20 Movies on Netflix That’ll Help You Make (or Break) Your Basic New Year’s Resolutions

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Photo: Washington Square Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, Lobster Films

January is, inarguably, the most terrible month of the year. The holidays are over, the weather outside is frightful in a way that does not lend itself to song, and everyone is trying to “improve” themselves in some vaguely terrifying and cliché way that implies none of us will ever have fun or pizza again. The magnetic pull of the self-improvement-industrial complex usually wears off by March or so, when most of us have given up on our New Year’s resolutions and given into our natural human impulses to eat food, procrastinate, and light things on fire. For now, though, it’s still January, which means we’ve got some time left to contend with our basic-ass resolutions before deciding if we’re going to actually follow through on them. We’ve compiled a list of Netflix movies to watch — based on your particular New Year’s resolution — that’ll help you decide whether you’re going to keep at it for a bit or fuck it all.

(If these don't do the trick — we don't know your weird resolutions, people — Vulture's What to Stream guide should have you covered.)

You’ve Resolved to Focus on Work
Primer
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The machinations of Shane Carruth’s Primer are so intricate and baffling that full websites are devoted to explaining the movie (or attempting to). In a nutshell, though, the famously low-budget indie ($7,000!) centers on two science bros named Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), who spend innumerable hours in a garage, blatantly ignoring their loved ones, in an attempt to build a time machine. They manage to do it, but within a mere five days, their white-dude hubris and general idiocy fuck up the space-time continuum so badly that one of them ends up permanently drugged inside his own attic for eternity. Or something. Watch this one if you’ve gone and thrown yourself into something cockamamie and need help extricating yourself before it’s too late.

Frank: If ever a film were to convince you to give up your dreams of fame and fortune, it would be Frank. This is in no small part because Frank manages to make Michael Fassbender seem both disturbed and gross-looking, which in and of itself is a convincing argument for avoiding becoming as famous as Michael Fassbender (because people will put you in movies that make you look disturbed and gross). But Frank’s story gets at the dark heart of chasing celebrity, too, following Fassbender as the titular character, a transcendently talented, transcendently psychotic bandleader who’s perfectly content living inside a papier-mâché head and recording strange songs in a remote woodland cabin. But then new band member Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) convinces Frank he should chase mainstream success and make “extremely likable music,” and everything goes to absolute shit. The moral here: Stay in your papier-mâché head.

The Shining: Who is Jack Torrance, really? A depressive writer? A cold-blooded would-be murderer? A reincarnation of a cold-blooded actual murderer? Or is he but a victim of the unnatural and unholy American Dream itself? For the purposes of this piece, let’s argue the latter. Let’s argue that what drove Jack Torrance to chase the very fruit of his loins around a freezing hedge maze, wielding an ax, was not true murderous rage, or a violent and impermeable history fated to repeat itself. Instead, let’s argue that if Jack had resisted the societal pressure to produce above all else, and just calmed down on the novel-writing front — maybe took a few walks, bought a meditation app — he would never have tried to hack up his loved ones. Learn from Jack’s mistakes, dear reader, and don’t be felled by America, the Idea.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Perhaps you are not a victim of America’s insidious workaholism, but instead are truly are a ne’er-do-well who does, in fact, need to work more. In that case, spend some time with Jiro Ono, the frighteningly fastidious protagonist of David Gelb’s doc and the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a ten-seat sushi restaurant nestled in a Tokyo subway station. Jiro’s sushi is so good that it’s earned a three-star Michelin rating and the adoration of raw-fish enthusiasts around the globe, who pay astronomical amounts of money to taste Jiro’s wares. Why? Because Jiro is an unparalleled sushi genius and possibly insane perfectionist who has literally devoted his entire life to making bomb sushi. Jiro does not fuck around. Jiro does not binge-watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Jiro massages dead octopi for 45 minutes at a time. Somewhere between whatever you’re doing and what Jiro’s doing is the appropriate amount of time to spend on work.

You Vowed to "Put Yourself Out There
Let the Right One In
: According to almost every Swedish movie, Swedish people are desperately lonely, and it is always winter in Sweden. Let the Right One In doesn’t disprove either of these notions. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, the horror flick tells the story of a young, lonely Swedish boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), who has zero friends and lives inside a perpetual Swedish-winter hellscape. One day, Oskar meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), who teaches him to stand up for himself, agrees to “go steady with him,” and, oh, is also an immortal vampire. Though Eli certainly improves Oskar’s self-esteem, she also improves his ability to kill people, so really it’s sort of a wash. If you’re feeling like rescinding your resolution to meet new people but just need a small push in that direction, this film will do the trick.

Creep: Trusting complete strangers is a questionable idea, but probably one the Bible promotes. So, fine, do that if you feel like it. However, trusting complete strangers you meet on Craigslist is always a patently insane idea. That’s the central thesis of Patrick Brice’s Creep, starring Mark Duplass as Highly Deranged Person Josef, who hires an unsuspecting videographer (Brice) to come work for him via Craigslist, then proceeds to terrorize him emotionally and physically for weeks on end. Watching Creep is one of the most effective ways to ensure that you securely vet all future acquaintances, not to mention never sit on a park bench again.

Something New: Or maybe you’re looking for reasons to follow through on this particular resolution. Perhaps you’re like Something New’s Kenya (Sanaa Lathan), who’s an independent lady (i.e., self-reliant and successful) in the streets and an independent lady (i.e., alone) in the sheets, and needs some help remedying the latter. A highfalutin lawyer with a wardrobe full of smart pantsuits and cash to burn, Kenya hires a sexy gardener named Brian (Simon Baker) to tend to her soil (i.e., garden for her). Kenya’s convinced Brian’s a non-contender because she’s black and he’s white and we do not actually live in a post-racial America, but once he tends to her soil (i.e, gives it to her good), she wonders if she should bend her strict dating rules. The answer, of course, is yes, especially if the person in question is Simon Baker. If you’re waffling on whether or not to put yourself out there and date Simon Baker, this is the rom-com for you, my blessed friend.

People Places Things: For reasons I’ll never understand, Jemaine Clement is not the romantic male lead in every single movie that’s been made since he was a dryly witty baby. But he is, at least, in People Places Things, which sees him playing a depressive, recently divorced graphic novelist going back and forth on whether he should get back together with his selfish ex (Stephanie Allynne) or pursue something new with the mother (Regina Hall, who is goddamn fabulous) of one of his students (Jessica Williams, who is even more goddamn fabulous). Clearly, the second choice is the smarter one, but making smart choices is hard, and making out with your toxic ex is easy and fun. Turn this one on the next time you’re considering abandoning your new Hinge account and sexting the ex-boyfriend who deserted you in an Arby’s.

You're Attempting to Quit a Vice That's Been Plaguing You for Years
Nymphomaniac
: While sex addiction isn’t a vice, per se, Lars von Trier’s controversial and provocative two-part masturpiece is something of a cautionary tale about blindly following your animal instincts and repeatedly sleeping with Shia LaBeouf. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin play the titular nymphomaniac, Joe, at different stages of her life as she uninhibitedly bones her way across Europe. Her sexual spree temporarily ends when she’s beaten to a pulp and left for dead in an alley, and though the film doesn’t pass judgment on her for sleeping around, Joe certainly has a few regrets about it. She’d probably encourage you to stick with the self-imposed celibacy for at least a few more weeks.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Can’t stop robbing trains? Neither can Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), two unnaturally attractive outlaws who get all arrogant about a well-done train robbery and cock it all up by going for round two (there’s that white-boy hubris again). When they’re nearly apprehended in America, they hightail it over to Bolivia, where they — you guessed it — begin indiscriminately robbing trains again. This goes about as well as you’d expect, which is to say very well and then horribly. As such, Butch Cassidy is the perfect film to watch if you’re struggling with holding on to your “no more train-robbing” resolution.

Results: Watching Cobie Smulders barely break a sweat while charging down a suburban street in athleisure is the most convincing visual you’ll need if you’re trying to break your “no working out, lots of eating cheese” habits. Smulders is Kat, an intense and irritatingly fit personal trainer who works for Guy Pearce’s Trevor and races about town policing the covert eating habits of her clients. Results centers in part on Kat’s relationship with Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a nouveau riche slob who claims he wants to get in shape, does a few halfhearted lunges, then orders a large pizza and eats it by himself. By the middle of the film, though, Kevin is a workout convert and proof that even the most proficient of cheese-bingers can learn to temper their dairy intake long enough to lift a hand weight.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: All that said, sometimes players gotta play. Maybe your vice is working for you; to hell with a society that can’t accept gray areas or, y’know, functional alcoholism! Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, oft-described as a “vampire spaghetti Western,” suggests that there’s room for all types of so-called “bad” behavior. Sheila Vand stars as the titular girl, a vampire with a sense of justice who lives in a backwater Iranian town called Bad City. Early on in the film, the Girl falls for Arash (Arash Marandi), a spectacularly emo young Iranian man who’s seen some shit. Rather than punish Vand’s vampire for giving into her blood-sucking instincts, Amirpour rewards her with the heart of her beloved and a sweet vintage car.

You Promised Yourself You’d Travel More
A Trip to the Moon
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Georges Méliès’s 1902 silent sci-fi short A Trip to the Moon is widely regarded as one of the most influential films of all time, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to talk about you. Should you book that Alaskan cruise on Groupon, or is it too risky? If they spoke, which they don’t because this film is silent, the men of A Trip to the Moon would say, “Go for it!” Because these men do go for it, changing out of their Dumbledore robes to build a space capsule that they shoot straight out of a cannon into the moon. A risky mission, to be sure, but one that yields a brief extraterrestrial battle, giant magical mushrooms, an alien captive, and a celebratory parade. Probably the same type of things will happen on your trip!

Tracks: In need of a little “me time,” but feeling guilty about skipping off alone? Just watch Tracks, in which Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) spontaneously deserts her friends and family and sets off for the Australian desert, which she then walks across for nearly 2,000 miles with three camels and a dog in tow. Based on Davidson’s powerful memoir of the same name, Tracks is spare and beautiful and, refreshingly, offers little explanation for Davidson’s sweaty trek (her reasoning: “why not?”). Similarly refreshing: Adam Driver pops up as National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, who’s sort of Davidson’s love interest for a hot second, but not really. Ultimately, Davidson’s just a woman doing her own thing, which is both rare in real life and in movies.

World of Tomorrow: In Don Hertzfeldt’s heartbreaking animated short World of Tomorrow — which won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance and is nominated for an Oscar this year — a little girl named Emily travels to her own future with the help of a clone version of herself who contacts her from 200 years into said future. Great, so we’re all clear on the plot, then. The things little Emily sees on her journey are mostly terrible and depressing, but, ultimately, these things teach her to seize the day and “live broadly,” to stop dwelling on the trivialities of daily life. She’s maybe 4, but still — if an animated child can learn to chill and embrace spontaneity and joy, so can you. Blow up your to-do list and go to Morocco on a whim or something!

Force Majeure: Okay. So you’re still not convinced about the merits of vacationing, and/or you're realizing you have no money with which to take said vacation. Here’s another movie about lonely Swedish people that will make you feel better about blatantly abandoning your resolution: Ruben Östlund’s dark comedy Force Majeure, which represents a worst-case scenario family holiday. Comically masculine dad Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is proven to be a cowardly tool when he abandons his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two kids (Vincent Wettergren, Clara Wettergren) during an avalanche scare. Though Ebba tries to forgive and forget, their marriage just continues to implode over the course of the holiday. And everyone cries a lot. So yeah, just stay home if you want to. 

You’ve Sworn You’d Spend More Time With Family
Twinsters
: Maybe you’ve taken this resolution one step too far and now you and your siblings are annoying the hell out of each other. Gather 'round immediately and watch Twinsters. The disarmingly sweet doc follows Samantha Futerman, a young Korean-American actress raised by an adoptive family in New Jersey who encounters a young French-Korean woman (Anaïs Bordier) on Facebook and realizes she may be her identical twin sister. As the two fall down the rabbit hole of their separate adoptions and fill each other in on their lonely childhoods, they share revelations about the meaning of family, connection, and the ecstatic joy of actually living out the plot of The Parent Trap. When it’s over, all you’ll want to do is weep gratefully and hug your siblings and, later, scour Facebook for your own secret twin (don’t stop believin’).

We Need to Talk About Kevin: That said, sometimes spending time with your family is literally fatal. Take the Khatchadourian family of Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, for example. Eva (Tilda Swinton) is convinced her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) is a full-on sociopath. Her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly), is like, “Nah, you’re crazy. I’m gonna go hang out with my awesome son!” Guess who’s right? Guess who gets totally screwed over? Sometimes — like, say, if one of your family members is a murderer — it’s best to just cut your losses and run for the hills.

The Wolfpack: Crystal Moselle’s 2015 doc The Wolfpack is a haunting example of family time gone wrong. The Angulo brothers of New York have been locked up, essentially, for the duration of their lives; their dad believes that America — particularly New York — is a moral cesspool and that the boys will be better off hanging out inside their dilapidated apartment for decades on end. The brothers make the most of their desperate situation, filming their own versions of classic movies and developing close relationships with each other, but also, they sort of go nuts, which is to be expected. Does this movie sound like a microcosm of your endless, claustrophobic family gatherings? If so, feel free to break this resolution before you, too, start to stomp around your neighborhood wearing a Michael Myers mask.

Queen of EarthFamily is a loose term in Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth. Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) and Virginia (Katherine Waterston) have been best friends since childhood, but as adults they passive-aggressively pick at each other and press each other’s buttons like a particularly dysfunctional old married couple. When Catherine decides to move in with Virginia at the latter’s lake house, the two start to drive each other to mutual insanity, and their fragile relationship falls apart (plus, nobody cleans up Catherine’s salad). Queen is a disturbing portrait of what happens when you spend too much time with the people who know too much about you (the answer: You start wearing nightgowns during the day and sleeping next to slowly rotting plates of spinach).