Netflix has been releasing feature-length original films ever since 2015's Beasts of No Nation, but the streaming service didn't become truly impressive until 2019, when its slate was stocked with genre gems and big-stakes theatrical releases. In between, the streaming behemoth has unleashed movies that range from cheesy Adam Sandler comedies to harrowing allegories about factory farming, all in an effort to revolutionize the way you watch movies and TV.
Naturally, some Netflix originals are better than others. These are the best movies the platform has to offer (excluding documentaries), a ranking that will change and evolve as Netflix continues its all-out push into original programming in 2020. Once you've made your way through these titles, you can also check out our ranking of Netflix's best original TV shows.
50. The Polka King (2018)
It's likely not many people know about Jan Lewan, the real-life Polish émigré who settled in Pennsylvania and started a Ponzi scheme to fuel a fraudulent polka empire. Though director Maya Forbes and co-writer Wally Wolodarsky play a bit fast and loose with the facts, The Polka King ultimately delivers a story as oddly infectious and entertaining as the music at its heart. Stepping up as Lewan is Jack Black, channeling the same madcap charm he did in School of Rock combined with the offbeat charismatic criminality of his performance in Bernie. Joining him for this surreal rise-crash-rise of an American dream are a potent Jenny Slate (playing Lewan's wife), a wonderfully lame Jason Schwartzman (Lewan's faithful BFF), and a flat-out phenomenal Jacki Weaver (Lewan's mother-in-law). Admittedly, some might feel squeamish about how this movie makes light of the people Lewan cheated -- and it doesn't help that there's a weird quarter-baked redemption arc near the end -- but at the end of the day, this is a vehicle for Black to show off his nonpareil charisma.
49. A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018)
You'd think that a guy who co-founded the legendary humor magazine National Lampoon and co-wrote two movies quoted more often, we're pretty sure, than the Bible (1978's Animal House and 1980's Caddyshack) would be a household name. Yet Doug Kenney, who fell or jumped to his death in Hawaii a month after the release of the 1980 golf classic, remains woefully obscure, perhaps by his own design. This Netflix biopic, directed by David Wain and starring Will Forte, tells the story of his decade-long rise from Harvard wit to disillusioned Hollywood scriptwriter, and it nearly succeeds in making you understand what made Kenney tick. At times, the movie seems distracted by the endless parade of familiar actors and comedians cast as real-life figures, such as Joel McHale as Chevy Chase and Paul Scheer as Paul Shaffer, but even comedy nerds who already know this stuff cold will enjoy seeing Forte work. For a more complete look at the National Lampoon era, watch the 2015 documentary Drunk Brilliant Stoned Dead. Or just skip them both, yell "doody!" and fire up Caddyshack for the 100th time.
48. The Killer (2017)
This Brazilian western (O Matador in Portuguese) tells the story of Cabeleira, a recluse who, after seeking the fate of his gunslinging father, becomes a feared killer in his own right. Written and directed by Marcelo Galvão, The Killer unspools with the same kind of wonder as a fairy tale (with narration to boot). While its characters are very much the stuff of legend, their adventures are much grittier and more soaked in blood than you might anticipate. While some of the movie's quirks occasionally fall flat, it'd be a mistake to ignore altogether. Thanks to its taut run time and spellbinding story, The Killer makes for the perfect weeknight watch if you're looking for a discovery that's a little off the beaten path.
47. The Perfection (2019)
The Perfection, Netflix's self-consciously sleazy genre provocation starring Allison Williams as a former child cello prodigy out for revenge, is like a cinematic endurance test. Grossed out by the creepy bug effects and horrifying depictions of self-mutilation? Keep streaming. For some viewers, the act of surviving each grisly twist and body horror scare in this thriller from Richard Shepard will be its own reward, because as shocking as this derailed story of vengeance from one deranged classic musician onto another is, that’s all part of its sick fun.
46. War Machine (2017)
Based on the late Michael Hastings book The Operators, War Machine finds Brad Pitt goofing hard on General Stanley McChrystal, who served as Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan from June 2009 to June 2010. Pitt's character, General Glen McMahon, is a tough-as-nails American warlord whose bureaucratic skills echo both Patton and Popeye, but who finds he still can't make headway in the confusing chaos of Middle Eastern conflict. McMahon makes decisions, occasionally wild ones worth of his yuk-yuk-yuk persona, and they ripple through global politics. Doesn't matter. As director David Michôd (The Rover, Animal Kingdom) demonstrates through spotty satire and pristine war footage, even the best SEAL team fighters, the highest-ranking strategists, and the support of the President of the United States don't get you far if no one understood the conflict at hand in the first place.
45. 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.
44. Calibre (2018)
More than two men going on a vacation together in a horror film is never a good idea. Calibre, a horror tale that follows two childhood friends on a hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands, is a clever and tense entry in this long tradition of male bonding gone haywire. Father-to-be Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and his gruffer buddy Marcus (Martin McCann) aren't as close as they used to be, but the trip loosens them up and rekindles their friendship. After a tragic accident occurs in the woods, Marcus makes a decision that the more reserved, contemplative Vaughn regrets. Director Matt Palmer finds psychological nuance in this well-trodden material, making a familiar hike feel like a brand new journey into the unknown.
43. Sand Storm (2016)
Israeli director Elite Zexer's debut is a slow-paced reimagining of classic forbidden love stories, set in a Bedouin village in southern Israel. Layla is a young woman whose love interest is outside the tribe, much to her mother Jalila's consternation. Jalila has enough of her own problems, as her husband, Suliman, has just married a second bride. There's nothing romantic about love in Sand Storm, however, with most of the action focusing on the grueling everyday existence of Bedouin life: hanging up laundry, restarting a generator, constantly cleaning and cooking and dealing with family drama. What it lacks in action it makes up for in attention to detail.
42. Set It Up (2018)
Set It Up is by no means the most important movie Netflix has produced, nor is it the most ambitious. But it's probably the one you're going to want to watch again and again. The streaming behemoth has been on a rom-com kick in 2018, and this film from director Claire Scanlon is one of its most delightful entries into the genre. It starts with a meet-cute that would play as well in 1948 or 1998 as it does in 2018: Two eager assistants (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) plot to set up their horror-show bosses to free up their own social lives. Naturally, our two underlings find their friendship of convenience blossom into something more. As with any good romantic comedy the trick is all in the casting; Deutch and Powell are captivating. Meanwhile, Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs -- playing the big bad boss people -- are old pros. It's the perfect film to watch late night, drunk, with some pizza.
41. Horse Girl (2020)
The title of Alison Brie's Netflix movie Horse Girl is a bit of a misdirect. It sounds a bit precious, maybe a touch unhinged, but in a quirky way. But Horse Girl has more in common with Peter Shaffer's play Equus than any other equine-related material in that it's not really about horses but rather human psychosis. The film, directed by Jeff Baena who co-wrote it with Brie, is about a woman, Sarah, experiencing a mental break that toys with her sense of reality, and it builds to an intentionally ambiguous conclusion that is nonetheless rattling. For the first three quarters of the film, Brie plays someone fighting against herself. By the end, she exhibits an unsettling serenity, having embraced the theories that once disturbed her. Is this liberation for Sarah? Or is she lost, giving over to her disease? Horse Girl doesn't answer these questions; it wants to leave you in the discomfort of not knowing.
40. Wheelman (2017)
Actor Frank Grillo can do no wrong when he's buckled into the classic '70s archetype of a well-mannered antihero disrupting his seedy surroundings, and Wheelman, a sentimental-yet-gun-toting riff on "driver" crime pictures, is his ultimate vehicle. With the grit of The Driver, the disembodied villainy of Saw, and the solitude of Tom Hardy's Locke, the movie tells the story of a veteran getaway guy whose "one last job" is derailed by a mysterious adversary who dangles freedom (and his daughter's safety) in front of his BMW M3. Thankfully, playing the game is not in the driver's rulebook. With Grillo in no-bullshit mode, strategic chase sequences, and a healthy amount of AK-47 fire, Wheelman is the perfect midnight movie... that you can watch anytime on Netflix.
39. Bomb Scared (2017)
Ignore the abjectly terrible title, which someone green-lit as the best English option; the original is Fe de etarras, a reference to the ETA, the Basque separatist group that carried out several high-profile terrorist attacks against Spain in the post-World War 2 years. This tragic farce is a funny, cringe-worthy meditation on what happens when you lose the energy to remain an ideologue, especially when the world around you has changed so thoroughly that your ideologies have become obscurantist. Led by a quietly boiling Javier Camara (The Young Pope), the story of four ETA members waiting around for instructions to plot a modest attack during Spain's run in the 2010 World Cup is more thoughtful than you might expect, and ends with a devastating blow that holds space for ambiguity. The riff on which terrorist group had the "greatest hits" is an all-timer, too.
Filmmaker J.C. Chandor, who previously directed the macho, Mamet-lite finance crisis drama Margin Call and the sleepy, Pacino-aping crime thriller A Most Violent Year, directs an outstanding ensemble cast in this action-thriller. The burly squad of ex-military commandos pulled together by Oscar Isaac's Santiago Garcia, a private contractor overseeing deadly drug enforcement operations in Colombia, is a ragtag team of action movie archetypes: There's the sad, real-estate-selling divorced dad who looks like he'd rather be vaping (Ben Affleck); the noble, buff warrior stuck giving rote speeches about his past glories (Charlie Hunnam); the taciturn, hat-wearing helicopter pilot the filmmakers didn't bother outfitting with a backstory (Pedro Pascal); and the other dude (Garrett Hedlund) who does amateur MMA fights. Together, they decide to rob a drug kingpin hiding out in the South American jungle, but obviously things don't always go according to plan.
37. Roxanne Roxanne (2018)
The traditional musician biopic, with its rags-to-riches beginning and its fall-from-grace conclusion, is a genre that's always in need of a remix. Roxanne Roxanne, a stylish chronicle of Queensbridge rapper Roxanne Shante's rise to fame in the 1980s, isn't the most formally adventurous take on hip-hop's early days -- the "life on tour" scenes and a corny appearance from a soon-to-be-famous young rapper named Nasir feel like standard showbiz fodder -- but director Michael Larnell has an eye for period detail, an ear for needle drops, and enough patience to let his performers shine on (and off) the mic. With humor and wit, Chanté Adams (as Roxanne) keeps you invested in every aspect of Shante's journey, from her early battles with her disapproving mother (Nia Long) to her harrowing fights with an abusive boyfriend Cross, played with tenderness and menace by Moonlight breakout Mahershala Ali. Like Shante's best rhymes, it's a tale told with dazzling craft and unwavering confidence.
36. Cam (2018)
Unlike the Unfriended films or the 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.
35. 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 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.
34. Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Always Be My Maybe -- written by Randall Park, Ali Wong, and Michael Golamco -- charts the love story between childhood friends Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Park). The two are inseparable until they lose their virginities to one another in high school, and awkwardness set in. She goes on to be a successful celebrity chef, while he stays at home, occasionally working for his dad's HVAC company, smoking weed, and playing in his throwback backpack rap group, Hello Peril. When Sasha moves back to the Bay Area to open a new restaurant, they reunite, and, naturally, rekindle their old chemistry. Still, there are a couple of stumbling blocks, one of which happens to be Keanu Reeves.
33. 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.
32. 1922 (2017)
With all the adaptations of Stephen King's celebrated novels rolling into theaters recently, it's easy to forget that the wildly prolific horror writer also has a stockpile of untapped short stories for IP-hungry producers to choose from. 1922, a folksy riff on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" starring Thomas Jane as a farmer who kills his wife, draws its plot from a novella in the 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars, but it's just as rich and complex as the more famous films based on longer King tales. Director Zak Hilditch has a keen grasp of how to wring tension from the material, keeping his camera focussed on Jane's anguished mug as the situation grows more dire and cruel. Plus, there are so many rats in this movie. Seriously, watch out, Willard.
31. First They Killed My Father (2017)
Few Hollywood movies have detailed the horrors of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge's rise to power in Cambodia in 1975 -- the genocidal revolutionary movement isn't exactly the backdrop for the next Titanic. But Angelina Jolie, who developed a close connection to the country when she first visited during the shoot for Tomb Raider, brings the gloss of big-budget movies to this horrifying-but-tender adaptation of Loung Ung's memoir of the same name. Like Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, First They Killed My Father tracks the Cambodian diaspora from city living to makeshift, military-run farm communes, all from the perspective of 7-year-old Loung. Jolie rarely wavers from the POV, witnessing violence from down low and leaving reality behind in moments of escapism. First They Killed My Father is a little too picture-perfect, considering the grime of life under Pol Pot, but Jolie pours her heart into telling the story, and it shows.
A loose adaptation of Academy Award nominee Guillaume Laurant's (Amelie) 2006 novel, Happy Hand, I Lost My Body is perhaps the most unodorothox and surreal animated feature of the year. In short, this French film is about a severed hand attempting to reunite with the rest of its body, but it's more a meditation on humanity and wholeness than it is a gross-out horror film. Netflix acquired the movie after it premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim, and it's another sign that the streaming giant's creative ambition will push it into exciting new territory.
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.
28. 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.
27. The Ritual (2017)
How many times can four unsuspecting chumps trek through uncharted, shadowy woods before learning that one should never trek through uncharted, shadowy woods? Let's hope there's no answer. Director David Bruckner rewires the "cabin in the woods" premise to tell the story of four friends grieving the murder of their fifth, and the Swedish backpacking adventure that shotguns their asses into the mouth of Hell. Overgrown with atmosphere, creepy corpse art, and a monstrous presence well-worth the tapered, Jaws-like reveal, The Ritual questions of faith and fate with a wicked sense of what makes horror brutality so entertaining.
26. The Two Popes (2019)
Fernando Meirelles' The Two Popes, about conversations between Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis, will win you over thanks largely to the performances of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as the titular Bishops of Rome. The two elderly actors are at their peaks as these ideologically different men of the cloth, but Andrew McCarten's script is less about bickering than it is about shared faith and sin, while also being incredibly playful. Who knows if Benedict and Francis actually had charming discussions about The Beatles, pizza, and the Austrian TV show about a crime-solving dog called (Kommissar Rex), but The Two Popes imagines they do. That isn't to say the film ignores the controversial topics orbiting its protagonists, though it is certainly not a condemnation of the Catholic church by any means. Focused more on the Argentinean-born Francis, née Jorge Mario Bergoglio, than Benedict, The Two Popes finds time for lengthy flashbacks of Bergolio's pre-papal life in South America. While these sequences are well done, any time the film strays from Pryce and Hopkins, it slows down. But with a careful touch, Meirelles and his two popes bring humanity to the inscrutably holy figureheads.
25. Les Affamés (2017)
Whether you're zombie-addicted or not, Les Affamés ("The Ravenous") is worth checking out. Robin Aubert's arty French-Canadian thriller picks up after the outbreak of a mysterious plague, which has ravaged rural Quebec and decimated its population. The scenario might sound familiar, but the scenes often unfold with fresh rhythms and punctuation marks. The survivors you meet along the way, for example -- likely unknowns to most Stateside viewers, but talented as hell -- are not ordinary heroes, and truthfully they're concerned less with rebuilding their community or finding answers and more with simply surviving. Also, the zombies are not just zombies. That said, Les Affamés might have more in common with the underrated romp Wyrmwood than something like The Walking Dead. It's slightly more grounded than the former, to be sure, but it's likewise a unique, and at times surreal, spin on the genre we were pleased to find.
24. 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.
23. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
True Detective Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga's wartime drama is not a movie you put on in the background. Adapted from Uzodinma Iweala's novel of the same name, this visceral character study tracks a preadolescent Agu (Abraham Attah) after he's recruited to be a child soldier in an African civil war (its specifics are left purposely ambiguous). Lorded over by a gruff commander (Idris Elba), the movie is loud, tender, and violent -- a coming-of-age story in which the characters may not live to come of age.
22. Our Souls at Night (2017)
Though Our Souls at Night sure looks like a sappy whiff, it's far from it. Veterans Jane Fonda and Robert Redford play widowed neighbors who strike up a forced and unlikely relationship in the absence of their old loves. Adapted from Kent Haruf's book of the same name, Ritesh Batra's movie wastes no time throwing the pair into the awkwardness of getting to know each other ("Pretty cold for spring, huh?"), the strange optics of being together in public, and the near-impossible task of filling a void that affects others. Their journey, from strangers to lovers, and its message are powerful, though they do occasionally veer into sentimentality. As Fonda's Addie says, it's not about sex; it's about understanding loneliness, about "getting through the night." The result is a meditative but heartwarming movie, very much worthy of its stars' talents.
21. Win It All (2017)
In less than 90 minutes, director Joe Swanberg and his co-writer and star Jake Johnson provide an endearing portrait of a schlub in crisis. Like he did with 2013's Drinking Buddies and last year's Netflix series Easy, Swanberg zeroes in on the small details of thirtysomething existential dread and scores big. In telling the story of a gambling addict named Eddie (Johnson) who is entrusted with a bag of money, which he quickly blows in spectacular fashion, the filmmaker has found an ideal mix between old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling and his low-key naturalism. Will Eddie get his shit together? Win It All is less interested in answering that question than it is in spending time with these lovable losers.
20. Tigertail (2020)
Master of None co-creator Alan Yang makes his directorial feature debut with Tigertail, in which he loosely adapts his own father's life. It's a tight film that's nonetheless epic in scale as it follows a man named Pin-Jui from his childhood as a young boy in Taiwan into his middle age in America. Yang jumps back and forth in time, as the present-day Pin-Jui (played in a wonderful, understated performance by Tzi Ma) reflects on his past. It's a tricky balancing act. The scenes of his life as a young adult as he bonds with his first love are flush with color, which fades as he settles into the rhythms of a passionless marriage in New York. At times Tigertail can feel like a condensed version of a much longer saga, and indeed that was sort of the case as Yang whittled down an over 200 page draft. Still, Yang has crafted a vivid tale about the immigrant experience, regret, and the bonds between generations.
19. 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.
18. 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.
17. 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 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. 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.
16. 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.
15. Tallulah (2016)
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.
14. 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.
13. 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.
Rarely do filmmakers approach the topic of moviemaking with the combination of unbridled joy and punchy humor as Dolemite Is My Name, an endearingly sweet biopic about multi-talented comedian and independent film producer Rudy Ray Moore. As played by Eddie Murphy, Moore displays a savviness for noticing an opening in the 1970s entertainment market -- early on, he exists a screening of The Front Page and observes that it's got "no titties, no funny, and no kung-fu" -- and then creating the exact type of product he'd like to see. That means plenty of nudity, jokes, and, yes, some over-the-top kung-fu. In its brisk runtime, Dolemite Is My Name shows Moore solving a series of technical, economic, and artistic challenges: dealing with an egocentric director (a hilarious Wesley Snipes), securing financing to pay an inexperienced crew, and, finally, acquiring a distributor for the project he poured his life into. Like they did with 1994's Hollywood outsider character portrait Ed Wood, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski pack the story with charming period details and fascinating bits of pop culture trivia, which director Craig Brewer's camera carefully glides over, but the movie belongs to Murphy, who moves through each scene with total command of his craft.
11. 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.
10. 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. 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.
9. 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.
8. 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. 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.
7. The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
After releasing three of his original comedies in the last two years -- Ridiculous Six, The Do-Over, and Sandy Wexler -- Netflix has finally stumbled on a really good Adam Sandler movie. Like Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People before it, this Noah Baumbach-directed effort is a deviation from the star's usual Happy Madison fare, but it understands what's funny, charming, and potentially alienating about his persona. (He even gets to sing silly songs on the piano at one point.) Along with Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, and the very sharp Elizabeth Marvel, Sandler plays a member of the Meyerowitz family, a uniquely miserable group of people united by their thinly veiled resentment towards one another. Splitting the difference between the caustic misanthropy of The Squid and the Whale and the freewheeling absurdity of his recent Greta Gerwig film, Mistress America, the movie finds both Baumbach and Sandler at the peak of their powers.
6. Atlantics (2019)
In Atlantics, the entrancing debut feature from Senegalese-French filmmaker Mati Diop, a debt must be paid. To construct a large glass tower in the coastal city of Dakar, an unscrupulous construction manager leans on his employees and refuses to provide the backpay they are owed. One of the workers, a young man named Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), is in love with Ada (Mama Bineta Sané), a young woman engaged to a rich family's obnoxious, preening son. After establishing the tricky dynamics of this relationship, Diop's story takes a number of startling turns, introducing supernatural elements and a noir-like detective subplot. As the events unfold, often in engrossingly shot and exquisitely paced night sequences, the movie retains an ethereal quality that unsettles the imagination. Rather than providing conventional dramatic catharsis, Atlantics mimics the rhythms of the ocean, drawing in the viewer with each new wave of tension.
The first great Netflix movie of 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 playing out during a 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 critical hits.
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 with tenderness and anger 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. While Driver and Johansson are both excellent in tricky, emotionally demanding roles, some of the sharpest moments come courtesy of their attorneys, collaborators, and extended families. (Laura Dern and Alan Alda have rightfully earned praise for their parts, but I'd watch Ray Liotta's gruff divorce expert in his own spin-off.) In showing how divorce ripples outward, Marriage Story complicates its own simple premise as it progresses.
3. Okja (2017)
This wild ride, written and directed by Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer), is part action heist, part Miyazaki-like travelogue, and part scathing satire. It's 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 (Jake 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.
Opening with a tracking shot through the halls of a drab nursing home, where we meet a feeble old man telling tall tales from his wheelchair, The Irishman delights in undercutting its own grandiosity. All the pageantry a $150 million check from Netflix can buy -- the digital de-aging effects, the massive crowd scenes, the shiny rings passed between men -- is on full display. Everything looks tremendous. But, like with 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters can't escape the fundamental spiritual emptiness of their pursuits. In telling the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a World War II veteran and truck driver turned mob enforcer and friend to labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian construct an underworld-set counter-narrative of late 20th century American life. With an eye on the clock and a foot in the grave, the movie is profoundly fixated on death, even introducing select side characters with onscreen text that notes the circumstances of their eventual demise. (The Irishman can be darkly, wickedly funny when it's not devastatingly sad.) That stark awareness of mortality, an understanding that's cleverly reflected in the film's quasi-road-movie flashback structure, distinguishes it from Scorsese's more outwardly frenetic gangster epics like Goodfellas and Casino, which also starred De Niro and Pesci, who gives the movie's most surprising performance here. Even with a 209 minute runtime, every second counts.
1. Roma (2018)
All those billions Netflix spent will likely pay off in the form of several Oscar nominations for Roma, including one for Best Picture. 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.