Netflix offers thousands of movies (and TV shows) via its streaming platform. While the landmark service can be surprisingly accurate with its suggestions, it’s often still tough to find something worth watching amid the deluge of choices. So we’ve taken the time to wade through the ridiculous amount of content in order to bring you a list of some of the best movies on Netflix right now. Whether you’re into found-footage films, poignant documentaries, or a trip through Hollywood’s Golden Age, our list has you covered. Planning your weekend has never been easier!
Working odd jobs while struggling to come up with an idea for a novel, jaded writing major Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) runs into a woman he grew up with, Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo). She’s also working a dead-end job to stay afloat, but she’s excited to see Jong-su again, and the two start a fling. When Hae-mi returns from a trip to Africa, however, she has a friend in tow: A wealthy businessman named Ben (Steven Yeun). Jong-su feels an immediate resentment toward Ben, who has charmed Hae-mi. As the three spend time together, Ben reveals himself, little by little, to Jong-su, who begins to understand that behind Ben’s affable veil lurks something dangerous. Burning is an intense psychological thriller, one that touches on issues of masculinity, economic decline, and even international politics; it’s a film that leave viewers thinking long after it ends.
The Master (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is a film that defies easy analysis. From a distance, it may seem like a film about a cult — it sparked controversy before release, when reports led people to believe it was a film about Scientology — but as Anderson’s yarn unspools, slowly and carefully, the film’s focus becomes clearer: This is a film about the primal need for connection. The film opens on Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a sailor who, in the days after World War II, drifts through society like a stray dog, boozing and fighting, unable to settle down. Passing by a docked ship whose inhabitants are having a party, Freddie sneaks aboard, and stumbles into the orbit of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an author who has attracted a number of people to his new movement, The Cause. Dodd draws Freddie to his side, and as The Cause grows, the two develop an intense fascination with each other.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma opens quietly, the camera staring, motionless, at a tile floor as the credits play; eventually, water pours over the floor, as the sound of a mop spills in from just offscreen. It’s a boldly mundane opening, fitting for a film about an ordinary woman. Roma follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid working in the household of a wealthy doctor, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and his wife, Sofia (Marina de Tavira). Cleo cleans the house, tends to the children, and keeps the household running as Antonio and Sofia’s marriage strains. Cleo is the type of character typically relegated to the background of stories like this, but Cuaron makes her the focus, depicting her daily labor and struggles with a surprise pregnancy and unreliable lover. It’s a beautiful film, delicately composed and shot in stark black and white.
Private Life (2018)
Now in their 40s, married couple Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) have both found success as writers living in New York City, but despite their fulfilling careers, there’s one thing they want but don’t have: A child. Between their attempts at artificial insemination and adoption, Rachel and Richard are chasing whatever chance they can find. Although they’re both reaching for the same thing, the stress of failing to conceive often pits them against each other. Private Life is a beautiful, honest drama, one that explores how relationships, even long-lasting ones, have their ups and downs, and that those peaks and valleys are simply part of life.
Blue Valentine (2010)
Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is the story of a relationship, its joyous beginning, and bitter end, told through a narrative that jumps back and forth in time. When they first meet, Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a high-school dropout working for a moving company, while Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a med student, but despite their different backgrounds, they end up dating, with Cindy drawn to Dean’s effervescent, romantic personality. After Cindy discovers she is pregnant (though likely with her ex’s child), they start a life together. The film examines them throughout their years together as the two, once so passionate, grow increasingly irritated and somewhat disinterested in each other. It’s a brutal look at the arc of love, and an honest one.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
However one may feel about Ben Affleck’s body of work as an actor, his directorial career has been impressive, a string of acclaimed hits that began with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, an adaptation of a detective novel by Dennis Lehane. The film follows a pair of private investigators — Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner (in work and romance) Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) — who are working on the case of a missing child, a case the Boston police are struggling to crack. As a PI, Kenzie can tap into connections in the criminal underworld that the police can’t, and he soon discovers that the child’s disappearance may be related to her own mother’s shady dealings. Gone Baby Gone is a tense thriller, one that skillfully ratchets up the tension until an unforgettable climax.
God’s Own Country (2017)
From director Francis Lee, God’s Own Country is a gorgeous tale of romance set amid the rough beauty of the Yorkshire moors. The film begins with Johnny (Josh O’Connor) living on a farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart), and grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones). As his father and grandmother are in no shape to handle the physical labor of the farm, Johnny takes care of it, stumbling each evening into drinking and loveless flings with other men. After the family hires a Romanian immigrant, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), to help out with the farm work, he and Johnny grow close. It’s an intimate film, built around subtle performances and Lee’s appreciation for the vast, beautiful countryside.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
In the midst of a blizzard, a group of strangers take refuge in a stagecoach lodge. Two bounty hunters, a murderer, and a Confederate-soldier-turned-sheriff are among the rogues assembled, and it doesn’t take long for their uneasy peace to crumble. That’s not to say The Hateful Eight is a fast-paced movie; director Quentin Tarantino takes his time, drawing viewers up a hill of tension before sending them hurtling into violence. With an all-star cast including Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and more, The Hateful Eight is a worthy addition to Tarantino’s sterling body of work.
The Godfather (1972)
A perennial entry on “best films of all time” lists (with a 99-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, too), The Godfather is an epic, award-winning crime drama, following a mafia family, the Corleones, as they navigate conflicts with rival families and a family succession. Beginning in 1945, the film opens with aged Mafia boss Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) managing his family’s empire, granting requests to his vassals. His youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), returns home from World War II as tensions with the Tattaglia crime family are simmering. As the five big crime families of New York descend into open war, Michael steps into the family business, at a cost to his soul. Director Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay with novelist Mario Puzo, and it’s a long, novelistic film, focusing as much on the spiritual crises of its characters as the violent, political squabbles. The Godfather is also a masterpiece of directing; the famous baptism scene, in which a series of assassinations are juxtaposed with the baptism of a child, is a showcase for the power of editing.
Netflix doesn’t just make original TV shows; the company is also producing original films, and some, like Mudbound, are quite good. True to its name, Mudbound wades through the muck of racism and poverty, examining two families, one white, one black, living on a farm in 1940s Mississippi. The farm’s owners are the McAllans, who move there after Henry (Jason Clarke) buys the land. Along with his wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan); and viciously racist father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks), the McCallans work the land with the help of black sharecroppers, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige). The film explores the ways in which these two families navigate the social hierarchies of the time, and the chaos that ensues when two sons, Jamie McCallan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) return from World War II. The thick mud of the McAllan farm is both the setting and central metaphor for the film, and the camera captures it beautifully.
The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
Noah Baumbach delivers yet another witty, intimate drama with The Meyerowitz Stories, which follows a dysfunctional family who, when reunited for the first time in a while, try to hash out their differences. The head of the family tree is Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a once-great sculptor now spending old age growling about everything. His children — Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller), and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) — all live in their father’s shadow, and all carry long-buried burdens, and they struggle to find value in their own careers. The Meyerowitz family is a web of tensions, the strings slowly stretched to their breaking points, and the cast delivers performances worthy of the material. Emotionally complex and sharply written, The Meyerowitz Stories is so good you’ll forget it’s yet another family drama set in New York.
Boyhood’s central conceit is well-known — director Richard Linklater filmed it in pieces over the course of 12 years, using the same actors to trace the growth of a young man and his family. The boy in question is Mason Evans (Ellar Coltrane), who starts the film as a 6-year-old boy living with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and sister (Lorelai Linklater) in Texas. Boyhood follows Mason up to his first day of college, and the film is comprised largely of the small moments that compose a life — those that often pass without fanfare. Linklater’s decision to use the same actors over more than a decade proves crucial; by the time a teenage Mason hops in his truck, driving along a sunbathed highway toward the future, the weight of time hits the viewer. It’s a heavy feeling that few films could replicate.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
What’s better than a new Western from the Coen brothers? How about six? The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a sextet of short films, all set in the Wild West. They follow different characters through wild plots that explore the themes of human depravity and cosmic justice (or injustice) that recur so often in the Coens’ works. The stories and protagonists vary wildly. The eponymous sequence follows Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), a sharpshooting, guitar-slinging cowboy roaming the West and singing of his adventures. In another, a lonely prospector (Tom Waits) digs for his fortune. The stories in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs fall on the surreal end of the Coen spectrum — they’re somewhat comical, occasionally brutal folk tales that don’t always leave the viewer feeling they’ve learned a lesson.
It doesn’t take an Anglophile to recognize a Monty Python joke. Even those who have never watched an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or who couldn’t name a single member of the British comedy troupe, are probably familiar with a few scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a 1975 comedy based on Arthurian legend. The film follows King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his followers — including Lancelot (John Cleese), Bedevere (Terry Jones), Galahad (Michael Palin), and Patsy (Terry Gilliam) — on their quest to find the Holy Grail. Their mission takes them far and wide through a variety of bizarre scenes, including a duel against a knight who doesn’t know when to call it quits (even after losing an arm or two) and an encounter with a deadly rabbit. It’s a film packed with brilliantly absurd ideas and an all-star cast.
Frances Ha (2012)
For most Americans, their 20s are a decade of transition, of figuring out what they want and laying the foundation for their future; not so for Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig). At 27, Frances is an aspiring dancer apprenticing at a studio that doesn’t seem too keen on her. She lives in an apartment with her best friend, the more successful Sophie (Mickey Sumner), and is so comfortable with the arrangement that she breaks up with her boyfriend when he asks her to move in with him. Unfortunately for Frances, Sophie decides to move to her dream apartment in Tribeca, leaving Frances to figure out what she’s going to do next. Frances Ha is a portrait of a life trapped in amber, as Frances drifts from place to place, struggling to build her own life. Director Noah Baumbach’s decision to film in black-and-white gives the film a stark look reminiscent of French New Wave films like The 400 Blows, which feels appropriate given the film’s existential themes.
A Serious Man (2009)
“We can’t know everything.” With those words, a rabbi concludes a long, strange, and seemingly pointless story, leaving Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) flustered. A Serious Man, one of many masterpieces from the Coen brothers, follows Larry as his life collapses in slow fashion, a landslide of misery that he can’t comprehend. His wife is leaving him for another man, an anonymous critic is putting his academic tenure in jeopardy, a student is trying to bribe him for better grades, and perhaps worst of all, nobody can explain to him why any of this is happening. The film may sound depressing, and it is, but it’s also a shockingly funny, tragicomic exploration of human suffering in a small corner of the uncaring universe.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Hot Fuzz is basically actor-writer Simon Pegg’s take on the buddy cop genre, though, one spliced with the same comedic elements that made Shaun of the Dead so amusing in the first place. Pegg stars as a former London constable who’s assigned to investigate the sleepy town of Sanford alongside the dimwitted Butterman (Nick Frost). However, things start to become interesting following a string of so-called “accidents” plaguing various members of the town. This biting British film is the second in director Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, which ultimately culminates with The World’s End and capitalizes on the fantastic interplay between Pegg and Frost.
Burn After Reading (2008)
Another day, another wacky comedy from the Coen brothers that quickly spirals way out of control. In this black comedy, a former CIA analyst (John Malkovich) loses a CD-ROM that contains meaningless ramblings on various government activities, many of which are intended for his soon-to-be memoir. When two certifiable dimwits (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) find the disc and think they’ve stumbled upon a treasure trove of valuable secrets, hilarity ensues. George Clooney and Tilda Swinton provide excellent supporting performances as well, but it’s the film’s neurotic score and the tight scripting that truly makes it an anti-spy thriller worthy of the Coen name.
Action and adventure
Black Panther (2018)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s unceasing expansion reached Africa in 2017 with Black Panther, which explored the fictional, super high-tech country of Wakanda following the events of Captain America: Civil War. Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes the throne of Wakanda — a nation built over the world’s only source of the quasi-magical metal vibranium — following a ceremonial duel. Although he is now a political leader, T’Challa prefers to get his hands dirty, and sets out to capture the arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who stole vibranium from Wakanda during his father’s reign. T’Challa’s focus on the world outside Wakanda makes some of his isolationist allies uneasy, and when his long-lost cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) returns and asserts his own claim to the throne, T’Challa’s reign may be in danger. Although its third act devolves into the typical CGI chaos of most Marvel movies, Black Panther is an entertaining action movie with gorgeous costume design and a talented cast.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
As superhero movies swarm theaters in such great numbers that they block out everything else, it can be hard to tell one from the other. Thor: Ragnarok, directed by comedy auteur Taika Waititi, stands out with aplomb, embracing the Thor series’ outlandish nature. After introductory table setting to tie Ragnarok in with the larger Marvel cinematic universe, the film knocks Thor (Chris Hemsworth), its eponymous, cocksure hero down a few pegs. His older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, returns from a long imprisonment, smashes Thor’s hammer, and kicks him out of Asgard, realm of the gods, over which she claims dominion. Thor ends up on a planet called Sakaar, sold as a slave to the planet’s ruler, the hedonistic, scenery-chewing Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who forces Thor to fight in his gladiatorial games. With the help of some unexpected friends, Thor must escape the Grandmaster’s clutches, return to Asgard, and overthrow Hela. Thor: Ragnarok pulses with energy, moving through a variety of colorful locales and amping up the comedy, with particularly delightful performances from Hemsworth and Goldblum.
Gareth Evans’ new horror-thriller Apostle has drawn more than a few comparisons to the classic horror movie The Wicker Man, and it’s easy to see why. As in The Wicker Man, Apostle follows a man coming to a remote island in search of a missing person, only to find a cult that is up to something sinister. Apostle begins in 1905, when Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) heads to Erisden, a remote island community where his sister is being held hostage by a mysterious cult. Thomas pretends to be a new initiate, and sets about exploring the island, looking for clues as to where his sister might be. His investigation takes some strange turns, as he learns more about the cult, and the sacrifices they are willing to make. Although Apostle starts out calm, it quickly becomes a frenetic movie, reveling in gore and violence. This is a horror movie that throws all restraint to the wind.
The Witch (2015)
The Witch is a singular achievement that captured the attitudes and spiritual paranoia of Puritan New England to create a remarkably old-fashioned vision of horror. Set in the 17th century, the film begins as William (Ralph Ineson), due to a disagreement over theology, is cast out from his township, along with his family. Striking out into the wilds, William and his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), along with their children — Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), and newborn Samuel — build a house on the edge of a dark forest. One day while Thomasin is watching Samuel, something snatches the baby, taking it into the woods. As the family struggles with its hardscrabble existence, the evil in the woods stretches out, threatening to consume them. The Witch is an effective horror story, tense and heavy on atmosphere, and its commitment to historical authenticity gives it a distinct aesthetic.
Ravenous (originally titled Les Affamés) begins after a mysterious plague has annihilated much of Quebec, turning its victims into shrieking, flesh-eating monsters. The story follows various survivors who eventually band together to fight back the horde, but despite the familiar plot, this isn’t a typical zombie movie; it is a deliberately paced, eerily beautiful horror film. The protagonist is a man named Bonin (Marc-Andre Grondin), who wanders the countryside, finding other survivors and slaying zombies. As the group grows, the film gives each character proper development, so they feel fully-fleshed out, unlike the stock survivors of many a zombie film. While the film has its gory moments, Ravenous frequently employs an atmosphere of dread built through uncanny imagery, such as when the zombies congregate before a shrine made of furniture.
The Ritual (2017)
Following the death of their friend Rob, four men — Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Dom (Sam Troughton), and Hutch (Robert James-Collier) — go backpacking in Sweden, mourning throughout their march through the untamed wilderness. When one man injures himself, the group decides to take a shortcut through a primeval forest. Creepy occurrences, including a gutted deer, are a prelude to the horror waiting for them in the woods, as they realize that something is stalking them. The Ritual is hardly a revolutionary horror film, but it executes the traditional trappings of horror well, and the characters feel real enough for the audience to care about their fates. It’s a well-made, straightforward monster movie.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
An adaptation of a novel by Stephen King, Gerald’s Game takes a mundane premise and transforms it into a nightmare. Married couple Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood), hoping to reignite their passion, take a vacation to a remote lake house. Gerald wants to experiment with bondage, handcuffing Jessie to the bed, but after an argument, he dies of a heart attack, leaving Jessie bound with no help nearby. As dehydration and shock set in, Jessie struggles to escape. Gerald’s Game maintains a tight focus on the psychological state of its lead, and although most of the film takes place within a single room, director Mike Flanagan makes great use of the limited space, playing with the boundaries between reality and Jessie’s imagination.
Osgood Perkins’ I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House eschews a lot of the trappings of modern horror movies, trading in jump scares and gory reveals for long, haunting shots of darkened hallways and subtly unsettling sequences. The film stars Ruth Wilson as Lily Saylor, a live-in nurse assigned to care for elderly horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). Blum’s house, nestled by New England woods, is creepy in ordinary ways — the lights dim, the furniture dusty from lack of care. As the nights pass, the house becomes creepy in some unnatural ways as well, and Lily discovers she may not be alone with Iris. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House moves at a deliberate (some might say glacial) pace, but it uses every second to great effect, creating an atmosphere of steadily approaching doom.
The Wailing (2016)
This critically acclaimed horror movie from Korean director Na Hong-jin follows a cop investigating a series of strange and gruesome murders in the small village of Goksung — an ominous setting, given the name translates to “wailing.” Lackadaisical police sergeant Jong-du (Kwak Do-won) at first seems an unlikely protagonist, a coward who can’t manage an investigation effectively. He writes the murders off as mundane, but strange dreams — and reports of a demon in the woods — lead him toward supernatural causes. The Wailing is a disturbing, thought-provoking film, and like the best scary movies, it takes time to build up the characters and atmosphere before spewing gore. Set in rural Korea and rooted in local folklore, it is a horror movie with a unique style, and Na carefully balances the beauty of the countryside and the horror lurking in its dark places.
The best horror stories double as explorations of human nature. In the sexually charged Raw, from French director Julia Ducornau, a young, straight-laced woman goes to veterinary school, and amid the untamed jungle of the dorms, develops an appetite for flesh (in more ways than one). The central character is Justine (Garance Marillier), latest in a family of vets who arrives at the same school her sister attends. After a hazing ritual in which Justine, a vegetarian, is forced to eat rabbit kidney, she starts to crave meat, and becomes feral. On the surface, Raw is a creepy body horror film, but it also serves as a tale about social pressures, repression, and how pressure can transform people.
The Void (2016)
It’s hard to argue there was a better decade for horror movies than the ’80s — it certainly explains why so many recent filmmakers have mined the decade for ideas. The Void is the latest in the ‘80s horror revival, drawing inspiration from the likes of John Carpenter for a stylish, grotesque tale of cosmic horror. The film’s premise is simple: A group of robed cultists surround a rural hospital late at night, and when the people within learn that the walls won’t protect them, they work to maintain their sanity and survive as horrifying creatures begin to appear inside. Good cosmic horror movies are a rare treat, and while The Void has its flaws, fans of the genre should savor it.
David Fincher’s breakout film (following the regrettable Alien 3), Seven is a gruesome crime drama following two detectives on the trail of a cunning killer. The film opens with weary veteran detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) getting a new partner, the younger, emotional David Mills (Brad Pitt). Their first case together is a disturbing one: A serial killer is committing crimes inspired by the seven deadly sins. As Somerset and Mills try to decipher the killer’s motivations, they risk their own lives and souls in the process. The subject matter of Seven is horrific, but Fincher doesn’t go for the cheap thrills of modern serial killer films; he keeps the crimes largely off screen, giving the audience enough information to imagine them.
The Invitation (2015)
There are few social situations more nerve-wracking than meeting your ex’s new partner. As Will (Logan Marshall-Green) learns in The Invitation, dinner with the ex can truly be a nightmare. The film opens with Will and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) driving to his ex-wife Eden’s (Tammy Blanchard) house, where she and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) are holding a dinner party. The reunion brings up bad memories for Will, and the night takes a darker turn as Eden and David, along with some of their new friends introduce the guests to the Invitation, a group they formed to get over grief. The Invitation is a taut thriller, and once the tension sets in, it never lets up.
Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) doesn’t know who killed his wife and imprisoned him in a sealed hotel room. For 15 years, he has been trapped, training himself through shadow boxing and plotting his revenge. At last, he is set free, and begins his quest to find out what happened to his daughter during his captivity, and to seek revenge against the man behind it all. Oldboy is a violent, gruesome revenge thriller, with shades of Greek tragedy and more than a few twists throughout. It’s also an impressive feat of filmmaking; a sequence set in a hallway, filmed in one take, is one of the most intense fight scenes ever put to film.
The Fifth Element (1997)
Luc Besson’s 1997 film The Fifth Element is a sci-fi spectacle the likes of which rarely comes around, a distinctly weird vision of the future in which a flying taxi driver, an ancient superwoman, and a few other oddballs must save the world from a celestial embodiment of evil. The film takes place in the 23rd century, when a giant ball of sapient fire — the “great evil” — appears in space, threatening to destroy the Earth. The only way to stop the great evil is a device that requires four magical stones, and a superpowered woman slumbering in a sarcophagus. After being awoken, the woman, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), escapes from a research facility and stumbles upon ex-soldier/current cab driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), who must help her evade the agents of the great evil, including the arms dealer Zorg (Gary Oldman). The Fifth Element is a big, gaudy spectacle, with some truly wild character and set designs.
After three years manning a moon base, Sam Bell is ready to head home. He has a wife and young child waiting for him, and his only companion for the length of his tour is a robot, GERTY (Kevin Spacey). Two weeks away from the end of his contract, Sam crashes his rover on an assignment; things go downhill from there. Moon is a sparse film, built around ominous, largely empty spaces and a stark aesthetic reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rockwell delivers a stellar performance, conveying all the desperation of a man who’s been on his own for too long.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Alan Moore’s dystopian vision of Britain translates fairly well to the silver screen, with help from the iconoclastic Wachowski Brothers. In a country ruled by a fascist cabal, all information is regulated by the government, and the police maintain an iron grip on all aspects of life. When Evey (Natalie Portman), an employee for the state television network, is rescued from an assault by a masked man known only as V (Hugo Weaving), she is drawn into his campaign to overthrow the government. At first charmed by V’s passion and knowledge, she quickly finds that his methods might be too extreme for her tastes. Can violent methods produce a better world, post-revolution? Excellent choreography and bold set design make V for Vendetta an exciting, if melodramatic, thriller.
Given society’s increasing fascination with the impending trend of robotic lovers, it’s hardly surprising that one of the best romance films of the last decade is about a man and his digital assistant. Her — written and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) — establishes its themes early, as Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) narrates a letter to a spouse, but despite the cracks in his voice as he reads, the scene unveils the truth: Theodore works for a company that ghostwrites personal letters for people, the words spilling out of his mouth are artificial, written on behalf of a customer. It’s a wrenching introduction to the future Her depicts, one of sterile apartments overlooking vast, cold cities, where human connections vanish like snowflakes in the sun. Theodore is reeling from the collapse of his marriage, and to get his life in order he buys the latest model of artificial intelligence assistants. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), as his AI calls herself, proves a charming companion, and despite the fact that she exists only as a voice on his phone, the two fall in love. Her is a remarkable film, with gorgeous cinematography, sterling performances, and a story as thought-provoking as it is emotive.
To the Wonder (2012)
Is there any city that more easily evokes romance than Paris? The City of Lights is a proper setting to open Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, an experimental film that begins with American Neil (Ben Affleck) meeting a woman named Marina (Olga Kurylenko). The two quickly fall in love, and Marina — along with her daughter — move to Oklahoma with Neil. A love that began in a flash cools just as quickly, and Neil soon reconnects with childhood friend Jane (Rachel McAdams), as Marina considers moving back to Europe. Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki compose beautiful imagery throughout the film; whether reveling in the majesty of Mont Saint-Michel or the golden radiance of American fields, the film always has the perfect shot to convey the mood.
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria follows an actress named Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) who worries that her career, after years of acclaim, is starting to wane. Maria launched her career in Wilhelm Melchior’s play Maloja Snake, cast as a young woman named Sigrid who seduces — and eventually destroys — an older woman. A popular director seeks out Maria, asking her to star in his new production of the play, this time as the older woman, Helena. The director offers the role of Sigrid to a scandalous, teenage starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz). Along with her assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), Maria spends some time at Melchior’s remote house, coming to grips with the passage of time and her own personal drama. Clouds of Sils Maria is a complex, meditative drama, one that finds Binoche at the top of her game.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También follows two teenagers, Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), whose girlfriends have left for a summer vacation in Europe. After meeting Luisa, an older woman who is the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, they invite her on a road trip to an invented beach called Heaven’s Mouth. After learning of her husband’s infidelity, she accepts their offer. Along the way, the three companions swap stories and get to know each other intimately, though that’s not always for the best. It’s a profound film about growing up amid societal upheaval in Mexico, full of stunning shots of the Mexican countryside, courtesy of acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
Documentaries and music
Sing to me, muse, of the tragic tale of Fyre Festival. The brainchild of tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, Frye Festival was supposed to be a lush music festival on a beautiful island in the Bahamas, with guests paying steep prices to fly down there and enjoy it all. In reality, the festival turned out to be a dumpster fire, with attendees arriving to find emergency tents, disgusting food, and neither sufficient supplies, nor even the bands scheduled to headline. Fyre delves into the mystery of how this much-hyped event went so catastrophically off the rails, making heavy use of interviews with the people hired to help get it up and running. It’s an outlandish tale of incompetence, fraud, and the manipulative power of social media.
Springsteen on Broadway (2018)
Early in Springsteen on Broadway, the rock icon describes himself thusly: “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life. I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never worked five days a week until right now … I’ve never seen the inside of a factory and yet it’s all I’ve ever written about.” The bard of the blue-collar life is, as he puts it, a sort of magician, weaving an illusion across decades, and over the course of his Broadway show, he reveals himself to the world. Springsteen on Broadway is a sparse one-man (for the most part) show, with the Boss playing stripped-down acoustic guitar and piano versions of his songs, interspersing them with monologues about his childhood in New Jersey, his ceaseless quest to run away from the dead-end town of his youth, and his father, the man he frames as both his foe and the inspiration for his working-class persona. It’s a raw, funny, tender performance, and a great encapsulation of Springsteen’s oeuvre.
The Tigers of Scotland (2018)
Scotland, the opening narration of The Tigers of Scotland intones, is a place of rich culture, and spectacular, natural beauty. Among the many creatures who roam Scotland’s bumpy wilds is the Scottish wildcat, which to the untrained eye resembles a normal tabby, but notably bigger. It’s the only wildcat left in Scotland, and its population is dwindling. The Tigers of Scotland explores the nature of these rare beasts, the challenges that face them, and the last ditch efforts to preserve their existence. The film uses interviews with various experts, and Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) provides measured narration.
In an age of micro jobs and ever-shifting opportunities, it can be hard to imagine working in the same position for decades. Yet that is what sushi chef Jiro Ono has done; having run his own restaurant in Tokyo since 1965, Jiro is one of the most accomplished chefs in Japanese history, the first sushi chef to attain three Michelin stars. David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi examines this man who, despite his long career and superb accomplishments, does not feel that he has mastered his craft yet. Like Jiro’s sushi, Gelb’s style is minimalist; he eschews fancy camerawork, letting the exquisite sushi be the star of every shot.
Aurelian Smith Jr. — better known by his ring persona, Jake “the Snake” Roberts — is a former professional wrestler who dominated the WWF in the late-’80s and ‘90s. As “The Snake,” Smith was notorious for conquering his opponents, taunting them, and even torturing them with his live snake, Damien the Python. Sadly, however, the former wrestler spent the better part of the following decades battling addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine, both of which took a heavy toll on his physical health, family, finances, and even Damien. The Resurrection of Jake the Snake also follows Smith’s fellow wrestler “Diamond” Dallas Page — who found post-wrestling success as a yoga teacher — and his efforts to rehabilitate Smith and Scott Hall, another friend and former WWE superstar. The candid doc sometimes feels like a reality show and an infomercial for Page’s enterprise, sure, but the interviews with wrestling greats such as Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and Adam Copeland render it a comeback story with plenty to offer. Apparently, the only place to go from rock bottom is up.
Bryan Fogel’s first documentary, Icarus, began as an attempt to document the effects of doping, with Fogel taking drugs to compete in a bicycle race. In an act of journalistic serendipity, Fogel meets a Russian doctor, Grigory Rodchenkov, who leads Fogel to a far bigger story: A Russian, state-sponsored doping program which could cast doubt on the validity of international sports. The story behind Icarus is interesting enough to recommend it; despite some occasional bloat, it is essentially a real-life political thriller.
Miss Sharon Jones! (2015)
The late, great Sharon Jones was a force to be reckoned with, particularly when at the helm of her fellow Dap-Kings. The singer’s undeniable penchant for ‘60s-style soul and classic R&B isn’t the central force behind this heartrending documentary, however. Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple’s film functions as a no-holds-barred examination of Jones’ more recent triumphs and lifelong hardships, one that opens with her being diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer that would kill her three years later. The rest of it plays out with a healthy mix of interviews and candid observations, each punctured with invigorating concert footage that serves as both a testament to the unflinching strength of her perseverance and yet another reminder at just how ruthless last year truly was.
Fire At Sea (2016)
Gianfranco Rosi’s 2016 documentary examines the refugee crisis in Europe through a narrow lens, zeroing in on the small island of Lampedusa, which lies between Sicily and Tunisia. The film follows two disparate stories: That of a group of refugees crossing the sea to Lampedusa, and that of the islanders, including a young boy named Samuele. Although many have criticized the film’s structure, citing a lack of connection between the two stories, Rosi’s approach is striking. The refugees, crammed onto rafts, thinned by starvation, make for a shocking juxtaposition to the story of the islander’s, living in such innocent solitude, it seems incomprehensible that war and famine could be so close. Fire At Sea takes a bold approach to documentary filmmaking, regardless of one’s political views.
David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores, ostensibly, a death. Johnson, a self-identified drag queen and pillar of LGBT activism, died in 1993. Her body was found floating in the Hudson River, and police ruled the death a suicide, a story many who knew Johnson doubted. France’s film follows activist Victoria Cruz as she seeks evidence to reopen Johnson’s case, but the documentary is not just a true crime story. The film delves into the history of the gay rights movement, particularly the Stonewall riot, and how different factions in the movement are often at odds. It’s an insightful documentary, even if it doesn’t solve the central cold case.
It’s Not Yet Dark (2016)
At the Sundance film festival, director Simon Fitzmaurice’s star was rising. The festival screened his short film, The Sound of People, but a pain nagged at him, the first sign of a tragedy to come. Not long after Sundance, doctors diagnosed Fitzmaurice with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), estimating he had four or so years to live. Fitzmaurice survived to 2017, and along the way he managed to make one feature film, My Name is Emily, and write a memoir. It’s Not Yet Dark chronicles Fitzmaurice’s work in the face of his illness, writing and communicating using a device that tracked his eye movements. Colin Farrell narrates, giving voice to Fitzmaurice’s thoughts. Life is all too brief, but as It’s Not Yet Dark shows, there’s always time to accomplish great things.
Saving Capitalism (2017)
In an age of ever-widening inequality, economics has become a more contentious field than usual. Multiple candidates in the 2016 election made populist, economic grievances key parts of their message, and even economists have grown more pugilistic, taking to soapboxes to proselytize for or against capitalism. Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, has become one of the most popular speakers on the subject of capitalism’s woes, and his new Netflix documentary, Saving Capitalism, tries to diagnose the economy’s problems and offer a way forward. Over the course of the film, Reich travels the country, speaking to workers, business owners, and political leaders to get a sense of the country’s attitudes. Saving Capitalism is hardly radical — Reich is trying to save capitalism, not overthrow it — but is instead an informative documentary.
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Once of Disney’s first films in the aughts, The Emperor’s New Groove eschews the dramatic tone of Disney’s ’90s offerings (Mulan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.) for goofy vibes and slapstick humor. Set long ago in the Inca empire, the film tells the story of the young emperor Kuzco (David Spade), a callous imbecile who only thinks about his own glory and goes as far as hatching a plan to demolish the home of the peasant Pacha (John Goodman) in order to build himself a resort. Kuzco’s megalomania gets the better of him after he fires his conniving adviser, Yzma (Eartha Kitt). After using a magic potion to turn Kuzco into a llama, Yzma takes control of the empire. The llama emperor runs into Pacha, who offers to help if Kuzco will change his mind about destroying Pacha’s home. As the two journey through the jungle together, Kuzco gets in touch with his humanity, and the two develop a shaky friendship. The Emperor’s New Groove is a lovely film, composed with bright colors, and its easygoing humor can amuse anyone.
Pixar’s 2017 film Coco is yet another example of the studio’s adventurous spirit, a hero’s journey that celebrates the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. The story follows a young boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who lives with his family in Mexico. Miguel aspires to be a musician, idolizing the long-dead Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). After discovering that Ernesto may have been his great-grandfather, who left the family to pursue his career, Miguel breaks into his mausoleum to take his guitar. In doing so, he passes into the realm of the dead, where he meets his ancestors and learns that he must return to the world of the living before sunrise, or remain among the dead forever. Coco is a spirited journey, and a moving tale of family and how the past is always with us.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Animation legend Brad Bird made his directorial debut with The Iron Giant, an animated film with a brilliant script and unflinching vision. Set in 1957, the film opens as a large object falls from space, landing in the woods near Rockwell, Maine. A young boy named Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) investigates, stumbling upon the object: A giant robot. After helping the giant escape from some power lines, Hogarth befriends him. Trouble comes to Rockwell in the form of a government agent, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), who comes to investigate the mysterious object in the woods, believing it may be a Russian superweapon. Though set against the backdrop of the Cold War, The Iron Giant is not an overly political film, instead focusing on Hogarth’s friendship with the giant and attempts to teach it how to forge its own identity.
Since its initial release in 1998, Mulan has been a film riddled with feminist quandaries and controversial stereotyping. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most beloved cartoons in the classical Disney arsenal, portraying the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) with a set of memorable songs and lighthearted camaraderie. The animation is superb, and moreover, the film addresses themes of honor and duty while still managing to deliver a story suitable for children of all ages. Mulan isn’t a prim Disney princess, either, and her resounding bravery is a conscious decision we can all learn from.