yourself, and Den of Thieves is at its best when it’s being itself. The L.A.-set crime epic pits a crew of robbers, led by Ray (Pablo Schreiber), against Sheriff Nick (Gerard Butler) and his elite team of officers. The biggest star here is director Christian Gudegast, who shoots action well and knows how to construct a scene to maximize tension, best exemplified by the film’s centerpiece heist sequence. Catch up with Den of Thieves now before it fulfills its destiny and becomes a basic cable staple. —E.S.
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9) Blood Fest
Rooster Teeth’s Blood Fest is a tribute to horror movies, and it’s hoping you get the references. The film follows Dax (Robbie Kay), who’s had an obsession with horror since his mother was murdered on Halloween night by one of his father’s deranged patients. He’s secured tickets to the titular Blood Fest for himself and his friends, Sam (Seychelle Gabriel) and Krill (Jacob Batalon). Once they arrive at the festival, things quickly start to go wrong, as it’s revealed ringmaster Anthony Walsh (director Owen Egerton) is filming his own horror movie and murdering the attendees for content. —A.S.
10) Jackie Brown
Quentin Tarantino’s only film adapted from someone else’s work (Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch) is a striking departure from the rest of his oeuvre. It has all the hallmarks of a QT film: crackling dialogue, rampant racial slurs, casual violence, and an impeccable soundtrack. But it’s also his most mature film. Pam Grier plays the titular character who gets caught up in an investigation targeting her boss, Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson). Everyone has an angle, and it’s the kind of movie where if you are trying to play someone, you’re getting played. —E.S.
11) Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach is having an incredibly prolific late career—churning out Greenberg, The Squid and the Whale, Mistress America, Margot at the Wedding, and While We’re Young in an amazing decade-long stretch. During that span, he also made Frances Ha, a riff on Annie Hall as seen through the lens of Godard, Truffaut, and the masters of the French New Wave. Instead of watching a couple slowly drift apart, Baumbach tracks the dissolution of a best friendship between Frances (Greta Gerwig, in her star-making role) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner). It’s not only a lovely Woody Allen homage but one of cinema’s best portraits of millennial disaffection to date. —Nico Lang
12) Punch-Drunk Love
Between this film and Judd Apatow’s Funny People, Adam Sandler has delivered two performances that deconstruct the comic persona he honed on Saturday Night Live and in his ‘90s comedies. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, Sandler plays Barry Egan, a socially awkward man prone to violent outbursts. A chance encounter with a woman in need of a favor (a terrific Emily Watson) helps bring Barry out of his shell. Anderson mixes the dark and absurd parts of the film with humor in that way only he can, and the result is pretty special. —E.S.
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Doug Liman’s Go is a snappy bit of entertainment. It tells three interlocking stories set at Christmas Eve, but these stories aren’t jolly. There’s the desperate grocery store employee who sells drugs to make rent and get on a drug dealer’s bad side, the gay couple working as police informants, and a group of guys cutting loose in Vegas. John August’s script is clever and interlocks the stories in surprising ways. Go is a blast of pure fun. —E.S.
This is one of the finest, kookiest, and most underrated Nic Cage joints around. Cage stars as John Koestler, an M.I.T. professor who discovers a link between a seemingly random set of numbers and past and future disasters. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, John must stop what is preordained before it’s too late. Knowing is a movie that constantly ups the stakes and upends audience expectations. It goes to some truly wild places, anchored by solid work from Cage, lively direction from Alex Proyas, and a script that just won’t quit. —E.S.
15) I Feel Pretty
The premise of this film was certainly enough to get people riled up: A woman named Renee (Amy Schumer) struggles with her body image until one day, she takes a spill and wakes up with a newfound, ironclad sense of confidence. It’s a formula that peaked in the ’80s and ’90s to be sure, and critics called out the movie’s message of superficiality over acceptance and self-love, but I Feel Pretty quietly calls out how people treat women who assert that they’re beautiful no matter what. Beyond that premise, I Feel Pretty does have some comedic moments, thanks to fellow standup comedian Rory Scovel as Renee’s love interest and supporting work from Aidy Bryant and Busy Phillips. —A.S.
New to cord-cutting? Here are our picks for the best movie streaming sites of 2018 and free live TV apps and channels. If you’re looking for a specific channel, here’s how to watch HBO, Showtime, Starz, ESPN, AMC, FX, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, FS1, TBS, Golf Channel, and NFL RedZone without cable, as well as free movies on YouTube.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.