Z (1969, Costa-Gavras) [hr]
Explosively exciting, relentless and almost assaultive political thriller is the cinema of outrage much like The Battle of Algiers, with the twist that it’s also a crackerjack, highly accessible thriller of the first order. The mystery elements only enter the fold in the second half; before that it’s a movie about the physical logistics of direct action, its risks and its consequences. Costa-Gavras makes no secret of where his sympathies lie, nor of the actual events he means to amplify, but he also tells a story of almost universal power and intrigue — and using techniques that retain their power of breathless immediacy even now.

Zama (2017, Lucrecia Martel)
Uniformed colonialist has a case of the Mondays. #relatable

Zelig (1983, Woody Allen) [hr]
The first few times I saw this I felt it was a great Woody Allen idea which would make a brilliant short, rife with great comedy and dazzling special effects. By the eightieth minute, I was ready to pass out, even though there are some bright spots in the latter half. But the film grows on you, its emotional subtext more pressing each time around. A funny and fascinating movie overall.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow)
Doesn’t glorify torture. It’d have to be far more interesting to achieve something like that.

Zero Effect (1998, Jake Kasdan) [r]
* Laid-back dick flick is worth seeing, with remarkable restraint for a comedy of its time. The sometimes shrill performances are offset by the charm of the script.

Zero for Conduct (1933, Jean Vigo) [hr]
Enchanting, surreal tale of prep school boys organizing a classroom coup has only a ghostly hint of an actual story, serving instead as a dream of just the sort we have when we fall asleep fantasizing about the past. The impossibility of its universally appealing prank only makes it seem more immediate and real. Painfully short, with delightful hints of masterpieces to come from The 400 Blows to A Hard Day’s Night.

Zodiac (2007, David Fincher) [A+]
Fincher shows himself to be the most versatile American director of his generation; this true-crime epic is far from pulp. At nearly three hours, it covers the frustrating Zodiac killer investigation with all its false starts and dead ends, as enacted by Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal (in a significant turn as Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist who became the author of the two best-known books about the killer). Fincher’s measured approach to the material is just right; the film settles for neither conventional scares nor a clinical All the President’s Men deconstruction. It’s an extremely haunting, human film and a breathlessly exciting one. You don’t want it to end.

Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard & Rich Moore) [hr]
Apart from some bad dialogue, this Disney ‘toon about the precarious balance in an all-animal “civilized” society is warm, funny and beautifully designed, with two fabulous characters in the form of Judy Hops, a rabbit cop, and Nick, a delinquent fox, leading the way. The Raymond Chandler-like plot is a bit busy, but the filmmakers have a refreshing amount of fun with the very notion of enacting a story like this with funny animals, while never pandering to a particular sector of the audience. Additionally: some of the best character animation in a CG film to date.

Zorba the Greek (1964, Michael Cacoyannis)
There’s lots of competition — the fact that Anthony Quinn was slightly less irritating than usual, and uh, the lighting? — but my absolute favorite part of this confoundingly uneventful, dull film about a tightwad English writer randomly associating with a gregarious Quinn on a business-related seclusion in Crete was when right in the middle of it a woman was violently attacked and knifed by a group of men for no substantial reason that had any significant effect on the plot. That ruled.

Zulu (1964, Cy Endfield) [c]
* Technically spectacular, this is one long battle scene, and at over two hours, it gets old quickly. Includes Michael Caine.