Movies that are practically flawless

Filmmaking is an insanely difficult process. There are so many people involved, each with their own creative vision, that it can be hard getting everyone on the same page. Plus, you've got to deal with issues ranging from financing to scheduling to on-set accidents. 

With all the rewrites, test screenings, and last-minute edits, it's amazing that any film gets made at all. As a result, there are a lot of movies that are just mediocre. But every so often, everything lines up just perfectly. Get the right screenplay with the right director with the right cast and crew, and you just might get a perfect film. These movies are few and far between, but when they come along, you know right away you've found a flawless film.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Surrealism has had several cinematic champions over the years, from Luis Buñuel to Alejandro Jodorowsky, but the modern-day master of the movement is David Lynch. The man has a real knack for mining the subconscious and creating terrifying nightmare imagery. For example, there's Eraserhead and the third season of Twin Peaks, but if you want to see Lynch at the height of his mind-bending powers, then check out his magnum opus, Mulholland Drive.

Explaining the plot is like trying to describe a deep and disturbing dream. The film begins when an innocent actress named Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood with hopes of making it big. She soon stumbles into a strange plot involving a beautiful brunette (Laura Elena Harring) suffering from amnesia, but as Roger Ebert pointed out in his original review, Mulholland Drive ditches traditional plot and instead "works directly on the emotions, like music." After all, the mass majority of the movie is an actual dream, and by working through a woman's heartbroken subconscious, Lynch explores the dark machinations of Hollywood and how often our grandiose goals give way to despair.

And while you're sifting through all this dream logic — what's up with the blue key and the blue box? — Lynch keeps you glued to the screen with mesmerizing sequences like the Club Silencio musical number, Betty's jaw-dropping audition, and the eerie moment when a cocky director (Justin Theroux) encounters the world's creepiest cowboy. And then, of course, there's one of the scariest scenes in Hollywood history, a masterclass in tension that involves nothing more than two men in a diner. Couple all that with Naomi Watts' powerhouse of a performance, and it's no wonder the BBC named this surrealist masterpiece the greatest film of the 21st century so far.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Michel Gondry is a director known for his whimsy and magical imagination. Charlie Kaufman is a screenwriter known for his pessimism and insane originality. When the two combined their cinematic powers in 2004, they created an all-time great romance that was brave enough to take a long, hard look at the ugly side of love and how relationships actually work.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind stars Jim Carrey as Joel Barish, a lonely, shy man who meets an outgoing woman named Clementine (Kate Winslet). After their relationship takes a rocky turn, Clementine undergoes a process to wipe the memories of Joel from her mind. Hurt, Joel undergoes the same procedure, but as the technicians erase his memories of Clementine, Joel changes his mind and decides to fight back, desperately stashing memories of his ex-girlfriend away in his subconscious.

Using a shocking amount of practical effects, this inventive romance skips through time and dances in and out of memories, as Joel re-lives both the happy and horrible moments of his relationship, all while discovering the cause of the breakup. Kaufman's clever sci-fi script won an Academy Award, and with Gondry at the helm, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind boldly explores what happens when the fresh, new shine wears off a romance, and the couple is left dealing with each others' faults and flaws. The film doesn't ignore the pain and pitfalls of making a relationship work, and by examining the different stages of romance, this is a movie that changes and grows with each and every viewing.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Over 35 years after Night of the Living Dead, Edgar Wright resurrected the zombie genre with Shaun of the Dead, a romantic comedy featuring Queen, cannibals, and cricket paddles. Wright's film took the dead genre and brought it back to life, giving it a comic twist. Of course, he didn't scrimp on the gore either — Shaun of the Dead is the perfect combo of laughs, scares, and tear-jerking drama.

The story follows a slacker named Shaun (Simon Pegg) who's forced to grow up when the zombie apocalypse descends upon his little British town. With the help of his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), Shaun goes on a quest to save his friends and family, rescue his relationship, and work out some long-simmering issues with his stepdad. Thanks to Wright's expert use of editing and music, the movie is filled with brilliant comic touches, from the record tossing battle to the "Don't Stop Me Now" showdown. And with Pegg and Wright penning the screenplay, Shaun of the Dead is basically the blueprint of how to write the perfect comedy. Just listen to that Nick Frost monologue that sets up the rest of the film. It's brilliant.

But all laughs and no feels make for a boring movie, and that's where Shaun of the Dead rises above your typical horror-comedy. Sure, the characters are goofy, but they're real, so when they experience pain and sadness, the movie lets us cry along with them. The moment when Shaun confronts his zombified mom is absolutely agonizing, and if you don't shed a few tears during Ed and Shaun's final goodbye, well, you just might be one of the undead. While it's wonderfully edited and tightly scripted, Shaun of the Dead works so well because it's a movie with a whole lot of heart.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

In retrospect, it seems like Wes Anderson's entire career was building up The Grand Budapest Hotel. It was his highest-grossing film, one of his most critically beloved movies, and it marked the first time Anderson ever received an Oscar nomination for directing. So what was behind the movie's popularity?

It's the perfect blend of all things Anderson, from his meticulous world-building and witty dialogue to the melancholy air that hovers over all of his films. But here, he takes things even further, using multiple timelines and aspect ratios to explore nostalgia, manners, and European history, all while walking a tightrope between old world innocence and post-World War II pessimism. It's a whimsical tale with horror on the horizon, where our heroes get to have one last madcap adventure before polite society crumbles.

The plot involves a lobby boy named Zero (Tony Revolori) who comes to work for the flamboyant and foul-mouthed Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) at the Grand Budapest Hotel. Located in the snowy European hills, the hotel is one of Anderson's greatest creations, popping with pastel colors and intricate rooms, all perfectly designed for this fantasy world. Eventually, Zero and Gustave are sucked into a crime involving a dead countess, a valuable painting, and a terrifying thug, and as the movie hurdles forward, Anderson gives us macabre comedy, stylized action scenes, and some of the most lovably quirky characters of his career.

Seriously, where else are you going to see a stop-motion ski chase, a prison break involving pastries, and secret society of colorful concierges? With a brilliant lead performance from Fiennes (put this man in more comedies, please), The Grand Budapest Hotel is a fanciful breath of fresh air in a world full of big-budget superhero flicks. It's proof that style and substance can go hand-in-hand — or at the very least, the two can sustain the illusion with a marvelous grace.

Creed (2015)

A lot of people were skeptical when they heard there was going to be a new installment in the Rocky franchise, but when Ryan Coogler's sophomore film hit theaters, critics and fans alike were pleasantly surprised by the movie's knockout power. It wasn't just "an okay sequel." It was the best entry in the series since the 1976 original, and as the folks at Cinefix point out, the seventh film in the franchise was "a Hollywood primer on how to pass a torch."

With Michael B. Jordan as the lead, Creed focuses on Adonis Creed, the son of the late great champ Apollo Creed. Adonis is eager to fight and desperate to prove himself, and he turns to the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) for help. As Adonis boxes his way to a title shot, Ryan Coogler builds on the franchise mythology in exciting ways. For example, he puts a new twist on the obligatory running scene, giving the moment new power and emotional punch. And then there's the moment when Adonis goes to battle the champ, and the famous Rocky theme starts playing. As film critic Siddhant Adlakha points out, it's "the most earned nostalgia callback of all time" because "it resonates thematically and the whole movie builds up to it."

But Coogler also manages to take the franchise in a new direction with an exciting new main character. Michael B. Jordan is on his A game here, giving us a hero who's not a Rocky Balboa clone but a protagonist with his own unique goals. And the film is full of its own unique moments, like the virtuoso one-shot boxing match and the gut punch of a sequence during which Adonis shadowboxes against old footage of his dad. Creed was an underdog movie that defied everyone's expectations, and it can hold its own with the greatest sequels of all time.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The action genre is one of the purest forms of cinema. Sure, you can describe fight scenes in a book, and you can do some cool stuff on the stage, but action scenes and movie cameras were made for each other. Over the past century or so, the action genre has given us some truly impressive films, from The Great Train Robbery (1903) to Black Panther (2018). But if you want to boil the genre down to its adrenaline-soaked essence and watch a movie made of nitro, gasoline, and kinetic energy, look no further than Mad Max: Fury Road.

Directed by George Miller, Fury Road finds Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) teaming up with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to rescue five sex slaves from the local warlord (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his army of Flamers, Polecats, and Warboys. The escape attempt launches a massive car chase across the desert, one that took more than 150 stunt people to film. Over 300 sequences were shot, mostly in the Namib desert, and according to Miller, around 90 percent of the stunts we see are real. There are motorcycles soaring over trucks, men swinging back and forth on giant poles, and in one scene, there are 75 vehicles tearing across the sand, under the careful eye of Miller and his stunt coordinator Guy Norris.

In addition to the explosions and car wrecks, Miller and cinematographer John Seale made a movie that's so beautiful it belongs in an art museum. There's the eerie image of the steering wheel shrine, the heart-wrenching shot of Furiosa sinking into the sand, and the breathtaking moment when the armada plows into a sand storm. The blue night sequences are indescribably gorgeous, and the world-building is, well, out of this world. Miller created a universe populated with granny bikers, Crow Fishers, and teenage warriors who dream of Valhalla. In short, Fury Road might be the perfect action movie.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Some movies are meant to entertain, while others have something important to say. And then there are films that can help us process powerful emotions we'd rather not face, like grief. Filmmakers have explored the subject in various genres, from fantasy (What Dreams May Come) and thriller (The Invitation) to straight-up drama (In the Bedroom). But when it comes to dealing with pain and loss, Manchester by the Sea might be the most agonizing of all.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an isolated and irritable janitor who returns to his hometown after his brother's death. But going home poses a lot of problems for Lee. Not only is he shocked to learn that he's now guardian of his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges), but Lee is also struggling to keep the past at bay. We don't want to give away too much of the plot, but there's a reason that going home is the last thing Lee wants to do. Every sight and sound reminds him of something truly tragic that happened years ago, an event so horrible that he might never recover.

Affleck won an Oscar for his performance here, as did Lonergan for Best Original Screenplay, and the two truly deserved their little gold statues. Every gesture Affleck makes, every line he doesn't say, just aches with pain. (And gigantic props to Hedges and Michelle Williams, who were both nominated for stellar performances.) And while the film is full of uncomfortably comic moments — the humor here is unbearably dark — Manchester by the Sea grapples with grief in a way that most movies wouldn't dare. It's a beautifully brutal film about living with pain forever, and the last 20 minutes might be the most devastating 20 minutes ever filmed.

Silence (2016)

From Ingmar Bergman to Darren Aronofsky, filmmakers have often pondered two important spiritual questions: is there a god, and if so, what does he want? And while Martin Scorsese is best known for his gangster films, he's spent a lot of time trying to answer these questions. In 1988, he took a new look at the Gospels with The Last Temptation of Christ, and nearly 30 years later, Scorsese returned to Christianity with Silence, a movie about a man's crisis of faith when it seems he's been forsaken by God.

It took around 28 years for Scorsese to bring Silence to the big screen, which makes the movie feel like an act of faith itself. The plot involves two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who sneak into Japan to find a missing mentor (Liam Neeson) who's supposedly committed apostasy. When Garfield's priest is captured by the Japanese, he finds himself forced with a difficult decision: Recant and risk damnation, or watch as his fellow Christians are tortured to death. But when he turns to God for help, there are no answers, no miracles, and our hero feels as if he's being crushed by God's silence.

Silence is beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto, who contrasts the beauty of Japan with the brutality of crucified men drowning in the sea. The score composed by Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge is shocking in its simplicity, relying on the sounds of nature. And Garfield and Neeson are perfect as tortured priests — when they meet, their battle of pride and pain is like attending Acting 101. But ultimately, as Richard Roeper wrote in his review, Silence explores the nature of faith: how it can inspire both hope and cruelty, how it can rip apart lives and give others the strength to soldier on, despite the doubts.

The Witch (2016)

One of the most disturbing horror movies in recent memory, The Witch tells the story of a Puritan family fighting for their lives — and against each other — when a supernatural force attacks their isolated farmhouse. Gorgeously shot and designed, The Witch feels like it was crafted by a veteran director, but this was actually Robert Eggers' very first movie. While he was just a rookie, The Witch is the very definition of a flawless film, especially when it comes to getting every detail just right.

Speaking with Wired, Eggers explained his unique ideas when it came to making The Witch. "Everything in the frame," Eggers said, "needs to be like I'm articulating my memory of this moment. Like, this was my childhood as a Puritan, and I remember that day my dad took me into a cornfield and what he smelled like." So how can you capture a "memory" like that? By doing lots and lots of research. Eggers spent four years studying the Puritan lifestyle and reading firsthand accounts of demonic possession. He even borrowed actual dialogue from supposed supernatural encounters. Talking to Indiewire, Eggers revealed that some of the lines "the children say [in the film] when they are possessed are things real children were alleged to have said when they were possessed."

Eggers also got super involved when it came to sets and props. The costumes were hand-sewn, and the furniture was built just like the Puritans used to do it. And even though he was shooting in Canada, Eggers brought in a thatcher from Virginia who specialized in 17th-century roofs. Eggers wanted everything perfect, but in addition to all the details, the first-time director managed to get incredible performances from every member of his cast, including young children and a 210-pound goat. And if a movie can make livestock scary, then you know you've got an instant horror classic on your hands.

Get Out (2017)

Movies can either represent you and your experiences, or they can put you in somebody else's shoes. And then there are movies like Get Out that do both. For African-Americans, Get Out works — like Jordan Peele described it — as a documentary. It's a fictional version of the horrors black people experience every day. For everyone else, it shows what it's really like to be a person of color living in a white world. It also doesn't hurt that Get Out has a killer script, sharp directing, and an Oscar-worthy lead performance from Daniel Kaluuya.

The story follows a young black photographer named Chris (Kaluuya) who goes to meet the family of his white girlfriend. From the moment he shows up at their estate — cared for by black servants — everything seems off. Maybe it's just the ill-advised jokes, weird looks, and casual racist vibes he gets from the parents…or maybe there's some serious Ira Levin stuff going on behind the scenes. This is Peele's directorial debut, but you wouldn't know it the way he draws out the tension until everything explodes in a bloody mess of jiu-jitsu, tea cups, and deer antlers. And Peele's screenplay is top-notch, full of clever touches (the rich villain uses a silver spoon; Chris escapes his white captors using cotton) and lots of eerie foreshadowing ("black mold" in the basement). Plus, it has one of the best horror endings of this century so far.

Sure, the movie evens things out with plenty of laughs, mostly courtesy of Lil Rel Howery. But at its core, Get Out is a terrifying film that looks at the real horrors of American society. Thanks to Peele's mastery behind the camera, and Kaluuya's ability to keep us both grounded and worried throughout the madness, Get Out will continue freaking out audiences so long as people find themselves trapped in the Sunken Place.