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)Filmmaker 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.
Apostle (2018)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.
Avengement (2019)DTV action star Scott Adkins knows how to land a punch, but this chronologically fractured fight film, which combines a bloody prison drama with a Guy Ritchie-esque underworld plot, also lets the burly actor show off his acting chops. With a metal grill on his teeth and gnarly scars on his face, Adkins plays Cain, a former boxer turned convict who starts the movie by escaping his security detail on a trip to the hospital to visit his dying mother. On the run, Cain ends up at a pub in the middle of the day, where he entertains the assembled goons with his convoluted life story, which involves a betrayal by his older brother and many grueling jailhouse brawls. Director Jesse V. Johnson co-wrote the refreshingly sharp script, which has more on its mind than your average fight-driven revenge film, and he stages the ferocious, bare-knuckle melees with appropriate vigor.
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.
Barry (2016)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.
Batman Begins (2005)Hot take: Christopher Nolan's first base jump into the Batman universe is even better than 2008's acclaimed The Dark Knight. Squarely focused on Bruce Wayne -- an orphaned boy, a troubled youth, a reluctant millionaire, a hero teetering on the edge of villainy -- the verismo popcorn movie stripped away the cartoon pizazz of previous entries and not only revived Caped Crusader's darkest moment, but exacerbated it with the moral manipulation of Ra's Al Ghul and the psychedelic nightmares of The Scarecrow. Every movie mimicked Nolan's "dark, gritty" reinvention. No movie lives up to Batman Begins' grandeur.
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.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)The paranormal flick follows three student filmmakers who travel to an eerie forest in Maryland where they’re determined to uncover the myth of the Blair Witch. It may be complete fiction, but it paved the way for modern horror, and if you allow yourself to believe in the "found footage" documentary style film, prepare to be terrified.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)Ang Lee's epic romance about two gay cowboys torn between society's expectations and their love for each other was a game-changer when it came out, but it also stands the test of time. Packed with stunning visuals and career-best performances from the two leads (as well as supporting actresses Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway), re-watching it will make you even angrier about Crash stealing Brokeback's deserved Best Picture slot back in 2006. But get ready to cry—if the movie's subject matter isn't sad enough, watching the late Heath Ledger at the peak of his gifts will be sure to get those tear ducts working.
Burning (2018)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 sensibility. 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 and gripping register.
Cam (2018)Unlike the Unfriended films or 2018'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 doppelgänger—pop even more.
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)Part of the joy of watching certain teen comedies years after they came out 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 graduation party classic Can't Hardly Wait did a great job of assembling some random young actors who've gone on to do many other things—including Lauren Ambrose, Seth Green, and Jennifer Love Hewitt—and letting them charm you through the expected beats of a graduation party movie. Just let it take you to paradise city.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)Stanley Kubrick's relentless adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel depicts a brutal world of violence and nihilism that continues to shock audiences nearly a half century after its release. Following an ultra-violent gang led by narrator Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the film sets scenes of barbarism against classical music, one of Alex's passions, and Kubrick's mastery of style makes it a compelling commentary not just on violence, but on the methods humans devise to curb it. Critics raised issues over whether the film glorifies the violence it so readily depicts—especially after a series of crimes were dubbed "copycat" acts based on the movie—but those who see glorification in this adaptation might want to look a little harder.
The Conjuring (2013)James Wan scared the shit out of moviegoers and restored faith in horror films when he dramatized Ed and Lorraine Warren's haunted farmhouse visit for the big screen. As the two paranormal investigators (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) go head-to-head with a wicked presence, you'll find yourself audibly yelping and wanting nothing to do with the dark. The impeccably choreographed jump scares are damn good, but the Warrens' nail-biting heroics and the family's intoxicating paranoia woven throughout are even better—proof that big-budget horror flicks don't have to suck.
Creep (2014)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.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)Exploding with historical references, directorial flourishes, and flashes of combat action, Spike Lee's war epic Da 5 Bloods is a movie that embraces the inherent messiness of its subject matter. At first, the story sounds simple enough: four elderly Black veterans regroup and travel to Vietnam to recover the remains of their squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and search for a shipment of gold they buried in the jungle decades ago. But Lee, pushing the movie in sharply funny and emotionally fraught directions depending on the demands of the scenes, refuses to approach the Treasure of Sierra Madre-like set-up in a straight-forward manner. Instead, the movie pings between the MAGA-hat speckled present and the bullet-ridden past, using his older actors in the flashbacks as their younger selves to underline the strangeness of time's passage.
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.
The Departed (2006)Don't let your most annoying friend's affection for The Departed ruin the movie for you—it's an enormously entertaining crime film. Leonardo DiCaprio's expert slow-boil performance as undercover cop Billy Costigan is a big reason for that and marked a major career step forward. He stood tall against the Martin Scorsese film's many big-name scenery chewers and kept his Boston accent under control.
Divines (2016)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 waited 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.
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.
Free Fire (2017)Cast from the molten barrels of Charles Bronson's many Smith & Wessons, this frenetic '70s throwback plays out as one prolonged shootout. What should be just-another-illegal-gun-deal-by-the-docks between a group of IRA fighters (led by Cillian Murphy), a skeezy arms dealer (Sharlto Copley), and two American representatives for the respective parties (Brie Larson and Armie Hammer) explodes into a firefight when one lower-rung goon accuses another of assaulting his sister at a bar the night prior. Each insult exacerbates the standoff, which director Ben Wheatley orchestrates with wailing bullets, chaotic camerawork, and salvos of clever banter, blurted out as the actors squirm across dirt floors to safety. By the end of Free Fire, limbs are torn through, blood is spilled, and your jaw is on the floor.
Fruitvale Station (2013)Fruitvale Station, the directorial debut of Ryan Coogler (who went on to direct Black Panther), pointedly opens with shocking real-life footage from the killing of Oscar Grant. It's how the drama inevitably ends, as it tackles the events that led to the young, unarmed man's death—but utter devastation weighs heavy over the entire film, as it imagines his final day and illustrates just how many individuals one person's life touches. Michael B. Jordan is a heart wrenching in what became his movie-star-making role, and his performance and the film as a whole notably give a sharp humanity to just one of the many Black men whose fate unfortunately becomes a headline time and time again.
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.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's bestseller stars Rooney Mara as goth hacker Lisbeth Salander and Daniel Craig as bespectacled journalist Mikhail Blomkvist. The movie tosses the two together in the midst of a murder conspiracy involving a wealthy family, a series of horrific killings, and an unsolved disappearance that took place more than 40 years prior. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reels you in with its mystery-thriller facade and slowly opens into a potent examination of the many different types of misogynistic cruelty hiding beneath society's surface. It also begins with, arguably, Fincher's best opening title sequence ever, set to Karen O's ripping, howling cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."
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.
The Guest (2014)After writer-director Adam Wingard notched a semi-sleeper horror hit with 2011's You're Next, he'd earned a certain degree of goodwill among genre faithful and, apparently, with studio brass. How else to explain distribution for his atypical thriller The Guest through Time Warner subsidiary Picturehouse? Headlined by soon-to-be megastar Dan Stevens and kindred flick It Follows' lead scream queen Maika Monroe, The Guest introduces itself as a subtextual impostor drama, abruptly spins through a blender of '80s teen tropes, and ultimately reveals its true identity as an expertly self-conscious straight-to-video shoot 'em up, before finally circling back on itself with a well-earned wink. To say anymore about the hell that Stevens' "David" unleashes on a small New Mexico town would not only spoil the fun, but possibly get you killed.
Hail, Caesar! (2016)Possibly the Coen brothers' zaniest work—and these are the guys who brought us Raising Arizona, Burn After Reading, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?—Hail, Caesar! throws back to the golden age of Hollywood for a droll, screwball mystery. A Communist kidnapping plot plays in the background as the Coens swing between a down-on-his-luck singing cowboy, a pair of gossip reporters, a starlet keeping her pregnancy hush-hush, a frustrated auteur, and a studio fixer who can't help but wonder if Hollywood's all it's cracked up to be. Musical numbers elevate it to greatness. Tap-dancing Channing Tatum rules the world.
The Hateful Eight (2015)Quentin Tarantino has something to say about race, violence, and American life, and it's designed 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.
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.
Hugo (2011)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.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)This New Zealand backwoods adventure roughs up every single coming-of-age cliché. Julian Dennison's Ricky is an absent-minded, hip-hop-obsessed, rebellious orphan. His grizzled foster father would like nothing more than to ship the unruly kid back to government care. When the two find themselves stranded in the woods, mistaken for on-the-lam criminals, they... decide to own it. Wilderpeople is a generous genre blend, with Taika Waititi, director of the wacky, vampiric mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and the wry superhero adventure Thor: Ragnarok, finding cheeky jokes in the duo's perilous journey.
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 also 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.
Insidious (2010)Haunted house tales are nothing new in horror movies. Same goes for creepy kids. But when horror director extraordinaire James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) and Blumhouse got their hands on these classic motifs, they reinvented them and launched an entirely new spooky franchise that stretches across four films and has earned more than half a billion dollars at the box office. The original installment follows a couple (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne) whose son falls into a coma after a strange encounter in their new home, and then, as you might expect, strange things start happening.
Into the Wild (2007)Jon Krakauer's book about the life and untimely death of Christopher McCandless is all the more poignant when soundtracked by Eddie Vedder. Emile Hirsch's McCandless waxes poetic about philosophy and alienates everyone who loves him, which can grate at times, but it's balanced out by the profound beauty of the wilderness. When McCandless' pride proves to be the ultimate peril, the outcome is no less tragic.
The Invitation (2015)This slow-burn horror-thriller preys on your social anxiety. The film's first half-hour, which finds 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.
Into the Inferno (2016)Werner Herzog’s illuminating semi-sequel to Encounters at the End of the World reunites him with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer for encounters with volcanoes all over the world. This time, Herzog stays offscreen and lets Oppenheimer have most of the spotlight, though there is plenty of the filmmaker’s signature narration: some of it to revisit the making of another of his films, the 1977 short La Soufrière; or to present other interesting stories of volcanoes and the people who worship them.
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)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 in The Irishman. 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. 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. Barricaded in a haunted-house-worthy cabin in the woods, Paul (Joel Edgerton) takes in Will (Christopher 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. Filmmaker Trey Edward 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.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)Jupiter Ascending is one of those "bad" movies that's genuinely 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 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.
Julie & Julia (2009)Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia dramatizes two parallel narratives—blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams), living in present-day Queens dreaming of fame, and cookbook author Julia Child (Meryl Streep), back in 1950s Paris with her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci)—to tell two surprisingly similar stories of a pair of women, separated as they are by decades, but united in their desire to use cooking as a way to feed their souls. The food in this movie looks so good, you want to reach through the screen and snatch that bruschetta slice right out of Chris Messina's mouth.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)After surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) takes to a teenage boy Martin (Barry Keoghan) whose father died when he was young (Barry Keoghan), it becomes evident that Martin blames Steven for his wrongful death from a botched surgery—and either his wife or one of his children must die to make up for it. Yorgos Lanthimos' psychological thriller pulls its material from the Greek tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis, drawing disturbing stages of injury, a deteriorating will to live, and a pitch black mood that permeates throughout. Rather than a gore fest or paranormal disturbance, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an art-horror movie that’s as disturbing as any slasher flick, but for its mastery over its unnerving mood more than anything else.
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.
Legally Blonde (2001)
This sweet, effervescent rom-com about a Malibu sorority girl transplanted to Harvard Law School was the role that made Reese Witherspoon a star. Her Elle Woods could have been a ditzy caricature, but instead, Witherspoon exudes intellect and charm, whether she's bending-and-snapping at the salon or solving a murder trial with her knowledge of perm maintenance. It's also the rare rom-com that's really, really funny; laugh-out-loud performances and ridiculously quotable lines ("You got into Harvard Law?" "What? Like it's hard?") turn Legally Blonde into an endlessly re-watchable classic.
Mad Max (1979)Before Tom Hardy was grunting his way through the desert and crushing tiny two-headed reptiles as Max Rockatansky, there was Mel Gibson. George Miller's 1979 original introduces the iconic character and paints the maximum force of his dystopian mythology in a somewhat more grounded light—Australian police factions, communities, and glimmers of hope still in existence. Badass homemade vehicles and chase scenes abound in this taut, 88-minute romp. It's aged just fine.
Marriage Story (2019)Returning to the topic of 2005's caustic comedy The Squid and the Whale, which tracked the fallout of a divorce from the perspective of children, writer and director Noah Baumbach again finds laughter and pain in the often excruciating personal details of ending a relationship. This time, the bickering couple—a Brooklyn-dwelling actress and a theater director played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver—takes center stage. Instead of watching the two fall in and out of love, the story opens with the separation already in motion, allowing Baumbach to focus on the soul-sucking, money-draining legal shitstorm that follows.
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.
Moonlight (2016)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.
Mudbound (2017)The South's post-slavery existence is, for Hollywood, mostly uncharted territory. Director Dee 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. 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. 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.
The Naked Gun (1988)The short-lived Dragnet TV spoof Police Squad! found a second life as The Naked Gun action-comedy movie franchise, and the first installment goes all in on Airplane! co-star Leslie Nielsen's brand of straight-laced dementia. Trying to explain The Naked Gun only makes the stupid sound stupider, but keen viewers will find jokes on top of jokes on top of jokes. It's the kind of movie that can crack "nice beaver," then pass a stuffed beaver through the frame and actually get away with it. Nielsen has everything to do with it; his Frank Drebin continues the grand Inspector Clouseau tradition in oh-so-'80s style.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)What the first Vacation did for family road trips, this threequel does for the most wonderful time of the year and all the anxiety, masochism, bewilderment, and warm-fuzzies any extended clan gathering ignites like a match thrown in a shit-filled sewer. Chevy Chase's Clark struggles mightily here—to make his house the best-lighted one on the planet, to nab his year-end bonus, to fix the newel post, to keep cousin Eddie at bay, and on and on—but his travails remind viewers that investing too deeply in Christmastime commerce can result in nerve damage. Wrapping smarmy jokes inside sitcommy wrapping paper, the third Vacation movie owns its position on the naughty list.
The Night Comes for Us (2018)There are images in The Night Comes for Us, a wild Indonesian action thriller starring two veterans of the celebrated The Raid franchise, that resemble what a child might think an action movie would be after simply looking at lurid VHS cover art and hyper-stylized movie posters. It flirts with parody at points and gleefully crosses over into absurdity in others. Towards the end of the movie, the two main characters -- an ex-mercenary for the Triads named Ito (Joe Taslim) and his old friend turned rival Arian (Iko Uwais) -- basically slash at each other's flesh like Itchy and Scratchy, their bodies carrying on long past the point of what conventional medicine would deem possible. Is it overwhelming? Yes. But the dedication to mayhem makes this essential viewing for action fans with strong stomachs.
Nightcrawler (2014)Jake Gyllenhaal gives a career-best performance in this nocturnal noir, playing the haunted, single-minded Lou Bloom, a scavenger of human suffering whose motives are as twisted and opaque as the seedy LA underworld he inhabits. That is, as a cameraman documenting crime scenes for a local news station—but that’s media for you! It’s a twisted thriller, testing how much you can take as you go on an after hours high-speed chase, and it’s all set against writer-director Dan Gilroy’s pitch-black vision of sunny California that forces you to see the City of Angels in a whole new light.
Okja (2017)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.
On Body and Soul (2017)This Hungarian 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.
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.
The Pianist (2002)In 2003, Adrien Brody became the youngest person ever to take home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of 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 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, though extensive, effects it had on one individual.
Platoon (1986)Oliver Stone's Platoon is not the kind of patriotic film that romanticizes war. Based on his own experiencing in Vietnam, the controversial filmmaker documents the brutality of fighting an aimless fight in the rogue jungle by following the relentless tour of rookie volunteer soldier Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen). Through combat and a moral dilemma that occurs within their platoon, Stone examines the duality of man amidst violent trauma. A cannon Vietnam War film, yes, but also one of cinema's best human stories, as Taylor's greatest conflict is a fear of becoming numb when so much loss is happening around him.
Private Life (2018)Over a decade since the release of her last dark comedy, The Savages, writer and director Tamara Jenkins returned 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.
Rain Man (1988)Barry Levinson's Oscar-winning classic follows a young hustler (Tom Cruise) who vies for the trust and custody of his older brother (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic savant, after the latter inherits their father's multimillion dollar estate. As the unlikely duo hits the road across the Western US, they (spoiler!) learn as much about themselves as they do each other. It's a must (re-)watch, the kind of potent dramedy that'll still split your sides and empty your tear ducts within the same scene.
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.
Roma (2018)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.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)Steven Spielberg's World War II movie solidified itself as an American classic 15 minutes into its runtime, after a grave, pungent staging of the invasion of Normandy Beach. The rest of the film lives up to the sequence, with Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and an unimaginable list of big-name actors playing out a universal band of brothers. When a life is worth saving, backstory matters, and Spielberg's direction does as much to enrich the lives of his men as it does to enact the terrors of war.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)Before the arrival of The Queen's Gambit, Searching for Bobby Fischer was probably the most ubiquitous chess-adjacent piece of popular culture. Though the title might make you think it's a biopic of the reclusive chess legend Bobby Fisher, the story centers on the childhood of a different childhood prodigy, Joshua Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc), as he learns the intricacies of the game from a strict instructor, played by Ben Kingsley, and a brilliant Washington Square Park hustler, played by Laurence Fishburne. Adapting a memoir by Waitzkin's father, filmmaker Steven Zaillian, the writer of Schindler's List, turns the material into a pleasingly cerebral sports movie, digging into the ethical minefield of nurturing a child's gift without destroying their natural love of the game.
Shadow (2019)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.
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.
Shirkers (2018)Although Sandi Tan grew up to have a fulfilling career as a novelist and filmmaker, she never quite forgot about one project from her youth: Shirkers, a homemade movie she and her best friends made in Singapore as teenagers. The footage quite literally disappeared, along with one of their collaborators, Georges Cardona—and that was the last they saw of both him and the film. This documentary, named after the original film, follows Tan’s quest to discover what exactly happened to their beloved movie and the strange man who altered their lives. Written, directed, and co-edited by Tan herself, Shirkers takes you directly on the filmmaker’s mysterious journey, telling a lively, revealing, and heartwarming narrative about a woman on a mission and her lifelong dreams.
Shutter Island (2010)In his haunted adaptation of Dennis Lehane's pulpy gothic novel, director Martin Scorsese uses visceral horror imagery to convey despair. Leonardo DiCaprio's terrified mug is the film's spookiest special effect. With every grimace, furrowed brow, and anguished sob, he brings you into the tortured psyche of Edward Daniels, a man who cannot escape his past no matter how hard he tries. It's a carefully modulated performance that helps sell the film's occasionally wonky twists.
A Single Man (2009)Is life worth living after the sudden death of your partner? That’s the question Colin Firth’s forlorn George faces in this drama, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood and directed by fashion designer Tom Ford. You’ll see Ford's eye in every gorgeous scene, as if the movie is one long, breathtaking couture commercial. Set in 1960s LA, A Single Man will simultaneously break your heart and give you hope as George interacts with colleagues, visits an old friend (Julianne Moore), and has a romantic tryst with a student at the university where he teaches—all as he decides whether this will be the day he ends his life.
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.
Snowpiercer (2013)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.
Spotlight (2015)Director Tom McCarthy stretches the drama taut as he renders Boston Globe's 2000 Catholic Church sex scandal investigation into a Hollywood vehicle. McCarthy's notable cast members crank like gears as they uncover evidence and reflect on a horrifying discovery of which they shoulder partial blame. Spotlight was the cardigan of 2015's Oscar nominees, but even cardigans look sharp when Mark Ruffalo is involved.
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.
Steve Jobs (2015)Caught in the crossfire of a director shake-up (Slumdog Millionaire Oscar-winner Danny Boyle stepped up after David Fincher bailed) and the North Korean Sony hack, Aaron Sorkin's take on the (abridged) life and times of the Apple cofounder came and went from the 2015 award season. Not since the Newton MessagePad has there been such an overlooked Mac product; Sorkin's drama is an operatic chamber piece with Michael Fassbender's Steve as the maniac maestro. In the tightly wound biopic, the behind-the-scenes mayhem gets the blood pumping, the monologues drill like dental weaponry, and the keynote speeches feel like Moses stepping down from Mount Sinai. What could be hagiography is a movie as large as the subject itself.
Superbad (2007)The comedy that kicked off Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's writing partnership crams more crude sex jokes than anyone ever thought possible into a heartwarming story of inseparable best friends (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) on the verge of shipping off to different colleges. Factor in some wild party scenes, a then-unknown Emma Stone, high-school horndogs riffing to their hearts' content, and McLovin, and you've got yourself a classic high school movie that rivals the likes of Dazed and Confused.
Synchronic (2020)Directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a very distinct style: weird stuff in the sky, complicated brotherly relationships between men, new and fascinating conceptions of the nature of time. Synchronic is another dive into the depths of what the fabric of the universe is woven from, spinning a wild tale of death, drugs, and time travel amidst the dim, sinister backdrop of nighttime New Orleans. Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie play a pair of EMTs cruising the NOLA nights responding to emergency distress calls. On a few of these calls, they come across a number of people who have either mysteriously disappeared or somehow wound up dead, each incident having to do with a new drug called "Synchronic." When Dornan's daughter goes missing, his friend must figure out how to use the killer drug to find her.
Tallulah (2016)From Orange Is the New Black writer Sian Heder, Tallulah follows the title character (played by Elliot 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.
The Theory of Everything (2014)In an Oscar-winning performance, Eddie Redmayne portrays famed physicist Stephen Hawking—though The Theory of Everything is less of a traditional biopic than it is a beautiful, sweet film about his lifelong relationship with his wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). Covering Hawking's 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.
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.
13th (2016)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.
Time to Hunt (2020)Unrelenting in its pursuit of scenarios where guys point big guns at each other in sparsely lit empty hallways, the South Korean thriller Time to Hunt knows exactly what stylistic register it's playing in. A group of four friends, including Parasite and Train to Busan break-out Choi Woo-shik, knock over a gambling house, stealing a hefty bag of money and a set of even more valuable hard-drives, and then find themselves targeted by a ruthless contract killer (Park Hae-soo) who moves like the T-1000 and shoots like a henchmen in a Michael Mann movie. Even with its long runtime, this movie moves.
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. Now, you can watch the complete TATB trilogy: P.S. I Love You and Always & Forever are also on Netflix.
Total Recall (1990)Skip the completely forgettable Colin Farrell remake from 2012. This Arnold Schwarzenegger-powered, action-filled sci-fi movie is the one to go with. Working from a short story by writer Philip K. Dick, director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) uses a brain-teasing premise—you can buy "fake" vacation memories from a mysterious company called Rekall—to stage one of his hyper-violent, winkingly absurd cartoons. The bizarre images of life on Mars and silly one-liners from Arnold fly so fast that you'll begin to think the whole movie was designed to be implanted in your mind.
Training Day (2001)Denzel Washington's Detective Alonzo Harris is a chain-smoking, whip-riding, utterly corrupt LA cop who takes a naïve white-boy cop (Ethan Hawke) for an ever-eventful ride. Washington brings devilish layers and surprising humor to the role. For most of the movie, he had audiences wondering if he'd take Hawke on a crooked-but-ultimately righteous path or send him to hell along with him. Yeah, he was a bad guy, but he was one of the most fascinating bad guys anyone has ever seen.
Tramps (2017)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.
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 brings together 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.
Uncut Gems (2019)In Uncut Gems, the immersive crime film from sibling director duo Josh and Benny Safdie, gambling is a matter of faith. Whether he's placing a bet on the Boston Celtics, attempting to rig an auction, or outrunning debt-collecting goons at his daughter's high school play, the movie's jeweler protagonist Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) believes in his ability to beat the odds. Every financial setback, emotional humbling, and spiritual humiliation he suffers gets interpreted by Howard as a sign that his circumstances might be turning around. After all, a big score could be right around the corner.
Unfriended (2014)The Blair Witch Project popularized the found-footage genre, and Unfriended was one of the first to tap into the even more niche subset of the horror style—social media/computer screen found-footage. This Blumhouse freak-out isn't always a master of its craft and can feel more like being forced into peering at a screen from over someone's shoulder like you're waiting for your sibling's allotted screen time to wrap up, and is sometimes flat-out silly, but since we're addicted to being online, it is hard to look away. It follows a group of teenagers whose chatroom appears to be haunted by their friend who was recently bullied and died by suicide. Even when the scares are cheap, it's an interesting experiment that's worth logging into.
Velvet Buzzsaw (2018)Netflix's ludicrously fun and gory art-world satire sees director and screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) team up with Jake Gyllenhaal in a thriller that rips apart the effete Los Angeles art world. While pricey auctions and pretentious collectors are relatively low-hanging fruit, Gilroy, Gyllenhaal, and Rene Russo bring a fast-paced humor that makes the plot—an outsider artist's haunted work starts killing people—more tolerable than you might think. Oh, and names like Morf, Rhodora, and Ventril elevate the film's self-aware kitschiness, which makes the satire even more cutting.
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 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.
Wildlife (2018)As a child, it's terrifying to watch your parents' marriage fall apart right before your eyes. First-time director Paul Dano adapted Richard Ford's novel of the same name along with his wife Zoe Kazan and made the story of two parents' midlife crises unfolding in front of their teenaged son into a blaze of emotion. Carey Mulligan gives a career best performance as a housewife filling her boredom with an affair, and Jake Gyllenhaal is heartbreaking as a father who feels lost and abandons his family to fight the Montana forest fires. It's a slow, humble film, but a mighty drama that manages to burn you.
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