Here are the best movies on Netflix right now (May 2018)
Netflix offers thousands of movies (and TV shows) via its streaming platform. While the landmark service can be surprisingly accurate with its suggestions, it’s often still tough to find something worth watching amid the deluge of choices. So we’ve taken the time to wade through the ridiculous amount of content in order to bring you a list of some of the best movies on Netflix right now. Whether you’re into found-footage films, poignant documentaries, or a trip through Hollywood’s Golden Age, our list has you covered. Planning your weekend has never been easier!
‘Blue Valentine’ (2010)
Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is the story of a relationship, its joyous beginning and bitter end, told through a narrative that jumps back and forth in time. When they first meet, Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a high-school dropout working for a moving company, while Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a med student, but despite their different backgrounds, they end up dating, with Cindy drawn to Dean’s effervescent, romantic personality. After Cindy discovers she is pregnant (though likely with her ex’s child), they start a life together. The film examines them throughout their years together as the two, once so passionate, grow increasingly irritated and somewhat disinterested in each other. It’s a brutal look at the arc of love, and an honest one.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ (2007)
However one may feel about Ben Affleck’s body of work as an actor, his directorial career has been impressive, a string of acclaimed hits that began with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, an adaptation of a detective novel by Dennis Lehane. The film follows a pair of private investigators — Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner (in work and romance) Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) — who are working on the case of a missing child, a case the Boston police are struggling to crack. As a PI, Kenzie can tap into connections in the criminal underworld that the police can’t, and he soon discovers that the child’s disappearance may be related to her own mother’s shady dealings. Gone Baby Gone is a tense thriller, one that skillfully ratchets up the tension until an unforgettable climax.
‘The Departed’ (2006)
An adaptation of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed moves the story to Boston and follows a conflict between the Irish mob and the Massachusetts State Police. Mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) has raised a man named Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) from childhood to become a mole inside the police department. Meanwhile, the heads of the Special Investigations Unit pick Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), a recruit from police academy, to drop out of the academy and go undercover in Costello’s gang. Once both sides realize they have a spy in their ranks, Sullivan and Costigan each race to uncover the other’s identity. The Departed has a long and winding narrative, and every scene is fraught with tension.
‘Blue Jasmine’ (2013)
Late-period Woody Allen films are hit-or-miss — with a tendency toward misses, to be honest — but Blue Jasmine stands out. It’s a darkly humorous character study with more than a passing resemblance to the classic play A Streetcar Named Desire. The film begins with former socialite Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett) arriving in San Francisco to crash with her estranged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine’s husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), was a financier who kept her in the lap of luxury until he was arrested for fraud. Now in debt, and disgraced, Jasmine is on the verge of a total meltdown. Blue Jasmine is a taut interpersonal drama, with Jasmine’s cultured haughtiness grating against the blue-collar sensibilities of the people she now lives among. Blanchett is incredible in the lead role, and Allen’s writing is as strong as it’s ever been.
‘God’s Own Country’ (2017)
From director Francis Lee, God’s Own Country is a gorgeous tale of romance set amid the rough beauty of the Yorkshire moors. The film begins with Johnny (Josh O’Connor) living on a farm with his father, Martin (Ian Hart), and grandmother, Deirdre (Gemma Jones). As his father and grandmother are in no shape to handle the physical labor of the farm, Johnny takes care of it, stumbling each evening into drinking and loveless flings with other men. After the family hires a Romanian immigrant, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), to help out with the farm work, he and Johnny grow close. It’s an intimate film, built around subtle performances and Lee’s appreciation for the vast, beautiful countryside.
‘The Hateful Eight’ (2015)
In the midst of a blizzard, a group of strangers take refuge in a stagecoach lodge. Two bounty hunters, a murderer, and a Confederate-soldier-turned-sheriff are among the rogues assembled, and it doesn’t take long for their uneasy peace to crumble. That’s not to say The Hateful Eight is a fast-paced movie; director Quentin Tarantino takes his time, drawing viewers up a hill of tension before sending them hurtling into violence. With an all-star cast including Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and more, The Hateful Eight is a worthy addition to Tarantino’s sterling body of work.
‘The Godfather’ (1972)
A perennial entry on “best films of all time” lists (with a 99-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, too), The Godfather is an epic, award-winning crime drama, following a mafia family, the Corleones, as they navigate conflicts with rival families and a family succession. Beginning in 1945, the film opens with aged Mafia boss Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) managing his family’s empire, granting requests to his vassals. His youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), returns home from World War II as tensions with the Tattaglia crime family are simmering. As the five big crime families of New York descend into open war, Michael steps into the family business, at a cost to his soul. Director Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay with novelist Mario Puzo, and it’s a long, novelistic film, focusing as much on the spiritual crises of its characters as the violent, political squabbles. The Godfather is also a masterpiece of directing; the famous baptism scene, in which a series of assassinations are juxtaposed with the baptism of a child, is a showcase for the power of editing.
‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987)
Stanley Kubrick’s films are often so jarring, unexpected, and off-putting on first watch that they’re nearly impossible to associate with any other director. Full Metal Jacket, a 1987 two-act ordeal that follows a platoon of marine recruits through basic training and the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, is no different. It’s a grim war film adapted from a Gustav Hasford novel, one that examines brainwashing, our own human limitations, and the emptiness of war. The incredible cast keeps it all afloat — particularly R. Lee Ermey as the foul-mouthed gunnery sergeant — though it often seems like the characters function as mere props amid Kubrick’s ominous, war-torn landscapes. It never feels quite real, but then again, perhaps that’s the point.
Netflix doesn’t just make original TV shows; the company is also producing original films, and some, like Mudbound, are quite good. True to its name, Mudbound wades through the muck of racism and poverty, examining two families, one white, one black, living on a farm in 1940s Mississippi. The farm’s owners are the McAllans, who move there after Henry (Jason Clarke) buys the land. Along with his wife, Laura (Carey Mulligan); and viciously racist father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks), the McCallans work the land with the help of black sharecroppers, Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige). The film explores the ways in which these two families navigate the social hierarchies of the time, and the chaos that ensues when two sons, Jamie McCallan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) return from World War II. The thick mud of the McAllan farm is both the setting and central metaphor for the film, and the camera captures it beautifully.
‘Boogie Nights’ (1997)
The opening scene of Boogie Nights is flashy, a single take where the camera moves through a nightclub, introducing all the major players. It’s a somersault from director Paul Thomas Anderson, but it’s not there merely for flair. Boogie Nights is about the glamour and grime of the ’70s porn industry, a seen through the career of one Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg). From the moment porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) discovers him (and his prodigious endowment) working in the nightclub, Dirk is immersed in a life of sex, drugs, and emotional collapse. Boogie Nights is a wild ride, full of exciting highs and abyssal lows, and Anderson manages mood perfectly throughout.
‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ (2017)
Noah Baumbach delivers yet another witty, intimate drama with The Meyerowitz Stories, which follows a dysfunctional family who, when reunited for the first time in a while, try to hash out their differences. The head of the family tree is Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), a once-great sculptor now spending old age growling about everything. His children — Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller), and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) — all live in their father’s shadow, and all carry long-buried burdens, and they struggle to find value in their own careers. The Meyerowitz family is a web of tensions, the strings slowly stretched to their breaking points, and the cast delivers performances worthy of the material. Emotionally complex and sharply written, The Meyerowitz Stories is so good you’ll forget it’s yet another family drama set in New York.
Boyhood’s central conceit is well-known — director Richard Linklater filmed it in pieces over the course of 12 years, using the same actors to trace the growth of a young man and his family. The boy in question is Mason Evans (Ellar Coltrane), who starts the film as a 6-year-old boy living with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and sister (Lorelai Linklater) in Texas. Boyhood follows Mason up to his first day of college, and the film is comprised largely of the small moments that compose a life — those that often pass without fanfare. Linklater’s decision to use the same actors over more than a decade proves crucial; by the time a teenage Mason hops in his truck, driving along a sunbathed highway toward the future, the weight of time hits the viewer. It’s a heavy feeling that few films could replicate.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative work done by a team of Boston Globe reporters, the must-watch drama Spotlight tells the true story of how they uncovered evidence of systemic child abuse by clergy in Boston’s Catholic community. Their work finds them at odds with the Archdiocese of Boston, an institution with great power in the region. Spotlight features a superb cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber. It’s a compelling film that captures the meticulous work of investigative reporting, but blessedly, never devolves into melodrama.
‘Groundhog Day’ (1993)
The classic comedy Groundhog Day follows Phil Connors, a snide weatherman who has to travel — along with his producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), and cameraman Larry, (Chris Elliott) — to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for a story on the Groundhog Day celebration. Phil is less than happy when a blizzard traps the crew in town for the night, but his nightmare is only just beginning. After retiring to bed early on Groundhog Day, Phil wakes up the next morning to learn that it is still Groundhog Day, and the same thing happens the next day, and the day after that. Phil is stuck living the same day, in the same small town, over and over. Groundhog Day is a sharp comedy, one built almost entirely on heartwarming character development.
‘Frances Ha’ (2012)
For most Americans, their 20s are a decade of transition, of figuring out what they want and laying the foundation for their future; not so for Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig). At 27, Frances is an aspiring dancer apprenticing at a studio that doesn’t seem too keen on her. She lives in an apartment with her best friend, the more successful Sophie (Mickey Sumner), and is so comfortable with the arrangement that she breaks up with her boyfriend when he asks her to move in with him. Unfortunately for Frances, Sophie decides to move to her dream apartment in Tribeca, leaving Frances to figure out what she’s going to do next. Frances Ha is a portrait of a life trapped in amber, as Frances drifts from place to place, struggling to build her own life. Director Noah Baumbach’s decision to film in black-and-white gives the film a stark look reminiscent of French New Wave films like The 400 Blows, which feels appropriate given the film’s existential themes.
With Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow take aim at the prestigious but formulaic biopic genre, telling the ridiculous life story of the musician Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly). As a child, the young Dewey accidentally cuts his brother in half with a machete, a traumatic incident that leads him to sing the blues and discover a love of music. His story only gets weirder from there, as he dabbles in various genres over the decades, meeting musicians like Elvis and The Beatles and trying every drug under the sun. It’s a great comedy, one that manages to continue one-upping itself no matter how absurd each scene seems.
‘A Serious Man’ (2009)
“We can’t know everything.” With those words, a rabbi concludes a long, strange, and seemingly pointless story, leaving Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) flustered. A Serious Man, one of many masterpieces from the Coen brothers, follows Larry as his life collapses in slow fashion, a landslide of misery that he can’t comprehend. His wife is leaving him for another man, an anonymous critic is putting his academic tenure in jeopardy, a student is trying to bribe him for better grades, and perhaps worst of all, nobody can explain to him why any of this is happening. The film may sound depressing, and it is, but it’s also a shockingly funny, tragicomic exploration of human suffering in a small corner of the uncaring universe.
‘Hot Fuzz’ (2007)
Hot Fuzz is basically actor-writer Simon Pegg’s take on the buddy cop genre, though, one spliced with the same comedic elements that made Shaun of the Dead so amusing in the first place. Pegg stars as a former London constable who’s assigned to investigate the sleepy town of Sanford alongside the dimwitted Butterman (Nick Frost). However, things start to become interesting following a string of so-called “accidents” plaguing various members of the town. This biting British film is the second in director Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy, which ultimately culminates with The World’s End and capitalizes on the fantastic interplay between Pegg and Frost.
‘I Love You, Man’ (2009)
Jason Segel and Paul Rudd embrace the “bromance” in this 2009 film about a man with no friends. While Rudd prepares for his wedding, his fiancee (Rashida Jones) proposes that he finds himself a male friend to occupy some of his free time. When Rudd and Segel meet, it’s a match made in heaven, as both men love jamming to Rush songs. When Segel’s character puts up some billboards featuring Rudd that are in questionable taste, however, the two must decide whether their new friendship is worth saving. A star-studded supporting cast and a hilarious cameo from Lou Ferrigno also help make this a memorable — albeit unusual — rom-com, a good movie for a casual movie night.
‘Burn After Reading’ (2008)
Another day, another wacky comedy from the Coen brothers that quickly spirals way out of control. In this black comedy, a former CIA analyst (John Malkovich) loses a CD-ROM that contains meaningless ramblings on various government activities, many of which are intended for his soon-to-be memoir. When two certifiable dimwits (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) find the disc and think they’ve stumbled upon a treasure trove of valuable secrets, hilarity ensues. George Clooney and Tilda Swinton provide excellent supporting performances as well, but it’s the film’s neurotic score and the tight scripting that truly makes it an anti-spy thriller worthy of the Coen name.
Action & adventure
‘Black Panther’ (2018)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s unceasing expansion reached Africa in 2017 with Black Panther, which explored the fictional, super high-tech country of Wakanda following the events of Captain America: Civil War. Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes the throne of Wakanda — a nation built over the world’s only source of the quasi-magical metal vibranium — following a ceremonial duel. Although he is now a political leader, T’Challa prefers to get his hands dirty, and sets out to capture the arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), who stole vibranium from Wakanda during his father’s reign. T’Challa’s focus on the world outside Wakanda makes some of his isolationist allies uneasy, and when his long-lost cousin Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) returns and asserts his own claim to the throne, T’Challa’s reign may be in danger. Although its third act devolves into the typical CGI chaos of most Marvel movies, Black Panther is an entertaining action movie with gorgeous costume design and a talented cast.
‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)
Just like the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, Jurassic Park takes place on a remote island owned by businessman John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), where a group of scientists have used cloning and genetic manipulation to bring several species of dinosaur back from extinction in an attempt to create safari-like theme park. Hammond invites his grandchildren, and a trio of scientists — paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and eccentric mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) — to visit the park and witness the biological marvels up close. What begins as an awe inspiring tour through history suddenly becomes a struggle for survival, however, when one mischievous employee releases the carnivorous dinosaurs. Spielberg’s landmark film remains a beloved classic, with captivating special effects that look just as good today as they did in ’93.
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (2017)
As superhero movies swarm theaters in such great numbers that they block out everything else, it can be hard to tell one from the other. Thor: Ragnarok, directed by comedy auteur Taika Waititi, stands out with aplomb, embracing the Thor series’ outlandish nature. After introductory table setting to tie Ragnarok in with the larger Marvel cinematic universe, the film knocks Thor (Chris Hemsworth), its eponymous, cocksure hero down a few pegs. His older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, returns from a long imprisonment, smashes Thor’s hammer, and kicks him out of Asgard, realm of the gods, over which she claims dominion. Thor ends up on a planet called Sakaar, sold as a slave to the planet’s ruler, the hedonistic, scenery-chewing Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who forces Thor to fight in his gladiatorial games. With the help of some unexpected friends, Thor must escape the Grandmaster’s clutches, return to Asgard, and overthrow Hela. Thor: Ragnarok pulses with energy, moving through a variety of colorful locales and amping up the comedy, with particularly delightful performances from Hemsworth and Goldblum.
Quentin Tarantino’s two-part bloodbath is a masterful pastiche of various genres (martial arts films, Westerns, and more) and arguably his best work. The story concerns a woman known as The Bride (Uma Thurman). A former assassin, The Bride tried to get out of the business, but her former comrades, led by her mentor and lover, Bill (David Carradine), decided not to let her walk away, murdering her entire wedding party and putting a bullet in her head. Years later, she wakes up from a coma, with one thing on her mind: Revenge. Spanning roughly four hours and a few continents over its two parts, Kill Bill shows Tarantino’s style in all its glory and excesses. It’s a film with hyperstylized action, sharp dialogue, and a soundtrack that samples classic film scores, country music, and more.
From acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-ho, Okja is an inspiring adventure story with an eco-friendly attitude. The film follows Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), a young girl who lives in the Korean countryside with her grandfather and their pet, a genetically-engineered “superpig” named Okja. Their days of innocence end when the Mirando Corporation, which bred Okja and other superpigs, comes to reclaim its creation. Mija chases after Okja, teaming up with members of the Animal Liberation Front, who want to put a stop to the Mirando Corporation’s plans to slaughter the superpigs. With exciting action sequences and memorable characters, Okja is a thrilling (if brutal, at times) adventure.
’13 Assassins’ (2010)
A remake of a classic Japanese film, 13 Assassins is set in 19th-century Japan, where the shogun’s half-brother, Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu (Gor Inagaki), rules his province with cruelty. Deciding that Matsudaira must die, a government official enlists veteran samurai Shimada Shinzaemon (Kji Yakusho) to assemble a team of samurai to assassinate the lord. They convert a remote village into a giant death trap and lead Matsudaira and his personal army there for a bloody confrontation. Director Takashi Miike is known for outlandish violence, but here he exercises restraint, taking time to establish the characters and their relationships before tossing them into the fray. For those who enjoy historical drama and bloody battles, 13 Assassins is sure to please.
‘Doctor Strange’ (2016)
In this unique outing in the Marvel cinematic universe, renowned surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose hands suffered nerve damage in a car crash, turns to magic to try and recover. He travels to Kathmandu, Nepal to meet the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer who demonstrates the mystic arts to Strange and agrees to train him as a sorcerer. There, Strange learns that Earth is under constant threat from supernatural forces, including the Ancient One’s renegade former pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). Doctor Strange is a mind-bending superhero film, one that uses special effects to create bizarre, Escher-esque set pieces, as even city streets bend and rearrange themselves at Strange’s command.
‘The Witch’ (2015)
The Witch is a singular achievement that captured the attitudes and spiritual paranoia of Puritan New England to create a remarkably old-fashioned vision of horror. Set in the 17th century, the film begins as William (Ralph Ineson), due to a disagreement over theology, is cast out from his township, along with his family. Striking out into the wilds, William and his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), along with their children — Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), and newborn Samuel — build a house on the edge of a dark forest. One day while Thomasin is watching Samuel, something snatches the baby, taking it into the woods. As the family struggles with its hardscrabble existence, the evil in the woods stretches out, threatening to consume them. The Witch is an effective horror story, tense and heavy on atmosphere, and its commitment to historical authenticity gives it a distinct aesthetic.
‘The Shining’ (1980)
Although Stephen King may have mixed feelings about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel The Shining, there’s no denying that Kubrick’s film is a monumental achievement, a bleak, surreal character study that still ranks highly on lists of the greatest horror movies ever. The Shining begins with Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a writer and recovering alcoholic, taking a job as the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, which will be empty for the winter. Jack brings his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), with him. Jack hopes the quiet of the hotel will allow him to focus on his writing, but as the days drift by, his novel remains elusive, and his attitude sours. Meanwhile, Danny, who possesses burgeoning psychic powers, sees various entities within the hotel. The Shining is a creepy, ambiguous horror film, giving the audience room to interpret it in multiple ways: Some will see it as the story of an abusive husband’s mental breakdown, others as a tale of a family trapped with supernatural forces. However one reads the events, The Shining remains a great horror movie, full of creepy imagery and claustrophobic cinematography.
Ravenous (originally titled Les Affams) begins after a mysterious plague has annihilated much of Quebec, turning its victims into shrieking, flesh-eating monsters. The story follows various survivors who eventually band together to fight back the horde, but despite the familiar plot, this isn’t a typical zombie movie; it is a deliberately paced, eerily beautiful horror film. The protagonist is a man named Bonin (Marc-Andre Grondin), who wanders the countryside, finding other survivors and slaying zombies. As the group grows, the film gives each character proper development, so they feel fully-fleshed out, unlike the stock survivors of many a zombie film. While the film has its gory moments, Ravenous frequently employs an atmosphere of dread built through uncanny imagery, such as when the zombies congregate before a shrine made of furniture.
‘The Ritual’ (2017)
Following the death of their friend Rob, four men — Luke (Rafe Spall), Phil (Arsher Ali), Dom (Sam Troughton), and Hutch (Robert James-Collier) — go backpacking in Sweden, mourning throughout their march through the untamed wilderness. When one man injures himself, the group decides to take a shortcut through a primeval forest. Creepy occurrences, including a gutted deer, are a prelude to the horror waiting for them in the woods, as they realize that something is stalking them. The Ritual is hardly a revolutionary horror film, but it executes the traditional trappings of horror well, and the characters feel real enough for the audience to care about their fates. It’s a well-made, straightforward monster movie.
‘Gerald’s Game’ (2017)
An adaptation of a novel by Stephen King, Gerald’s Game takes a mundane premise and transforms it into a nightmare. Married couple Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald Burlingame (Bruce Greenwood), hoping to reignite their passion, take a vacation to a remote lake house. Gerald wants to experiment with bondage, handcuffing Jessie to the bed, but after an argument, he dies of a heart attack, leaving Jessie bound with no help nearby. As dehydration and shock set in, Jessie struggles to escape. Gerald’s Game maintains a tight focus on the psychological state of its lead, and although most of the film takes place within a single room, director Mike Flanagan makes great use of the limited space, playing with the boundaries between reality and Jessie’s imagination.
Osgood Perkins’ I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House eschews a lot of the trappings of modern horror movies, trading in jump scares and gory reveals for long, haunting shots of darkened hallways and subtly unsettling sequences. The film stars Ruth Wilson as Lily Saylor, a live-in nurse assigned to care for elderly horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). Blum’s house, nestled by New England woods, is creepy in ordinary ways — the lights dim, the furniture dusty from lack of care. As the nights pass, the house becomes creepy in some unnatural ways as well, and Lily discovers she may not be alone with Iris. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House moves at a deliberate (some might say glacial) pace, but it uses every second to great effect, creating an atmosphere of steadily approaching doom.
‘The Wailing’ (2016)
This critically acclaimed horror movie from Korean director Na Hong-jin follows a cop investigating a series of strange and gruesome murders in the small village of Goksung — an ominous setting, given the name translates to “wailing.” Lackadaisical police sergeant Jong-du (Kwak Do-won) at first seems an unlikely protagonist, a coward who can’t manage an investigation effectively. He writes the murders off as mundane, but strange dreams — and reports of a demon in the woods — lead him toward supernatural causes. The Wailing is a disturbing, thought-provoking film, and like the best scary movies, it takes time to build up the characters and atmosphere before spewing gore. Set in rural Korea and rooted in local folklore, it iss a horror movie with a unique style, and Na carefully balances the beauty of the countryside and the horror lurking in its dark places.
‘The Babadook’ (2014)
Parenthood is usually portrayed in films as a wonderful, if hectic, experience. Not so in Jennifer Kent’s brilliant horror movie The Babadook, which portrays both the horror of dealing with supernatural forces and that of raising a difficult child. The film follows Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis), a widowed mother raising her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), alone after the death of her husband. Samuel frequently acts out, and his behavior only gets more extreme after he demands that Amelia read a book he found, which tells the story of a shadowy creature called Mister Babadook. As Sam grows more wild, Amelia loses sleep and her grip on reality, seeing Mister Babadook in the dark corners of their house. The Babadook is a disturbing horror story, with much of the tension rooted in very real anxieties.
‘It Follows’ (2014)
Great horror films produce a sense of inevitable doom, and It Follows delivers that sensation from the minute you see a teenage girl flee an unseen pursuer. The film follows a girl named Jay (Maika Monroe), who becomes a target of the creature after having sex with her boyfriend. He quickly reveals that the mysterious entity is actually a curse passed through sex — a sort of supernatural STD — and now she must flee or else risk passing it on to somebody else. All the while, the entity slowly approaches her in disguise. In addition to its singular creepy premise, the film features first-rate cinematography; director David Robert Mitchell often uses camera movement and background composition to hide the creature as it approaches, leaving viewers wondering where it will strike from next.
The best horror stories double as explorations of human nature. In the sexually charged Raw, from French director Julia Ducornau, a young, straight-laced woman goes to veterinary school, and amid the untamed jungle of the dorms, develops an appetite for flesh (in more ways than one). The central character is Justine (Garance Marillier), latest in a family of vets who arrives at the same school her sister attends. After a hazing ritual in which Justine, a vegetarian, is forced to eat rabbit kidney, she starts to crave meat, and becomes feral. On the surface, Raw is a creepy body horror film, but it also serves as a tale about social pressures, repression, and how pressure can transform people.
‘The Void’ (2016)
It’s hard to argue there was a better decade for horror movies than the ’80s — it certainly explains why so many recent filmmakers have mined the decade for ideas. The Void is the latest in the ‘80s horror revival, drawing inspiration from the likes of John Carpenter for a stylish, grotesque tale of cosmic horror. The film’s premise is simple: A group of robed cultists surround a rural hospital late at night, and when the people within learn that the walls won’t protect them, they work to maintain their sanity and survive as horrifying creatures begin to appear inside. Good cosmic horror movies are a rare treat, and while The Void has its flaws, fans of the genre should savor it.
David Fincher’s breakout film (following the regrettable Alien 3), Seven is a gruesome crime drama following two detectives on the trail of a cunning killer. The film opens with weary veteran detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) getting a new partner, the younger, emotional David Mills (Brad Pitt). Their first case together is a disturbing one: A serial killer is committing crimes inspired by the seven deadly sins. As Somerset and Mills try to decipher the killer’s motivations, they risk their own lives and souls in the process. The subject matter of Seven is horrific, but Fincher doesn’t go for the cheap thrills of modern serial killer films; he keeps the crimes largely off screen, giving the audience enough information to imagine them.
‘The Invitation’ (2015)
There are few social situations more nerve-wracking than meeting your ex’s new partner. As Will (Logan Marshall-Green) learns in The Invitation, dinner with the ex can truly be a nightmare. The film opens with Will and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) driving to his ex-wife Eden’s (Tammy Blanchard) house, where she and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) are holding a dinner party. The reunion brings up bad memories for Will, and the night takes a darker turn as Eden and David, along with some of their new friends introduce the guests to the Invitation, a group they formed to get over grief. The Invitation is a taut thriller, and once the tension sets in, it never lets up.
Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) doesn’t know who killed his wife and imprisoned him in a sealed hotel room. For 15 years, he has been trapped, training himself through shadow boxing and plotting his revenge. At last, he is set free, and begins his quest to find out what happened to his daughter during his captivity, and to seek revenge against the man behind it all. Oldboy is a violent, gruesome revenge thriller, with shades of Greek tragedy and more than a few twists throughout. It’s also an impressive feat of filmmaking; a sequence set in a hallway, filmed in one take, is one of the most intense fight scenes ever put to film.
After three years manning a moon base, Sam Bell is ready to head home. He has a wife and young child waiting for him, and his only companion for the length of his tour is a robot, GERTY (Kevin Spacey). Two weeks away from the end of his contract, Sam crashes his rover on an assignment; things go downhill from there. Moon is a sparse film, built around ominous, largely empty spaces and a stark aesthetic reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rockwell delivers a stellar performance, conveying all the desperation of a man who’s been on his own for too long.
‘V for Vendetta’ (2005)
Alan Moore’s dystopian vision of Britain translates fairly well to the silver screen, with help from the iconoclastic Wachowski Brothers. In a country ruled by a fascist cabal, all information is regulated by the government, and the police maintain an iron grip on all aspects of life. When Evey (Natalie Portman), an employee for the state television network, is rescued from an assault by a masked man known only as V (Hugo Weaving), she is drawn into his campaign to overthrow the government. At first charmed by V’s passion and knowledge, she quickly finds that his methods might be too extreme for her tastes. Can violent methods produce a better world, post-revolution? Excellent choreography and bold set design make V for Vendetta an exciting, if melodramatic, thriller.
‘Donnie Darko’ (2001)
Donnie Darko begins as its eponymous, teenage protagonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) sleepwalks, drawn toward a man in a rabbit costume named Frank, who tells him the world will end in 28 days. It seems just a strange dream, but a lucky one; while Donnie was out, a jet engine came crashing through his bedroom roof. As the day of the world’s end draws closer, Donnie continues to have visions of Frank, and strange events unfold. Is he losing his grip on reality, or is reality slipping? Creepy and puzzling, Donnie Darko earns its cult film status.
‘Metropolis Restored’ (1927)
Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis may be the only silent film on our list, but it helped pioneer the sci-fi genre. The dystopian film revolves around a man of wealth (Gustav Frhlich) who abandons his privileged life to join a band of oppressed workers in a revolt. The film was initially praised for its technical merits, though not as much for its plot or commentary on society as a whole, but has nonetheless become one of the defining films of the entire 20th century. It won’t blow you away visually, but its historical value outweighs its technical limitations.
Given society’s increasing fascination with the impending trend of robotic lovers, it’s hardly surprising that one of the best romance films of the last decade is about a man and his digital assistant. Her — written and directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) — establishes its themes early, as Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) narrates a letter to a spouse, but despite the cracks in his voice as he reads, the scene unveils the truth: Theodore works for a company that ghostwrites personal letters for people, the words spilling out of his mouth are artificial, written on behalf of a customer. It’s a wrenching introduction to the future Her depicts, one of sterile apartments overlooking vast, cold cities, where human connections vanish like snowflakes in the sun. Theodore is reeling from the collapse of his marriage, and to get his life in order he buys the latest model of artificial intelligence assistants. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), as his AI calls herself, proves a charming companion, and despite the fact that she exists only as a voice on his phone, the two fall in love. Her is a remarkable film, with gorgeous cinematography, sterling performances, and a story as thought-provoking as it is emotive.
‘Anna Karenina’ (2012)
Despite its age, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina remains a pinnacle of realist fiction. The latest adaptation of the book is set in a world of over-the-top theatrics and design, one in which a 19th-century Russian aristocrat (Keira Knightley) enters a forbidden love affair with a well-heeled cavalry officer (Aaron Johnson). The way the scenes unfold amid auditoriums and changing set pieces allows the film to essentially function like a musical, sans the music, better drawing your attention to the on-screen performances. The bold approach ultimately sacrifices the novel’s underlying poignancy for an overarching sense of creative pizzazz, which frankly, makes it far more enticing to look at than the previous two adaptations of the film. And Knightley’s superb performance just goes to show how much she’s matured since her days upon the Black Pearl.
‘To the Wonder’ (2012)
Is there any city that more easily evokes romance than Paris? The City of Lights is a proper setting to open Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, an experimental film that begins with American Neil (Ben Affleck) meeting a woman named Marina (Olga Kurylenko). The two quickly fall in love, and Marina — along with her daughter — move to Oklahoma with Neil. A love that began in a flash cools just as quickly, and Neil soon reconnects with childhood friend Jane (Rachel McAdams), as Marina considers moving back to Europe. Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki compose beautiful imagery throughout the film; whether reveling in the majesty of Mont Saint-Michel or the golden radiance of American fields, the film always has the perfect shot to convey the mood.
‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ (2014)
Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria follows an actress named Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) who worries that her career, after years of acclaim, is starting to wane. Maria launched her career in Wilhelm Melchior’s play Maloja Snake, cast as a young woman named Sigrid who seduces — and eventually destroys — an older woman. A popular director seeks out Maria, asking her to star in his new production of the play, this time as the older woman, Helena. The director offers the role of Sigrid to a scandalous, teenage starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz). Along with her assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), Maria spends some time at Melchior’s remote house, coming to grips with the passage of time and her own personal drama. Clouds of Sils Maria is a complex, meditative drama, one that finds Binoche at the top of her game.
‘Y Tu Mam Tambin’ (2001)
Alfonso Cuarn’s Y Tu Mam Tambin follows two teenagers, Julio (Gael Garca Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), whose girlfriends have left for a summer vacation in Europe. After meeting Luisa, an older woman who is the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, they invite her on a road trip to an invented beach called Heaven’s Mouth. After learning of her husband’s infidelity, she accepts their offer. Along the way, the three companions swap stories and get to know each other intimately, though that’s not always for the best. It’s a profound film about growing up amid societal upheaval in Mexico, full of stunning shots of the Mexican countryside, courtesy of acclaimed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
In an age of micro jobs and ever-shifting opportunities, it can be hard to imagine working in the same position for decades. Yet that is what sushi chef Jiro Ono has done; having run his own restaurant in Tokyo since 1965, Jiro is one of the most most accomplished chefs in Japanese history, the first sushi chef to attain three Michelin stars. David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi examines this man who, despite his long career and superb accomplishments, does not feel that he has mastered his craft yet. Like Jiro’s sushi, Gelb’s style is minimalist; he eschews fancy camerawork, letting the exquisite sushi be the star of every shot.
Aurelian Smith Jr. — better known by his ring persona, Jake “the Snake” Roberts — is a former professional wrestler who dominated the WWF in the late-’80s and ‘90s. As “The Snake,” Smith was notorious for conquering his opponents, taunting them, and even torturing them with his live snake, Damien the Python. Sadly, however, the former wrestler spent the better part of the following decades battling addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine, both of which took a heavy toll on his physical health, family, finances, and even Damien. The Resurrection of Jake the Snake also follows Smith’s fellow wrestler “Diamond” Dallas Page — who found post-wrestling success as a yoga teacher — and his efforts to rehabilitate Smith and Scott Hall, another friend and former WWE superstar. The candid doc sometimes feels like a reality show and an infomercial for Page’s enterprise, sure, but the interviews with wrestling greats such as Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and Adam Copeland render it a comeback story with plenty to offer. Apparently, the only place to go from rock bottom is up.
Bryan Fogel’s first documentary, Icarus, began as an attempt to document the effects of doping, with Fogel taking drugs to compete in a bicycle race. In an act of journalistic serendipity, Fogel meets a Russian doctor, Grigory Rodchenkov, who leads Fogel to a far bigger story: A Russian, state-sponsored doping program which could cast doubt on the validity of international sports. The story behind Icarus is interesting enough to recommend it; despite some occasional bloat, it is essentially a real-life political thriller.
‘Miss Sharon Jones!’ (2015)
The late, great Sharon Jones was a force to be reckoned with, particularly when at the helm of her fellow Dap-Kings. The singer’s undeniable penchant for ‘60s-style soul and classic R&B isn’t the central force behind this heartrending documentary, however. Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple’s film functions as a no-holds-barred examination of Jones’ more recent triumphs and lifelong hardships, one that opens with her being diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer that would kill her three years later. The rest of it plays out with a healthy mix of interviews and candid observations, each punctured with invigorating concert footage that serves as both a testament to the unflinching strength of her perseverance and yet another reminder at just how ruthless last year truly was.
‘Fire At Sea’ (2016)
Gianfranco Rosi’s 2016 documentary examines the refugee crisis in Europe through a narrow lens, zeroing in on the small island of Lampedusa, which lies between Sicily and Tunisia. The film follows two disparate stories: That of a group of refugees crossing the sea to Lampedusa, and that of the islanders, including a young boy named Samuele. Although many have criticized the film’s structure, citing a lack of connection between the two stories, Rosi’s approach is striking. The refugees, crammed onto rafts, thinned by starvation, make for a shocking juxtaposition to the story of the islander’s, living in such innocent solitude, it seems incomprehensible that war and famine could be so close. Fire At Sea takes a bold approach to documentary filmmaking, regardless of one’s political views.
David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores, ostensibly, a death. Johnson, a self-identified drag queen and pillar of LGBT activism, died in 1993. Her body was found floating in the Hudson River, and police ruled the death a suicide, a story many who knew Johnson doubted. France’s film follows activist Victoria Cruz as she seeks evidence to reopen Johnson’s case, but the documentary is not just a true crime story. The film delves into the history of the gay rights movement, particularly the Stonewall riot, and how different factions in the movement are often at odds. It’s an insightful documentary, even if it doesn’t solve the central cold case.
‘It’s Not Yet Dark’ (2016)
At the Sundance film festival, director Simon Fitzmaurice’s star was rising. The festival screened his short film, The Sound of People, but a pain nagged at him, the first sign of a tragedy to come. Not long after Sundance, doctors diagnosed Fitzmaurice with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), estimating he had four or so years to live. Fitzmaurice survived to 2017, and along the way he managed to make one feature film, My Name is Emily, and write a memoir. It’s Not Yet Dark chronicles Fitzmaurice’s work in the face of his illness, writing and communicating using a device that tracked his eye movements. Colin Farrell narrates, giving voice to Fitzmaurice’s thoughts. Life is all too brief, but as It’s Not Yet Dark shows, there’s always time to accomplish great things.
‘Saving Capitalism’ (2017)
In an age of ever-widening inequality, economics has become a more contentious field than usual. Multiple candidates in the 2016 election made populist, economic grievances key parts of their message, and even economists have grown more pugilistic, taking to soapboxes to proselytize for or against capitalism. Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, has become one of the most popular speakers on the subject of capitalism’s woes, and his new Netflix documentary, Saving Capitalism, tries to diagnose the economy’s problems and offer a way forward. Over the course of the film, Reich travels the country, speaking to workers, business owners, and political leaders to get a sense of the country’s attitudes. Saving Capitalism is hardly radical — Reich is trying to save capitalism, not overthrow it — but is instead an informative documentary.
‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ (2000)
Once of Disney’s first films in the aughts, The Emperor’s New Groove eschews the dramatic tone of Disney’s ’90s offerings (Mulan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.) for goofy vibes and slapstick humor. Set long ago in the Inca empire, the film tells the story of the young emperor Kuzco (David Spade), a callous imbecile who only thinks about his own glory and goes as far as hatching a plan to demolish the home of the peasant Pacha (John Goodman) in order to build himself a resort. Kuzco’s megalomania gets the better of him after he fires his conniving adviser, Yzma (Eartha Kitt). After using a magic potion to turn Kuzco into a llama, Yzma takes control of the empire.The llama emperor runs into Pacha, who offers to help if Kuzco will change his mind about destroying Pacha’s home. As the two journey through the jungle together, Kuzco gets in touch with his humanity, and the two develop a shaky friendship. The Emperor’s New Groove is a lovely film, composed with bright colors, and its easygoing humor can amuse anyone.
Pixar’s 2017 film Coco is yet another example of the studio’s adventurous spirit, a hero’s journey that celebrates the Mexican holiday Da de los Muertos. The story follows a young boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who lives with his family in Mexico. Miguel aspires to be a musician, idolizing the long dead Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). After discovering that Ernesto may have been his great-grandfather, who left the family to pursue his career, Miguel breaks into his mausoleum to take his guitar. In doing so, he passes into the realm of the dead, where he meets his ancestors and learns that he must return to the world of the living before sunrise, or remain among the dead forever. Coco is a spirited journey, and a moving tale of family and how the past is always with us.
‘The Iron Giant’ (1999)
Animation legend Brad Bird made his directorial debut with The Iron Giant, an animated film with a brilliant script and unflinching vision. Set in 1957, the film opens as a large object falls from space, landing in the woods near Rockwell, Maine. A young boy named Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) investigates, stumbling upon the object: A giant robot. After helping the giant escape from some power lines, Hogarth befriends him. Trouble comes to Rockwell in the form of a government agent, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), who comes to investigate the mysterious object in the woods, believing it may be a Russian superweapon. Though set against the backdrop of the Cold War, The Iron Giant is not an overly political film, instead focusing on Hogarth’s friendship with the giant and attempts to teach it how to forge its own identity.
‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (2016)
Inspired by Japanese folklore, Kubo and the Two Strings follows a young, one-eyed musician named Kubo, whose shamisen playing can bring origami sculptures to life. Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives with his mother (Charlize Theron), who warns him never to wander outside after midnight; his grandfather is the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), who stole Kubo’s eye, and wants to take the second one as well. After disregarding his mother’s warning and drawing the Moon King’s attention, Kubo must embark on a journey to find his father’s sword and armor, with which he might defeat his grandfather and wicked aunts. Kubo and the Two Strings is a beautiful film, with a story that’s simple enough for children but mature enough for adults.
Since its initial release in 1998, Mulan has been a film riddled with feminist quandaries and controversial stereotyping. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most beloved cartoons in the classical Disney arsenal, portraying the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) with a set of memorable songs and lighthearted camaraderie. The animation is superb, and moreover, the film addresses themes of honor and duty while still managing to deliver a story suitable for children of all ages. Mulan isn’t a prim Disney princess, either, and her resounding bravery is a conscious decision we can all learn from.
Another entry into the Disney pantheon of animated films, Moana is a tale of adventure and self-discovery that draws heavily on Polynesian mythology. The film follows the titular adventurer Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), a young girl who lives on the island of Motonui. Her people, once seafarers, have remained secluded on the island ever since the trickster god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti, which caused the ocean to fill with monsters. When a blight kills the plants on Motonui, however, Moana decides to return the heart to Te Fiti so the islanders can sail once more. To do so, she must enlist the help of Maui, though she will find him to be difficult. Moana is a thrilling adventure, with memorable characters and a setting that many viewers will find unique.