The 100 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now
Your search for what to watch just got much easier.
For more Netflix recommendations, read our list of the best TV shows currently on Netflix.
Anyone can tell you everything that's streaming on Netflix, take an inventory of a given month's new additions and subtractions, or cast the net of recommendations so wide that reeling in where to start is overwhelming. The whole goal of Netflix as a company is to give you as much content as possible, whether through streaming or good old-fashioned DVD mail-ins (remember those?).
Our goal in this space is to provide a different service: a list of the 100 best films currently streaming on Netflix, so you can find a satisfying movie without wasting time with endless scrolling.
Want even more movies? Check out our list of the Best Movies of 2020.
A Ghost Story (2017)
Director David Lowery (Pete's Dragon) conceived this dazzling, dreamy meditation on the afterlife during the off-hours 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.
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.
Anna Karenina (2012)
Adapted by renowned playwright Tom Stoppard, this take on Leo Tolstoy's classic Russian novel is anything but stuffy, historical drama. Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander are all overflowing with passion and desire, heating up the chilly backdrop of St. Petersburg. But it's director Joe Wright's unique staging -- full of dance, lush costuming, fourth-wall-breaking antics, and other theatrical touches -- that reinvent the story for more daring audiences.
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.
Back to the Future (1985)
No vacation plans? Buckle into Doc's DeLorean and head to the 1950s by way of 1985 with the seminal time-travel series that made Michael J. Fox a household name. Netflix also has follow-up Parts II and III, which all add up to a perfect rainy afternoon marathon.
Bad Boys (1995)
Michael Bay jumped from music video and commercial directing to the big leagues with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's buddy-cop movie. The vehicle restrained him, thank God. Through the disruptive Burnett and Lowrey, Bay's knack for extravagance, vulgarity, and fetishized masculine physicality could shine. When we think of badass, we think of Smith and Lawrence guns a'blazin', rolling through an explosion to escape a sunset shootout. There's heat, there's grime, there's Smith rattling off F-bombs like a swear-word Gatling gun. Bay's career is defined by excess, a bespoke look for Bad Boys.
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.
The Blackcoat's Daughter (2017)
Two young women are left behind at school during break... and all sorts of hell breaks loose. This cool, stylish thriller goes off in some strange directions (and even offers a seemingly unrelated subplot about a mysterious hitchhiker) but it all pays off in the end, thanks in large part to the three leads -- Emma Roberts, Lucy Boynton, and Kiernan Shipka -- and director Oz Perkins' artful approach to what could have been just another occult-based gore-fest.
Jean-Claude Van Damme made a career out of good-not-great fluff. Universal Soldier is serviceable spectacle, Hard Target is a living cartoon, Lionheart is his half-baked take on On the Waterfront. Bloodsport, which owes everything to the legacy of Bruce Lee, edges out his Die Hard riff Sudden Death for his best effort, thanks to muscles-on-top-of-muscles-on-top-of-muscles fighting and Stan Bush's "Fight to Survive." Magic Mike has nothing on Van Damme's chiseled backside in Bloodsport, which flexes its way through a slow-motion karate-chop gauntlet. In his final face-off, Van Damme, blinded by arena dust, rage-screams his way to victory. The amount of adrenaline bursting out of Bloodsport demands a splash zone.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
Released into a media storm overly concerned with its lengthy, controversially filmed 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 by a thread. Cutting between the present and their past as hopelessly enamored young lovers, their relationship at its best and worst is placed 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.
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
Part of the joy of watching certain teen comedies years later is seeing now-famous actors in goofy early roles. Sean Penn's Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High is probably the best example of this, but Can't Hardly Wait did a great job of assembling some random young actors who've gone on to do many other things -- including, most notably, Lauren Ambrose -- and letting them charm you through the standard beats of a graduation party movie. Just let it take you to paradise city.
Chasing Amy (1997)
Nineties indie-film icon Kevin Smith softened his geekcore sensibilities for this romantic comedy. OK, soften is unfair -- like Clerks (also on Netflix), Chasing Amy is born from Smith's pondering on the taboo-ish topics of weed, threesomes, and the penetrative definition of sex. But with Ben Affleck playing a straight comic-book bro, and Joey Lauren Adams as a lesbian he wishes he could date, it's a... sweeter turn for Smith. And oh so '90s.
Here's your chance to experience running from a terrifying space creature from the comfort of your own couch. Before it was an unwieldy science-fiction anthology franchise, Cloverfield was just another "mystery box" project from super-producer J.J. Abrams, a found-footage disaster film with no big stars and no plot details. Luckily, director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) delivered a cunning monster movie that builds momentum as it goes and finds inventive twists on its stock genre set-up. In classic Abrams fashion, it leaves you with more questions than answers, but the ride is worth it.
Patrick Brice's found-footage movie is a no-budget answer to a certain brand of horror, but saying more would give away its sinister turns. Just know that the man behind the camera answered a Craigslist ad to create a "day in the life" video diary for Josef (Mark Duplass), who really loves life. Creep proves that found footage, the indie world's no-budget genre solution, still has life, as long as you have a performer like Duplass willing to go all the way.
The Death of Stalin (2017)
Armando Iannucci, the brilliant Veep creator, set his sights on Russia with this savage political satire. Based on a graphic novel, the film dramatizes the madcap, maniacal plots of the men jostling for power after their leader, Joseph Stalin, keels over. From there, backstabbing, furious insults, and general chaos unfolds. Anchored by performances from Shakespearean great Simon Russell Beale and American icon Steve Buscemi, it's a pleasure to see what the rest of the cast -- from Star Trek: Discovery's Jason Isaacs to Homeland's Rupert Friend -- do with Iannucci's eloquently brittle text.
Den of Thieves (2018)
If there's one thing you've probably heard about this often ridiculous bank robbery epic, it's that it steals shamelessly from Michael Mann's crime saga Heat. The broad plot elements are similar: There's a team of highly-efficient criminals led by a former Marine (Pablo Schreiber) and they must contend with a obsessive, possibly unhinged cop (Gerard Butler) over the movie's lengthy 140 minute runtime. A screenwriter helming a feature for the first time, director Christian Gudegast is not in the same league as Mann as a filmmaker and Butler, sporting unflattering tattoos and a barrel-like gut, is hardly Al Pacino. But everyone is really going for it here, attempting to squeeze every ounce of Muscle Milk from the bottle.
Thrillers don't come much more propulsive or elegant than Houda Benyamina's Divines, a heartwarming French drama about female friendship that spirals into a pulse-pounding crime saga. Rambunctious teenager Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and her best friend Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena) begin the film as low-level shoplifters and thieves, but once they fall into the orbit of a slightly older, seasoned drug dealer named Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda), they're on a Goodfellas-like trajectory. Benyamina offsets the violent, gritty genre elements with lyrical passages where Dounia watches her ballet-dancer crush rehearse his routines from afar, and kinetic scenes of the young girls goofing off on social media. It's a cautionary tale told with joy, empathy, and an eye for beauty.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Eddie Murphy has been waiting years to get this movie about comedian and blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore made, and you can feel his joy in finally getting to play this role every second he's on screen. The film, directed by Hustle & Flow's Craig Brewer, charts how Moore rose from record store employee, to successful underground comedian, to making his now-cult classic feature Dolemite by sheer force of passion. It's thrilling (and hilarious) to watch Murphy adopt Moore's Dolemite persona, a swaggering pimp, but it's just as satisfying to see the former SNL star capture his character at his lowest points. He's surrounded by an ensemble that matches his infectious energy.
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.
Event Horizon (1997)
Paul W.S. Anderson, director of Mortal Kombat and the Resident Evil movies, stepped up his game for this 1997 men-on-a-mission sci-fi movie, finding hard-R glimpses of hell in the darkest corners of the universe. We've seen "where'd the crew go?" movies before -- Star Trek Beyond recently took another crack at it -- but we've never seen it with Anderson's baroque bloodlust.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Before Bruce Campbell's Ash was wielding his chainsaw-arm in Army of Darkness and on Starz's Ash Vs. Evil Dead, he was just a good looking guy hoping to spend a nice, quiet vacation in a cabin with some friends. Unfortunately, the book of the dead had other plans for him. With this low-budget horror classic, director Sam Raimi brings a surprising degree of technical ingenuity to bear on the splatter-film, sending his camera zooming around the woods with wonder and glee. While the sequels double-downed on laughs, the original Evil Dead still knows how to scare.
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.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
"Nine times." That's both a quote from this John Hughes classic, and the answer to the question: "What is the minimum number of times everyone should be required to watch this movie?" Even if you're well out of your school years, Ferris' truant exploits will give you the urge to blow of work and follow the film's tagline: Leisure Rules. Just maybe ask before you "borrow" your friend's vintage Ferrari and set out to make your boss' life a living hell when he tries to call you on your unauthorized day off.
The Florida Project (2017)
Sean Baker's The Florida Project nuzzles into the swirling, sunny, strapped-for-cash populace of a mauve motel just within orbit of Walt Disney World. His eyes are Moonee, a 6-year-old who adventures through abandoned condos, along strip mall-encrusted highway, and across verdant fields of overgrown brush like Max in Where the Wild Things Are. But as gorgeous as the everything appears -- and The Florida Project looks stunning -- the world around here is falling apart, beginning with her mother, an ex-stripper turning to prostitution. The juxtaposition, and down-to-earth style, reconsiders modern America in the most electrifying way imaginable.
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 streaming documentaries 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.
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.
Good Time (2017)
In this greasy, cruel thriller from Uncut Gems directors the Safdie brothers, Robert Pattinson stars as Connie, a bank robber who races through Queens to find enough money to bail out his mentally disabled brother, who's locked up for their last botched job. Each suffocating second of Good Time, blistered by the neon backgrounds of Queens, New York and propelled by warped heartbeat of Oneothrix Point Never's synth score, finds Connie evading authorities by tripping into an even stickier situation.
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 rockstars recklessly defend 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, also streaming on Netflix.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Try not to fall into a super-cynical slump while watching this Bill Murray comedy classic. Harold Ramis' award-winning flick sends Murray's weatherman to Punxsutawney, PA, where he reports on the town's titular festivities, enters a time loop, straightens out his life priorities, and tries to court Andie MacDowell. It's a hilarious '90s gem that has Murray transitioning from his shit-disturber film phase to his more world-weary one (also: a blessing in the form of under-appreciated actor Stephen Tobolowsky).
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 -- the slickest you'll see this year -- but it's in diner conversations and pickup-truck small talk where Mackenzie finds a beating heart, 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.
Spike Jonze's Oscar-winning script throws a lonely greeting-card writer and a fancy Siri-like operating system into a questionable romance. The result, anchored by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (yes, the latter kills it as the OS), is at once poignant and thought-provoking, especially for a generation that leans more and more on personalized handheld devices.
High Flying Bird (2019)
High Flying Bird is a basketball film that has little to do with the sport itself, instead focusing on the behind-the-scenes power dynamics that play out during an NBA lockout. At the center of the Steven Soderbergh movie -- shot on an iPhone, because that's what he does now -- is André Holland's Ray Burke, a sports agent trying to protect his client's interests while also disrupting a corrupt system. It's not an easy tightrope to walk, and, as you might expect, the conditions of the labor stoppage constantly change the playing field. With his iPhone mirroring the NBA's social media-heavy culture, and appearances from actual NBA stars lending the narrative heft, Soderbergh experiments with Netflix's carte blanche and produces a unique film that adds to the streaming service's growing list of original critical hits.
Martin Scorsese hit pause on mob violence and Rolling Stones singles to deliver one of the greatest kid-centric films in eons. Following Hugo (Asa Butterfield) as he traces his own origin story through cryptic automaton clues and early 20th-century movie history, the grand vision wowed in 3-D and still packs a punch at home.
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.
Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi masterpiece thrusts you into the world of dreams, and leaves you so bewildered that it's difficult to wake up. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy who steals secrets by inserting himself in others’ subconscious dream states, the film not only imagines this complex universe, it flips its structure, as DiCaprio’s man on the run is made to plan the perfect heist in order to leave behind his criminal life. Rather than stealing ideas, he’s got to implant one -- that's inception, baby! -- with his team of specialists, resulting in a surrealist, multilayered film.
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.
Inside Man (2006)
Denzel Washington is at his wily, sharp, and sharply dressed best as he teams up once again with Spike Lee for this wildly entertaining heist thriller. He's an NYPD hostage negotiator who discovers a whole bunch of drama when a crew of robbers (led by Clive Owen) takes a bank hostage during a 24-hour period. Jodie Foster also appears as an interested party with uncertain motivations. You'll have to figure out what's going on several times over before the truth outs.
The Invitation (2015)
This slow-burn horror-thriller preys on your social anxiety. The film's first half-hour, which finds Quarry's Logan Marshall-Green arriving at his ex-wife's house to meet her new husband, plays like a Sundance dramedy about 30-something yuppies and their relationship woes. As the minutes go by, director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer's Body) burrows deeper into the awkward dinner party, finding tension in unwelcome glances, miscommunication, and the possibility that Marshall-Green's character might be misreading a bizarre situation as a dangerous one. We won't spoil what happens, but let's just say this is a party you'll be telling your friends about.
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.
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 -- reverts 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 family's existence. All the while, Paul's son, Trevor, battles bloody visions of (or induced by?) the contagion. Shults 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.
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Cameron Crowe's endlessly quotable romantic comedy is more than just Cuba Gooding Jr. saying "show me the money" and Tom Petty songs. (Though, admittedly, it does have those things, and they are very, very good.) It's also an old-fashioned character study of a kind man often outpaced by his own ambition, ego, and emotional intensity. In other words, it's the perfect role for Tom Cruise, who brings the sports agent with each megawatt grin.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Jupiter Ascending is one of those "bad" movies that might genuinely be quite good. Yes, Channing Tatum is a man-wolf and Mila Kunis is the princess of space and bees don't sting space royalty and Eddie Redmayne hollers his little head off about "harvesting" people -- but what makes this movie great is how all of those things make total, absolute sense in the context of the story. The world the Wachowskis (yes, the Wachowskis!) created is so vibrant and strange and exciting, you almost can't help but get drawn in, even when Redmayne vamps so hard you're afraid he's about to pull a muscle. (And if you're a ballet fan, we have some good news for you.)
Killing Them Softly (2012)
Brad Pitt doesn't make conventional blockbusters anymore -- even World War Z had epidemic-movie ambitions -- so it's not surprising that this crime thriller is a little out there. Set during the financial crisis and presidential election of 2008, the film follows Pitt's hitman character as he makes sense of a poker heist gone wrong, leaving a trail of bodies and one-liners along the way. Mixed in with the carnage, you get lots of musings about the economy and American exceptionalism. It's not subtle -- there's a scene where Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn do heroin while the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" plays -- but, like a blunt object to the head, it gets the job done.
Lady Bird (2017)
The dizzying, frustrating, exhilarating rite of passage that is senior year of high school is the focus of actress Greta Gerwig's first directorial effort, the story of girl named Lady Bird (her given name, in that "it’s given to me, by me") who rebels against everyday Sacramento, California life to obtain whatever it is "freedom" turns out to be. Laurie Metcalf is an understated powerhouse as Lady Bird's mother, a constant source of contention who doggedly pushes her daughter to be successful in the face of the family's dwindling economic resources. It's a tragic note in total complement to Gerwig's hysterical love letter to home, high school, and the history of ourselves.
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.
Tom Hardy earned his first Oscar nomination for The Revenant, but his greatest performance to date is in this one-man show, set entirely in a BMW 3. Hardy plays the title character, a construction foreman who must simultaneously calm a woman giving birth to his baby, console his wife, who just learned about the love child, and coordinate the largest concrete pour in British history, all while driving two hours to the hospital. The car's phone is Locke's line to the outside world. The driver's seat is his emotional prison. How Hardy handles every turn -- automotive and dramatic -- is gripping to the last off-ramp.
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 Matrix (1999)
Combining its signature slo-mo, 360-degree “bullet time” sequences with artfully choreographed Hong Kong-style martial-arts scenes, the Wachowskis' pathbreaking sci-fi epic set a new bar for special effects done right. As much of a kinetic and visual triumph as it was a psychological mindfuck -- and that's saying something. Hands down, one of the best action movies of all time.
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.
Minority Report (2002)
When Steven Spielberg's Minority Report came out, the technology looked cool as hell. Luckily that's still kind of the case. Tom Cruise stars here as a police chief running a futuristic pre-crime unit that arrests murderers before they kill. Based on the Philip K. Dick short story of the same name, the film takes an unsettling turn when the prophetic system Cruise's character endorses turns against him. And then he runs because -- as the tagline on the poster explained -- everybody runs.
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.
My Happy Family (2017)
At 52, Manana (Ia Shughliashvili) packs a bag and walks out on her husband, son, daughter, daughter's live-in boyfriend, and elderly mother and father, all of whom live together in a single apartment. The family is cantankerous and blustery, asking everything of Manana, who spends her days teaching better-behaved teenagers about literature. But as Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß's striking character study unfolds, the motivation behind Manana's departure is a deeper strain of frustration, despite what her brother, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who can cram themselves into the situation would like us to think. Anchored by Ia Shughliashvili's stunningly internal performance, and punctured by a dark sense of humor akin to Darren Aronofsky's mother! (which would have been the perfect alternate title), My Happy Family is both delicate and brutal in its portrayal of independence, and should get under the skin of anyone with their own family drama.
Obvious Child (2014)
This rom-com got buzz for prominently featuring a shmashmortion (spoiler alert?), but its vibe is far lighter than that plot point might imply. Gillian Robespierre's feature-film debut stars Jenny Slate as Donna, a 20-something floundering through underemployment and existential crises, and her involvement in the NYC stand-up scene packs in plenty of jokes despite the feature's tight 90-minute runtime. The quirky cast of characters, rounded out by Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, and Jake Lacy, breathes fresh, raunchy air into a crowded genre.
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 him out, crossing environmental terrorists, a zany Steve Irwin-type (Gyllenhaal), and the icy psychos at the top of the food chain (including 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.
On Body and Soul (2017)
This Hungarian film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film, and it's easy to see why. The sparse love story begins when two slaughterhouse employees discover they have the same dream at night, in which they're both deer searching the winter forest for food. Endre, a longtime executive at the slaughterhouse, has a physically damaged arm, whereas Maria is a temporary replacement who seems to be on the autism spectrum. If the setup sounds a bit on-the-nose, the moving performances and the unflinching direction save On Body and Soul from turning into a Thomas Aquinas 101 class, resulting in the kind of bleak beauty you can find in a dead winter forest.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
Don't go into Orson Welles' final film expecting it to be an easy watch. The Other Side of the Wind, which follows fictional veteran Hollywood director Jake Hannaford (tooootally not modeled after Welles himself) and his protegé (also tooootally not a surrogate for Welles' own friend and mentee Peter Bogdanovich, who also plays the character) as they attend a party in celebration of Hannaford's latest film and are beset on all sides by Hannaford's friends, enemies, and everyone in between. The film, which Welles hoped would be his big comeback to Hollywood, was left famously unfinished for decades after his death in 1985. Thanks to Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall, it was finally completed in 2018, and the result is a vibrant and bizarre throwback to Welles' own experimental 1970s style, made even more resonant if you know how intertwined the movie is with its own backstory. If you want to dive even deeper, Netflix also released a documentary about the restoration and completion of the film, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, which delves into Welles' own complicated and tragic relationship with Hollywood and the craft of moviemaking.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo Del Toro’s dark odyssey Pan’s Labyrinth takes a fantasy setting to mirror the horrible political realities of the human realm. Set in 1940s Falangist Spain, the film documents the hero’s journey of a young girl and stepdaughter of a ruthless Spanish army officer as she seeks an escape from her war-occupied world. When a fairy informs her that her true destiny may be as the princess of the underworld, she seizes her chance. Like Alice in Wonderland if Alice had gone to Hell instead of down the rabbit hole, the Academy Award-winning film is a wondrous, frightening fairy tale where that depicts how perilous the human-created monster of war can be.
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 for mainstream audiences in 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.
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.
The Ring (2002)
Horror remakes are rarely worth their weight in disembodied heads, but this Japanese translation of 1998's Ringu, made over in the most slick and perverse way imaginable by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), is worth revisiting. Filled with creepy imagery — the “Ring video” is only the beginning, as Naomi Watts’ Rachel uncovers the true story of Samara, unwanted and tortured in psychoanalysis — this is one to revisit whether it’s “the season” for horror movies or not.
The Ritual (2018)
The Ritual, a horror film where a group of middle-aged men embark on a hiking trip in honor of a dead friend, understands the tension between natural beauty of the outdoors and the unsettling panic of the unknown. The group's de facto leader Luke (an understated Rafe Spall) attempts to keep the adventure from spiralling out of control, but the forest has other plans. (Maybe brush up on your Scandinavian mythology before viewing.) Like a backpacking variation on Neil Marshall's 2005 cave spelunking classic The Descent, The Ritual deftly explores inter-personal dynamics while delivering jolts of other-worldly terror. It'll have you rethinking that weekend getaway on your calendar.
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.
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.
In Shadow, the visually stunning action epic from Hero and House of Flying Daggers wuxia master Zhang Yimou, parasols are more than helpful sun-blockers: They can be turned into deadly weapons, shooting boomerang-like blades of steel at oncoming attackers and transforming into protective sleds for traveling through the slick streets. These devices are one of many imaginative leaps made in telling this Shakespearean saga of palace intrigue, vengeance, and secret doppelgangers set in China's Three Kingdoms period. This is a martial arts epic where the dense plotting is as tricky as the often balletic fight scenes. If the battles in Game of Thrones left you frustrated, Shadow provides a thrilling alternative.
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.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The late director Jonathan Demme's 1991 film is the touchstone for virtually every serial killer film and television show that came after. The iconic closeup shots of an icy, confident Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) as he and FBI newbie Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) engage in their "quid pro quo" interrogation sessions create almost unbearable tension as Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) remains on the loose, killing more victims. Hopkins delivers the more memorable lines, and Buffalo Bill's dance is the stuff of nerve-wracking anxiety nightmares, but it's Foster's nuanced performance as a scared, determined, smart-yet-hesitant agent that sets Silence of the Lambs apart from the rest of the serial killer pack.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and David O. Russell’s first collaboration -- and the film that turned J-Law into a bona fide golden girl -- is a romantic comedy/dramedy/dance-flick that bounces across its tonal shifts. A love story between Pat (Cooper), a man struggling with bipolar disease and a history of violent outbursts, and Tiffany (Lawrence), a widow grappling with depression, who come together while rehearsing for an amateur dance competition, Silver Linings balances an emotionally realistic depiction of mental illness with some of the best twirls and dips this side of Step Up. Even if you're allergic to rom-coms, Lawrence and Cooper’s winning chemistry will win you over, as will this sweet little gem of a film: a feel-good, affecting love story that doesn’t feel contrived or treacly.
Sin City (2005)
Frank Miller enlisted Robert Rodriguez as co-director to translate the former's wildly popular series of the same name to the big screen, and with some added directorial work from Quentin Tarantino, the result became a watershed moment in the visual history of film. The signature black-and-white palette with splashes of color provided a grim backdrop to the sensational violence of the miniaturized plotlines -- this is perhaps the movie that feels more like a comic than any other movie you'll ever see.
Horror-movie lesson #32: If you move into a creepy new house, do not read the dusty book, listen to the decaying cassette tapes, or watch the Super 8 reels you find in the attic -- they will inevitably lead to your demise. In Sinister, a true-crime author (played by Ethan Hawke) makes the final mistake, losing his mind to home movies haunted by the "Bughuul."
Small Crimes (2017)
It's always a little discombobulating to see your favorite Game of Thrones actors in movies that don't call on them to fight dragons, swing swords, or at least wear some armor. But that shouldn't stop you from checking out Small Crimes, a carefully paced thriller starring the Kingslayer Jaime Lannister himself, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. As Joe Denton, a crooked cop turned ex-con, Coster-Waldau plays yet another character with a twisted moral compass, but here he's not part of some mythical narrative. He's just another conniving, scheming dirtbag in director E.L. Katz's Coen brothers-like moral universe. While some of the plot details are confusing -- Katz and co-writer Macon Blair skimp on the exposition so much that some of the dialogue can feel incomprehensible -- the mood of Midwestern dread and Coster-Waldau's patient, lived-in performance make this one worth checking out. Despite the lack of dragons.
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 Social Network (2010)
After making films like Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, and Zodiac, director David Fincher left behind the world of scumbags and crime for a fantastical, historical epic in 2008's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The Social Network was another swerve, but yielded his greatest film. There's no murder on screen, but Fincher treats Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg like a dorky, socially awkward mob boss operating on an operatic scale. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's rapid-fire, screwball-like dialogue burns with a moral indignation that Fincher's watchful, steady-handed camera chills with an icy distance. It's the rare biopic that's not begging you to smash the "like" button.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
In this shrewd twist on the superhero genre, the audience's familiarity with the origin story of your friendly neighborhood web-slinger -- the character has already starred in three different blockbuster franchises, in addition to countless comics and cartoon TV adaptations -- is used as an asset instead of a liability. The relatively straight-forward coming-of-age tale of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn teenager who takes on the powers and responsibilities of Spider-Man following the death of Peter Parker, gets a remix built around an increasingly absurd parallel dimension plotline that introduces a cast of other Spider-Heroes like Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glen), and, most ridiculously, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a talking pig in a Spider-Suit. The convoluted set-up is mostly an excuse to cram the movie with rapid-fire jokes, comic book allusions, and dream-like imagery that puts the rubbery CGI of most contemporary animated films to shame.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
No movie captures the prolonged pain of divorce quite like Noah Baumbach's brutal Brooklyn-based comedy The Squid and the Whale. While the performances from Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as bitter writers going through a separation are top-notch, the film truly belongs to the kids, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline, who you watch struggle in the face of their parents' mounting immaturity and pettiness. That Baumbach is able to wring big, cathartic laughs from such emotionally raw material is a testament to his gifts as a writer -- and an observer of human cruelty.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
You might think a movie that opens with a suicidal man riding a farting corpse like a Jet Ski wears thin after the fourth or fifth flatulence gag. You would be wrong. Brimming with imagination and expression, the directorial debut of Adult Swim auteurs "The Daniels" wields sophomoric humor to speak to friendship. As Radcliffe's dead body springs back to life -- through karate-chopping, water-vomiting, and wind-breaking -- he becomes the id to Dano's struggling everyman, who is also lost in the woods. If your childhood backyard adventures took the shape of The Revenant, it would look something like Swiss Army Man, and be pure bliss.
From Orange Is the New Black writer Sian Heder, Tallulah follows the title character (played by Ellen Page) after she inadvertently "kidnaps" a toddler from an alcoholic rich woman and passes the child off as her own to appeal to her run-out boyfriend's mother (Allison Janney). A messy knot of familial woes and wayward instincts, Heder's directorial debut achieves the same kind of balancing act as her hit Netflix series -- frank social drama with just the right amount of humorous hijinks. As Tallulah grows into a mother figure, her on-the-lam parenting course only makes her more and more of a criminal in the eyes of... just about everyone. You want to root for her, but that would be too easy.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Travis Bickle (a young Bobby De Niro) comes back from the Vietnam War and, having some trouble acclimating to daily life, slowly unravels while fending off brutal insomnia by picking up work as a... taxi driver... in New York City. Eventually he snaps, shaves his hair into a mohawk and goes on a murderous rampage while still managing to squeeze in one of the most New York lines ever captured on film ("You talkin' to me?"). It's not exactly a heartwarmer -- Jodie Foster plays a 12-year-old prostitute -- but Martin Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver is a movie in the cinematic canon that you'd be legitimately missing out on if you didn't watch it.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
In his Oscar-winning performance, Eddie Redmayne portrays famed physicist Stephen Hawking -- though The Theory of Everything is less of a biopic than it is a beautiful, sweet film about his lifelong relationship with his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). Covering his days as a young cosmology student ahead of his diagnosis of ALS at 21, through his struggle with the illness and rise as a theoretical scientist, this film illustrates the trying romance through it all. While it may be written in the cosmos, this James Marsh-directed film that weaves in and out of love will have you experience everything there is to feel.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson found modern American greed in the pages of Upton Sinclair's depression-era novel, Oil!. Daniel Day-Lewis found the role of a lifetime behind the bushy mustache of Daniel Plainview, thunderous entrepreneur. Paul Dano found his milkshake drunk up. Their discoveries are our reward -- There Will Be Blood is a stark vision of tycoon terror.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
If a season of 24 took place in the smoky, well-tailored underground of British intelligence crica 1973, it might look a little like this precision-made John le Carré adaptation from Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson. Even if you can't follow terse and tightly-woven mystery, the search for Soviet mole led by retired operative George Smiley (Gary Oldman), the ice-cold frames and stellar cast will suck you into the intrigue. It's very possible Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch are reading pages of the British phone book, but egad, it's absorbing. A movie that rewards your full concentration.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2018)
Of all the entries in the rom-com revival, this one 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.
There are heists pulled off by slick gentlemen in suits, then there are heists pulled off by two wayward 20-somethings rambling along on a steamy, summer day in New York City. This dog-day crime-romance stages the latter, pairing a lanky Russian kid (Callum Tanner) who ditches his fast-food register job for a one-off thieving gig, with his driver, an aloof strip club waitress (Grace Van Patten) looking for the cash to restart her life. When a briefcase handoff goes awry, the pair head upstate to track down the missing package, where train rides and curbside walks force them to open up. With a laid-back, '70s soul, Tramps is the rare doe-eyed relationship movie where playing third-wheel is a joy.
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.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Oscar-baiting, musician biopics became so cookie-cutter by the mid-'00s that it was easy for John C. Reilly, Judd Apatow, and writer-director Jake Kasdan (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) to knot them all together for the ultimate spoof. Dewey Cox is part Johnny Cash, part Bob Dylan, part Ray Charles, part John Lennon, part anyone-you-can-think-of, rising with hit singles, rubbing shoulders with greats of many eras, stumbling with eight-too-many drug addictions, then rising once again. When it comes to relentless wisecracking, Walk Hard is like a Greatest Hits compilation -- every second is gold.
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.
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.
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.
Selma director Ava DuVernay snuck away from the Hollywood spotlight to direct this sweeping documentary on the state of race in America. DuVernay's focus is the country's growing incarceration rates and an imbalance in the way black men and women are sentenced based on their crimes. Throughout the exploration, 13th dives into post-Emancipation migration, systemic racism that built in the early 20th century, and moments of modern political history that continue to spin a broken gear in our well-oiled national machine. You'll be blown away by what DuVernay uncovers in her interview-heavy research.
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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