Last Updated: July 24, 2020
If you've ever searched for a new movie to watch on Netflix, you know how taxing the process can be. With what seems like an endless amount of titles, it can take hours to find the perfect film that matches your mood. Though the task of finding the perfect movie to watch may seem overwhelming, we've got you covered with this list of the best movies on Netflix. From classics like Pride & Prejudice to hilarious comedies like Burn After Reading, there's no shortage of films to choose from.
Whatever your film preferences are, there are plenty of other options to choose from. Whether you prefer a rom-com, a laugh-out-loud comedy, documentaries, crime thrillers, over-the-top drama, Disney movies, superhero flicks from Marvel, an adaptation, or something based on a true story, there are movies and TV shows galore for everyone streaming on Netflix.
Although some beloved movies have been removed from Netflix this month, there's still a plethora of films to choose from. This includes Adam Sandler's must-watch performance in Uncut Gems and The Irishman, Martin Scorsese's latest mob film.
There's also some lighter comedy fare available to stream on Netflix, and a number of great Netflix originals, like Marriage Story and Always Be My Maybe. For the sci-fi heads, there are multiple Star Wars movies streaming on Netflix, so you can get your fix. What are you waiting for? When you've run out of TV shows to binge-watch, here are the best movies on Netflix right now.
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Director: Raoul Peck
The works of James Baldwin continue to be insightful and vital decades after he wrote them, and while Baldwin had lived a long and extraordinary life, he never got the chance to finish writing a memoir, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript titled Remember This House. This manuscript is the basis for Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which is a look into the thoughts and experiences of Baldwin himself, in his own words. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary examines the long history of systemic racism in the United States using Baldwin’s writing, focusing on his memories of key civil rights figures, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Baldwin’s intelligence is unparalleled as a writer, which comes as no surprise in I Am Not Your Negro; the real surprise is how prescient his writing is, describing an America that hasn’t changed very much at all in the decade since. His words come to life with evocative archival footage, smartly utilized clips of classic American films, and an uncharacteristically tender Samuel L. Jackson voiceover. I Am Not Your Negro is a stunning look at one of the greatest literary minds America has ever known.
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn
One of the most famous and regarded Jane Austen adaptations of the modern era, Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice is a modern classic to anyone who calls themself a Jane Austen fan. The 2005 romantic drama centers on the five sisters of an English family in the late 18th century, as they deal with love and life, with a specific focus on Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley) and her potential love interest Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen). While this does take notable departures from the original text, the movie is great at capturing the spirit of the characters, with Knightley and Macfadyen perfectly bringing these legendary literary characters to life. Director Joe Wright went on to direct the epic Atonement, and his talent shows here in his directorial debut, capturing the natural romanticism of the story. An impressive adaptation and an even more impressive directorial debut for Wright, Pride & Prejudice is a crowd pleaser to this day.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Much like the man himself, Clint Eastwood's films boast a no-nonsense, bare bones approach. He doesn't use camera trickery or visual flair; he has the humility to step out of the way and let the story tell itself. The result is, sometimes at least, an undisputed masterpiece like Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood stars as a lapsed Catholic, estranged father, and hard-nosed boxing trainer opposite Hilary Swank as his first female trainee. The film is a bait-and-switch. It begins as a near Rocky-esque ascension until tragedy strikes, forcing the main characters to deal with their brokenness and hopefully, come out of it intact.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
"Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire." Director Steven Spielberg put his sentimental instincts to perfect use in this film about Oskar Schindler, the Nazi Party member who saved 1,200 Jews from certain death by employing them in his munitions factory. It remains one of the definitive films about the Holocaust, depicting the cruelty of the perpetrators and the horror of the victims. That Spielberg made such a harrowing experience watchable is a testament to his skill as a filmmaker. It neither shies away from the violence, nor wallows in it. Its themes of redemption and empathy are universal, and have made the enormity of the Holocaust accessible to millions of people. It is not only one of finest films on Netflix; it is one of the finest films ever made.
Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges
Notable for breaking a record held by Toy Story 2, Lady Bird had an astonishing 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of its release in 2017, with more than one hundred reviews, all positive. The film went on to earn several Oscar nominations, but unfortunately didn’t score any wins. It’s a shame; Lady Bird is a beautifully made, subtle portrait of the titular teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) growing up in Sacramento in 2002. Lady Bird (birth name Christine) goes to Catholic school and has dreams of a bright, artistic future, and often clashes with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), who is trying to help make her dreams happen despite their family’s lower middle class status. It’s a stunning coming of age film that cemented Greta Gerwig as a brilliant director.
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel
The Safdie brothers’ follow-up to their acclaimed 2017 film Good Time finds them collaborating with none other than Adam Sandler. The crime thriller follows New York City jeweler Howie (Adam Sandler), as he comes into possession of a rare Ethiopian opal and soon finds himself risking it all in order to pay an increasing amount of debt to angry and violent collectors. Like Good Time, Uncut Gems is a visceral, stressful ride that never lets up. The film also shows the Safdies getting even better at their craft, with tense camerawork and impressive performances that make the chaotic world of Manhattan’s diamond district come to life. Adam Sandler was robbed of an Oscar nomination, Julia Fox makes a memorable acting debut as Howie’s girlfriend Julia, and most surprising of all, Kevin Garnett plays himself in a performance that rivals his trained actor peers. Uncut Gems is further proof that Josh and Benny Safdie are two of the best directors working right now.
Director: Alice Wu
Starring: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer
Director Alice Wu made her mark on the independent film scene in 2005 with Saving Face, a moderately successful drama based on her own experiences as a lesbian Chinese-American. Almost two decades later Wu has finally made her sophomore film with Netflix’s The Half of It. Loosely inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac, it follows shy teenager Ellie (Leah Lewis) as she helps inarticulate football player Paul (Daniel Diemer) win over his crush Astor (Alexxis Lemire), whom she also has a crush on. There are plenty of coming of age Netflix original films, but few have the genuine charm and nuance that The Half of It has plenty of. Lewis and Diemer give life to characters that might otherwise feel like stock teen movie characters, and Wu’s writing smartly centers on Ellie’s own self-actualization. Deft and sweet, The Half of It joins the roster of great teen coming of age Netflix original movies.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino
Martin Scorsese’s latest is his longest and most ambitious effort in his five decade long career. The Irishman follows Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as he reminisces on his life going from truck driver to hitman involved with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his crime family, as well as eventually working for Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Clocking in at three and a half hours, The Irishman is a mammoth of a film, but it’s all in important service to the film’s themes: the movie itself feels as long as Frank’s storied life, and is necessary to make these characters feel as lived in as they do. Where other Scorsese mob epics like Goodfellas and Casino are purposefully flashy and exhilarating, The Irishman instead uses silence and bitter introspection as the characters run out the clocks on unexamined lives full of selfish crime and violence. Possibly the darkest entry in Scorsese’s filmography, De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino give some of the finest performances of their careers and Scorsese’s direction is as vivid and breathtaking as ever. The Irishman is easily one of the best movies of the year.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johannson, Laura Dern
Director Noah Baumbach has made his career making films about prickly people, from his debut feature Kicking and Screaming to The Squid and the Whale to Greenberg. While his work (and romantic partnership) with Greta Gerwig led to more buoyant fare such as Frances Ha and Mistress America, Baumbach returns to the sharp dramedy he’s been known for with Marriage Story. The film follows the lives of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johannson) as they go through an increasingly bitter, coast to coast divorce while raising their only child. The film carefully splits its time between both Charlie and Nicole, making them feel fully three dimensional, and making their actions completely understandable even when they act cruelly towards each other, with their respective lawyers—played with devilish charm by Laura Dern and Ray Liotta—often serving as proxy. The film succeeds by having two of the best performances of the year in Driver and Johannson, as well as deftly portraying the highs and lows of a marriage, particularly how devastating it can be when one fails. Marriage Story is heartbreaking, vital, and one of the best acted films of the year.
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujín
You’ve heard of the young pope, maybe even heard of the new pope, but have you heard of the two popes? The latest in the Pope Cinematic Universe (PCU), The Two Popes is sure to be an Oscar contender this year. It centers on the real life meeting between then Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) in 2012, as they hash their ideological differences and signal a major shift in the direction of the Catholic Church. From Fernando Meirelles, director of City of God, comes this biopic starring two of our most acclaimed British actors. Hopkins and Pryce are reliably great in these roles, and the stunning production design adds to the importance of the decisions that these two men have on a worldwide religion. The Two Popes is another fascinating look into a position of power that’s strangely popular to depict right now.
Director: Craig Brewer
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess
The blaxploitation genre is an often overlooked and very important part of film history. While blaxploitation movies were often exceedingly violent and played into stereotypes more often than not, it was the first time black audiences saw black characters on screen that they could identify with and root for, as many other mainstream movies only had black characters in minor roles. Dolemite Is My Name centers on one of the biggest figures in the blaxploitation scene: comedian/actor Rudy Ray Moore, star of the comedic blaxploitation movie Dolemite and its sequels. Starring Eddie Murphy as Moore, Dolemite Is My Name follows his life as he becomes a successful standup comedian and decides he wants to become a major black movie star as well. Not only a worthy comeback for Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name is also a love letter to a culturally important film genre that could always deserve more love.
Director: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
In case you haven’t heard yet, Beyoncé released a little film on Netflix. Yes, Queen Bey blessed us with Homecoming, a hybrid concert film/documentary about her headlining performance at the 2018 Coachella Festival. Not only does Homecoming chronicle her entire Coachella performance (more famously known as “Beychella”), it also follows her personal life as she transitioned back into performing following a surprise pregnancy (which forced her to drop out of the 2017 festival). Inspired by the sights, sounds, and culture of HBCUs and motivated by a need for inclusion and diversity on stage, Knowles-Carter spent eight months preparing to give us the legendary performance at the center of Homecoming, which she turned into both a live album and this documentary. Homecoming is a thrilling testament to the incredible drive and artistry of this generation’s best performer.
Director: Mati Diop
Starring: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré
Winner of the Grand Prix award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Atlantics is one of the most critically praised movies of that year. Written and directed by Mati Diop, the film follows Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), who’s to be married to another man but is in love with construction worker Suleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who is working on a futuristic tower overlooking the city of Dakar in Senegal. When Souleiman and the other co-workers leave the country for a better life, mysterious events ruin Ada’s wedding days later, seemingly connected to Souleiman’s departure. While having elements of romantic drama, Atlantics quickly turns into a beguiling supernatural tinged, beautifully shot magic realist drama. To say too much about it would ruin the wonderfully strange experience that is Atlantics. Mysterious and one of a kind, Atlantics is one of the very best movies currently on Netflix, English language or otherwise.
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Starring: Hakim Faris, Victoire du Bois, Patrick d'Assumçao
One of the most critically acclaimed animated movies of the year (that isn’t Toy Story 4) just hit Netflix. I Lost My Body was a big hit at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, winning the coveted Nespresso Grand Prize—becoming the first animated film to do so. The film centers on young man Naofel (Hakim Faris) as he falls in love with a librarian named Gabrielle (Victoire du Bois) after an accident in which he loses his hand. Meanwhile, his hand awakens in the morgue and journeys across France to be reunited with its owner. With a truly original plot, I Lost My Body mixes romantic and surreal tones well, with an evocative score by French band The Dø and some beautiful animation. Naofel and Gabrielle’s scenes are quietly romantic while the scenes with his hand evoke a darker version of Homeward Bound. One of the most unique and best movies of the year, I Lost My Body is another great addition to Netflix’s library of originals in a year full of them.
Director: Rachel Lears
Knock Down The House director Rachel Lears immediately began work on a documentary about female politicians the day after the 2016 election. She sought out female candidates who weren’t career politicians, but were motivated by the election to represent their communities. In Knock Down The House, she profiles Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia, Cori Bush of Missouri, Amy Vilela of Nevada, and a candidate you may have heard of named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Lears astonishingly managed to follow AOC’s historic rise from the moment she decided to run, long before her stunning defeat of incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 2018 midterm election primaries, which catapulted her into national stardom. While AOC’s story is the most famous and successful story of all four candidates featured, the documentary is generally remarkable for being an uplifting movie about politics, which is an arduous task these days. Knock Down The House ultimately posits that there is a genuinely exciting surge of inspiring and hard working grassroots politicians who are trying to make the world a better place for everyone.
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Starring: Ali Wong, Randall Park, Keanu Reeves
Netflix once again proves it owns the romantic comedy market with this recently released crowd pleaser. Always Be My Maybe follows chef Sasha (Ali Wong) who, after a breakup, begins feeling old sparks of attraction with a childhood friend (Randall Park) after seeing him for the first time in fifteen years. Always Be My Maybe is the latest hit for comedian Ali Wong, who previously made her splash on Netflix with her comedy special Baby Cobra and her starring role in Tuca & Bertie, and she’s credited with co-writing the film as well. The film, while predictably hitting the usual romantic comedy beats, is genuinely charming, thanks to the performances from Wong and Park. Always Be My Maybe also features a hysterical scene with Keanu Reeves playing himself on a date with Wong’s character that really needs to be seen to be believed. Always Be My Maybe is perfect if you’re in the mood for a solid and charming romantic comedy.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Andre Holland, Melvin Gregg, Zazie Beetz
One of Netflix’s latest originals is also one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of 2019 so far. Based on the real-life 2011 NBA lockout, High Flying Bird follows sports agent Ray Burke (Andre Holland) as he advises his rookie client (Melvin Gregg) on a controversial business opportunity that might just end the lockout and change the game forever. Logan Lucky director Steven Soderbergh is known for his flawless directing and uncanny ability to capture institutions, and High Flying Bird is further proof of this, boasting stunning iPhone-exclusive cinematography and sketching an efficient portrait of the (slightly fictionalized) NBA. Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney’s script crackles as well, featuring scenes filled with wall-to-wall fast-paced dialogue. McCraney and Soderbergh manage to make High Flying Bird so much more than just a typical sports drama: it’s also a deep look into the racism ingrained in the NBA and how one can be an activist within the institution itself. High Flying Bird is an intelligent and riveting watch.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas
Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest finds him working with his most star-studded cast in years. Fresh off this year’s High Flying Bird (also for Netflix), Soderbergh’s now released the comedy drama The Laundromat. Based on the real life Mossack Fonseca scandal, the movie follows average woman Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep), as she investigates a fake insurance policy and uncovers a crooked law firm led by partners Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas) that seeks to help the world’s richest people get richer. As with High Flying Bird, Soderbergh continues his fascination with corrupt institutions and the ways capitalism keeps the average person at a disadvantage. Here he explores these themes with a more comedic, The Big Short-esque feel, in a comedy drama that’s likely to receive some Oscar nominations thanks to Soderbergh’s name and its star-studded cast, which also includes Jeffrey Wright and Sharon Stone. The Laundromat is yet another big swing from Netflix that will include it in the Oscar conversation.
When Breaking Bad aired its series finale four years ago few would have guessed that we would ever see where Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) ended up after escaping captivity from neo-Nazis thanks to Walter White. Now El Camino is here to answer the questions every Bad fan has had since then. Surprise announced as a Netflix original film a few months ago, El Camino follows Jesse in the days following the Breaking Bad finale, as he evades the law and attempts to find sanctuary. Like the show itself, El Camino is tense and darkly funny, featuring appearances from some Breaking Bad favorites, including Todd (Jesse Plemmons) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) and other favorites. While El Camino isn’t truly surprising plotwise, it makes up for it in a great performance from Paul, as well as expressive and breathtaking direction from series creator Vince Gilligan as he showcases the visual beauty the show was known for. El Camino is a more than worthy return to the Breaking Bad universe that will leave you satisfied.
Directors: Robert Wise & Jeremy Robbins
Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno
A true Hollywood classic, West Side Story is one of the very best musicals ever made. Loosely based on Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story follows teenagers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) as they fall in love despite being involved with rival New York City gangs. As one might expect, their gang affiliations eventually lead to tragedy. West Side Story is captivating because of its memorable musical numbers, featuring the instantly iconic Rita Moreno (who went on to win an Oscar for her role), as well as the equally fantastic choreography by co-director Jeremy Robbins that is still endlessly influential to this day. Maria and Tony’s relationship has made people swoon for five decades now, in all of its bittersweetness. Few musicals match the scale and artistry of West Side Story.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy
An adaptation of the 1974 John le Carre novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent in the British secret service in the early 1970s. It’s a movie that almost refuses to hold your hand as it moves back and forth between flashback and present, but it’s a rewarding watch for fans of the spy genre. It’s a beautifully cold movie, shot all in drab shades of grey, representing the decay of the world during the Cold War era and the toll it’s taken on the characters. Besides the main roles played by Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy features an impressive cast of British actors, including Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Hurt. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the best spy dramas of the past decade.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley
Martin Scorsese, the famed director of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and The Departed, directing a children’s movie? It happened and the result is 2011’s charming Hugo. Based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by celebrated children's author Brian Selznick, the movie follows young Hugo (Asa Butterfield), an orphan that lives in a train station in Paris in the 1930s, as he gets caught up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. Scorsese’s first film shot in 3D, Hugo looks as visually audacious as any of his other movies, if not more so, thanks to his intelligent use of 3D textures. What’s most remarkable about Hugo is that it’s one of Scorsese’s most sentimental: it’s not so secretly an ode to the history of cinema and filmmaking itself, hidden inside the curious journey of a lonely orphan. Another cinematic achievement from one of our best directors, Hugo is as much a delight to cinephiles as it is to children.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Director Paul Thomas Anderson is now beloved amongst cinephiles first such hits as There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, but one of his most underseen and most deliciously inscrutable movies is 2012’s The Master. Set in the aftermath of WWII, the film follows army vet Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) as he drifts into the life of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of a cult like religious movement. What sets apart The Master from the rest of PTA’s work is the dreamlike atmosphere and cinematography, giving the film an ethereal feel. Phoenix has never been better as Quell, a person seemingly constantly contorting in on himself every moment, and Hoffman gives one of his most remarkable performances as the vain, secretly insecure Dodd. Throw in supporting performances from Amy Adams and Laura Dern and you get the strangely satisfying cinematic journey that is The Master.
Directors: Benny and Josh Safdie
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Safdie brothers are now better known for 2019’s critically acclaimed—and soon to be A24’s highest domestic grossing film—Uncut Gems, but their earlier collaboration with A24 in 2017, Good Time, deserves just as much love. The film follows Connie (Robert Pattinson), a would-be bank robber, as he attempts to get enough money to get his developmentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) out on parole. His attempts lead him all over New York City as circumstances get progressively more dangerous for both Connie and Nick. Their third feature, Good Time is representative of what the Safdies do best: escalating darkly comedic situations, gritty realism, and stress-inducing camerawork that makes you feel just as trapped as the characters are. Pattinson once again proves his art film cred with an exhilarating lead performance in this, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is perfectly grating in an underrated supporting performance. Good Time is yet another great film by the Safdie brothers, who are proving to be two of the best directors working right now.
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks
Widely considered one of the best movies of the 2010s, the action thriller follows an unnamed getaway driver (Gosling) who finds himself in trouble with a mob boss after helping his neighbor (Carey Mulligan), whom he quickly falls for. There are few movies as cool as Drive: the synthy soundtrack, the neon lighting, and Gosling’s scorpion jacket gave birth to many of the aesthetic trends that are still popular to this day. Beyond how pretty Drive is, Gosling gives one of his best (and darkest) performances and nails the charming yet horrific nature of the main character. Like his character, the movie can go from beautiful and horrific on a dime, which is director Nicolas Winding Refn’s speciality. Idiosyncratically beautiful, Drive is still an atmospheric and riveting treat almost a decade later.
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera
Aaron Sorkin has written some of the best screenplays of the past couple of decades, earning acclaim for penning the scripts to classics like A Few Good Men, The American President, and The Social Network. His 2017 directorial debut Molly’s Game didn’t get nearly enough attention, even though it stands pretty well among his best. Based on the memoir of the same name, the film follows Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic class skier who runs an exclusive poker empire for celebrities, business tycoons, and the mob, before becoming the target of an FBI investigation when her empire is exposed. Aaron Sorkin’s style of writing may be somewhat cliché at this point, but that doesn’t stop Molly’s Game from being fun: Jessica Chastain is having a blast as the typical hypercompetent Sorkin protagonist, and she has plenty of chemistry with Idris Elba, playing her lawyer. On top of that you have Michael Cera shining in a completely different role than what he usually plays, as Bloom’s most successful (and dickish) player, Player X (loosely based on Tobey Maguire). Molly’s Game is a must for Sorkin fans, but is overall one of the more purely enjoyable dramas of the past couple of years.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
One of the best blockbusters of all time, Back to the Future is, pardon the pun, timeless. The science fiction action comedy follows high schooler Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) as he befriends eccentric scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and is accidentally sent thirty years in the past, to the 1950’s. The film created the blueprint for most blockbusters to this day, with inventive action, lovable characters, and plenty of charming humor. Both Marty and Doc are now iconic characters for a reason, thanks to their warm chemistry, and the special effects hold up to this day. It’s impossible to turn this movie off once it gets going, as it’s perfectly made to entertain you for its entire runtime. There’s not a better time to enjoy a perfectly made crowdpleaser like Back to the Future.
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Keira Knightly is queen of period pieces, from Pride and Prejudice to Atonement to The Imitation Game. So it’s kinda perfect she was cast in the 2012 adaptation of Anna Karenina, with Pride and Atonement director Joe Wright on board. Like the classic novel it’s based on, Anna Karenina follows the titular St. Petersburg aristocrat (Knightley), who is married to the cold Count Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) and embarks on an illicit affair with the affluent Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), eventually ending in tragedy. Law, Knightley, and Taylor-Johnson make this classic romantic love triangle come to vivid life thanks to their impressive performances. What makes this 2012 version of Anna Karenina so interesting, though, is the decision to have certain scenes take place on an actual stage that only the viewer sees. This heightens the dramatic tension of the story by making it literally theatrical, and emphasizing the over the top emotions the characters are feeling. A well acted and interestingly made adaptation of its classic source material, Anna Karenina is more than worth a watch for fans of the novel or period pieces in general.
Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode
Fashion designer Tom Ford surprised cinephiles when he made a sudden pivot to filmmaking in 2009 with the stunning A Single Man. Based on the novel of the same name by author Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man follows depressed gay college professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) struggles to cope with the sudden death of his boyfriend (Matthew Goode) in early 1960s Los Angeles. A bittersweet, yet gorgeous film, A Single Man is naturally stunning in its costume designing thanks to the fashion talent behind the camera, but its direction and performances are beautiful as well. Firth gives one of his best and subtly beautiful performances as George, earning himself raves and an Academy Award nomination. A Single Man is a surprise triumph that ranks among the absolute best movies of the 2000s.
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Aaron Sorkin previously expertly profiled a tech mogul with 2011’s The Social Network, so it was only a matter of time before he did it for one of the other big tech figures of our time: Steve Jobs. 2015’s Steve Jobs follows the titular Apple CEO (Michael Fassbender) as he prepares backstage at three different product launches, culminating in the 1998 unveiling of the original iMac. The movie takes an interesting approach to the biopic, with the movie essentially being three long scenes that happen in real time, as we watch Jobs and his collaborators Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) react to the stress prior to each conference. Being a movie written by Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs has plenty of great, instantly quotable lines that fly by before you can even process them. Also a staple of Aaron Sorkin films: a central character who thinks himself as the center of the world, only to be humbled by those around him. Steve Jobs might be one of Sorkin’s best in this regard, with a moving ending that gets to the center of Jobs as a character, and his need for perfection. Steve Jobs is not only one of Sorkin’s best but is also one of director Danny Boyle’s more underrated movies.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Greta Gerwig’s best known now for writing and directing the 2017 smash teen drama Lady Bird, but her first exposure to mainstream success was with 2013’s superlative Frances Ha. Gerwig was a fixture of the indie film scene for half a decade before breaking into mainstream success with this indie comedy. The movie centers on Frances (Gerwig), a 27-year-old aspiring dancer whose life is thrown into flux when her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) moves out, leaving her to find a new apartment, as well as pursue her artistic dreams. Shot in stunning black and white and using musical scores from composers known for their work on French New Wave films, Frances Ha re-imagines your typical young adult New York comedy into something more whimsical and thoughtful. Gerwig has never been better as Frances, and a pre-Star Wars Adam Driver shows off his talent as Gerwig’s inimitable love interest Lev. Frances Ha may have become a shorthand for “quirky New York movie” in the years since its release, but it’s so much better than that descriptor, with some of the best direction and writing both Gerwig and Baumbach have ever done across their acclaimed careers.
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Since its creation in 2004, Facebook has had a long, sordid history which is still being shaped to this day. The positive and negative effects of the ubiquitous social network make 2010’s The Social Network fascinating to this day, especially with its creator/CEO regularly making headlines. The drama follows Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) at Harvard as he co-creates Facebook alongside best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Zuckerberg and Saverin find themselves quickly becoming millionaires as Facebook becomes a phenomenon, but find their friendship and success is threatened when a legal battle contesting who actually founded the site ensues. David Fincher has had a long storied career (Fight Club and Zodiac alone stand as two of the best American movies of their respective decades), but The Social Network still ranks as one of his very best movies with its tight direction, subtly emotional performances, and a whip smart Oscar winning screenplay from Aaron Sorkin. One of the best movies of the 2010’s, The Social Network is always worth a rewatch.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg
Before director Noah Baumbach was known for 2013’s Frances Ha and his creative (and romantic) partnership with Greta Gerwig, he was directing acidic comedy dramas that explore thorny relationships between people. The Squid and The Whale is one of those movies, and may just be his best. Taking place in Brooklyn in the late 80’s, The Squid and The Whale follows teenagers Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Cline), as they deal with the impending divorce of their parents Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney). Loosely based on Baumbach’s own childhood, the movie feels intensely nostalgic as well as uncomfortably real, as the family begins to splinter in darkly funny and dramatic ways. Daniels and Linney especially stand out as parents who love their children but deeply resent each other. Never over-emotional, the movie revels in its droll tone as the characters come to small realizations about each other only when they’re not overly self-obsessed or terrible to each other, which is often. With Baumbach’s Oscar buzz-y Marriage Story coming out later this year, now’s the perfect time to revisit his first foray into divorce drama.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds
One of the very best movies of the 2000’s, 2007’s There Will Be Blood also contains one of Daniel Day-Lewis’s best performances, which is saying something for the virtuoso actor. The movie follows the life of turn-of-the-century prospector Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), a man driven by greed and hatred for others, as he slowly gains power and alienates those around him, especially preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). There Will Be Blood is a movie that feels epic, both in the impressive sets, the span of the story, and the runtime, but the movie never feels like a slog, thanks to a riveting story and riveting performances. The movie is also a scathing indictment of America at the turn of the century, in all of its cruel, unfeeling capitalism. A harsh, visually stunning parable with an unforgettable (and very memeable) ending, There Will Be Blood is yet another impressive film from the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz
2009 was a simpler time, when seemingly a lot more people could agree that Nazis are unequivocally bad and audiences enjoyed the latest Tarantino, which was a bloody, stylish WWII revenge thriller. Arguably one of Tarantino’s best, Inglourious Basterds follows the intersecting paths of a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and young theater owner Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) as they both aim to exact their revenge on major Nazi leaders, including Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Everything Tarantino is known for is in top form here, with some of the most tense scenes he’s ever directed, a stacked cast of actors giving their all, and of course, plenty of gratuitous violence. Just like the plots attempted by its characters, Inglourious Basterds is a glorious, effortlessly entertaining form of cinematic historical revenge, one that plays with our knowledge of history.
Director: Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Liev Schreiber
We’ve come a long way in the 16 years since 2002’s Spider-Man. Back then, superhero movies were still a novelty, and not the blockbuster behemoth they are now; there were six less Spider-Man movies than there are now. The best thing about Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse is that it makes the concept behind the titular webhead feel as brand new as it did back in 2002. Spider Verse follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), an average teenager who finds himself becoming Spider-Man and teaming up with a slew of other versions of Spider-Man from different universes to stop the villainous Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from destroying New York City. Spider Verse is the most comic book-like Spider-Man movie yet, utilizing stunning animation that brings to mind the comics that the character originated in, with its use of word bubbles and static backgrounds. The movie also uses its potentially confusing alternate universe concept to hammer home a heartwarming idea: that anyone can become Spider-Man if they’re kind and brave enough. Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse proves that Spidey can still surprise us almost two decades after his cinematic debut.
Director: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning
Director Mike Mills followed up his 2009 hit Beginners with this similarly quirky and emotional coming of age story. Based in part on Mils’ own childhood, 20th Century Women follows teenage boy Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) as he is raised by his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), and two young women, Abbie and Julie (Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, respectively) in Southern California in 1979. Dorothea, a divorcée, becomes concerned that Jamie won’t turn into the adult she wants him to be without a male influence in his life, and turns to Abbie and Julie to help guide Jamie through puberty. The result is a gentle and intelligent character study that examines all four individuals, as well as the time period. As the three women become cognizant of feminism in their own ways, this also directly effects Jamie’s life and how he views and treats other people, especially women. 20th Century Women is not only a well-made ode to the writer/director’s own life, but a moving tribute to the effect that feminism and positive female role models can have on developing teenage boys.
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes
When people look back at the 2010s, Moonlight will stand out as one of the best films of the decade, and for good reason. Director Barry Jenkins’ second and breakout feature, Moonlight was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2016, winning Best Picture at the 74th Academy Awards (the first LGBTQ-themed and first film with an all-black cast to do so). The film centers on the life of protagonist Chiron, split into three parts: his experiences as a child nicknamed “Little” (Alex Hibbert), as a teenager (Ashton Sanders), and as an adult nicknamed “Black” (Trevante Rhodes). Chiron’s own life is affected by poverty, bullying, and his struggles to come to terms with his gay identity growing up in a poor Miami neighborhood. Moonlight is notable for its sensitive and incisive portrayal of queer sexuality and how it intersects with both Chiron’s race and class status, as well as the incredible performances across the board, from all three actors who play Chiron to Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali (in an Oscar-winning performance).
Director: Akiva Schaffer & Mike Diva
Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
The Lonely Island is known for being hysterical but also completely random in their parody targets, so this Netflix special could have been about anything. That it turned out to be a Lemonade-style short film about a rap album written by Jose Canseco (Andy Samberg) and Mark McGwire (Akiva Schaffer) at the height of their baseball careers is just the amount of absurdity we expect from The Lonely Island. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is visually stunning for a comedic parody, and the parody songs written for the film are among the highest quality the group has produced. We won’t ruin the surprise of any of the cameos in this short film, but the presence of certain singers and comedians on the slow jam parody “Oakland Nights” and Janet Jackson parody “IHOP Parking Lot” really amps up the hilarity. The best part of The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is that it’s hilarious with or without prior knowledge of the wild and weird careers of Canseco and McGwire, thanks to the comedic talents of The Lonely Island.
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Starring: Ah-in Yoo, Jong-seo Jun, Steven Yeun
One of the most acclaimed non-English movies of last year, Burning is the latest film from acclaimed South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami, Burning follows Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo), as he watches former neighbor Hae-mi’s (Jong-seo Jun) cat while she goes on a trip. When Hae-mi returns, she introduces Jong-su to Ben (Steven Yeun), a man she met while abroad. While the plot may seem simple, Burning has a mysterious and tense atmosphere as we learn more about the mysterious Ben, played wonderfully by former Walking Dead star Yeun. At two and a half hours, Burning is a slow burn (no pun intended) that will keep you hypnotized from beginning to end with its elusive stories and well drawn characters. Despite wide critical acclaim, Burning was not nominated for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award, but became the first Korean film in history to make the nine-film shortlist for nomination.
Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Actress Sasha Lane has steadily made a name for herself with eye-catching roles in indies such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Hearts Beat Loud, but her career started when director Andrea Arnold discovered her and cast her in the lead role of American Honey. Lane plays Star, a young woman who runs away from home to join a traveling sales crew that sells magazine subscriptions door to door across the Midwest. She soon gets sucked into their lifestyle when she becomes close to crew member Jake (Shia LaBeouf). Arnold is known for her realistic depictions of young women, and she’s in top form here, creating an unconventional coming of age drama around Star. Lane is remarkable in the lead role, and her performance is made all the more astonishing when considering that it’s her first performance. All of that, combined with a perfect soundtrack (Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ “We Found Love” is put to perfect use), makes American Honey a coming of age road movie classic.
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk
It only took 14 years, but we finally got the much anticipated sequel to this fan favorite Pixar movie. Incredibles 2 follows the continuing adventures of the titular family, but with a refreshing role reversal: Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is recruited to join a new superhero team and uncovers a conspiracy, while Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) stays at home to take care of the kids. Incredibles 2 boasts some of the best action sequences in any recent film, live or animated, the highlight being a thrilling scene in which Elastigirl chases a runaway train with a motorcycle. Incredibles 2 is also just as funny as the first one, with a subplot involving baby Jack-Jack’s emerging powers that is slapstick at its finest. Incredibles 2 is one of the best action movies of 2018 and is definitely worth a watch.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Amy Winehouse famously lived a short, but exciting life as one of the best singers in recent memory. As many of us remember, her immense talent was overshadowed by her troubles with substance abuse, and her mistreatment by the media obscured the person she really was. Amy gives us an in-depth look at her actual life, from the point of view of those who loved and cared about her. Amy can be rage-inducing as it examines the media’s treatment of Winehouse, but it’s ultimately a loving celebration of her life and talent. The film won Best Documentary Feature at the 2016 Academy Awards.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine
One of the most celebrated and (sometimes incorrectly) quoted movies of all time, The Silence of the Lambs is also one of the greatest thrillers ever made. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she enlists the help of incarcerated cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in order to catch a serial killer on the loose nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). While probably most famous for Hopkins’ performance as Lecter (which, notably, only amounts to sixteen minutes of the runtime), The Silence of the Lambs has a top to bottom stellar cast full of great performances. It’s also directed and paced beautifully. For a movie about horrific serial killers, it’s thrilling and easily rewatchable, if you can stomach it of course. The movie also contains one of the most terrifying sequences in contemporary thrillers: Clarice trapped in the dark while Buffalo Bill watches her through night vision goggles and slowly approaches her. A huge critical and commercial success, The Silence of the Lambs is one of the few movies to win the “Big Four” Academy Awards: Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), Best Director, and Best Picture.
Director: Sandi Tan
In 1992, director Sandi Tan shot an independent film, one of Singapore’s first, with her friends and film teacher Georges Cardona. Tan and her friends went to study abroad for college and left the footage with Cardona, who disappeared, taking the footage with him. Two decades later, and a decade after Cardona’s death, his widow contacted Tan, telling her that she was in possession of the footage. Tan then took the footage and created this documentary from it. The documentary is a fascinating, melancholy, surprising look at the artistic process, and how art can come in unexpected forms. Shirkers is also an unabashed love letter to cinema and filmmaking in general, and to the idea that art can be cathartic.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton
Now that Bong Joon-ho is a three time Academy Award winner, it’s the perfect time to revisit his acclaimed filmography, a couple of which are thankfully on Netflix. One of his most recent films, 2014’s Snowpiercer, remains underrated even though it was one of the best movies of that year. Based on a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer centers on Curtis (Chris Evans) a denizen of the lower-class section of a giant train that houses the last remains of society after a climate change experiment freezes the world over. People in Curtis’ section live in squalor, so he leads a revolution that seeks to journey to the front of the train and overthrow the elite members of their society. Fans of Parasite’s spiky class politics will find plenty to love in Snowpiercer, which also plays with ideas of upward mobility in a playful and thought provoking dramatic way. What’s most impressive about Snowpiercer is the action sequences, which are often in close quarters and intense, but always done artfully. The cast is impressive as well, with Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and Bong’s own lucky charm Song Kang-Ho (who also starred in Parasite) rounding out the supporting cast. Snowpiercer is yet another example of the brilliance of Bong Joon-ho, who’s finally getting recognized on a worldwide scale.
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
A movie that deserves better than its status as “that movie your sad hip friend wouldn’t stop talking about in 2013,” Her is solid, typically odd work from director Spike Jonze. Joaquin Phoenix stars as lonely man Theodore Twombly who begins to fall in love with an artificial intelligence known as Samantha (played by Scarlett Johansson) in a near-future Los Angeles. The movie is a quietly sad meditation on what it means to be in love and to deal with loneliness, as well as how to deal with heartbreak. Phoenix brings his usual best to a role that could have just as easily come off as pathetic and strange. Her feels like one of Jonze’s most personal movies, as many see Twombly’s ex-wife, Catherine (played by Rooney Mara) as representative of his real-life ex, director Sofia Coppola (interestingly, this would mean that this movie mirrors Coppola’s Lost In Translation, a movie that’s similar in part about Coppola’s relationship with Jonze). We’re still, unfortunately, waiting for Jonze’s follow-up to Her but in the meantime, we have this Apple commercial he directed starring FKA Twigs that is as visually stunning as the rest of his work.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Ahn Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yeun, Jake Gyllenhaal
In an effort to make a more efficient livestock, a meat corporation led by twin sister CEOs (both played by Swinton) breeds 26 super-pigs in a laboratory and releases them to different locales to make them seem more natural. 10 years down the line, Mija, a young girl, lives in the South Korean countryside with her beloved Okja when they’re visited by a deranged zoologist, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal), who lets Mija know her pig is the best of the 26 and will be the star of their big unveiling of the new meat. She then meets an animal freedom fighter (Dano) that want to plant a recording device in Okja to record the cruelty of the slaughterhouse. Thanks to some translation deception, Mija appears to agree to it. Distraught at the error, she follows Okja to New York where the big pig gets raped by a steroidal member of her species and has bits of her eaten alive by Wilcox. Eventually, Okja gets taken to a mass killing plant, where Mija attempts a daring rescue amid the red, dripping slaughter. It takes a special type of director to combine all the elements that Joon-ho does in this film, blending sadism with sweetness, magical realism with science fiction and a child-animal friendship story mixed with a scathing critique of capitalism and the industrial food complex. After watching Okja, you’d have to be some kind of monster if you still feel that the lone carnivorous argument of “I like to eat meat” is fully sufficient.
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper
Ryan Gosling is such a nice guy that he’s been the poster child for feminist memes since 2008. However, he’s often at his best when he plays against type in films like Half Nelson, Drive, and Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, a winding, gorgeously shot heist thriller in which Gosling plays a motorcyclist trying to make ends meet for his family. To say much else would give away the plot, but just know that the film’s cast is absolutely stacked, with Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, and Mahershala Ali. The twenty-first century has no shortage of great crime dramas, but this stands as one of its very best.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
When movie buffs heard that Roma, the latest film from acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), was bought by Netflix, they knew the streaming service was serious about their movie projects. Cuarón—the first Latino and Mexican director to win the Best Director Oscar—set his sights on telling a story based on his life in a middle class family in Mexico during the 1970s. Centered around the family’s made, Cleo, we see a year in her life, from her own troubled pregnancy and the strife the family she takes care of is going through to the protests plaguing their city. Seasons change, men stay trash, and life goes on in this beautifully shot-and-directed film. It’s C-I-N-E-M-A, from its breathtaking cinematography to its black-and-white, subtitled dialogue. If you’re looking for a deeper film to dive into, Roma’s got everything you need.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Maribel Verdú
One of Alfonso Cuarón’s (Gravity, this year’s Roma) earliest and most critically acclaimed films, Y Tu Mamá También is considered one of the best movies of the 2000s. The film has a deceptively simple plot, following two horny Mexican teenagers (real-life best friends Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) on a road trip with an older woman (Maribel Verdu) whom they are both attracted to. Cuarón, co-writing with his brother Carlos Cuarón, uses the format of a road trip movie to not only explore the culture, history, and people of Mexico but also to explore the fickle nature of male friendships and sexuality. Bernal shines in one of his earliest roles, as does Luna (both are now relatively big stars, with Bernal starring in Coco and Luna starring in Rogue One). While notorious for its explicit sexual content (Mexico gave the film an 18+ rating, which Cuarón considered to be censorship), the amount of sex in the film—used to fascinating and devastating effect, especially toward the end—isn’t used to titillate, but instead to comment on the sexuality of young men.