Netflix has the movie game down pat. Not only does the streaming service rotate its offerings every month, it's constantly looking for ways to deliver the movies and TV shows you want, wherever you are.
Netflix also gives you the ability to download movies and shows to your phone or tablet, eliminating the need for an internet connection -- that means you can have a few movies ready to go for that cross-country flight. You'll need to download the Netflix app (iTunes and Android), and once you start browsing, you'll see a downward-pointing arrow for titles you can download. To get you started, we picked our favorite downloadable movies, but if you can't find something you like, your best bet is to check out the 100 best movies on Netflix. Never buffer again!
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American Honey (2016)
Writer/director Andrea Arnold lets you sit shotgun for the travels of a group of wayward youth in American Honey, a seductive drama about a "mag crew" selling subscriptions and falling in and out of love with each other on the road. Seen through the eyes of Star, played by Sasha Lane, life on the Midwest highway proves to be directionless, filled with a stream of partying and steamy hookups in the backs of cars and on the side of the road, especially when she starts to develop feelings for Shia LaBeouf’s rebellious Jake. It’s an honest look at a group of disenfranchised young people who are often cast aside, and it’s blazing with energy. You’ll buy what they're selling.
For his follow-up to his two action epics, The Raid and The Raid 2, director Gareth Evans dials back the hand-to-hand combat but still keeps a few buckets of blood handy in this grisly supernatural horror tale. Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, an early 20th century opium addict traveling to a cloudy island controlled by a secretive cult that's fallen on hard times. The religious group is led by a bearded scold named Father Malcolm (Michael Sheen) who may or may not be leading his people astray. Beyond a few bursts of kinetic violence and some crank-filled torture sequences, Evans plays this story relatively down-the-middle, allowing the performances, the lofty themes, and the windswept vistas to do the talking. It's a cult movie that earns your devotion slowly, then all at once.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
The Coen brothers gave some big-name-director cred to Netflix by releasing their six-part Western anthology on the streaming service, and while it's not necessarily their best work, Buster Scruggs is clearly a cut above most Netflix originals. Featuring star turns from Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, and more, the film takes advantage of Netflix's willingness to experiment by composing a sort of death fugue that unfolds across the harsh realities of life in Manifest Destiny America. Not only does it revel in the massive, sweeping landscapes of the American West, but it's a thoughtful meditation on death that will reveal layer after layer long after you finish.
In 1981, Barack Obama touched down in New York City to begin work at Columbia University. As Barry imagines, just days after settling into his civics class, a white classmate confronts the Barry with an argument one will find in the future president's Twitter @-mentions: "Why does everything always got to be about slavery?" Exaltation is cinematic danger, especially when bringing the life of a then-sitting president to screen. Barry avoids hagiography by staying in the moment, weighing race issues of a modern age and quieting down for the audience to draw its own conclusions. Devon Terrell is key, steadying his character as smooth-operating, socially active, contemplative fellow stuck in an interracial divide. Barry could be any half-black, half-white kid from the '80s. But in this case, he's haunted by past, present, and future.
Beasts of No Nation (2015)
True Detective Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga's wartime drama is not a movie you put on in the background. Adapted from Uzodinma Iweala's novel of the same name, this visceral character study tracks a preadolescent after he's recruited to be a child soldier in an African civil war (its specifics are left purposely ambiguous). Lorded over by a gruff commander (Idris Elba), the movie is loud, tender, and violent -- a coming-of-age story in which the characters may not live to come of age.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
Released into a media storm overly concerned with its lengthy, controversially filmed lesbian sex scene, Abdellatif Kechiche's three-hour opus drowns tabloid buzz with sensual and sensitive drama. Make time for the tender, inquisitive exploits of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who falls hard for the cerulean lure of Emma (Spectre's Léa Seydoux). The runtime breathing room gives Kechiche the chance to explore every glance, every touch, every kiss, and every misstep in their relationship. It's a love epic, where minor notes play like power chords.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Sometimes it's impossible to pinpoint where a relationship went wrong. They can be messy and self-destructive, but comfortable and familiar when you’re in them. Derek Cianfrance's (The Place Beyond the Pines) Blue Valentine is a case study on one relationship in particular: a working class couple, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, whose marriage is hanging on by a thread. Cutting between the present and their past as hopelessly enamored young lovers, their relationship at its best and worst is scrutinized under a microscope to show what happens when you fall hard, then fall apart. Blue Valentine is hot and cold -- so cold watching love freeze over.
Some mysteries simmer; this one smolders. In his adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story, writer and director Lee Chang-dong includes many elements of the acclaimed author's slyly mischievous style -- cats, jazz, cooking, and an alienated male writer protagonist all pop up -- but he also invests the material with his own dark humor, stray references to contemporary news, and an unyielding sense of curiosity. We follow aimless aspiring novelist Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) as he reconnects with Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a young woman he grew up with, but the movie never lets you get too comfortable in one scene or setting. When Steven Yeun's Ben, a handsome rich guy with a beautiful apartment and a passion for burning down greenhouses, appears, the film shifts to an even more tremulous register. Can Ben be trusted? Yeun's performance is perfectly calibrated to entice and confuse, like he's a suave, pyromaniac version of Tyler Durden. Each frame keeps you guessing.
Unlike the Unfriended films or this summer's indie hit Searching, this web thriller from director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei isn't locked into the visual confines of a computer screen. Though there's plenty of online screen time, allowing for subtle bits of commentary and satire, the looser style allows the filmmakers to really explore the life and work conditions of their protagonist, rising cam girl Alice (Madeline Brewer). We meet her friends, her family, and her customers. That type of immersion in the granular details makes the scarier bits -- like an unnerving confrontation in the finale between Alice and her evil doppelganger -- pop even more.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
This biopic about Ron Woodruff, a particularly rebellious Texan who learns he's HIV-positive in the 1980s, is peak Matthew McConaughey and led to his infamous acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for Best Actor. (In case you've forgotten, he says his hero is himself in the future.) Jean-Marc Vallée's searing Texas landscapes and unflinching look at the progression of a disease few people understood give this movie a unique spin on the conventional biopic.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Rarely do filmmakers approach the topic of moviemaking with the combination of unbridled joy and punchy humor as Dolemite Is My Name, an endearingly sweet biopic about multi-talented comedian and independent film producer Rudy Ray Moore. As played by Eddie Murphy, Moore displays a savviness for noticing an opening in the 1970s entertainment market -- early on, he exists a screening of The Front Page and observes that it's got "no titties, no funny, and no kung-fu" -- and then creating the exact type of product he'd like to see. That means plenty of nudity, jokes, and, yes, some over-the-top kung-fu. In its brisk runtime, Dolemite Is My Name shows Moore solving a series of technical, economic, and artistic challenges: dealing with an egocentric director (a hilarious Wesley Snipes), securing financing to pay an inexperienced crew, and, finally, acquiring a distributor for the project he poured his life into. Like they did with 1994's Hollywood outsider character portrait Ed Wood, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski pack the story with charming period details and fascinating bits of pop culture trivia, which director Craig Brewer's camera carefully glides over, but the movie belongs to Murphy, who moves through each scene with total command of his craft.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Denis Villeneuve's (Arrival) creepy sci-fi thriller about a man who discovers he has a doppelganger. The double has been a literary trope for just about as long as people have been creating art (Enemy is based on Nobel laureate José Saramago's novel The Double), but Gyllenhaal's unnerving performance and Villeneuve's claustrophobic, monochromatic directing make Enemy a particularly sophisticated riff on a well-worn theme. It's a mind-bending exploration of identity, and the ending will leave you lying awake, puzzling over what it all means.
Ex Machina (2014)
Writer-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go) made the movie we’ll remember when Google’s self-driving cars rise against their masters. Immaculately designed and researched, Ex Machina builds a trifecta out of the ultimate Silicon Valley bro (Oscar Isaac), Ava, the ideal robo-woman he believes is under his control (Alicia Vikander), and the audience's proxy, a regular Joe computer junkie enamored by Ava’s potential (Domhnall Gleeson). Over a weekend, they talk through philosophy, drink themselves stupid, and discover the ramifications of reckless innovations. Elegant, rambunctious, and terrifyingly prescient.
The Fighter (2010)
David O. Russell’s (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) The Fighter packs a punch. The Oscar-nominated biographical drama stars Mark Wahlberg as underdog boxer Micky Ward alongside Christian Bale, in yet another transformative role as Ward’s older half-brother/trainer Dicky Eklund. Lined with action and grit, the film follows Ward’s unpredictable rise in the ranks in the world of championship welterweight boxing with the contested help of his washed up brother who descended into drug addiction and a life of seedy crime. Tethered to his success is the strength of the destructive closeness of his family, including his mother played by Melissa Leo, and the relationships outside of it, like that of his girlfriend played by a scene-stealing Amy Adams -- meaning The Fighter is a hard knocks lesson in what it means to look out for someone, as well as a masterclass in acting.
Frances Ha (2012)
Before winning hearts and Oscar nominations with her coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig starred in the perfect companion film, about an aimless 27-year-old who hops from New York City to her hometown of Sacramento to Paris to Poughkeepsie and eventually back to New York in hopes of stumbling into the perfect job, the perfect relationship, and the perfect life. Directed by Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories), and co-written by both, Frances Ha is a measured look at adult-ish life captured the kind of intoxicating black and white world we dream of living in.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
Everyone's favorite disaster of a festival received not one, but two streamingdocumentaries in the same week. Netflix's version has rightly faced some criticism over its willingness to let marketing company Fuck Jerry off the hook (Jerry Media produced the doc), but that doesn't take away from the overall picture it portrays of the festival's haphazard planning and the addiction to grift from which Fyre's founder, Billy McFarland, apparently suffers. It's schadenfreude at its best.
Gangs of New York (2002)
In his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio shakes off his heartthrob Titanic reputation by getting down and dirty as goatee-sporting tough guy Amsterdam Vallon. But Leo has an iceberg-sized problem: Daniel Day-Lewis. As the violent, ill-tempered Bill the Butcher, the method actor extraordinaire is a terror in a top hat, stealing the whole movie with his wild-eyed magnetism. He slices, he dices, and he makes this 168 minute 19th-century period piece, that's leaving Netflix 2/9, fly by.
Gerald's Game (2017)
Like his previous low-budget Netflix-released horror release, Hush, a captivity thriller about a deaf woman fighting off a masked intruder, Mike Flanagan's Stephen King adaptation of Gerald's Game wrings big scares from a small location. Sticking close to the grisly plot details of King's seemingly "unfilmable" novel, the movie chronicles the painstaking struggles of Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) after she finds herself handcuffed to a bed in an isolated vacation home when her husband, the titular Gerald, dies from a heart attack while enacting his kinky sexual fantasies. She's trapped -- and that's it. The premise is clearly challenging to sustain for a whole movie, but Flanagan and Gugino turn the potentially one-note set-up into a forceful, thoughtful meditation on trauma, memory, and resilience in the face of near-certain doom.
A Ghost Story (2017)
Director David Lowery (Pete's Dragon) conceived of this dazzling, dreamy meditation on the afterlife during the off-hours of working on a Disney blockbuster, making the revelations within even more awe-inspiring. After a fatal accident, a musician (Casey Affleck) finds himself as a sheet-draped spirit, wandering the halls of his former home, haunting/longing for his widowed wife (Rooney Mara). With stylistic quirks, enough winks to resist pretension (a scene where Mara devours a pie in one five-minute, uncut take is both tragic and cheeky), and a soundscape culled from the space-time continuum, A Ghost Story connects the dots between romantic love, the places we call home, and time -- a ghost's worst enemy.
Green Room (2015)
Green Room is a throaty, thrashing, spit-slinging punk tune belted through an invasion-movie microphone at max volume. It's nasty -- and near-perfect. As a band of 20-something rock stars recklessly defend themselves against a neo-Nazi battalion equipped with machetes, shotguns, and snarling guard dogs, the movie blossoms into a savage coming-of-age tale, an Almost Famous for John Carpenter nuts. Anyone looking for similar mayhem should check out director Jeremy Saulnier's previous movie, the low-budget, darkly comic hillbilly noir, Blue Ruin.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Quentin Tarantino has something to say about race, violence, and American life, and it's going to ruffle feathers. Like Django Unchained, the writer-director reflects modern times on the Old West, but with more scalpel-sliced dialogue, profane poetry, and gore. Stewed from bits of Agatha Christie, David Mamet, and Sam Peckinpah, The Hateful Eight traps a cast of blowhards (including Samuel L. Jackson as a Civil War veteran, Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter known as "The Hangman," and Jennifer Jason Leigh as a psychopathic gang member) in a blizzard-enveloped supply station. Tarantino ups the tension by shooting his suffocating space in "glorious 70mm." Treachery and moral compromise never looked so good.
Hell or High Water (2016)
The rootin', tootin', consideratin' modern Western follows bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) looking to save their family farm from foreclosure while sticking it to The Man. Hot on their tails is a soon-to-retire sheriff (Jeff Bridges) and his partner, who engage in their own morality dialectic as they drive deeper into the Texas heartland. Hell or High Water has shoot-outs and car chases -- but it's in diner conversations and pickup-truck small talk where director David Mackenzie finds a beating heart, with economic depression as the greatest equalizer. The material turns villains into heroes, heroes into villains, and simple characters into some of the actors' best performances to date.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Before director Katheryn Bigelow made the CIA-torture propaganda movie Zero Dark Thirty, she became the first woman to win an Academy Award for directing thanks to this heart-pounding depiction of Explosive Ordnance Disposal units in Iraq. It may exaggerate the day-to-day realities of the Iraq War, but the thesis -- war is a drug -- implies that it's possible to get hooked, turning a nation and its soldiers into war addicts. It's so potent a drug that Jeremy Renner's anti-hero, Staff Sergeant William James, can't give it up even when facing death and the possibility of reuniting with his family. Not quite as rah-rah American as Bigelow's follow-up.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)
A meditative horror flick that's more unsettling than outright frightening, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House follows the demise of Lily, a live-in nurse (Ruth Wilson) who's caring for an ailing horror author. As Lily discovers the truth about the writer's fiction and home, the lines between the physical realm and the afterlife blur. The movie's slow pacing and muted escalation might frustrate viewers craving showy jump-scares, but writer-director Oz Perkins is worth keeping tabs on. He brings a beautiful eeriness to every scene, and his story will captivate patient streamers. Fans should be sure to check out his directorial debut, The Blackcoat's Daughter.
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
In this maniacal mystery, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a nurse, and her rattail-sporting, weapon-obsessed neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood), hunt down a local burglar. Part Cormac McCarthy thriller, part wacky, Will Ferrell-esque comedy, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a cathartic neo-noir about everyday troubles. Director Macon Blair's not the first person to find existential enlightenment at the end of an amateur detective tale, but he might be the first to piece one together from cussing octogenarians, ninja stars, Google montages, gallons of Big Red soda, upper-deckers, friendly raccoons, exploding body parts, and the idiocy of humanity.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
With a bullwhip, a leather jacket, and an "only Harrison Ford can pull this off" fedora, director Steven Spielberg invented the modern Hollywood action film by doing what he does best: looking backward. As obsessed as his movie-brat pal and collaborator George Lucas with the action movie serials of their youth, the director mined James Bond, Humphrey Bogart, Westerns, and his hatred of Nazis to create an adventure classic. To watch Raiders of the Lost Ark now is to marvel at the ingenuity of specific sequences (the boulder! The truck scene! The face-melting!) and simply groove to the self-deprecating comic tone (snakes! Karen Allen! That swordsman Indy shoots!). The past has never felt so alive.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
While this World War II saga isn’t quite as cohesive as other Tarantino works, it might be his most entertaining, with scenes of high-tension verbal sparring and scalp-smashing mayhem, all erupting when Tarantino’s band of vigilantes (led by Brad Pitt’s drawl-heavy lieutenant Aldo Raine) gun down their German rivals in a blaze of glory. Basterds is also notable for introducing America to Christoph Waltz, who won the Oscar for his performance as silver-tongued sociopath Colonel Landa, one of the most compelling film villains in forever. The movie’s opening scene -- a 15-minute-long, dread-soaked verbal chess match where Landa linguistically and physically encircles his prey -- is a high-water mark in Tarantino’s filmography.
Ip Man (2008)
There aren't many biopics that also pass for decent action movies. Somehow, Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip made Ip Man (and three sequels!) based on the life of Chinese martial-arts master Yip Kai-man, who famously trained Bruce Lee. What's their trick to keeping this series fresh? Play fast and loose with the facts, up the melodrama with each film, and, when in doubt, cast Mike Tyson as an evil property developer. The fights are incredible, and Yen's portrayal of the aging master still has the power to draw a few tears from even the most grizzled tough guy.
The Irishman (2019)
Opening with a tracking shot through the halls of a drab nursing home, where we meet a feeble old man telling tall tales from his wheelchair, The Irishman delights in undercutting its own grandiosity. All the pageantry a $150 million check from Netflix can buy -- the digital de-aging effects, the massive crowd scenes, the shiny rings passed between men -- is on full display. Everything looks tremendous. But, like with 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters can't escape the fundamental spiritual emptiness of their pursuits. In telling the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a World War II veteran and truck driver turned mob enforcer and friend to labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian construct an underworld-set counter-narrative of late 20th century American life. With an eye on the clock and a foot in the grave, the movie is profoundly fixated on death, even introducing select side characters with onscreen text that notes the circumstances of their eventual demise. That stark awareness of mortality, an understanding that's cleverly reflected in the film's quasi-road-movie flashback structure, distinguishes it from Scorsese's more outwardly frenetic gangster epics like Goodfellas and Casino, which also starred De Niro and Pesci, who gives the movie's most surprising performance here. Even with a 209 minute runtime, every second counts.
It Comes at Night (2017)
In this post-apocalyptic nightmare-and-a-half, the horrors of humanity, the strain of chaotic emotions pent up in the name of survival, bleed out through wary eyes and weathered hands. The setup is blockbuster-sized -- reverting mankind to the days of the American frontier, every sole survivor fights to protect their families and themselves -- but the drama is mano-a-mano. Barricaded in a haunted-house-worthy cabin in the woods, Paul (Edgerton) takes in Will (Abbott) and his family, knowing full well they could threaten his own family's existence. All the while, Paul's son, Trevor, battles bloody visions of (or induced by?) the contagion. Trey Edward Shults (Waves, Krisha) directs the hell out of every slow-push frame of this psychological thriller, and the less we know, the more confusion feels like a noose around our necks, the scarier his observations become.
Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)
Arguably the movie that established Quentin Tarantino as a full-fledged mainstream auteur, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 possesses some of the filmmaker’s most iconic set pieces and visual tableau, from the Bride rocking Bruce Lee's Round 5 jumpsuit to the animated O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) backstory sequence. The relatively quiet, reflective sequel was viewed by many as a leisurely paced come-down from the frenzied blood-letting high of the action-packed first half. But, like Beatrix Kiddo herself, the movie has only gotten wiser with age.
The Lobster (2016)
Greek style master Yorgos Lanthimos' dystopian allegory against romance sees Colin Farrell forced to choose a partner in 45 days or he'll be turned into an animal of his choice, which is a lobster. Stuck in a group home with similarly unlucky singles, Farrell's David decides to bust out and join other renegades in a kind of anti-love terror cell that lives in the woods. It's part comedy of manners, part futuristic thriller, and it looks absolutely beautiful -- Lanthimos handles the bizarre premise with grace and a naturalistic eye that reminds the viewer that humans remain one of the most interesting animals to exist on this planet.
The Look of Silence (2014)
The stronger one of Joshua Oppenheimer's films confronting the mid-1960s genocide in Indonesia (the other is The Act of Killing) follows an optometrist as he meets and interviews the individuals responsible for the death of his brother, none of whom have been held accountable before. It sounds so simplistic, and at first it plays so serenely, then gradually, it builds into a powerful record of the candid confessions of men still considered heroes in their country. This documentary focuses on the legacy of events that will soon only be in the hands and minds of a generation detached from and mistaken about what happened 50 years ago.
The Master (2012)
Loosely inspired by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard -- Dianetics buffs, we strongly recommend Alex Gibney's Going Clear documentary as a companion piece -- The Master boasts one of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s finest performances, as the enigmatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd. Joaquin Phoenix burns just as brightly as his emotionally stunted, loose-cannon protege Freddie Quell, who has a taste for homemade liquor. Paul Thomas Anderson’s cerebral epic lends itself to many different readings; it’s a cult story, it's a love story, it's a story about post-war disillusionment and the American dream, it's a story of individualism and the desire to belong. But the auteur's popping visuals and heady thematic currents will still sweep you away, even if you’re not quite sure where the tide is taking you.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
When Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), three half-siblings from three different mothers, gather at their family brownstone in New York to tend to their ailing father (Dustin Hoffman), a lifetime of familial politics explode out of every minute of conversation. Their narcissistic sculptor dad didn't have time for Danny. Matthew was the golden child. Jean was weird... or maybe disturbed by memories no one ever knew. Expertly sketched by writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) this memoir-like portrait of lives half-lived is the kind of bittersweet, dimensional character comedy we're now used to seeing told in three seasons of prestige television. Baumbach gives us the whole package in two hours.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
The legendary British comedy troupe took the legend of King Arthur and offered a characteristically irreverent take on it in their second feature film. It's rare for comedy to hold up this well, but the timelessness of lines like, "I fart in your general direction!" "It's just a flesh wound," and "Run away!" makes this a movie worth watching again and again.
Chronicling the boyhood years, teenage stretch, and muted adult life of Chiron, a black gay man making it in Miami, this triptych altarpiece is at once hyper-specific and cosmically universal. Director Barry Jenkins roots each moment in the last; Chiron's desire for a lost lover can't burn in a diner booth over a bottle of wine without his beachside identity crisis years prior, blurred and violent, or encounters from deeper in his past, when glimpses of his mother's drug addiction, or the mentoring acts of her crack supplier, felt like secrets delivered in code. Panging colors, sounds, and the delicate movements of its perfect cast like the notes of a symphony, Moonlight is the real deal, a movie that will only grow and complicate as you wrestle with it.
The South's post-slavery existence is, for Hollywood, mostly uncharted territory. Rees rectifies the overlooked stretch of history with this novelistic drama about two Mississippi families working a rain-drenched farm in 1941. The white McAllans settle on a muddy patch of land to realize their dreams. The Jacksons, a family of black sharecroppers working the land, have their own hopes, which their neighbors manage to nurture and curtail. To capture a multitude of perspectives, Mudbound weaves together specific scenes of daily life, vivid and memory-like, with family member reflections, recorded in whispered voice-over. The epic patchwork stretches from the Jackson family dinner table, where the youngest daughter dreams of becoming a stenographer, to the vistas of Mississippi, where incoming storms threaten an essential batch of crops, to the battlefields of World War II Germany, a harrowing scene that will affect both families. Confronting race, class, war, and the possibility of unity, Mudbound spellbinding drama reckons with the past to understand the present.
This wild ride, part action heist, part Miyazaki-like travelogue, and part scathing satire, is fueled by fairy tale whimsy -- but the Grimm kind, where there are smiles and spilled blood. Ahn Seo-hyun plays Mija, the young keeper of a "super-pig," bred by a food manufacturer to be the next step in human-consumption evolution. When the corporate overlords come for her roly-poly pal, Mija hightails it from the farm to the big city to break her out, crossing environmental terrorists, a zany Steve Irwin-type (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the icy psychos at the top of the food chain (including Tilda Swinton's childlike CEO) along the way. Okja won't pluck your heartstrings like E.T., but there's grandeur in its frenzy, and the film's cross-species friendship will strike up every other emotion with its empathetic, eco-friendly, and eccentric observations.
The Pianist (2002)
In 2003, Adrien Brody became the youngest person ever to take home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayalof Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jewish pianist fighting for survival in Warsaw at the dawn of World War II, in The Pianist. The autobiographical film directed by Roman Polanski (who also took home the prize for Best Director) documents the true-life story of Szpilman who grew up in a privileged family and refused to believe the Nazi occupation would grow big enough to affect him and his loved ones, until the threat proves to be all too real. With precision, Brody nails this challenging role that sees an unavoidable travesty unfold before his eyes, and the granular, widespread, effects it had on one individual.
That late director Jonathan Demme treated the AIDS crisis with his typical humanity and close attention to the minor details of personal lives sounds unremarkable now. That he did it in for mainstream audiences 1993, with movie stars like Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Antonio Banderas in leading roles, gives you a sense of what made Demme so beloved. Andrew Beckett (Hanks) is a gay, HIV-positive lawyer whose big-time law firm fires him because of his sexual orientation, and Beckett decides to sue for discrimination. The ensuing drama exposes the lengths to which otherwise smart, accomplished people will go to preserve traditional attitudes at the expense of human rights, a contradiction Beckett's homophobic counsel (Washington) must work through for himself if he hopes to win the case.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
In this Oscar-nominated role, Will Smith portrays real-life entrepreneur Chris Gardner, who spends nights on the street and in homeless shelters as he attempts to get a job. The Pursuit of Happyness is a strong-willed, sentimental father-son story, riding entirely on Smith's relationship with his on-screen son, who just happens to be his real son, Jaden Smith. (The pair will most definitely make you cry.)
Private Life (2018)
Over a decade since the release of her last dark comedy, The Savages, writer and director Tamara Jenkins is back with a sprawling movie in the same vein: more hyper-verbal jerks you can't help but love. Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) are a Manhattan-dwelling couple who have spent the last few years attempting to have a baby with little success. When we meet them, they're already in the grips of fertility mania, willing to try almost anything to secure the offspring they think they desire. With all the details about injections, side effects, and pricey medical procedures, the movie functions as a taxonomy of modern pregnancy anxieties, and Hahn brings each part of the process to glorious life. Eventually, the pair recruits 25-year-old college dropout Sadie (Kayli Carter), the step-daughter of Richard's brother, to serve as an egg donor. Soon, they form their own unconventional family united by feelings of inadequacy and hope for the future. The final shot, which features a moment of silence after over two hours of near constant chatter, is one you won't forget.
All those billions Netflix spent paid off in the form of several Oscar nominations for Roma, including one for Best Picture and a win for Best Director. Whether experienced in the hushed reverence of a theater, watched on the glowing screen of a laptop, or, as Netflix executive Ted Sarandos has suggested, binged on the perilous surface of a phone, Alfonso Cuarón's black-and-white passion project seeks to stun. A technical craftsman of the highest order, the Children of Men and Gravity director has an aesthetic that aims to overwhelm -- with the amount of extras, the sense of despair, and the constant whir of exhilaration -- and this autobiographical portrait of kind-hearted maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) caring for a family in the early 1970s has been staged on a staggering, mind-boggling scale. Cuarón's artful pans aren't just layered for the sake of complexity: He's often placing different emotions, historical concepts, and class distinctions in conversation with each other. What are these different components in the painstakingly composed shots actually saying to each other? That remains harder to parse. Still, there's an image of Cleo and the family eating ice cream together after a devastating dinner in the foreground while a wedding takes place in the background that you won't be able to shake. The movie is filled with compositions like that, tinged with careful ambiguity and unresolvable tensions.
The big-screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue's best-selling novel, about a mother raising her son in captivity after being abducted as a teenager, has built-in challenges. Most of the film takes place in an 11x11 garden shed. And the drama plays out from the perspective of a 5-year-old. But Lenny Abrahamson's film version is as much a cinematic triumph as the book was a literary one. Anchored by stirring performances from young Jacob Tremblay and Oscar winner Brie Larson, who cements her status as one of the finest actresses working today, Room is a haunting tribute to survival in the most horrific of circumstances.
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski's psychological horror film stars stars Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as a young couple who land a steal of a New York City apartment only to find themselves the target of their neighbors' Satanic activity. Without gore or literal ghoulish activity, Polanski strikes up a sense of anxiety that crescendos until the movie's final minutes. Everyday household activities -- cleaning, cooking, a routine phone call -- become Biblical trials. Farrow, with wide-eyed resilience, makes for one hell of an anti-Hitchcock heroine. This one will get in your head and haunt you.
A Separation (2011)
Coming from renowned director Asghar Farhadi, A Separation became the first Iranian film to win an Academy Award. A couple is tied up in family court with the wife/mother (Leila Hatami) eager to leave the country and the husband/father (Peyman Moaadi) feeling obligated to stay and care for an ill parent. The situation gets increasingly complicated after an act of violence, which is then reexamined over and over, each permutation shedding a little more light on a widening scope of this gripping family drama.
A Serious Man (2009)
This dramedy from the Coen brothers stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern physics professor who just can't catch a break, whether it's with his wife, his boss, or his rabbi. (Seriously, if you're having a bad day, this airy flick gives you ample time to brood and then come to the realization that your life isn't as shitty as you think.) Meditating on the spiritual and the temporal, Gopnik's improbable run of bad luck is a smart modern retelling of the Book of Job, with more irony and fewer plagues and pestilences. But not much fewer.
She's Gotta Have It (1986)
Before checking out Spike Lee's Netflix original series of the same name, be sure to catch up with where it all began. Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) juggles three men during her sexual pinnacle, and it's all working out until they discover one another. She's Gotta Have It takes some dark turns, but each revelation speaks volumes about what real romantic independence is all about.
Did people go overboard in praising Snowpiercer when it came out? Maybe. But it's important to remember that the movie arrived in the sweaty dog days of summer, hitting critics and sci-fi lovers like a welcome blast of icy water from a hose. The film's simple, almost video game-like plot -- get to the front of the train, or die trying -- allowed visionary South Korean director Bong Joon-ho to fill the screen with excitement, absurdity, and radical politics. Chris Evans never looked more alive, Tilda Swinton never stole more scenes, and mainstream blockbuster filmmaking never felt so tepid in comparison. Come on, ride the train!
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Can you really trust Matt Damon? That's the question driving this tasty soufflé of a psychological thriller adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith. The eternally boyish actor was especially innocent and naive here, fresh off the success of Good Will Hunting and Saving Private Ryan, but his Tom Ripley is a monster capable of manipulating Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, their circle of friends, even Italian police with sociopathic ease. Like super-spy Jason Bourne, Ripley is the perfect role for Damon: You never quite know what's lurking under the surface.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)
Of all the entries in the rom com revival, this one, directed by Susan Johnson, is heavier on the rom than the com. But even though it won't make your sides hurt, it will make your heart flutter. The plot is ripe with high school movie hijinks that arise when the love letters of Lara Jean Covey (the wonderful Lana Condor) accidentally get mailed to her crushes, namely the contractual faux relationship she starts with heartthrob Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Like its heroine, it's big-hearted but skeptical in all the right places.
Velvet Buzzsaw (2018)
Nightcrawler filmmaker Dan Gilroy teams up with Jake Gyllenhaal again to create another piece of cinematic art, this time a satirical horror film about the exclusive, over-the-top LA art scene. The movie centers around a greedy group of art buyers who come into the possession of stolen paintings that, unbeknownst to them, turn out to be haunted, making their luxurious lives of wheeling and dealing overpriced paintings a living hell. Also featuring the likes of John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Billy Magnussen, and others, Velvet Buzzsaw looks like Netflix’s next great original.
The Witch (2015)
The Witch delivers everything we don't see in horror today. The backdrop, a farm in 17th-century New England, is pure misty, macabre mood. The circumstance, a Puritanical family making it on the fringe of society because they're too religious, bubbles with terror. And the question, whether devil-worshipping is hocus pocus or true black magic, keeps each character on their toes, and begging God for answers. The Witch tests its audience with its (nearly impenetrable) old English dialogue and the (anxiety-inducing) trials of early American life, but the payoff will keep your mind racing, and your face hiding under the covers, for days.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
This low-budget indie flick was the first of Leonardo DiCaprio's many Oscar snubs, and one that relied heavily on the immense sincerity of the young actor to make the film as potent as it is. Here he plays Arnie, the mentally disabled kid brother to Johnny Depp's titular Gilbert Grape, and the film follows the two leaning on one another while living in poverty with their morbidly obese mother after their father's death. It's a story about the bond and burden of family, and these two deliver performances that make you so deeply believe in their brotherhood and the sentimentality that lives in their world.
Win It All (2017)
In less than 90 minutes, director Joe Swanberg and his co-writer and star Jake Johnson provide an endearing portrait of a schlub in crisis. Like he did with 2013's Drinking Buddies and last year's Netflix series Easy, Swanberg zeroes in on the small details thirtysomething existential dread and scores big. In telling the story of a gambling addict named Eddie (Johnson) who is entrusted with a bag of money, which he quickly blows in spectacular fashion, the filmmaker has found an ideal mix between old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling and his low-key naturalism. Will Eddie get his shit together? Win It All is less interested in answering that question than it is in spending time with these lovable losers.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Before taking us to space with Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón steamed up screens with this provocative, comedic drama about two teenage boys (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) road-trippin' it with an older woman. Like a sunbaked Jules and Jim, the movie makes nimble use of its central love triangle, setting up conflicts between the characters as they move through the complicated political and social realities of Mexican life. It's a confident, relaxed film that's got an equal amount of brains and sex appeal. Watch this one with a friend -- or two.
Young Adult (2011)
Mavis Gary, the protagonist of Jason Reitman's acerbic dark comedy Young Adult, is a jerk. She's got a drinking problem, a failed marriage, an unfulfilling career as a ghostwriter, and a tendency to greet every person she meets on a trip back to her hometown with barely concealed contempt. And, yet, Charlize Theron's clever performance and Diablo Cody's sharp script make you understand Mavis' plight without sacrificing the bitterness that makes her such a captivating character. It's a high-wire act that the movie nails in its brisk runtime. By the end, you might not want to hang out with Mavis, but you at least know where she's coming from.
David Fincher's period drama is for obsessives. In telling the story of the Zodiac Killer, a serial murderer who captured the public imagination by sending letters and puzzles to the Bay Area press, the famously meticulous director zeroes in on the cops, journalists, and amateur code-breakers who made identifying the criminal their life's work. With Jake Gyllenhaal's cartoonist-turned-gumshoe Robert Graysmith at the center, and Robert Downey Jr.'s barfly reporter Paul Avery stumbling around the margins, the film stretches across time and space, becoming a rich study of how people search for meaning in life. Zodiac is a procedural thriller that makes digging through old manilla folders feel like a cosmic quest.
20th Century Women (2016)
If there's such thing as an epistolary movie, 20th Century Women is it. Touring 1970s Santa Barbara through a living flipbook, Mike Mills's semi-autobiographical film transcends documentation with a cast of wayward souls and Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), an impressionable young teenager. Annette Bening plays his mother, and the matriarch of a ragtag family, who gather together for safety, dance to music when the moment strikes, and teach Jamie the important lesson of What Women Want, which ranges from feminist theory to love-making techniques. The kid soaks it up like a sponge. Through Mills's caring direction, and characters we feel extending infinitely through past and present, so do we.
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