Remember when Harrison Ford was the country’s fictional president? Revisit those simpler times with 1997 ‘s Air Force One, starring Ford as the leader of the free world whose titular plane gets hijacked by a team led by Gary Oldman. It’s a great a reminder of a time when blockbusters weren’t the exclusive property of comic book fans.
The kind of serious thriller that American audiences didn’t know what to do with when it came out, this 2010 Anton Corbijn film had a critical following but failed at the box office. Based on the book A Very Private Gentleman, it stars George Clooney as a contract killer in hiding who has to flee across Europe after his cover is blown. Tense and very smart.
The great Edward James Olmos produced, directed, and starred in this 1992 drama that became one of the actor’s most beloved films. It’s loosely based on the true story of the rise of the Mexican mafia in the California prison system with Olmos playing Montoya Santana, a rising gangster who ends up the leader of a powerful prison gang at Folsom State Prison.
A dramatization of the final years of the life of Vincent Van Gogh, Julian Schnabel’s 2018 drama is not a typical biopic, finding the artistic register of its subject more than chronologically detailing his life. It’s anchored by a phenomenal performance from Willem Dafoe as the troubled painter, a turn which earned him his fourth Oscar nomination.
Mati Diop’s directorial debut is a tender, mesmerizing study of life on the coast of Senegal, where men often venture out for more prosperous shores, leaving the women behind. It’s a delicate, beautiful film that plays like a romance, ghost story, and study of inequality all at the same time. See it before someone recommends it to you.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s Western anthology series was a part of Netflix’s brand-redefining 2018. Sure, Netflix still has a bunch of junk, but it also landed the latest from Alfonso Cuaron, the Coens, and even Orson Welles. This brilliant Western works as comedy, drama, and even a commentary on the Coens themselves. Don’t miss it.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece was notoriously derided when it was released but would go on to change the cinematic landscape. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard in the sci-fi noir, a film that changed the visual language of the genre and launched dozens of copycats. The original is still perfect, and this is the final cut edition of the film, the 2007 version that removes the voice-over, re-inserts the unicorn, and takes out the original happy ending.
Sofia Coppola directed this 2013 true story about a group of young people in Los Angeles who decided to start robbing celebrities. It’s an underrated dramedy about privilege and desire, filtered through the vibrant viewpoint of its filmmaker and talented young cast, including Emma Watson and Taissa Farmiga.
Paul Thomas Anderson is considered by many as one of the top American filmmakers working right now, but that wasn’t the case before the release of this 1997 masterpiece about life in the Los Angeles porn scene. Mark Wahlberg has never (and likely never will be) better than he is here, anchoring an ensemble that includes equally great work from Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds. It’s a classic.
One of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated films stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a legendary con man who became a millionaire through his crimes, and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent trying to track him. Charming and delightful, thanks to a great script by Jeff Nathanson, this is a movie that’s easy to watch again and again.
Is this the biggest horror movie of the 2010s? Not only did it make James Wan into a major director, but it spawned its own multiple title franchise with spin-offs like The Nun and Annabelle. Go back to the beginning and watch the first and arguably still best film in the series, a fantastic haunted house movie that revitalized the genre. And then follow it up with the excellent sequel, also on Netflix.
Guillermo Del Toro’s gothic horror film seemed to start building a cult following the instant it was released. Sure, mainstream audiences who came to the multiplex in October looking for a scary movie didn’t quite respond to it, but a reappreciation started quickly. After all, this is a gorgeous, unforgettable piece of craft, a reminder that Del Toro’s vision is unlike anyone else working together. Watch it again. It’s one of those movies everyone is going to claim they loved from the very beginning.
Barack and Michelle Obama executive produced one of 2020’s best documentaries in this Netflix exclusive that originally premiered at Sundance. It’s the story of Camp Jened, a summer camp in New York in the ‘70s that was described as a “loose, free-spirited camp designed for teens with disabilities.” This isn’t just a time capsule but a look at how support and community can change people’s lives forever.
Clive Owen broke through in this 1998 noir in which he’s so smooth that people immediately began suggesting he should be the next 007. Owen plays a writer who gets a job as a croupier — a fancy word for a dealer in a casino — and falls into the wrong scene. Smart and thrilling, it’s one of the more underrated movies of the late ‘90s, and a perfect vehicle for Owen’s charm.
Spike Lee’s first Original Netflix movie is one of the master filmmaker’s best works to date. The story of five men searching for gold in the jungle is more of a commentary on two wars that never ended – the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights.
It’s hard to believe there was a time when a historical drama like this could be such a phenomenon, but it shows you how much our times have changed in the three decades since its release. This movie made over $400 million worldwide on its way to seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director. Known more now as the movie that stole deserving Oscars from GoodFellas, this is a better movie than its reputation.
Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar winner reimagines both the Old West and the Italian film series Django into something that only QT could make. It features one of Jamie Foxx’s best performances as the title character, a slave who escapes and teams up with a bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for his amazing work here.
Over 30 years after its release, Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece feels as urgent and current as the day it was released. After the unrest in 2020 and the issues of systemic racism that have continued to dominate conversations into 2021, many people have found themselves revisiting this classic and found that it has lost none of its power.
Leigh Janiak co-wrote and directed a trilogy of adaptations loosely based on the books by R.L. Stine. These great horror films tell the story of Shadyside, a small town cursed by a witch generations ago in a way that has led to waves of murders ever since. Smart, funny, and truly bloody, they first seem like mere homages to classic horror (and there are a ton of fun references for genre fans) but they also stand firmly on their own two feet.
*Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
One of the most popular comedies of its era turned its title character into a household name. The pitch is so beautifully simple: the most popular kid in high school takes the day off and gets into trouble in Chicago while driving his sister and principal insane. Great physical sequences mix with a hip ‘80s sensibility to create a classic comedy for the ages.
One of the best films of the 2010s is this heartbreaking character study from Sean Baker, a story of people on the edge of the Happiest Place on Earth as seen through the eyes of a child. It’s a beautiful movie with unforgettable performances and poetic realism throughout.
Long before he joined the MCU or played Creed, the great Michael B. Jordan starred in this true story of the death of Oscar Grant, a young man who was killed by a police officer of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in 2009. Ryan Coogler’s debut, this is a powerful drama that examines issues of systemic violence in a way that still resonates.
One of David Fincher’s most divisive films has returned to Netflix. Michael Douglas stars in the story of an investment banker who is asked by his brother (Sean Penn) to participate in a game that’s incorporated into his everyday life. After he agrees, things get intense. Clever and incredibly well-made, it’s held up beautifully.
The Vulture choice for the Best Netflix Original Horror Movie has to be on this list too, right? Especially viewed in the wake of the phenomenon that was The Haunting of Hill House, this movie really works. It’s one of the best Stephen King adaptations on any platform, anchored by a phenomenal Carla Gugino performance.
It’s still hard to believe that Chadwick Boseman is gone. Take the chance now that this biopic is on Netflix to see one of his best performances as the late, great James Brown. The film around Boseman is a bit mediocre in traditional biopic ways, but Boseman throws his all into the role, as he always did, and gives Brown the tribute he deserves.
David Lowery’s experimental film is one of the most unusual movies you could watch on Netflix tonight. It stars Rooney Mara as a grieving widow after her husband, played by Casey Affleck, suddenly dies, but it becomes something much stranger and more ambitious when it becomes a decades-spanning look at a lost soul in a world filled with grief and trauma. It’s a beautiful movie about loss.
If you loved Uncut Gems like most people (or even if you hated it, you monster), then you should check out the Safdie brothers’ previous venture, this crime drama starring Robert Pattinson. The actor plays a guy whose brother gets caught after a bank robbery and so he spends the rest of the night trying to get the money together to bust him out. Like Sandler, Pattinson has a nervous energy that fits the Safdie aesthetic perfectly. It’s stressful and exhilarating in equal measure.
Alice Wu wrote and directed a delightful coming-of-age dramedy that spins the norms. A loose retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, it features a star-making performance from Leah Lewis as Ellie Chu, a girl who starts writing love letters for the awkward Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer). The object of his affection, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), turns out to be more than just a typical unrequited love. It’s a sweet and smart film.
Debate among yourselves if this should be on the movie or TV list, but it’s still basically the same venture that was released in theaters, only slightly reedited by Quentin Tarantino into episodes, so we say it’s a movie. And it’s an underrated one, overshadowed by the way it deals with race and gender when it was released. Just a few years later, it looks almost prescient about how divided the country would become, and it contains some of the best performances in Q.T.’s entire filmography.
Steven Soderbergh very rarely makes bad movies and he’s not about to start with Andre Holland and Zazie Beetz in his court. The two star in the first excellent Netflix movie of 2019, an analysis of the game on top of the game that makes the NBA work. The man who almost directed Moneyball crafts a razor-sharp, incredibly entertaining, and humane basketball/corporate-media/labor drama that will appeal to hoops fanatics and the sports-averse alike. And the entire thing was shot on an iPhone!
One of the best horror movies on Netflix, this Sundance darling is the tale of a pair of Sudanese refugees who flee to London only to discover ghosts have fled with them. It’s a harrowing, terrifying piece of work, elevated even further by its impressive commentary about how much people bring with them when they leave. Houses aren’t haunted; people are.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Any conversation about the best cinematic trilogies ever simply must include the DreamWorks films about Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. The original is still the undeniable masterpiece, but both sequels are nearly as good, including this 2014 story of how Hiccup reunites with his mother, voiced by Cate Blanchett. It’s a gorgeous, moving story of family and legacy.
Young film lovers may not know why Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are so beloved in the film community. This is a good place to start. Both are at the top of their game (Thompson won an Oscar, as did Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for her screenplay) in this gorgeous Merchant/Ivory adaptation of the E.M. Forster classic.
Netflix keeps cycling Martin Scorsese movies in and out of its collection, and one of the latest additions is this 2011 adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel that was originally released in 3-D. Nominated for 11 Oscars (and winning five), this is one of Scorsese’s most acclaimed and beloved films, which should further put to rest any of those dumb insinuations that the legendary director only knows how to make mob movies. This is a whimsical, delightful film that you can watch with the entire family. It may not be in 3-D on Netflix, but you can still enjoy its endless visual glory.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Before he made Hemsworth your favorite Chris in Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi wrote and directed this adaptation of Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress. Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) has a new foster family, including a sweet foster mother. Sadly, he’s stuck with the surly husband when his new mom passes away, leading Ricky and Hec (Sam Neill) on an unforgettable adventure. Funny and truly heartwarming, this is a comedy that’s almost impossible to dislike.
The events in Minnesota and elsewhere in 2020 brought viewers back to this stunning 2016 documentary that works from an unfinished manuscript by the brilliant James Baldwin. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, it’s an exploration of racial issues in America that digs back through the civil rights leaders through Baldwin’s personal experiences and beyond. It’s a must-watch.
Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed one of the biggest and best Netflix movies of 2020, the story of a woman (Jessie Buckley) who travels with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (David Thewlis & Toni Collette). Of course, being by the writer of Being John Malkovich, there’s a lot more to this than a simple description can convey. Trippy and deeply symbolic, it’s a Netflix movie that people are going to be talking about for years.
*In the Line of Fire
The great Wolfgang Petersen directed Clint Eastwood in one of his best films of the ‘90s, a blockbuster hit about a Secret Service agent who matches wits with a former CIA agent (played by John Malkovich) who is trying to assassinate the President of the United States. This tight thriller also stars Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, and John Mahoney. It was such a hit that it landed three Oscar nominations, including the last one for Malkovich.
Bryan Fogel’s 2017 Sundance premiere was a surprising winner for the Oscar for Best Documentary the next year. It’s a look at one of the most shocking drug scandals in history, one that destroyed the Russian Olympic teams, and it plays like a thriller with the filmmakers there as every revelation comes to light.
Last year marked the tenth anniversary of one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, the story of a team of agents who can infiltrate dreams, led by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s part heist movie, part Bond movie, and mostly something that only the director of The Prestige and Tenet could possibly make.
Sean Penn wrote and directed an adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer, which introduced the world to the story of Christopher McCandless. The young man, played in the film by Emile Hirsch, left everything behind, basically wandering into the Alaskan Wilderness, from which he never returned. It’s a lyrical drama with great performances.
Netflix’s most ambitious and expensive project to date is this 3.5-hour epic based on the life of Frank Sheeran, errand boy for the Mafia and friend of Jimmy Hoffa. Martin Scorsese directs living legends like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci to some of the best work of their career. It is epic, elegiac, and unforgettable — a commentary on a violent life and, really, the filmmaker’s entire body of work.
Finally! After the massive success of Cobra Kai on Netflix, the streamer finally now also offers fans the original trilogy of films about the kid who learns karate from Mr. Miyagi. The 1984 original is still, by far, the best, starring Ralph Macchio and the great Pat Morita. Less successful are the 1986 and 1989 sequels, but no one would blame fans for wanting to watch the whole trilogy.
A man who likes to play God meets a boy who likes to play Satan in this twisted horror film from Yorgos Lanthimos, the daring director of The Lobster and The Favourite. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman head the cast of a film that owes more to ‘70s psychological horror than slasher pics. It’s unforgettable.
Andrew Dominik reunited with Brad Pitt after their collaboration on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for this adaptation of George V. Higgins’ Cogan’s Trade. At the time, audiences wanted something a little more action-driven than this character study delivers, but it’s developed a loyal cult following since 2012 and contains one of the late great James Gandolfini’s best screen performances.
Greta Gerwig’s Oscar nominee is one of the most personal and striking coming-of-age films of the 2010s. Saoirse Ronan stars as a young Californian who longs for someplace cooler than her own hometown. It’s a heartfelt and very smart film, buoyed by great performances throughout, including Ronan, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, and Laurie Metcalf, who was robbed of that Oscar.
Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut is the film that really proved to people that Daniel Craig was smooth enough to be James Bond. Before he was 007, he was a character known only as XXXX in this story of a London criminal who is trying to get out of the drug business and having great difficulty doing so. This low-budget flick was a massive hit on the arthouse circuit because it’s clever and oh-so-stylish.
The brilliant Liz Garbus moved from her traditional form of documentary filmmaking to direct this 2020 thriller based on the book of the same name by Robert Kolker. Amy Ryan plays Mari Gilbert, the mother of a young sex worker who disappeared on Long Island, leading to the revelation that a serial killer has been prowling the location. It’s a unique true crime story in that it centers the victims and their relatives instead of the killer, who remains unidentified.
As far as our country still has to go, it’s worth considering how far it’s come at the same time. Take this true story of an interracial couple — played with beauty and grace by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga — who had to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for their marriage to be legal. And that was in 1967. Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this nuanced, moving drama.
Chadwick Boseman is electric in his final film role in this adaptation of the beloved play by August Wilson. Viola Davis matches him beat for beat in this story of the recording of an album by the legendary Ma Rainey, but it’s knowing Boseman’s personal struggle, particularly in two emotional monologues, that makes this unforgettable.
Even people who have never seen this movie know the story of how Christian Bale nearly killed himself with weight loss to make it all the more harrowing. Bale stars as Trevor Reznik, an insomniac who spirals into complete madness. Brad Anderson is the best director you probably don’t know by name, and this is one of his best films, anchored by the complete commitment of its leading man.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 character study is one of the auteur’s best works, a study of the interconnectivity of modern life and the fallibility of human relationships. Coming not long after Boogie Nights, Magnolia really affirmed PTA’s status as one of America’s best filmmakers, and contains some of the career-best work of Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, and more.
David Fincher returned in 2020 after a six-year hiatus from filmmaking and delivered one of his most ambitious works, an accounting of the controversy over who actually wrote Citizen Kane. Gary Oldman plays Herman Mankiewicz, the disgraced writer who was hired by Orson Welles, and, if one believes the movie, channeled his personal history with William Randolph Hearst into Kane. It’s a lavish production with incredible cinematography, costumes, and art direction.
Noah Baumbach returns to Netflix with his best film to date, the story of the dissolution of a marriage between a theatre director (Adam Driver) and his lead actress (Scarlett Johannson). The two leads also do the best work of their careers in a smart, moving piece of work about how divorce turns you into a person you never thought you’d become, and how you have to move on as that new person. It’s one of the best films of 2019.
This isn’t necessarily the best biopic on Netflix, but it has a timeliness and poignancy that its creators couldn’t have imagined when it was released in 2017. Not only is the fight for racial equality that Thurgood Marshall led still claiming victims, but one can’t really watch this in 2021 and not think about what was lost when Chadwick Boseman passed away.
One of P.T. Anderson’s best films, and one of the best films of the 2010s by anybody, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Originally seen as a dissection of the creation of Scientology, The Master is a lot more than that, breaking down leader/follower relationships, trauma, and doubt in ways that only one of our best filmmakers could. It’s a masterpiece.
The 2017 Noah Baumbach’s film didn’t premiere in theaters, instead going the Netflix route in 2017. Adam Sandler does arguably the best work of his career in this drama about how family can both connect and divide us, sometimes in the same moment. Sandler is joined by Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Thompson in this must-see dramedy. Forget the Sandler Netflix Originals — watch this one instead.
Middle of Nowhere
Before they worked together on the stellar Selma, writer/director Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo made this phenomenal drama in 2012, the winner of the Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic Film that year. Emayatzy Corinealdi is excellent as a woman visiting a husband (Omari Hardwick) behind bars when she meets a new man who could end that chapter in her life.
Martin Brest directed one of the best ‘80s buddy comedies in this gem of a movie that paired Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. The Oscar winner plays a bounty hunter assigned to bring back Grodin’s embezzling accountant, who stole money from the Chicago mob. Easier said than done. Grodin and De Niro have perfect comic chemistry.
Clint Eastwood directed the 2004 sports drama that gained such a critical and commercial following that it won the Oscar for Best Picture (along with Actress, Director, and Supporting Actor). Based on the short stories by F.X. Toole, it tells the tale of an amateur boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald, played by Hilary Swank, and the trainer who helps her go pro before unforgettable tragedy strikes.
Once set to be releases in theaters with the name Connected, Sony shipped this project off to Netflix, and the result is one of the most delightful animated films of 2021. Produced by Phil Lord & Chris Miller of The LEGO Movie fame, this wonderful film is like a hybrid of a family road comedy like Vacation and a robot apocalypse movie like T2: Judgment Day. With great voice work and vibrant visuals, it’s a Netflix original that people will be talking about all year.
Movies don’t get much funnier than the best offering from the Monty Python troupe, a comedy that spawned a quoting fandom that still roams the hills saying, “Not dead yet,” and, “I fart in your general direction.” It’s possible there’s a young generation yet to appreciate the comedic brilliance of the men of Monty Python. Start here and then move on to the sketches and other movies, some of which are also on Netflix.
Arguably Netflix’s first masterpiece, Dee Rees’s period drama is an epic portrait of racism, trauma, and injustice in the post-WWII South. You won’t find a better ensemble in a Netflix Original, anchored by Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, and the amazing Dee Rees.
My Fair Lady
One of the most popular classic movie musicals of all time dropped on Netflix, a streaming service not exactly known for a deep catalog of movies from previous generations. This 1964 musical adapts the 1956 play of the same name, a riff on George Bernard Shaw’s classic Pygmalion. It features Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison at their most charismatic, and won eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
Movies don’t get much darker than this Tom Ford 2016 noir thriller with an incredible cast. The narrative folds in on itself in a way that makes explaining it here but trust that Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen know what they’re doing here.
Martin Scorsese directed this masterful documentary, one of the best music films ever made. It’s the story of the life of Bob Dylan, told over more than 200 minutes of interviews, archival footage, and analysis of Dylan’s impact on pop culture and even politics. Even if you don’t like Dylan, you’ll like this.
God bless Bong Joon-ho. The director of The Host, The Mother, and Snowpiercer — all of which you owe it to yourself to see — brought arguably his weirdest movie yet to Netflix in this sci-fi dramedy about a giant pig. Say what you will about the film’s flights of fancy — or Jake Gyllenhaal’s truly committed performance — there ain’t nothing else like it on Netflix.
No, not the Tarantino movie, but a film by a director who has influenced pretty much everything that QT ever directed, Sergio Leone. Once Upon a Time in America is the Spaghetti Western icon’s most epic film, a story of Jewish gangsters in New York City starring Robert De Niro and James Woods.
Clint Eastwood strengthened his own onscreen image with a Western that he directed back in 1976. He plays the title character, a Missouri farmer whose whole family is murdered during the Civil War, leading him to join a group of deadly Confederates, and becoming an outlaw after the end of the war. It’s classic Clint.
Arguably more fantasy than horror, Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece has just enough nightmare fuel to qualify, and that’s not even including the incredibly dark “real-world” themes with which GDT is playing here. Del Toro’s first Oscar winner blends the fantasy world of a girl named Ofelia and the abject cruelty of her stepfather, a Captain during the Spanish Civil War. Even in a movie that features a child-eating creature called the Pale Man, the real monster may be human.
We don’t deserve Laika. The geniuses at the best stop-motion animation studio in the world delivered the goods with films like Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, but their best work remains this 2012 gem about a kid who can see ghosts. As Norman tries to end a centuries-old curse, this visually striking and ultimately moving work never falters once.
Some of Stephen Frears’s 2013 drama can be a bit trite, but then there’s the Oscar-nominated performance at the center from the great Judi Dench to ground it. She plays Philomena Lee in this true story of a decades-long search for a son she gave up for adoption. This emotional crowd-pleaser was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.
Adrien Brody won the Oscar for Roman Polanski’s true story of the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist who survived the Holocaust. Moving and gripping, The Pianist captures something rarely seen in historical documents — how much survival was often dictated by chance encounters and downright luck. Polanski also won the Oscar for Best Director.
Jane Campion directs Holly Hunter to her best performance in this 1993 film about a mute piano player and her daughter, played by Anna Paquin in a breakthrough performance. Set in 19th century New Zealand, Campion’s film was a massive hit when it was released, winning three Oscars — including trophies for both Hunter and Paquin. Note: Netflix is releasing Campion’s first film in 12 years, The Power of the Dog, in December.
Tamara Jenkins returned to filmmaking for the first time since The Savages with this personal portrait of the struggle faced by people going through fertility procedures. With an amazingly truthful performance by Kathryn Hahn, this is the kind of film that feels both delicately specific and universal to the struggle of so many couples.
Barry Levinson directs Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in the story of a man who learns he has a brother who is an autistic savant after the death of his father. Both gentlemen are fantastic in a movie that’s arguably a little manipulative but should be watched (or rewatched) purely for the strength of its performances. The movie won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Hoffman.
Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal story of the domestic worker who really helped raise him is Netflix’s first nominee for Best Picture and a movie that has really altered the way the streaming service will be seen on the film landscape. It’s also a masterpiece, a heartbreaking, mesmerizing piece of filmmaking that really operates on Roger Ebert’s belief that great cinema is an “empathy machine,” a way to experience lives that you otherwise never would.
Look, it’s Thor and Baron Zemo! Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl play rivals in Ron Howard’s 2013 film about Formula 1 motor-racing, centering the famous rivalry between Brit James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda. The racing scenes are expertly made, but it’s Brühl’s performance here that’s the real reason to watch. It’s the best work of his notable career so far.
*School of Rock
Richard Linklater directed Jack Black to the best comedy of his career in his 2003 movie about a guitarist who becomes a substitute teacher at a prep school and teaches the stuck-up kids there how to rock. It’s a smart, funny family comedy with a huge heart and one of Black’s most lovable performances.
*Silver Linings Playbook
Sometimes a director finds a cast at just the right time and that’s exactly what happened when David O. Russell tapped Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jacki Weaver in this romantic dramedy. They’re all perfect, making this one of the more likable and easy-to-watch movies you could possibly bring up on Netflix.
Bong Joon-ho may have just won the Oscar for Parasite, but he had a hit before that with his 2013 sci-fi action flick starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and John Hurt. It’s a brilliant allegory for society as a train has been divided into classes per car, and the peasants form a revolt. Visually striking and narratively ambitious, Snowpiercer is a film that only seems to grow in esteem with each passing year, especially now that Bong is a household name.
Sure, we all know how much fun Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels is, but has anyone else noticed how many careers this movie helped launch? It’s amazing to watch it nearly a decade after it was released and consider how much people like Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, and Jason Schwartzman have done since then.
There aren’t a lot of great kids movies on Netflix, especially as so many family subscribers are moving over to Disney+, so we should take the chance to watch the best ones as much as possible. And maybe if you watch this very funny, clever Aardman movie over and over again, they’ll make more of them. The great silent comedy of Shaun the Sheep meets science fiction in this riff on E.T. that’s very sweet and very funny.
In 2010, Martin Scorsese released his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best novel, the story of a U.S. Marshal who investigates a missing patient at a legendary mental hospital. Scorsese is in full command of his skill as a craftsman in this riveting thriller that also co-stars Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams. It’s one of the most underrated films of the last decade.
Netflix added both of Tom Ford’s first two films in Nocturnal Animals and this excellent premiere, which features one of Colin Firth’s best performances. The Oscar winner (who was also nominated for this) plays George Falconer, a British professor living in Southern California in 1962. A study of sexual politics in the ‘60s, it’s a wonderful performance piece for Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, and Matthew Goode.
Noah Baumbach’s personal 2005 drama dissects the impact of divorce on an average family and offers the suggestion that the flaws of parents will only be amplified in their children. Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg all give excellent performances in a film that feels both specifically revealing and universal in its themes.
This movie is a fascinating litmus test as to how people read cinema. Invite some friends over, put it on, and then discuss what Paul Verhoeven is going for with his story of interstellar killer aliens and, more importantly, the space force of beautiful people put together to stop them. Suggest that maybe there’s more going on than just sci-fi/action. Or just sit back and enjoy the ride provided by one of the most purely entertaining genre pics of its era.
J.J. Abrams took the reins of one of the most influential franchises of all time and went back to the beginning, telling the origin story of how James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) joined the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Some of Abrams’s messing around with franchise histories has been controversial, but this is still an incredibly solid summer blockbuster, entertaining from beginning to end.
Loosely based on a true story, The Strangers is one of the best home invasion flicks of the modern era. It’s the terrifyingly relatable story of a couple, played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, who are attacked in their vacation home in the middle of the night. Made for almost nothing, The Strangers was a huge smash, tapping into something we all fear could happen when we hear a strange sound outside in the middle of the night.
Long before he tackled The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin told at least part of the life story of Steve Jobs, the legendary co-founder of Apple, in this 2015 biopic. Michael Fassbender gives one of his best performances in the title role, but the ensemble really makes this piece, including Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen in two of the best performances of their respective careers.
The wonderfully talented Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (The Endless, Spring) directed this 2019 sci-fi film that featured their biggest budget and most ambitious story to date. Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan star as paramedics who discover that a new street drug called Synchronic has some incredible powers, namely time travel. It’s a hard movie to describe, but something you need to see before your friend recommends it to you.
One of the best films of the ‘00s, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! won Daniel Day-Lewis his second Oscar as the unforgettable Daniel Plainview. As detailed and epic as great fiction, Anderson’s movie is one of the most acclaimed of its era, a film in which it’s hard to find a single flaw. Even if you think you’ve seen it enough, watch it again. You’ll find a new reason to admire it.
Paul Verhoeven directed this 1990 blockbuster that unleashed Arnold Schwarzenegger on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Ah-nuld plays a construction worker who becomes involved in a crazy power struggle on Mars…or does he? Verhoeven’s blend of social commentary and undeniable craft with action have allowed this to hold up better than most thirty-year-old action movies.
Fernando Meirelles (City of God) directs this fascinating two-hander starring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the last and current Popes. The majority of Anthony McCarten’s script is a conversation between the two in the days when Pope Benedict handed off papal duties to Pope Francis, using that context to examine modern faith and how it has to change in the new century. Hopkins is very good but the real draw here is arguably the best performance of Jonathan Pryce’s remarkable career.
Adam Sandler earned some of the best reviews of his career for this tense drama/thriller about a New York jeweler who has a little bit of a gambling problem. As he spirals the drain of life, he tries to sell a rare gem and make money on a Celtics playoff game. Vibrant and anxiety-inducing, it’s one of the best movies of 2019, and it’s already on Netflix.
*What Dreams May Come
This film just plays differently now given how much we all miss Robin Williams. The great actor stars in this 1998 fantasy drama that won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in its rendering of what happens after we die. Watching Williams traverse the afterlife had emotional depth before his untimely death, but his absence makes it all the more poignant.
It’s hard to believe it’s been over a quarter-century since Johnny Depp starred with a young Leonardo DiCaprio in this truly beloved drama, a film that didn’t make a lot of money in theaters but has developed a following over the years. Whenever anyone asks about Depp or DiCaprio’s best performances on social media, this is a film that comes up in the conversation, in no small part because it earned a very young Leo his first Oscar nod.
Both versions of the Roald Dahl classic are on Netflix but take Gene Wilder over Johnny Depp every time. This movie is a beloved classic for a reason, carried effortlessly by Wilder’s charm and the Dahl’s unforgettable story. Everyone has seen this at some point in their life. It’s a rite of passage in childhood for a reason.
Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) wrote and directed this 2017 mystery that premiered at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. Jeremy Renner stars opposite his MCU pal Elizabeth Olsen as the two investigate a murder on Indigenous territory in Wyoming. It doesn’t all work, but Sheridan has a strong sense of space and tension that keeps it moving.