The best movies on Netflix

The best movies on Netflix

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Clockwise from top left: Moonlight (A24); Catch Me If You Can (Screenshot); Scott Pilgrm Vs. The World (Universal  Pictures); Homecoming (Parkwood Entertainment/Netflix); Uncut Gems (A24)
Clockwise from top left: Moonlight (A24); Catch Me If You Can (Screenshot); Scott Pilgrm Vs. The World (Universal Pictures); Homecoming (Parkwood Entertainment/Netflix); Uncut Gems (A24)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

There are plenty of great classic films available on Netflix, but this list is manly compiled of movies featured on The A.V. Club’s Best of the Year lists and ballots going back to 2010. Some newer (and much older) movies have been added over time as Netflix announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Amazon Prime, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu.

This list was most recently updated Jan. 23, 2021.

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2 / 107

Ali

Ali

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Screenshot: Ali

A towering symbol not just for the world of boxing, but for the world at large, Muhammad Ali isn’t anyone’s idea of an everyday boxer, but director Michael Mann’s skills are put to good use as he attempts to get behind the symbol in the new biopic Ali. Dramatizing the eventful decade between two upsets that won Ali heavyweight titles—his first encounter with Sonny Liston in 1964 and the Rumble In The Jungle with George Foreman in 1974—the film employs an episodic structure that focuses on key phases of his development, showing him as a brash young fighter, a spokesman for Black Power, a legal martyr for his refusal to be drafted for Vietnam, and an international icon. Will Smith plays Ali, and while the choice might seem odd, it proves inspired. Mann’s Ali, like its subject in his prime, seems incapable of making a false move. [Keith Phipps]

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3 / 107

American Factory

American Factory

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Photo: Netflix

The first film from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions is inherently political, but it’s more complex than agitprop. Following the reopening of a shuttered factory in Dayton under the new ownership of a Chinese auto-glass company, directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert offer a startling intimate look at the struggle to blend two working cultures. Never descending into xenophobia or condescension, their documentary makes the point that the issues matter because of the effect they have on the people. [Allison Shoemaker]

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4 / 107

American Honey

American Honey

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Photo: American Honey

Andrea Arnold presents a dynamic vision of young, weird America in American Honey, a sprawling road movie that winds its way from wealthy suburban cul-de-sacs to poverty-stricken trailer parks on a cross-country trip. Newcomer Sasha Lane stars as Star, an impulsive teenager who abandons her abusive home life to sell magazines town to town and door to door with some misfits she meets dancing to Rihanna in the middle of Kmart, including rat-tailed heartthrob Jake (Shia LaBeouf). Driving the barren highways of red-state America in a white-paneled van, the kids tell their stories in between swigs of vodka and hits of an ever-present joint, each of them a block in the patchwork quilt of the U.S. underclass. Arnold allows her actors—many of whom were cast off of the street—to improvise organic, loosely constructed scenes that bring a documentary feel to their adventures. Take the aesthetics of a Harmony Korine movie, but substitute the nihilism with boundless humanity, and you’ll come close to understanding American Honey’s wild charm. [Katie Rife]

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5 / 107

Amy

Amy

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Photo: Amy

From its opening scene, Amy is almost more noteworthy for what it doesn’t do as a documentary than for the sad story of its famous subject. Director Asif Kapadia (Senna) opens his film not with a montage of talking heads spouting money quotes about Amy Winehouse, but with a home movie of teenage Winehouse hanging out with friends for someone’s birthday. A few of them begin tunelessly singing “Happy Birthday To You,” their voices fading when an off-camera Winehouse finishes the song with the kind of overstated flair possessed by someone who likes showing off her knockout pipes. [Kyle Ryan]

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6 / 107

Aquarius

Aquarius

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Photo: Aquarius

For a very brief period in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Brazilian actress Sonia Braga looked poised to become a major Hollywood star. Her significant supporting role in Kiss Of The Spider Woman (1985), a Brazilian-American co-production that won William Hurt the Oscar for Best Actor and was nominated for Best Picture, got studio suits’ attention; a few years later, she appeared in Robert Redford’s The Milagro Beanfield War and Paul Mazursky’s Moon Over Parador (both of which, oddly, are set in fictional locations, with Milagro somewhere in New Mexico and Parador an entirely invented South American country). Neither film was a hit, and the same tepid box-office fate met her last big Hollywood showcase, The Rookie (1990). So it’s marvelous to see Braga setting the big screen ablaze—speaking her native language, for once—in Aquarius, a Brazilian drama constructed entirely around her. [Mike D’Angelo]

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7 / 107

Barry

Barry

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Photo: Barry

The name Obama is never once uttered in Barry, Vikram Gandhi’s minor-key presidential origin story. Only in the film’s final few minutes does the title character even call himself Barack—and then only in his head, reading a letter to his absent father. Dramatically announcing that some sprightly figure is actually a famous person before they were famous is an especially hackneyed biopic convention, but Barry doesn’t avoid it just to stay out of Walk Hard’s sphere of parody. It also does so because the young man we’re watching here—a smart, lonely college kid new to New York, and originally from “Hawaii, Indonesia, Kenya—you name it”—is decades and miles removed from the commander-in-chief he’ll one day become. He’s not President Barack Obama yet. For the modest moments chronicled, he’s just Barry. [A.A. Dowd]

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8 / 107

Basic Instinct

Basic Instinct

Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone
Screenshot: Basic Instinct

Though many years and straight-to-video Shannon Tweed knockoffs have passed, Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct retains a special allure, one that can be attributed in large part to the uncrossing of Sharon Stone’s legs. Granted, there’s much more to the movie than that notorious interrogation scene, but no better example of the film’s unique mix of vulgarity and elegance, which brought Old Hollywood into a world of trashy explicitness. Sitting with her blond hair pinned back like Kim Novak—one of several nods to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—Stone carries herself with the supreme self-confidence of a classic femme fatale, yet her candor is unquestionably modern, liberated from more than just undergarments. Unapologetically sexual, as free as a man to pursue her appetites, Stone’s character became an instant post-feminist icon, even though she’s a diabolical sociopath. [Scott Tobias]

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9 / 107

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

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Photo: The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Oz Perkins’ deeply unnerving directorial debut requires no “trick” to be properly appreciated, provided you like your horror slow-roasted to atmospheric perfection. All the same, it’s diabolically fun to pretend that The Blackcoat’s Daughter is actually a genre-jumping spinoff of one of the most acclaimed TV shows of the decade. Remember how Sally Draper spent the last couple seasons of Mad Men away at boarding school? Well, Blackcoat drops Kiernan Shipka, the young actress who played Sally, into a nearly identical academic setting. When no one comes to pick her up for holiday break (classic Don move), Shipka’s character falls under the influence of an unholy force. Or does she? It wouldn’t take too big of a mental leap to deduce that poor Sally, after years of repressed traumatic events (catching her father cheating, confronting a burglar), just totally snapped. Of course, one might hope for a brighter future for the eldest Draper kid than the strangely, powerfully sad denouement Perkins cooked for his terrific inaugural creepshow. [A.A. Dowd]

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10 / 107

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

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Photo: Netflix

Everyone knows the old saw about anthology movies being less than the sum of their parts; it’s a tale as old as the singing cowboy or the stagecoach ghost story. Joel and Ethan Coen should be especially familiar, having contributed to Paris, Je T’Aime and faced assumptions that The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs was really supposed to be a TV series. But it’s hard to imagine breaking their six Western mini-movies into a Netflix “season,” because they complement each other so gracefully. Set in a beguiling netherworld between unforgiving real-life grimness and heightened tall-tale pulpiness, the stories range from delightfully mordant musical slapstick starring Tim Blake Nelson to a heartbreaking gut-punch starring Zoe Kazan, to name just two standouts. Death haunts the whole thing, which builds toward the simultaneously hilarious and hushed “The Mortal Remains,” as satisfying and language-besotted a closer as the Coens have ever concocted. Their sometimes-fatalist outlook has seen them tagged as nihilists, a group they savaged as well as anyone in The Big Lebowski. But nihilists don’t put this much thought into endings. [Jesse Hassenger]

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11 / 107

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin

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Screenshot: Blue Ruin

To call Blue Ruin a “revenge thriller” would be accurate but somehow insufficient, as doing so makes it sound ordinary and crass. Some have already compared the film to the work of the Coen brothers, by which they must mean No Country For Old Men; the bloodshed comes nearly as fast and hard as it did there, and there’s a comparable focus on the details of life on the run—on staking out a location, or acquiring a weapon, or getting away from somewhere fast. But in its unusual cross section of moods, Blue Ruin rarely resembles anything but itself. Much of the singularity can be attributed to the film’s atypical hero, surely one of the year’s great characters. Actor Macon Blair makes Dwight driven but hapless, locating a lot of sly comedy in his imperfect foray into crime: He disables a vehicle, only to realize he needs it as a makeshift getaway car; later, he makes an amateur attempt to treat his own leg wound. (Don’t try his method at home.) But Dwight is also a lost soul, his face sunken with ancient grief, and Blair invests him with the reckless forward momentum of someone running on last-ditch desperation. [A.A. Dowd]

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12 / 107

The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open

The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open

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Screenshot: YouTube

Netflix’s strategy of buying up films and then ignoring them is always frustrating, but it can be fatal for a film like The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open. Released on the streaming platform in late November after a handful of festival dates, the first film from Ava DuVernay’s distribution company ARRAY is so unassuming, you might not even notice that it’s composed of a handful of long takes stitched together to create the illusion of a single shot. But this is also a movie with a lot to say about indigenous identity in the 21st century, told through the story of two native women—one middle class and white-passing, the other working class and dark-skinned—who meet one afternoon on a Vancouver street corner. Even critics seemed unaware of the film’s release; had more of them seen it, I bet it would have popped up on a number of best-of lists this season. [Katie Rife]

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13 / 107

Bonnie And Clyde

Bonnie And Clyde

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty
Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty
Screenshot: Bonnie And Clyde

When the title characters in 1967's Bonnie And Clyde first lay eyes on each other, they smile in what seems like immediate recognition. They both consider themselves exceptional people bound for glory, and they’re each pleased to encounter a kindred egotistical soul who’s ready to act as an admiring mirror and enabler. Within seconds of that first encounter, they’ve already formed the mutual admiration society that will lead them through years of crimes, and straight to the grave. Granted, Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) is stark naked, and Clyde (Warren Beatty) is trying to steal her mother’s car, so they each have an extra reason for wry amusement. But the easygoing charm of that first meeting summarizes what made Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde so controversial upon its release, and what still makes it memorable today. Forty years ago, charming, likeable, fun criminals were a licentious shocker; today, they’re old hat, but Bonnie And Clyde still maintains its amiable charisma. [Tasha Robinson]

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14 / 107

Burning

Burning

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Photo:

A bone-dry comedy of class warfare. A perplexing missing-person mystery worthy of Hitchcock or Antonioni. An existential meditation on the little hungers and great hungers that drive us. There’s no single right way to classify Burning, so why not just call it the best movie of the year and leave it at that? Returning after an eight-year hiatus from filmmaking, South Korean master of the slow burn Lee Chang-dong (Poetry) did more than perfectly capture the subjective ambivalence of Haruki Murakami’s original short story, “Barn Burning.” In stretching it out to fill two-and-half perfectly paced hours, he also teased from his source material a wealth of new meanings and ambiguities, percolating through the love triangle of sorts that envelops an introverted writer (Ah-in Yoo), his hometown classmate-turned-crush (Jong-seo Jun), and her slick, wealthy new beau (Steven Yeun, rivetingly loathsome in a tricky role). You didn’t have to look hard to see a disturbing relevance in the film’s simmering stew of resentments, the working-class and explicitly male rage that boils over into a shocking climax. (Not for nothing does Donald Trump make a televised cameo.) But Burning’s power is more timeless that it is timely, located as it is in big questions without clear answers: real riddles of desire, longing, and motivation, none any easier to solve than the disappearance at the center of this captivating enigma. [A.A. Dowd]

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15 / 107

Cam

Cam

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Photo: Blumhouse

For years now, I’ve found it strange that there were only two or three good movies about the internet, the most important thing in the world. My wish for a film truthfully capturing all the connection, gratification, desperation, and despair of living online came true with this sophisticated thriller, in which a cam girl (Madeline Brewer, making a convincing argument for herself as a bona fide star) discovers that an automated doppelgänger has taken over her channel. There’s a lot to love here, from the low-key sex-positivity to the cringe comedy to the delectable supporting turn from former love witch Samantha Robinson. But I like Cam best as our most ruthlessly honest film about the nightmares of full-time freelancing. [Charles Bramesco]

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16 / 107

Can’t Hardly Wait

Can’t Hardly Wait

Lauren Ambrose and Ethan Embry
Lauren Ambrose and Ethan Embry
Screenshot: Can’t Hardly Wait

While every one of Can’t Hardly Wait’s characters can be defined by two or three words—the tortured geek (Charlie Korsmo), the misunderstood prom queen (Hewitt), the evil jock (Peter Facinelli), the doleful protagonist (Ethan Embry), the Janeane Garofalo type (Lauren Ambrose), the white homeboy (Seth Green), and more—it’s refreshingly fast-paced. For starters, it’s a true ensemble piece: Set mostly during a single house party the night of high-school graduation, it cuts effortlessly from wacky situation to wacky situation, with various characters getting drunk, finding love while locked in a bathroom together, unleashing inner rock ‘n’ rollers, seeking revenge, ending and beginning relationships, and trashing the home of a peripheral character’s parents. The film deserves credit, both for its breezy pacing and its uncommon tendency to make its characters smarter and geekier than they might have been. [Stephen Thompson]

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17 / 107

Carol

Carol

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett
Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett
Photo: Carol

The most telling, period-defining moment in Carol, Todd Haynes’ superb adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price Of Salt (originally published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan), gets no particular emphasis and could easily be missed. It occurs not long after young aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and middle-aged housewife Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) meet at the department store where Therese works, exchanging a few torrid glances but no overt declarations of romantic interest. Carol leaves her gloves on the counter—perhaps intentionally—and subsequently finds an excuse to bring Therese to her house, providing her with a grand tour. At this point, the two women haven’t so much as touched one another, much less voiced their attraction; both are models of Eisenhower-era propriety. Carol has removed her shoes, however, and when she hears her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), walk in the door, she immediately scrambles to put them back on, before he can see her with Therese in her stocking feet. Again, nothing is made of this—it’s shown at a distance, uncommented upon, mundane. But like the man, riding the elevator with his wife, who removes his hat when a pretty girl steps on (courtesy of Raymond Chandler, discussing visual storytelling in a letter to his agent), it speaks volumes all the same. [Mike D’Angelo]

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18 / 107

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can

Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio
Screenshot: Catch Me If You Can

The best part of any imposter tale is the how-to: the step-by-step of how to get a fake I.D., and then how to parlay that I.D. into access, followed by money. Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can tells the true story of Frank Abagnale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who in the early ’60s posed as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer in order to lend legitimacy to his check-forging schemes. The movie moves as fast as its protagonist, enjoying the “confidence” part of the con game, and how a mere kid is able to use what he’s learned from episodes of Dr. Kildare and Perry Mason to project an air of authority. “People only know what you tell them,” DiCaprio says to the FBI agent pursuing him (played by Tom Hanks), by way of explaining how he was able to fool so many people, just by saying the right words in the right order. Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson distill that idea into one perfect image: DiCaprio singing along with Mitch Miller while sitting on the couch with the rich Louisiana family of his fiancée, Amy Adams. [Noel Murray]

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19 / 107

The Conjuring

The Conjuring

Lili Taylor
Lili Taylor
Screenshot: Insidious

James Wan’s previous film, Insidious, was a well-oiled shock machine, made in the spooky spirit of Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror. Insidious, however, was a mere dry run to The Conjuring, a shudder-inducing haunted-house movie built on the foundation of an alleged true story. Set in the early ’70s, an era Wan evokes through careful period detail and a heavy coat of “look, it’s the past” sepia, the film dives into the real-life case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, married paranormal investigators whose biggest claim to fame was the Amityville incident. The two are played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson and are introduced via an on-the-job prologue. (Wan gets bonus points for opening on the dead, fixed eyes of the world’s creepiest doll.) Following a thunderously portentous title card, which strains to position The Conjuring as this era’s answer to The Exorcist, the focus shifts to parents Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, who move their family of seven into a roomy Rhode Island farmhouse. The subsequent supernatural happenings—slammed doors, rearranged belongings, yanked limbs—are nothing audiences haven’t seen before, but Wan stages them for maximum heart-in-throat suspense. By tracking his camera through the entire home early on, he can play on viewers’ familiarity with the space. And he refuses to show a fearsome bedroom specter, opting instead to train his lens on the terrified preteen who can see it, pledging his allegiance to the power of suggestion. [A.A. Dowd]

Available Feb. 21

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Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke

Paul Newman
Paul Newman
Screenshot: Cool Hand Luke

The Newman in Cool Hand Luke isn’t as chatty as the one of Hud, but under different circumstances, the surly egomaniac of Hud might have become the restless rebel of Luke. Newman won the hearts of the counterculture—and garnered his fourth Best Actor Oscar nomination—playing a devil-may-care dude who’s arrested for a silly crime and sent to work on a chain gang, where he spends his days charming his fellow cons while concocting clever escapes. Cool Hand Luke’s plot is pure allegory, but the character is fully human. He’s funny, quietly cocky, and he can eat 50 eggs.

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21 / 107

The Death Of Stalin

The Death Of Stalin

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Photo: IFC Films

Though still grimly hilarious, Armando Iannucci’s historical farce The Death Of Stalin adopts a more serious tone than his TV series Veep and The Thick Of It. For this satirical recreation of bloody power grabs in the early 1950s Soviet Union, Iannucci sacrifices some punchlines in order to underscore the ferocity of Nikita Khrushchev (sharply played by Steve Buscemi), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), and others. As with his television work, Iannucci is depicting high-stakes politics as the clumsy work of petty boobs, more interested in frat-boy pranks and cruel machinations than in good governance. [Noel Murray]

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22 / 107

The Departed

The Departed

Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Screenshot: The Departed

The Hong Kong action movie Infernal Affairs has the sort of hook that would fill an arena in the rock world: Two police-academy graduates work as moles on opposite sides of the law—one as an undercover cop in the mob, the other as a gangster infiltrating the police department. Shot through by his most propulsive storytelling since Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s remake, The Departed, orchestrates such a perfect balance between these mirroring characters that the film achieves a kind of musical symmetry. And in a Boston neighborhood where all the little Irish boys grow up to be cops or criminals, the parallels between them are unmistakable; as Jack Nicholson’s hard-nosed kingpin puts it, “When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” In Scorsese’s world, such dreadful ambiguities coarsen the soul. [Scott Tobias]

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23 / 107

Divines

Divines

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Divines

Divines, written and directed by French-Moroccan filmmaker Houda Benyamina, rivals Girlhood as a portrait of combustible banlieue femininity, emanating raw energy and scrappy good humor even as it builds to an unexpectedly tragic and horrifying finale. The film also showcases a potentially star-making performance by Oulaya Amamra, who happens to be the director’s younger sister. Chosen despite a cattle call in which Benyamina looked at over 3,000 other young women, Amamra is so arrestingly alive onscreen that thoughts of nepotism seem ludicrous. [Mike D’Angelo]

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24 / 107

Dolemite Is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name

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Photo: Netflix

For a movie where someone says “motherfucker” every few seconds, Dolemite Is My Name is surprisingly wholesome. The film is a biopic about stand-up comedian and blaxploitation leading man Rudy Ray Moore, an Arkansas native who, after several failed attempts at becoming famous, finally succeeded by combining the rhythms of traditional African American storytelling with the sexually liberated energy of the early ’70s on raunchy X-rated “party records” with titles like Eat Out More Often. And as such, any film about Moore’s life that didn’t include wall-to-wall dirty jokes would be a disservice to his foul-mouthed legacy. At the same time, however, Dolemite Is My Name posits Moore’s story as a feel-good inspirational tale about outsiders succeeding despite all odds. And while Moore’s sexuality was more complex than this movie lets on, characterizing him as an underdog who forces Hollywood to notice him through sheer talent and force of will is right on. [Katie Rife]

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25 / 107

Den Of Thieves

Den Of Thieves

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: STX Entertainment

It’s very early morning and still dark as an armored car moves west through the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena. The armed crew hits during the guards’ coffee stop at a donut shop. They are shit-hot and move tactically, so it’s obvious that these guys are professional, probably ex-military. But shots are fired, leaving behind four dead bodies as the crew speeds off in the armored car toward the airport. “Big Nick” O’Brien (Gerard Butler, looking like he just ate Russell Crowe), the gruff and loud boss of a major crimes squad in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, stuffs a dead guard’s donut into his mouth as he looks over the scene hours later. Why go through all this trouble to steal an empty armored truck? And could a movie that stars Gerard Butler, the undisputed king of junk, be actually kind of good? [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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26 / 107

The Duchess

The Duchess

Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes
Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes
Screenshot: The Duchess

Back in the late 18th century, while England was dealing with rebellion in its colonies and a call for greater democratization at home, Georgiana Spencer married William Cavendish, the Duke of Devonshire, and via her husband’s Whig-affiliated circle of associates, she began taking an interest in politics, primarily by supporting the career of future prime minister (and lover) Charles Grey. In Saul Dibb’s The Duchess—adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from Amanda Foreman’s biography Georgiana—Keira Knightley plays the duchess as a freethinking fashion plate, admired by the ladies of London for her sense of style and her insistence that there’s no such thing as “freedom in moderation.” But her domestic situation tests her public calls for universal liberty, as her husband—played with creepily calm menace by Ralph Fiennes—reminds her that she has no real power in their relationship. He can sleep with whomever he wants, and squelch her ambitions at any time, just by threatening to take away her children. To some extent, The Duchess recalls Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, in that it’s about bed-hopping and courtly ritual during a time of revolution. Dibb isn’t interested in delivering an audience-unfriendly art film, though. His Duchess is thoroughly populist and middlebrow, full of all the high wigs, thick powder, perfect diction, and straightforward dialogue that define bodice-ripping prestige pictures about silently suffering souls. Knightley’s brand of muted iconoclasm has always been well-suited to just these kind of coach-and-corset movies, and as a result, the story of her character’s fall from idealism to practicality becomes fairly moving. [Noel Murray]

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27 / 107

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Image: Amblin Entertainment

Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, now following Jaws in a pristine (though less revelatory) deluxe Blu-ray edition, draws on the director’s memories as a child of divorce, when he created an imaginary friend to keep him company. Spielberg and his screenwriter, Melissa Mathison, have channeled those memories into a open-hearted piece of storybook science fiction, but the fundamentals of E.T.—the reason why everyone talks about it making them cry—have nothing to do with the marvels of outer space and interstellar connection, or even the touching vulnerability of the creature itself, as it struggles to survive on an uninhabitable planet. The core theme of E.T. is home, and the journey of the film, taken in literal synchronicity by the young hero and his alien friend, is about them helping each other find it. It’s a common story told on a celestial scale. [Scott Tobias]

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Easy A

Easy A

Emma Stone
Emma Stone
Screenshot: Easy A

By the time Emma Stone starred in the breezy teen comedy Easy A, she had already become a recognizable face in American cinema. Thanks to attention-grabbing supporting turns in hugely popular films like Superbad and Zombieland, Stone’s easygoing and charismatic presence marked her as a character actor who could imbue her roles with a grounded, relatable charm. Easy A flipped that equation: Instead of occupying the likable supporting role in a big film, Stone took center stage away from the movie itself, delivering a performance of such larger-than-life magnetism that, 90 minutes later, she was no longer the same actor. She was Emma Stone, Movie Star. Stone’s hyperverbal nerd Olive Penderghast now sits proudly alongside other too-smart-for-their-own-good teen icons like Ferris Bueller and Pretty In Pink’s Andie Walsh. The story is a deeply superficial, postmodern gloss on The Scarlet Letter: After making up a fake story about losing her virginity, Olive’s bullied and closeted gay friend, Brandon (Dan Byrd), asks her to concoct a fake sexual encounter with him as well, in order to ease his torment at the hands of jock assholes. Soon, Olive becomes the go-to source for other unpopular boys to score an easy (and fictional) sexual anecdote, and it’s not long before her burgeoning reputation as the school slut makes her an outcast of a wholly different sort. Leaning into the rep, she begins wearing Hawthorne’s scarlet “A” on her clothes as a badge of defiance, until she starts to realize that reputations actually do mean something in the world. [Alex McLevy]

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Eddie Murphy: Raw

Eddie Murphy: Raw

Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy
Screenshot: Eddie Murphy: Raw

Before Coming To America, before The Nutty Professor, and long before Norbit, Eddie Murphy proved he could occupy the skin of multiple characters without the aid of elaborate prosthetic work. Raw, his 1987 blockbuster stand-up movie, remains the fullest showcase of the comedian’s gift for impression. Over a long, consistently hilarious set at Felt Forum in New York, Murphy imitates Michael Jackson, Mr. T, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, an Italian hothead, a Jamaican lothario, an African trophy wife, philandering guys, gold-digging women, and—in the film’s showstopper of a final bit—his own inebriated, self-aggrandizing father. He’s a one-man Saturday Night Live, and there’s a control of inflection and facial expression on display that marks Murphy as one of the great comics of his generation. It’s no wonder the full show was never released in an audio-only format. Simply hearing Eddie perform would do no justice to his animated, physical approach to the craft. [A.A. Dowd]

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The End Of The Tour

The End Of The Tour

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Photo: The End Of The Tour

Voracious readers of the late David Foster Wallace, an author of massively ambitious fiction and casually revealing nonfiction, could be forgiven for regarding a movie about his life with some skepticism. How, after all, could one normal-sized film hope to capture the spirit and legacy of a writer who many came to regard as a voice of his generation? Wouldn’t any attempt to get into his famously bandana-wrapped head feel insufficient, at least compared to the sheer volume of work Wallace himself produced on the subject? But that’s the gentle genius of The End Of The Tour, James Ponsoldt’s witty and poignant new gabfest. Not only does the film productively narrow its time frame, dramatizing just five days in the life of the revered wordsmith, it also unfolds from an outside perspective—that of the reporter who accompanied Wallace on the final leg of the Infinite Jest book tour. The result is less portrait of an artist than snapshot of a brief, meaningful encounter, shared between two men enjoying different stages of professional success. That one of these men happens to be a modern literary hero is almost, if not quite, incidental. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Endless

The Endless

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Photo: Well Go USA

Compared to their last film, the genre-bending Spring (2015), Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless is positively straightforward—but only in the sense that you can comfortably call it a sci-fi drama. The subject matter, a heady brew of quantum physics, time travel, doomsday cults, and callbacks to the filmmakers’ earlier movies, is both convoluted and ingeniously applied, allowing The Endless to intrigue rather than confound. Keeping the whole thing grounded are Benson and Moorhead, starring as brothers who return to the rural California UFO commune where they grew up. There, they discover that while flying saucers may not be real, there’s definitely something uncanny going on in the scrub-covered hills around them. [Katie Rife]

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Enter The Dragon

Enter The Dragon

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Screenshot: Bruce Lee

When any Asian action star finds a certain level of fame abroad, it’s practically inevitable that he (or, in a few cases, she) will eventually make the trip to Hollywood. It doesn’t always work out. In the last few years, Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais have made some small inroads. Jackie Chan became a huge crossover star, but only on his second attempt, in the mid-’90s; his first try, with 1980’s The Big Brawl, was a resounding flop. Jet Li did pretty well for himself. Donnie Yen has mostly stayed away, other than some smaller, more exploratory roles. Takeshi Kitano made a movie with Omar Epps. Chow Yun-Fat was reduced to mustache-twirling in the worst Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. Enter The Dragon came before all of that. Bruce Lee’s fourth and final movie as a kung fu star was the only one he made in English, with an American director and American stars. It’s still, at least partially, a Hong Kong movie, with the whole thing being filmed in Hong Kong and Golden Harvest boss Raymond Chow serving as co-producer. But it’s very much a Western take on the kung fu movie, which was then a genre in its infancy. [Tom Briehan]

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The Eyes Of My Mother

The Eyes Of My Mother

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Horror fans and art-film aficionados alike have struggled some with what to make of writer-director Nicolas Pesce’s debut film, which is disgusting enough for gore-hounds and pretty-looking enough for aesthetes, but which doesn’t push either the genre or prestige buttons especially hard. That, though, is exactly what makes this story of a lonely, psychopathic farm-dweller such a kick. At only 76 minutes, Pesce’s stark black-and-white nightmare lingers just long enough to leave a strong impression, without forcing itself into any confining boxes. The Eyes Of My Mother is ultimately a darkly alluring vision of one deranged human’s struggle to engage with others, and striking for how it keeps taking the most appalling narrative turns possible. Does it have a deeper point to make? Maybe not. But that doesn’t matter as much as how melancholy and uncomfortable an experience the movie is. [Noel Murray]

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Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon

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Photo: Frost/Nixon

In Frost/Nixon, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen each play men aching for redemption. Langella’s Richard Nixon longs to rehabilitate his public image after the long national nightmare of Watergate and a tidal wave of bad press and public derision. Sheen’s David Frost, in turn, wants to prove to a snickering world that he’s more than just a blow-dried entertainer, at home chatting with starlets and celebrities, but woefully out of his league conducting a makeshift prosecution of a former president of prodigious intellectual gifts and ferocious intensity. Ron Howard directed the film, but its auteur is undoubtedly playwright-screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Deal, The Last King Of Scotland), who continues his ongoing exploration of the 20th century as filtered through crucial interpersonal relationships. [Nathan Rabin]

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A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

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Photo: A Ghost Story

Every once in a while, a particularly effects-heavy blockbuster gets singled out as being particularly post-actor, usually due to a reliance on CG imagery. David Lowery’s A Ghost Story earns that distinction better than most, but it uses only a common bedsheet to obscure its central performer. Casey Affleck plays a musician who dies, then returns to haunt his lover (Rooney Mara) and their house as a stereotypically garbed specter, visible only to the audience. As the ghost cannot or will not leave his former home, the world moves on without him. The film initially resembles a close-up study of relationship strife and grief, but as it drifts forward in time, it turns into something both sweeping and unknowably intimate. Lowery continues to separate his actors with blocking, a taller 1.33 frame, a Will Oldham monologue, and, as ever, that bedsheet, yet the effects aren’t entirely isolating. Quite to the contrary: This is one of the year’s most transporting experiences. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Good Hair

Good Hair

Chris Rock
Chris Rock
Screenshot: Good Hair

Is it possible to talk about the fascinating and complex universe of black hair without dealing with race and identity? That’s the question posed by Good Hair, director Jeff Stilson and co-writer/producer/narrator/star Chris Rock’s charming new comic exploration of African-American hair. The film is filled with sadly telling moments, like a black beauty student telling Rock that she’d have a hard time taking a job applicant seriously if he had an afro, yet its tone is one of amusement rather than indignation. Rock is an entertainer, not a polemicist, and Good Hair will never be mistaken for a college course in African American Hair And Racial Identity, though it does stress the pain women will endure and the exorbitant prices they’ll pay to keep up with follicular trends. To the film’s subjects, paying thousands for a complicated, high-maintenance weave is less a luxury than a necessity, even for those low on the socio-economic scale. Borrowing moves from Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, Good Hair alternates funny, candid talking-head interviews with famous folks like Nia Long, Ice-T, Al Sharpton, and Raven Symone with prankish stunts like Rock trying to sell African-American hair on the street and an extended trip to the Bronner Brothers Hair Show. During the climactic Hair Show competition, stylists battle in flamboyant production numbers that take showmanship to comic extremes, from a fuzzily conceived bar scene involving an aquarium and underwater hair-styling to a dizzy spectacle involving more or less an entire marching band. [Nathan Rabin]

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Good Time

Good Time

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Photo: Good Time

Abel Ferrara’s downtown Manhattan is long gone, replaced with sterile, half-filled high rises and wildly overpriced bistros. But there’s still plenty of grit left on the streets of New York City. You just have to travel to the outer boroughs, as directors Josh and Benny Safdie did for their frenetic crime drama Good Time. The film pulses with the energy of the city as manic scumbag Connie (Robert Pattinson, practically unrecognizable in a dirty hoodie and ratty goatee) fumbles his way through a hastily conceived rescue mission after his disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) gets arrested at the end of a foot chase following a botched bank robbery. The breakneck pace and scuzzy desperation of Connie’s quest gives the film—which takes place entirely over the course of one night—a certain fun-house quality, enhanced by the delirious close-up cinematography, aggressively stylized lighting, and synthesizer score. The fact that part of it literally takes place in an amusement park doesn’t hurt, either. [Katie Rife]

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Goodfellas

Goodfellas

Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta
Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta
Screenshot: Goodfellas

By the time he got around to his 1990 masterpiece GoodFellas, Scorsese had permanently graduated into high-budget studio filmmaking, but his grunt’s-eye view of gangster life distinguishes the film from the more stately, luxuriant Godfather movies. Based on the memoir of mafia thug turned government witness Henry Hill, who reminisces on one of two commentary tracks, GoodFellas dazzles foremost as a piece of pure craftsmanship. In tracking Ray Liotta’s Hill as he works his way up through the organization, conspires with vicious lowlifes played by De Niro and an unforgettable Joe Pesci, and suffers a precipitous fall from grace, the film’s style and texture shifts with the times. Moving from the romanticized first half to the fractured, jittery closing act, Scorsese adds Hill to a long list of consummate outsider heroes, bringing the audience closer to understanding a fringe-dweller who was seduced and abandoned by “the life.” [Scott Tobias]

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Gran Torino

Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood
Screenshot: Gran Torino

In Gran Torino, Eastwood plays a man from another era, and the film around him often feels similarly out of time. For what’s reputed to be his final acting role, Eastwood has crafted an old-fashioned melodrama, but one in service to a story about changing times, which makes it a far more interesting film than the sum of its squints and snarls. After aimless teenage neighbor Bee Vang attempts to steal Eastwood’s prized 1972 Gran Torino as part of a pressured gang initiation, Eastwood reluctantly becomes a neighborhood hero when he drives off the gangstas at gunpoint. Drawn into Vang’s family, Eastwood befriends both the boy and his bright, spirited sister (Ahney Her), apparently without relaxing a bit of his bigotry. For all the broadly drawn characters and well-worn story tropes at work—most prominently a kid teaching an old man to open his heart—Gran Torino never lets viewers relax. Eastwood’s character seldom eases up spewing epithets that already sounded dated coming from Archie Bunker. Sometimes the film seems uncomfortably close to excusing his racism as a generational quirk, but it ultimately never lets Eastwood off the hook or tries to hide the ugliness of his thoughts, even as that ugliness starts to erode. [Keith Phipps]

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The Guest

The Guest

Dan Stevens
Dan Stevens
Screenshot: The Guest

There’s something not quite right about David (Dan Stevens), the title character of Adam Wingard’s wickedly entertaining thriller The Guest. At a glance, he seems like the model man in uniform—a polite, soft-spoken war veteran, blessed with both the all-American good looks and aw-shucks charisma of Chris Evans’ heroic Steve Rogers. Arriving without notice on the doorstep of the Petersons, to “look after” the family of his fallen brother-in-arms, David ingratiates himself immediately: The bereaved parents (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser) see a little of their slain son in this accommodating visitor, while their meek youngest child, Luke (Brendan Meyer), gains a protective, surrogate older brother. Only teenage daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, a terrific Final Girl) senses what the audience does about this mysterious soldier, though her judgment is quickly clouded by a rush of hormones, the only sensible response to such rock-hard abs and old-fashioned congeniality. Who but the most iron-willed could resist the charms of this dashing military man? [A.A. Dowd]

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Happy As Lazzaro

Happy As Lazzaro

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Photo: Netflix

The first half of Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy As Lazzaro unfolds in a sharecropping tobacco farm known as Inviolata, its name (literally, “inviolate”) redolent of a place pure and untouched, sheltered from the ravages of time. When the film opens, an electric light bulb—that enduring marker of human progress—is being shuttled through a house in which there are evidently too few. Though it’s soon clear that we are in a secluded pocket of rural Italy, a viewer would be forgiven for mistaking precisely when this tale takes place. And that’s no accident, since the Italian director’s beatific third feature (which took the Best Screenplay award at Cannes, alongside Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces) fully evokes a sense of temporal dislocation—a feeling of being unstuck from the flow of history—and in doing so, clarifies our very relationship to modernity. [Lawrence Garcia]

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The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight

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Photo: The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s stubbornly theatrical, three-hour-long snowed-in Western is a difficult movie by a director who’s not known for making them. Keeping action to a minimum up until the intermission, it then explodes into the nastiest, most gruesome and nihilistic violence of Tarantino’s career, before ending on a disquieting note of hope. This is the writer-director’s take on the promise of American ideals, even more so than Django Unchained, for which it was originally intended as a sequel. (Hence the protagonist, an anti-heroic black bounty hunter who, in the movie’s post-Civil War setting, is about the age Django would be.) Who could have guessed, in the days of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, that Tarantino would become an overtly political filmmaker? [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Hell Or High Water

Hell Or High Water

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Photo: Hell Or High Water

A vision of the modern West that ranks up there with No Country For Old Men, the offbeat, entertaining, and elemental Hell Or High Water made for an unlikely breakthrough for the gifted Scottish director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Starred Up). Two bank-robbing brothers are pursued by a couple of lawmen across a landscape dotted with wildfires and foreclosures. Hearkening back to the creative wild days of 1970s American cinema, Mackenzie’s direction strikes a perfect balance between the relaxed atmosphere and eccentricity of the West Texas setting and the tension and desperation of the characters; his long takes put viewers in the moment and never feel ostentatious. The screenplay (by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan) has earned well-deserved praise for its dialogue, but is just as impressive for the richly novelistic structure it gives to a fairly straightforward tale of crime and pursuit. Full of evocative detours, memorable bit characters, and potent reminders of the West’s legacy of theft and exploitation, the film builds to an epilogue that more than earned its place on our list of the year’s best scenes. And we haven’t even mentioned the cast. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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 High Flying Bird

 High Flying Bird

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Photo: Netflix

Steven Soderbergh’s filmography is dotted with portraits of people who are very good at what they do professionally, from Brad Pitt’s constantly eating con artist in the Ocean’s franchise to Gina Carano’s thigh-smothering operative in Haywire. In High Flying Bird, Soderbergh applies that same interest to the high-powered world of the NBA, where everyone is grasping for power and paper. During a six-month lockout, agent Ray Burke (André Holland) plans to revolutionize how basketball is played. His vision is of organized labor, worker solidarity, and profound upheaval, and Moonlight playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney deftly moves Ray from penthouse offices to community courts as he criticizes each component of this multibillion-dollar system. “They invented a game on top of a game,” says Bill Duke’s Coach Spencer of the capitalist structure of professional sports. How High Flying Bird dismantles that makes it one of Soderbergh’s most urgent films in years. [Roxana Hadadi]

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Homecoming

Homecoming

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Photo: Parkwood Entertainment (Netflix

“When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella.” Though she chuckles warmly at her joke, there is a quiet power couched in Beyoncé’s mission for her historic 2018 festival set, stated roughly 32 minutes into the Netflix documentary Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé. The idea of carving out a space at the largest music event of the year—one that is not-so-secretly consumed by a predominately white audience—to unabashedly celebrate black culture might ring as too ambitious of an undertaking for most to seriously entertain. But as we witness throughout this vibrant documentary, the journey isn’t exactly for the faint of heart and can be an upward climb for even the most time-tested of legends among us. [Shannon Miller]

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Hugo

Hugo

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Photo: Hugo

By now, the story of Martin Scorsese has become legend: As an asthmatic kid, he watched from his bedroom window in Little Italy as other children played on the street, and he retreated into the fantastical worlds conjured up by filmmakers like Alexander Korda. Based on Brian Selznick’s popular illustrated book The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese’s enchanting Hugo burnishes that legend, filtering a whimsical half-fiction about silent pioneer Georges Méliès through a childhood of loneliness salved by the movies. In other words, it’s both a movie about young Scorsese and a movie that young Scorsese would have loved, while also bearing the distinct signature of the filmmaking world’s most passionate historian and preservationist. [Scott Tobias]

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Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Screenshot:

Hunt For The Wilderpeople, an enjoyably goofy adventure that manages to bring some freshness to the moldy “cantankerous adult reluctantly bonds with adorable kid” subgenre. Starring Sam Neill as the cantankerous adult, the film plays a bit like Jurassic Park minus Lex and dinosaurs, mining humor from the incongruity of its odd-couple pairing and basic fish-out-of-water elements, plus some Flight Of The Conchord-ish wit. [Mike D’Angelo]

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I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House

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Photo: I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House

The horror renaissance continued unabated in 2016, as films like The Witch, The Invitation, The Eyes Of My Mother, Under The Shadow, Don’t Breathe, brought increased respectability to this frequently disrespected genre. But one of the year’s most singular horror movies, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, still slipped through the cracks. Maybe it was the unwieldy title. Maybe it was the fact that the movie, an immersive sensory experience, went straight to Netflix. I’d wager the real reason Oz Perkins’ one-of-a-kind ghost story was slept on or even disliked (average grade from the A.V. Club comment community: C+) is that it’s entirely out of step with contemporary horror conventions and trends. It’s an exercise in pure unsettling atmosphere—one so off-kilter that it seems downright haunted itself. A small cult following, as opposed to widespread popularity, is probably apropos for something this rewardingly unusual. [A.A. Dowd]

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I Care A Lot

I Care A Lot

Eiza  Gonzalez, Dianne Wiest, and Rosamund Pike in I Care A Lot
Eiza Gonzalez, Dianne Wiest, and Rosamund Pike in I Care A Lot
Photo: TIFF

I Care A Lot writer-director J. Blakeson sees the plight of senior citizens ground beneath the wheels of bureaucracy as the jumping-off point for a black comedy of escalating aggression. The result is something one could facetiously, but accurately describe as I Love You Phillip Morris crossed with I Saw The Devil, with a little The Psychopath Test for added flavor. Rosamund Pike stars as Marla Grayson, a con artist and stone-cold sociopath who reins over what she thinks is the perfect scam: A professional guardianship service that specializes in watching over elderly people left in the care of the state. If you’re thinking, “but that sounds nice, actually,” that’s the point: Under the angelic cover of social work, Marla and her business/life partner Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) are bleeding their clients dry like vampires in tailored pantsuits. A legal guardian also has control of their ward’s assets, you see, and Marla and Fran’s game is to pay a corrupt doctor (Alicia Witt) to declare someone mentally incompetent and scuttle them off to a prison-like nursing facility before any distant relatives notice what’s happening. And if the person objects to Marla and Fran selling their house and draining their bank account? They’re not fit to make their own decisions. It’s right there on their chart. [Katie Rife]

Available Feb. 19

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I Lost My Body

I Lost My Body

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Photo: Netflix

The best animated film of 2019 is partly about a luckless, lonely young man falling in love, and partly about a severed hand that’s slowly crawling across a city filled with small-scaled dangers. The two pieces complement each other, frequently pushing I Lost My Body toward the poetic and metaphorical. But the movie is also just beautiful and exciting on a moment-to-moment basis—as both a low-key romance and as a gory thriller. [Noel Murray]

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I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley in I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley in I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Photo: Netflix

“It’s good to remind yourself that the world’s larger than inside your own head,” Jake (Jesse Plemons) says to Lucy (Jessie Buckley) early into I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, Charlie Kaufman’s maddening plunge down the rabbit hole of his boundless imagination. Is Kaufman assuring us or himself? By the end of this strange movie—possibly his most uncompromising and discombobulating, which is really saying something—we have no guarantee that the world it depicts exists outside of someone’s head. The question may just be whose? It’s a head trip in the form of a road trip. Jake has invited Lucy, his girlfriend of just a few weeks, to come meet his parents in downstate New York, a long drive through worsening weather. The two are smart and anxious millennials; they talk in heady references, though often at instead of to each other. They seem more superficially compatible than Joel and Clementine, the once and future lovers of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but a breakup may still be imminent. Lucy is thinking of ending things, after all—something she tells us repeatedly through a running internal monologue that keeps getting stepped on by intrusions of chitchat. (One is reminded that Kaufman does voice-over more cleverly and purposefully and emphatically than almost anyone working today.) [A.A. Dowd]

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The Impossible

The Impossible

Tom Holland and Naomi Watts
Tom Holland and Naomi Watts
Screenshot: The Impossible

Whether it’s a responsible choice to turn a real-life disaster into a stunning special effect—or to depict the natives of Thailand as “obstacles,” as opposed to people who’ve just had their own lives upended—is worth debating further. But The Impossible ultimately isn’t about the tsunami and its victims per se; it’s about this one family, and their resourcefulness in the face of disaster. Bayona’s tsunami sequence is bound to garner accolades—and rightfully so, since it’s 10 of the most harrowing minutes in recent film history—but the film is filled with smaller but no less gripping scenes of the characters scrambling toward each other, agonizingly slowly, amid a landscape of wreckage and strangers. On the whole, The Impossible is a superb example of the “man against the elements” film, driven by the panic that sets in when one family member fears never seeing the others again. With that as his starting point, Bayona deftly pushes the audience’s buttons. [Noel Murray]

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Inception

Inception

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Screenshot: Inception

There are only a handful of filmmakers capable of infusing spectacle with ideas, and among those, director Christopher Nolan feels uniquely tapped into the anxieties of the day. Two separate but related millennial fears drive Nolan’s ambitious, mostly dazzling new opus Inception: We have no control over our lives, and reality as we used to understand it no longer exists—or at least has been fundamentally destabilized. Squaring the beautifully engineered puzzles of Memento and The Prestige with the chaos and anarchy brought by the Joker in The Dark Knight, Inception takes place largely in a dreamscape where thieves of the mind fend off attacks from rebellious agents that clutter the subconscious. It’s a metaphysical heist picture, staged in worlds on top of worlds like nothing since Synecdoche, New York, and executed with a minimum of hand-holding. [Scott Tobias]

Available Feb. 1

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Into The Wild

Into The Wild

Hal Holbrook and Emile Hirsh
Hal Holbrook and Emile Hirsh
Screenshot: Into The Wild

In 1992, Chris McCandless was found dead by some moose hunters in the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley, marking a tragic end to an extraordinary journey across the American landscape. Jon Krakauer’s wonderful book Into The Wild—and its deft new film adaptation by writer-director Sean Penn—reveals a young man of inspiring vision and dogged contradiction, driven at once by his angry rejection of consumerist society, his despair over personal betrayals, and an infectious love of the natural world. Working with the great French cinematographer Eric Gautier, Penn follows McCandless’ zig-zagging trail through the more remote outposts in the continental United States, from a grain operation in Carthage, South Dakota to the geographical accident that is California’s Salton Sea. Played by Emile Hirsch, who never quite connects to the role (perhaps by design), McCandless began his journey shortly after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, when he gave away his $25,000 savings to charity and drove off in his beat-up Datsun, looking for adventure. Inspired by authors like Thoreau and Jack London, he tramped around the country with minimal resources, popping up occasionally to work odd jobs, but only to scrape together the materials he needed to survive on his own. His ultimate goal was to make it up to Alaska, but a few months after heading off into the wilderness, a couple of critical mistakes cost him his life. [Scott Tobias]

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The Irishman

The Irishman

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Netflix

One day, Martin Scorsese will die. That’s a difficult thing to accept—difficult because it will be a staggering loss for film culture, but also pretty hard to even believe. Scorsese, at a very spry 77, was everywhere in 2019: igniting a debate about what is or isn’t cinema; inspiring autumn hits so indebted to his style that he should have received royalties; executive-producing two of the other movies on this very list and piecing together a lost Bob Dylan concert. And yet to watch The Irishman, his gangster opus to end all gangster opuses, is to be constantly reminded of the promise of mortality—his, ours, everyone’s. Make no mistake, this is a remarkably brisk three and a half hours, dramatizing half a century of organized crime through dark-comic confrontations (and an outsized Al Pacino performance) so deliriously funny, they’ve already generated a whole library of memes. But right from his opening shot, a morbid parody of the Copacabana sequence in Goodfellas, Scorsese foregrounds the inevitable. And his film becomes, in its magnificently bleak final stretch, a meditation on the true consequences of the mob life, the ignoble end awaiting men like Henry Hill, Sam Rothstein, and the film’s own protagonist, mafia hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro, weaponizing the sleepiness of his latter-day work into a devastating portrait of moral absence). One of the many ironies of the movie is that it uses distinctly modern means—from de-aging technology to streaming-platform resources—to eulogize a time-honored genre and the careers of the artists who shaped it. But however firmly Scorsese has planted himself on the vanguard, however relevant and vital and, yes, alive he remains as an artist, his latest triumph is a stark acknowledgment of what’s coming. If we’re lucky, The Irishman says, we get to pick out our own coffin. Watching the movie, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Scorsese has picked his. [A.A. Dowd]

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Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park
Photo: Murray Close (Getty Images)

Of all the iconic moments in Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science-run-amok blockbuster, there’s one that functions as a perfect microcosm for the film’s legacy and appeal. It’s the early scene in which the characters—and, by extension, the viewers themselves—first catch sight of one of the park’s prehistoric attractions, a towering brachiosaurus. Logistically, it doesn’t make much sense: Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and the rest of the visitors would surely have seen the mighty beast long before they pulled up right beside it. As movie magic, however, the sequence is beautifully staged, beginning as it does with Grant and Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) lurching out of their seats, shedding hats and sunglasses along the way, to gawk at the impossible. They can’t believe their eyes—and neither could moviegoers, who had never seen special effects this… special before. “You crazy son of a bitch, you did it,” stammers Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), neatly articulating the awe and disbelief of just about everyone in the audience. Spielberg had done it. He had brought back the dinosaurs. [A.A. Dowd]

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Screenshot: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The Lost World is just refreshingly short on pretense. It’s a monster movie, pure and simple, with nothing on its mind except which of the human characters (and even cute animals! Spielberg did retain some of the brutality from Schindler’s List) are going to become dinosaur chow. There are no melancholy conversations over ice cream; no long stretches of patronizing exposition about the vicious nature of a dinosaur we’ll be seeing in action half an hour later; no laughably superficial explanations of chaos theory. There’s just running and screaming, plus some chomping. Furthermore, the film’s big set pieces—the trailer on the cliff, the raptors in the grass, the compys that should have eaten Richard Attenborough in the first film eating a different slimeball in this one—are vintage Spielberg, blessed with a spatial-temporal precision that few of the folks directing today’s blockbusters can muster. [Mike D’Angelo]

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The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: A24

Unfolding with the inevitability of a bad dream, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is Lanthimos’ darkly intense, almost biblical spin on one of those thrillers about a yuppie family terrorized by a vengeful stalker. It’s like Cape Fear by way of The Shining, just in the same absurdist register as all of the Greek director’s trips to the Twilight Zone. To say where the plot goes would be unfair, but it involves a mysterious malady, an impossible choice, and a terrible reckoning. Those up on their Greek tragedy may recognize the outline of Iphigenia’s tussle with Artemis—a dispute that began, hint hint, with a slain deer. But you needn’t know for mythology to recognize a false deity, courting comeuppance by deciding who lives and who dies. [A.A. Dowd]

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Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: A24

Writer-director Greta Gerwig accomplishes something extraordinary with Lady Bird: a story that’s both hyper-specific and universally relatable. The film takes place in Sacramento, California over the course of the 2002-2003 school year, where 17-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) dreams of ditching what she calls “the Midwest of California” and escaping to New York City. Gerwig cradles Lady Bird’s story like a delicate baby robin, allowing the tension between her characters to arise organically and daring to make them refreshingly, well, ordinary. And although it’s also frequently hilarious, Gerwig derives real emotional impact from Lady Bird’s strained relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), whose desire to protect her daughter from disappointment manifests as a tendency towards cutting, critical remarks. It’s a film deftly attuned to the tedious cycles of teenage life, an age where the present feels like a heavy weight pressing down on your chest and the future like a cloudless blue sky that goes on forever. [Katie Rife]

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Viola Davis
Viola Davis
Photo: Viola Davis

“Life can change in the blink of an eye” is one of those clichés that sounds more hyperbolic than it really is. While it may seem dramatic to suggest that actual milliseconds can radically alter the trajectory of a person’s existence, the daunting fact remains that life is delicate and fickle. The late playwright August Wilson explored as much in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, in which one man’s trauma and hubris leads to a tremendous, lightning-quick fall from grace. At its core, Wilson’s 1982 play is a tragic allegory about the extremely tenuous nature of the Black American Dream, and how, for too many in this country, prosperity comes down not just to hard work but also righting larger wrongs and overcoming systematic roadblocks. To that end, an ostensibly minor setback can be catastrophic for someone reliant on sweeping success for basic survival—a reality Wilson explores through the figure of Levee, a young, ambitious trumpeter who, over the span of mere hours, loses everything: his job, his love interest, and, via creative theft, much more. Ma Rainey’s is the ballad of a promising talent whose rising star is unceremoniously dimmed. That aspect takes on fresh significance—a uniquely cruel irony—in George C. Wolfe’s new adaptation. After all, Levee is played by Chadwick Boseman, in his final screen role. The film has more than its share of toast-worthy elements, from its sharp ensemble to its dutiful nods to 1920s Chicago and Old Hollywood, courtesy of Tobias A. Schliessler’s illuminating cinematography. But the appearance of the actor, in one last tremendous star performance, only enhances the material’s tragic power. [Shannon Miller]

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Machete Kills

Machete Kills

Danny Trejo
Danny Trejo
Screenshot: Machete Kills

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills, like its predecessor Machete (and the fake trailer between Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse movies that birthed it), concerns itself equally with comedy and over-the-top action, constantly tweaking the dosage so as not to tilt too far in one direction. Machete Kills is gleefully ridiculous, one-upping the first movie’s jokes, blood, and even its massively heightened self-awareness. No matter how Rodriguez would like to pitch it, Machete Kills isn’t really an homage to exploitation movies as much as it’s a parody of them. Its tongue is jammed so far in its cheek that it scans, at least in parts, like an Austin Powers movie, albeit one with multiple beheadings and disembowelings. Which isn’t to say it’s no fun—in fact, it delivers pretty much exactly what it sets out to.

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62 / 107

Marriage Story

Marriage Story

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Netflix

In Noah Baumbach’s most complete picture to date, the stalwart indie filmmaker combines the vivid slice-of-life vignettes of Frances Ha with the unflinching self-examination of The Squid And The Whale. He also tells a rich and provocative story, about two basically decent people who suffer mightily once they turn their irreconcilable differences over to the rough justice of family court. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson—joined by an all-star cast of supporting players—are at their best, bringing such nuance to their characters that the audience can see both why this couple fell in love and why they have to split. But Marriage Story is really Baumbach’s show, as he takes what he’s learned from Brian De Palma and The New Yorker short stories, breaking the arc of a messy divorce down to a series of riveting set pieces. [Noel Murray]

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Menashe

Menashe

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Menashe

Menashe Lustig brings warmth and a lumpen charisma to Menashe’s lead role, giving life to a film based in part on his own experiences as a Hasidic Jew. It would’ve been easy for documentarian Joshua Weinstein to make Menashe into a melodrama about heroes and villains: the misunderstood free spirit versus the stodgy pillars of the community. Instead, the model here is more the classics of docu-realism, like Little Fugitive, or anything by the Dardenne brothers. The focus is largely on the fascinating and strikingly filmed visual contrasts of an old-fashioned people against a modern city. [Noel Murray]

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)

The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected

No one second-guesses like Noah Baumbach; his characters would wonder aloud what they could have done to make the proper best-of list with a wryness belying their insecurities. Meyerowitz, loosely structured as a series of short stories, bears some superficial resemblance to the films of Baumbach’s pal Wes Anderson, particularly The Royal Tenenbaums, but it inverts the family dynamics of a ne’er-do-well father parenting stunted child geniuses. Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman) is like a Tenenbaum kid in dotage, half-ignoring his successful but non-glamorous children, and Baumbach captures both the affection and the unpleasant reality of dealing with a middling-at-best parent whose frail humanity remains in full view. This movie isn’t as snappy as his collaborations with Greta Gerwig, but it’s very funny and beautifully acted, particularly by a career-best Adam Sandler as a stay-at-home dad who dotes on his smart teenage daughter. No second-guessing is needed for me to call this yet another Baumbach career highlight. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Middle Of Nowhere

Middle Of Nowhere

Emayatzy Corinealdi
Emayatzy Corinealdi
Screenshot: Middle Of Nowhere

The story of a woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who drops out of her metropolitan medical school to be closer to the remote prison where her husband (Omari Hardwick) is serving an eight-year term, is an uncommonly thoughtful, accomplished realization of familiar form, and a reminder of why that form exists in the first place. With unfussy lyricism and a hard-nosed lack of sentiment, director Ava DuVernay sets Corinealdi on the fine line between loyalty and self-sacrifice, wondering at what point, if any, her devotion to maintaining her marriage might slide into simple foolishness. When a bus driver (David Oyelowo) begins, subtly but persistently, to explore the limits of her commitment, she rebuffs him, but her curiosity is piqued—less because of loneliness or sexual desire, though those certainly factor in, than because she herself wonders how strong she is, and whether strength consists in shutting out temptation or facing it up close. The power of Middle Of Nowhere is cumulative, conveyed in sustained tone and deepening character rather than bravura sequences or explosive confrontations. But its lack of pyrotechnics doesn’t translate to a paucity of feeling. If anything, it’s more affecting for the leisurely way it rolls out its story, allowing each step to resonate before moving on to the next. [Katie Rife]

Available Feb. 11

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Midnight Special

Midnight Special

Midnight Special
Midnight Special
Screenshot:

In the opening scene of Midnight Special, two armed men sneak a boy out of a motel room and into a customized ’72 Chevelle before peeling off into the dusk. The mulberry sky turns blue-gray with twilight, and then pitch black. The driver hits a toggle switch wired behind the steering wheel, cutting off the headlamps and taillights. The car disappears into the darkness. It will be about 40 minutes before the viewer even finds out how the men, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), know each other, though by then they will have ditched the Chevelle for a plumber’s white Ford Econoline van and, later, an Isuzu Trooper. Midnight Special is very particular about its cars, just as it’s very particular about its setting—the gas stations, motels, and working-class suburbs of the Bible Belt—and the cautious speech of its characters. In every other respect, Jeff Nichols’ compelling sci-fi chase film is terse and elliptical, showing little and telling less. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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67 / 107

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls

A monster calling
A monster calling
Photo: Focus Features

The family melodrama A Monster Calls alternately conforms to expectations and defies them, which is probably why it’s proved divisive during its early run on the festival circuit. Some called the film unsophisticated, saying that it makes well-meaning but obvious observations about how grief affects the young. Others connected with it on such a deep level that they couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be moved. In a way, the confusion over what this movie is meant to be—and who’ll want to watch it—befits a story that’s so tough to take at times, about an imaginative child coping with the unimaginable. In a literal sense, the “monster” in A Monster Calls is an enormous fire-breathing tree-beast, with the voice of Liam Neeson, who comes at night to haunt a preteen boy named Conor O’Malley (played by Lewis MacDougall). Five minutes into the film, though, as Conor’s shuffling pills around and listening to coughing fits from his mother, Lizzie (Felicity Jones), the title’s meaning quickly changes, as The Monster clearly comes to represent something else. And it’s nothing quite as obvious as “the real monster is cancer” either. There’s a bit more to what A Monster Calls is saying about how the process of dying transforms the living. [Noel Murray]

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Moonlight

Moonlight

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Moonlight

In the broadest sense, Moonlight could be called a movie “about being black” or “about being gay” or even “about being raised in the drug-ravaged Liberty City neighborhood of Miami.” But writer-director Barry Jenkins treats identity as more of a prism than a lens in his adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. In three haunting vignettes, set years apart, Jenkins examines the complicated urges and influences within a young man, Chiron, as a friendly dope-pusher (beautifully played by Mahershala Ali) offers the kid some guidance, and an affectionate classmate helps awaken his sexuality. From moment to moment, Moonlight is small in scale. But its various echoes and callbacks coalesce into an at-times sweet, at-times heartbreaking portrait of someone who hesitates to articulate his desires. [Noel Murray]

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Mother

Mother

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix

The best murder mysteries start small and build outward, becoming less about the crime and more about the community where the crime took place, and the evolving psyches of the investigators. Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother starts with the fairly pathetic case of a mildly developmentally disabled adult accused of killing a promiscuous teenage girl from an uncaring family. Then the movie expands to take the measure of the small South Korean town where the murder took place, and of the woman who sifts through clues in order to learn the truth. The woman (played by the remarkable Kim Hye-Ja) is the mother of the accused, and seeking more than vindication for her boy. She brought this kid into the world and taught him how to conduct himself, and if he actually killed somebody, then maybe he’s merely the murder weapon, and she’s the culprit. [Noel Murray]

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70 / 107

Mud

Mud

Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, and Matthew McConaughey
Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, and Matthew McConaughey
Screenshot: Mud

“His name is mud” isn’t a likely expression for a film to make literal, but writer-director Jeff Nichols—whose previous film, Take Shelter, repeatedly featured the protagonist and his family taking shelter—doesn’t shy away from bluntness or directness. Yes, Matthew McConaughey is Mud, a laconic ne’er-do-well hiding from the authorities on a small island off the Southern coast after killing a man in anger. The movie, however, isn’t so much about him as it is about the pair of teenage boys, Tye Sheridan (from The Tree Of Life) and Jacob Lofland, who happen upon him there and get drawn into his efforts to reconnect with his childhood girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) back on the mainland. Sheridan, in particular, deeply identifies with McConaughey’s ostensibly pure love—a sense of kinship that blinds the boy to the real danger his friendly outlaw chum represents. And as if that isn’t enough potential mayhem, Joe Don Baker, playing the dead man’s understandably pissed-off father, is gearing up for some serious vigilante justice. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Mudbound

Mudbound

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Mudbound

Drawn from the pages of Hillary Jordan’s 2008 international bestseller, Mudbound has the heft—the narrative and thematic meatiness, the thicket of characters and subplots and years-spanning incident—of a book you can’t put down. But if the film is novelistic in its sprawl, maybe sometimes to a fault, it’s written in poetry as well as prose. For Dee Rees, writer and director of the tender (if dramatically overfamiliar) Sundance sensation Pariah, this handsome literary adaptation is a big leap forward in scope and craft—a sophomore swing for the fences. But Rees’ singular sensibilities haven’t dimmed with the expansion of her ambitions. They still glow brightly, illuminating Jordan’s vision of hardship, simmering conflict, and racial inequity in 1940s Mississippi. [A.A. Dowd]

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My Best Friend’s Wedding

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts
Screenshot: My Best Friend’s Wedding

Rom-coms have happy endings. That fact is such a given that it’s often preemptively held against the genre. Why see a movie when you already know exactly how it’s going to end? It’s ironic, then, that one of the most beloved rom-coms of all time challenges the very nature of what we want from a happy ending. The all-around delightful My Best Friend’s Wedding—more so than maybe any other romantic comedy—benefits from not knowing exactly where things are going. The 1997 film stars Julia Roberts as Julianne Potter, a commitment-phobic restaurant critic who’s sent into a tailspin when she learns her longtime best friend—and one-time college hookup, whom she made a pact to wed if neither were married by 28—Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney) is about to marry the bubbly, 20-year-old White Sox heiress Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz). When Julianne confesses her love and impulsively kisses Michael, it doesn’t make him realize he’s in love with her. It only helps him confirm he’s actually in love with Kimmy. And even though she’s heartbroken, Julianne sets about righting her wrongs, ensuring the wedding goes off without a hitch. There are plenty of meta rom-coms and rom-com parodies, but My Best Friend’s Wedding is something unique. It’s a deconstruction of the romantic comedy genre that’s also a fully functioning, agreeably mainstream version of one. [Caroline Siede]

Available Feb. 1

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My Happy Family

My Happy Family

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Screenshot: My Happy Family

Georgian writer-director Nana Ekvtimishvili (In Bloom) brings a rare subtlety and sensitivity to this ironically titled domestic drama. Ia Shughliashvili stars as a middle-aged woman named Manana, who one day decides to move out of the crowded apartment she shares with her grown children, her inattentive husband, and assorted in-laws. My Happy Family’s minimal plot mostly follows the family’s efforts to shame her into returning—or at least to understand why she left. What makes the movie so resonant is that Manana’s choice feels so obvious. Leaving aside her clan’s various personality defects and moral failings, the heroine’s clearly much more content in her own place, with no responsibilities, listening to her own music, staring off her own balcony, eating sweets. Ekvtimishvili turns simple solitude into a fantasy more powerful than any science-fiction story. [Noel Murray]

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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Chevy Chase
Chevy Chase
Screenshot: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Christmas Vacation may be one of the most realistic, albeit exaggerated, cinematic depictions of what celebrating Christmas is like for many families. Where most holiday features are high-concept or supernatural, set pieces here involve shopping or sledding; even if you don’t blanket your house with lights like Clark, the trouble he has getting his decorations up and working is relatable, and funnier as a result. The film has become a perennial favorite, as important as It’s A Wonderful Life in many families’ December repertoires, because it shows the holidays as wonderful and taxing in equal measure. It understands the desire to be with extended family, but also the inherent frustration of sharing space with visitors and in accommodating everyone’s different schedules and tastes. (“I’ll be outside for… the season,” Clark decides as the in-laws descend.) Though it lacks scenes where the Griswolds attend holiday parties or bake cookies, this is about as close as Hollywood has gotten to putting everyday Christmas traditions on screen. In its sweetness and humor, this is the Vacation where John Hughes’ imprint is most visible. (He wrote the screenplay; the director is Jeremiah Chechik, who mostly does TV now.) [Ryan Vlastelica]

Available Feb. 1

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Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
Screenshot: Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is well worth seeing just for Jake Gyllenhaal’s spectacularly creepy performance. Blinking as little as possible and speaking every line with robotic conviction, he makes Louis the sort of person who discovered early in life that it’s possible to get away with nearly anything so long as one couches one’s words in the right tone, except that he has a truly warped notion of what the right tone is. Even the most obnoxiously persistent door-to-door salesmen have nothing on this guy, who treats everybody he encounters as an obstacle to be politely mowed down with bland verbiage derived from corporate jargon. It’s a mesmerizing turn from an actor who, while frequently quite good, has never really had a breakout role until this one. Nightcrawler gave him a chance to make a lasting impression, and he takes full, fanatical advantage. [Mike D’Angelo]

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76 / 107

The Night Comes For Us

The Night Comes For Us

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Eriekn Juragan (Netflix

Fusing the themes of a classic Hong Kong action movie with the mayhem of a modern Indonesian martial-arts flick and enough gore to satisfy fans of extreme, midnight-circuit horror, Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us takes “heroic bloodshed” to a new level of indescribable, gut-splattered ickiness. As is often the case, the symbol of innocence takes the form of a little girl: Joe Taslim is the dangerous killer who’ll stop at nothing to protect her; his The Raid co-star Iko Uwais is the former gangland partner sent to take him down. But the real central conflict in this panorama of death and dismemberment is between the archetypal, coded characters and the heaps of bloodied, chopped-up bodies they leave in their wake. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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77 / 107

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals

Amy Adams
Amy Adams
Photo: Focus Features

“I’m too cynical to be an artist,” muses a character at around the midpoint of Nocturnal Animals, the second feature by the fashion designer Tom Ford, perhaps winking to the audience of this arch and self-conscious film. For Nocturnal Animals takes dilettantism as a principle; Ford, who previously directed A Single Man, is a mimic and an unapologetic aesthete, and his liberal adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony And Susan operates on the cusp of satire, playing with insincerity and indulgence as it conveys the workings of a reader’s imagination. Its three interrelated stories reflect and obscure one another in equal measure: a Los Angeles drama about the ennui and mores of the modish rich, focused on a gallery owner married to a nearly bankrupt businessman; a violent thriller about a family man seeking revenge against Texas hicks, which is actually a novel manuscript by the gallery owner’s estranged first husband; and a failed romance, set in the early years of the relationship between the former couple, childhood friends from Texas who reconnect in New York. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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78 / 107

The Old Guard

The Old Guard

Charlize Theron leads her guard
Charlize Theron leads her guard
Photo: Netflix

With The Old Guard, Love & Basketball and Beyond The Lights director Gina Prince-Bythewood helms an action-fantasy hybrid that takes the beauty marks—and warts—of each genre and creates a sequel-starter for Netflix. The film follows an idealistic cadre of heroes who all share a common thread: They can live for centuries. The titular group is led by Andy (Charlize Theron), with Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) making up the rest of the crew. When a new immortal warrior, Nile (Kiki Layne), joins them, she sparks a reckoning with the Guard’s ideals—and the rosy picture they try to uphold. Greg Rucka pens the screenplay, refashioning his own graphic novel and doing as much to retain tone and character agency as Gillian Flynn did for her Gone Girl adaptation, for example. In a past life, this would be a standard B-movie shoot-’em-up. But, as Prince-Bythewood presents it, The Old Guard is an effective and tender bundle of contradictions, a franchise launchpad about (among other things) endings. [Anya Stanley]

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79 / 107

The Other Side Of The Wind

The Other Side Of The Wind

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Netflix

To quote Twin Peaks: “What year is this?” After more than four decades languishing in post-production limbo, Orson Welles’ final project arrives like a missive from a bygone era. No less than a Herculean act of reconstructive surgery, The Other Side Of The Wind tells an ostensibly familiar tale of protégé (Peter Bogdanovich’s Brooks Otterlake) surpassing mentor (John Huston’s Jake Hannaford), here in the context of ’70s-era Hollywood. But it’s also a delirious, wildly entertaining implosion of unstable meta-text, filled with nonstop callbacks, withering bon mots, and thinly veiled send-ups of then-contemporary personalities, not to mention some of the most electric (and unabashedly libidinous) filmmaking of Welles’ legendary career. Shifting freely between black-and-white footage and lurid color photography, it’s a veritably prismatic object, a kind of cracked crystal that’s all the more fascinating for its supposed flaws. Putting it on a year-end list feels inadequate. [Lawrence Garcia]

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80 / 107

Paddleton

Paddleton

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Netflix

Opening with a diagnosis of cancer that’s soon revealed to be terminal, Paddleton more or less amounts to an hour and a half of slow-motion assisted suicide. Sound like fun? Remarkably, this low-budget two-hander—arriving on Netflix just a few weeks after its Sundance premiere—manages to generate a fair number of laughs, even as it does full justice to the scenario’s underlying gravity. Written by Alex Lehmann (who also directed) and Mark Duplass (who also plays one of the two lead roles), Paddleton takes its emotional cue from Terms Of Endearment, expanding that film’s final stretch into an entire feature and replacing mother-daughter bonds with the deep but usually unspoken love shared by two male buddies. A bit of cheating is necessary to achieve the stripped-down dynamic that Lehmann and Duplass apparently wanted, but the payoff is an atypically intimate portrait of testosterone-fueled friendship. [Mike D’Angelo]

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81 / 107

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Paranormal Activity

The cinéma vérité horror film/mockumentary Paranormal Activity paradoxically feels more like a sequel to The Blair Witch Project than that film’s actual sequel. Like an ideal follow-up, Paranormal Activity takes the same basic premise—amateur filmmaker documents own descent into paranoia and terror at the hands of sinister unseen forces—in a bold new direction. Where Project got a lot of mileage out of the archetypal campfire-story spookiness of the wilderness where its hapless filmmakers got lost, Paranormal Activity derives much of its power from juxtaposing supernatural otherworldliness with the mundanity of the apartment where its action takes place. At best, Paranormal Activity makes the banal and commonplace deeply unsettling. The film’s resemblance to Blair Witch extends to unknown lead actors who are realistic and convincing enough to come off as shrill and unpleasant. After all, people are seldom at their best when confronted by dark powers beyond their comprehension. [Nathan Rabin]

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82 / 107

Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express

Seth Rogen and James Franco
Seth Rogen and James Franco
Screenshot: Pineapple Express

Written by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg—the duo also scripted SuperbadPineapple Express refers to an exclusive strain of weed that James Franco offers to Rogen, his favorite customer and secret best friend. Rogen’s job as a process server allows him to toke up in his car between jobs, but one night, while waiting to hand out a subpoena, he witnesses a murder, and murderer Gary Cole witnesses him right back. As it happens, Cole is also Franco’s chief supplier, and he traces the marijuana strain back to the source, sending Franco and Rogen on the run with a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and a couple of bumbling henchmen (Kevin Corrigan and The Office’s Craig Robinson) hot on their trail. A subplot involving Rogen’s relationship with a high-school student (Amber Heard) could have been excised, though at the expense of the one of the film’s funniest scenes. But good stoner comedies like Pineapple Express have a rambling, shaggy-dog nature that can make quirky little detours and non sequiturs more essential than story itself. [Scott Tobias]

Stream it now (leaving Jan. 31)

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Private Life

Private Life

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Netflix
Photo: Netflix

“This is my private life,” cries Danny Elfman in the Oingo Boingo song of the same name. “Come and get me out of here.” That’s more or less how Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) feel in Tamara Jenkins’ long-awaited third feature, which explores in minute, often excruciating detail this infertile couple’s Herculean efforts to either conceive or adopt a child. Jenkins apparently went through a lot of this herself (which partially explains why it’s been 11 years since The Savages), and she expertly threads the needle, finding ways to make her ordeal both scrupulously accurate and enormously entertaining. And the narrative that gradually emerges, in which Rachel and Richard become surrogate parents to their college-age niece (Kayli Carter), who volunteers to be an egg donor, beautifully conveys the idea that love and guidance don’t necessarily require a traditional family structure, and that sometimes we find what we’re looking for without even realizing it. [Mike D’Angelo]