Here's Everything We Know About Pixar's Cinematic Universe
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.
A Vietnam-era love story set to the soundtrack of The Beatles, Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe is a trippy, joyful movie-musical that may provoke spontaneous karaoke. And fret not, Beatles purists: The talented young cast and roster of all-star cameos (Bono, Eddie Izzard, Joe Cocker) do the Fab Four's songs justice, while the young-lovers-during-wartime plot works surprisingly well, even if it's mostly just a backdrop for the music. Plus, I dare you to find anything more sweetly romantic than Jim Sturgess singing "I've Just Seen a Face" about Evan Rachel Wood while bopping through a bowling alley. Seriously, I dare you.
All the President's Men (1976)
In a political climate that's called on the media to dig up no shortage of controversies, it seems fitting to revisit the newspaper heroes of yore. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford co-star as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, respectively, the two Washington Post reporters who unearthed the details of President Richard Nixon's now-infamous Watergate scandal. This Alan J. Pakula-helmed drama is a psychologically piercing classic that'll make you view the current political landscape with a healthy amount of cynicism and hope.
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.
Apollo 13 (1995)
"Houston, we have a problem." Ron Howard's historical space epic dramatizing NASA's mission to return Apollo 13 to Earth after the spaceship suffers internal damage is a certified classic. With performances from Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, and others bringing to life the famous astronauts who made this moment during the space race one to remember, you'll get a sense of the fight for life both out in space and on the ground that made for a frantic, yet ultimately inspirational, story watched around the world.
For his follow-up to his two action epics, The Raid and The Raid 2, director Gareth Evans dials back the hand-to-hand combat but still keeps a few buckets of blood handy in this grisly supernatural horror tale. Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, an early 20th century opium addict traveling to a cloudy island controlled by a secretive cult that's fallen on hard times. The religious group is led by a bearded scold named Father Malcolm (Michael Sheen) who may or may not be leading his people astray. Beyond a few bursts of kinetic violence and some crank-filled torture sequences, Evans plays this story relatively down-the-middle, allowing the performances, the lofty themes, and the windswept vistas to do the talking. It's a cult movie that earns your devotion slowly, then all at once.
The Aviator (2004)
The Aviator is a tour-de-force historical epic that hinges on Leonardo DiCaprio as American aviator Howard Hughes, whose mental state stymies grandiose ambitions. DiCaprio loves a good man tormented by internal and external demons, but in this three-hour masterpiece, Martin Scorsese pushes the 30-year-old Leo to bring all of Howard Hughes' many contradictions to life: the swaggering young playboy billionaire, the starlet romancer, the daredevil innovator, and the shrunken madman, unshorn, guzzling milk, pissing in bottles, and muttering "the way of the future" over and over again. It's one of the most harrowing on-screen depictions of how mental illness can wrench a life apart, and one of Leo's unobjectable triumphs.
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.
Billy Elliot (2000)
Movies about dreamers typically elicit a sense of bewilderment, and Billy Elliot is no different. But the film about a boy (Jamie Bell) from a prideful, low-income family who skips his boxing lessons for ballet class in attempt to turn his natural gift into a serious ambition has its own breed of uplifting energy. The drama tessellates between fantasy and reality, set during the UK's coal miner strike in the '80s, which only makes the scenes of Elliot practicing in the studio or choreographing his navigation of daily life in the County Durham streets that much more special. You'll feel that exuberance in each pirouette.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
It's hard to tell the actors apart in Black Hawk Down: they're all dressed in military fatigues, often with helmets and goggles that obscure their faces; there's dust everywhere; and yelling is the preferred method of communication. To say that Ridley Scott's chronicle of a 1993 US military raid in Mogadishu doesn't cohere isn't exactly a negative critique. It's a part of the movie's frenzied, discombobulating aesthetic. Faces blur. The soundtrack pummels you with gunfire. Helicopters whirl overhead. It's experiential, the type of movie that's tough to shake -- even on a puny computer screen.
Black Panther (2018)
Director Ryan Coogler's deft balancing of a high-tech spy gadgetry, ceremonial palace intrigue, fantasy action mayhem, and subversive political critique is unparalleled in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that Black Panther springs from. In the same way Creed, his propulsive and knowing reboot of the Rocky franchise, paid tribute to and upended boxing iconography, Coogler's take on superhero-dom is both pleasing and probing.The larger ideological conflict between the new king T'Challa (Boseman) and the American revolutionary Killmonger (Jordan) has been seen before in the pages of history books and comics, but it's never been given this type of eye-popping, brain-scrambling, heart-pounding blockbuster treatment.
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.
Richard Linklater spent a decade with the same actors to shoot bits and pieces of his coming-of-age story as an experiment in seamless onscreen aging. The result is a subtly funny, troubling, and true portrait of how special each person's "normal" life can be.
Burn After Reading (2008)
The Coens followed up their No Country for Old Men Best Picture win at the Oscars by turning sharply back to comedy. Burn After Reading is absurd and acerbic, a political hoopla revolving around a prized MacGuffin -- a CD containing government secrets! -- that isn't a MacGuffin at all. A gaggle of "serious" actors, most notably Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, and Coen stalwarts Frances McDormand and George Clooney, shoot for the stratosphere as they weave through the mad, mad, mad, mad world of Washington, DC. And because this is a Coen brothers movie, blood spills freely as everyone from personal trainers to CIA spies sink deeper and deeper into confusion. An ode to empowered idiocy, complete with a dildo chair.
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.
Todd Haynes’ story about lesbian love in the 1950s is a gorgeous film from start to finish: from the direction (every frame is as lush as a painting) to the awards-worthy performances (Rooney Mara as the gawky, vulnerable Therese and Cate Blanchett as the alluring, perfectly coiffed Carol -- seriously, give this woman’s hair-swoop its own award). No matter which way you swing, Carol is one of the most tender cinematic depictions ever of what it feels like to be in love -- how the quality of light changes, how time slows, how every fleeting gesture takes on the deliberateness of sign language -- and why two people would be willing to go against everything society expects of them in order to hold on to it.
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.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2016)
Set against the heavenly hills of Sils Maria, Switzerland, this chamber drama traps an aging actress (Juliette Binoche), her raw and responsive assistant (Kristen Stewart), and an ingenue gunning for fame (Chloë Grace Moretz), as they swirl through each other's lives like a mist. There's little plot to describe in Clouds of Sils Maria; you come to watch three premier actresses drill into psychology and they deliver in spades.
There are elements of previous Pixar movies in this story centered around a young boy's journey on the Day of the Dead -- the vision of the afterlife is a bit like Monsters Inc.'s nightmare world, the generational divide will likely remind you of Up, and the emotionally brutal finale is as mournful and psychologically fraught as Toy Story 3's climax -- but director Lee Unkrich and his collaborators approach every aspect of the tale, from the world-building to the slapstick dog gags, with gusto. Taking a page out of the traditional Disney playbook, this is the first Pixar film to heavily rely on original songs, and they're stunners. The sequence built around "Remember Me," the Oscar-winning song performed by multiple characters, belongs in Pixar's tearjerker Hall of Fame.
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.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
This biopic about Ron Woodruff, a particularly rebellious Texan who learns he's HIV-positive in the 1980s, is peak Matthew McConaughey and led to his infamous acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for Best Actor. (In case you've forgotten, he says his hero is himself in the future.) Jean-Marc Vallée's searing Texas landscapes and unflinching look at the progression of a disease few people understood give this movie a unique spin on the conventional biopic.
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.
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.
Writer-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go) made the movie we’ll remember when Google’s self-driving cars rise against their masters. Immaculately designed and researched, Ex Machina builds a trifecta out of the ultimate Silicon Valley bro (Oscar Isaac); Ava, the ideal robo-woman he believes is under his control (Alicia Vikander); and the audience's proxy, a regular Joe computer junkie enamored by Ava’s potential (Domhnall Gleeson). Over a weekend, they talk through philosophy, drink themselves stupid, and discover the ramifications of reckless innovations. Elegant, rambunctious, and terrifyingly prescient.
The Fighter (2010)
David O. Russell’s (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) The Fighter packs a punch. The Oscar-nominated biographical drama stars Mark Wahlberg as underdog boxer Micky Ward alongside Christian Bale, in yet another transformative role as Ward’s older half-brother/trainer Dicky Eklund. Lined with action and grit, the film follows Ward’s unpredictable rise in the ranks in the world of championship welterweight boxing with the contested help of his washed up brother who descended into drug addiction and a life of seedy crime. Tethered to his success is the strength of the destructive closeness of his family, including his mother played by Melissa Leo, and the relationships outside of it, like that of his girlfriend played by a scene-stealing Amy Adams -- meaning The Fighter is a hard knocks lesson in what it means to look out for someone, as well as a masterclass in acting.
Frances Ha (2012)
Before winning hearts and Oscar nominations with her coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig starred in the perfect companion film, about an aimless 27-year-old who hops from New York City to her hometown of Sacramento to Paris to Poughkeepsie and eventually back to New York in hopes of stumbling into the perfect job, the perfect relationship, and the perfect life. Directed by Noah Baumbach (The Meyerowitz Stories), and co-written by both, Frances Ha is a measured look at adult-ish life captured the kind of intoxicating black and white world we dream of living in.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
Everyone's favorite disaster of a festival received not one, but two streamingdocumentaries in the same week. Netflix's version has rightly faced some criticism over its willingness to let marketing company Fuck Jerry off the hook (Jerry Media produced the doc), but that doesn't take away from the overall picture it portrays of the festival's haphazard planning and the addiction to grift from which Fyre's founder, Billy McFarland, apparently suffers. It's schadenfreude at its best.
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 Will Hunting (1997)
It might be hard to believe now, but once upon a time, Jason Bourne and Batfleck wrote an Academy Award-winning script. As the titular Will Hunting, a directionless MIT janitor with a jaw-dropping gift for mathematics, Matt Damon sparred with the late Robin Williams' beautifully portrayed psychologist to create a moving picture that weighs embracing ambition with remembering one's roots. Minnie Driver, South Boston accents, and quality dive bar scenes are also in the mix -- the movie's still a must-see, or must-re-see.
The Graduate (1967)
Dustin Hoffmann's early career masterpiece of privileged malaise holds up, because it turns out that America hasn't matured enough to deal in any meaningful sense with the existential angst its productivity-first ethos creates. Today, the one word Benjamin Braddock would hear might be two: "Venture capital" or "data mining" or "fintech startups" or "new media," but the vast meaningless would be the same. And, of course, we can't forget the iconic Anne Bancroft, whose Mrs. Robinson is one of the most memorable characters in American film. She's got a whole song named for her!
This Romanian morality tale brims with such tension that the constant vibrations of a troubled man's cell phone provide the kind of jump scares you'd find in The Conjuring. A few days before her final exams -- which could earn her a scholarship in London -- a man sexually assaults 18-year-old Eliza (Dragus). The encounter shakes her and her father, Romeo, who winds up pulling strings to ensure his daughter aces the test. The well-intentioned crime consumes Romeo's life like a plague, and Mungiu barely lifts a finger as it unfolds. Like Euro-flavored Coen-brothers drama, Graduation is rich with character, culture, and corruption.
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.
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.
Like Mean Girls but with murder, this dark '80s cult classic features Winona Ryder and Christian Slater at their peak cool as two young lovers who start bumping off the popular kids in their high school (including a group of pre-Plastics mean girls all named Heather). While the film flopped at the time, the movie seemed pre-destined to be a cult classic, packed as it was with iconic images and lines: Veronica's monocle, the red power scrunchie, the croquet-playing, "What's your damage, Heather!?," and of course, "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw." Years ahead of its time, Heathers was a sharp satire of sickly sweet '80s teen movies, a lethal dose of cinematic Drano that we still can't believe ever got green-lit (and that certainly wouldn't pass muster in today's post-Columbine world).
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.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Shaun of the Dead spoofers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg set their sights on bumbling police officers trying to solve a murder in a small English town. The duo watched countless buddy-cop flicks to fully satirize the genre, and it paid off, with laughably bad chase sequences and uproarious slapstick gags. They prove how much fun action movies can be when they lighten up a little (OK, a lot). Remember: it's not murder, it's ketchup.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Before director Katheryn Bigelow made the CIA-torture propaganda movie Zero Dark Thirty, she became the first woman to win an Academy Award for directing thanks to this heart-pounding depiction of Explosive Ordnance Disposal units in Iraq. It may exaggerate the day-to-day realities of the Iraq War, but the thesis -- war is a drug -- implies that it's possible to get hooked, turning a nation and its soldiers into war addicts. It's so potent a drug that Jeremy Renner's anti-hero, Staff Sergeant William James, can't give it up even when facing death and the possibility of reuniting with his family. Not quite as rah-rah American as Bigelow's follow-up.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)
A meditative horror flick that's more unsettling than outright frightening, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House follows the demise of Lily, a live-in nurse (Ruth Wilson) who's caring for an ailing horror author. As Lily discovers the truth about the writer's fiction and home, the lines between the physical realm and the afterlife blur. The movie's slow pacing and muted escalation might frustrate viewers craving showy jump-scares, but writer-director Oz Perkins is worth keeping tabs on. He brings a beautiful eeriness to every scene, and his story will captivate patient streamers. Fans should be sure to check out his directorial debut, The Blackcoat's Daughter.
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
In this maniacal mystery, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a nurse, and her rattail-sporting, weapon-obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) hunt down a local burglar. Part Cormac McCarthy thriller, part wacky, Will Ferrell-esque comedy, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a cathartic neo-noir about everyday troubles. Director Macon Blair's not the first person to find existential enlightenment at the end of an amateur detective tale, but he might be the first to piece one together from cussing octogenarians, ninja stars, Google montages, gallons of Big Red soda, upper-deckers, friendly raccoons, exploding body parts, and the idiocy of humanity.
In Bruges (2008)
Colin Farrell is a seriously funny actor. In playwright Martin McDonagh's sly directorial debut, Farrell plays Ray, an Irish hitman wracked with guilt over the accidental killing of a young boy. Instead of using his rugged good looks to play yet another "badass" assassin character, Farrell goes full neurotic, twitching his eyes and fidgeting like a child struggling to stay still in class. It's a hilarious, manic performance that makes the film's comic moments pop, and allows its somber, reflective moments to sneak up on you like a dark stranger approaching in an alley. You won't know what hit you.
In Order of Disappearance (2014)
Norway knows how to thrill. In this snow-white black comedy, Stellan Skarsgård searches for the truth surrounding his son's recent death, eventually launching him into Taken mode against a local drug ring. Coen-esque touches and kick-ass takedowns make this the perfect material for Skarsgård, legendary actor Bruno Ganz, and Game of Thrones star Kristofer Hivju.
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.
The Informant! (2009)
Steven Soderbergh's price-fixing dramedy manages to make the arcane details of corporate malfeasance sound funny in this Matt Damon-led film about a real-life scandal. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, the informant in question, who blows the whistle on a scheme to fix the price of an animal-feed additive -- but that's not the point. Instead, you fall deeper and deeper into the confused psyche of Whitacre, a compulsively lying narrator who manages to remain likable, even when he's doing the exact thing he was told explicitly not to do. Just when you think Whitacre has finally figured out how to behave, he inevitably digs himself a deeper hole. It's an excruciating, yet wildly entertaining watch.
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.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
In the early-'00s, Disney was in a weird place: After a decade of animated blockbusters, the House of Mouse took some creative detours. Like similarly quirky The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch isn't cut from the same sumptuous musical cloth as the company's '90s hits like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, or The Lion King. Instead, this tale of a mischievous Hawaiian girl (Lilo) and a genetically modified alien-like creature (Stitch) is a laid-back comedy packed with Elvis songs, Roswell references, and beautiful surfing sequences. It's a low-key oddity in the Disney canon, a testament to what talented artists can do when they deviate from the formula.
Without the nostalgic glow, Steven Spielberg's rowdy, rousing act of political theater stands out as a treasure waiting to be appreciated. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for portraying our thunderous 16th president, who pulled every string necessary to end the Civil War and abolish slavery in one fell swoop. Spielberg finds comedy and tragedy in the saga, which resonates with a particularly damning pitch in our current stagnant moment. With gorgeous period accoutrements and the sharpest casting of the decade, Lincoln captures the past, speaks to the present, and hopefully inspires the future.
The Lobster (2016)
Greek style master Yorgos Lanthimos' dystopian allegory against romance sees Colin Farrell forced to choose a partner in 45 days or he'll be turned into an animal of his choice, which is a lobster. Stuck in a group home with similarly unlucky singles, Farrell's David decides to bust out and join other renegades in a kind of anti-love terror cell that lives in the woods. It's part comedy of manners, part futuristic thriller, and it looks absolutely beautiful -- Lanthimos handles the bizarre premise with grace and a naturalistic eye that reminds the viewer that humans remain one of the most interesting animals to exist on this planet.
The Look of Silence (2014)
The stronger one of Joshua Oppenheimer's films confronting the mid-1960s genocide in Indonesia (the other is The Act of Killing) follows an optometrist as he meets and interviews the individuals responsible for the death of his brother, none of whom have been held accountable before. It sounds so simplistic, and at first it plays so serenely, then gradually, it builds into a powerful record of the candid confessions of men still considered heroes in their country. This documentary focuses on the legacy of events that will soon only be in the hands and minds of a generation detached from and mistaken about the events of 50 years ago.
The Master (2012)
Loosely inspired by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard -- Dianetics buffs, we strongly recommend Alex Gibney's Going Clear documentary as a companion piece -- The Master boasts one of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s finest performances, as the enigmatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd. Joaquin Phoenix burns just as brightly as his emotionally stunted, loose-cannon protege Freddie Quell, who has a taste for homemade liquor. Paul Thomas Anderson’s cerebral epic lends itself to many different readings; it’s a cult story, it's a love story, it's a story about post-war disillusionment and the American dream, it's a story of individualism and the desire to belong. But the auteur's popping visuals and heady thematic currents will still sweep you away, even if you’re not quite sure where the tide is taking you.
If you saw Poltergeist growing up, chances are you're probably equally as haunted by Heather O'Rourke as she is in the film, playing a little girl tormented by ghosts in her family home. This Steven Spielberg-penned, Tobe Hooper-directed (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) paranormal flick is a certified cult classic and one of the best horror films of all time, coming from a simple premise about a couple whose home is infested with spirits obsessed with reclaiming the space and kidnapping their daughter. Poltergeist made rearranged furniture freaky, and you may remember a particularly iconic scene with a fuzzed-out vintage television set. It may be nearly 40 years old, but the creepiness holds up.
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.
Sean Penn won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the openly gay public official who galvanized San Francisco's activist movement. Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), Milk is a traditional, yet elegant biopic that keeps two fingers firmly placed on the pulse of 1970s Castro Street while mirroring debates and actions we're still (still!) witnessing today.
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.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Like a blast from Anton Chigurh's cattle gun, No Country for Old Men came out of nowhere. In 2007, it seemed like the Coen brothers had lost a step, sinking into an era of gentle self-parody. This Josh Brolin-starring neo-Western changed all that. Adapting Cormac McCarthy's brutal, uncompromising thriller, the filmmakers crafted their most purely suspenseful and terrifying film to date. The coin flip, the car crash, and Javier Bardem's haircut have all become parodied pop-cultural fixtures at this point. But the sense of dread the film evokes, amplified by Roger Deakins' shadowy photography, is impossible to shake. It's real. It's scary. And it's coming for you.
NymphomaniacVols. 1 & 2 (2013)
Provocateur Lars von Trier (Antichrist, Melancholia) made headlines for filling his orgastic opus with unsimulated sex. While the four-hour-long, two-volume journey (though both volumes should be viewed together) is filled with explicit scenes -- everything from train-car blow jobs to threesomes to fetish whipping where a riding crop takes care of the stimulation -- von Trier has more on his mind than pornographic subversion. His sardonic Nymphomaniac questions sexuality, the roles of men and women in one another's lives, and storytelling on a macro level. The movie's a triumph -- and not just for those who dreamed of seeing Shia LaBeouf thrust on camera.
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.
Personal Shopper (2017)
As Maureen, a French socialite's personal shopper who believes that if she hangs around Paris long enough, she'll make contact with her recently deceased twin brother, Kristen Stewart is a conduit of the spirits of Vivien Leigh, James Dean, and the leading ladies of Hitchcock thrillers. She's enigmatic yet seductive, the perfect set of observing, questioning eyes to lead us down a windy exploration of grief. Personal Shopper becomes a supernatural horror, psychosexual drama, high-tension suspense, and the type of playful character drama that the French have perfected, all while orbiting Maureen's racing mind, which we see provoked by everything from séance YouTube videos to anonymous text messages.
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.
That late director Jonathan Demme treated the AIDS crisis with his typical humanity and close attention to the minor details of personal lives sounds unremarkable now. That he did it in for mainstream audiences 1993, with movie stars like Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Antonio Banderas in leading roles, gives you a sense of what made Demme so beloved. Andrew Beckett (Hanks) is a gay, HIV-positive lawyer whose big-time law firm fires him because of his sexual orientation, and Beckett decides to sue for discrimination. The ensuing drama exposes the lengths to which otherwise smart, accomplished people will go to preserve traditional attitudes at the expense of human rights, a contradiction Beckett's homophobic counsel (Washington) must work through for himself if he hopes to win the case.
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.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
No other modern movie so effortlessly created its own language and mythology of cool, where mere objects evoke oceans of meaning. Many have tried, but only Quentin Tarantino could cut and paste his passions into a collage. Both wickedly funny and surprisingly thoughtful, it's even better than you remember it being in the 1990s. Travolta still sizzles. The dialogue still pops. The soundtrack still sings. Forget the loftier films he'd make later in his career -- this is his masterpiece.
Quiz Show (1994)
Back in the 1990s, every true story became a classically tailored, character-actor-filled Oscar prospect. Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford, is one of the best of the bunch, a story of the American dream filtered through the Hollywood machine. Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) became rich and famous playing the game show Twenty One. In 1959, he testified before Congress that producers fed him the answers. He never lived down his scandal. Quiz Show show wrestles with why.
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.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Sometimes, you just want to watch a great actor explode. With Mad Men soaring, maybe we didn't need Sam Mendes' adaptation of the acclaimed Richard Yates novel, but the descent into suburban malaise offered Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet the reunion of a lifetime. Their bitter feuds lay waste to ceramic kitchenware. Their looks, bubbling in living portrait after living portrait, scorch harder. Revolutionary Road is stage acting worthy of Broadway. On screen, it's a salvo of in-your-face confrontations, DiCaprio and Winslet pushing themselves to extremes.
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.
Say hello to Tony Montana's little friend in Brian De Palma's coke-kingpin epic. The role established Al Pacino as an over-acting force to be reckoned with in the (unlikely) part of the Cuban drug-pusher, and the production features a slick look at Miami's '80s excesses. While the movie's most notorious scenes can feel a little broad -- did they really need to use a chainsaw? -- the set-pieces are held together by a endlessly quotable script from Oliver Stone and some of De Palma's flashiest directorial flourishes.
Schindler's List (1993)
A passion project for Steven Spielberg, who shot it back-to-back with another masterpiece, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who reportedly saved over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. Frank, honest, and stark in its depiction of Nazi violence, the three-hour historical drama is a haunting reminder of the world's past, every frame a relic, every lost voice channeled through Itzhak Perlman's mourning violin.
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 Sixth Sense (1999)
Twist: M. Night Shyamalan's paranormal drama is just as scary after 18 years of meme-ification. Haley Joel Osment is just 11 years old in this star-making turn, as a young boy who can see dead people. Bruce Willis' mouth-agape reactions still chill with each surreal discovery.
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!
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.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
2015's The Force Awakens revived classic Star Wars for a new generation. The Last Jedi finally hands off the saber to Rey and punches the open-ended franchise into story-expanding hyperspace. Though the dramatic shifts didn't sit well with some of the devoted audiences -- why would Luke Skywalker, the Jedi with truncated training who let his sister's son slip to the Dark Side, be a PTSD-crippled curmudgeon instead of his ebullient former self?? -- director Rian Johnson takes the Star Wars universe more seriously than any of his predecessors.
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.
The Third Man (1950)
One of the pillars of film noir comes to Netflix with pristine shadows and wailing zither music intact. Written by novelist Graham Greene, The Third Man follows a pulp writer (Joseph Cotten) as he navigates post-World War II Vienna, trying to solve the "murder" of his friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Twisting, turning, and employing every trick in the moviemaking playbook, The Third Man ultimately cuts deep because of a cynical theme of confidence and corruption. Heroes fall their hardest in noir.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The Thor series, with its occasionally leaden mix of earnest mythology, frantic action, and hokey jokes, was the Marvel property most in need of an upgrade. Ragnarok doesn't abandon the core elements of Thor -- Chris Hemsworth still stars as the hunk-ish, Hammer-throwing God -- but director Taika Waititi, fresh off the success of his wiseass adventure film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, optimizes the comedic potential of the character, turning the third chapter into an absurd, Technicolor zing-fest. New characters like Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie, Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, and Korg, a friendly rock monster voiced by Waititi himself, make this a wacky sci-fi universe you actually want to hang out in.
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.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Natalie Portman's dystopian thriller has only increased in relevance since it came out, so you can remember, remember the joy of watching a buzzed Portman trying to fight the repressive forces of future governmental control. Watch the spirit of Guy Fawkes live on before it's too late.
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.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
With the arrival of the Netflix miniseries First Day of Camp and 10 Years Later, it's easy to forget that Wet Hot American Summer wasn't always a beloved comedy classic. The movie initially flopped, making less than $1 million in theaters, and earned some brutally dismissive reviews. You know who saved this movie? Stoned nerds, mostly. How else can you explain the iconic status of a movie that features a scene where the dude from Law & Order: SVU talks to a can of vegetables voiced by H. Jon Benjamin? There's no other explanation.
Winter's Bone (2010)
Jennifer Lawrence's breakout role, which earned her an Oscar nomination, depicts with unflinching realism the bleak, poverty-stricken world of the Ozarks and the criminal enterprises that operate within it. Lawrence plays a teenager who must find her missing father to avoid losing the house where she cares for her mother and younger siblings. It's a dark, disturbing examination of life in a part of America that's often forgotten, and director Debra Granik (Leave No Trace) shows a deft touch in avoiding sentimentality while honing in on the deep and complicated personal relationships that define most small, rural communities.
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.