Netflix has been releasing feature-length original films ever since 2015’s Beasts of No Nation, but the streaming service didn’t become truly impressive until 2019, when its slate was stocked with genre gems and big-stakes Oscar contenders. In between, the streaming behemoth has unleashed movies that range from cheesy Adam Sandler comedies to harrowing allegories about factory farming, all in an effort to revolutionize the way you watch movies and TV.
Naturally, some Netflix originals are better than others. These are the best movies the platform has to offer (excluding documentaries), a ranking that will change and evolve as Netflix continues its all-out push into original programming in 2022. Once you’ve made your way through these titles, you can also check out our ranking of Netflix’s best original TV shows.
A loose adaptation of Academy Award nominee Guillaume Laurant’s (Amelie) 2006 novel, Happy Hand, I Lost My Body is perhaps the most unodorothox and surreal animated feature of 2019. In short, this French film is about a severed hand attempting to reunite with the rest of its body, but it’s more a meditation on humanity and wholeness than it is a gross-out horror film. Netflix acquired the movie after it premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim, and it’s another sign that the streaming giant’s creative ambition will push it into exciting new territory.
49. Gerald’s Game (2017)
Like his previous low-budget Netflix-released horror release, Hush, a captivity thriller about a deaf woman fighting off a masked intruder, Mike Flanagan’s Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game wrings big scares from a small location. Sticking close to the grisly plot details of King’s seemingly “unfilmable” novel, the movie chronicles the painstaking struggles of Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) after she finds herself handcuffed to a bed in an isolated vacation home when her husband, the titular Gerald, dies from a heart attack while enacting his kinky sexual fantasies. She’s trapped — and that’s it. The premise is clearly challenging to sustain for a whole movie, but Flanagan and Gugino turn the potentially one-note set-up into a forceful, thoughtful meditation on trauma, memory, and resilience in the face of near-certain doom.
48. The Ritual (2017)
How many times can four unsuspecting chumps trek through uncharted, shadowy woods before learning that one should never trek through uncharted, shadowy woods? Let’s hope there’s no answer. Director David Bruckner rewires the “cabin in the woods” premise to tell the story of four friends grieving the murder of their fifth, and the Swedish backpacking adventure that shotguns their asses into the mouth of Hell. Overgrown with atmosphere, creepy corpse art, and a monstrous presence well-worth the tapered, Jaws-like reveal, The Ritual questions of faith and fate with a wicked sense of what makes horror brutality so entertaining.
Bol and Rial Majur, a married refugee couple newly fled from war-ravaged South Sudan, begin a probationary period of asylum in a London suburb, where they are given a shabby townhouse and a weekly stipend. Bol attempts to assimilate by going out into town, hanging out in pubs, using silverware to eat meals, and buying new clothes, but Rial still clings to their Dinka culture and the memory of the child they lost during their crossing. They see specters all over the house and begin to believe that a witch is haunting them. The power of His House comes not from the intermittent scares or constant building dread, but from the devastating, final-act reveal that forces its characters to reckon with the trauma they’ve suffered and the guilt that has consumed their lives. There is a particular flavor of horror that exists in experiencing shocking violence and then escaping into a world that makes it seem like nothing more than a dream.
46. The Two Popes (2019)
Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes, about conversations between Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis, will win you over thanks largely to the performances of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as the titular Bishops of Rome. The two elderly actors are at their peaks as these ideologically different men of the cloth, but Andrew McCarten’s script is less about bickering than it is about shared faith and sin, while also being incredibly playful. Who knows if Benedict and Francis actually had charming discussions about The Beatles, pizza, and the Austrian TV show about a crime-solving dog called (Kommissar Rex), but The Two Popes imagines they do. That isn’t to say the film ignores the controversial topics orbiting its protagonists, though it is certainly not a condemnation of the Catholic church by any means. Focused more on the Argentinean-born Francis, née Jorge Mario Bergoglio, than Benedict, The Two Popes finds time for lengthy flashbacks of Bergolio’s pre-papal life in South America. While these sequences are well done, any time the film strays from Pryce and Hopkins, it slows down. But with a careful touch, Meirelles and his two popes bring humanity to the inscrutably holy figureheads.
45. Les Affamés (2017)
Whether you’re zombie-addicted or not, Les Affamés (“The Ravenous”) is worth checking out. Robin Aubert’s arty French-Canadian thriller picks up after the outbreak of a mysterious plague, which has ravaged rural Quebec and decimated its population. The scenario might sound familiar, but the scenes often unfold with fresh rhythms and punctuation marks. The survivors you meet along the way, for example — likely unknowns to most Stateside viewers, but talented as hell — are not ordinary heroes, and truthfully they’re concerned less with rebuilding their community or finding answers and more with simply surviving. Also, the zombies are not just zombies. That said, Les Affamés might have more in common with the underrated romp Wyrmwood than something like The Walking Dead. It’s slightly more grounded than the former, to be sure, but it’s likewise a unique, and at times surreal, spin on the genre we were pleased to find.
44. Space Sweepers (2021)
Right from its first, electrifying sequence involving a bunch of bounty hunting spaceships chasing after a careering piece of garbage, Space Sweepers spins a far-future of multicultural, multilingual human life in space that’s as exhilarating as it is crushingly dystopian. Tae-Ho is a pilot aboard the freighter Victory, along with Captain Jang, engineer Tiger Park, and loudmouthed robot Bubs, all of them part of an outer-space trash-collecting bounty-hunter guild known as the Space Sweepers, who capture space junk and sell it for parts. After a particularly harrowing chase, the crew finds a little girl hiding in a derelict spaceship, who just happens to be a nanobot-filled android that a group of space terrorists have fitted with a hydrogen bomb. At first the Victory crew plans to sell the “little girl” back to the terrorist group who lost her, before they realize that she’s much more special than she seems.
43. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)
Of all the entries in the rom-com revival, this one is heavier on the rom than the com. But even though it won’t make your sides hurt, it will make your heart flutter. The plot is ripe with high school movie hijinks that arise when the love letters of Lara Jean Covey (the wonderful Lana Condor) accidentally get mailed to her crushes, namely the contractual faux relationship she starts with heartthrob Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). Like its heroine, it’s big-hearted but skeptical in all the right places.
42. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
True Detective Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga’s wartime drama is not a movie you put on in the background. Adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s novel of the same name, this visceral character study tracks a preadolescent Agu (Abraham Attah) after he’s recruited to be a child soldier in an African civil war (its specifics are left purposely ambiguous). Lorded over by a gruff commander (Idris Elba), the movie is loud, tender, and violent — a coming-of-age story in which the characters may not live to come of age.
41. Our Souls at Night (2017)
Though Our Souls at Night looks like a sappy whiff, it’s far from it. Veterans Jane Fonda and Robert Redford play widowed neighbors who strike up a forced and unlikely relationship in the absence of their old loves. Adapted from Kent Haruf’s book of the same name, Ritesh Batra’s movie wastes no time throwing the pair into the awkwardness of getting to know each other (“Pretty cold for spring, huh?”), the strange optics of being together in public, and the near-impossible task of filling a void that affects others. Their journey, from strangers to lovers, and its message are powerful, though they do occasionally veer into sentimentality. As Fonda’s Addie says, it’s not about sex; it’s about understanding loneliness, about “getting through the night.” The result is a meditative but heartwarming movie, very much worthy of its stars’ talents.
40. Win It All (2017)
In less than 90 minutes, director Joe Swanberg and his co-writer and star Jake Johnson provide an endearing portrait of a schlub in crisis. Like he did with 2013’s Drinking Buddies and last year’s Netflix series Easy, Swanberg zeroes in on the small details of thirtysomething existential dread and scores big. In telling the story of a gambling addict named Eddie (Johnson) who is entrusted with a bag of money, which he quickly blows in spectacular fashion, the filmmaker has found an ideal mix between old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling and his low-key naturalism. Will Eddie get his shit together? Win It All is less interested in answering that question than it is in spending time with these lovable losers.
39. The White Tiger (2021)
The rigid Indian class system is put on full display in Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 novel The White Tiger, a darkly comedic-and then simply dark-exploration of what it takes to make a life for yourself in a world where upward mobility is very nearly a myth. Balram Halwai, born to a poor family in Laxmangarh, knows the only way to get out of his low class community is to befriend a rich family. When he’s accepted as the personal chauffeur of his village’s landlord’s wealthy son Ashok, newly returned from America with his New York-raised wife Pinky, he befriends his employers, always playing the grateful, beloved servant while finagling himself deeper into their lives. When a shocking disaster strikes, Balram’s notion that he meant something to this family is shattered, and he learns that using his own genius and ruthlessness is the only way to escape being treated like a servant for the rest of his life.
Netflix is a fount of original movies and TV shows, cranking out IP at an unrivaled pace. In 2021, the company doubled down on its ambition to be your go-to source for streaming, committing to release at least one new movie every week of the year, and is projected to spend upwards of $19 billion on productions and acquisitions. (That’s two freakin’ billion dollars more than last year.) Whether or not Netflix can successfully swat back its ever-growing list of competitors with their own splashy plays is mostly up to the quality of its originals-and we all know how that tends to be. Still, as it expands its foreign offerings, recruits head-turning star talent, and cranks out Oscar contenders, Netflix is clearly trying real hard to catch your attention. Though there are plenty of duds, the surprise hits, bullseye prestige fare, and simply fun movies keep us watching. These are the best Netflix original movies we’ve seen this year.
Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s adaptation of Greg Rucka’s comic series is a superhero movie with a soul. It stars Charlize Theron as Andy, aka Andromache, a warrior who has lived for six millennia and doesn’t really see the point anymore. But she and her team of fellow immortals are drawn back into conflict when they start being hunted by a pharmaceutical brat who wants to use them as test subjects. At the same time, a new member joins their ranks, Nile (KiKi Layne), who survives a throat-slitting and is inducted into this strange club. Prince-Bythewood melds immensely fun fight sequences-it’s a joy to watch Theron throw a punch-with groundbreaking moments of quietude, including a gay romance that’s like nothing you’ve seen before in an action movie.
“This is not a love story,” the heroine of The Half of It says at the outset of the movie. It’s one of those things teens tend to say, but it’s hard to believe, especially given that the movie is streaming on Netflix, which has become known in recent years as a teen rom-com factory where saccharine romance reigns. But Alice Wu’s The Half of It is truly not a love story, which makes it all the better. By the end of the film, no one has “gotten the girl” and there’s no coupling up. Each of the three main characters goes their separate ways. It’s not an upsetting conclusion, but it doesn’t spoon-feed its audience a classic happy ending, opting for something more honest along the way.
35. Tigertail (2020)
Master of None co-creator Alan Yang makes his directorial feature debut with Tigertail, in which he loosely adapts his own father’s life. It’s a tight film that’s nonetheless epic in scale as it follows a man named Pin-Jui from his childhood as a young boy in Taiwan into his middle age in America. Yang jumps back and forth in time, as the present-day Pin-Jui (played in a wonderful, understated performance by Tzi Ma) reflects on his past. It’s a tricky balancing act. The scenes of his life as a young adult as he bonds with his first love are flush with color, which fades as he settles into the rhythms of a passionless marriage in New York. At times Tigertail can feel like a condensed version of a much longer saga, and indeed that was sort of the case as Yang whittled down an over 200 page draft. Still, Yang has crafted a vivid tale about the immigrant experience, regret, and the bonds between generations.
34. On Body and Soul (2017)
This Hungarian film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film, and it’s easy to see why. The sparse love story begins when two slaughterhouse employees discover they have the same dream at night, in which they’re both deer searching the winter forest for food. Endre, a longtime executive at the slaughterhouse, has a physically damaged arm, whereas Maria is a temporary replacement who seems to be on the autism spectrum. If the setup sounds a bit on-the-nose, the moving performances and the unflinching direction save On Body and Soul from turning into a Thomas Aquinas 101 class, resulting in the kind of bleak beauty you can find in a dead winter forest.
33. Time to Hunt (2020)
Unrelenting in its pursuit of scenarios where guys point big guns at each other in sparsely lit empty hallways, Time to Hunt is a South Korean thriller that knows exactly what stylistic register it’s playing in. A group of four friends, including Parasite and Train to Busan break-out Choi Woo-shik, knock over a gambling house, stealing a hefty bag of money and a set of even more valuable hard-drives, and then find themselves targeted by a ruthless contract killer (Park Hae-soo) who moves like the T-1000 and shoots like a henchmen in a Michael Mann movie. There are dystopian elements to the world-protests play out in the streets, the police wage a tech-savvy war on citizens, automatic rifles are readily available to all potential buyers-but they all serve the simmering tension and elevate the pounding set-pieces instead of feeling like unnecessary allegorical padding. Unlike Netflix’s futuristic action slog The Last Days of American Crime, which tripped over its own convoluted premise and failed to spark genuine suspense, Time to Hunt uses its elongated runtime to build sequences in a meticulous, considerate way that should appeal to viewers who have seen Heat, Collateral, and Miami Vice too many times to count.
32. Private Life (2018)
Over a decade since the release of her last dark comedy, The Savages, writer and director Tamara Jenkins is back with a sprawling movie in the same vein: more hyper-verbal jerks you can’t help but love. Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) are a Manhattan-dwelling couple who have spent the last few years attempting to have a baby with little success. When we meet them, they’re already in the grips of fertility mania, willing to try almost anything to secure the offspring they think they desire. With all the details about injections, side effects, and pricey medical procedures, the movie functions as a taxonomy of modern pregnancy anxieties, and Hahn brings each part of the process to glorious life. Eventually, the pair recruits 25-year-old college dropout Sadie (Kayli Carter), the step-daughter of Richard’s brother, to serve as an egg donor. Soon, they form their own unconventional family united by feelings of inadequacy and hope for the future. The final shot, which features a moment of silence after over two hours of near constant chatter, is one you won’t forget.
31. Barry (2016)
In 1981, Barack Obama touched down in New York City to begin work at Columbia University. As Barry imagines, just days after settling into his civics class, a white classmate confronts the Barry with an argument one will find in the future President’s Twitter @-mentions: “Why does everything always got to be about slavery?” Exaltation is cinematic danger, especially when bringing the life of a sitting President to screen. Barry avoids hagiography by staying in the moment, weighing race issues of a modern age and quieting down for the audience to draw its own conclusions. Terrell is key, steadying his character as smooth-operating, socially active, contemplative fellow stuck in an interracial divide. Barry could be any half-black, half-white kid from the ’80s. But in this case, he’s haunted by past, present, and future.
30. The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
Don’t go into Orson Welles’ final film expecting it to be an easy watch. The Other Side of the Wind, which follows fictional veteran Hollywood director Jake Hannaford (tooootally not modeled after Welles himself) and his protegé (also tooootally not a surrogate for Welles’ own friend and mentee Peter Bogdanovich, who also plays the character) as they attend a party in celebration of Hannaford’s latest film and are beset on all sides by Hannaford’s friends, enemies, and everyone in between. The film, which Welles hoped would be his big comeback to Hollywood, was left famously unfinished for decades after his death in 1985. Thanks to Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall, it was finally completed in 2018, and the result is a vibrant and bizarre throwback to Welles’ own experimental 1970s style, made even more resonant if you know how intertwined the movie is with its own backstory. If you want to dive even deeper, Netflix also released a documentary about the restoration and completion of the film, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which delves into Welles’ own complicated and tragic relationship with Hollywood and the craft of moviemaking.
29. Tallulah (2016)
From Orange Is the New Black writer Sian Heder, Tallulah follows the title character (played by Ellen Page) after she inadvertently “kidnaps” a toddler from an alcoholic rich woman and passes the child off as her own to appeal to her run-out boyfriend’s mother (Allison Janney). A messy knot of familial woes and wayward instincts, Heder’s directorial debut achieves the same kind of balancing act as her hit Netflix series — frank social drama with just the right amount of humorous hijinks. As Tallulah grows into a mother figure, her on-the-lam parenting course only makes her more and more of a criminal in the eyes of… just about everyone. You want to root for her, but that would be too easy.
There’s a delicacy to actress Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, Passing, an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel about two childhood friends who reunite in adulthood and find their lives in a state of contradiction. Irene (Tessa Thompson) is living in Harlem as part of the upper echelon of Black society with her husband and two children; Clare (Ruth Negga) has been passing as a white woman and is married to a racist man. A chance meeting brings them together after years apart and ignites mutual insecurities, especially when Clare begins to infiltrate the life with which Irene previously thought herself content. Filmed in black and white and featuring a stunning jazz score by Dev Hynes, Hall keeps the tension between her protagonists at a simmer, the roiling frustrations and desires lingering just beneath the surface. Both Thompson and Negga are extraordinary, playing their characters’ internal emotions through glances and subtle shifts in their tone of voice. Hall’s film has style in spades, but it’s all in service of the tricky feelings underneath the pretty people and parties.
Even if you aren’t already invested in the cult of Eurovision, the singing competition that keeps a huge swath of the world rapt every year, you’ll probably be charmed by Eurovision, Will Ferrell’s ode to the bizarre annual event. Ferrell stars alongside Rachel McAdams as Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir, an Icelandic duo that make up the band Fire Saga. These goofy musicians land a spot in Eurovision (with the help of some elves) and go on a wild and sweet adventure. Playing like Talladega Nights meets Billy Elliot, it’s an absolute joy, and the music is great. (Play “Jaja Ding Dong!”)
In the ’80s, before he wrote Rent, Jonathan Larson was just another struggling playwright with a dream. Larson turned that struggle into a musical, and after his untimely death in 1996, it was revised and performed off-Broadway. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who portrayed Jon in a 2014 production, has now made tick, tick… BOOM! his directorial debut. The movie has a lot going for it, chiefly Andrew Garfield’s turn as the scrappy, hopeful, exhausted protagonist. It’s a stylish excursion about the creative process that doubles as a loving homage to Stephen Sondheim, who mentored Larson and died mere days after this film premiered on Netflix.
25. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
There’s an undeniable pain in watching Chadwick Boseman give his final performance in Netflix’s adaptation of the August Wilson play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Boseman, who died in 2020 from colon cancer, plays Levee, an ambitious yet volatile trumpeter, a talented, tragic figure who tempts fate. In the role, he’s at turns charming, seductive, furious, and, ultimately, broken. There are multiple moments when you’re compelled to break out into applause. Seeing Boseman’s posthumous performance will inevitably be the draw for many queuing up Ma Rainey, which also stars Viola Davis as the blues singer around whom the narrative orbits, but it’s also an immensely satisfying rendering of one of the best plays of the 20th century, a reminder that Wilson’s work should be as essential to American education as Shakespeare or Arthur Miller.
24. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
In this maniacal mystery, Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a nurse, and her rattail-sporting, weapon-obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) hunt down a local burglar. Part Cormac McCarthy thriller, part wacky, Will Ferrell-esque comedy, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is a cathartic neo-noir about everyday troubles. Director Macon Blair’s not the first person to find existential enlightenment at the end of an amateur detective tale, but he might be the first to piece one together from cussing octogenarians, ninja stars, Google montages, gallons of Big Red soda, upper-deckers, friendly raccoons, exploding body parts, and the idiocy of humanity.
23. Divines (2016)
Thrillers don’t come much more propulsive or elegant than Houda Benyamina’s Divines, a heartwarming French drama about female friendship that spirals into a pulse-pounding crime saga. Rambunctious teenager Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and her best friend Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena) begin the film as low-level shoplifters and thieves, but once they fall into the orbit of a slightly older, seasoned drug dealer named Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda), they’re on a Goodfellas-like trajectory. Benyamina offsets the violent, gritty genre elements with lyrical passages where Dounia watches her ballet-dancer crush rehearse his routines from afar, and kinetic scenes of the young girls goofing off on social media. It’s a cautionary tale told with joy, empathy, and an eye for beauty.
Rarely do filmmakers approach the topic of moviemaking with the combination of unbridled joy and punchy humor as Dolemite Is My Name, an endearingly sweet biopic about multi-talented comedian and independent film producer Rudy Ray Moore. As played by Eddie Murphy, Moore displays a savviness for noticing an opening in the 1970s entertainment market — early on, he exists a screening of The Front Page and observes that it’s got “no titties, no funny, and no kung-fu” — and then creating the exact type of product he’d like to see. That means plenty of nudity, jokes, and, yes, some over-the-top kung-fu. In its brisk runtime, Dolemite Is My Name shows Moore solving a series of technical, economic, and artistic challenges: dealing with an egocentric director (a hilarious Wesley Snipes), securing financing to pay an inexperienced crew, and, finally, acquiring a distributor for the project he poured his life into. Like they did with 1994’s Hollywood outsider character portrait Ed Wood, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski pack the story with charming period details and fascinating bits of pop culture trivia, which director Craig Brewer’s camera carefully glides over, but the movie belongs to Murphy, who moves through each scene with total command of his craft.
The Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is known for eccentric movies-and a couple of HBO shows, The Young Pope and The New Pope-that treat the passage of time like a dizzying whirlwind. The Hand of God, however, focuses more on the future than the past. It’s a rambling coming-of-age story about an introverted 17-year-old (Filippo Scotti) finding his voice in 1980s Naples. When the movie ends, we’re left with the sense that young Fabietto is ready to chart his own journey, having experienced enough life (including family tragedy and a bizarre first sexual encounter) to start figuring out who he truly is. Sorrentino based the movie partly on his own adolescence, rendering The Hand of God all the more intimate and personal.
20. My Happy Family (2017)
At 52, Manana (Ia Shughliashvili) packs a bag and walks out on her husband, son, daughter, daughter’s live-in boyfriend, and elderly mother and father, all of whom live together in a single apartment. The family is cantankerous and blustery, asking everything of Manana, who spends her days teaching better-behaved teenagers about literature. But as Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s striking character study unfolds, the motivation behind Manana’s departure is a deeper strain of frustration, despite what her brother, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who can cram themselves into the situation would like us to think. Anchored by Ia Shughliashvili’s stunningly internal performance, and punctured by a dark sense of humor akin to Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (which would have been the perfect alternate title), My Happy Family is both delicate and brutal in its portrayal of independence, and should get under the skin of anyone with their own family drama.
19. The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021)
If Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse established Sony Pictures Animation as one of the most exciting studios making animated movies right now, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, on Netflix, solidified that reputation. Also from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the family comedy about a group of weirdos besieged by an AI apocalypse is very funny and extremely heartfelt, featuring a nuanced father-daughter relationship that feels akin to something out of Lady Bird. Directed and written by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, both veterans of the early 2010s Disney Channel and XD series Gravity Falls, The Mitchells vs. the Machines builds to a climax that’s as exhilarating as it is touching, successfully blending an all-out, wonderfully goofy action sequence with the kind of resonance it needs to move its audience.
18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
The Coen brothers gave some big-name-director cred to Netflix by releasing their six-part Western anthology on the streaming service, and while it’s not necessarily their best work, Buster Scruggs is clearly a cut above most Netflix originals. Not only does it revel in the massive, sweeping landscapes of the American West, but it’s a thoughtful meditation on death that will reveal layer after layer long after you finish.
17. Tramps (2017)
There are heists pulled off by slick gentlemen in suits, then there are heists pulled off by two wayward 20-somethings rambling along on a steamy, summer day in New York City. This dog-day crime-romance stages the latter, pairing a lanky Russian kid (Callum Tanner) who ditches his fast-food register job for a one-off thieving gig, with his driver, an aloof strip club waitress (Grace Van Patten) looking for the cash to restart her life. When a briefcase handoff goes awry, the pair head upstate to track down the missing package, where train rides and curbside walks force them to open up. With a laid-back, ’70s soul, Tramps is the rare doe-eyed relationship movie where playing third-wheel is a joy.
16. Mank (2020)
David Fincher doesn’t get enough credit for his range. To just say he’s a filmmaker interested in stylized bloodshed doesn’t really capture the extent of his work. That being said, Mank, a snapshot of the life of Herman Mankiewicz, the co-screenwriter behind Citizen Kane, feels like a career outlier. It seems like Fincher and Pauline Kael would agree that Mankiewicz deserves the lion’s share of the credit for Orson Welles’ work, but Mank, based on a script written by his late father Jack Fincher, essentially stops before Kane starts to shoot. Instead, the movie uses its protagonist as a window in the 1930s Hollywood studio system and the politics that it was pushing amid the Depression, acting as a sort of explanation for why the writer was compelled to take a swing at William Randolph Hearst after becoming part of his chummy circle. Mank is defined by all kinds of stylistic flourishes from the lush, dramatic black and white to the cigarette burns and fade outs, but it’s also a talky movie brimming with ideas. Most unexpectedly, it’s a movie about tycoons abusing their workers in the midst of a cultural crisis and how artists can wield their pens to reclaim a sliver of power.
15. Bo Burnham: Inside (2021)
A little more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Bo Burnham hit us where it hurt. It felt great. The stand-up comic wrote, performed, filmed, and edited a special from inside the guest house of his Los Angeles home, using song to chronicle the woes of quarantine, the ills of an incessant internet, the misadventures of FaceTime, and the villainy of Jeff Bezos. Inside can get heavy, but it is also a joy to behold Burnham, alone, in his element, grappling with the realities of the modern age. Creating his own light and sound design, Burnham employs a trippy charm that cuts through any inherent bleakness, lightly challenging a world governed by our eternal quests for attention. His best number, “Welcome to the Internet,” is a hilarious (and damning) meditation on the highs and lows of an ever-connected culture: “Welcome to the internet / What would you prefer? / Would you like to fight for civil rights or tweet a racial slur? / Be happy / Be horny / Be bursting with rage / We’ve got a million different ways to engage.”-Matthew Jacobs
Marketed as a series of bloody teen slashers, director Leigh Janiek went above and beyond in her adaptation of young-adult horror novelist R.L. Stine’s books, building a meticulously interwoven narrative and overtly queer romance across three time periods in the same accursed town of Shadyside. While the backbone of the three films-set in 1994, 1978, and 1666-is the unshakeable hex an accused witch named Sarah Fier supposedly cast upon Shadyside before her execution in the 17th century, Janiek tucks in feminist interpretations of witchcraft and reads on the deficits society functioned in through each era. There’s a tender heart in the Fear Street movies, while still clearly having tons of fun playing around in its Scream-inspired murder-spree sandbox, refreshing jump-scare tropes and getting increasingly creative with its deaths. (One in particular will ruin the way you look at deli-meat slicers forever.) With its high body count and gloopy, gratuitous blood splatter, Janiek’s ambitious project is steadfast in its teen slasher selling point, but adds in the extra layers to appeal to audiences who wish more horror movies would say something kinda smart.-LB
13. Mudbound (2017)
The South’s post-slavery existence is, for Hollywood, mostly uncharted territory. Director Dee Rees rectifies the overlooked stretch of history with this novelistic drama about two Mississippi families working a rain-drenched farm in 1941. The white McAllans settle on a muddy patch of land to realize their dreams. The Jacksons, a family of black sharecroppers working the land, have their own hopes, which their neighbors manage to nurture and curtail. To capture a multitude of perspectives, Mudbound weaves together specific scenes of daily life, vivid and memory-like, with family member reflections, recorded in whispered voice-over. The epic patchwork stretches from the Jackson family dinner table, where the youngest daughter dreams of becoming a stenographer, to the vistas of Mississippi, where incoming storms threaten an essential batch of crops, to the battlefields of World War II Germany, a harrowing scene that will affect both families. Confronting race, class, war, and the possibility of unity, Mudbound spellbinding drama reckons with the past to understand the present.
12. The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
After releasing three of his original comedies in the last two years — Ridiculous Six, The Do-Over, and Sandy Wexler — Netflix has finally stumbled on a really good Adam Sandler movie. Like Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People before it, this Noah Baumbach-directed effort is a deviation from the star’s usual Happy Madison fare, but it understands what’s funny, charming, and potentially alienating about his persona. (He even gets to sing silly songs on the piano at one point.) Along with Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, and the very sharp Elizabeth Marvel, Sandler plays a member of the Meyerowitz family, a uniquely miserable group of people united by their thinly veiled resentment towards one another. Splitting the difference between the caustic misanthropy of The Squid and the Whale and the freewheeling absurdity of his recent Greta Gerwig film, Mistress America, the movie finds both Baumbach and Sandler at the peak of their powers.
11. Atlantics (2019)
In Atlantics, the entrancing debut feature from Senegalese-French filmmaker Mati Diop, a debt must be paid. To construct a large glass tower in the coastal city of Dakar, an unscrupulous construction manager leans on his employees and refuses to provide the backpay they are owed. One of the workers, a young man named Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), is in love with Ada (Mama Bineta Sané), a young woman engaged to a rich family’s obnoxious, preening son. After establishing the tricky dynamics of this relationship, Diop’s story takes a number of startling turns, introducing supernatural elements and a noir-like detective subplot. As the events unfold, often in engrossingly shot and exquisitely paced night sequences, the movie retains an ethereal quality that unsettles the imagination. Rather than providing conventional dramatic catharsis, Atlantics mimics the rhythms of the ocean, drawing in the viewer with each new wave of tension.
The first great Netflix movie of 2019, High Flying Bird is a basketball film that has little to do with the sport itself, instead focusing on the behind-the-scenes power dynamics playing out during a lockout. At the center of the Steven Soderbergh movie — shot on an iPhone, because that’s what he does now — is André Holland’s Ray Burke, a sports agent trying to protect his client’s interests while also disrupting a corrupt system. It’s not an easy tightrope to walk, and, as you might expect, the conditions of the labor stoppage constantly change the playing field. With his iPhone mirroring the NBA’s social media-heavy culture, and appearances from actual NBA stars lending the narrative heft, Soderbergh experiments with Netflix’s carte blanche and produces a unique film that adds to the streaming service’s growing list of critical hits.
This semi-autobiographical movie follows Radha Blank, a playwright for whom a “30 Under 30” honor now seems but a distant memory. When we meet her, Radha is teaching a group of hilarious and unruly high school kids, constantly sipping on a diet drink, and trying to get a play about her Harlem neighborhood produced. After a particularly enraging incident with one of the obnoxious white gatekeepers of the New York theater establishment, Radha turns to her old hobby: churning out rhymes. But her character’s burgeoning desire to rap is really just a gateway for Blank to craft a narrative about finding creative integrity in a world that wants to pigeonhole you. Frequently, The Forty-Year-Old Version feels like a rejoinder to the type of movies that sometimes become hits at Sundance, where it premiered in 2020: ones that engage in poverty porn or use an oddball storyline to offer some trite inspiration.
A snowy road trip, which finds a young woman (Jessie Buckley) traveling with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to the remote farm owned by his eccentric parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), turns into a journey into the hard problem of consciousness in the latest movie from Charlie Kaufman. The filmmaker who first emerged as the screenwriter behind brain-teasing comedies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is older and gentler in some respects, but he remains plagued by life’s biggest questions and tickled by occasional bursts of the surreal. Like the previous features he’s directed, the stunning Synecdoche, NY and the puzzling Anomalisa, this new one, adapted from a novel by Iain Reid, is a less outwardly comic affair and resists an elegant interpretation, embracing neurosis as a subject and a style. As the characters think and talk themselves in circles, the ideas pile up like mounds of fresh powder. Best to bring your brain’s tire chains.
Exploding with historical references, directorial flourishes, and flashes of combat action, Spike Lee’s winningly spry war epicDa 5 Bloods embraces the inherent messiness of its subject matter. At first, the story sounds simple enough: Four elderly Black veterans, each with his own personal trials and tribulations, return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their beloved squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and search for a shipment of gold they buried in the jungle decades ago. But Lee, pushing the movie in sharply funny and emotionally fraught directions depending on the demands of the scenes, refuses to approach theTreasure of the Sierra Madre-like set-up in a straightforward manner. Instead, the movie pings between the MAGA-hat speckled present and the bullet-ridden past, using his older actors in the flashbacks as their younger selves to underline the inherent strangeness of time’s passage. While some of the detours might test your patience, particularly once the men discover the gold and start arguing over what to do with it, the powerful ending, which becomes a moving showcase for the great Delroy Lindo, makes this a long journey worth embarking on.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, based on a novel by Elena Ferrante, is a story about motherhood that will crawl under your skin and stay there. It centers on Leda (Olivia Colman), a professor on a solo Greek vacation. From her perch on a beach chair she watches as a loud, aggressive family invades the beach, but her gaze centers on a quiet, beautiful mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her crying child. Through watching this woman struggle with the toddler, Leda is flooded with memories of her own two daughters. As a young mother, Leda (played in flashbacks by the wonderful Jessie Buckley) was frustrated and frequently angry at her kids. She wasn’t an abusive parent, but she was one that didn’t fit naturally into the maternal stereotypes forced upon women. In the present, Leda is drawn closer and closer to Nina and her own doubts about her assigned role. It’s a tricky piece that Gyllenhaal executes almost flawlessly, creating a vivid universe of women and their internal strife.
Returning to the topic of 2005’s caustic comedy The Squid and the Whale, which tracked the fallout of a divorce from the perspective of children, writer and director Noah Baumbach again finds laughter and pain in the often excruciating personal details of ending a relationship. This time, the bickering couple — a Brooklyn-dwelling actress and a theater director played with tenderness and anger by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver — takes center stage. Instead of watching the two fall in and out of love, the story opens with the separation already in motion, allowing Baumbach to focus on the soul-sucking, money-draining legal shitstorm that follows. While Driver and Johansson are both excellent in tricky, emotionally demanding roles, some of the sharpest moments come courtesy of their attorneys, collaborators, and extended families. (Laura Dern and Alan Alda have rightfully earned praise for their parts, but I’d watch Ray Liotta’s gruff divorce expert in his own spin-off.) In showing how divorce ripples outward, Marriage Story complicates its own simple premise as it progresses.
4. Okja (2017)
This wild ride, written and directed by Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer), is part action heist, part Miyazaki-like travelogue, and part scathing satire. It’s fueled by fairy tale whimsy — but the Grimm kind, where there are smiles and spilled blood. Ahn Seo-hyun plays Mija, the young keeper of a “super-pig,” bred by a food manufacturer to be the next step in human-consumption evolution. When the corporate overlords come for her roly-poly pal, Mija hightails it from the farm to the big city to break him out, crossing environmental terrorists, a zany Steve Irwin-type (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the icy psychos at the top of the food chain (including Swinton’s childlike CEO) along the way. Okja won’t pluck your heartstrings like E.T, but there’s grandeur in its frenzy, and the film’s cross-species friendship will strike up every other emotion with its empathetic, eco-friendly, and eccentric observations.
Opening with a tracking shot through the halls of a drab nursing home, where we meet a feeble old man telling tall tales from his wheelchair, The Irishman delights in undercutting its own grandiosity. All the pageantry a $150 million check from Netflix can buy — the digital de-aging effects, the massive crowd scenes, the shiny rings passed between men — is on full display. Everything looks tremendous. But, like with 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters can’t escape the fundamental spiritual emptiness of their pursuits. In telling the story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a World War II veteran and truck driver turned mob enforcer and friend to labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zaillian construct an underworld-set counter-narrative of late 20th century American life. With an eye on the clock and a foot in the grave, the movie is profoundly fixated on death, even introducing select side characters with onscreen text that notes the circumstances of their eventual demise. (The Irishman can be darkly, wickedly funny when it’s not devastatingly sad.) That stark awareness of mortality, an understanding that’s cleverly reflected in the film’s quasi-road-movie flashback structure, distinguishes it from Scorsese’s more outwardly frenetic gangster epics like Goodfellas and Casino, which also starred De Niro and Pesci, who gives the movie’s most surprising performance here. Even with a 209 minute runtime, every second counts.
2. Roma (2018)
All those billions Netflix spent will likely pay off in the form of several Oscar nominations for Roma, including one for Best Picture. Whether experienced in the hushed reverence of a theater, watched on the glowing screen of a laptop, or, as Netflix executive Ted Sarandos has suggested, binged on the perilous surface of a phone, Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white passion project seeks to stun. A technical craftsman of the highest order, the Children of Men and Gravity director has an aesthetic that aims to overwhelm — with the amount of extras, the sense of despair, and the constant whir of exhilaration — and this autobiographical portrait of kind-hearted maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) caring for a family in the early 1970s has been staged on a staggering, mind-boggling scale. Cuarón’s artful pans aren’t just layered for the sake of complexity: He’s often placing different emotions, historical concepts, and class distinctions in conversation with each other. What are these different components in the painstakingly composed shots actually saying to each other? That remains harder to parse. Still, there’s an image of Cleo and the family eating ice cream together after a devastating dinner in the foreground while a wedding takes place in the background that you won’t be able to shake. The movie is filled with compositions like that, tinged with careful ambiguity and unresolvable tensions.
The Piano director Jane Campion’s return to feature filmmaking after more than a decade away is an absolute triumph, a chilling exploration of a man driven to cruelty by the pursuit of a masculine ideal in the American West. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Phil Burbank, a rancher who prides himself on the dirt under his fingernails and his ability to live with as few amenities as possible. He worships a rider named Bronco Henry and calls his softer brother George (Jesse Plemons) “fatso.” When George marries a widowed innkeeper Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil makes it his mission to mentally torture her. He is similarly inclined to do that to her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who arrives at the ranch on summer holiday from college studies, but instead decides to take him under his wing, figuring he can mold him into the kind of man he thinks is worth being. Campion’s direction is dangerously erotic, while Benedict Cumberbatch gives one of his all-time great performances as a man so uncomfortable in his own skin he inflicts his pain upon others.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Streamail for more entertainment, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
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