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10 Great Movies on HBO Max

a bit rougher than expected, but HBO Max has arrived, offering up an all-you-can-eat buffet of HBO programming, hit sitcoms and streaming originals. And, of course, there are movies — thousands of them, pulled from a wide array of blockbuster franchises and canon classics. It’s a lot of programming to choose from (10,000 hours, we’re told), so here’s a quick tour through some of the highlights and entry points:

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When AT&T shuttered the movie-buff-friendly FilmStruck streaming service in 2018, the company promised an extensive classics library for what eventually became HBO Max. And they weren’t kidding; the Turner Classic Movies-branded tab of the Max interface boasts such all-time favorites as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Casablanca,” “Gone With the Wind” and “Ben-Hur.” But if you’re looking to dive into Hollywood’s Golden Age, why not start with the film routinely singled out as the best of them all? HBO Max is the exclusive streaming service home of Orson Welles’s 1941 masterpiece, the fast-paced and funny chronicle of the rise and fall of an American media tycoon — a picture as delightfully entertaining as it was technically and structurally innovative.

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The TCM tab is currently spotlighting the work of one of the greatest filmmakers and performers of all time, Charlie Chaplin, and it’s an excellent representation of his filmography. It’s tough to say where to start, but you can’t go wrong with “City Lights,” the tender story of Chaplin’s Little Tramp and the blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) he befriends and helps to see again. Their heart-rending reunion makes for one of the most moving conclusions in all of movies, and this remarkable picture — which Chaplin released as a silent film with music and sound effects in 1931, well after the age of talkies began — serves as a potent reminder of the power of cinematic pantomime.

The carefully curated Criterion Collection was one of the highlights of the FilmStruck platform, and its subsequent spinoff service, The Criterion Channel, remains the gold standard for cinephile streaming. But the 200 or so Criterion titles included with HBO Max are an excellent introductory film studies course, with generous helpings of the essentials: Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa … and Godzilla. But Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 masterpiece may be the best place to start. A key entry in the neorealist movement that defined postwar Italian cinema, it concerns a working-class father whose bicycle — crucial to his work and thus his ability to feed his family — is stolen. But it’s much more than a simple story of lost and found; De Sica and his cast (none of them trained actors) beautifully capture the fear and desperation of living on the brink of poverty.

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Credit…Studio Ghibli

HBO Max grabbed headlines with its pricey acquisitions of series like “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory,” but film fans were delighted that the service landed the great white whale of the digital age: streaming rights to the Studio Ghibli catalog. HBO Max’s 21-film selection represents the bulk of the feature output from the Japanese animation studio, and while the best of the bunch is up for debate, Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 feature is easily the best introduction to the studio’s distinctive style, a delightful combination of animated exaggeration and detail-oriented, character-driven realism. “Totoro,” the story of two young girls and the wood spirits they befriend, is vivacious and warmhearted, trafficking in the everyday magic and fertile imagination of childhood.

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Patty Jenkins narrates a sequence featuring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.CreditCredit…Clay Enos/Warner Brothers

The service’s DC-branded tab is very much a work in progress — presumably because of the complexities of licensing deals, it’s missing such beloved comic book-inspired properties as the original “Superman” movies and the Christopher Nolan-directed “Dark Knight” trilogy. But the tab does include Tim Burton’s Batman films, last year’s Oscar-winning “Joker” origin story, and Patty Jenkins’s smash 2017 big-screen take on the iconic superheroine, with Gal Gadot charismatically deflecting bullets and swinging her Lasso of Truth as the Amazonian princess who saves humanity from evil during World War I.

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Credit…Claudette Barius/HBO

Since the 1983 broadcast of “The Terry Fox Story,” the first made-for-HBO movie, the network has attracted numerous marquee directors — including Mike Nichols, Barry Levinson, Dee Rees and Steven Soderbergh, who won widespread acclaim for this 2013 snapshot of Liberace’s later years. Michael Douglas is pitch-perfect as the flamboyant yet closeted entertainer, capturing the charisma and charm of his public persona while ably downshifting in his tender moments with Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), the young lover who tells the story.

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HBO’s documentaries have celebrated cultural figures, revisited historical events and addressed social ills. One of the most affecting is Erin Lee Carr’s exposé of Dr. Larry Nassar, the notorious abuser of hundreds of young gymnasts. Carr addresses the crimes (in all their explicit and sickening detail), the psychology of their perpetrator, and the power structures that allowed him to get away with it for so long. But her focus is on the victims, and the heavy burden of guilt and shame they carried for so long (and still carry). It’s a piercing documentary and an upsetting experience, but most of all, it’s a film about believing women — before it’s too late.

The streaming exclusivity of the eight filmed adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s best-selling book series is another of HBO Max’s big selling points, and all of the movies have their fine qualities — yes, even the first two entries. But the first great film in the franchise (and, arguably, still its best) was the third, in which the future Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón (of “Roma” and “Gravity”) took the wheel, augmenting the familiar characters and iconography with a dash of his own moral complexity and subtle pathos.

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Credit…Gunpowder & Sky

Thankfully, the service’s contemporary offerings aren’t just limited to blockbusters. Many a memorable indie picture is nestled in the Max catalog, including Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s “Half Nelson,” Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone,” Gerardo Naranjo’s “Miss Bala” and this scorching musical drama from the writer and director Alex Ross Perry. Elisabeth Moss comes on like a hurricane as Becky Something, a Courtney Love-esque punk rock star whose inner demons and self-destructive behavior threaten to collapse her career — a descent and resurrection captured in a series of unnervingly claustrophobic backstage meltdowns and recording studio encounters.

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‘Us’ | Anatomy of a Scene

Jordan Peele narrates a sequence from his film.

“I’m Jordan Peele. I’m the writer, producer, and director of the movie “Us.’” “There’s a family in our driveway.” “So here we have the scene where the tethered family arrives at the Wilson house for the first time. Jason, of course, says “there’s a family in our driveway.” A line designed, giddily, to attempt to be an iconic line, like “they’re here” from the “Poltergeist” movie and sort of help congeal this sense of an Amblin-esque predicament with a black family in the center of it.” – [heavy breathing] “What?” “Zora, give me your phone.” “I’m not on it.” “Zora!” “This is the point in the movie where I want the terror to really kick into a new gear for the audience. One of the techniques that I utilized to get that terror was that all of a sudden we go into real time. The movie before this has been going from some time dashes here and there. When we get into this moment where the four family members are standing holding hands outside, then we go into this sort of fluid — we use a lot of the Steadicam with very few edits. Really trying to subliminally signal to the audience that this sort of relentless, real time event has begun and is taking place.” “Wait, wait, wait, just one sec — Gabe.” “So we see Gabe leave. He goes out. He’s the dad, he’s got to deal with it. This is kind of like — probably pulled from my own anxieties of being a father and realizing, yeah, you got to man up sometimes.” “Hi. Can I help you?” “One of the things in this scene that really inspired me was the scene in “Halloween” where Michael Myers has the ghost sheet over him. And no matter how many questions he’s asked, he just doesn’t respond. The less response you get, the more impending and physical, I think, the threat gets. Probably after the second time someone doesn’t respond, you know one of you’s got to go down. [laughing] “A’ight, I asked you nice. Now I need y’all to get off my property.” “One of the pieces of this scene that works really well is we’ve got Winston to this spot where he’s code switching. You know, he goes back to some of his roots, as it were, to try and intimidate this mysterious family out there. That maybe if sort of reasoning with them doesn’t work, a good old fashioned low register, throwing some bass into his voice, coming out with a little swagger and a bat might work.” “O.K., let’s call the cops.” “Winston is just remarkable in this scene, and the audience really I think is in this tug of war between feeling the tension ratcheting up and the fear of what’s to come and the little bit of a comic relief of watching this kind of goofy dad who’s in over his head.” “Gabe.” “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. All right.” “Gabe!” “I got this.”

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Jordan Peele narrates a sequence from his film.CreditCredit…Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

Lest we forget, for years upon years, the primary draw of HBO was right there in the name: Home Box Office, i.e., going to the movies without leaving your home. In those distant, pre-“Sopranos,” pre-“Sex and the City” days, people mostly watched HBO to see big Hollywood movies, a year or so after their theatrical runs. And there are plenty of those too: Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen in “Long Shot,” the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga-fronted “A Star Is Born” or Jordan Peele’s mind-bending horror thriller “Us.” It may well be the best of the bunch, not only for its inventive screenplay, goosebump-raising suspense, and terrific performances (particularly a chilling, double-edged turn by Lupita Nyong’o), but also for sheer nostalgia: it’s exactly the kind of nightmare-fueled horror picture that us children of the ’80s loved to tiptoe out of our bedrooms in the middle of the night to sneak-watch on HBO.

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