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Bennett Martinez
Bennett Martinez

Teddy By Aster Rae

Robert is the park director. He and Arnold created Westworld and its Hosts. Robert has one hell of a god complex. He spends the season plotting an explosive (and expensive) new narrative. When it comes time to unveil his masterpiece, he delivers this chilling monologue:

Teddy by Aster Rae

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"Black Swan" writer-director Darren Aronofsky is the great master of the mind-bending modern psychological thriller genre. In an Oscar-winning turn, Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a gifted ballerina vying for the lead in her company's production of "Swan Lake." Nina lives with her overbearing stage mother in a tiny womb of an apartment, her life wholly dedicated to dance. But when she becomes the latest fetish object for the ballet's egotistical director (Vincent Cassel) and starts a psycho-sexual romance with a rebellious fellow dancer (Mila Kunis), the balancing act between her physically grueling career and life of unfulfilled desire begins tearing her apart.

"Blood Simple" is the darkly comic feature debut of the greatest filmmaking duo of the modern era, writer-director siblings Joel and Ethan Coen. In it, small town bar owner Julian hires a private eye to kill his cheating wife, Abby, and her lover, Ray, but the P.I. decides to take the money and just kill Julian instead. When Ray discovers the body, he thinks Abby killed Julian and sloppily tries to cover up the crime. A classic Coen black comedy of bloody errors ensues, all handled with a stylish tongue-in-cheek. The Coens love crime stories about regular people doing wrong, and their first feature feels like a mashup of their masterworks "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men." Revisit this fantastic film. You won't be sorry.

"The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now" director Francis Ford Coppola makes two kinds of films: all-time masterpieces, and small, niche films dedicated to his fixations. "The Conversation" is the latter type, a thoughtful and methodical Watergate-era paranoia thriller. Gene Hackman plays surveillance expert Harry Caul, who is hired by a mysterious client (Harrison Ford) to spy on a young couple. When Harry makes an audio recording of a cryptic conversation that recalls a job that went badly, he becomes convinced that they've all been swept up in a larger conspiracy. Caution: This is not an action-packed spy movie, but rather a subtle psychological thriller that thrives on ambiguity. "The Conversation" wants you to think about its themes more than its plot.

In "Les Diaboliques," cruel headmaster Michel Delassalle runs a boarding school with his wife, Christina, but he's also having an affair with a teacher, Nicole. However, both women hate him. So, Christina and Nicole lure Michel to a meeting, where they drug him, drown him in a bathtub, and then leave his body in a pool so it will appear the death was accidental. And yet, when the pool is drained, Michel is gone and the women are haunted by strange apparitions of this murdered man. This excellent French psychological thriller is anchored by a gripping central mystery: Is the ghost real? French films of this era are known for arty excess, but this taut plot will leave you spooked.

"Gone Girl" is the platonic ideal of a thriller, directed with flawless precision by the modern master of the genre, David Fincher. Nick (Ben Affleck) and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), give up their New York City lifestyle and move to the suburbs, but discontent is brewing. Nick is complacent and having an affair, and Amy is, well, a Machiavellian psychopath. She vengefully stages her own violent abduction and frames her philandering spouse with elaborate ingenuity. Nick and all his flaws are thrust into the media spotlight as this missing person's case becomes salacious national news. "Gone Girl" is thrilling, but it also has something to say about modernity and the increasing distance between public images and reality.

This underrated masterpiece asks if a violent person can truly change. Viggo Mortensen plays mild-mannered family man Tom Stall, who runs a local diner and loves his wife and kids. But when a man in black (Ed Harris) rolls into town, claiming that Tom is actually a vicious gangster on the lam, the ordinary hero must return to Philadelphia or pay the price.

In "The Insider," director Michael Mann brings the same attention to the details of white-collar misdeeds that he did to the logistics of a heist in his masterpiece, "Heat." Russell Crowe plays tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand, who has just been forced out of his high-paying job engineering cigarettes to be more addictive. A "60 Minutes" producer played by Al Pacino wants the story, but big tobacco wants all the smoke. When they sue to stop Wigand and begin a terrifying intimidation campaign against this whistleblower's family, a free press could cost these men everything. Adapted from a 1996 Vanity Fair article, Mann turned this dramatic true tale into arguably the best high-brow boardroom thriller ever made.

"Jaws" is often described as a horror movie, and sure, the shark is monstrous in both size and sentience as it terrorizes the citizens of the fictional Amity Island beach community. However, this thriller really gets going when the local chief of police teams up with an old salt fisherman and a marine biologist to hunt down the underwater menace. Four years prior to "Jaws," director Steven Spielberg's first real film was a 1971 TV movie called "Duel," which is about a man pursued by a malevolent tractor-trailer that seems to have a mind of its own. The iconic filmmaker applies that same energy to the dead eyes of Earth's most terrifying and ancient apex predator in this timeless suspense masterpiece.

If you haven't seen "Midsommar," you are absolutely missing the buzziest word-of-mouth horror-thriller of the 2010s. This is writer-director Ari Aster's broad-daylight follow-up to his stunning feature debut, 2018's gruesome body-horror masterpiece "Hereditary." "Midsommar" follows a group of college-age friends who make a pilgrimage to a pagan community in remote Sweden in order to observe their summer solstice festivities. What begins as a quaint anthropological curiosity escalates as these Scandinavian cultists slowly unveil their twisted rituals in the midnight sun. Note that the director's cut of the film is 30 minutes longer, but makes more sense of the lead's unsettling dramatic progression, as the tortured protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh) detaches from her traumatic past and is pulled deeper into the cult's clutches.

Despite its somewhat middling critical reception, "The Prestige" is Christopher Nolan's best and most beautifully shot film. Thankfully, audiences liked it much better than reviewers, so trust the wisdom of the crowds when evaluating this majestic and operatic thriller about dueling magicians. When Christian Bale's obsessive craftsman, Alfred Borden, accidentally kills the wife of his stage partner, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), the men go to war with the inventiveness of two master illusionists.

David Fincher's neo-noir masterpiece "Seven" has the ultimate twist ending. The fate of Brad Pitt's detective Mills is also a bit ambiguous and seems to lend itself to a superfluous sequel, but Fincher has definitively said, "I would have less interest in that than I would in having cigarettes put out in my eyes" (Hollywood tried to make one anyway). This bleak tale of a biblically-inspired killer who punishes sinners in an endlessly dreary urban landscape came from screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker's experience living in New York City after college. If you also paid rent in Gotham's seedier environs in the '80s, you totally understand this film's utter absence of faith in humanity.

"The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is a cracking Cold War movie with a puzzling romantic plot that makes it a riveting thriller, too. In this adaptation of the work of spy novelist John le Carré, Richard Burton plays Alec Leamas, a British spook in post-WW2 Berlin. The moral muck of the icy conflict's intrigue has Leamas losing heart, but he takes one last job as a double agent, feigning a betrayal of the West. When he's locked up and interrogated by the East Germans' Stasi state, his enemies use a woman he loves against him in a labyrinthine ploy that only a true master spy could navigate.

Orson Welles' masterful 1958 crime thriller wasn't seen as the auteur intended until editor Walter Murch recut the film in 1998 according to Welles' notes, removing title cards and non-diegetic music from the famous opening shot. The nearly-four-minute single take sets up a car bomb that goes off near the U.S. and Mexican border, rocking the life of a Mexican drug enforcement agent Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston), who begins investigating a corrupt American police captain, Hank Quinlan (Welles). In a shocking near-first for a director's cut, the film is actually shorter in the '98 version. What remains, however, are the brilliant film noir visuals and a much more coherent storyline.

"The Witch" is the stunningly stark yet stylish feature debut of suspense savant Robert Eggers, who makes immaculately crafted horror-thrillers like a demonically possessed Wes Anderson. "The Witch" is a measured and period-accurate suspense masterpiece. Set in the 1630s, a religious fanatic (Ralph Ineson) proves too zealous even for his fellow 17th-century American Puritans and must live on a remote homestead with his family. When their new baby vanishes, his eldest daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy) is blamed. Accusations of witchcraft soon follow, and this isolated clan's devotion to one another becomes the true test of their faith. 041b061a72


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